Historic site of Pompeii, with mountains in the background

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Wonderful World Heritage Sites


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Covered in the unbelievable and unforgettable, our little world is showered in show-stopping natural beauty and jaw-dropping cultural creations. UNESCO World Heritage Sites come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s an astonishing amount of these wonderful areas to adventure around! So hold on to your hats, and let’s dive into the best of the bunch…

Valletta, Malta

The beautiful Valletta skyline in Malta, viewed from across the sea

Much like Malta itself, Valletta may be small, but it’s jam-packed full of sights. The fortified city sits on a hilly peninsula with first-rate view-points of narrow cobblestone streets and historical sites. Teeming with monuments and statues, museums, Baroque churches and landmarks galore, Valletta oozes timelessness and charm. The best way to explore the city is on foot. Meander through the maze of alleyways and stumble onto hidden gems. With some of the friendliest locals around, you never need to worry about getting lost. They’ll happily point you in the right direction, or better yet, make suggestions on other cool places to pop into!

A winning wonder of this World Heritage Site has to be the beautiful Upper Barrakka Gardens. Boasting panoramic views over the saluting battery, harbour and The Three Cities, take your time and find a bench to while away a few hours. Watch as the cruise ships come and go, or take an amble and admire the collection of famous bronze statues. A tranquil oasis filled with fountains and lush palms, the Upper Barrakka Gardens are a great way to recharge before more roaming.

Once the sun sets, Valletta’s character changes. The atmosphere is ruled by the jaw-dropping architecture, perfectly lit up in golden tones across the city. It’s no wonder that this gorgeous place has been hailed the European Capital of Culture for 2018. The city beats to a rhythm of its people and its past – and it’s a beat you can’t help but tap along to. After a long day of exploration, you’ll likely feel that you’ve barely scratched the surface! Restaurants and wine bars along the waterfront offer a relaxing end to the day. Tantalise your taste buds with delicious food and swoon over the beautiful views. Although to be fair, this is Valletta – there’s not a bad view in the house!

Teide National Park, Tenerife

Hot air balloons flying above the mountains of Teide National Park in Tenerife

This one-of-a-kind park is a unique geological treasure and home to the world’s third tallest volcano – Mount Teide. A desert landscape made up of mountains, craters, rivers of petrified lava and weird and whacky shaped rock formations. This National Park is the perfect backdrop for keen photographers and instagrammers alike.

Set your sights on panoramic heights and treat yourself to a trip to the top via cable car. A thrilling eight minute journey will set your heart racing with stunning views from every angle. Just sit back, relax and snap away as the view unfolds before you. Depending what time of day you decide to make the trip, hang around for a show-stopping sunset. Golden hues fall into the horizon behind Mount Teide’s dominating silhouette.

For something a little different, make the most of Tenerife’s trademark clear skies and go stargazing. There’s a lot of tours and sessions available in the National Park away from any light pollution, so you can enjoy the skies just as nature intended. From the calm of night to daredevil days, paragliding is a hugely popular pastime in Tenerife. You can opt for a tandem jump, so all the responsibility is with the instructor while you enjoy the ride. A bucket list addition for sure, the scenes below your feet are out-of-this-world!

Pompeii, Italy

Fallen statues and ruins of Pompeii in Italy, with snow-topped mountains behind

A stone’s throw from Naples lies ancient Pompeii. Excavated from metres of ash (after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D), you can now roam the ruins of this once bustling Roman city. Nothing can quite prepare you for just how big the site is! Pompeii was self-sustaining, with houses, villas, a complex water system, a port, amphitheatre and gymnasium. Wandering along the preserved cobbled streets is a truly immersive experience and a stunning snapshot of what daily life might have been like in this part of Italy. Eerily frozen in time, the town serves as a haunting reminder of the overwhelming power of nature.

The area attracted wealthy vacationers, and their collections of art and treasures helped shape architectural trends of the era – as well as teaching scholars a lot about the time too. Highlights of the area include The Roman Forum, the Anfiteatro (the oldest amphitheatre in existence), the main piazza, a selection of bakeries, family-run restaurants and ancient homes. Houses still contained furniture, ornaments, gold and silverware, work tools, kitchenware and food produce. Skeletons were even found right where they’d fallen, trying to escape their fate and find shelter from the destruction.

Exploring Pompeii is like stepping back in time, and walking is by far the best way to understand the preserved city. It could easily take a day to see the entire thing, so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to make the most of this wonderful piece of history. Before you end your visit, be sure to look over at the impressive view of Mount Vesuvius in the distance. It might look perfectly peaceful, but is still classified as active, and is one of the most populated volcanic areas in the world.

The Pitons, St. Lucia

The twin peaks of the Piton Mountains in St. Lucia

St. Lucia is a tropical paradise playground, with the iconic Pitons standing proud over the little town of Soufrière. The crowning glory of the south west, the region is jam-packed with old plantations, hidden powder-sand beaches and luscious rainforests. Visible from almost every part of the island, the Pitons can be seen for miles. A visit to St. Lucia wouldn’t be complete without seeing this famous pair in the flesh. Reportedly the most photographed site in the entire Caribbean, they’ve even made it onto the labels of the local beer.

Rising majestically from the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea, there’s just as much breathtaking beauty below the water as above it. In fact, The Pitons extend down under the sea as far as they tower above. Coral reefs make up 60% of the marine area, teeming with parrot fish, trumpet fish, needle fish and many more! A favourite for diving and snorkelling, experience a world of colour against a backdrop of volcanic boulders that make up the base of the pyramid peaks.

Above the waves, get up close and personal with The Pitons with a spot of hiking! Trekking to the top of Gros Piton is one of the most popular tours of the island, and the hard graft of the climb is well worth the jaw-dropping vistas from this wonderful World Heritage Site. Nothing will quite prepare you for the 360° panoramas, so savour every second of this bucket list beauty! They say nature soothes the soul, but you might find you’ll want to soothe your aching soles once you’ve made it back down. Head to Jalousie Beach for a refreshing dip in the warm waters of the Caribbean – maybe nature does soothe the soles after all!

Olympia, Peloponnese – Mainland Greece

The ancient ruins of Olympia in Mainland Greece

Things don’t get grander than this Greek gift from the gods! Olympia is home to one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces from the ancient world, and the scale is mind-boggling. By far the most famous site in Peloponnese, history buffs will have a field day! Although anyone can enjoy this exceptional place. You may even surprise yourself with how much you recognise – thanks to the bright lights of Hollywood and pop culture.

The Ancient town and sanctuary itself was dedicated to the gods, namely the lightning-wielding Greek god of the sky, Zeus. The Olympic Games were also held here to honour Zeus, and these original games later inspired our modern day version, with many of the traditions and practices still adopted today! Although now in ruins, there’s still a huge amount to explore. Remnants of a revered time in human history, walking the dusty paths among column structures is a truly breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Surrounded by idyllic countryside and hills carpeted with trees, the crowning glory of Olympia is the Temple of Zeus. The largest in all of Peloponnese, it was sadly destroyed by an earthquake –including the rather dashing marble and gold statue of the god himself (which was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). While wandering the ruins, you’ll also spy the remains of the Temple of Hera, the Ancient Olympic Stadium, the Museum of the Olympic Games, as well as The Palaestra and Gymnasium and other little treasures. Awe-struck, you’ll be asking yourself what is must have been like to visit in ancient times!

Blue and John Crow Mountains, Jamaica

The beautifully green Blue Mountains on the island of Jamaica

The beautiful backdrop to Jamaica’s lovely beaches is the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. Lush rainforests and rugged mountains make up this gorgeous region. Breathe in the fresh air and soak up the jaw-dropping scenery. Rising steeply into the clouds, the forests are thick and teeming with wildlife. Vibrant colourful birds sing to one another, and bursts of flowers fill the atmosphere with sweet scents.

The park has three mountain ranges, and boasts Jamaica’s highest point. The Blue Mountain peak stands tall at 2,256m in height, and on a clear day you can even see Cuba! That would be a very rare treat though, as the mountains get their name from the thick mist that descends on the peaks and gives them their blue colour. Both hiking and mountain biking are popular ways to get around, but it’s worth noting many of the trails aren’t created for tourists. They’re the result of local people getting to know their home landscape. The five main bushwalking trails to look out for are The Blue Mahoe Trail, Oatley Mountain Trail, Waterfall Trail, Shelter Trail and The Wag Water Trail.

Holywell Park is a great way to enjoy the peaceful, lush beauty of Jamaica’s mountains. For the non-hikers, you can take a bus ride or car ride up the hills to enjoy majestic views. The iconic coffee plant aroma fills the air, and you’ll be missing out if you don’t grab a fresh cup of the stuff. You can even visit one of the many plantations and observe the everyday activities of workers on a coffee farm. Prepare to be blown away by the authenticity of this gorgeous National Park, the memories you make here will live on long after you’ve left.

There’s plenty more for all you culture vultures to sink your teeth into, from historic holidays to intriguing cities you might not have heard of! Or perhaps you’re ready to dive deeper into our spectacular destinations?

Emma Mackey

Emma Mackey is a Content Executive at James Villa Holidays.

To say I have an obsession with travel would be an understatement. Adventuring with my...

See all articles by Emma Mackey

See all articles by Emma Mackey


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