Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

The UNESCO Hunt: 1-10



A few months ago, I resolved to visit 101 UNESCO World Heritage Sites by the end of the year. That would require me to visit 50 new sites in about eight months.

It soon became clear that this was not going to happen.

I failed in several ways. First off, I was traveling solidly for more than a month straight with no downtime: home (no new sites), Italy (three sites documented below), South Africa (no new sites), and the Netherlands (one site documented below) before leaving on the SOTM Tour.

Getting ready for the SOTM Tour left me so busy that I had no time to see any other sites — not the post-Netherlands trip to Germany and Luxembourg that I had to abandon, not the other sites in England, not even the other two sites in LONDON!

And when UNESCO announced their new sites for 2013, I had been to none of them. I had hoped to pick up at least one more there.

Beyond that, my travel plans for this year were overly ambitious. Now that I have committed to slowing our travels down, there’s no way I’m going to hit 50 new ones by December.


I’m still going to work on this goal. I’m still going to get to 101 UNESCO sites. It will just take me a bit longer.

For now, here are the first 10 sites I’ve visited since beginning the challenge, complete with UNESCO’s thoughts and my own thoughts:


52. Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin, Germany

UNESCO’s take: “The five museums on the Museumsinsel in Berlin, built between 1824 and 1930, are the realization of a visionary project and show the evolution of approaches to museum design over the course of the 20th century. Each museum was designed so as to establish an organic connection with the art it houses.”

My take: I appreciate the thought that went into designing buildings appropriate to the museums within, but I can’t say that I was particularly captivated by Museumsinsel. If you’re in Berlin, definitely stop by; otherwise, it’s not one of the OMG-you-absolutely-must items on this list.

Val d'Orcia

53. Val d’Orcia, Italy

UNESCO’s take: “The landscape of Val d’Orcia is part of the agricultural hinterland of Siena, redrawn and developed when it was integrated in the territory of the city-state in the 14th and 15th centuries to reflect an idealized model of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture.”

My take: When driving around the Val d’Orcia, you have this strange feeling of familiarity, like you’ve been here before. It’s from all the paintings that you’ve seen in your life! It really is a canvas brought to life, and the Val d’Orcia is a fascinating place to visit and photograph for that reason alone.

Pienza Osteria

54. Historic Centre of the City of Pienza

UNESCO’s take: “It was in this Tuscan town that Renaissance town-planning concepts were first put into practice after Pope Pius II decided, in 1459, to transform the look of his birthplace.”

My take: I absolutely fell in love with Pienza, not only because it’s so beautiful, but also because it’s brimming with romance. While it may not be the most impressive Italian city I’ve seen in terms or architecture or history, it is an absolutely beautifully preserved place and I highly recommend visiting it.


55. Historic Centre of Siena

UNESCO’s take: “[Siena’s] inhabitants pursued their rivalry with Florence right into the area of urban planning. Throughout the centuries, they preserved their city’s Gothic appearance, acquired between the 12th and 15th centuries…The whole city of Siena, built around the Piazza del Campo, was devised as a work of art that blends into the surrounding landscape.”

My take: Siena is definitely nice, and cultural, and a great Tuscany day trip, but I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite places in Italy. It’s not quite a city, and definitely not a small town. The architecture is wonderful, and I love the flags that decorate the streets, but I’m not so sure how well it was designed to blend into the surrounding landscape.

Amsterdam Canals

56. Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring of Amsterdam Inside the Singelgracht

UNESCO’s take: “The historic urban ensemble of the canal district of Amsterdam was a project for a new ‘port city’ built at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. It comprises a network of canals to the west and south of the historic old town and the medieval port that encircled the old town and was accompanied by the repositioning inland of the city’s fortified boundaries, the Singelgracht.”

My take: This is an icon! You’ve got to visit the canals of Amsterdam. It’s a fantastic place to photograph. Two odd things: first, it actually reminded me of Boston, and second, I have no idea how people live here — most of the canals have no barrier, so it’s easy for anyone, and especially children, to fall in.

Chartres Cathedral

57. Chartres Cathedral

UNESCO’s take: “Partly built starting in 1145, and then reconstructed over a 26-year period after the fire of 1194, Chartres Cathedral marks the high point of French Gothic art. The vast nave, in pure ogival style, the porches adorned with fine sculptures from the middle of the 12th century, and the magnificent 12th- and 13th-century stained-glass windows, all in remarkable condition, combine to make it a masterpiece.”

My take: The cathedral is excellent — definitely one of the best gothic cathedrals in Europe, and hands down the best French gothic cathedral — but I enjoyed the town more than I enjoyed the cathedral itself. Chartres is a good afternoon trip from Paris, or you can pair it with a trip to Versailles, as it’s on the same train line.

Mount Titano

58. San Marino Historic Centre and Mount Titano

UNESCO’s take: “San Marino is inscribed as a testimony to the continuity of a free republic since the Middle Ages…Thanks to its position on top of Mount Titano, it was not affected by the urban transformations that have occurred from the advent of the industrial era to today.”

My take: While San Marino feels a bit Disneyfied, due to lots of tourism confined to a small space, I found it charming — and the views are unbelievable. The single coolest thing is that the entire country is perched on Mount Titano (which is the reason why no trains run there). It’s like something out of a fairy tale, and definitely worth a visit.


59. Ferrara, City of the Renaissance, and its Po Delta

UNESCO’s take: “The humanist concept of the ‘ideal city’ came to life here in the neighbourhoods built from 1492 onwards by Biagio Rossetti according to the new principles of perspective. The completion of this project marked the birth of modern town planning and influenced its subsequent development.”

My take: Ferrara was certainly a beautiful city, with lots of architectural marvels — but I didn’t find it as impressive as other cities in Italy, or even in Emilia-Romagna. The old town didn’t feel as charming as most Tuscan towns. I actually preferred nearby Parma, which isn’t UNESCO-listed, but perhaps it should be.

Schonnbrun Palace

60. Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn

UNESCO’s take: “From the 18th century to 1918, Schönbrunn was the residence of the Habsburg emperors…Together with its gardens, the site of the world’s first zoo in 1752, it is a remarkable Baroque ensemble and a perfect example of Gesamtkunstwerk.”

My take: It’s like the Austrian Versailles! Really, if Baroque art and architecture are your thing, this is a great place to visit — and if you don’t want to spend any money, the gardens are free! Schönbrunn is a great place to live out your Austro-Hungarian Empire Royal fantasies.

Amazing Valletta

61. City of Valletta

UNESCO’s take: “The capital of Malta is inextricably linked to the history of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem. It was ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John. Valletta’s 320 monuments, all within an area of 55 ha, make it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.”

My take: I’ve never seen a city that looks like this — and that makes it very special. Valletta is one of the oldest planned cities in the world and is built on a grid — it’s so strange to see, especially being from Boston, a city with no reason to its crazy street layout! Add the amazing architecture (and balconies) on top and you have a winner. A must.

So — which ones were my favorites?

Valletta. It’s such a cool city, both in terms of its crazy history and its unusual look.

And Pienza and the Val d’Orcia. I can put them together because Pienza is technically within the Val d’Orcia — it’s a UNESCO inside a UNESCO, a meta-UNESCO! This is Italy at its best.

Lake Ohrid

Coming Up

Stay tuned until the next ten sites! The list will start with sites from Malta, Macedonia (pictured above), and hopefully Japan and Korea!

Have you been to any of these UNESCO sites? What did you think of them?

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28 Responses to “The UNESCO Hunt: 1-10”
  1. Jaunting Jen says:

    Hi Kate, this is one of my favorite posts of yours so far. I used to be an archaeologist and I am also working on my MA in ancient history so I LOVE reading about the UNESCO sites!

  2. Brandy says:

    Awesome pictures!

    I’m very interested in your trip to Japan – I’m going there soon!

  3. I haven’t been to any of these sites, but I’ve added Museum Island (Berlin) and Chartres (France) to my list since I’ll be visiting both Berlin and Paris next year.

  4. This is such an awesome goal! That’s a short amount of time to visit that many sites when you’ve got so much going on, so I don’t think anybody will scoff at you extending your goal. 😉 Can’t wait to read the next couple of sites and do some exploration myself!

  5. Clare says:

    Visiting UNESCO sites is definitely something I’m giving a lot more thought to in my own travels as time goes on, and I really loved reading your personal take on each of the sites you’ve listed here. Lovely stuff! Plus, I’m really considering Malta now. My sister has just returned from a trip there and I think it could be a new destination for me to consider for next year’s travels…

  6. Charlotte says:

    Woah, I’ve been to Schönbrunn Palace and didn’t even realize it was a UNESCO site! Hence one of my recent goals – To educate myself a bit on the historical and cultural significance of every place I visit, instead of just going in and snapping pretty pictures without thinking about it.

  7. Taylor says:

    man looking at the full list i didn’t realize how many there were! and how many countries i’d visited where i’d only hit one of 15 or 20. i did go to schoenbrunn on my first trip to europe back in 2005 and was equally as amazed by it’s richness. i may have to pay more attention to this list in future travels.

  8. Sussy says:

    Wow, that’s really a great challenge.
    Sometimes I visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites and did not even knew, that they are one. I think since your post I will keep more an eye on that.
    Unfortunatly I have not been to even one of the places you went to.
    But especially Valetta looks beautiful.
    My best visit of an UNESCO World Heritage site so far were the Tombs of the Kings at Paphos/Cyprus, a magical place.
    Good luck for your challenge, I am sure you will make the 101!

  9. Voyagista says:

    Hi Kate,
    I am kind of like you I like adding UNESCO places to my list:) I am over 100 now but sometimes I find those places just too busy due to their status, especially in China for instance!
    I am sure you are going to love Japan, i lived there several years and it’s a very special place, do not miss Gokayama in the WHO list, a bit remote but totally Worth it!

  10. Noel says:

    Hi Kate thanks for showing us these breath-taking UNESCO sites and sharing your insights about them. How I wish I could see them in the future and spend some time in these places to learn more about the culture, people and food.

  11. Such an incredible goal to have but I agree… take your time! They aren’t going anywhere 🙂

    Love this post! I hope you’re enjoying your summer travels now that you’re moving at a slower pace.

  12. Momo says:

    Very nice idea. I try to visit UNESCO places too in my travels.
    I’m surprised you haven’t visited Portugal. It probably has the most UNESCO sites per sqm.

  13. I didn’t even know that some of these places are world heritage sites. I visited Schönbrunn and had no idea it was one. I guess I must have been to more sites than I thought…

  14. Arianwen says:

    I haven’t been to any of them! Time for another trip to Europe I think!

  15. Good stuff! Ever thought of visiting the few UNESCO sites Slovenia has to offer (it is just next to Italy)? Skocjan caves really are spectacular.

  16. Spain has loads of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and I just walked the Camino de Santiago. Definitely one of the coolest of the nearly 60 I’ve been to!

  17. Jon says:

    hey i love your travel adventures of South East Asia..maybe its just me but the European sights above just seem so dull and boring in Macedonia/Austria! Give me a beach over a museum anyday 😛

  18. Woah that weblog is superb i really like reading the articles you write. Keep up to date the great art! You realize, many persons want about with this data, you could potentially help them to significantly.

  19. Brian says:

    One hundred and one UNESCO’s sounds better than 101 dalmatians to me. I have always travelled a lot and spent most of my time in Europe, finally settling on France as a place where I could hang my hat, call home and travel around Europe simply by jumping into my car.

    Our nearest UNESCO site is the Canal du Midi which is only 10 minutes away, followed by La Cite in Carcassonne a further 30 minutes towards the Mediterranean coastline. In fact if you take France in general you will find more UNESCO sites than you can shake a stick at, 41 sites are currently listed for France. That’s getting on for nearly half of your target and what you will find is that there are clumps of them clustered together so you don’t have to travel too far from UNESCO to another.

    So I guess where I am coming from is that your task could be made a little easier if you targeted a few of the areas where you are spoilt for choice when it comes to UNESCO sites. That’s probably not the point of the exercise entirely, but it would certainly help you whittle the numbers down a tad and don’t forget, the UNESCO label is not awarded lightly, so you would still be visiting some amazing places that are well worth blogging about.


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