Feature

This week’s dream: Autumn destinations off the beaten path

Australia’s ‘back of beyond’; Belfast regains its voice; The jewel of Sicily; Ecuador’s reborn historic city

Australia’s ‘back of beyond’
Even crows sound different in what the Australians call the “back of beyond,” said Shane Mitchell in Travel + Leisure. The stretch of wilderness also known as the Top End comprises more than a half-million square miles along the northern part of the continent and encompasses “some of the world’s least populated but most climatically diverse regions.” These range from saltwater estuaries to arid savannas to “impassable peaks.” In Bungle Bungle Range, within Purnululu National Park, the 20-million-year-old striped-rock formations resemble giant beehives. Kununurrua, a mining and cattle town, is home to the Waringarri Aboriginal Arts studio. “Beyond Kununurrua lie the East Kimberley plains, fenced in by sprawling cattle stations.” My journey to Top End’s northernmost tip concluded at Bamurru Plains, “an eco-conscious bush camp.” At this earth-toned lodge filled with modern Aboriginal art, we dined on kangaroo shepherd’s pie by kerosene lamp and fell asleep as wallabies sported in the bush outside. Contact: Australia.com

Belfast regains its voice
Ten years after the Northern Ireland peace agreement, Belfast is now “one of Europe’s liveliest towns,” said Joshua Hammer in The New York Times. A wave of new investments has transformed this once war-torn, economically depressed city. The Titanic Quarter, a massive entertainment complex, now rises over the city’s abandoned shipyards, where the doomed luxury liner was built. But the most exciting sign of rebirth is the blossoming of more than 40 clubs, “including a dozen where Irish musicians go back to their roots.” Traditional Irish music incorporating such instruments as the uilleann pipe—the Irish national bagpipe—dates back more than a thousand years. The most authentic hangouts in Belfast can be found in the Cathedral Quarter. Here “musicians gather once or twice a week” in pubs frequented by ex-paramilitary fighters. At Kellys Cellars Traditional Irish Pub, founded in 1720, I nursed a pint, listened to a lively air, and resisted the urge “to let loose with a solo jig of my own.”
Contact: Gotobelfast.com

The jewel of Sicily
Palermo is my favorite European city, said Rahul Jacob in the Financial Times. In fact, my affection for this charming, chaotic Sicilian port borders on an addiction. Perhaps I should be appalled by the “jumble of architectural styles” ranging from Arab to Byzantine, or the plethora of crumbling buildings in some neighborhoods. Maybe I should worry about the insane traffic, which reminds me of the mad scramble of bees after a hive has been damaged. Frankly, though, “I scarcely notice” these things, and I keep returning here again and again. Palermo “can lay claim to have invented multiculturalism.” When the rest of Europe was convulsed by the Crusades in the 12th century, the Sicilian monarch Roger II created a kingdom built on tolerance for both Christian and Muslim beliefs. To this day, Moroccan-style architectural motifs are commonplace, whether on church cupolas or restaurant ceilings. Every time I visit Palermo, I also go to the recently restored opera house, “whether there is a performance or not.”
Contact: Bestofsicily.com

Ecuador’s reborn historic city
Quito has come back from the brink, said Charmaine Noronha in the San Jose Mercury News. In 1978 the capital of Ecuador was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it embarked on a restoration program. Yet only eight years ago, Quito was still a warren of crime-ridden ghettos and dilapidated buildings. Now more than 200 have been restored, including the cathedral, three theaters, various monasteries and churches, and “the narrow, picture-perfect street known as La Ronda.” The former Naval Archives is now the Centro Cultural Metropolitano—“a bustling museum housed in a 400-year-old complex.” Other notable restorations include the Church of San Francisco, “a hybrid of Spanish, Mudejar, and Incan architecture” built in 1536, and the Monastery of San Francisco, “the country’s largest colonial structure,” which now displays work by indigenous artists from the 17th and 18th centuries. Contact: Quito.com.ec

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