Believe it or not, there are still some terrific places left in this world that don't appear on anyone's Top 10 "must see" list. These are places that are low pressure, tourist-lite, and breathtakingly beautiful, but too small or too out of the way, perhaps, to have any mass appeal.
Over the years we've been collecting such spots like so many baseball cards, to be pulled out every so often for another look.
ONE IS Hanora's Cottage (www.hanorascottage.com) in southern Ireland which has been high on our "A" list for years. Hidden away in the Nire Valley, surrounded by the Knockmealdown Mountains, this exceptionally comfortable but unpretentious family-run hotel is the very essence of Irish hospitality.
And it has absolutely everything that's good for the soul: an isolated setting, a gurgling stream, mountains to hike, rivers to fish, and enough golf courses to satisfy duffers and pros alike. There's also plenty of interesting stuff to do and see within easy driving distance.
And, most importantly, owner Mary Wall and her family of award-winning chefs cook up some of the most delectable food in all of Ireland. Tip: Try Mary's incredible secret-ingredient porridge. It's to die for.
PORTALS NOUS on the island of Majorca makes our list because for some 25 years we had an efficiency apartment there overlooking the Mediterranean. Majorca has admittedly had its ups and downs as a tourist resort over the past quarter century. But currently it's on the upswing - lager louts out, royals and celebs in.
Happily the little village, about 15 miles from the capital, Palma, has managed to restrain itself, despite a sandy beach replacing pebbles and a nearby marina that has brought a smell of wealth and sophistication to the neighborhood.
Portals, with some reasonably priced hotels, also makes a most convenient touring base from which to visit the rest of this sunshiny Mediterranean jewel.
FOR US, Arles embodies the very best of Provence in the south of France.
And sitting at an outside cafe in the Place du Forum, sipping a glass of something cold as the world goes by, is probably as good as it's ever going to get.
Arles, to us, says warm south and jumbly cobbled streets. It says marvelous Roman architecture - such as the oldest and best-preserved amphitheater in existence - and enough ancient ruins to fill a host of museums.
If outdoor markets are your thing, Arles has one of the best in France, itself worth a trip. And the regional cuisine in any of the town's many charming restaurants is universally scrumptious.
We'd probably choose the Hotel d'Arlatan (www.hotel-arlatan.fr), but there are several other good options.
UNLIKE MOST OF our other picks, Sorrento may well show up on a Top 50 list somewhere. But we're including it because we love it so.
Little Sorrento has it all: brilliant views across the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius, a vibrant maze of shopping and dining alleys, great excursions to Capri and Pompeii and along the Amalfi Coast, and an abundance of cliffhanger hotels.
Best, in our view, is the Imperial Hotel Tramontano (www.tramontano.com). It offers a divine location, the very essence of efficiency, and warmth all the way from the front desk to the wait staff - not always true of the other hotels in town. It's an extremely good value to boot.
Sorrento is best visited in the low season - spring or fall - when there are fewer visitors and plenty of room in the hotels and restaurants.
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