Lonely Planet Scotland: Far North named as top place to visit

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The Far North has been put in the top 10 of the best regions in the world to visit in 2024, alongside the likes of Kangaroo Island in South Australia, known for its rugged coastline and wildlife, Tuscany in Italy, Donegal in Ireland and Pais Vasco, in Spain’s Basque Country.

They share the category with Western Balkans’ Trans Dinarica Cycling Route, Southern Thailand, Swahili Coast in Tanzania, Montana in the USA and Saafelden Leogang in the Austrian Alps.

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The Far North – which spans part of the controversial NC500 route – is one of only two UK destinations to be awarded a listing in the prestigious publication. The other, Wales’ Trails, a revamp of public transport that aids travelling without the need for a car, is featured within the sustainability category.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel hotlist is voted for by its global community of staff, local writers, and publishing partners, and is said to offer expert insight into lesser-known destinations and new takes on popular places. 

It says the Far North of Scotland has been included in recognition of its for its “unsung boggy interior and a coastline of heartbreaking beauty”.

The award is being seen as a major coup for the area and, in particular, the unspoiled peatlands which last month took a step closer to becoming a Unesco World Heritage site after a team working for the UN completed a survey of the Flow Country.

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The findings from the visit are now being reported back to UNESCO with a recommendation set to be made to the World Heritage committee on whether the Flow Country will join natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon in being recognised by the global cultural institution for its outstanding natural attributes.

The bog, which covers nearly half a million acres, is one of the most extensive and intact blanket bog system in the world, and stores more carbon than all the forests in Britain – it is estimated to contain 400 million tonnes of carbon.

And although it might appear flat and featureless, the landscape teems with more than 400 small lochs, mosses, heathers, grasses, insects and wildlife.

The Far North coastline, meanwhile, draws tourists to its rugged cliffs, sea stacks harbouring puffins and other seabirds – such as at Duncansby Head – whitewashed lighthouses and clean, sandy beaches.

The Herald:

Flow Country: Suilven and Loch Druim Suardalain

The Flow Country was first suggested for World Heritage Site status in 1998, however plans to take it forward were only established in 2010.  A decision from the UN body is expected in mid-2024.

Much of the Flow Country is within the 516-miles North Coast 500 route which starts and ends at Inverness Castle.

However, the route has been criticised for encouraging visitors to race from one point to the next, missing out on exploring the natural treasures within the area.

It’s hoped the Lonely Planet listing might encourage a slower form of tourism, with visitors taking more time to discover lesser visited areas around the Flow Country and learn about its vital role in carbon storage, natural features and wildlife.

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Two-thirds of the Flow Country, with its interlinked pool systems and micro flora and fauna – often only probably visible up close – are listed as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Dr Steven Andrews, of the Flow Country Heritage Project, who is leading the Unesco World Heritage Bid, said: “The Flow Country is an enigmatic landscape – a place of sweeping moorlands and bogs that’s quite hard to appreciate on a first visit.

“You need to spend a bit of time walking here, a bit of time sitting down too.

“I find the longer it takes to get to know a place, the deeper your understanding.”

The travel guide awarded its ‘gold medal’ to Mongolia, singling out its “wide-open spaces, adventures and culture’, with its capital, Ulaanbaatar, ‘teeming with people and unique attractions’.

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It placed India as runner-up, describing it as “the world’s most colourful country”.

The guide place Spain at the top of its sustainable travel list, and named Nairobi, Kenya as its best city.

Tourism Minister Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland’s rich and diverse history, heritage, archaeology and natural beauty inspire and captivate millions of visitors to our shores every year.

“It’s gratifying to see the Far North Scotland come as highly recommended as other world-renowned destinations like Tuscany and Montana.

“This honour shows that what Scotland has to offer is truly unique.”

 Lord Thurso, VisitScotland Chair, added: “To have the Far North Scotland included as one of 50 destinations in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2024 list is a huge achievement. It shows that despite the challenges facing the industry, the world continues to recognise our distinct offering and the effort that goes into our renowned visitor experiences.    

“Our scenery and landscape are among the things that makes Scotland so special. VisitScotland is encouraging responsible travel, inspiring visitors to discover more of the region, stay longer, visit during quieter periods and take time to really immerse themselves in a destination.  

“With its awe-inspiring landscapes and diverse offering, Caithness and Sutherland is an ideal location to do that. This helps support local tourism in turn creating jobs, sustaining communities and contributing to the wider visitor economy.” 



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