Thirteen classic travel experiences you need to do more than once

Novelty is honey to the jaded bee that is the international traveller. What's the latest hotspot, the next culture capital, the world's most-Instagrammed place, the restaurant now considered number one? We hurry and super scurry, but what's the end result of this eager hunt for the new? A social-media post, fleeting impressions, the smugness that comes from knowing you've done something before anyone else.

Yet not everything new is satisfying. Maybe we should, sometimes, turn to the tried-and-tested experiences of travel. Not that longevity is the only thing that makes a classic travel experience memorable, as anyone disappointed at an ancient ruin knows. It's a good start, though, to let the glitter of hype settle and await ongoing substance. A classic travel experience also has style, it has grace, it has cultural depth. It delivers on its promises, even if it sometimes overcharges you at the same time. (Good things rarely come cheap.)

A travel classic stands as a symbol of the wider society in which it's placed, and the times during which it was created. A classic has that je ne sais quoi that makes it fascinating, glamorous, inspiring, painted and written-about, eternally desirable no matter what the novelty hunters say. Here's our salute to some great travel experiences that just never get stale.

THE CLASSIC JOURNEY

Mt. Haguro in Tsuruoka City, Japan.
 SunSep9coverclassics - Salute to the Classics - Brian Johnston
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

WHAT IS IT

The famous journey of great 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, recounted in his Narrow Road to the North, leads northwards from Tokyo into Tohoku, a region of old-fashioned country charm and scenic beauty where traditional ways of life thrive.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Basho saw travel as a search for spiritual meaning and escape from ourselves and our worldly trappings. His poetry inspired America's Beat Generation to similar themes. You'll certainly feel at one with nature amid Tohoku's stunning national parks, misty offshore islands and rural paths and temples, some unchanged since Basho's day.

DON'T MISS

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Mount Haguro (tohokukanko.jp) provides an astonishing outlook over mountain chains. Stone steps flanked by ancient cedar trees and tori gates lead to tranquil Shinto shrines.

THE ESSENTIALS

Inside Japan Tours has a 14-day self-guided Northern Highlights adventure in Tohoku that visits many destinations associated with Basho. See insidejapantours.com

THE CLASSIC TRAIN RIDE

SunSep9coverclassics - Salute to the Classics - Brian Johnston
Venice-Simplon Orient Express
Supplied by Belmond media centre

WHAT IS IT

The Venice-Simplon Orient Express, launched in 1883, initially ran between Paris and Venice, later to London and Istanbul. Today's re-imagined version connects Europe's most romantic cities, including Prague and Vienna.

WHY WE LOVE IT

The legendary train, associated with diplomats, royalty and glamorous spies, was immortalised by Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and Graham Greene's Stamboul Train. It oozes old-world luxury, from polished art deco woodwork to Lalique glassware. Fine French cuisine is served by liveried stewards. The Alps provide sumptuous scenery.

DON'T MISS

Spend time on a plush blue sofa in the bar car as a piano tinkles or jazz trio plays. Guests wear diamonds or tuxedos and quaff champagne cocktails. You can speculate on who might be an assassin.

THE ESSENTIALS

The Orient Express makes a variety of European journeys. From £2450 per person (about $4300) for the Paris-Venice route. See belmond.com

THE CLASSIC DRIVE

beutiful stretch of historic route 66
 SunSep9coverclassics - Salute to the Classics - Brian Johnston
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

WHAT IS IT

US federal highway Route 66 ran 3940 kilometres diagonally across America from Chicago to Santa Monica, a Los Angeles suburb. Though now decommissioned, Historic Route 66 stays close to the original.

WHY WE LOVE IT

The emergence of the 1950s American interstate highway and widespread car ownership spawned the driving holiday. The open road symbolised freedom and was glamorised in movies from Easy Rider (1969) to Thelma & Louise (1991). The ultimate driving route provides abundant Americana, from old-style gas stations and diners to quintessential Arizona landscapes.

DON'T MISS

California's Mojave Desert (nps.gov), historically the most dreaded part of Route 66, is stunningly beautiful, crossing lava formations and the San Andreas Fault. The "singing" Kelso sand dunes and Teutonia's Joshua trees are magnificent.

THE ESSENTIALS

Route 66 connects eight states, but scenic highlights begin west of Albuquerque in New Mexico. See visitcalifornia.com and newmexico.org

THE CLASSIC SPA TOWN

Goethe square - center of small west bohemian spa town Marianske Lazne (Marienbad) - Czech Republic
 SunSep9coverclassics - Salute to the Classics - Brian Johnston
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

WHAT IS IT

Marienbad made its name as a 19th-century spa retreat frequented by royalty and famous composers. Now Marianske Lazne, it's 170 kilometres west of Prague in the Czech Republic.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Watery wellness has provided travel motivation since ancient times and spawned our beach culture. Marianske Lazne is a delightful example of an aristocratic European retreat. Sumptuous fin-de-siecle spa buildings and hotels sit out against dark forest-covered hills and are flanked by manicured lawns and flowerbeds. You can wallow in the fizzy waters at public baths or high-end spa retreats.

DON'T MISS

The 19th-century Colonnade still provides whiffy, iron-laden refreshment at its mineral-water taps, and many people-watching pleasures. Sneak in a cream cake at the cafe when wellness palls.

THE ESSENTIALS

Health Spa Resort Nove Lazne (danubiushotels.com) has rooms from $230 and comprehensive one-day spa treatments from $217. See marianskelazne.cz

THE CLASSIC HILL STATION

DARJEELING, INDIA, - July. 5. 2012: Women pick up tea leafs by hand at tea garden in Darjeeling, one of the best quality tea in the world, India
 SunSep9coverclassics - Salute to the Classics - Brian Johnston
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

WHAT IS IT

Himalayan getaway Darjeeling, 600 kilometres north of Kolkata, was the favourite summer resort of the British Raj thanks to its cool climate and magnificent setting.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Although colonialism was far from glamorous, it's hard to resist the old-fashioned allure of hill stations in hot, humid climes, and the way they encapsulate a bygone age and particular travel style. Darjeeling is the definitive example, with pseudo-Gothic architecture and Victorian-era promenades sitting pretty under the snowy dominance of Kanchenjunga, and surrounded by tea plantations.

DON'T MISS

Windamere Hotel (windamerehotel.com) is slightly down-at-heel but has all the trappings of a bygone age, from open fires to claw-foot baths and white-gloved waiters serving watercress soup and wobbly trifles. You'll feel like a character in a Kipling novel.

THE ESSENTIALS

Abercrombie & Kent's nine-day Himalayan Sojourn private journey focuses on Darjeeling. From $5565 a person. See abercrombiekent.com.au

THE CLASSIC TOURIST ROUTE

WHAT IS IT

Southern Germany's Romantic Road runs 350 kilometres from baroque-era wine and university town Wurzburg south into the Bavarian Alps at Fussen near King Ludwig II's iconic Neuschwanstein castle.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Sure, tourist routes are dreamed up as a marketing ploy, but this one has stood the test of time since its inauguration in the 1950s. For visitors, it provides easy access and great variety: cherub-covered palaces and ruined castles, improbably ornate country churches, vineyards and cheese dairies. Hiking and cycle paths are everywhere. If you're after quintessential country Germany with a backdrop of Alps, look no further.

DON'T MISS

The well-preserved medieval, fortified towns Nordlingen (noerdlingen.de), Dinkelsbuhl (dinkelsbuehl.de) and Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber (rothenburg.de) are the highlight, combining imperial history with ridiculous flowery cuteness.

THE ESSENTIALS

A Romantic Road Express coach (touring-travel.eu) links major sights and towns and connects to Munich and Frankfurt airports. See romantischestrasse.de

THE CLASSIC NATIONAL PARK

Giraffes in Kruger park South Africa
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CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photos: Shutterstock

WHAT IS IT

Kruger National Park stretches 220,000 square kilometres along South Africa's eastern border with Mozambique, within easy reach of Johannesburg.

WHY WE LOVE IT

A great national park should encapsulate the wilderness experience, which here means giraffes and lions just a snort away. Kruger is one of few places for a do-it-yourself safari, and one of Africa's most accessible national parks. You can drive your own vehicle and stay at campsites or self-catering guesthouses.

DON'T MISS

The central grasslands support herds of antelope, kudu and waterbuck, plus the big cats that prey on them. The southern waterholes are good places to see elephants, hippos and crocodiles. The least-visited northern sector is the haunt of elephants, buffalos, leopards and nyala

THE ESSENTIALS

Kruger has 24 different camps, which must be booked in advance through the National Parks Board (sanparks.org). Park fees are $32 a day. See krugerpark.co.za

THE CLASSIC CAFE

WHAT IS IT

Caffe Florian takes centre stage under the arches of Piazza San Marco – the "drawing room of Europe" – in the heart of Venice, a pigeon's flutter from St Mark's Basilica.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Forget the hipster hangout: a real cafe is a repository of history and culture, and recalls a bygone era of political discourse and shady assignations. In that respect, you can't beat the world's oldest coffeehouse (1720), which has seen Casanova, Lord Byron and Napoleon come and go. Artworks, gilt mirrors, frescoes and neo-baroque decor provide faded nostalgia.

DON'T MISS

A Caffe Florian coupe of vanilla, coffee and chocolate ice-cream topped with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and coffee liqueur.

THE ESSENTIALS

Even an espresso here is 6.50 ($10), and there's a surcharge when the orchestra strikes up. Not a cafe to rush through, but what price history? See caffeflorian.com

THE CLASSIC TOWN SQUARE

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - APRIL 14, 2016: The Piramide de Mayo (May Pyramid) at the hub of the Plaza de Mayo, is the oldest national monument in Buenos Aires, Argentina. SunSep9coverclassics - Salute to the Classics - Brian Johnston
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photos: Shutterstock

WHAT IS IT

Plaza de Mayo is Buenos Aires' original 1580s square, built by the Spanish and sitting at the heart of independent Argentina.

WHY WE LOVE IT

A good square needs fine architecture, a sense of history and urban buzz: a place to relax, protest and celebrate. Plaza de Mayo has it all. It's dominated by the gaudy pink Presidential Palace from whose balcony presidents – and the wife of one, Eva Peron (Evita) – addressed the nation. Protests by army veterans and families of the dictatorship's "disappeared" add a sad note.

DON'T MISS

The Cabildo or town hall (cabildonacional.gob.ar) is one of few remaining Spanish colonial buildings and contains a national museum. In the cathedral (catedralbuenosaires.org.ar) you'll find the tomb of liberator General Jose de San Martin, who brought Argentina independence.

THE ESSENTIALS

Come and go as you like, keeping a wary eye on impending demonstrations. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar

THE CLASSIC SKI RESORT

WHAT IS IT

St Anton am Arlberg is lodged in the heart of the Austrian Alps, 100 kilometres west of Innsbruck.

WHY WE LOVE IT

There are newer, bigger, trendier resorts. Who cares? St Anton was a proper, gnarly alpine town before it pioneered skiing and ski techniques in the early 20th century. It's the granddaddy of resorts, now linked by 85 lifts and 305 kilometres of runs across the Arlberg region, and will have you knee-deep in powder and exhilaration. Its apres-ski scene is legendary.

DON'T MISS

Lodged in a 1910 chalet villa, St Anton Museum (museum-stanton.com) has exhibits on the resort's rich ski heritage but also a great restaurant (museum-restaurant.at) offering traditional Austrian fare such as the boiled-beef dish tafelspitz and shredded-pancake dessert kaiserschmarrn.

THE ESSENTIALS

Hotel Schwarzer Adler (schwarzeradler.com) has hosted guests since 1570: check in for suave, contemporary Austrian cosiness. See stantonamarlberg.com

THE CLASSIC BEACH RETREAT

WHAT IS IT

Nusa Dua is a high-end holiday enclave on the Bukit Peninsula in southern Bali notable for its sweeping beaches, manicured gardens and string of resort hotels.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Highly organised, gated and immaculately presented, Nusa Dua doesn't pretend to offer Balinese cultural insight, "real" life or mass-market tourist entertainment. For those who think travel is about escapism, this is the beach getaway in its purest form: tropical warmth, splendid sands and nothing to do all day but happily totter from spa bed to swimming pool to beach bar.

DON'T MISS

Stay at Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua (sofitel.com), a classic beach resort with its toes right in the sand, its lagoon pool shaded by palm trees and just the right combination of contemporary chic and Balinese design influences.

THE ESSENTIALS

Rooms at the Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua from around $250. See sofitel.com

THE CLASSIC BAR

SunSep9coverclassics - Salute to the Classics - Brian Johnston
Bar Hemmingway, inside the Ritz, Paris
Supplied by Ritz Paris

WHAT IS IT

Bar Hemingway is lodged inside classic hotel the Ritz Paris on classic town square Place Vendome in the greatest of all classic cities, Paris.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Bars shouldn't distract you with rooftop views, juggling bartenders and loud music. This bar is compact, piano tinkled and replete with arty old-world charm. It's headed by cocktail legend and head barman Colin Field, described by one reviewer as the "Matisse of martinis".

DON'T MISS

Hit any bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway and you'll find a classic. This one has plenty of eccentric memorabilia on the walls recalling heady 1930s days of martini drinking not just by Hemingway, but other legends such as Cole Porter and Scott Fitzgerald.

THE ESSENTIALS

The bar is open from 6pm to 2am. A stay in the legendary hotel above will sting you $1700 a night and up. See ritzparis.com

THE CLASSIC RESTAURANT

WHAT IS IT

Enoteca Pinchiorri is a legendary Florence restaurant wedged inside a Renaissance palazzo, renowned equally for its three-star Michelin chef Annie Feolde and her sommelier partner Giorgio Pinchiorri.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Seek out the Relais & Chateaux imprimatur and you're bound to find a classic restaurant, but whether French or Italian is the ultimate classic cuisine (at least for Westerners) might be debated. No worries here: the French-influenced Italian food – Chef Feolde hails from Nice – provides the best of both. The 120,000-bottle wine cellar is legendary. Marble, mosaics and antiques provide the requisite ambiance.

DON'T MISS

The tasting-menu homage to Italian cuisine, starting with prawn tails and scallops, then ravioli in caviar milk and charcoal duck breast, and concluding with a basil-flavoured dessert.

THE ESSENTIALS

What's a classic restaurant without a classic wince-inducing bill? Seven-course degustation menu €250 (about $395), wine not included. See relaischateaux.com

FIVE CLASSIC WORLD DESTINATIONS

NILE RIVER

Luxor on The River Nile is a popular place for tourist boats to moor prior to crusing the river nile, Egypt, 2008 sataug12egypt - Egypt - Ute Junker CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

You can hardly get more classic than temples and tombs that have brooded on this Egyptian riverbank for thousands of years. A river cruise between Luxor and Aswan features magnificent temples at Karnak, Edfu and Kom Ombo. See egypt.travel

SWISS ALPS

These mountains fuelled the Romantic movement and gave birth to modern alpine tourism, winter sports and mountaineering. The combination of lakes, snow peaks, flower-decked villages and immaculate organisation remains a winner. See myswitzerland.com

RAJASTHAN

The classic Golden Triangle route around north-west India brings you to Delhi, Agra and this state known for its desert landscapes, brooding fortresses and colourful cities such as Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. See tourism.rajasthan.gov.in

AMERICA'S SOUTH-WEST

Immerse yourself in the landscapes that inspired the national-parks movement and countless western and road-trip movies. Among many splendours are Grand Canyon and the orange buttes of Monument Valley. See visittheusa.com.au

TUSCANY

Visitors have been eulogising this Italian region since the Grand Tour. Rolling hills draped in vines and olive groves are beautiful, towns (Florence, Siena, Pisa) are crammed with Renaissance beauty and great art. See visittuscany.com

FIVE CLASSICS GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

AZURE WINDOW, MALTA

In this undated file photo, The Azure Window, a natural rock arch which jutted onto the sea off Malta and was a backdrop for the ?Game of Thrones? TV series, is seen as it was before collapsing in a storm. (AP Photo/Christian Mansion)

The Azure Window, as it was before collapsing in a storm. Photo: AP

Stone stacks and arches from Arizona to Victoria routinely tumble. This seaside arch at Dwejra Bay was a top Gozo island attraction and featured in Game of Thrones before collapsing in 2017. See visitgozo.com

BEONG KAK LAKE, CAMBODIA

This picturesque Phnom Penh lake was a classic backpacker hangout of small hotels and sunset bars, and home to 4000 local families. A controversial property deal has seen it almost vanish. See tourismcambodia.com

TREE TUNNELS, US

The last of the giant sequoia drive-through tree tunnels, an icon of old-time Californian nature tourism, vanished when the 1000-year-old Pioneer Cabin Tree toppled in a 2017 storm. See npr.org

PALMYRA, SYRIA

The Roman ruins of this important cultural centre of the ancient world once featured colonnaded streets, temples and theatres. Much of it was deliberately blown up by ISIS in 2015. Restoration is reportedly under way.

LASCAUX CAVE, FRANCE

The fabulous collection of 17,000-year-old cave paintings of this classic prehistorical site were being eroded by the impact of too many visitors. You now have to be content with a nearby replica. See lascaux.fr

FIVE CONTEMPORARY CLASSICS

BURJ AL ARAB

City skyscrapers stand on the skyline beyond the Burj Al Arab luxury hotel, left, and Jumeirah Beach hotel, right, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014. Declining currencies in European countries whose citizens are among the leading buyers of Dubai homes are combining with falling oil prices and a tax on foreign property held by Indians to push down home prices in the emirate. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Photo: Bloomberg

This sail-like beachside hotel claims to be the world's most luxurious, and when it opened in 1999 epitomised the spectacular rise of modern Dubai. See jumeirah.com

LOUVRE PYRAMID

This controversial 1989 glass-and-metal structure rises in the Paris museum's Renaissance-style courtyard, and proves new architecture can grace old buildings. See louvre.fr

BIRD'S NEST STADIUM

In 2008 the Beijing Olympics was a showcase of contemporary Chinese success and swagger. The national stadium remains an architectural and tourist icon. See n-s.cn

LONDON EYE

It's hard to imagine the Thames River landscape without this giant Ferris wheel, built for the new millennium and the prototype for many others worldwide. See londoneye.com

SUPERTREES

These 50-metre steel structures on Singapore's Marina Bay, draped in thousands of plants to create vertical gardens, symbolise the interface between technology and nature. See gardensbythebay.com.sg

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