The top 50 destinations of all time

Everyone has a favourite place, somewhere that lingers in the memory long after you have arrived home. Travel + Leisure magazine wanted to discover what Australia's greatest travellers regard as their favourite destinations, so we put a proposal to 50 members of the Australian travel industry: Tell us your favourite places and why you love them. Compiled by Kay O'Sullivan

"The really great destinations can be visited time and time again. On each visit they reveal an aspect of their character you haven't seen or experienced before. You always leave reluctantly and with a strong desire to return." - Richard I'Anson, travel photographer, Lonely Planet.

THE METHOD

We went to the people in the travel industry for a variety of reasons. Without exception, all have travelled extensively, both at home and abroad. They've spent time in the best-known cities, seen the famous sites, travelled well-beaten paths and searched for hidden gems, in some instances many times.

But more than that, our respondents, without exception, work in travel because they love it.

THE LIST

The 50 greatest destinations list is broken down into five categories - favourite country, region, city, journey and icon - be it natural or man-made.

We asked our respondents to name their top three in each category and give the reasons behind their choices. Then we collated them to come up with the top ten in each category. As an added bonus, and because the wonder of travel cannot be fully explored in five categories, we asked the industry if they had a "special something" they would tell us about. A place, a hotel or maybe a restaurant that fell outside the categories.

THE ANSWERS

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Be prepared, there are some surprises in the results for our greatest travellers' favourite country, region, city, journey and icon.

What did emerge is that the movers and shakers in the Australian travel industry are an adventurous bunch who like to strike out in all directions. Most of the usual suspects rate a mention but not always where you might think. For instance, T+L editors had their money on Paris being named the greatest city. But while the City of Light has its fans, another city outshines it on this list. As might be expected, Australia looms large in each of the five categories. But the reasons given for nominating Australia's assets indicate a deep sense of awe and wonder at what we have, rather than any misplaced patriotism or canny business sense.

Based on the scoring system used we have also collated the results to give us the Top 50 Destinations of all time. But we're not going to give that away here. You'll have to go to travelandleisure.com.au for those results. And then tell us what you think.

TOP TEN COUNTRIES

1. Australia

2. Italy

3. France

4. India

5. Morocco

6. Thailand

7. New Zealand

8. Japan

9. US and Turkey

10.Greece

Australia by a country mile with the biggest winning margin in any of the categories. The beaches, the outback, the cities, the regions were all mentioned when our respondents explained why Australia got their vote.

Europe still has strong appeal for Australia's travelling professionals. Again, diversity and contrast were the main reasons given, with la dolce vite in Italy outscoring le joie de vivre in France. India and Morocco's exoticism saw those countries pull in votes.

"It is really hard to go past Australia. Our vast continent offers such a diverse range of experience." - Sarina Bratton, managing director of Orion Expedition Cruises.

TOP TEN CITIES

1. New York

2. Paris

3. Sydney

4. London

5. Tokyo

6. Florence

7. Bangkok

8. Barcelona

9. Prague

10. Dublin

Again, another clear winner. The Big Apple has fans everywhere, in all parts of the Australian industry. Arthur Hoffman, the CEO of Expedia, summed up the sentiments of his colleagues when he explained how the buzz New York gives off makes you feel like you are on top of the world.

Paris could only manage second position, something of a comedown for the city that consistently tops the world's lists of favourite cities. Its beauty, history, the grandness of the layout and its food and wine were all put forward as reasons why the travel industry, like the world, loves Paris.

Australia's only entrant on this list was Sydney coming in at number three, just in front of London, which surprisingly was England's only appearance in any of the lists.

"As a city Paris has it all. The people, the Metro, the galleries, restaurants, shopping, dogs, the river, churches, pastries, wine, nightlife, hotels, the left bank, right bank, it just keeps unfolding." - Andrew Burnes, chief executive officer, The AOT Group and deputy chairman of Tourism Australia

TOP TEN REGIONS

1. French wine districts

2. Tuscany

3. Tasmanian wilderness

4. The Kimberley

5. The Antarctic

6. Kakadu

7. The Canadian Rockies

8. The Greek Islands

9. The South Australian wine districts

10. Byron Bay

Hedonism rules at either end of the list book-ending regions where creature comforts are, in several instances, non-existent.

The sybaritic delights of the wine districts of France and South Australia, Tuscany, the Greek Islands and Byron Bay have many fans but then so do space and wilderness. While Tuscany had many enthusiastic supporters, the weight of numbers - think Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux etc - secured the top spot for France.

"Kakadu is one of the most inspirational places I've ever been to. Twin Falls, Jim Jim Falls, Ubirr Rock give you a small insight into the powerful connection between the Aboriginal people and their land. It's incredibly beautiful, particularly in a tropical storm." - John Morse, chairman of Tourism Victoria.

TOP TEN JOURNEYS

1. Sailing Antarctica

2. An African safari

3. Driving the Great Ocean Road

4. The Amalfi Coast from Positano to Ravello

5. The Trans-Siberian railway

6. Sailing the Mediterranean

7. The trek to Everest Base Camp

8. Route 66

9. Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles

10. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

This category yielded the most diverse answers and the lengthiest explanations from our respondents as they grappled with words to describe why one journey mattered more than another to them. And if you are looking for reasons as to why people travel, or why people who love travel move into the travel industry, this is the category that delivers the answers.

Antarctica was a decisive winner in this category. Our travellers marvelled about the grandeur, the isolation, and the beauty, the other world they discovered.

"Although Route 66 has now been officially decommissioned, it delivers a microcosm of American culture and always reminds me of the works of Kerouac and Steinbeck and that real sense of adventure and discovery that any great road trip can bring." - Michael Issenberg, managing director, Accor Asia Pacific.

"I went on the Trans-Siberian with my 19-year-old son. Beautiful country and not so beautiful Babushkas. Chinese clothing traders and crazy Russian musicians. Generous warm people and criminals. Poverty and pride. Ex KGB agents wanting to learn English. Caviar and vodka. And we rediscovered a great father-son relationship. An open mind is only bet-tered when accompanied by an open heart." - John Morse, chairman of Tourism Victoria.

THE TOP TEN ICONS

1. Uluru, Australia

2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

3. Taj Mahal, India

4. Petra, Jordan

5. Machu Picchu, Peru

6. The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

7. Empire State Building, U.S.

8. Borobudur, Indonesia

9. The Vatican, Italy

10. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain

In this category we offered our travellers a choice. Your icon can be natural or man-made. Yet, nine out of the 10 places on the list are man-made, the only exception being the number one choice, Uluru.

On the surface, icons are all about what they represent, what they say about the country, but our travellers were keen to tell how their favourite icons made them feel. This was especially true of Uluru, which evokes powerful feelings. Indeed, the word connection came up time and time again as our respondents explained their choice of icon.

"The Taj Mahal is clearly the world's greatest temple complex but the fact that it has survived represents so much in a country that has suffered so greatly." - Phil Asker, The Captain's Choice Tour.

"The great rocks of central Australia are the most powerful expres-sions of the immensity and antiquity of the country." - Bill Peach.

SOMETHING SPECIAL

"The French Laundry, Yountville, California. Nothing beats a sunny drive to Yountville through the Napa Valley, arriving at Thomas Keller's sublime restaurant. Stay local and wake up in the morning and have freshly baked pastries from Bouchon French Brasserie before a bit of wine tasting and a pic-nic along the way." - Neil Perry, restaurateur

THE CHALLENGE

Now we have the Australian travel industry's answers as to what constitutes the 50 Greatest Destinations, Travel + Leisure wants to hear from you. What are your favourite destinations? What are the places you love and would return to? Go to travelandleisure.com.au and fill in the questionnaire.

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