Our top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo include everything from road trips – from Western Australia to the Italian Lakes, Morocco to Northeastern Thailand – slow cruises on Halong Bay, Vietnam, and the Mekong River from Thailand to Laos, and a slow train journey, namely Australia’s epic adventure on The Ghan.
We’re continuing Grantourismo’s 12th birthday celebrations with our series of collections of our all-time 12 most popular posts of the last twelve years of the life of Grantourismo. We’ve been sharing compilations of posts in a number of the most popular categories, starting with recipes, some of our most-visited posts.
We kicked off with our top 12 most popular recipes of the last 12 years, then shared our 12 most popular Weekend Eggs recipes of the last 12 years from our breakfast eggs recipe series, on quintessential eggs dishes from around the world, which we launched with Grantourismo in 2010, and 12 most popular Asian recipes of the last 12 years.
If you’re visiting for the first time, back in 2010 we undertook a yearlong global grand tour, aimed at promoting slow, local and experiential travel. We settled in to places for two weeks at a time, staying in apartment rentals and holiday homes to get an insight into how locals lived their lives.
Today we’re sharing our most popular slow travel posts in the 12 years since we launched Grantourismo. But before I share those, I have a favour to ask.
Grantourismo is reader-funded. If you’ve enjoyed our recipes or other content on the site, please consider supporting Grantourismo. You could buy us a coffee and we’ll use that donation to buy cooking ingredients for recipe testing or donate to our epic original Cambodian cuisine history and cookbook on Patreon.
Another option is to use our links to book accommodation, rent a car or campervan or motorhome, buy travel insurance, or book a tour on Klook or Get Your Guide. Or purchase something on Amazon, such as these James Beard award-winning cookbooks, cookbooks by Australian chefs, classic cookbooks for serious cooks, cookbooks for culinary travellers, travel books to inspire wanderlust, or gifts for Asian food lovers, picnic lovers and travellers who love photography. We may earn a small commission but you won’t pay extra.
You could also shop our Grantourismo store on Society6 for gifts for foodies, including fun reusable cloth face masks designed with Terence’s images. Now let’s tell you about our top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo.
Top 12 Slow Travel Experiences in 12 Years on Grantourismo from Slow Boats to Road Trips and Train Journeys
These are our all-time top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo, the road trips, train journeys, and slow river cruises that were most searched-for and most-visited.
Driving from Perth to Margaret River in Western Australia – Where to Stop Along the Way
A road trip itinerary from the Western Australian capital city Perth to the Margaret River wine region topped our list of all-time top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo. Driving from Perth to Margaret River town, some 275kms away, in southwest Western Australia is an easy drive of around three and a half hours, which is nothing in a state where road trips can take weeks.
We recommend renting a car and self-driving, as what makes the drive so enjoyable are the stops on the way for swims on pristine sandy beaches, engaging indigenous experiences, whale watching, dolphin cruises, self-guided heritage tours, and the chance to meet the adorable furry woylies.
There’s enough to see along the way to make a day trip of it or even a longer journey of two or three days if you want to swim, surf, dive, sky-dive, spot wildlife and marine life, or just drop into the laidback beachside towns en route. You can even break up the trip with an overnight stay along the way at Bunbury, Busselton or Dunsborough, and check into beautiful beachside accommodation such as Pullman Bunker Bay Resort.
While you can do a tour or take a bus, you’ll get so much more out of renting a car and self-driving from Perth to Margaret River, and while there are excellent tours to do once you arrive, you’ll need your own wheels for exploring the Margaret River region, and longer road trips through the Southwest, from Margaret River to Denmark, then Denmark to Albany, Albany to Ravensthorpe, then on to Esperance.
Mallorca Road Trip – Driving the Dramatic West Coast and Tramuntana Tramuntana Mountain Range
Our Mallorca road trip was next on the list of all-time top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo. But isn’t a Mallorca holiday all about the beach? The Spanish island does boast some brilliant stretches of sand, but, for us, one of the best things to do on Mallorca is a road trip. The driving is dramatic and our road trip route is rewarding.
Book a rental car – something small and powerful – so you can pick it up on arrival at Palma de Mallorca airport. Book the car and Mallorca accommodation in advance if visiting during summer, the busiest time of year, naturally. Note that spring and autumn are also gorgeous.
Our Mallorca road trip route starts in Palma, the island’s capital, and for the most part follows the MA-10 along the west coast through the dramatic Tramuntana Mountain range. Dramatic craggy coasts, shimmering salt pans, dry plains dotted with windmills – the landscapes of the Balearic island of Mallorca (or Majorca as the British call it) are as varied as those of Spain itself offering countless possibilities for road trips.
The most spectacular scenery on the Mediterranean island is on its western side – from the southwest of Mallorca all the way along the jaw-dropping west coast, through the magic Tramuntana Mountains, to the northernmost point of the island, the breathtaking Formentor Peninsular.
Mallorca is a compact island, so while you could do our 200km Mallorca road trip in 8–10 hours with speedy pit stops and fast photo ops, it’s much more fun to take your time and extend the drive over five days (or longer), staying a night (or two) each at Deia, Port de Sóller, Pollença and Alcúdia, and kicking back in picturesque Palma at the end.
Yangon to Mandalay By Train — The Slow (Rail) Road to Mandalay, Myanmar
Myanmar’s leisurely 647-kilometre journey from Yangon to Mandalay by train is one of the most memorable journeys of our lives, so it’s no surprise that it was another one of the all-time top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo. The day surprisingly passes quite quickly.
Out the window, the often-stark countryside is periodically enlivened by green irrigated fields, while dust plumes rise regularly from bovine-powered wooden carts tilling the soil. On the frequent stops at tiny railway stations, masses of people await the train’s arrival, quickly clambering aboard to settle into seats or sell Burmese street food snacks and drinks.
A series of events unfold at each stop. There’s the initial flow of people disembarking with children and shopping and gifts and goods they’d brought to take home to give away or sell. There’s the flurry of activity of those struggling to get on board with their troupe of family and friends and helpers passing bags through windows and doors.
And there’s the hurried salesmanship of the hawkers moving quickly through the breezy carriages, selling everything from boiled chicken and quails eggs to curry and rice, which they combine with their hands on the spot, to tea and coffee made to order from giant flasks of water.
That we were the only foreign tourists on the train was a source of continual fascination and amusement. Vendors with baskets of samosas and pots of curries and rice walked right by us, thinking that foreigners would be too scared to sample local food, however, hawkers with beers in their cold-drinks bucket quickly zeroed in on us. Clearly 9am was the traditional cocktail hour for foreigners on this day-long journey!
Dubai to Musandam Peninsula Road Trip – Driving Arabia’s Norway from the UAE to Oman
A Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip could become one of the most memorable things you do in the UAE and one of the most breathtaking drives you do in your life so it’s no surprise that it’s on the list of all-time top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo. The most jaw-dropping section is the 40-km drive from Bukha to Khasab.
From Bukha, where a splendid fort with a single stout watchtower is sited rather picturesquely by the turquoise-coloured sea, the smooth road skirts the coastline, hugging the colossal, rugged Hajjar Mountains the whole way. On one side are the striking lofty ranges and on the other, creamy sand beaches separating the crystal-clear shimmering sea from the bitumen.
The route takes you by mosques serenely situated by beaches with peeling hulls of old wooden dhow boats and dilapidated palm-frond shelters where fishermen maintain their nets. Dramatic ravines secret away small fishing villages of modest houses with colourfully painted iron doors decorated with kitsch palm trees, arabesque patterns and Omani flags.
In tiny Al Jadi village there are remnants of old houses and goats clambering over piles of stones. Al Jerry has a picturesque beach lined with fishing boats and blue domed mosque. On a desolate plateau at Al Harf, locals play football. The drive from Al Harf down to Hana and on to Khasab, is the most scenic, with gob-smacking views of a rocky coast of creamy cliffs and the Musandam’s famed inlets.
Hana has half a dozen squat mud-coloured houses set amid a lush date palm oasis. Mukhi boasts old crumbling stone houses with colourful painted doors, used to shelter sheep and goats. At Qida, dilapidated old residences, some built into rocks, have pretty decorative arches above windows, while nearby Tawi is home to prehistoric rock etchings of warriors on horseback, boats, camels, and houses.
Italian Lakes Road Trip – Circumnavigating Northern Italy’s Romantic Lakes
The 18th- and 19th-century grand tourists travelled around the Italian Lakes by horse and carriage, risking attack by bandits to take in the gobsmacking beauty of the region and settle into the sumptuous grand hotels that dot the lakeside. These days the most fun way to see the area is from behind the wheel of a small, fast car – so it’s no surprise to see this Italian Lakes road trip on the list of all-time top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo.
Twisty narrow roads run along the shores and while distances don’t seem great on the map, driving can be slow going, especially in summer when traffic can be bumper-to-bumper and every cyclist in Italy is Lycra-clad and on two wheels.
The best approach is to book a rental car from Milan airport, and head for the westernmost Lake Maggiore and its tiny neighbour, Lake Orta, then drive eastward, spending time exploring each lake, breaking up the driving with short hikes in surrounding mountains, walks on the lake shores, or hit the water for some wind-surfing, sailing, kite-surfing, fishing, or a cruise.
With the Alps providing a dramatic backdrop, grand old hotels dominating its shores, and four attractive islands called the Isole Borromee, Lake Maggiore is the most magnificent lake. Surrounded by rolling hills and forests, placid Lake Orta is special. San Giulio is a charming village worth spending the night in. The quintessential Northern Italian lake, Lake Como is the most glamorous of lakes, thanks to the luxury hotels, palatial villas and… George Clooney.
The largest, Lake Garda has faded charm, sophisticated restaurants, good beaches, and agreeable winds for watersports. Close by, low-key Lake Iseo, has scenic waterside promenades, pleasant town squares and plenty of camping and fishing opportunities.
Driving from Darwin to Kakadu National Park – Where to Stop Along the Way
While driving from Darwin to Kakadu National Park in the Top End of Australia’s Northern Territory is an easy three-hour drive on good bitumen roads, you can break up the journey with stops on the way at Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, Windows on the Wetlands, Adelaide River Jumping Crocodile Cruises, and Mary River National Park.
Once you arrive you need to allow at least 3-4 days to do some of the country’s best indigenous guided experiences, absorb ancient Aboriginal rock art, swim in serene waterholes, cruise through mangroves teeming with wildlife, go birdwatching or barramundi fishing, and hike up stone escarpments to savour sunsets over spectacular landscapes, making this one of the best road trips in Australia, so it’s easy to see how this journey made it to the list of all-time top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo.
While there are excellent small-group 4-day and 5-day 4WD camping safaris you can do from Darwin to Kakadu and Arnhem Land, which include the Mary River Region and Litchfield National Park, we love renting a 4WD or hiring a campervan or motorhome in Darwin and for 5 days or so.
En route, the Original Adelaide River Jumping Crocodile Cruise allows visitors to see saltwater crocodiles in their natural habitat, while the Mary River Airboat, Safari Cruise and Helicopter Tour provides exhilarating experiences of the Mary River Wetlands, home to wallabies, jabirus, sea eagles, kites, kingfishers, jacanas, brolgas, and buffaloes.
A Culture and Wildlife Tour with Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours includes more crocodile spotting and native flora and birdlife, along with the chance to learn basket weaving, try your hand at throwing a spear, have a go on a didgeridoo, learn about local bush food and medicine, and taste bush damper and billy tea.
How to Choose a Halong Bay Cruise That’s Right For You
Halong Bay in northeast Vietnam is a dazzling unspoilt seascape distinguished by clusters of verdant islands, craggy islets, limestone karsts, and schist outcrops that dramatically rise out of jade coloured waters. Our comprehensive guide to how to choose a Halong Bay Cruise that’s right for you, based on our first-hand experiences of UNESCO World Heritage listed Halong Bay, was another one of our all-time top 12 posts on slow travel experiences.
Ha Long Bay sprawls across an area of 1,500 square kilometres in the Gulf of Tonkin, 170 kilometres east of Hanoi. It’s a gob-smackingly gorgeous seascape of 1,600 lush islands and a Halong Bay cruise features on most travellers’ Vietnam itineraries.
These can range from small cruise boats with 2-5 cabins that can be privately chartered for as long as you wish (best for a family, couples or a group of friends) to 1-2 night all-inclusive cruises on larger boats with a range of on-board activities and excursions (if you abhor organised tours these are not for you). There are also day-tripper boats, including party boats.
We’ve tested out six Halong Bay cruise boats and inspected numerous other boats, and this guide provides a breakdown of the different types of boats you can book, their facilities and amenities, the itineraries, excursions and activities they offer, and which Halong Bay cruises we recommend. Also see our guide to the best things to do on Halong Bay in the cool season, when boat cruises are discounted considerably.
Calabria Road Trips – Journeys Through Remote Villages and Wild Rugged Landscapes
Our favourite Calabria road trips are those that take us through bucolic countryside and wild rugged landscapes to remote villages and atmospheric hilltop towns. The best thing about travelling in Calabria is that it doesn’t take long before you’re off the beaten track. Good freeways and highways may well criss-cross Italy’s southernmost mainland region, Calabria.
Just a short distance from those busy thoroughfares, as the crow flies, are somnolent villages that seem to be lost in time, tranquil lakeside cottages that appear to be abandoned, walking trails through wooded forests, and overgrown roads that appear to lead nowhere. It may be hard to comprehend how parts of Calabria could be considered remote.
Yet Italy’s most southern mainland region boasts areas seemingly untouched by mankind, from the craggy and often forbidding mountains of Aspromonte and Pollino National Parks to empty beaches accessible only by boat. Travellers keen on getting away from it all in Calabria should begin by hiring a car for some of these off the beaten track drives.
Aside from the weekend, when the whole of Calabria seems to take to the road for a Sunday drive, you’ll see surprisingly few other people once you get off the main roads. There are some routes you can cruise where you won’t see another soul for hours. One of our favourite drives snakes through pristine forested mountains around Sila National Park’s three main lakes, beginning in Cosenza and ending in Camigliatello.
Like most Calabrian mountain roads, those through the Sila are narrow and winding, yet the routes here are less challenging than those in the Aspromonte and Serra San Bruno. While the distances aren’t great, the continual meandering means it’s slow going, but delightfully slow. And at the end of the drive, you can check into atmospheric Torre Camigliati, set amongst wild gardens in a wonderful literary park.
Morocco Road Trip – How to Drive From Marrakech To Mhamid via Essaouira
Our Morocco road trip from Marrakech to Mhamid via Essaouira on the southern coast was the long way to the edge of the Sahara, with my mother in the backseat and we all had different goals. Terence wanted to see some waves, Mum wanted to see the sign to Timbuktu, and I wanted to see a kasbah.
Could I create an itinerary that would keep everyone happy? I did! And I ended up writing about our Moroccan road trip for a magazine, republished that story on Grantourismo, and that tale of our journey is on our list of all-time top 12 slow travel experiences.
Morocco is a magic country, rich in culture and history, with a wonderful cuisine, walled cities with labyrinthine old medinas, laidback cities with Art Deco architecture, and diverse landscapes. In a matter of a few days, you can take in sweeping beaches, majestic mountains, snow-capped peaks, and enigmatic desert.
Another highlight is the atmospheric accommodation, such as Dar Les Cigognes, the enchanting boutique hotel opposite the Royal Palace with a sunny rooftop terrace with views of Marrakech’s medina; Heure Bleue Palais in Essaouria, which has a hammam, the rooftop pool and luxurious suites, the Berbère Palace set in palm-shaded gardens with architecture inspired by the local kasbahs, and the traditional-style Le Riad Salam Zagora, which another enormous turquoise pool.
We’ve travelled to Morocco many times without incident since 1999, exploring the country as backpackers by train and bus our first trip, then later by car. On our last trip, we spent two weeks in a riad in Marrakech. But one of our most memorable trips was this Morocco road trip from Marrakech to Mhamid.
The Ghan Train Journey – Our Guide to this Epic Australian Rail Adventure
The Ghan train journey is one of Australia’s greatest train journeys, a legendary rail adventure from Darwin to Adelaide (and vice versa), through the Red Centre of Australia, punctuated with memorable experiences, from a serene cruise through the spectacular gorges in Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine, to an excursion through Simpsons Gap in Alice Springs. The Ghan has a special place in my heart.
The Outback with its ochre-red dirt, silvery ghost gums, brilliant blue skies, and cotton-wool clouds is my happy place and I’m happiest in the heart of the country with its Albert Namatjira landscapes. My family lived in Alice Springs when I was in my early teens, where our weekends would be filled with four-wheel-drive adventures along dirt tracks to palm-shaded valleys and camping trips out to serene swimming holes skirted by sandy beaches between stunning gorges.
My dad worked on The Ghan railway line and we got to go to the official opening of the Tarcoola to Alice Springs section of the line, where I stood next to the towering Gough Whitlam, Australia’s legendary prime minister. It’s for those reasons that journeying on The Ghan was a very special experience for me.
This post is a very practical, comprehensive guide to what to expect on this legendary Australian rail adventure, how to plan for the trip, what to pack, what to take, and so on.
I’m surprised this post made our top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo, seeing Australia has been closed to foreign tourists for the best part of two years. I hope that means more people are dreaming of journey on The Ghan. If that’s you, check the Luxury Escapes site as they have been operating chartered journeys on the train, starting from A$3,999 per person.
Exploring the Isaan Region of Northeastern Thailand on the Lovely Backroads to Loie
Exploring the remote Isaan region of northeastern Thailand on the lovely backroads to Loie was a highlight of a road trip through Thailand’s largest, poorest and least developed region.
While the wonderful fabrics of the silk weaving village of Chonnabot and the ancient Khmer Empire temples – spectacular Prasat Phanom Rung, enchanting Prasat Muang Tam and handsome Prasat Hin Phimai – took our breath away, the quiet countryside en route to Loie gave us a chance to breathe.
From Khon Kaen, where we explored gleaming gold pagodas ambled about the laidback town with an affable monk, strolled around the scenic lake, people-watched at the waterfront hipster market, and savoured the aromas of Isaan food sizzling at the night markets, we drove in a north-westerly direction through Loie province.
We snaked along country roads that became like tunnels, shaded by canopies of enormous old trees. We drove up and down and around and over rolling hills to find surprising vistas at every dip and turn: a ramshackle wooden hut on a slope for workers to escape the searing midday heat of the fields; gardeners in wide brimmed sun hats watering their colourful crops of flowers on the area’s famous flower farm; a verdant valley of rice paddies; or a farmer casually herding his water buffalo or cows to fresh pasture.
The lack of attractions and monuments, and the opportunity to slow down and simply take in the picturesque countryside and everyday life, was exactly what made our little drive through the Loie province so lovely.
A Mekong River Cruise to Luang Prabang in Laos on the Luang Say Boat from Thailand
A Mekong River cruise is one of life’s must-do travel experiences as far as we’re concerned and a languid three-day Mekong River cruise to Luang Prabang on the Luang Say boat was the reason we’d flown from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and driven up to the Thai Border city of Houei Say.
The Mekong River runs for a distance of some 4,909 km from the Tibetan plateau to the Mekong Delta where it flows into the South China Sea. The Mekong region as a whole has a total population of almost 325 million, with approximately 60 million of those people living along the river.
While speedboats bounce along the Mekong river for the 300 kilometre-long journey from the Thailand-Laos border at Chiang Khong-Houei Say (also known as Huay Xai) to Luang Prabang in Laos in an adrenaline-pumping six hours, we decided to travel the legendary river, where life otherwise carries on at a languid pace, in the only way that made sense to us: slowly on a Mekong River cruise, on the Luang Say boat.
A driver collected us from Chiang Mai for the ninety-minute transfer to Chiang Khong on the Thailand side of the border to meet the Luang Say boat for our Mekong River cruise. The early morning trip was a sleepy blur in between blinks of impressionistic roadside images — monks collecting their breakfasts from merit-makers, families whizzing along on motorbikes, Lanna-style wooden houses dotting lush fields.
A few hours later we were being welcomed onto the teak and rosewood Luang Say boat, a renovated rice barge with open sides, polished floorboards, and furnished with wicker sofas and chairs and coffee tables. On the first day we would stopped at the Hmong village of Huay Hok Khong, arriving at Pakbeng for sunset and our overnight stay at Luang Say Lodge. The second day we visited a weaving and whiskey-making village of Baw, home to Lao Loum people, and stayed at Kamu Lodge, adjoining the Kamu village of Nyoy Hai.
And on the final day we visited the Pak Ou Caves with their thousands of Buddhas, before arriving in languid Luang Prabang. The cruise gave us a good feel for the rhythm of life on the river and a small glimpse into how people on the Mekong live their lives. A slow boat is the way to go as far as we’re concerned. Nice and slow.
Note that images from the Morocco road trip and The Ghan journey have been used with permission of Luxury Escapes.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you’ve done any of our top 12 slow travel experiences in 12 years on Grantourismo, as we’d love to hear about your experience.