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Wondrous sites that really exist! (Part One)

In these days of films bursting with computer-generated imagery and photographs that can be easily doctored with a few deft clicks of a mouse, you’d be forgiven for being a bit sceptical when it comes to images of a lush backdrop or an amazing sight.

But Nature has a way of surprising us all in its variety and sheer magnificence. There are some truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring landscapes that really do exist, marvels of the natural world that overwhelm the senses. The trick is to find them…

Over the next few weeks the Flexicover Team look at some of the unbelievable places you can visit!

Sangano bamboo forest; Arashiyama, Japan

Anyone who has seen films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers would be forgiven for thinking that the towering forest of exotic, giant grass is a man-made wonder. However, the popular tourist destination of Arashiyama (just west of Kyoto; beautiful during the cherry blossom and autumn seasons) is home to the famous bamboo forest of Sagano. In real life it isn't hard to understand why filmmakers are so partial to such natural locations. Covering an area of 16 square kilometres, a walking path cuts through the gorgeous grove and when the sun is shining, it’s both peaceful and aesthetically pleasing. In a gentle breeze, the soft whispering sway of bamboo trunks generates a sound which has been voted as one of the ”100 must-be-preserved sounds of Japan”!

The Metéora; Thessaly, Greece

Located near the town of Kalambaka in central Greece are the Metéora monasteries, a complex of Eastern Orthodox religious sites. Originally numbering 24, only 6 now remain as a result of earthquakes, invasions and time. Metéora literally means "suspended in the air" and it could not be more apt, as each monastery sits atop huge sandstone pinnacles averaging 300 metres (1,000 feet) in height, with several reaching 550 metres (1,800 feet)! Access to each monastery was originally (and deliberately) difficult and considered an amazing leap of faith, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people - the ropes were only replaced, so the story goes, "when the Lord let them break". Nowadays it’s much easier to reach these holy places, as steps have been cut into the rock and the complex is accessible via a bridge from the nearby plateau.

Lake Retba; Cap Vert, Senegal

Lake Retba (or Lac Rose as it is known by locals) is less than an hour away from the capital city, Dakar. Depending on the time of day, the lake changes colour from a light purple to a deep scarlet pink! The distinct colour is believed to be caused by algae known as Dunalielia that thrive in the lake’s high salt environment. Just like the Dead Sea, despite the exceptional salinity (up to 40% of the condiment in places), it is perfectly safe for swimming and you experience a high level of buoyancy, thus adding to its otherworldly appeal. Once you see it you might believe yourself to be on another world! (Lake Hillier in Australia is another pink lake but difficult to get to easily.)

Salar de Uyuni; Oruro, Bolivia

The Salar de Uyuni is located approximately 570 km south of the Bolivian capital, La Paz, near the crest of the Andes. It’s the world’s largest salt flats – at 10,582km² (4,086 sq miles) it’s 10 times larger than the more famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The underlying brine pool supposedly contains nearly 70% of the world’s lithium reserves! During the wet season, the neighbouring Lake Poopó overflows and floods Salar de Uyuni, covering it with a thin sheet of water making it resemble a gargantuan mirror! Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde nearby are also well worth a visit. The former is a red-hued lake, home to thousands of flamingos whilst Laguna Verde, located at the foot of the Licancabur volcano, is a salt lake with a shifting blue/green aqua colour caused by sediments rich in copper minerals. A real marvel!

Tunnel of Love; Kleven, Ukraine

This leafy tunnel looks like something out of a dream sequence but can actually be found deep in the forests of north-western Ukraine. Located near the town of Kleven (200 km north-east of Lviv), this fairytale track was formed over several years by a private train as it travelled back and forth, 3 times a day, transforming the surrounding woodland into a unique passageway. Today, the Tunnel of Love is highly popular with couples. Legend says if two people are sincere in their love and ride together through the green tunnel while holding each other’s hands, their wishes will come true!

Wherever you decide to travel to and whichever site you are fortunate enough to visit, Flexicover, the travel insurance specialists are committed to providing you the highest level of protection to ensure that you are safe and secure, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year when away.