The greatest read journey tales of 2016

Searching for the best beaches, the greatest walks, alternative city breaks and favourite destinations – with a twist – guided readers towards this selection of great stories from the past year

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>An aerial shot of Miyazu Bay beach, near Kyoto, Japan.

Sea, sand, sun = a top 50 beach. Miyazu Bay, Kyoto, Japan.
Photograph: Alamy

1. The 50 best beaches in the world

Beaches are good for many things, and not just lazing on, as it happens. Which is why this comprehensive selection doesn’t take the shore and simple route; instead it divides the list into categories: wow factor; wild and remote; best for families; best in the UK; best for backpackers; action and adventure beaches – and even city beaches.

Whether you’re seeking solitude or a party, shallow waters or pounding surf, find the perfect beach in our pick of 50, from Greece to the Galapagos, the Highlands to Hawaii.
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2. 10 of the best alternative city breaks in Europe

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Colorful buildings along the banks of the river Onyar, Girona, Spain.

Colourful buildings along the banks of the river Onyar, Girona. Photograph: Stefano Politi Markovina/Getty Images

Go with the flow or swim against the tide? Sometimes picking the destination that’s not-quite-so-well travelled can bring holiday happiness. This roundup said “meh” to Madrid and put the spotlight on cities including Wrocław, Tallinn, Graz, Valletta … and Girona.

Girona: An hour’s drive from the beautiful coastline of Costa Brava. Should you wish to combine a trip with some beach time, Girona offers visitors a serving of Catalan culture without the swarms of tourists that descend on Barcelona during peak season.
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3. 20 great UK walks with pubs, chosen by nature writers

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Railway viaduct over the river Nidd, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England, UK.

Railway viaduct over the river Nidd, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

The great outdoors, followed by good food and drink indoors, was this article in a nutshell (see, keeping the nature vibe), which featured contributions from Rob Cowen, Katharine Norbury, Oliver Balch and Des Garrahan.

Pull on your boots and enjoy the countryside in all its glory. Ten of Britain’s best nature writers reveal their favourite routes – and where they like to refuel on the way.
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4. Is this the best pizza in the world?

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Pizza coming out of the oven at Franco Pepe’s in Naples, Italy.

Everyone wants a slice of the action, yes? Despite it being one of the most straightforward of culinary creations, the search for pizza perfection is hotter than a wood-fired oven in … well, hotter than a wood-fired oven. This article was almost as well commented on as it was read and came close to “topping” our 2016 list. Ouch!

Billing itself “the experts’ guide to the best pizza places in the world”, Where to Eat Pizza features 1,705 pizzerias. Now its compiler, Daniel Young, has revealed the restaurant that received the most nominations from the guide’s 1,077 contributors: Pepe in Grani, Caiazzo, Campania.
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5. ‘Our best-ever family decision: quitting school and jobs, and taking to the road’

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Kerry and the girls by Coniston in the Lake District.

Kerry and the girls by Coniston in the Lake District. Photograph: Tim Meek

Living the dream. Said in irony by many of us, but something of a travel motto – especially for those eager to ditch the day job, wave farewell to the commute and head out (not necessarily on the highway, but looking for adventure, certainly) into the wide world. You can read how the Meek family did just this – and then take a spin through the comments the article garnered, where much debate raged.

The Meek family swapped mortgage, work and school for a year of adventures around the UK – their home: a caravan, their classroom: the great outdoors.
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6. 10 more of the UK’s best small towns: readers’ travel tips

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle

Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. Photograph: Alamy

Readers had so much to say about our 10 of the best small UK towns for winter breaks article, that we needed to put together a new list based on their recommendations. All the passion and enthusiasm for sharing what made their favourite such a, well, favourite, was encouraging to see – and more places were still being submitted in the comments section too!

Barnard Castle received an enthusiastic endorsement from reader ID6912820: “Absolutely lovely town on the river Tees with excellent food places and independent shops.” The town is dominated by the ruined Norman castle which gave it its name, but culturally the jewel in the crown has to be the Bowes Museum, a French-style chateau which houses an extraordinary collection of fine and decorative art, including works by El Greco, Goya and Canaletto.
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7. Literary travel: around the world in 10 must-read books

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Monastery on a hillside, Himachal Pradesh, India.

Monastery on a hillside, Himachal Pradesh, India. Photograph: Alamy

Ann Morgan spent a year reading a book from every country in the world … and then we asked her to pick 10 of her favourites; that’s right, just 10 – out of 196. Tough gig. The resulting list fired the imagination for trips to places including Peru, Angola and Switzerland.

In 2012, I embarked on an eccentric project. Having realised how anglocentric my reading was, I decided to try to read a novel, short story collection or memoir from every UN-recognised country, plus former UN member Taiwan (then 196 nations in all), in a calendar year. I set up a blog and asked the world’s book lovers to help me. Pretty soon suggestions – and even books, manuscripts and unpublished translations – were flooding in from around the planet.
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8. 10 of the best alternative city tours in Europe

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Guests on the Millennium tour. Stockholm, Sweden.

Guests on the Millennium tour, Stockholm. Photograph: Thomas Karlsson

Writer Will Coldwell put on his best hipster brogues, turned up his jeans, and sought out a different side of Europe’s major cities in covering these innovative walking tours that revel in art, history, food, drink – and even financial mismanagement.

Millennium tour, Stockholm.
The two-hour walk, run by the City Museum, takes fans through the Södermalm neighbourhood, passing the home of the fictional journalist Mikael Blomkvist, the office of Millennium magazine where he works, past Lisbeth Salander’s apartment, as well as other locations mentioned in the books and films. The plot is put into a wider context, as you learn about the dynamics of contemporary Stockholm.
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9. 20 superb UK walks – for families, day-trippers and long-distance ramblers

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Burns Trail, Ayrshire

Burns Trail, Ayrshire. Photograph: Alamy

Not content with merely rounding up great UK walks, this stompingly good list by writers Oliver Balch and Adam McCulloch took into account distance, terrain and ability levels. The walks ranged from two miles up to 630 miles and took in the best of the UK’s wonderful countryside. Now, put your best foot forward and follow their lead.

Burns Trail, Ayrshire.
Starting out along a combination of country roads and track, the route takes you around the grounds of Newark Castle before climbing upwards into the Carrick hills. On a clear day, the Firth of Clyde looks resplendent from here, basking “gaily in the sunny beam”.
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10. Jordan is spectacular, safe and friendly – so where are the tourists?

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>The narrow passage (Siq) that leads to Petra, Jordan.

The narrow passage (Siq) that leads to Petra, Jordan. Photograph: Emad Aljumah/Getty Images

In terms of travelling, one of the saddest aspects of 2016 was the way conflict and political instability meant certain destinations became subject to travel restrictions or warnings, or simply saw tourist numbers dwindle. Amelia Gentleman’s beautiful piece on Jordan was incredibly popular and heavily commented on, in a mostly positive way – but three weeks after its publication Jordan witnessed a violent attack.

After a while these repeated soothing asides [about safety] became rather disconcerting. I hadn’t expected to find Jordan anything other than peaceful, but since the bottom has fallen out of the tourism industry because of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, most people you meet have an urge to emphasise how risk-free a trip here is.
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11. Holiday guide to Sardinia’s best beaches, restaurants and hotels

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>The wide soft sands of huge Su Giudeu beach in the south of Sardinia.

The wide soft sands of Su Giudeu beach in the south of Sardinia. Photograph: Alamy

Its idyllic Mediterranean setting and climate, the fine beaches and the sumptuous food ensure Sardinia place at travel’s top table. Writer Liz Boulter’s evocative and detailed portrait painted a vivid picture of a destination with timeless appeal. Don’t read it before lunch, or approaching dinner. Actually, do.

Lists of the island’s best beaches run into the hundreds, and there are many more unnamed coves and wedges of white, silver or golden sand around its 1,000km-plus of coastline, peninsulas and islands. There are wild beaches for those prepared to tote their own supplies, but most have a shack selling drinks, ice-creams and snacks.
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12. Night tube: top 10 London clubs – chosen by the experts

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Corsica Studios club London

Corsica Studios, London

London’s long-awaited night tube could be seen as a gift to the capital’s clubbers – or just those not overly fond of the night bus home. As several lines started a non-stop weekend service we asked the cream of London’s club scene to point us to the party.

“Corsica Studios in Elephant and Castle has to be the best club in London: it showcases world-class artists in two (sometimes three) contrasting rooms on an incredible Funktion-One sound system. It’s the only place I’ve kept going to for all the time I’ve lived here.”
DEBONAIR is a DJ and hosts a bi-weekly show on NTS Radio.
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13. 10 of the best long-haul adventure holidays

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Paddleboarding, Belize

Paddleboarding, Belize

Sticking to the brief that if you are going to go on a big trip make sure it’s a grand adventure, this selection of active getaways featured tackling high peaks in Mongolia, exploring the Tapajos river in Brazil, island hopping in Indonesia and paddleboarding – from inn to inn – in Belize. Deep breath now.

The island-rich coast of Belize is home to one of the first guided lodge-to-lodge stand-up paddleboarding trips in the world. Guests paddle through the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, exploring mangrove channels and reefs, watching out for stingrays, manatees and pelicans. Evenings are spent at small, family-run inns, where the day ends with snorkelling and watching the sun set from a hammock.
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14. An idyll no more: why I’m leaving Goa

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>The crowded beach at Calangute

The crowded beach at Calangute. Photograph: Matthew Parker

Some travel articles sound a warning, and are an opportunity to shout about failings that need to be addressed. Novelist Deepti Kapoor lamented that “the beautiful, laid-back Goa of old is disappearing amid pollution, over-development and fears over personal safety”.

My husband and I moved to north Goa eight years ago, though I first visited with my family 30 years ago, when I was four; we drove down from Bombay in the car, my brother seeing his first nudist on the beach, his mind blown. This time we came so I could study yoga, and we realised there was no reason to leave. Goa was beautiful, laid-back yet exciting, a meeting place for the world. Sure, there were problems. But the beaches! The restaurants! The music, and the people!
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15. 10 of the least-visited US national parks

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Black Canyon of the Gunnison national park, Colorado.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison national park, Colorado. Photograph: Alamy

The outgoing year was a big one for the great outdoors in the US, with the National Park Service celebrating its 100th anniversary. Having already looked at where to stay in the 10 most popular national parks, this article was a chance to shine an environmentally sensitive spotlight on a selection of parks that might lose out, in the attention stakes, to bigger or grander locations.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison national park, Colorado.
This is not the deepest canyon in North America but it is the steepest, with the Gunnison river falling more than 10 metres per mile as it plunges through this narrow national park in south-west Colorado (in comparison, the Colorado river drops an average of 2.3 metres per mile through the Grand Canyon).
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