UNESCO recently unveiled its new Global Geoparks – sites of geological significance that are carefully managed to promote responsible development, conservation and education, while supporting local communities. Venture off the beaten path and get back to nature at these stunning spots.
1. Cao Bang UNESCO Global Geopark, Vietnam
Situated 280km from Hanoi in Vietnam’s rugged north, Cao Bang’s distinctive landscape is defined by karst cliffs that tower over picturesque rice terraces. The best time to visit is from September to October, when the rainy season comes to an end; during these months, the rice fields turn from green to gold, while the waterfalls (like the spectacular 30m-high Ban Gioc Falls) still flow in full splendour.
How to get there: There are buses available from Hanoi, but private cars are affordable and much more comfortable for the drive, which can take around six hours through winding mountain roads.
2. Conca de Tremp Montsec UNESCO Global Geopark, Spain
An otherworldly frontier of gorges, rivers, and caves in the southern Pyrenees Mountains, the geological history of the Conca de Tremp Montsec dates back over 550 million years. We recommend going in June, when the balmy weather is perfect for hiking, horseback riding and kayaking through the mesmerising landscape.
How to get there: Tremp is located 180km northwest of Barcelona and can be easily accessed by train.
3. Izu Peninsula UNESCO Global Geopark, Japan
The Izu Peninsula is the only place on earth where two active volcanic arcs collide. The result of this phenomenon is spectacular – think majestic seaside cliffs that fringe picturesque beaches. Take in the vistas from the walking path on Mt Omuro, an extinct volcano that erupted 4,000 years ago; surf the waves along the craggy coast; and relax in one of the various onsens (natural hot springs) that dot this natural wonderland.
How to get there: Located 140km southwest of Tokyo, Izu is easily accessed by train from the capital city.
4. Mudeungsan UNESCO Global Geopark, South Korea
Roughly 193km from Busan, the Mudeungsan National Park sits above the city of Gwangju. Here, ancient temples are nestled amid rocky outcrops formed millions of years ago by volcanic and glacial activity. Hiking trails abound, and you can even spot prehistoric dinosaur footprints if you’re lucky. Visit between October and early November to admire the area’s autumnal foliage in all its glory.
How to get there: The high-speed bullet train from Seoul will get you to Gwangju in less than two hours.
5. Beaujolais UNESCO Global Geopark, France
Beaujolais is perhaps best known for its rolling vineyards, but the landscape holds geological treasures that far predate the region’s winemaking tradition. From medieval castles built with local stone to 90 million-year-old fossils, there’s plenty to explore before ending the day with a well-deserved glass of vino. The Beaujolais Nouveau wine festival, held during the third week of November each year, offers an authentic glimpse of local culture.
How to get there: The Geopark is a scenic four-hour train ride from Paris.
6. Famenne-Ardenne UNESCO Global Geopark, Belgium
Spanning a massive 911km² in Belgium’s Wallonia region, Famenne-Ardenne holds a plethora of caves, cliffs and underground river systems. It’s best accessed via the municipality of Rochefort. During the warmer months (June to September), you can venture into the Caves of Han-sur-Lesse and follow a subterranean stretch of the Lesse River before it plunges into a sinkhole. Fun fact: the water that flows through the geopark is used to make the beer at the famed Rochefort Trappist Brewery.
How to get there: Located 116km south of Brussels, Rochefort can be reached within two hours via train or car.