The most beautiful place in the world?
Where is the most beautiful place in the world? How about the most beautiful valley/waterfall/vista/mountain/fill-in-the-blank? It seems that many of us are chasing that elusive photo of these “most beautiful” places, and yet, what is it that defines them as such? A recent experience and a few conversations with other travellers, and I got to thinking about why we do this. Why do we ‘gift’ certain places these superlative awards of “most” or “best”, and what is the risk in doing so?
Logarska dolina: “the most beautiful valley in Europe”
A few weeks ago in Slovenia we biked through a valley which has been called the “most beautiful valley in Europe.” Let’s be honest, this is probably part of the reason we went in search of it. I think there was something inside me that was thinking by visiting the most beautiful valley in Europe I would have some kind of “moment.” One of those enlightened moments where we become more clear minded because we are so moved by what is before us.
The valley we were visiting was the protected Logarska dolina in northern Slovenia. Early in the morning we biked into the valley beneath a crisp blue sky and dew steaming off the grass beneath the heat of the sun. It was a pretty magical welcome, and one I will remember. The bike ride through the valley was lovely, despite a few tears from our eldest daughter whose fingers were too cold!
Now this blog post is absolutely not to critique Logarska dolina, it is beautiful and you should absolutely visit if you’re in Slovenia. What I’m interested in is to examine this desire to name places “the most beautiful” but mostly the effect that has on our experience of a place.
What are the risks of naming a place “the most beautiful”?
We stopped halfway through our bike ride for a hot drink in a cosy inn down the valley. I realised that I had been subconsciously rating my entire experience against this mantle of “most beautiful valley in Europe” that I had arrived with. I was looking around this special place asking myself, could this really be the most beautiful valley in Europe? What a heavy burden for this place!
The truth is it left me feeling a bit disappointed, mostly in my reaction to it. Like, “here I am in possibly the most beautiful valley in Europe and this is all I feel??!” How was I imagining I’d feel? Perhaps that’s the issue, I went in imagining how I would feel. I had all these expectations of what it would be like, rather than just ‘being’ in this special place.
I am left feeling that these titles of “most beautiful XYZ in the world” can run the risk of ruining our genuine enjoyment of these places. It has also made me question why we choose to visit certain places, purely because they are well known or listed as “must see” in a country.
What do we “miss” in between by trying to visit the “must see” places?
Back in Italy at one point we were only about 2 hours from Rome (which is really more like 3 hours in the Baby Bus). It’s a city I visited in the summer I turned 18 due to a profound love off all things ancient Rome and having recently written a History paper on the Gladiators. However, it’s not a place Nick has visited and we had been looking at how and if we should visit.
It was easy to get wrapped up in the idea of visiting Rome, those thoughts of how we really shouldn’t “miss it” when we were so close. But the reality was that it costs quite a bit more to stay close to a city like Rome, and it’s not really the best way to spend a day for our two young daughters – they would much rather a playground, or a lake, or a beach.
We looked at the map, saw where else we could stop for a night, and I began to realise just how many interesting places there are in between the “must see” places. No, they are not Rome or Logarska dolina. Saying we stayed at a campsite on the Maremma coast (that’s where we went instead of Rome) probably doesn’t sound as exciting as “we went to Rome.” But as a family, we probably enjoy those other places just as much as a day out in Rome.
So, I will continue to try and remind myself to look for the sometimes “missed” places in between the “must see” or “most beautiful” places. Our expectations of them are small to none, and as such I feel more free to experience them just as we find them. That way I think we open ourselves to having the most beautiful experiences, regardless of where we are and what others think of it.