My Top 10 Villages From My First 100 Countries

My Top 10 Villages From My First 100 Countries (photo taken in Kandovan, Iran)

My Top 10 Villages From My First 100 Countries (photo taken in Kandovan, Iran)

People often ask me where my favourite village is and to be truthful about it – the answer changes all the time and I never really have a set number one or top 10 – it’s just not possible to give the same answer all the time. It depends on who I’m with, how I’m feeling, where I am, what I’m reminiscing on, what you mean by “top village” etc. In fact, about 100 of the few hundred villages I’ve been to could make my top 10 villages/hamlets on any given day. We don’t always feel the same. However right now, as I’ve recently cracked the 100 country mark, these are my current top 10 villages and it feels good to get something like this jotted down. Villages only of course, I’ve covered my top 10 cities and towns in separate articles.

One of my favourite villages on this journey - Amadiya in Iraq.

One of my favourite villages on this journey – Amadiya in Iraq.

1. Xinaliq, AZERBAIJAN
After a 3 hour bumpy dumper truck ride through the most remote mountains just south of the Azerbaijan – Russia border, we end up in a village where time has stopped. This village is Xinaliq and sits in the Azerbaijani mountains. Often (correctly or incorrectly) referred to as “Europe’s Highest Village”, little Xinaliq leaves a lasting memory.

xinaliq azerbaijan

The tranquil mountain village of Xinaliq, Azerbaijan.

We went hiking, we stayed in a tiny house with a local family, we were without hot showers, internet etc. for a few days. It was a really exciting back to basics existence in a village which had a Mosque, a school and lots of farms. There isn’t even a local shop, cafe or restaurant here. I brought some beer with me so I could relax with a Xirdalan Beer and type up some blogs (offline of course!). When the sun goes down in Xinaliq, there really is not much to do!

Meeting the local lads of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan

Meeting the local lads of Xinaliq in Azerbaijan

2. Portbraddon, NORTHERN IRELAND
Hidden round the coast from Whitepark Bay, by foot the only way round is over the rocks and past the gushing Atlantic Ocean, by vehicle, there is one road that winds its way down to tiny Portbraddon.

Admiring Ireland's Smallest Church in Portbraddon, North Antrim Coast.

Admiring Ireland’s Smallest Church in Portbraddon, North Antrim Coast.

Once you get here you know it has been worth it – here sits a magical old harbour and Ireland’s smallest church, itself once a cowshed. One of my highlights from backpacking in Northern Ireland.

3. Ta Pa Tsune/Taxia Village, CHINA
When I crossed the border from Hong Kong to China back in 2012, Panny and I decided to explore the impressive UNESCO listed Tulou buildings in Fujian Province. We got a night train from Shenzhen to Yongding and then found a perfect idyllic village to spend the night. We chilled out here in obscure Ta Pa Tsune, also referred to as Taxia Village.

Touring Ta Pa Tsune/Taxia Village in China's Fujian Province

Touring Ta Pa Tsune/Taxia Village in China’s Fujian Province

Touring Ta Pa Tsune/Taxia Village in China's Fujian Province

Touring Ta Pa Tsune/Taxia Village in China’s Fujian Province

We stayed in the Qingde Building, one of the Fujian Tulou, It was just so remote and exciting, I really can’t big it up enough. Ta Pa Tsune has no foreigners, no commercial aspect to it. It’s a remote riverside settlement that hasn’t changed in years. I loved it. It was like a dream being there and sometimes you have to pinch yourself.

The amazing Fujian Tulou buildings - the cluster at Tian Luo Keng near Taxia Village

The amazing Fujian Tulou buildings – the cluster at Tian Luo Keng near Taxia Village

4. Tiansiang, TAIWAN
For a travelling Northern Irelander, places like Tiansiang in Taiwan just stretch your backpacking dream to the point where you just stare around in awe. Tiansiang was described best in one word by my Taiwanese friend Eva Jun, who said “Special.” Tiansiang is a marvellous mountain side village built high over a gorge and river in the highly impressive Tailuga National Park (often known as Taroko Gorge).

Jonny Blair at Tiansiang mountain village in Taiwan

Tiansiang is a magical mountain village at Taroko Gorge in Taiwan – Special!

We walked around, did some trails and headed to the viewpoint at the top of the Pagoda. Quite simply, I don’t believe I have been to places as magical as Tiansiang, but I have. The dreams are real. Live them, my friends. Tiansiang is – SPECIAL.

Crossing a bridge in Tiansiang, Taiwan.

Crossing a bridge in Tiansiang, Taiwan.

All those days backpacking through remote places like Hualien and Tiansiang in Taiwan seem worth it now - I'm delighted to help out my fellow travellers!

All those days backpacking through remote places like Hualien and Tiansiang in Taiwan

5. Amadiya, IRAQ
When I told people I was going to Iraq, I had the usual “be careful out there” type of messages. The truth is, that when you visit villages as cool as Amadiya, they are safer than the cities the people sending me those messages about are from. Amadiya is Iraqi Kurdistan’s pearl.

This is the view from the walls of Amadiya in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This is the view from the walls of Amadiya in Iraqi Kurdistan.

It’s a gem, a diamond of a place and backpacker wise – not many go here. Even more reason to visit. We managed to find a shared taxi out there from Dohuk, but getting back was an issue – no public transport here so we had to hitch-hike to Sulav then back via Qadash. The magic of Amadiya lives on, the view from the mountains and the remains of this ancient walled village let your mind drift.

At the walls of Amadiya in Iraqi Kurdistan

At the walls of Amadiya in Iraqi Kurdistan

Then you pinch yourself again and remember: this is Iraq, and this, is beautiful.

Backpacking through the streets of Amadiya in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Backpacking through the streets of Amadiya in Iraqi Kurdistan.

6. Poatina, AUSTRALIA
I’d never heard of lonely Poatina before March 2010. I was working hard on broccoli farms in Wesley Vale, Moriarty and East Sassafras in Tasmania when an offer came up to move out to Poatina where I would camp out, work 12 hour days, 7 day weeks and be condemned to an awesome lifestyle of hardcore broccoli farming. It was just amazing.

poatina lonely planet

Poatina – so lonely it’s “not even in the Lonely Planet”

I fell in love with Poatina at the start. This quiet village on the top of a hill, with wilderness all around. One of the only villages in Australia that has no alcohol, and even better they don’t allow alcohol. I spent 6 incredible weeks here in Poatina working on broccoli farms, living cheap in my tent and planning my travel dreams.

Relaxing by my tent in Poatina, Tasmania, Australia. Great mountain views!

Relaxing by my tent in Poatina, Tasmania, Australia. Great mountain views!

If it wasn’t for my time in Poatina, I’d never have been able to afford that trip to Antarctica, the South America adventure and you’d be reading Don’t Stop Living thinking I hadn’t really travelled.

Making friends in Poatina Tasmania

The amazing group of people I met while farming up in the Tasmanian mountains at Poatina!

As I drove out of the village of Poatina in May 2010, I knew, somehow that I wouldn’t be back. It was emotional, but thanks Poatina!

7. Kandovan, IRAN
On our first few days in Iran, we were based in the city of Tabriz, having crossed the border from Gurbulak to Bazargan. From Tabriz, we got to tour some other places such as Lake Orumiyeh, Osku and Bandar e Golmaniyeh. However the pure highlight was the cave village of Kandovan.

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Here, in Kandovan people live in caves, dug deep into the hilltops. Like something out of a complete fairytale! You can stay overnight in a cave, or day trip it as we did as we had already done the cave thing a few times.

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

Backpacking in Kandovan, Iran

8. Ordino, ANDORRA
This is probably the safest village on the list and one of the most relaxing places to sit and have a coffee or a beer and watch the world go slowly by. Ordino sits in the hills of Andorra, and is easily connected by bus routes from the capital city Andorra La Vella.

backpacking ordino andorra

The gorgeous mountain village of Ordino, Andorra.

9. Port Lockroy, ANTARCTICA
Whether or not this is classed as a village or not, is of course up for debate – it’s basically a few huts. But people live here – British Antarctic workers. Port Lockroy is a fantastic British Antarctic Base which includes a post office (the world’s southernmost), a museum, a UK flag, lots of penguins, history and ice/snow.

port lockroy antarctica

Arrival at the British Base in Port Lockroy in Wiencke Island, Antarctica

I visited Port Lockroy on 11/11/2010 and it is still one of my standout memories from my travels. It’s not the first time I’ve included it on a list either – it made my top highlights from Antarctica article and my favourite passport stamps.

postbox at port lockroy

Posting a postcard in the wilderness at Port Lockroy in Antarctica.

10. Punta Ballena (for Casapueblo), URUGUAY
Uruguay’s biggest city and capital Montevideo appeared in my favourite cities list and so did the Estadio Centenario in the favourite football stadiums, and little Punta Ballena makes my top 10 villages list with aplomb.

Sunset at Casapueblo, Punta Ballena, Uruguay

Sunset at Casapueblo, Punta Ballena, Uruguay

Here, a sunny coastal seaside resort in Uruguay boasts the most magnificent town house of all time. A place called Casapueblo, a gorgeous, white building by the coast in the village of Punta Ballena. Here at Casapueblo as I sipped a cold Patricia beer and watched the most fantastic sunset of all time. Seriously – head to Uruguay and head to Punta Ballena to watch the sunset at Casapueblo. It is one of my travel highlights.

punta del este uruguay

The fantastic sunset at Casapueblo near Punta del Este in Uruguay.

Whackpacking in Punta Ballena, Uruguay

Whackpacking in Punta Ballena, Uruguay

Sunset at Casapueblo, Punta Ballena, Uruguay

Sunset at Casapueblo, Punta Ballena, Uruguay

So this is my top 10 of villages (I hope they are all actually villages, and not cities or towns!). I’ve also compiled my top 10 cities and towns from my first century of countries next, you may also have seen my 5 craziest moments so far.

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Safe travels!

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