Photo by Javier Villasuso/CPCN, Getty Foundation via UNESCO
Photo by Shutterstock
Bath, England, is among the great spa towns of Europe that were added to the 2021 UNESCO World Heritage List.
The latest additions—from Europe’s great spa towns to a nearly 100-year-old railway in Iran—are definitely worthy of a detour or even planning your next trip around.
The recent announcement of 33 newly inscribed UNESCO World Heritage sites is larger than usual because it covers two years, 2020 and 2021. (The committee that selects the sites did not meet in 2020 because of the pandemic.) They join a list of more than 1,000 natural and cultural sites around the globe. Culture, especially modern—rather than nature—rules in these choices.
Recognition by UNESCO means the landmark is of “outstanding universal value.” It also means the site can obtain funds and advice from UNESCO to help maintain it. Both types of aid may be necessary because the new status frequently means an increase in tourist visits, sometimes too many, especially when a site has the dubious distinction of being “Instagrammable.”
While the pandemic continues to make some of these sites off limits, here is a sampling of places you may want to include in your future travel plans.
Uruguay may not be top of mind for many travelers, but modern architecture fans will be keen to visit this remarkable building. Innovative engineer Eladio Dieste used humble bricks in a surprisingly sophisticated way. Completed in 1960, the church features undulating walls and a roof of double-curved vaults. The cylindrical bell tower has openwork masonry; an oculus lights the underground baptistery. The church is a striking example of what imagination can do with a very modest budget.
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This designation encompasses 11 towns in 7 countries, so you’re sure to find several worth exploring the next time you’re in Europe. They include the City of Bath (U.K.), Vichy in France, three spa towns each in Czechia and Germany, and the eponymous Spa in Belgium, long known for its healing thermal waters. All of them feature natural mineral water springs and served as prototypes of today’s luxe international wellness resorts.
More on natural spas: 11 of the World’s Dreamiest, Steamiest Hot Springs
Landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx developed this garden over four decades, starting in 1949, at his home. It includes some 3,500 species of tropical plants in dramatic, colorful arrangements. An on-site museum displays Burle Marx’s arts and crafts collection. U.S. landscape designer Richard Hartlage sums up his work as “a painter working in landscape.” The 100-acre garden is about a 90-minute drive west of Rio de Janeiro.
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This artists’ colony launched at the end of the 19th century began as a center for innovation in art and architecture. More than a dozen remaining experimental buildings and gardens include a chapel, wedding tower, pergola, fountain, and artists’ studios and houses, which were displayed during international exhibits in the years leading up to World War I. One former house/studio is now the Artists’ Colony Museum, which shows work by the 23 residents active here from 1899 to 1914. A must-see for aficionados of art nouveau, the Vienna Secession, and the arts and crafts movement, the property is a short drive from Frankfurt.
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You’ve no doubt heard of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Although not a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a good way to visit many such sites in Russia. Iran’s trans-national railway is shorter and more recent—and it runs north to south, not east to west—but represents an impressive engineering feat. Crossing two mountain ranges to connect the Caspian Sea with the Persian Gulf required the building of hundreds of bridges and tunnels between 1927 and 1938. Horseshoe curves and 11 spiral tunnels were constructed to handle the many steep inclines.
Here is the complete 2021 list of UNESCO’s newly designated World Heritage sites, by region:
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