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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We hear much about branding these day and brand National Geographic is probably best known for its photos and their power to show you exotic and familiar parts of the world. This mighty volume - it has serious thud factor - does just that. The title refers to 'hidden gems' - now that world travel is open to all this book teases us with the cachet of following the less beaten track. It aims to appeals to the traveller rather than a tourist..or to those of us who fancy that's what we are anyway, or just the armchair traveller maybe.

There are sections under the headings:

The World at Your Feet - stunning view form the world's high points
Last Wilderness - remote and wild places where nature exists in the raw
Island Getaways - idyllic hideaways, from the sun baked tropics to the icebound poles
The Road Less Travelled -classic road trips, quiet walks and rugged overland expeditions
Secret History - ancient sites off the beaten track
Spiritual Havens - from cathedrals to mouton top temples, to ancient tombs
Hidden Treasure -museums, houses and castles tucked away in quiet corners
Undiscovered Villages - rural life from the Indonesian jungle to the English countryside
City Secrets - Hidden gardens and unspoiled quarters in the hearts of busy cities

and there are Top Ten list interspersed through these. For example, page 74 has a Top Ten Birding Spots with a photo of neck entwined flamingos, page 18 covers Top Ten Ocean Views. I liked the Top Tens - the downside was that they weren't listed in the contents...I presume the idea is that you come across them by happenstance but it doesn't make thenm easy to navigate. That caveat aside I liked leafing through this for inspiration and to gaze at the gorgeous photography. I've been making my own list and it will be staying on my virtual coffee table for a while
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 January 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
planner: inspirational rather than practical.

The photography is excellent but the choice of places seems somewhat haphazard. Perhaps the book reflects a North American viewpoint but, I am not sure to what extent you could really describe some of these places as hidden, even allowing for the suggestions of some occasionally more unusual activities in some of the places. I didn't care for the way the book is organised, it just seemed very disjointed. The chapters are arranged thematically rather than geographically: The World at your Feet (views from high places); Last Wildernesses; Island Getaways; The Road Less Traveled; Secret History; Spiritual Havens; Hidden Treasures; Undiscovered Villages; City Secrets. Within each category is a range of places with no real connections so, for example in Secret History, you find a piece on the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, scene of an appalling Nazi massacre in 1944, facing a description of the frescoed tombs at Beni Hassan in Egypt. In the Spiritual Havens section you find the cathedral of St John the Divine in New York (neither hidden, nor a gem in my opinion, compared with many other cathedrals or churches) cheek by jowl with Khmer temples in Cambodia and monasteries in Bhutan.

Some countries pop up on several occasions but randomly so that you can't really link places easily without resorting to the index. Whilst the arrangement of the contents may well spur an interest in a hitherto unknown place, I found it to be rather frustrating.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 December 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a pretty large, heavy book, which is only suited to the coffee table, but it does justice to the quality of the photographs. As you would expect from National Geographic, there is superb photography throughout which has been reproduced in stunning quality.

Just flicking through the book, you come across all sorts of images that make you stop, look and think about visiting. There are interesting ideas from all over the world and although I detect a certain amount of US bias, the book seems open-minded to all cultures - from wildernesses, to busy cities and some reasonably well-known places inbetween.

The idea seems to be, to inspire you to visit somewhere you might not have thought of and find places that you might otherwise have missed - the "secret" places that most tourists don't get to on "whistlestop" tours. The book is laid out in 9 sections, but in categories that seem to have no real logic behind them, beyond this idea of "secret places".

I felt that the categories were chosen more for the fact that the authors had access to stunning photographs of these places,rather than any idea of an organised plan. So there are lots of photos of beautiful landscapes, which are very pleasant to look at - but you might get snatches of places next to each other, which are in fact on opposite sides of the planet.

Interspersed amongst this festival of photography, are quite a few useful "Top Tens" - so I liked things like Tea and Coffee Shops with Views, Markets and Bazaars , City Gardens and City Cafes. This felt like a genuine attempt to identify places to visit and a lot of the entries in these "Top Tens" included websites - so it would be possible to actually find out how to get there and plan a trip.

However, all these little gems of information are scattered haphazardly about the book, with no clue as to when they are gong to pop up. Don't get me wrong - I loved this book - it is a joy to browse through and if you let it wash over you then it is a mountain of information. I just thought it could have done with a bit more organisation - geographic indexes, maps with locations of some of the places featured, for example? There is an index, but it is purely alphabetical and doesn't give you a clue to location. So if you were planning an actual trip, it would be difficult to group together places you had seen in the book, into a travel itinerary.

However, it is difficult to be too critical about such a wonderful book and it is of exceptionally high quality throughout - in terms of photography and information.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 1 January 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Secret Journeys of a Lifetime is an impressive volume, beautifully illustrated as one would expect from a book with the National Geographic imprint. I thought I was reasonably well travelled, but I had only visited, or indeed known of the existence of a small number of the incredible places covered in this book.

For the armchair traveller, just browsing through is a very rewarding experience, but for anyone who is prepared to travel to far flung places it is a great source of inspiration. The book is split into nine separate sections eg Spiritual Havens, the Road Less Travelled and City Secrets. Every so often there are useful top ten lists covering various topics such as Roman Sites or Islands Within Cities. Strangely there is no index of these top ten lists which seem to be just scattered throughout the book.

The format is that for each of about 200 of the chosen sites there is a page devoted which includes a picture, some description and a useful summary of when to go, how to find it, planning and websites which can be consulted. The other 300 odd sites are included in the top ten lists and just include a very brief description and a few words on planning.

Since the publishers have chosen to group these places in the way described above, there is, of necessity, no geographic grouping which may have been more useful. However, where, within one of the ten sections, places are geographically close together these are grouped. For example, in Last Wildernesses, there are five sites in the USA and these are described consecutively. If visiting an area, the easiest way to locate places in the book is to look through the index at the back. eg if you look up Wales in the Index, the 11 references to Wales in the book are listed.

So to summarise, this is a book which looks and feels quality and which nearly anyone would be pleased to receive as a gift. On a practical level it is a great source of ideas for the traveller and a pleasure to read for the armchair traveller.
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VINE VOICEon 20 December 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Packed with unusual destinations and interesting places, Secret Journeys of a Lifetime is the answer to someone who claims they've been there, done that and got the t-shirt. A large hardback book ideal for a coffee table or Christmas present for anyone whether they be a seasoned traveller or someone who prefers to enjoy the far reaches of the earth from the comfort of their armchair. Split into seemingly random sections and dispersed with "Top 10s" the book should be the one you're purchasing this Christmas, however there are a few small things that let it down.

Having recently looked at Great Journeys and Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth, unfortunately this isn't quite as good. The pictures aren't as large, the layout not as good and while the information packed into this book may make it more detailed - it isn't necessarily what you what when you are looking for a present or a coffee table book teaming with inspiration. Overall, its a good book - but there's better out there.
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on 18 January 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As expected from National Geographic the photographs are amazing, taken in unusual lights and then played about with to draw the eye. The descriptions are almost secondary. As other reviewers have commented this is more of a coffee table book than a travel manual, for flicking through for inspiration rather than helping plan a trip you've already decided upon. Enjoyable certainly and very easy to dip in and out of.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a sumptuous coffee table book that offers 'travel ideas' - the travel gems of the subtitle, rather than the "secret journeys"(?) of the main title. Each of these 500 locations occupy one page of the book, with a photograph, a paragraph of description and very brief information under the headings 'When to go', 'How to find it', 'Planning' and 'Websites'. The places are grouped together in rather random sections including - "The world at your feet (Stunning views from the world's highest points)" and "Secret history (Ancient sites off the beaten track)". Again the places are randomly listed within the sections, skipping about from country to country and across continents. The book does have an index but this is only an alphabetical index of the places listed.

The book also contains various Top Ten lists, including 'Ocean views', 'Coral reefs', 'Roman sites' and 'castles with accommodation', with a sentence of information on each place and a brief note on "planning". These sort of fit into the sections that they are inserted in and although I found most of them quite interesting there is no index of the lists, so good luck in trying to find them again!

Although this book is nicely presented and will undoubtedly reveal places that you will like to visit, I'm afraid that I considered it was badly organised. For example if you were inspired to visit the Roman city of Palmyra in Syria, you would have to scan the whole book again to find if there were any other nearby places mentioned in Syria. Ultimately you would also have to consult a much more detailed travel guide. However, this is a fun, nicely laid out book that will definitely provide travel inspiration and, particularly in Winter, will provide a portal to warmer climes.
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VINE VOICEon 18 December 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
National Geographic's Secret Journeys of a Lifetime is a rather big book with lovely full coloured, full page photos and a good break down of information. Helpfully the info is broken down into 'When to go', 'How to find it', 'Planning' and a website link. It also has a good little back story and key bullet pointed section. The book covers all parts of the globe with the exception of Antarctica. It's organised into sections like 'Island Getaway', 'Spiritual Havens', 'City Secrets' etc and these act like coloured tabs on the right hand side so you know where you are in the book. They aren't organised by regions though so if you want to find out about a particular region or country, it's not so easy. You need to search each section to find that country again. It might have been better to break down the tab idea into each region so that say, Europe had a 'City Secrets' and 'Spiritual Havens' area etc. The maps aren't very helpful either. Showing a map of Europe when it's talking about Mawddach Estuary in Wales doesn't really show you where the estuary is.

National Geographic's Secret Journeys of a Lifetime is my second big coffe table travel inspiration book. The other one is Lonely Planet's Great Journeys which I think is far better. More inspirational and with a better structure, that's for sure.

But with those issues aside, this is still a decent book hence the 4 star rating.
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VINE VOICEon 19 December 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I can't claim to have an obsession for visiting far-flung parts of the world but this book really whetted my appetite for travel, even to places like Yemen which I'd never considered before.

The big attraction here is the full-page colour photography, as you might expect from a coffee-table tome from National Geographic. Everything looks beautiful. And the text is equally authorative and interesting. I didn't find any mistakes (and I usually do with most popular guidebook series) even for countries and places I know well.

Like other reviewers, I didn't think a lot of the locations ranked as 'secret' in any way. However, the authors get around recommending some of the major tourist spots of the world by highlighting unusual aspects of them, such as bird-watching in Central Park or hiring a study room at The Victoria and Albert Museum. My one bugbear was recommending London's Monument - it's next to an Underground station named after it and you wouldn't particularly want to walk there (or climb its steps) after visiting St Paul's Cathedral as they suggest.

Overall, this book is an inspiration. It really made me want to get my credit card out and start booking trips!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a gorgeous book - glossy, amazing photos and the text is fascinating. Set out in sections it allows you to pick it up at any time and you'll never get tired of browsing. I already own Food Journeys of a Lifetime and this is a another excellent addition to the series.
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