UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has a single, noble charge: to catalogue, name, and aid in the conservation of sites of outstanding importance to the common heritage of humanity. Sites are designated as Cultural (Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Acropolis) or Natural (the Serengeti, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef). “Intangible” assets (Turkish coffee, Mongolian throat singing) are recognized as well. Travel publications rarely acknowledge the committee’s work, which is a shame: the discovery of a “common heritage of humanity” forms the heart of travel’s true purpose. The World Heritage site list has real utility: at 1,031 items, it can direct a lifetime of travel and serve as the ultimate bucket list. We recommend two lesser-known listed destinations, one from each of the two countries that boast more sites than any other: Italy and China.
The Gardens of Suzhou: designed, cultivated and tended by the hands of scholars for nearly a thousand years, and inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1997. Classical Chinese gardens are meant to recreate natural landscapes in miniature; UNESCO describes the examples of Suzhou as “masterpieces of the genre.” These carefully composed spaces are structured and balanced by pagodas, water sluicing over artful tumbles of stone, soft stretches of lawn, and small, delicate trees, all tended and shaped into landscapes that are wild and poetic, yet so precise as to be almost crystalline. Nine such gardens have the UNESCO designation, each with its own character and (characteristically Chinese) name. Especially admired: The Humble Administrator’s Garden, Master of the Nets Garden, and Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty. Admission prices for individual gardens range from $5 to $12, depending on the time of year.