The Troll Ladder, Norway
David Robertson - Alamy
Spend a day walking the downtown streets of almost any city, and odds are, youve just gone over the governments safety recommendations for exposure to noise. We are everywhere blasted by sound: traffic, construction, passing radios, the blare of TVs, and the constant ring of cell phones not quite drowning out the sound of airplanes passing overhead.
The problem is, noise has been proven to raise stress levels, can potentially cause heart and immune system problems, and raise blood pressure. Some studies even show noise can alter brain chemistry in less than fun ways.
So what can you do about it? Escape into the quiet. Around the world remain places that are surprisingly accessible where the constant din of civilization simply drops away.
An hour outside Venice (another carless place that could have made this list), Asolo is a perfect medieval hill town of walls and cobbled streets and afternoons of nothing to do but sip a drink in an open-air café. Once home to Robert and Elizabeth Browning, in Asolo, the only alarm clock youll ever need here are the songbirds. According to Dr. Cheryl Fraser, On a circular hike through the hillside farms and vineyards, over the top of the old castle and down the ancient winding stone path, the predominant sounds are the buzz of various insects (I wonder, do they buzz in dialect?) and the beating of my own heart.
The Troll Ladder, Norway
Roads tend to be noisy places. Engines and wheels are not at all kind to the soundscape. But the Troll Ladder has something very few roads do: a soundtrack. Famed Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg wrote his piece Hall of the Mountain King with exactly this place in mind: Hairpin turns so close to a towering waterfall that its a good idea to check your brakes and windshield wipers before starting the drive. Norways mountains block the horizons in scenery that looks like you thought The Lord of the Rings should have looked like, if the producers hadnt been from New Zealand.
Once you get past the fun of just saying the places name Yap this Pacific island (take a left at Guam), might just be paradise. Its a jungle island, with endless coastline, mangrove swamps where giant fruit bats play, and under water, manta rays with 10-foot wingspans glide without a sound. Yaps entire culture is built on adherence to social peace, so that, according to resident Richard Flow, even playing your car radio too loud when you drive simply isnt done. Do it, he says, and youll come back the next day to find your windshield broken. So the loudest sound in Yap? Waves hitting the reef, more than a mile from shore. And occasional broken glass.
The Hoh Valley, Washington State
Deep in the rainforests of Olympic National Park, the largest roadless area in the contiguous United States, the Hoh is home of the "One Square Inch Project," a fight to preserve just a single inch of landscape from human sound. Keep that one inch quiet, says founder Gordon Hempton, and the silence will radiate out for thousands of acres. And hes right: The Inch offers few sounds louder than water dripping from leaves and the occasional clack of a grouse.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Some of the box canyons off the main river have been measured to be half as loud as human breath. But nobody can take that for long, so head back out to the Canyon proper, where the signature sound, says Mike Buchheit, director of the Grand Canyon Field Institute, as it grows from the graveyard silence of any hike, is the roar of the Colorado River. Of course, some people come just because they think all the red rocks are pretty.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend is a kind of acoustic greatest hits record. Because the park, located in southwest Texas, has such a diverse landscape mountains, deserts, river, with more species of birds, bats, and cactus than any other park in the country only a few minutes change in location can dramatically change what you hear. And one of the best things about Big Bend? Its not on very many airplane flight routes. In fact, the sound of planes is still very rare here. And that makes it one of the most unusual, noise-free environments anywhere in the world.
The Kalahari Desert
Simple math: The greater the distance from people, the quieter a place is going to be. the Kalahari which lies mostly in Botswana, but also spreads into five other African nations may be one of the emptiest landscapes on the planet, over 350,000 square miles of low scrub and acacia trees, nibbled on by giraffes. But then, giraffes arent noted for being noisy. Photographer Jad Davenport says of the Kalahari, No sound out there at all. Nothing.