They are the new wonders of UNESCO Word Heritage – 29 sites singled out for their ‘outstanding universal value to humanity’. They include forests and oceans, modern architecture and ancient ruins, masterpieces of human creative genius and natural landscapes of exceptional biodiversity and beauty.

UNESCO has been adding to its World Heritage stable every year since 1978 and nations can spend years pitching to join this prestigious club, whose members include the Acropolis in Athens, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Alhambra Palace in Granada. World Heritage status brings cultural cachet, tourists and investment but countries first have to convince the committee they have the cash to sustain the sites. With 2019’s new recruits, the list stands at 1,121 sites in 167 countries. Spain has 48 (seven in Andalucía) making it the country with the most after Italy and China, which tie with 55. You would need to visit 20 a year to see them all in an average adult lifetime. Meantime, join Belinda Beckett on a speedier virtual tour of 10 intriguing UNESCO newbies.

ITALY – Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene

From the air it looks like Tolkien’s Hobbitland with green hogback hills and toytown villages scattered along valleys and perched on crests. This is Prosecco Shire in the Veneto, home to Europe’s favourite Italian wine, but it has become Italy’s 55th UNESCO site, chosen for its extraordinary landscape rather than the quality of its fizz. Transformed over centuries to meet the challenge of grape-growing on steep slopes, grassy terraces planted with vines called ciglioni pattern the landscape like a chessboard in striking testament to generations of ingenuity. And the grapes are still picked by hand. The Veneto is stuffed with posh palazzos too.

UNESCO says: “The distinctive mosaic landscape, shaped by historical and ongoing environmental and land use practices, could be vulnerable to irreversible change due to the pressures of Prosecco production within a growing global market.”

CANADA – Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi

A sacred site for the Blackfoot for nigh on 9,000 years, the towering sandstone pillars sprouting across the Milk River valley, known as hoodoos, were used by First Nations as message boards. The ‘graffiti’ they left behind told the stories of their lives and the spirits they met on their journeys through the Great Plains of Alberta. Áísínai’pi, now a protected park, is Blackfoot for ‘it is pictured / written’. Archaeological finds dating back to 4,500BC show that the park has other fascinating tales to tell.

UNESCO says: “The sacred landscape and the rock art provide exceptional testimony to the living cultural traditions of the Blackfoot people, perpetuated today in ceremonies and the respect in which the place is held.”

FRANCE – French Austral Lands and Seas

An ‘oasis’ in the middle of the Southern Indian Ocean with more birds and marine mammals than anywhere else on the planet. The French Overseas Territory consists entirely of island groups strung out between Africa, Antarctica and Australia over an area bigger than Afghanistan. These ocean-locked lands are home to the world’s largest colonies of king penguins and yellow-nosed albatrosses, the second largest of elephant seals, the third of fur seals… the list goes on. There is no permanent civilian population, just thinly-spread military bases and no tourism to speak of, the way wildlife and scientific researchers like it.

UNESCO says: “These remote islands, which lie thousands of kilometres away from any continent, protected from the impact of human activities, are true showcases of biological evolution and unique models to monitor global changes.”

IRAQ – Babylon

Four millennia ago it was the capital of the most dazzling empire in the ancient world but it still took 36 years of bidding before Babylon was allowed to join the ‘club’. The ruins of King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and the foundations of the Tower of Babel are among its treasures and 85 per cent is yet to be excavated, however archaeological evidence of its famous Hanging Gardens has never been found. But the world’s oldest metropolis is in a fragile condition. Saddam Hussein dug it up to build a replica palace while US-led military forces drove through it in tanks and used the rubble to fill their sandbags during the Iraq War.

UNESCO says: “Babylon left a considerable legacy in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, architecture and urban design. Despite conservation efforts since 2008, it suffers from a variety of threats including illegal constructions and trash dumping.”

UK Jodrell Bank Observatory

Spying on distant galaxies since 1945 and still operational, this giant dish set in England’s rural northwest was the world’s first and largest mobile radio telescope. With a diameter of 76 meters, the Lovell Telescope is still the world’s third largest. Together with three other telescopes, it tracks spacecraft and delves into the secrets of star formations, cosmic rays, meteors, quasars and other astrophysics phenomena.

UNESCO says: “This exceptional technological ensemble illustrates the transition from traditional optical astronomy to radio astronomy (1940s to 1960s), which led to radical changes in the understanding of the universe.”

CHINA – Migratory Bird Sanctuaries of the Yellow Sea/Gulf of Bohai

It looks like an abstract painting but this is the largest intertidal mudflat system in the world and one of the most biologically diverse. The rivers flowing into the Yellow Sea carry particles from Gobi Desert sand storms that turn the surface of the water gold while algae, phytoplankton and marsh plants add their own splashes of colour. The mineral-rich waters feed 780 species of fish and crustaceans which, in turn, sustain millions of migratory waders and shore birds.

UNESCO says: “The intertidal areas are of global importance for the gathering of many migratory bird species that use the East Asian-Australasian flyway, including some of the world’s most endangered species which depend on the coastline as a stopover to moult, rest, winter or nest.

USA – The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright

America’s maestro of modernism inspired the shape of cities to come, signing off over 500 projects Stateswide from the 1880s to the 1950s. He surprised with his use of avant garde materials and technologies and pleased with his philosophy of creating buildings that harmonised with their environment.

Eight properties are singled out in the listing, among them his greatest masterpiece, Fallingwater, Pennsylvania, a home built over a forest waterfall; and New York’s iconic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, opened in 1959, it’s curved design a stark contrast to Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Wright famously quipped that it would make the neighbouring Metropolitan Museum of Art “look like a Protestant barn”.

UNESCO says: “The ensemble reflects the ‘organic architecture’ developed by Wright, illustrating an open plan blurring of the boundaries between exterior and interior and the unprecedented use of steel and concrete. His work was pivotal in the development of 20th century architecture.”

IRAN – Hyrcanian Forest

Stretching across an area nearly twice the size of Belgium, this primeval forest is older than homo sapiens and much of it is still inaccessible to man. It has existed for 25 to 50 million years, surviving the Ice Age and predating many of the planet’s mammals and plants. Extending for 850km along the southern Caspian Sea coast, 3,200 plant species thrive in its humid climate alongside 240 species of birds and mammals, including the iconic Persian Leopard.

UNESCO says: “The forest’s floristic biodiversity is remarkable: 44% of the plants known in Iran are found in the Hyrcanian region, which only covers 7% of the country.”

SPAIN – Risco Caido and the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria

Risco Caido cave boasts the largest collection of rock art porn in the world. The walls are etched with over 1,000 pubic triangles which light up on the spring and autumn equinox when the sun and moon shines through the roof in a phallic-shaped beam. Until 1996 no one knew about the ancient troglodyte fertility cult who lived in Gran Canaria’s mountainous heart and worshipped the stars and Mother Earth. Archaeologists discovered cave dwellings, granaries, cisterns and sacred temples that may have been astronomical observatories. The island’s first UNESCO site was also chosen for its otherworldly volcanic landscape.

UNESCO says: “The age of the troglodyte settlements is proof of a pre-Hispanic culture on the island which lived here in isolation for 1,500 years until the arrival of the first Spanish settlers in the 15th century.”

ICELAND – Vatnajökull National Park

Dominated by Europe’s largest glacier which covers eight per cent of the country, the surreal landscape is constantly shape shifting in a dynamic interplay of fire declared globally unique. Eight of the park’s 10 volcanoes are subglacial and when they erupt they explode the ice cap into a jökulhlaup – an immense and spectacular glacial flood. One of the locations for the second season of Game of Thrones, this land of alarming natural conflict is a global laboratory for the study of climate change.

UNESCO says: “The volcanic zones hold endemic groundwater fauna that has survived the Ice Age. Single-celled organisms prosper in subglacial lakes that may replicate conditions on early Earth and the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn.”