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Portugal’s Mediterranean charm is most prominent on the golden beaches of the Algarve; in the wilderness of the Azores islands; among the vineyards of Douro Valley; and on the cobbled streets of Lisbon and Porto, where old-world culture meets cosmopolitan bars and restaurants.
From sun-drenched archipelagos and bustling urban cities to snowcapped mountains and semi-arid deserts, Spain epitomizes geographical diversity. As the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, this vast country offers some of Europe’s most dramatic landscapes, as well as some of its tastiest cuisine.
From the silvery crests of the Alps to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, Italy’s beauty is unparalleled. A visit could mean marveling at the Colosseum after a tender plate of pasta, or drifting lazily down a canal, your belly full of local Sangiovese. Explore Tuscan vineyards and olive groves or drool over boutiques in fashionable Milan. Look for mermaids from the cliffs of Sorrento or nibble on Parma’s famous cheese and prosciutto. Anywhere you choose, the country will captivate you.
Croatia has had a turbulent history but is establishing itself as an exciting destination great for all the family. Among other things, you may not be aware that the small Central European country pioneered fountain pens and invented the necktie. Aside from the pub trivia side of things, however, Croatia is a fantastic country steeped in history, and benefiting from the hot summers and mild winters of a Mediterranean climate.
The fragrant air of Morocco seems spiked with local spices. Cradled by the dunes of the Sahara, the Kingdom has been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years. And from the bustling Medina of Marrakech to the mosaic of leather tanning vessels in Fes, Moroccan culture is still steeped in rich tradition. The collection of blue-bottomed boats in Essaouira has become a monochromatic hallmark of the city, while the cafés of Casablanca will invoke your inner Bogie or Bergman.
Ibiza: Old Spanish for "party 'til you drop." Perhaps not literally, but this is definitely one of Europe's favourite nightlife playgrounds. Ibiza boasts more than 100 miles of coastline with some 50 beaches, plus plenty of restaurants, bars, and water sports—and clubs, of course. Fit in a little culture and visit Ibiza's UNESCO-designated old town.
Attracting visitors from all parts of the world, Majorca is a dreamy island destination in the Mediterranean Sea, just off the southeast coast of Spain. There's something for every taste—beaches and coves, a spectacular mountain range, romantic fishing villages and a rustic countryside dotted with almond and olive groves.
The Mediterranean's biggest island is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Messina. A mountainous spot, Sicily's coast and its small islands sit at the foot of volcanoes, including Etna, Stromboli and Vulcano. The Greeks, Romans, Normans and Catalans all left their mark on the island in the form of Byzantine palaces, Gothic castles and Baroque flourishes in capital Palermo. Most larger towns offer interesting museums, but Etna and the Hellenic temples in Agrigento offer particularly unique sights.
The brightest stars of Los Baleares are Majorca, Ibiza and peaceful Minorca. Situated between France and Africa, the archipelago's islands each have distinct characters. Majorca is the most developed and offers a mass of hotels, fast food joints and crowded beaches. Ibiza is loved by a hard partying set, including many gay visitors. It is also increasingly popular with upscale travellers, drawn by the chameleon island's reputation as the new Provence. Pick an island and stake a claim on its sand.
A magnet for skiers and hikers, these dramatic peaks – including the iconic Matterhorn – range from 3,000 to 15,000 feet and spread across three-fifths of the country. Abundant glaciers, scenic valleys and gorgeous alpine lakes add to the region's visual appeal. The Glacier Express train travels the 7.5-hour route through the Swiss Alps from Zermatt to St. Moritz, passing through fairy-tale villages and over 291 bridges along the way.
Greece is one of those rare places where ancient history is still very much a part of modern life. Visitors are as much drawn to the country’s epic intellectual history as its beauty and charm. Make time for the iconic features of the Acropolis of Athens, which include the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. Mythology buffs will appreciate Crete, Olympia, Samos, and Naxos for their mythological significance. For a peaceful beach holiday, the island of Santorini is perfect.
Glamourous Santorini is deliciously different. Geographical newness is in part to thank. The island’s popular black volcanic Perissa and Kamari beaches are big draws, as is its arguably most famous Red Beach near Akrotiri (which is the place to go for archaeology buffs). Santorini curves round a giant lagoon in the Cyclades islands, offering stunning views from sky-high towns, eclectic cuisine, lovely galleries, thriving nightlife and excellent wines.
Strongly influenced by the tribal culture of the Guanches (the original inhabitants), Tenerife was conquered by the Spanish 500 years ago. It's home to Mount Teide, Spain's tallest peak, and to the popular beach resort of Los Gigantes. Today visitors flock to Loro Park to see tropical birds, to Tenerife Zoo Monkey Park and to Parque Nacional Las Canadas del Teide's volcanic rock formations. Explore by car or with a "bono bus" ticket, which offers reductions on regular prices.
The Caribbean, with its tropical climate and diversity of islands, is a prominent destination for tourists. Mention the Caribbean and its tropical climate, crisp clear blue waters, and pristine sandy beaches seem to be the biggest draw. Some of the most visited destinations in the Caribbean are the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Aruba.
The sun-drenched Canary Islands lie close to North Africa and have an exotic flavour of their own. Hundreds of volcanoes, rolling sand dunes, rich forests and rugged cliffs dapple these seven Atlantic gems. Catch a ferry to Lanzarote. Ride a camel through volcanic Timanfaya National Park. Take on Tenerife, home of Mount Teide, Spain's tallest peak. Romp Grand Canary's beaches or hike La Gomera's Garajonay National Park. More adventures await on tiny El Hierro, verdant La Palma and peaceful Fuerteventura.
There's more than one way to enjoy the spa experience in St. Lucia. One is to book a treatment at any of the luxury spas or resorts on the island. The other is to visit Sulphur Springs, inside the bowl of an extinct volcano, where you're welcome to try a volcanic mud bath or the 31°C/88°F Roman bath.
U.S. citizens still need to jump through a few hoops to visit Cuba, but as visitors from around the world know, this island offers some amazing opportunities for cultural exchange. Havana is a mix of old-world architecture and of-the-moment culture. Head out of the capital city to the small town of Trinidad to see more Spanish colonial architecture. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a fantastic home base for a visit to the Valley of the Sugar Mills, a pocket of land that formerly served as the centre of Cuba’s sugar industry.
If your kids are sick of the same old beach holiday you take every year, consider taking them to Lanzarote. There are great beaches, to be sure, but this UNESCO World Biosphere reserve has unique attractions and activities. We're talking camel rides on volcanoes (at Timanfaya National Park), or eating at a restaurant in a volcanic cave (at Jameos del Agua). Even the most jaded teens will be impressed.
The Bahamian archipelago of over 700 islands and cays includes the popular cities of Freeport and Nassau. Freeport offers great shopping and casinos. Nassau also offers gambling, plus the Ardastra Gardens zoo. Explore at a pleasant pace on a horse-drawn surrey. Diving with dolphins, swimming with sharks or snorkelling in pristine reefs are just some of the natural encounters available. Those looking to escape the cruise-ship hordes can slip away to Harbour Island, the Exumas or Andros in the Out Islands.