These islands clustered in the Indian Ocean southwest of India and Sri Lanka are considered the flattest on Earth—and perhaps the most at risk from rising sea levels due to global warming. • There are thought to be some 1,100 islands in the Maldives chain, but only about 200 are inhabited. • Perhaps half are in private hands. • A visitor intent on snorkeling, diving, and swimming among the world’s most exotic fish could do no better than to take up those delightful challenges here.
2. Costa Brava, Spain
Crisscrossed over the centuries by Moroccan mercenaries, militant monks, and warring princes, Spain today recalls mostly the legacy of the Romans and the Moors. • Worth remembering is the ease with which Jews, Muslims, and Christians coexisted here for so long. • Picasso's wrenching "Guernica," Dali's unforgettable surrealist obsessions, Gaudí's unfinished Sagrada Familia in Barcelona merely hint of Spain's artistic splendors. • Its cuisine is accounted by many today as superior to that of France. • A timeless culture, endlessly renewing itself.
|The Dalí Theater and Museum honors artist and hometown boy Salvador Dalí in Figueres, Spain, with a suitably surrealistic building.|
3. North Colombia
Wedged between Venezuela to the east, Brazil to the south, and the Caribbean to the north, it’s the only country in South America whose sugared beaches are lapped by both the Atlantic and Pacific. • Straddling the equator, this lush tropical nation boasts a diversity of fauna and flora so rich as to stagger the mind. • Bogotá, the capital, has a big-city bustle, with the concomitant undercurrent of poverty and crime. • Cartagena, by contrast, may be the loveliest colonial city in all South America.
It was annexed by Napoleon in the early 1800s, became part of Yugoslavia after World War II, and today, after the most violent epoch in recent European history, stands a free and prosperous state, offering visitors natural and historical bounty. • Horseshoe-shaped, bounded by Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia casts its eyes beyond the breathtaking fortress city of Dubrovnik across the Adriatic toward Italy. • Once again vital and energized, it's a miracle of resurrection.
The United Kingdom’s capital city—covering 610 square miles (1,580 square kilometers)—is huge. Founded in A.D. 43, it’s also old. And powerful. London is a hub of culture, business, and politics—and center of the once glorious British Empire that can still throw its weight around the globe. Served by a fabulous subway system, numerous tour buses, and the iconic black taxis, London is not difficult to find your way around in. And despite the city’s enormity, the center is small enough to make walking a good option—just mind the warnings painted on the curb to look right when crossing the street. Drivers come at you, unexpectedly, along the left side of the road.
|Fashion: Londoners have a fearless approach to style. Dreadlocks, pompadours, shaved heads, even magenta mohawks work.|
Wherever you set your foot," Cicero wrote about Athens in the first century B.C., "you encounter some memory of the past." • And that holds not just for the storied Greek capital—the Parthenon presiding above its furious daily bustle—but for all of Greece, from ancient Thessaloniki and Mount Olympus in the north to any of the 2,000 islands scattered across the Ionian and Aegean Seas. • Cicero was referring the Athenian golden age, that explosion of arts and architecture, philosophy and drama. • Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—these are only the best known names of the age of Pericles. • Time has done little to change the essential Greece.
7. Sri Lanka
The words mean "resplendent isle," and the natural charms of this pear-shaped island in the Indian Ocean that nearly kisses the southeast tip of India are indeed splendid. • Peopled mostly by Sinhalese, the result of waves of Indo-Aryan emigration, the island is mostly flat, with gentle mountains in the south. • The Portuguese and the Dutch once waged proxy wars here; by 1802 the island was a British colony. • This century saw bloody civil war, as the Liberation Tigers, representing minority Tamils, fought the Sinhalese and their domination of politics and economics. • In 2009 the Tigers were vanquished. • Today peace prevails.
The westernmost country of mainland Europe, edged by the Atlantic to the west and south and Spain to the north and east, it’s best known as the great seafaring nation that created a global empire stretching from Africa to Asia to South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. • This rugged wedge of the Iberian Peninsula has its own long history of being overrun, but today Portugal is one of Europe’s best kept secrets, with great food and wine and spectacular countryside at some of the Continent’s best prices
9. New Zealand
Glacier-carved mountains, bubbling thermal springs—New Zealand offers an array of natural splendors found nowhere else on Earth. • North Island and South Island split the Pacific from the Tasman Sea. • Agriculture is the nation's economic engine, and there are few places in the world where one can dine on finer, fresher delicacies than those grown or raised here or pulled from the abundant sea. • Dominated by two cultural groups, European descendants and the minority Maori, New Zealand boasts a populace that is largely prosperous and contented, proud of the exotic land they call home.
A land of rushing rivers and verdant forests, Thailand's fertile central basin is the nation's breadbasket. • Alone among its neighbors, Thailand has never been colonized. • Most of its 60 million residents are Buddhists. • A good joke is enjoyed by most—there are 13 different Thai words to describe a smile. • Monks, saffron-robed, abound, begging politely from door-to-door. • Fried cockroaches are a dietary staple. • A storied land of kings and dynasties, Thailand today enjoys both a strong democracy and a robust economy.