Encounter the essence of China in all its wonderful diversity—climb the Great Wall and stare down the Terracotta Warriors.
China is full of cultural and natural highlights. Rest your gaze on the giant Buddha of Leshan, ancient mountainside monasteries at Emei Shan then float down the world-famous Three Gorges of the Yangtze River before stepping out to experience the vibrant rural life and stunning scenery of Yangshuo.
On first acquaintance Hong Kong can overwhelm. Navigate its teeming, tightly packed sidewalks and you’re met at every turn with neon signage, steam-filled canteens, molasses-slow traffic and a Babel of chatter.
Once this first sensory wave has rolled over you, though, take a deep breath and start swimming with the current, because you’ll find Hong Kong is a place to delight in. Utterly safe and fantastically well organised, it offers little moments of perfection. You may find them on a plastic stool enjoying a bargain bowl of beef brisket soup or simply gazing at the thrilling harbour vistas. You’ll find them taking afternoon tea in the cool of a five-star hotel lobby or enjoying balmy open-air beers in the party zones.
Hong Kong can nudge you out of your comfort zone but usually rewards you for it, so try the stinky beancurd, sample the shredded jellyfish, brave the hordes at the city centre horseracing and join in the dawn tai chi. Escape the city limits and other experiences await – watching the sun rise from a remote mountain peak, hiking surf-beaten beaches or exploring deserted islands.
If it’s pampering you’re after, money can buy the ultimate luxuries in a city well used to serving its tiny, moneyed elite. Yet Hong Kong is also a city of simple pleasures. Most often it’s the least pricey experiences – a $2 tram or ferry ride, a whiff of incense curling from temple rafters, savouring fishing-village sundowners and seafood – that are the stuff of priceless memories.
Good-looking, fun-loving, sporty and sociable. If Cape Town was in the dating game that's how her profile would read. And - for once - it's all true. The Mother City of South Africa occupies one of the world's most stunning locations, with an iconic mountain slap-bang in her centre.
As beautiful as the surrounding beaches and vineyards can be, it's the rugged wilderness of Table Mountain, coated in a unique flora, that grabs everyone's attention.
The capital of Western Cape province and the parliamentary capital of the republic, Cape Town works in a way that so few cities on the African continent do. Historic buildings have been saved, businesses are booming, inner-city crime is coming under control and you'll seldom be stuck for a parking space. Factor back in those stunning mountains, magnificent surf beaches and outstanding vineyards and you'll soon discover - like many before you - that it's easy to lose track of time while exploring all the wonders of this unique Southern African city. Now don't you think it's time you made a date with Cape Town?
Glitzy, glam, over-the-top and a little overexposed, Dubai lives for attention. On the surface it’s materialistic beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and by treating every visitor like a VIP, visitors respond by spending like VIPs, only to need resuscitating when the next month’s credit-card bill arrives. But this is the whole idea. We’re talking about a city that virtually invented the ‘shopping festival’ (Dubai Shopping Festival, or DSF), the simple premise of which was to get people to travel to Dubai and spend money. With myriad shopping malls, flamboyant hotels, a dizzying array of dining options and hip clubs and bars, it’s all just too easy.
Driven by Sheikh Mohammed, a leader who doesn’t understand the word ‘no’, visitors and potential residents are flocking to this Middle East metropolis in increasing numbers with the promise that Dubai is like no other city on earth. And Sheikh Mohammed is delivering.
However, whether you end up loving or loathing its ostentatious nature, under the surface another Dubai exists. Head to the Heritage Village during Ramadan or the DSF and you’ll witness a different Dubai, where local Emiratis take joy in their songs, dance and traditions. Spend a few fascinating hours by the creek, watching the dhow (traditional wooden boat) traffic and the abras weave along the waterway while smoking some sheesha. Walk the streets of the tranquil, restored Bastakia area or take a stroll through multicultural Karama or Satwa. You’ll find this Dubai a million miles removed from the credit-card frenzy of the five-star hotels. Whatever you end up preferring, Dubai is a fascinating experiment and a city-state that’s like no other.
Morocco is an exotic gateway to Africa; its mountains, desert and coast are populated by Berbers and nomads, and its ancient medina lanes lead to souqs and riads.
Morocco is packed with mind-boggling distractions and labyrinthine alleyways to adhere to boring linear logic. If you did have a destination, you’d only be waylaid by snake charmers, careening donkey carts, trendy silver leather poufs and ancient Berber cures for everything from relationships to rent.
Passionate, sophisticated and devoted to living the good life, Spain is at once a stereotype come to life and a country more diverse than you ever imagined.
Barcelona is an enchanting seaside city with boundless culture, fabled architecture, and a world-class drinking and dining scene.
Then you have Madrid, No city on earth is more alive than Madrid, a beguiling place whose sheer energy carries a simple message: this city really knows how to live.
And if you feel that the cities are not enough, visit the famous Islas Baleares -Mallorca, Menorca & Ibiza-, floating serenely in the glittering Mediterranean. Mallorca is the senior island, combining a little of everything, from spectacular mountain scenery and hiking through to the standard sea ‘n’ sun seaside tourism. Ibiza is synonymous with clubbing, the island that gave Europe the rave. Menorca is a haven of tranquillity – splendid isolated beaches and coves, and prehistoric monuments standing as taciturn reminders of how small we are in the grand scheme of things. And tiny Formentera, a chill-out island, where some people lose themselves for the entire summer, needing little more to keep them happy than white beaches and sunset parties.
Jungles, deserts; teeming cities, one-street pueblos; fiesta fireworks: Mexico conjures up so many contradictory images. One thing’s for sure: no preconceptions will ever live up to the reality.
Mexico is an endless adventure for the senses. A climate that ranges from temperate to hot almost everywhere makes for a life spent largely in the open air. Take it easy by lying on a beach, dining alfresco or strolling the streets of some pretty town, or get out and snorkel warm Caribbean reefs, hike mountain cloud forests or take a boat in search of dolphins or whales.
Travel in Mexico is what you make it and the country caters to all types of voyager. Stay in pampered resorts, budget beach huts or colonial mansions. Eat cutting-edge fusion food in chic gourmet restaurants or abuela’s (grandmother’s) recipes at a busy market comedor (food stall). Getting from A to B is easy thanks to comfortable buses that run almost anywhere and an extensive domestic flight network. Or try renting a car: Mexico has some excellent roads, and outside the cities traffic is mostly light.
For centuries the world has wondered what to believe about Russia. The country has been reported variously as a land of unbelievable riches and indescribable poverty, cruel tyrants and great minds, generous hospitality and meddlesome bureaucracy, beautiful ballets and industrial monstrosities, pious faith and unbridled hedonism. These eternal Russian truths coexist in equally diverse landscapes of icy tundra and sun-kissed beaches, dense silver birch and fir forests and deep and mysterious lakes, snow-capped mountains and swaying grasslands – those famous steppes. Factor in ancient fortresses, luxurious palaces, swirly spired churches and lost-in-time wooden villages and you’ll begin to see why Russia is simply amazing.