Africa's top beaches and islands
Alexandria & the Mediterranean Coast
Zanzibar’s allure is legendary. One of East Africa’s great trading centres, the archipelago has been for centuries a crossroads of culture, a melting pot of influences where Africa, India and Arabia meet, a complete change of pace from the mainland, a place where life’s rhythms are set by the monsoon winds and the cycles of the moon.
In Ghana life is public. People evacuate their homes and apartments every day to escape the stifling heat. And much like the patterned cloth worn by market women, the disparate parts and peoples somehow mix and weave together into a cohesive whole. Ghana is home to a number of diverse peoples and cultures, all finding ways to coexist in a rapidly modernising country.
Nile Valley: Luxor
Built around the 4000-year-old site of Thebes, the ancient capital of the New Kingdom, contemporary Luxor is an eccentric combination of provincial town and staggering ancient splendour. The concentration of monuments is extraordinary: they tower incongruously above the buzz of everyday life and make this a most compelling destination.
The Souss Valley
Venturing inland and upwards from Cape Town you’ll find the Boland, meaning ‘upland’. It’s a superb wine-producing area, and indeed the best known in South Africa. The magnificent mountain ranges around Stellenbosch and Franschhoek provide ideal microclimates for the vines.
This region includes the western edge of the Eastern Cape coast, an extension of the well-travelled Garden Route and, for that reason, probably the most visited part of the province. Tsitsikamma National Park and Jeffrey’s Bay are deservedly well known but other lesser-known destinations like Cape St Francis and the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area are worthy of attention.
Following all, or part, of Rte 62 will take you through varied scenery from Tulbagh in the northwest to Oudtshoorn in the southeast. It’s touted as the longest wine route in the world and takes in the Breede River Valley and the Little Karoo. It’s a great alternative to the N2 if you’re travelling from Cape Town towards the Garden Route.
High on the must-see list of most visitors to South Africa is the Garden Route, and with good reason: you can’t help but be seduced by the glorious natural beauty of the scenery. It’s less than 300km from Mossel Bay in the west to just beyond Plettenberg Bay in the east, yet the range of topography, vegetation, wildlife and outdoor activity in this short space is breathtaking.
After a few especially hot days, Marrakesh can leave you feeling as cooked as a kebab left on a Djemaa el-Fna grill. For a dramatic, restorative change of scenery, head for Berber villages tucked into the striped hills of Aït Bougomez Valley, or the rainbow-raising waterfalls of Cascades d’Ouzoud.
In recent years Fez has boomed as a tourist destination. Money has poured into the city, from foreigners buying up riads in the medina to new parks and fountains in the ville nouvelle. If you believe the travel and style pages of the Western media, Fez has become the new Marrakesh. Tell a Fassi that however, and they’ll laugh in your face.
We shouldn’t beat about the bush: Nigeria has an image problem. It dominates West Africa economically and politically, and has produced music and literature whose influence spreads far beyond the continent.
Red Sea Coast
Sadly, the once-idyllic Red Sea Coast is being spoiled by unattractive construction projects, particularly around the soulless city of Hurghada. The village of Al-Quseir has so far escaped mass development but not for long, we suspect. For world-class diving in the area, contact Shagara Eco-Lodge (in Cairo 02-337 1833; www.redsea-divingsafari.
The Central Coast & Kairouan
Home to Kairouan, one of Islam's most holy cities, several of Tunisia's largest beach resorts, and El-Jem, its most impressive Roman monument, this region is hardly lacking in superlatives. Despite its great diversity, it's only a short commute to get from one site to the other.
When it comes to wishing for the archetypal idyllic island, it's impossible to think past the glorious bays caressed by the gorgeously multi-hued waters of Mahé. To the northeast, a range of granite peaks, including Mahé's highest point, Morne Seychellois (905m), adds to this vivid panorama.
The hot and dry Eastern Lowveld is mostly used as a staging post on the way into and out of Kruger National Park. You can learn about the history of the gold rush in the feel-good town of Barberton or get your big-city fix in Nelspruit, and there are plenty of country lodges to whet your appetite for mighty Kruger National Park.