The idyllic islands of Maluku once played an unlikely but hugely important role in global geopolitics and economics. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Maluku was the world's only source of nutmeg, cloves and mace, then vital and very valuable commodities. The search and subsequent fight for control of the Spice Islands (known then as the Moluccas) helped kick-start European colonialism and, thanks to a series of wrong turns and one auspicious land swap, shaped the modern world.
Once the islands' spice monopoly was broken, Maluku returned to gentle obscurity. Today, the region is a little-visited tropical paradise that seems almost too good to be true. Inter-island transport can prove infuriatingly inconvenient but with flexibility and patience you can explore pristine reefs, stroll empty stretches of powdery white sand and climb perfectly formed volcanoes, while Maluku's complex web of cultures welcomes visitors with an effusive, gentle charm.