Ancient Rome, Italy

Rome's famous seven hills – in fact, there are nine – offer some superb vantage points. A favourite is the Palatine Hill, a gorgeous green expanse of evocative ruins, towering umbrella pines, and unforgettable views over the Roman Forum. This is where it all began, where Romulus supposedly founded the city and where the ancient Roman emperors lived in unimaginable luxury. Nowadays, it's a truly haunting spot, and as you walk the dusty paths you can almost sense the ghosts in the air.

La Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

One of Spain's top sights, the Modernista brainchild of Antoni Gaudí remains a work in progress more than 80 years after his death. Fanciful and profound, inspired by nature and barely restrained by a Gothic style, Barcelona's quirky temple soars skyward with an almost playful majesty. The improbable angles and departures from architectural convention will have you shaking your head in disbelief, but the detail of the decorative flourishes on the Passion and Nativity facades are worth studying for hours.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

There's a sense of secrecy and mystery to the Bay of Kotor. Grey mountain walls rise steeply from steely blue waters, getting higher and higher as you progress through their folds to the hidden reaches of the inner bay. Here, ancient stone settlements hug the shoreline, with Kotor's ancient alleyways concealed in its innermost reaches behind hefty stone walls. Talk about drama! But you wouldn't expect anything else of the Balkans, where life is exuberantly Mediterranean and lived full of passion on these ancient streets.

İstanbul, Turkey

Straddling Europe and Asia, the curriculum vitae of İstanbul includes stints as capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It's quite simply one of the world's greatest cities. The historical highlights cluster in Sultanahmet – the Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace and Grand Bazaar. After marvelling at their ancient domes and glittering interiors, it's time to experience this 13-million-strong metropolis's vibrant contemporary life. Cross the Galata Bridge, passing ferries and fish-kebap stands, to Beyoğlu, a nightlife hot spot full of chic rooftop bars and rowdy taverns.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Seven million people visit the Eiffel Tower annually, but few disagree that each visit is unique. From an evening ascent amid twinkling lights to lunch in the company of a staggering city panorama, there are 101 ways to 'do' it. Pedal beneath it, skip the lift and hike up, buy a crêpe from a stand or a key ring from the street, snap yourself in front of it, visit at night or – our favourite – experience the odd special occasion when all 324m of it glows a different colour.

Venice, Italy

There's something special about Venice on a sunny winter's day. With far fewer tourists around and the light sharp and clear, it's the perfect time to lap up the city's unique and magical atmosphere. Ditch your map and wander Dorsoduro's shadowy backlanes while imagining secret assignations and whispered conspiracies at every turn. Then visit two of Venice's top galleries, the Galleria dell'Accademia and the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, which houses works by many of the giants of 20th-century art.

Berat, Albania

This wine-producing region's town reigns supreme in terms of Ottoman-style wonder and magic. The white, multiwindowed Unesco-listed houses look down at the river below. Wander up the cobblestone paths to see them up close and meander through the living, breathing castle area complete with a museum filled with stunning iconography by Onufri. Stay in Berat's Ottoman-style hostel or one of two traditional homes–turned-hotels, and partake in the evening walk along the promenade for a truly enlivening experience.

Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The palace complex of the Alhambra is one of the most refined examples of Islamic art anywhere in the world and an enduring symbol of 800 years of Moorish rule of Al-Andalus. From afar, the Alhambra's red fortress towers dominate the Granada skyline, set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada's snow-capped peaks. Up close, the Alhambra's perfectly proportioned Generalife gardens complement the exquisite detail of the Palacio Nazaríes. Put simply, this is Spain's most beautiful monument.

Ancient Landmarks, Greece

From the haughty magnificence of Athens' Acropolis to the skeletal remains of Knossos, the Cretan lair of the legendary Minotaur, Greece's rugged landscape is littered with ancient ruins. Top temples include the Parthenon, a stirring symbol of ancient glory; oracular Delphi, perched above the sparkling Gulf of Corinth; and Olympia, home to the first Olympic Games. The acoustically perfect theatre of Epidavros sits alongside the mystical Sanctuary of Asclepius, an ancient healing centre, whilst off-shore, the Sanctuary of Apollo marks the birthplace of the mythical god on the island of Delos.

Island hopping in the Adriatic, Croatia

From short jaunts between nearby islands to overnight rides along the length of the Croatian coast, travel by sea is a great and inexpensive way to see the Croatian side of the Adriatic. Take in the scenery of this stunning coastline as you whiz past some of Croatia's 1244 islands. If you have cash to splash, take it up a couple of notches and charter a sailboat to see the islands in style, propelled by winds and sea currents.

Ephesus (Efes), Turkey

The eastern Mediterranean's best-preserved classical city is unique among historical sights: the tourists surging down the Curetes Way actually enhance the experience, evoking life in this busy Roman city. The capital of the Roman province of Asia, Ephesus had 250,000-plus inhabitants, many of them worshippers of the goddess Artemis. After 150 years of excavations, it is the place to get a feel for Graeco-Roman times. Near the jaw-dropping Library of Celsus, with its two storeys of pillars, are the Terraced Houses, the luxurious pads of the Roman elite.

Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

If the 1993 bombardment of Mostar's iconic 16th-century stone bridge underlined the heartbreaking pointlessness of Yugoslavia's brutal civil war, its painstaking reconstruction has proved symbolic of a peaceful new era. Although parts of Mostar are still dotted with shockingly bombed-out buildings, the town continues to dust itself off. Its charming Ottoman quarter has been especially convincingly rebuilt and is once again a delightful patchwork of stone mosques, souvenir peddlers and inviting cafes and today it's tourists rather than militias who besiege the place.

Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Alfama, with its labyrinthine alleyways, hidden courtyards and curving, shadow-filled lanes, is a magical place to lose all sense of direction and delve into the soul of Lisbon. On the journey you'll pass breadbox-sized grocers; brilliantly tiled buildings; and cosy taverns filled with easy-going chatter, the scent of chargrilled sardines and the mournful rhythms of fado drifting in the breeze. Then you round a bend and catch sight of steeply pitched rooftops leading down to the glittering Tejo river and you know you're hooked.

Walking the old city walls at dusk, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Get up close and personal with Dubrovnik by walking its spectacular city walls, where history is unfurled from the battlements. No visit is complete without a leisurely walk along these ramparts, the finest in the world and Dubrovnik's main claim to fame. Built between the 13th and 16th centuries, they are still remarkably intact today and the vistas over the terracotta rooftops and the Adriatic Sea are sublime, especially at dusk when the sundown turns the hues dramatic and the panoramas unforgettable.

Provence, France

Captured on canvas by Van Gogh and Cézanne, Provence is a picture of bold primary colours and bucolic landscapes. Travel the area and you'll pass scented lavender fields, chestnut forests and silvery olive groves as you make for beautiful medieval cities and hilltop villages. But it's not all rural chic and perfect panoramas. On the southern coast, Marseille, the region's tough, compelling capital exudes a gruff, edgy charm. One of the Mediterranean's great ports, this is the ideal place to try bouillabaisse, Provence's legendary fish dish.

Mt Triglav & Vršič Pass, Slovenia

They say you're not really Slovene until you've climbed Mt Triglav. There's no rule about which particular route you take – there are about 20 ways up – but if you're a novice, ascend with a guide from the Pokljuka Plateau north of Bohinj. For a less strenuous yet no less thrilling journey, drive the Vršič Pass, a spectacular mountain road which leads from alpine Gorenjska, past Mt Triglav itself and down to sunny Primorska and the bluer-than-blue Soča River in one hair-raising, spine-tingling hour.

Meteora, Greece

The towering rock spires of Meteora are a stunning natural sight. But what makes them even more incredible are the elaborate 14th-century monasteries built on top of them. There were originally 24 monasteries (one for each pinnacle) but nowadays only six remain, accessible by stairs cut into the rock. Make the ascent and you're rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and, on quiet days, a sense of almost otherworldly serenity. For a completely different experience, Meteora's vertical peaks provide superb rock climbing.

Florence & Tuscany, Italy

Florence has been seducing visitors for centuries and still today it casts a powerful spell. Its artistic treasures include celebrated masterpieces such as Michelangelo's figure-perfect David and Botticelli's revered Renaissance canvas The Birth of Venus. Florence's historic centre, overshadowed by Brunelleschi's landmark dome, sets the perfect scene for alfresco dining and relaxed wine drinking. If it all starts to get a bit much, head out to the country for a taste of the slow life amidst Tuscany's picture-perfect vineyards and classic landscapes.

Touring the Loire Valley, France

With its extravagant chateaux, landscaped gardens and historic towns, the Unesco-listed Loire Valley is made for touring. Pick up a car, or even better a bike, and castle-hop through the valley's beautiful wine-rich countryside. The chateaux, originally the country retreats of France's Renaissance royals and luxury-loving aristocrats, reveal spectacular architecture, from the fairy-tale chic of Château de Chenonceau to the classic proportions of Château de Cheverny and the Renaissance splendour of Château de Chambord.

Snacking in San Sebastián, Spain

Boasting more Michelin stars per capita than Paris, the Basque city of San Sebastián is one of Spain's top foodie destinations. To get into the swing of things, spend an evening bar-crawling around the Parte Vieya (Old Quarter), filling up on pintxos (Basque-style tapas). These bar snacks, traditionally accompanied by a cloudy white wine called txakoli, range from the classic (fresh fish cakes, marinated anchovies, wild mushrooms) to more innovative fusion fare prepared by the city's top chefs.