Africa’s largest country. Maghreb's most urbane and charismatic cities, with a heady, nostalgic mix of colonial and modernist architecture. Across the north are stunning coastlines, lush rural hinterland and a number of well-preserved Roman cities.
Kraków is in many respects the most Polish of all this great nation’s cities. The ancient seat of kings and intelligentsia, Kraków comes steeped in legend and myth, and evokes the most fanciful of images, from dragons under the catacombs of Wawel, to Tartar hordes repelled at the gates, to pigeon-knights waiting for their king to return.
The capital is spread across a broad area with diverse architecture: restored Gothic, communist concrete, modern glass and steel. This jumble is a sign of the city’s tumultuous past. Warsaw has suffered the worst history could throw at it, including virtual destruction at the end of World War II – and survived. As a result, it’s a fascinating collection of neighbourhoods and landmarks.
The charming – if tiny – old town (starý mesto) is the place to start appreciating Bratislava. Stroll narrow pedestrian streets of pastel-coloured 18th-century buildings or sample the myriad sidewalk cafes under the watchful gaze of the city castle, which harks back to medieval times. The Danube wends through the city, and cycle paths weave through the verdant flood plain that begins just outside the centre.
Spread across steep hillsides that overlook the Rio Tejo, Lisbon has captivated visitors for centuries. Windswept vistas reveal the city in all its beauty: Roman and Moorish ruins, white-domed cathedrals, grand plazas lined with sun-drenched cafes. The real delight of discovery though, is delving into the narrow cobblestone lanes.
From the moment you arrive in Marrakesh, you’ll get the distinct feeling you’ve left something behind. What you’ll be missing in Marrakesh is predictability and all sense of direction. Never mind: you’re better off without them here. Start at action-packed Djemaa el-Fna and head north into Marrakesh’s maze of souqs, where Berber tribes once traded slaves, gold, ivory and leather, and where modern tourists scour people-packed alleys for carpet bargains and babouches.
It's new technology and old tradition. It's a sublime wilderness. It's where the past comes to life.
Fortified churches and painted monasteries stand regally amid a pristine landscape. In the cities, former Saxon settlements such as Sibiu and Braşov ooze charm, while vibrant Bucharest is all energy.