1. Gordes, France
A rare specimen — attractive to both politicians and artists .
More than just a beautiful village perched on one of the most scenic hillsides of Provence, Gordes has seen serious political action.
Harnessed for its defensive vantage point by everyone from the Romans to the Normans, Gordes played a crucial role in the French Resistance during World War II, and suffered accordingly.
In peacetime it’s the beautiful central square and cobbled alleys overlooking the fields of the Vaucluse that have attracted artists including Chagall and Vasarely.
Today visitors come to enjoy the lively open market in the square dominated by a Norman castle, the surrounding lavender fields and the 12th-century Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque.
2. Miyajima, Japan
The temple that walks on water.
The name means “shrine-island” and this one has an exquisite torii.
The presence of the sea is as much a part of Miyajima’s charm as the shrine itself — the village is lined with a boardwalk which is a great favorite with grazing deer.
What you see is not necessarily all you get in Miyajima — you need to walk behind the main street and away from the shrine to encounter an enchanting staircase leading to a Buddhist temple at the foot of scenic Mount Misen.
3. Essaouira, Morocco
A blue, white and gold desert paradise.
In a country awash with red earth, Saharan desert heat and dust, Essaouira is a refreshing and surprising breath of fresh coastal air.
Not a resort, but a bustling little town with a fishing industry, it’s a vision of bright blue and white, with the odd golden accent.
The Medina, or old market center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where visitors shop for marquetry, textiles and hand-made raffia slippers known as babouches.
But an even bigger attraction is the fishing port, lined with outdoor restaurants overlooking the Scala Kasbah and a sea of blue fishing boats.
4. Savannah, Georgia, United States
Nearly lost, now much loved.
This jewel of the American South nearly fell apart from sheer neglect until a plan to demolish one of its mansions to make way for a parking lot shocked the populace into restoring more than 1,000 splendid buildings.
Even though Savannah boasts the largest historic district of any American city, it was overlooked by visitors until Savannah’s more colorful 20th-century citizens found themselves playing starring roles in the best-seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
Although it reads like a thriller, John Behrendt’s 1994 book is a factual history peppered with the socialites, low-lifes and eccentrics who made the city what it is today.
The fabulous Bonaventure cemetery central to the book would alone be worth a visit to Savannah. In death as in life, Savannah socialites are determined to outdo each other in extravagance, and the statuary, overhung by dripping live oaks, is outstanding.
5. Lucca, Italy
Another jewel from the land of sun, sea and love.
This walled medieval town is one of the loveliest in Tuscany, with a unique elliptical piazza, the Anfiteatro.
This former colosseum was converted in the 12th century into a residential space, now awash with cafés. It’s surrounded by many other picturesque piazzas, punctuated with spectacular churches. San Michele soars to crazy heights with its tiers of blind arches supported by wildly-decorated columns.
San Frediano, with its colorful mosaic facade, is another delight.
Lucca is equally beautiful on the outside. It’s surrounded by thick 16th-century walls on top of which locals stroll or bike, gazing over the surrounding parkland.
From the hotel strip just beyond the walls, it’s easy to slip into town on foot or bike through one of the many alleys.