Nantucket was once one of the richest places in America, built on the profits of the whale oil industry. Even today in the delectable old town there are fine brick houses with silver mailboxes.Old-time sailors used to call Nantucket “The Little Grey Lady of the Sea.” On the misty morning I first arrived there, I could understand why. A woman was riding a horse along the beach to the utter delight of her family aboard my ferry, and she bore a banner that said “Crazy Aunt Rides Again.” It is a unique place.
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The joy is to watch how these islands are transformed by changing distances, by sunlight, by clouds. On some, there is a sliver of beach, just enough from which to swim; others are edged with little villages built on boards, the houses tied together. All are tropical paradises: Koh Phi Phi, Koh He, Koh Racha, Koh Surin, Koh Dok Mai, to name some of the favorites. Koh Phuket serves as a good jumping-off point. After being devastated by the 2004 tsunami, these islands have made a comeback.

A group of 27 coral islands that form two atolls in the Indian Ocean, the Cocos Keeling Islands were virtually unheard of until beach activists Brad Farmer and Andrew Short named Cocos Keeling’s Cossies Beach as the best in Australia for 2017. Called the continent’s last unspoiled paradise, the remote destination is as special for what’s not there (high-rise resorts, chain restaurants, crowds, traffic) as what is — pristine white sand and a turquoise lagoon that’s home to 30,000 sea turtles.

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