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.
This unique history of formation and isolation has given rise to breathtaking and extraordinary wonders. Perfect white sand beaches, abundant reefs, towering waterfalls, lush valleys, snow-capped mountains and fiery hot volcanic cauldrons captivate the hearts of those who visit as well as those who call this beautiful place home. A special culture has evolved from the unique natural environment of these islands. Native Hawaiians are the host culture here, and the values of Aloha have laid the foundation for the Hawaii we have today. Since the 1700s, peoples of various cultures have been arriving on these shores, bringing their foods, their music and their ways of life.
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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.
Europeans flock to the Canary Islands in winter in search of a little sun. Temperatures range between 70°F and 75°F through January and February.On Tenerife stands one of Europe’s loftiest peaks, Mount Teide, snowcapped in winter against a deep blue sky. You can watch whales or sail over to Gomera, which was the final stop Columbus made before he set out and discovered America.
With a history dating to the Stone Age, Hvar is as fascinating as it is beautiful. Thirteenth-century walls surround Hvar Town, with its red-tiled roofs, and the ancient stone ruins of Stari Grad Plain became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. A jaunt to the interior reveals rugged mountains, lush vineyards and fragrant lavender fields. Embark on a boat trip on the Adriatic to snorkel, swim in sea caves, and wander secret beaches and seaside hamlets.
Nicknamed “The Helen of the West” (an allusion to the beauty of Helen of Troy), St. Lucia stuns with its signature feature: the UNESCO-listed twin Pitons. Reaching heights of about 2,500 feet, the voluptuous volcanic spires complement the island’s other attractions, including verdant jungles, sparkling silver-sand beaches, haunting sugar-estate ruins, and a mineral-rich natural mud bath. Meanwhile, the island’s most famous resort, Jade Mountain, is an architectural gem in its own right.

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.
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Dubbed the Isle of Flowers and crowned by 4,583-foot Mount Pelee, Martinique may just be the Caribbean’s best-kept secret. Some exploration is required to uncover the island’s treasures, like the Balata Gardens’ Treetop Trail of suspension bridges, Saint-Pierre’s 18th-century theater ruins, and the poignant Anse Cafard Slave Memorial. This overseas region of France is also considered the rum capital of the world; follow the Route des Rhums to tour esteemed distilleries like Clement and Rhum JM.
Described as the Philippines’ last frontier, Palawan boasts not one but two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (don your dive gear), and the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park (climb in a canoe for a guided tour). Striking limestone formations like Ugong Rock and Karst Mountain Elephant Cave rise starkly from the rice fields of the interior. You can even find overwater bungalows on outlying islands, courtesy of El Nido Resorts.
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