For many holidaymakers the Mediterranean’s main appeal is the promise of summer sun and long, lazy days on the beach. Each year about 200 million visitors pour into the region, making it the world’s top tourist destination. While not all head straight for the beach, may do – and with good reason. The Mediterranean’s beaches are superb, ranging from big, sporty sans on Portugal’s western seaboard to idyllic Sardinian hideaways and rocky platforms on Croatia’s craggy Dalmatian coast. But there’s more to the Med than the beach, and away from the coast, the region’s ancient landscape offers some truly spectacular natural sights – snow-clad Alpine peaks, bizarre rock formations, swathes of unspoiled forest, even a stunning fjord in Montenegro.

The cradle of Western civilization, Mediterranean Europe boasts an unparalleled cultural legacy. Prehistoric paintings reveal the preoccupations of France’s primeval cave dwellers; Greek Roman monuments testify to the power and ambition of the ancient superpowers; Islamic art tells of Moorish sophistication; Gothic cathedrals, Renaissance palaces and baroque facades record the great artistic movements of history. The region’s celebrated galleries and museums are pretty special too, housing a considerable chunk of the Western world’s combined art collection.

The region’s passion for the finer things in life extends to the kitchen. Eating well is part of parcel of everyday life in the Mediterranean, as well as one of  its great pleasures, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Picnicking on a loaf of freshly baked bread with cheese and olives and a bottle of wine bought from the local market could well turn out to be a holiday highlight. For dedicated foodies, France and Italy are the obvious destinations but each country has its own culinary specialities – think tapas in Spain, Kebabs in Turkey, souvlaki in Greece. And for wine buffs, the Mediterranean cellar is really quite something, with everything from world famous vintages to thousands of cheerful local labels.

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