6. MaltaAttractively adorned Maltese townhouses line the streets of Valletta, a European Capital of Culture in 2018.
The long history of this Mediterranean archipelago is vividly evident. Prehistoric temples crown hills, 17th-century fortifications stalk the coast, and a warren of tunnels – from catacombs to air-raid shelters – dig deep underground. Its riches have been here for centuries, if not millennia, but Malta is experiencing a moment. This tiny nation’s buzz has been building to a crescendo in preparation for Valletta’s stint as European Capital of Culture for 2018. Expect baroque, pop and international film festivals, plus a contemporary art biennial. Not to mention a laid-back lifestyle born out of proximity to warm sea, beaches and more than 300 annual days of sunshine.
7. GeorgiaBuilt as a Persian citadel in the 4th century, Narikala Fortress overlooks the Georgian capital Tbilisi’s labyrinthine Old Town.
At this crossroads of the South Caucasus, history is not a thing of the past but informs every complex chess move Georgia makes in the present. Forward-thinking but proud of tradition, this is a country of ancient recipes cooked up in tucked-away taverns where toastmasters raise glasses of spirits to honour heroes old and new. It’s so proud of its wine region that airport immigration officials often welcome travellers with a bottle of red along with their stamped passports. One hundred years ago, Georgia was declared an independent state in the wake of the Russian Revolution: just one of many reasons to raise a glass to toast 2018.
8. MauritiusA typically breathtaking beach scene in Mauritius; the island nation celebrates 50 years of independence from the UK this year.
This brochure-perfect island idyll is justly famous for its dazzling sapphire seas and luxurious beach resorts, where the watery fun includes coral reef dives, kitesurfing, sea kayaking and lagoon cruises. During the colonial days, Mauritius was known as the ‘Star and Key of the Indian Ocean’ for its strategic position. These days there’s much afoot in the deep blue sky, with the government establishing the island as a hub for flights to mainland Africa. New connections to Mauritius include Air Mauritius and KLM’s service from Amsterdam. Past glories are also getting a spotlight in 2018, when the island celebrates 50 years of independence.
9. ChinaThe ancient practice of cormorant fishing, where the bird catches fish too big to swallow, can still be witnessed in some parts of China.
The world’s most populous country is big, beautiful and full of mystery and adventure. Since 2016, China has opened extensive new high-speed rail tracks, creating the largest HSR network on Earth. Běijīng’s imperial palace – the Forbidden City – has been upgraded in the past few years, and four previously restricted halls are now open to the public. Gargantuan Shanghai Tower welcomes visitors to the world’s highest observation deck, and in late 2017, cultural hub Design Society opened in the cosmopolitan city of Shenzhen, featuring a partnership gallery with London’s V&A Museum. Twenty-first century China is here to stay, so hop on board a bullet train and explore this modern Middle Kingdom.
10. South AfricaCape buffalo are a common, if intimidating, sight in South Africa’s wildlife-rich national parks.
Beaches and mountains, wildlife and wine, and let’s not forget vibrant culture and cosmopolitan Cape Town – South Africa has long been one of the world’s most alluring countries. This year the country’s many attractions will be bolstered by ‘Nelson Mandela Centenary 2018: Be the Legacy’, an official programme of events – some sporting, some educational, others devoted to the arts – aimed at honouring the legendary leader. The theme is to inspire values-based societies, with exhibitions related to transparency, service, respect, passion and integrity. So with more to see than ever, and favourable exchange rates offering great value, 2018 is a phenomenal year to visit South Africa.