If all the world's a stage, England will certainly be posing as a giant one this summer. Almost $15-billion has been poured into readying the city for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Although some sporting events have already sold out, there will be hundreds of free cultural events throughout the summer. Meantime, the London 2012 Festival (June 21 to Sept. 9) will be the country's biggest nationwide festival, featuring more than 1,000 events. Need more reasons to pole-vault the pond? Globe to Globe, a Shakespeare extravaganza for which every one of the Bard's plays will be performed by a different country in its own language, runs at Stratford Upon Avon for six weeks; early Alfred Hitchcock movies The Pleasure Garden, The Lodger and Blackmail have been restored and will be screened at various locations with live orchestral accompaniment; and Cate Blanchett will take to the footlights and star in Botho Strauss's surreal Gross und Klein at London's Barbican Theatre.
With every puddle in the Mediterranean declaring itself the next Riviera, Albania is the latest to (rightly) claim the moniker. The Albanian Riviera shares all the topographic wonders of its Greek and Croatian neighbours – without the yacht-loads of tourists and expensive hotels. The rocky, still-unspoiled Ionian coast is decorated with 16th-century castles built by Sultans, olive groves planted before the Napoleonic wars, and cliff sides frequented more by velvet-eared donkeys than sun-burnt tourists. You'll find quiet bays, storybook villages, wallet-sensitive inns and restaurants, and Llogara National Park. Here protected forests are home to Eurasian otters and chamois (similar to a goat or antelope), Griffon vultures soar above black pines and Bulgarian firs, and vendors sling honey tea for local hikers. You'll also find Caesar's Pass – where Julius Caesar came in pursuit of Pompey. For those who'd prefer not to hoof it in the forest, a newly reconstructed coastal road allows you to take in the view in a more leisurely fashion.
Even its names – Kiev, Odessa, Transcarpathia – evoke iron skies, le Carré-style espionage and fur-bundled Glasnost-era romantic intrigue by Crimean shores. But Ukraine, as legions of footy fans will soon discover, is rich in more than Cold War clichés. As co-host to Euro Cup 2012 (tickets go on sale March 1), Ukraine will entice with many of its largely unsung treasures, from the lime and plane tree-lined cobblestone streets of Odessa to the forested slopes of the Carpathian mountains. The country's four match venues (Donetsk, Lviv, Kharkiv and Kiev) serve as strategic headquarters from which to explore the ancient castles of Zolota Pikova and fortress of Zhovkvka, the mystical karst caves of Transcarpathia, and the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Bonus for the thirsty: In Eastern Europe's vodka belt, Ukrainian vodka – and beer for that matter – is cheaper than water.
Lush Nevis – sister to similarly fetching islet St. Kitts – is pampered with beauty and terminally periwinkle skies, and more than compensates for its small size with sheer splendour. The island's allure was not lost on Four Seasons – the luxe hotel chain opened its only Caribbean outpost, both discreet and decadent, on mountain-framed Pinney's Beach. But while the hotel was long closed to the public after Hurricane Omar, it has recently reopened its wood-shuttered doors after a two-year, $111-million revamp. It's the finest hostelry on the island by a sunshiny mile, with 196-rooms (fashioned after traditional plantation house cossets), a blend of colonial-chic furnishings (lots of teak) and mod luxuries (glass showers). Staff offer poolside sun bathers hourly refreshments (coconut water, jerk peanuts and Evian spritzes); the leisurati can enjoy rum-tonic scrubs at the spa, while the less horizontally inclined can take the fairways on the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones course, or try their hand at wildlife rescuing at the hotel's Sea Turtle Conservancy Program.
It's been 70 years since Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman stumbled into a certain gin joint in the North African port city. And with Hollywood's Casablanca celebrating its 70th, it's a choice time to visit the real-life version. If no longer a Paris with palm trees, the city evokes the romance of melancholy with a French colonialist fantasia of patisserie-and-lemon-tree-lined boulevards, with avant-gardist art-deco buildings white as crème fouettée. Its downtown is a veritable outdoor museum of art-deco townhouses, hotels and cinemas (like the Rialto, where Josephine Baker once performed J'ai deux amours), neo-Moorish palaces, Italianate apartment buildings and Corbusier-inspired edifices. And thanks to newly founded non-profit architectural preservation society Casamémoire, many of these buildings are being restored. But the city is not just a throwback to an Age D'Or – there's lots to suggest Casablanca may be readying itself for a second act: Morocco Mall (the fourth-largest shopping centre in the world) recently opened in the port, grand new cultural institutions (like a municipal theatre) are being sketched, and a new tramway is slated for completion in December.
Special to The Globe and Mail