Each spring, the Mediterranean shrugs off winter like some damp overcoat. Cafes spill back out along cobbled quays; plants bloom in ancient squares and yachts return to fill the harbours and inlets everywhere. Nowhere else does so much history and hedonism exist in such close proximity. It is a truly magical sea of exploration.
In Barcelona, check out the soaring, swaggering grandeur of Gaudi's still unfinished Sagrada Familia church, or the marvellous, modern cathedral that is the Nou Camp stadium. In France, the casino at Monte Carlo is an overblown piece of work that still tends to awe most that encounter it.
Of course, Italy is the crown jewel here. From the hulking, ruined splendour of Rome's Colisseum to the graceful sprawl of the Doge's Palace on the waterfront of Venice, Italy is a virtual theme park of ancient, unmissable architecture. Whether you're contemplating the peerless, perilously leaning tower of Pisa or the petrified, stunted remains of once mighty Pompeii, Italy is a land of matchless contrasts.
If visiting Monte Carlo, take the local train at Monaco Ville and head two miles up the coast to the small, perfectly formed fishing village of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Set in a stunning natural amphitheatre of rolling hills and spectacular greenery, some people consider it to be the most beautiful single location anywhere on the entire Mediterranean coast. It's a perfect spot for a bit of languid, platinum chip people watching.
Food choices abound, as rich and varied as the landscape that frames this marvellous hinterland. In Marseille, the local fish soup-bouillabaisse- has become an international staple, but it is still best here. In terms of meat dishes, the lamb tends to be incredibly tender in Nice, and the lemon tart- tarte citron- will leave your taste buds tingling for more.
For many, Italy remains food central, and with good reason. Pizza in Naples, overlooking the crowded harbour where it was first invented, is still almost a religious experience. And nobody should ever leave Italy without sampling what remains, without doubt, the best ice cream in the world. Eating in Italy is as much about your surroundings as the actual taste; both are ingredients that truly do make the meal.
Nice as it is out there, it pays to be careful. For example, Las Ramblas in Barcelona is known as a playground for pickpockets, many of whom work in pairs. You need to exercise more than a little caution here, in particular.