Japan

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Japan
courtesy japan national tourism organization
It may seem odd to associate Japan with wilderness, but consider this: Hokkaido is Japan’s second-largest island, yet only a fraction of the Japanese live there (most in the pleasant city of Sopporo). Added summer boon: While July and August can be hot and humid on mainland Japan, Hokkaido, the northernmost island, is cool and dry. Another summer enticement: Since it takes longer to warm up in Hokkaido, the breathtaking marvel of sakura (cherry blossom) season unfolds as late as mid-May (Matsumae Koen and Nenohi Park offer spectacular blossomings). Hokkaido is filled with hiking trails (tip: Avoid the summer crowds in Daisetsuzan National Park by escaping to the park’s more remote Tokachidake area, pictured left, or, remoter still, head for Shiretoko Peninsula, one of Japan’s most pristine wilderness areas), and almost any of Hokkaido’s coastal roads offers superb cycling with stunning seascapes. Back on the mainland, summer is also prime time to summit Mt. Fuji (from late July to late August the weather on Japan’s iconic peak is at its most stable). After frolicking in the outdoors, treat yourself to civilization: Tokyo’s freshest sushi is found in the tiny restaurants within the vast Tsukiji Fish Market, and Kyoto’s famed Kiyomizu Temple (and the window shopping that lines the way) shouldn’t be missed. www.jnto.go.jp

Amalfi Coast

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Amalfi Coast
© walter bibkow/jai/aurora photos
While tourists conduct the serious business of visiting art museums and Roman ruins, Italians head for the Costiera Amalfitana (the Amalfi coast) to feel sun and spray on their faces and cavort along a coast even the Italian masters couldn’t have conjured. Here, along the southern flanks of the Sorrento Peninsula, the coast is so beautiful that even UNESCO couldn’t ignore it. The verdant mountains, with their cliffs racing down to turquoise waters, are recognized as a World Heritage Site. Pastel and whitewashed fishing villages hewn into said cliffs do not detract from the beauty. The coast’s most famous towns — Amalfi, Positano (pictured right), and Ravello — must be savored. Amalfi with its seaside cafes, Positano for its seafood restaurants and cliffside stairways, and Ravello because of its sun- kissed gardens where, on a star-filled summer night, you might attend a world-class symphony performance in the garden of Villa Rufolo (part of the world-renowned Ravello Festival). Nor should you neglect a visit to Vietri sul Mare (famous for its ceramics), a hike along the steep ravines of Valle dei Mulini, or a row through La Grotta dello Smeraldo, the aptly named Emerald Grotto. In summer, one cannot ignore the sea and the precious opportunity to take a chartered sail past the very cliffs where the Sirens tempted Odysseus, one of the few able to resist this alluring shore. www.divinecoast.com