Cook Islands, Montenegro, and Morocco

Tired of the ordinary? Set off on a journey of discovery on a path less traveled—in an offbeat destination.

Budva in Montenegro, image

Budva, in Montenegro, is a main tourist destination.

Cook Islands
In today’s over-stressed and constantly plugged-in environment, who doesn’t dream of escaping to a lush, tropical isle where waves break over coral reefs? Think no further than the Cook Islands, an idyllic South Pacific destination fringed by white-sand beaches and dotted with verdant hills ideal for hiking and catching sight of the rare kakerori bird.

While away your days at an intimate beachfront resort surrounded by tropical gardens, where you can unwind with spa treatments and drift off to sleep in your over-water bungalow.

Abundant with marine life and varieties of coral, the Cook Islands’ sapphire coves and lagoons are renowned for snorkeling, diving, kayaking and other watersports. If you can tear yourself away from the ocean, take a four-wheel-drive mountain safari in the rain forest-covered hills. Thrilling views of the coast unfurl below, including the spot where explorers once set off in outrigger canoes and found New Zealand.

Polynesian culture is part of the allure. At the Cultural Village on Rarotonga, the most populous island, you can learn everything from traditional fishing to playing the wooden slit drum. Spend starlit evenings dining on meals prepared in underground ovens as performers demonstrate sensual Polynesian dances.

Montenegro
With its dramatic cliffs and ancient towns perched above the Adriatic, Montenegro is emerging as an exciting new destination. This relatively unexplored Balkan country, between sparkling waters and snowcapped mountains, has a storied past.

You’ll discover its history in the medieval walled city of Kotor overlooking spectacular Kotor Bay, Europe’s southernmost fjord. You can also journey to the mountain village of Njegusi, known for its folk architecture, to sample locally made cheese and pršut, a version of prosciutto. Or visit Perast, a treasure trove of Baroque architecture, where the 17th-century Our Lady of the Rocks church, brimming with exquisite art, sits on an islet just offshore.

Morocco
Morocco’s exotic aura makes it seem light-years away from Western Europe. You’ll encounter Berber villages high in the Atlas Mountains, Roman ruins, valleys of saffron flowers and medieval kasbahs amid the golden dunes of the Sahara. In labyrinthine bazaars, merchants proffer handwoven carpets, fragrant spices and gleaming copperware. The country is also known for its distinctive cuisine, including tagines—fragrant stews of meat, vegetables, dried fruits and spices served over steaming couscous.

Kick off your odyssey in Casablanca, where you’ll dine at Rick’s Café, a replica of the legendary night club from the film Casablanca. Visit Meknes’ royal stables that were built to house 20,000 Arabian horses and magnificent ceramic-tiled mosques in nearby Fez. Animated yet mysterious, Marrakesh lures you with its snake charmers, castanet-clanging water sellers and a souk of endless delights.

And in sub-Saharan Southern Morocco, explore medieval villages along the Route of 1,000 Kasbahs and sleep in a luxurious tented encampment.

Please contact your AAA Travel Counselor or go to AAA.com/offices to find one near you.

Photography courtesy of Bratislav Tabas/Wikipedia

This article was first published in May 2012 in Traveler. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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