NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
What's the point of travelling to distant lands if the people you meet there are just like the people back home? Or if, in fact, they are the people from back home?
It's a familiar issue for any American who goes to Europe: the most popular areas are teeming with visitors from the States. Mix in some cultural globalization, and it's as if the New World has colonized the Old.
In London pubs, young men swill Budweiser like they're in St. Louis. In Venice, orchestras on the Piazza San Marco play Sondheim more than they do on Broadway. The biggest party in St. Tropez is the one where Puff Daddy hosts the Bush twins.
But if the downside of a shrinking planet is finding crowds of compatriots halfway around the world, there is a silver lining. It's easier than ever to get away from it all.
If Europe is in your travel plans this summer, why not venture a few steps off the regular routes? You can find remote locations just a boat ride away.
To be sure, there will be plenty of other tourists around. But at least they'll be from Rome, Italy instead of Rome, Georgia.
Five hot spots
On dozens of little islands scattered around the Mediterranean Sea (click here to see photos), you'll find exotic beaches, charming fishing villages, and the most vivid flora imaginable. Here are just a few possibilities:
Brac, Croatia (Dalmatian islands). Since the end of the Balkan wars, Croatia has enjoyed a restored reputation as a "playground" destination for European beachgoers.
With more than 1,000 islands (67 are inhabited) off a craggy coast, it's a boating, sun-bathing wonderland. Plus, the country boasts the ancient city of Dubrovnik, which was shelled but not destroyed during the war, and is now rebuilt.
One of the best beaches, called Bol, is on the island of Brac. It's a promontory of white sand and pebbles, which juts out from a piney woods forest.
Vis, Croatia (Dalmatian islands). Tito's military kept this island off limits to the world until 1989, because of its strategic location -- or perhaps its turquoise waters and near-perfect climate. Being deprived of commercial development kept the place fairly pristine.
Today, tourists are returning to the Komiza, a tiny fishing village on Vis. They are also flocking to inlets and beaches around the island, for boating, diving, and the simple pleasures of sitting on a dock eating grilled fish with a glass of local wine.
Stromboli, Italy (Aeolian islands). This chain of volcanic outcroppings, also known as the Lipari islands, lies just north of Sicily, and is full of atmospheric vistas popular with Italian filmmakers. Rocky interiors run into black sand beaches, and geothermic steam spews out of the earth everywhere. (Off a few beaches, the steam bubbles up to warm the water.)
Stromboli -- whose volcano erupts frequently and even forced an evacuation in 2002 -- is perhaps the most romantic of the 7 inhabited islands in the chain, though it's tiny. More lodging and amenities can be found on Lipari, the biggest of the Aeolians.
Gozo, Maltese Republic (Maltese islands). The Maltese archipelago is full of mystery and history, not to mention a bizarre local dialect that blends Romance languages with Arabic. (Don't worry about speaking it: Malta was a British colony for more than 100 years, so English is an official language, spoken by all.)
Gozo, the country's "second" island, has about 30,000 residents. With a green, rugged landscape, it's rural and slow. It's hard to decide which is better: the spectacular coastline, best seen by boat, or the tranquil, red beaches, best seen on a blanket.
Menorca, Spain (Balearic islands). Ibiza and Mallorca, two other islands in the Balearics, long ago became synonymous with "drunk and disorderly." They're sun-drenched and beautiful, but fun-loving young people -- British lads in particular -- descend upon them in hordes.
A more peaceful option is Menorca. It's the second-largest in the Balearic chain, but remains undeveloped, at least compared to its neighbors. (Aggressive ecological preservation across much of the area should keep it that way.) The north side of the island features a series of windswept cliffs and coves, while many of the better beaches dot the southern part.
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