They are often the places that you stumble across just by chance. Perhaps it could be a stretch of beach sprinkled with palm trees and hammocks, with that one perfect spot in the middle.
It could be somewhere that clings to the edge of some incredible precipice, with views across to distant, haze-shrouded islands that loom out of the sea, or even some small, perfectly-formed hotel bar that puts the difference firmly on style, rather than hype.
In any event, we all come across places that are perfect for a coffee, a glass of mellow wine or a cold beer on a searing hot day.
At its best, an hour or two of indolent bar or cafe lounging is a style of relaxation that can verge on an art form, an experience of local culture every bit as valid as traipsing dutifully through yet another cathedral or museum.
For, however fascinating these monuments to a glorious past may be, the contemporary buzz of cosmopolitan life ashore can be every bit as enjoyable and rewarding, and just as authentic.
A good cafe or bar is a subtle brew of several ingredients. Think of each ingredient as being part of a sum that amounts to a cocktail sufficiently potent to stay with you forever.
Location is paramount, as is the time of day that you visit. A bar that is hectic at lunchtime will seem much more charming and exclusive at sunset. Mood music – or sometimes a complete lack of it – denudes or enhances the experience, dependant on individual taste.
While any list is a generalisation and individual tastes vary dramatically, each of these has something special that makes it a kind of lightning rod for the location it has. Some are serene and some are raucous; some are rickety, others ritzy. Some are cheap and cheerful; some carry price tags that might induce a coronary. Each one is as distinctive and individual as a fingerprint.
So here we have some of the best bars in the world, in locations from Saigon to Saint Thomas, Copenhagen to the south of France; Miami, Saint Barthelemy and Bermuda are all in the mix.
Royal Palms And Reef Escape Bar And Restaurant,
SEVEN MILE BEACH, GRAND CAYMAN
Adjoining one of the most perfect sweeps of spun sugar-sand on earth, the Royal Palms was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan only to re-emerge, Phoenix style, on the same spot.
The upper of two levels is a restaurant dishing up basic local specialities such as jerk chicken that can best be classed as top-up food. The lower level bar has tables and plastic chairs on a raised concrete terrace that commands a spectacular view over a panorama of parasailing, jet-skis and yachts that bob almost imperceptibly up and down.
Add a laid-back soundtrack of Al Green classics on a sunny day that is ambient rather than overpowering, cold beers and warm smiles, and you have a feast for the senses. One of the few pluses of Hurricane Ivan was that it blew away a lot of dead sand, leaving the beach more pared down and beautiful than ever.
Royal Palms can be absolutely crowded when a few ships are in port but, as an overall experience, it is worth savouring for its sheer feel-good factor alone.
TIVOLI GARDENS, COPENHAGEN
Without doubt, Copenhagen is the lively, fun capital of summertime Scandinavia and, just as equally, nowhere symbolises Copenhagen like Tivoli, this wonderful city’s midsummer heartbeat, and a magnet for locals and tourists of all nationalities alike.
A shimmering, ethereal wonderland of fairground rides, blossoming trees bedecked with fairy lights, bustling restaurants and thousands of light-hearted and laughing people, Tivoli was a prime inspiration for Walt Disney’s string of theme parks. Their complexity, size and corporate brashness merely serve to burnish Tivoli’s considerable charm.
In the centre of all this, a small lake plays home to a flotilla of Danish pedal boats, each one bedecked with its own national flag. The Bier Keller that overlooks that lake has incredible views of the whole complex, including the firework displays that erupt from behind a nearby, full-scale pirate ship at midnight every second night in the summer.
Good (albeit expensive) beer, and the natural bonhomie of the Danes themselves combine with a spectacular pyrotechnic display that turns the sky into a dazzling, starlit canvas. The result is truly spectacular.
Expensive, but worth every penny for the sheer joie de vivre of the place. A magical venue in an enchanted arena.
The Rooftop Terrace, Rex Hotel
Insulated from the teeming mad sprawl of downtown Saigon by several levels, history was made here that was even more potent than the margaritas.
During the conflict in South East Asia during the 1960s and 70s, the American top brass and senior liaison officers, together with their allies of the South Vietnamese Army (the ARVN), would meet and socialise regularly on this rooftop terrace.
While they downed martinis and danced to Motown, the same waiters that kept them so liberally supplied with drinks would be noting their increasing verbal indiscretions, and passing these on to their communist handlers. This recent history hangs in the haze of what remains an enchanting, if quite minimalist, roof garden.
Think of the Rex as Saigon’s equivalent of the Ritz, and you get some idea of its rarefied sense of elegance and largesse. A veritable time capsule in its own right, guarded by a handful of fearsome looking stone animals, it still boasts wicked margaritas at prices that are, by any circumstances, astonishingly cheap.
A unique combination of history and hedonism that looms above one of the most fascinating cities in South East Asia. A must do.
ST GEORGE’S, BERMUDA
From battlegrounds of old to a beach of dreams in one easy step. This simple, sturdy bar is just a short walk from Bermuda’s original capital of St George’s.
An exhilarating, 20-minute uphill walk (or catch a cab) takes you past a fantastic gothic folly in the shape of a half-finished church, while swathes of oleander fringe the lanes. Watch out for the scooters that buzz these lanes like so many angry wasps.
Breasting the rise, drink in the staggering view of St Catherine’s beach, pale pink sand kissed by electric blue sea, and studded with dark, implacable rocks. The adjacent golf course runs down almost to the sea, its lush, green expanse almost kissing the sand itself. Here, a traffic jam really is two mopeds and a golf cart.
Beach it! stands adjacent to the magnificent, brooding bulk of Fort St Catherine. Essentially a rectangular bar with a separate eating area, it features lots of 1970s soul as wonderful mood music, warm breezes, and some mellow wines. Service is as good natured as you would expect on this most British of islands.
Closed during winter, it blossoms best during the full days of spring and the long, balmy summer days and nights. A treat on so many levels.
Those in the know will tell you Villefranche is the best-kept secret of the French Riviera. Hopefully, it will stay that way (despite articles like this!).
Perhaps the most stunningly beautiful bay in the entire Mediterranean, Villefranche is a gigantic, natural amphitheatre of soaring greenery studded with half-hidden villas, multi-hued fishing boats that bob idly at anchor and a swathe of ice-cream-coloured Italianate architecture that hugs the base of the hills.
A Roman viaduct, cobbled, winding streets and an ancient fortress form timeless counterpoints to umbrella-shaded tables nestled around splashing fountains, a small, perfectly-formed beach, sunglasses worth the entire national debt of Ethiopia, and the sort of platinum grade people-watching which the Riviera is famed for.
All the bars are good here, but Le Calypso serves up wonderful bellinis, right on the waterfront, with views of the hills and harbour that will make you feel as if you are awake in some incredibly vivid dream.
Again not cheap, but you can’t hang a price tag on real style. Deliciously self indulgent.
Carlos And Charlie’s
Definitely not for the faint-hearted or style conscious, this rollicking waterfront bar is legendary the world over.
Part of the famous Senor Frogs franchise, this one features moveable tables that patrons are expected to dance on, a searing 1960s and 70 soundtrack that everyone dances to, and truly lethal frozen margaritas, served up in goldfish bowls and yard glasses.
You should beware of turning your back on the little bald man wandering around waving a frogman’s flipper. His aim is always true. The cries of his unsuspecting victims ring out above ragged conga lines that snake around the open plan, rustic room that is not too dissimilar to a Wild West saloon.
Much beloved of cruise ship crews and returning passengers, this place is a true melting pot of cultures with a fantastic, good-time feel that may be too risque for some, yet memorable for many. Waiters add immensely to the fun, while still keeping a wary eye over the entire operation.
Do Brasil, Shell Beach
SAINT BARTHELEMY, FRENCH WEST INDIES
A 10-minute walk from the picturesque town of Gustavia, this place is exclusive in every sense of the word. Last time I was there, George Clooney walked by on the beach.
St Barts as a whole is inaccessible to larger cruise ships. It looks like a tiny slice of the French Riviera, a mere eight miles long by two miles wide, somehow unfeasibly afloat amid the exotic hues of the Caribbean.
Do Brasil is set into a raised escarpment that overlooks the small, perfectly formed Shell Beach, also known as Anse Galet. A terrace serving cold beers and hot, spicy foods holds sway over a boutique sweep of soft, blinding white sand, fringed by a handful of lazy palm trees huddling at the base.
A couple of rickety wooden sofas at the base allow for a matchless view of the whole dreamy scene; swimmers and sunbathers, the odd jet-ski riding the briny and parasailers that dot the air like so many exotic butterflies.
An expanse of sharp, craggy black rocks off to the right even allows scope for those who prefer their sunbathing to be completely au naturel.
No loud music or baying crowds jar the scenes or mar the rare sense of serenity. And, if you really want to push the boat out, try drinking Moet on the beach, under a palm tree, and let the warm, rolling surf kiss your feet. Simply beautiful.
The Clevelander, Ocean Drive
SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI
Slap in the middle of the restored riot of art deco architecture known as Ocean Drive, the Clevelander is the biggest open air bar on South Beach.
The entire complex rings a large, free-form pool. Crowds of 1,500 routinely bump and grind to a live band with a blistering old soundtrack of Earth, Wind and Fire numbers. And stretch limos as long as the nearby cruise liners disgorge the likes of Matthew Perry, Mike Tyson and Gloria Estefan into this highly styled melee.
An indoor sports bar is complemented by a sidewalk cafe serving humungous portions of comfort food. The Clevelander is also a hotel, but the volume of noise from outside, even at two in the morning, is such that staying there is a gamble.
This is definitely the place to start a night, to see and be seen, on South Beach. You can never be over-dressed, and remember always to appear truly unimpressed. A brittle kind of fun is on offer here, but the venue is magnetic in its own right.