Algeria's catalogue of ancient Roman cities is astonishingly varied. Tipaza, a favourite of Albert Camus, weaves among the palm trees and down to the shores of the Mediterranean. Djemila, nestled amid the hills, stunningly evokes northeastern Algeria's ancient past, while Hippo Regius is alive with the echoes of St Augustine. A further four Roman sites, all in the country's mountainous northeast, make Algeria a paradise for the amateur archaeologist in you.
Further from the coast, you don't have to travel too deep into the Sahara to be swept up in its magic. The oases of the west Taghit, Beni Abbès and Timimoun are surrounded by palm trees and the dunes of the Grand Erg Occidental (Great Western Erg) and are home to glorious mud-brick architecture. Intriguing Ghardaïa stands at the heart of the M'Zab Valley, home to one of the world's few remnant Ibadi Muslim communities. Deep in the desert's heart in Algeria's far south, Assekrem (the End of the World), Atakor and the Tassili du Hoggar, where the otherworldly rock formations are the spiritual home of the Tuareg, are the stuff of legend for even the most experienced of Saharan travellers. Away to the remote southeast is the mythical terrain of the Tassili N'Ajjer where superbly rendered, millennia-old rock art tells the Sahara's story in shades of ochre and other earth tones.
It all comes together in Algiers, a city that's as alive as any in the world. When deciding to include Algiers' Casbah on its World Herit- age list, Unesco described it as 'one of the finest coastal sites on the Mediterranean' and we're inclined to agree. Also on the northern coast are Algeria's most beautiful cities. Constantine is stunning. Oran, the birthplace and home of rai, Algeria's world-famous musical export, is an intriguing marriage of France and Spain. And Tlemcen could easily be one of Andalusia's most beautiful cities were it not in Algeria.
There's something about Algeria that has always given it the quality of an epic and perhaps that's why so many great travellers of the past have sought to know it, and from St Augustine in Hippo Regius to Isabelle Eberhardt in the oases of the Sahara, from Red Beard the pirate-king to Charles de Foucauld the desert hermit somewhere close to the End of the World.
Algeria's troubled recent past may have slowed the arrival of travellers and the mere thought of Algeria can be daunting. There's no doubting that all has changed and security problems are something of a past now. Algeria has never lost its mystique you'll quickly discover that there are so many world- class places to visit in Algeria and that almost all of them are not only safe but crying out for the visitors they so richly deserve.
There are not many destinations left in the world that still possess an edgy cachet, that showcase landscapes of rare beauty and promise the joy of discovering ancient sites of world significance. Algeria is such a place and the time to visit is now.