On the westernmost edge of Africa's Atlantic coast, the former French colony of Senegal offers a taste of African culture with a bit of Gallic flavor. South Africa Airlines' non-stop flight from New York City, launched last year (800/722-9675; www.flysaa.com), takes only about seven hours. The action begins in the capital, Dakar, where mazelike markets contrast with Parisian-style cafés. Start your days with coffee at Pâtisserie Les Ambassades (4 Blvd. de l'Est, Point E; 011-221/825-5587) before scouring Dakar's shopping districts—Soumbedioune, Sandaga, and Kermel—for carpets and, of course, m'balax, the Senegalese pop music made famous by favorite son Youssou N'Dour. Check out African art at Espace Culturel VEMA (4 Rue de l'Embarcadère; 011-221/821-7026) and shop for housewaresat Artefact (Rue 5,Ave. Birago Diop, Point E; 011-221/824-4483). Head for dinner at ultra-modern Ozio (31 Rue Victor Hugo; 011-221/823-8787; dinner for two $42) before making the scene at Club Thiossane (10 Rue Sicap), N'Dour's musical home base. STAY The 360-room Le Méridien Président (Pointe des Almadies; 800/543-4300; www.lemeridien.com; doubles from $167) is right on the water. DON'T MISS Île de Gorée, the 18th-century slave depot three miles off the coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a poignant reminder of Senegalese history.
MILAN Fly in for a quick shopping tour and stay at the new 64-room Straf (3 Via San Raffaele; 39-02/805-081; www.straf.it; doubles from $321). In this style-obsessed city, there are tempting stores on practically every corner, but the insider favorite for marked-down Prada is 10 Corso Como (3 Via Tazzoli; 39-02/2901-5130); grab a cocktail at Martini Bar in the Dolce & Gabbana men's store (15 Corso Venezia; 39-02/7601-1154).
SANTO DOMINGO JetBlue (www.jetblue.com) recently started service to the capital of the Dominican Republic, where Christopher Columbus landed more than five centuries ago. Stay in the explorer's shadow (or at least his enormous statue's shadow) at the 104-room Sofitel Nicolas de Ovando (Calle Las Damas, Ciudad Colonial, Santo Domingo; 809/685-9955; www.sofitel.com; doubles from $177), once the mansion of Spain's first governor general in the West Indies.
MONTE CARLO Thanks to eight-hour nonstop flights from the East Coast to Nice, Monte Carlo is now an easy getaway. Stay at the newly revamped Hôtel Métropole (4 Ave. de la Madone; 800/223-6800; www.metropole.mc; doubles from $488), scheduled to open this month with 146 remodeled rooms, an alfresco pool, and an ESPA spa with private hammams—all from designer Jacques Garcia, of Paris's Hôtel Costes.
Eclectic sonic inspiration for the armchair traveler: compilation CD's from Australia's Petrol Records (www.petrolrecords.org; $19 each) showcasing contemporary music from Brazil, Cuba, and India. The discs include songs (and loungy remixes) by the likes of Rubén Gonzáles and Astrud Gilberto.
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