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Colour affects our mood and the way we respond to the world. Yellow is cheerful, blue for cool relaxation, red for passion. We're conditioned to react to colour, which is good news when it comes to travelling. The world is saturated in rainbow shades, whether the Art Deco-inspired colours of South Beach in Miami or the bright, clashing colours of old town Wroclaw in Poland. Colour is in the detail too, however.
You'll find delightful colour in the spice sacks of a Marrakesh bazaar, or the pink pompoms adorning the hats of Peru's Quechua people. There's colour in Sri Lankan curries, the patterned dresses of Ghanaian ladies, even the simple plastic buckets sold in Singapore markets. When colour erupts on a large scale, however, magic is created.
Latin America specialises in entire cities splashed with colour, including Salvador in Brazil, Guanajuato in Mexico and Valparaíso in Chile. More recently, there have been deliberate attempts to brighten up depressed neighbourhoods such as the shantytown Favela Santa Maria in Rio de Janeiro (which got a makeover from Dutch artists), or Las Palmitas in the Mexican city of Pachuca, transformed by a government-sponsored street artists' program.
There are many and varied examples of colour-coded towns the world over. Here are 10 of the most outrageous, sure to make you smile.
Jaipur blushes pink, from the reddish defensive walls of the City Palace (royaljaipur.in) to the pale cream-pink of the Moon Palace. The Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds is orange sandstone; multiple balconies and ornamental windows glow like a giant honeycomb at sunset. Regular houses and the bazaar are also flushed with pink.
COLOUR SCHEME Pink is the traditional Rajasthani colour of hospitality and comes from Jaipur's sandstone and a wash first applied to the city to welcome Edward Prince of Wales in 1876.
BRIGHT SPOTS Hilltop Amber Palace is a magnificent pink monument; you can arrive on an elephant whose flanks are chalked with colourful flower motifs. The City Palace's textile museum (royaljaipur.in) features traditional red attire embroidered with gold thread.
BO-KAAP, SOUTH AFRICA
The hillside streets of Cape Town neighbourhood Bo-Kaap were first settled by Muslim immigrants and descendants of slaves from the Dutch East Indies. Its houses are painted in startling colours including yellow, orange and green, and further ornamented with columns and wrought-iron work. The cheerful backdrop makes Bo-Kaap a favourite for film shoots.
COLOUR SCHEME Why the rainbow colours is unclear; perhaps poor inhabitants just used the cheapest paint available, or it originated as a way to celebrate the Moslem festival of Eid.
BRIGHT SPOTS The orange-yellow Bo-Kaap Museum (iziko.org.za) traces the heritage of the district, and the history of the city's colourful carnival. The green 1794 Auwal Mosque (auwalmasjid.co.za) is South Africa's oldest.
THE PLACE NYHAVN, DENMARK
Nyhavn might mean 'new harbour' but this 300-year-old Copenhagen district has the feel of a venerable town and dates back to the heyday of the Baltic fishing trade. Its half-timber houses are jaunty n blue, red and yellow, reflected like an Impressionist canvas in the harbour water, where colourful wooden boats bob.
COLOUR SCHEME The colours aren't historically accurate and are probably just an antidote to the grey weather. Orange traditionally denotes military buildings in the Danish capital.
BRIGHT SPOTS Hans Christian Andersen lived and wrote fairy tales in three of Nyhavn's houses, but this is mainly a place to hang out at pubs that spill tables across the cobbles, and dine at numerous fish restaurants.
THE PLACE LA BOCA, ARGENTINA
This Buenos Aires harbour-side district on the River Plate has famously multi-coloured houses, especially along El Caminito, a tourist drag where street artists paint and buskers perform the tango. Frescoes depict 1950s life or tango scenes. A street market offers cheerful arts and crafts and paintings that recreate El Caminito in blocks of cubist colour.
COLOUR SCHEME The colours favoured by post-WWII Italian (and especially Genoese) immigrants are said to represent football teams, and were also once used on fishing boats.
BRIGHT SPOTS Head on Sundays to Bombonera stadium (bocajuniors.com.ar) too see some of Argentina's best soccer; local team Boca Juniors plays in blue and yellow. Get a culture fix at Usina del Arte (usinadelarte.org), which hosts theatre and tango competitions.
The faded, sensual colours of Havana are slowly getting a bright new coat of paint as the country throws open its doors to tourism. Washed out pinks and yellows and the odd splash of green line Malecón oceanfront promenade, and the old town features sharper colours along colonial streets. Giant murals erupt on facades of the lurid Callejón de Hammel district.
COLOUR SCHEME Cubans just seem to have a liking for colour, whether in buildings, clothes or the 1950s Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets that brighten the roads.
BRIGHT SPOTS San Cristóbal cathedral has an interior full of art treasures, and Colón cemetery features ornate white monuments and sculptures. Wander Parque Histórico Morro, whose historic forts and battlements once defended the city.
THE PLACE VERNAZZA, ITALY
The five former fishing villages of the Cinque Terre on Italy's indented Ligurian coastline are all multi-coloured and all lovely, though Vernazza might win the gold medal. Its houses cluster around a harbour topped by a small castle. Take a café seat on waterside Piazza Marconi, where parasols add more glorious Technicolour to the scenery.
COLOUR SCHEME No rhyme nor reason to the colours, apart from an improbable theory, often repeated elsewhere, that it enabled sailors to pick out their homes on approach from the sea.
BRIGHT SPOTS Walking paths through olive and lemon groves are rugged but superb, probably prettiest between Vernazza and Corniglia, where views along the coast are fabulous. Visit another colourful collection of squeezed-up houses at Manarola
THE PLACE JODHPUR INDIA
Drive across the flat, monochrome Thar Desert and suddenly Jodhpur's golden-red fort looms on a rocky outcrop in a brilliant evocation of Rajasthani power, warfare and menace. Beneath sprawls a cubist town of flat-roofed, blue houses. Bazaars provide another change of colour: they're packed with mostly red Rajasthani textiles, puppets and tie-dye fabrics.
COLOUR SCHEME High-caste Brahmins might originally have painted their houses blue; Shiva is often depicted with a blue face. Locals claim blue wards off heat and mosquitos.
BRIGHT SPOTS Meherangarh Fort (mehrangarh.org) is fantastic, with massive fortifications topped by the delicate pavilions of the royal palace, decorated inside with frescoes of dancers and gods. Beyond town, royal tombs at Jaswant Thada glitter white against the barren landscape.
THE PLACE CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO
Tucked into the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco, Chefchaouen is famous for the intense blue of its houses and the occasional intervening ochre of tiled roofs. The medina (old town) features Andalusian architecture along steep, cobbled streets. The fort on Outa el Hammam square seems almost modest in orange-brown, but becomes lurid at sunset.
COLOUR SCHEME It's claimed the town's former Jewish population favoured blue, the colour of divinity, but whether it first came to town in the fifteenth century or the 1930s is debated.
BRIGHT SPOTS Chefchaouen Museum (minculture.gov.ma) in the old fort exhibits weapons, musical instruments and local dress. Hike up to the crumbling hilltop Spanish Mosque for a great view over the blue town.
THE PLACE LONGYEARBYEN, NORWAY
The administrative capital of the remote Svalbard islands sits between sea and glaciers. Its houses are from a child's drawing, pointy-roofed and painted in blocks of colour. Galleri Svalbard, showcasing the work of leading Norwegian artist Kàre Tveter, features a wonderful "Arctic Light" slide show that demonstrates how the sun – when it shines – also brings out colour in the surrounding landscape.
COLOUR SCHEME With winters this long and dark, locals need colour to cheer them up. The town council approves house colours, which should be inspired by Svalbard nature.
BRIGHT SPOTS Svalbard Museum (svalbardmuseum.no) covers the history of the islands, which began with whaling in the seventeenth century. Svalbard Church (svalbardkirke.no), painted rich red, claims to be the world's most northerly church.
THE PLACE BURANO, ITALY
You'll feel as if you've fallen into a pop artist's palette in Burano, an island in the Venetian Lagoon whose houses are an hallucination of virulent purple, yellow, scarlet and neon green. Add canals, strings of washing hung out to dry, and a collection of blue and white boats, and you'll be carried away by the photo opportunities.
COLOUR SCHEME According to legend, the clashing colours allowed drunken husbands to locate their homes, and were instituted after one drunken fisherman ended up with the wrong wife one evening.
BRIGHT SPOTS Museo del Merletto (museomerletto.visitmuve.it) has astonishing examples of lacemaking, Burano's traditional craft, though plenty of the shop-sold lace is imported from Asia. Enjoy a fish lunch in one of the town's many cafés.
COLOURFUL SEASONAL PLACES TO VISIT
CHERRY-BLOSSOM SEASON, KYOTO, JAPAN
The Japanese burst into smiles as pink flowers open usually in mid-April in Kyoto and other parts of central Japan. Ladies don sumptuous flower-embroidered kimonos and cherry-matching lipsticks, men recite maudlin odes to the blossoms' fleeting beauty. Hanami (blossom-viewing parties) spread under the pink trees of public parks, gorgeously illuminated in the evening by lanterns. See www.kyoto.travel
AUTUMN, VERMONT, US
The US does things bigger and better, and autumn delivers as trees turn red, orange and yellow in fireworks displays, usually mid-September onwards, lasting into late October.. Add white church steeples, red-roofed barns and grass improbably green (at least to Aussie eyes) and you have every reason to join the 'leaf peepers' who travel to admire New England's fall foliage. See www.vermontvacation.com
TULIP SEASON, KEUKENHOF, NETHERLANDS
Keukenhof is open from 23 March to 21 May 2017. Mid-April usually provides the best spectacle. Quite possibly the greatest garden display in the world (next year it's on between March 23 and May 21) sees seven million springtime bulbs emerge. Tulips are the most spectacular, but there are daffodils, narcissi and hyacinths too. Cameras click and visitors pose, smile and sniff. Set aside the whole day. See www.keukenhof.nl
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS, ABISKO, SWEDEN
Dark skies, a lack of clouds and an Arctic Circle location are the reason to head to this remote corner of Swedish Lapland in the hopes of seeing the aurora borealis unfolding in the sky in an eerie dance of green, blue and sometimes yellow light. The aurora often opens with lurid explosions and later quietens to pulsating colour. The best times are from early September to late March, making regular but unpredictable appearances. See www.visitabisko.com
WILDFLOWER SEASON, MULLEWA, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The wave of spring wildflowers that sweeps across Western Australia is one of the world's great natural spectacles, bringing kaleidoscope colours to arid landscapes. Destinations such as Coalseam Conservation Park unfold carpets of everlastings in yellow and pink, and are flamboyant with hakeas and grevilleas. Rainfall and sunshine affect the flowering: the best show in central WA is between late July and late September. See parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au; visitgeraldton.com.au; wildflowerswa.com
FIVE OF THE WORLD'S MOST COLOURFUL THREADS
Of all the world's traditional attire this wrap-around garment, draped over one shoulder and exposing the midriff, is possibly the most widespread, routinely worn my women of all backgrounds across the Indian subcontinent, and by Pakistan's upper classes. Styles vary from region to region and fashion evolves in the way saris are draped, but nearly all are richly coloured and have decorative borders of embroidery or sequins.
Nothing says Asia more than distinctive yellow or orange monks' robes, whose colours were originally derived from vegetable extracts such as saffron or turmeric. Dating back 2,500 years, the robe actually consists of a sarong-like under robe and a wrapped outer robe that leaves one arm and shoulder bare. Tibetan monks prefer maroon or red and favour a warmer, skirt-like garment. In northeast Asia Buddhist dress is more muted.
This full-length, T-shaped, wide-sleeved wrapping robe is worn by sumo wrestlers and Japanese men for ceremonial events. But women's kimonos really pop with colour. Cheap synthetic kimonos can be lurid; quality kimonos made of silk or brocade are considered works of art, fixed in place by an equally colourful (often clashing) obi or sash. Designs such as maple leaves, irises or cherry blossoms celebrate the seasons.
Traditional embroidered hanfu gowns are only seen these days in Chinese opera or kung-fu movies. More common are the tight-fitting, one-piece dresses known as cheongsam in Hong Kong, where they've long been popular, or qipao in mainland China, where they're seeing something of a revival. Cheongsams are a creation of 1920s Shanghai, inspired by earlier Manchu gowns, and are usually bright red, a lucky colour in Chinese culture.
Chinese hanfu survive best in Korea, whose vibrantly-coloured hanbok originated with north-Asian nomads but was heavily influenced by Tang Dynasty court dress. The best, which can be eye-wateringly expensive, are worn at weddings, ceremonies and special anniversaries. Women's hanbok – a full skirt and separate jacket – are often bright pink, green and red. Some are given contemporary updates by Korean fashion designers.
TURN THE COLOUR DOWN: FIVE PEARLY WHITE PLACES
WHITE CLIFFS, UK
Dover is an unattractive place, but you can't fault it's white cliffs, which have long been England's symbolic rampart again invasion. Cliff-top, mostly medieval Dover Castle (english-heritage.org.uk) provided crucial defence right up to World War II. Constant erosion keeps the chalk cliffs a bright white. The best views are from Dover's western docks, St Margaret's Bay, Warren County Park or a cross-Channel ferry. See www.visitkent.co.uk
WHITE VILLAGES, SPAIN
The whitewashed pueblos blancos stand out against the rocky hills of Andalusia between highlight Ronda (turismoderonda.es) and Arcos de la Frontera (arcosdelafrontera.es), and once marked the boundary between Moorish and Christian lands. Flat-roofed, cubist white houses retain an Islamic architectural style along maze-like cobbled streets. The most beautiful village is lake-fronted, castle-topped Zahara de la Sierra (zaharadelasierra.es). See www.andalucia.org
WHITE SANDS, USA
This national monument in New Mexico is famous as a missile-testing range, but also features 700 square kilometres of white sand dunes whose colour is derived from gypsum crystals. Follow a 13-kilometre drive through the dunes or tackle four marked walking trails; local kids often use the dunes for sledding. Gypsum doesn't retain heat like sand, making White Sands bearable even in summer. See nps.gov/whsa
MONT BLANC, FRANCE
Mont Blanc ('white mountain') could hardly be more accessible: western Europe's highest peak (4,734 metres) sits on a major international highway near Chamonix. Skiers can tackle the magnificent 20-kilometre Vallée Blanche ('white valley') and admire stunning views of its glacier and the mountain. In summer, take the cable car up the Aiguille du Midi for a snowy-white view over the French, Italian and Swiss Alps. See www.chamonix.com
WHITE HORSE TEMPLE, CHINA
This temple outside Luoyang in Henan Province is generally reckoned to be China's oldest Buddhist temple, established in 68 AD. Its walls are traditional vermillion-red and its series of courtyard buildings are studded with Buddhist statues and art. The temple gets its name from the statues of two horses which are said to have brought Indian monks and their Buddhist scriptures to China. See www.visithenan.org