World's best places for cocktail hour

Genevieve Swart raises her glass to the globe's best heat-beating, thirst-slaking places to meet for drinks.

A sundowner is a drink one has at sunset, generally consumed at a scenic spot. It's a celebratory beverage, a daily excuse for a toast to life - anything from the day that's gone to the night to come.

The word seems to have originated in Africa, where, possibly because the continent has some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, "going for sundowners" has become a daily ritual everywhere from seaside pubs in Cape Town to remote bush camps in Kenya.

To share this happy tradition with the world, I asked about 50 people I've met over the years, well-travelled folk, to suggest spots. Ideas poured in. For some people, a sundowner was best enjoyed at a beach bar while watching the sun sink into the sea. For others, it was about working up a thirst, trekking as far away from civilisation as possible. For everyone, sundowners recalled a special holiday moment, a warm, contented feeling echoed by the rosy colour of the sky.

The result? Great places to say cheers.

Leopard Bar & Lounge, Cape Town

The west-facing Cape Town suburb of Camps Bay is one of the world's top spots for sunsets over the sea. Bars on the main boulevard are uber-trendy and often crowded but at the Twelve Apostles Hotel's Leopard Bar a white balcony, white awnings and blue-and-white striped cushions make for a calm, classy setting, evocative of summer holidays. The bar stocks 72 varieties of martini (love their Vanilla Chocatini), as well as cognacs and ports. Tea by the Sea is another afternoon delight: a tiered stand of sweet sensations, including cream scones, cucumber sandwiches and mini chocolate gateaux. Wow factor Majestic. It's the sunset equivalent of "surf and turf", with the Atlantic crashing below and the Twelve Apostles mountains standing sentinel above. Accessibility About 15 minutes' drive from the city centre, the hotel is on Victoria Road, between Camps Bay and Llandudno. The Leopard Bar isn't limited to guests; all sundowner-seekers are welcome. See 12apostleshotel.com.

Kastro, Greece

The jewel of the southern Cyclades, Santorini is the postcard vision of a Greek island: white houses with blue doors and shutters and domed churches. The picturesque village of Oia, pronounced "Ia", clings to the steep slopes of the volcanic island's caldera and overlooks the Aegean. Kastro restaurant is loved for its location: with open-air tables at the top of a flight of about 300 stairs down through Oia to Ammoudi port, it serves up great views come sundown. For those with hardy palates, the traditional Greek tipple is retsina.

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Wow factor Realm of legend: Santorini is said to be the site of the lost city of Atlantis, destroyed in an earthquake that created the island's crater.

Accessibility Santorini is 200 kilometres south-east of the mainland; fly there from Athens. See santorini.net

Thundi Bar, Maldives

Veligandu Island Resort is the island's one and only and its guests may enjoy sunset from the comfort of their Jacuzzi Water Villas - doubles from $US440 ($677) a night - or at the Thundi Bar, on a deck overlooking the lagoon. Order a Veligandu Secret (Baileys, arrack, cream of coconut and pineapple juice). Think and drink: the Maldives may soon be paradise lost. Rising sea levels threaten to swamp this archipelago; with 80 per cent of its 1200 islands less than one metre above sea level, the Maldives could become uninhabitable within a century.

Wow factor Last chance to see it.

Accessibility Fly via Dubai or Mauritius to Male International Airport on Hulhule Island, then catch a 15-minute Maldivian Air Taxi, aka a seaplane. See veliganduisland.com

Mallory Square, Florida

In Key West, Americans have bypassed Africa's small-time sundowner concept in favour of a full-on festival. For four hours each evening, Mallory Square Dock becomes party central, with pretzels and popcorn, bagpipers, buskers, craft stalls and psychics. The nightly arts festival is called Sunset Celebration and the long pier where it's held has amazing views over the Gulf of Mexico.

Wow factor The entertainment includes fire-eaters, acrobats, sword-swallowers, magicians, jugglers, even preachers on a soapbox.

Accessibility Open to all. Mallory Square is on the pier at the end of Key West's Duval Street - just follow the crowds. See mallorysquare.com.

Dhow Safari, Zanzibar

Sail off into the sunset with the Original Dhow Safaris, which has a fleet of three dhows, each taking up to 16 passengers. Cruises from 4.30-6.30pm drift along the coast, with guests encouraged to sink back into the cushions and relax as musicians play taarab, songs of love and loss, on violin and oud, while the onboard butler serves canapes and drinks. As night falls, the dhow sails back towards the glittering lights of Stone Town, Zanzibar city's old quarter, a World Heritage Site and, incidentally, where Queen's Freddie Mercury was born. Private charters for honeymooners may be arranged.

Wow factor Sailing beauty.

Accessibility Trips ($US27 a person) depart from Stone Town's five-star Serena Inn, which does onboard catering. See dhowsafaris.net.

Grotten Bar, Norway

In summer, the sun sinks but seldom sets in northern Norway, "land of the midnight sun". Instead, it's as if the horizon's on fire and nights are "white" - that is, 1am may seem like 1pm. The Grotten ("cave") Bar is a vast cavern hewn into a cliff at Nordkapphallen visitor centre with an outdoor deck overlooking the Arctic Ocean and, with luck, the midnight sun. Champagne and caviar are served (remember Norway is renowned for its expensive alcohol and a glass of bubbly could set you back $20). Nordkapphallen also has exhibitions, restaurants and a chapel.

Wow factor Completely unpredictable. The midnight sun may be obscured by cloud or utterly sensational.

Accessibility Often but inaccurately referred to as "the northernmost point of Europe", Nordkapp (North Cape) is a dramatic cliff, towering 307 metres above the sea on the island of Mageroya in Finnmark, Norwegian Lapland. It's a two-hour flight from Oslo; most visitors stay in the nearby town of Honningsvag. During midnight-sun months, Nordkapphallen is open 11am-1am (June 15 to August 30). See visitnorthcape.com.

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon

The Griswold family came to El Tovar in 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation, starring the imitable Chevy Chase. Today, folks stop by for a sundowner on the hotel's deck to watch the canyon's layers of rock glow red in the sun's last rays. This historic ranch-style hotel (there are stag heads in reception) is on the edge of the South Rim. Activities to work up a thirst include hiking, rafting, mule or horseback rides and scenic air tours.

Wow factor Humungous. The canyon, carved by the Colorado River, is 446km long, up to 29km wide and 1.6km deep.

Accessibility How to find it? In the words of Clark Griswold: "Jesus, it's only the biggest goddamn hole in the world." The South Rim is the most visited part of the canyon and a popular outing from Las Vegas, Nevada. El Tovar rooms must be booked far in advance. See grandcanyonlodges.com.

Migration Camp, Serengeti

From around June to September, the world's largest mammal migration streams past this luxury safari camp in the Ndassiata Hills. Each year about two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelles travel great distances in search of fresh grazing, from the Serengeti's fertile southern plains in Tanzania to the sweet grasses of Kenya's Maasai Mara. Toast them on their way with a cognac and cigar on the west-facing Sunset Deck, with breathtaking views over rocky koppies (hills) and acacia trees to a limitless horizon.

Wow factor Classic Serengeti sunset; black silhouettes against a blood-red sky.

Accessibility Fly or drive to Migration Camp, 395km north-west of Arusha in Tanzania. Stay in one of 20 lavish tents on wooden decks overlooking the Grumeti River ($US630 a person). Children welcome. It's closed in April-May (rainy season). See elewana.com.

Alero's Bar, Brazil

Considering the size of bikinis in Brazil (think Toblerone triangles on a string), it's surprising the country bothers with an official nudist beach. Tambaba Beach, nevertheless, is it. The travel addict who nominated Alero's Bar describes it as: "Vintage Brazilian east coast; a small hand-built hut, a deck, a palm tree at a crazy angle and no one for miles and miles." Order a caipirinha, a mix of sugar, lime and cachaa (a spirit made from sugar cane).

Wow factor Sunkissed skin. A board of rules at the beach states, "It is prohibited to wear any clothes which are not concerned to naturism." Don't insult the locals by just going topless.

Accessibility Catch a bus or taxi 40km south from the town of Joao Pessoa. A wall of cliffs protects the beach from prying eyes. Recife, 80km south of Tambaba, is the nearest city with an airport. See joao-pessoa.com/en/paraiba /tambaba.

FCC Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The bar at the FCC Phnom Penh Hotel, a classic example of French colonial architecture, is a capital haunt in the South-East Asian kingdom. "The F" is where foreign correspondents and diplomats gathered in the 1990s, when Cambodia was emerging from the fall-out following the Khmer Rouge's genocidal rule and years of conflict. Today, the bar is famous for its views of the convergence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, which bask in pink reflections when the sun sets over the National Museum behind the hotel. Happy hour is 5-7pm; try the lychee martini.

Wow factor Meeting of rivers.

Accessibility The bar is in Sisowath Quay, the riverfront entertainment district in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. See fcccambodia.com.

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