Famous as an ancient walled city - and as Kings Landing, the fictional capital of Westeros in the television series Game of Thrones - the Croatian city of Dubrovnik is now firmly on the radar for New Zealand travellers.
The beautiful city is one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations and together with Santorini, a quintessential Greek Island known for its pearly-white buildings and stunning sunsets, is among a number of exotic European holiday spots now within easier reach for Kiwis.
Qatar Airways has expanded its Mediterranean network, operating direct flights to Dubrovnik and Santorini from its hub at Hamad International Airport in Doha.
Dubrovnik, which once rivalled Venice in wealth, power and beauty, is today Croatia's most upmarket destination – drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, with more Kiwis expected to be among them.
A real-life capital in its past (between 1358 and 1808 it was the chief city of the seafaring republic of Ragusa), it was also used as a location for the capital of the Seven Kingdoms in scenes filmed during the long-running Game of Thrones series.
More than a dozen sites were used throughout the city and a Game of Thrones Walking Tour is available for fans wanting to see for themselves.
Overlooking the calm, blue Adriatic Sea, the pedestrian-only Old Town of Dubrovnik sits within sturdy medieval fortifications and is packed with aristocratic palazzi (palatial buildings), elegant baroque churches and palaces packed with art treasures. In 1979 it was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.
But there is far more to the city than its ancient history. It is also a first-class resort with a network of beaches to laze away the day in the sun. Some of the best lie on the Lapad Peninsula about three kilometres west of the town, at Lokrum islet (you can get there by taxi-boat), and the pine-scented Elaphiti islands which can be reached by ferry.
An array of cafes, bars and clubs ensure Dubrovnik is never dull at night, while food is also a proud part of its heritage – local fish, olive oil, wine, fruit and vegetables are cherished items on menus and essential parts of a Dubrovnik dining experience.
Meanwhile, if it's beauty you seek, Santorini, a small island lying about 200km south-east of the mainland of Greece in the southern Aegean Sea, has that in almost every part of its ancient island origins.
Santorini is Qatar Airways' fourth destination in Greece - alongside Athens, Mykonos and Thessaloniki - bringing the beautiful destination that much closer to Kiwis. That jaw-dropping beauty is why many go to Santorini, including romantic reasons like weddings, marriage proposals, renewal of vows or an unforgettable holiday to maybe spark a real romance.
Santorini is frequently voted Europe's most popular destination. Up to two million holidaymakers visit every year, more than 850,000 of whom arrive on cruise ships – but now Qatar Airways direct link can take New Zealanders there quickly and easily.
What makes Santorini so sought after is its incredible sunsets, dazzling vistas, multi-coloured beaches (including the famous Red Beach), blue-domed churches, pearly white buildings adorned with bougainvillea and picturesque windmills.
The white-washed settlements of Fira and Oia are the island's most alluring spots while, in between the two towns, small villages cling to clifftops and offer quiet and relaxed settings for a holiday.
Santorini's best known and most popular beach at Perissa lies on the south-east coast. A six kilometre-long stretch of fine, black volcanic sand, it is backed by tamarisk trees and overlooked by a string of seafood tavernas and cafes.
The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. The Minoan eruption occurred 3600 years ago and left a large caldera (volcanic crater) which today many visit on one-day excursions by boat.
It is also home to ancient archeological sites and museums including the remains of the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri which was buried by lava following the eruption. Visitors can walk on pathways through the debris of the town to see the remnants of the clay buildings of the once thriving town.
There are also ruins of Hellenistic temples and foundations of Roman and early-Byzantine buildings at ancient Thira dating back to the ninth century BC.
With the new seasonal flights, enjoy a one-stop journey to Santorini and Dubrovnik with Qatar Airways whose fast-expanding European network of over 55 destinations is the perfect way to plan a European getaway.
Book now at qatarairways.com