The western African nation of Ivory Coast is a land of extreme contrasts, from pristine rainforests and green hills to vibrant cities, with smart restaurants and superb street stalls. What’s more, most areas are stable these days after the civil war, so now is a great time to explore this distinctive country.

From the moment you arrive (probably in the unofficial capital Abidjan), you notice the French influence, especially in the cooking. Ivory Coast has maintained strong ties to France since becoming independent in 1960. The city is dubbed, ‘Africa’s Manhattan’, given its shiny skyscrapers, but it’s worth visiting the exquisitely kept gardens of The Plateau, and St Paul’s Cathedral, with its stunning views across town. In the official capital, Yamoussoukro, visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace and the huge mosque, or perhaps catch the national football team, nicknamed ‘The Elephants’ in action.

However, it’s outside the big cities that Ivory Coast comes into its own. In all, there are eight national parks to visit. One, Comoé, is West Africa’s biggest protected area, boasting the world’s most biodiverse savannah. Lions, African elephants, leopards and aardvarks can all be seen, and in the Tai National Park, you can spot pygmy hippos.

Meanwhile, if it’s beaches you’re after, check out the beautiful ones around Assine, San Pedro and Grand Bassam. (There’s a south-facing North Atlantic coast.)

Climb the beautiful, 230m tall Mount Nienouke with its forests and exotic wildlife, or go up Mount Tonkoui in the west, where there are views into Liberia.

Finally, check out a range of traditional crafts, from pottery to cloth and wooden masks.