This week we are exploring Romania's largest and most iconic region,mistaken by many Americans and others as a country in its own right. In fact Transylvania is a name that most of the western world still associates with Dracula, werewolves and folk legend. But this land beyond the forest defies all preconceptions and remains one of the most culturally important and beautiful parts of Eastern Europe.
2018 • Travel
From stunning heights, witness the mountains, rivers, and people that make up China's great interior. Visit celebrations at the center of the Buddhist world and on the edges of river cities, soar over the world's most famous peak 29,000 feet in the air, and dive into an ancient city submerged under a lake. China's heartland is a place where urban and rural communities embrace the challenges of a changing 21st century world.
The first leg of his journey begins in Istanbul, from which he travels along the Aegean coast to the hostile border with Syria. He meets refugees trying to start a new life and a billionaire taking advantage of a property boom. He moves on into the Taurus Mountains and the Black Sea Coast, and visits a community trying to keep an ancient language alive.
The fourth leg of the broadcaster's journey takes him from Oman to the Maldives. He starts in the Strait of Hormuz, where oil from the Gulf is shipped through the narrow channel, then moves on to Mumbai, the ocean's biggest port. In the Maldives, Simon finds arguably the most beautiful collection of tropical coral islands in the world - but the fragile underwater environment is a barometer for the changing nature of the sea, as he witnesses how bleaching has damaged the coral and one entire island has been manufactured as a landfill dump to deal with the problem of rubbish.
At the centre of this great sea, and surrounded by crystal clear waters, is Simon's first stop, the beautiful island of Malta. Driven by a surge of tourists, modern-day Malta is booming. But beneath the picture-postcard image lies a country accused of being a haven for money laundering and organised crime, where journalists can be murdered by car bombs. When Simon takes a ferry to his next destination, Calabria in southern Italy, he discovers a region in the grip of Europe's most powerful mafia, the 'Ndrangheta. With rare access to police and customs investigators, Simon follows an armed convoy carrying a ton of seized cocaine, joins a stakeout of a high-level suspect, and crawls through a huge underground warren of tunnels and bunkers built by fugitive mafia bosses. Travelling east along the southern tip of mainland Italy, Simon visits a turtle conservation centre, meeting Raoul, a loggerhead turtle rescued after swallowing huge quantities of plastic, a massive and increasing threat to Mediterranean wildlife. Simon helps release him back into the sea. Taking the overnight ferry from the heel of Italy, Simon arrives in one of the least-known but most beautiful corners of the Mediterranean, Albania. Under communist rule, Albania was isolated and shut off from most of the world. In a country now hoping for EU membership, Simon discovers an ancient culture of vendetta, where if an adult commits a crime, a child can be killed in revenge. Simon ends the first leg of his journey at a spectacular wildlife reserve where bird life is now recovering following the country's groundbreaking ban on hunting.