Saint Louis, Senegal

Set at the mouth of the Senegal River, the island-city of Saint Louis is the oldest settlement along the coast of western Africa. What began as a French trading post in 1659 soon became an important hub for European merchants involved in the Transatlantic slave trade and, later, gum, groundnuts and other products. Marked by a series of quays and known for its multiculturalism, this “Venice of Africa” served as the capital of French West Africa between 1895 and 1902 as well as capital of Senegal until 1957, when the title was transferred to Dakar. Saint Louis soon fell into decline; yet its faded, often-crumbling French colonial buildings and elegant villas with courtyards and wrought-iron balconies stand as testament to the city’s former glory. The UNESCO World Heritage-designated historic center — laid out on a grid system on Ndar Island — connects to the mainland via the Pont Faidherbe, an impressive through-arch bridge originally designed by Gustav Eiffel. Its Atlantic side is protected by Langue de Barbarie National Park, a narrow sand spit that attracts pelicans and other migrating seabirds.