AUSTRALIA, Burma, the Tropic of Cancer ... Simon Reeve has been on some epic journeys.

For the London-born presenter's latest documentary series, he heads to the Mediterranean - the birthplace of Western civilisation, which attracts more than 300 million tourists a year.

As a region once again at the heart of global conflict, and with some bonkers experiences thrown his way, the trip took the 46-year-old seriously by surprise.The first episode takes us from Malta, along the coast of southern Italy and on to Albania, while the second starts on the island of Cyprus, before heading across the sea to Lebanon and on to Israel and Gaza.

"For a long time the Mediterranean was seen as a bit of a backwater, and not as exotic as other parts of the world," says says. "I knew it would give us strong stories, a great adventure, there would be tales of history, and conservation and there would be some drama as well, but I didn't realise quite how extreme a region of the world it is. It's only really when you start travelling around it that you get that fuller sense of how closely chaos can exist to normality, how close poverty is to the wealth of Monaco. This is a sea that laps the shores of the south of France but also the Gaza Strip. This is a sea with the conflict of Libya just to the south of the beaches of Sicily. It's extraordinary, the proximity.

"But I think the key thing about the Mediterranean is that there's probably nowhere else on the planet where quite so many different cultures have mixed and mingled and sometimes come into conflict."

Reeve was completely stunned by the power and control of the mafia in Calabria, which is a mafia called the 'Ndrangheta. "Going into their territory with Italian special forces guys who said to us, 'This is not the territory of Italy, this is the territory of 'Ndrangheta', that was an astonishing feeling," he says.

Cyprus was another good example of why the Mediterranean is so interesting. Here is an island divided by an enormous ramshackle buffer zone, separating conflicted communities. "And this is within Europe," says Reeve. "As a continent, sometimes we have the cheek to try and tell other parts of the world that they've got to behave in a certain way... Nicosia is still divided, for goodness' sake. And it's divided in such an extraordinary way, with oil drums and barbed wire and checkpoints. It feels like a throwback to a completely distant past.

"We've got to resolve these conflicts and it stuns me that the European Union, the most powerful economic bloc in the world, hasn't managed to help the communities involved to resolve that crisis. It's astonishing."

Reeve says what he learned from the journey is that it's important to remember how close suffering is and how much a part of so many people's lives it is. "We are very privileged on these islands and sometimes people forget that," he says. "We're not really taught, and we don't perhaps fully understand, what the Mediterranean is: what a key sea it is, how important it's been historically, how close we are to it, how connected we are to it."

Reeve's wife is obsessed with Greece. His son loves going to Denmark, where the in-laws live. "He's starting to ask about going a bit further," says Reeve. "But we do have a very large dog who we love very much, and you can't go jetting around the world forever when you've got a dog who's basically your other child.

Although he lives in the countryside now, the presenter still gets to go back to London fairly regularly for work and family and friends. But he loves being out in the countryside, its sociability and the fact that they have more space so people can come and stay. "Not many people have that in the big city," he says.

He's not about to stop travelling any time soon, though. "The biggest reason for me to travel is not for the places, it's for the people. People are constantly changing and there are more than seven billion incredible stories on this planet so how anyone could get tired of travelling and hearing them, I just don't know."

He doesn't get to pick where he wants to go and has no idea where the next programme will take him. "I've got to discuss it and put an argument forward for it," he says. "I've got some ideas - there are still areas of the world I would love to visit. The world is changing dramatically and rapidly and I find it all, everywhere, absolutely fascinating. If viewers and the Beeb will have me, I'm probably up for it. It's tiring, but it's amazing.

  • Mediterranean With Simon Reeve starts on BBC Two on Sunday.