Monthly Archives: June 2016

What should you do on travelling on May

Forget Paris in the springtime, it’s all about London in May. Gone are the coat-soaking downpours and finger-biting frosts as locals embrace the sweet sunshine with Thames-side strolls and book reading in the royal gardens.

Head first to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where the looping slide installed around Sir Anish Kapoor’s distinctive Orbit sculpture is due to welcome its first brave sliders.

If you don’t lose your stomach completely, move onto one of London’s many supper clubs. The Disappearing Dining Clubproduces fabulous, fine-dining food in unique spaces like lighthouses, launderettes, churches and antiques shops.

Long haul: Puebla, Mexico

Contentiously hijacked by US college campuses and nicknamed ‘Cinco de Drinko’, the annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexicoare actually colourful, food-filled festivities that commemorate the 5 May 1862 Mexican militia victory during the Franco-Mexican war.

For the best taste of the action, head to the vibrant colonial streets of Puebla, one of Mexico’s oldest cities, where they will host 20 days’ worth of art installations, parades with charros (traditional Mexican horsemen) and mariachi bands.

Forget tacos and tequila, locals nibble on more customary delights like Chiles en Nogada (a fruit and nut-stuffed chilli in walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds and parsley), a dish invented by Puebla nuns that represents the colours of the flag: green, red and white.

For adrenaline junkies…

Short haul: Brockworth, England

It sounds like a recipe for disaster: take one circular Double Gloucester cheese, chuck in a handful of nutty locals, and shake well down a hill so steep it’s basically a cliff. But that’s what happens every May in Brockworth, Gloucestershire.

Running since at least the early 1800s, possibly millennia earlier as part of a pagan Midsummer tradition, the annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll will return on 30 May 2016 – probably with more broken legs, arms and ankles.

Not for the faint-hearted (nor really for anyone out of the village), expect to see a blur of locals somersault, tumble, cartwheel and race to the foot of the hill, with the winner taking the cheese.

Long haul: Potosí, Bolivia

It’s not just Potosí’s height that will give you nosebleeds. The 4,090m-high (13,419ft) city, made famous when the Spanish set up silver mines here, also hosts the annual Tinku festival in May – a tradition that involves days of drinking, dancing and violence.

Historically, the fights are meant to resolve tensions between the Quechua communities and encourage a prosperous harvest: the more blood spilled, the better the harvest.

It’s a colourful, if shocking, spectacle. On the plus side it entails indigenous music and much moonshine; among the negatives is the real possibility of death, so not every average Joe should be scrapping – leave it to the locals.

For beach bums…

Short haul: Biarritz, France

As the mercury rises across mainland Europe, nowhere does the spring swell sparkle quite so seductively as Biarritz, France’s most glamorous beach resort and surfing mecca.

Grab a board and join the hordes of olive-skinned locals bobbing in the surf at La Grande Plage, or stretch out on the silky sands of Plage du Miramar.

Away from its golden sands, take in the Basque town’s imposing fin-de-siècle architecture and smattering of museums, before heading to the nearby twin resorts of Saint Jean de Luz and Cibourne for a spot of (affordable) shopping and some lip-smacking seafood restaurants.

Long haul: Costa Rica

Want to ditch the winter jacket? Then say adiós to your parkas and scarves, and say hola to bathing suits and sunglasses with a trip toCosta Rica.

On 4 May, British Airways will be offering direct flights twice a week from London Gatwick to San Jose, the capital of this rainforest-filled destination situated between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.

Of course, nothing sums up the pura vida (pure life) like its deserted blonde beaches: all leaning palms, diamond-coloured sands and emerald waters. Seek out uninhabited Isla de Caño, a biological reserve with impeccable coastline, or peaceful Playa Ventanas, accessible only by dirt track.

March Tips For Travelling

Take inspiration, sure, but please don’t bludgeon anyone with an axe. It’s 150 years since Crime and Punishment was published, and as international sanctions render Russia cheaper than recent years, now is the time to see the grandiose grandmother of Russia at its most Dostoyevskian.

As foreboding winter temperatures rise, St Petersburg’s bold avenues and impressive imperial palaces still glitter with snow. Start at the Dostoevsky Memorial Museum, where the writer’s apartment has been recreated, before visiting the book’s key locations: Sennaya Square, Raskolnikov’s house and the scene of the crime.

Of course, there are uplifting sites as well. Don’t miss the Hermitage Museum – whose labyrinthine catacombs are home to an army of cats, I’ll have you know – or the ballet at Mariinsky Theatre (book ahead).

Long haul: Chichén Itzá, Mexico

Staged on a sun-baked limestone plateau surrounded by rustic jungle at the tip of Mexico’s tail, a visit to the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá feels like stumbling into a forgotten world – if it weren’t for crowds jostling to take the best selfie.

Of course you can’t begrudge the masses visiting the largest (and arguably most impressive) Mayan stronghold, especially during the spring equinox when a marvelling atavistic optical illusion unfolds.

In the mid-afternoon on 20 March, when the position of the sun is just right, a giant serpent will seemingly slither down the stairway of the El Castilo pyramid, connecting to a giant snakehead at the structure’s base. The gathering crowds bring a collectiveness to the event, adding a social element to the spiritual spectacle.

For beach bums…

It’s a big year for Hastings, as 2016 marks not just the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings but also the long-awaited grand reopening of its much-loved Victorian pier.

Hastings Pier’s history has been colourful to say the least: it first opened in 1872, boomed in the 1930s and hosted bands including the Rolling Stones in the 1960s and 70s. But its state took a turn for the worse in the noughties: after a number of damaging storms, it closed in 2008, and was almost completely destroyed by fire in 2010.

Six years on, and it’s finally about to get a new lease of life: reopening this March after a massive transformation, thanks in part to a £11.4m Heritage Lottery grant. The new-look pier will host gigs again, as well as farmers’ markets, art installations and an outdoor cinema. We can’t wait.

Know it’s in Africa but can’t quite place it on a map? Not to worry. Neither can most people, and that can only mean one thing: it’s yours for the exploring. Yes, tourist-shy Mozambique has bags of underexplored gems, from miles and miles of deserted golden-sand beaches to national parks brimming with wildlife to eclectic food and partying scenes in its bustling coastal cities.

Last year, it became one of the few African nations to decriminalise homosexuality, so not only is it one of the continent’s most unsung destinations but it’s also one of its most open-minded for LGBT travellers.

But let’s get back to Mozambique’s main attraction: its pristine Indian Ocean coastline – all 2,414km (1,500 miles) of it – which offers palm-fringed beaches, warm tropical waters, abundant marine life, excellent diving and a number of idyllic islands from which you can enjoy all of the above in sweet isolation.

For adrenaline junkies…

Galaxidi, Greece

The clock strikes noon on Clean Monday (a public holiday inGreece) and the ancient port town of Galaxidi, located on the sleepy southern shore of central Greece, stirs from its year-long slumber.

The rumble reverberates through the streets. A man cowers on the ground, his body smeared red, while two compatriots chortle heartily. War has come to Greece once again; the weapon of choice, coloured flour.

In an attempt to leave behind sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods, Galaxidi hosts a giant food fight at the beginning of Lent each year. During the battle 1.5 tonnes of coloured flour is distributed to locals and tourists alike who gleefully proceed in transforming the port into a giant Jackson Pollock painting. Forget Flower Power; embrace the thrill of Flour Power.

Long haul: Palau, Micronesia

On the long list of marinelife that most travellers fantasise about joining for an afternoon dip, the humble jellyfish likely sits one place above the candiru (with its delightful tendency to invade and parasitise the human urethra).

But one ecological marvel in Palau threatens to change all that. When the aptly named Jellyfish Lake became cut off from the sea over 12,000 years ago, its isolated marine population evolved and exploded. Now millions of stingless jellyfish occupy the lake, granting intrepid snorkelers a once in a lifetime diving experience.

Though reaching Micronesia is no simple feat, the archipelago nation remains one of the least explored regions in the world, with shorelines beautiful enough to turn your legs to… jelly.

December Travelling Tips

Searching for a December break that’s a little out of the ordinary? How about ice karting in Finland or seal spotting on England’s east coast? We’ve selected six unique experiences to spice up your winter.

For beach bums…

Short haul: Lincolnshire, England

Each winter Donna Nook, a sleepy area of low lying coastland on Lincolnshire’s eastern shore, comes alive as wildlife enthusiasts converge to witness thousands of grey seals clamber ashore to breed.

A grey seal pup on the beach
DaveMHunt Photography / Thinkstock

The area, managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, has become one of the best places to see the lovable mammals up close in the UK, with sightings during the peak winter season almost guaranteed.

The spectacle’s popularity almost became its downfall, with a recent trend in seal mortality rates coinciding with an increase in visitor numbers. Thankfully, tourist restrictions and volunteer wardens have helped return the area to a safe haven for these inquisitive creatures.

Long haul: Goa, India

With the mercury stretching toward the 30°C mark, laid-back Goa with its longstanding hippy vibe is the perfect place to escape both the winter chill and Christmas stress.

A sculpture from a previous Sand Festival on Miramar Beach
Creative Commons / gcmenezes

Yes, December draws in the peak-season tourist crowds, but travelling at this time of year also offers numerous delights, chief among them, the Goa Sand Art Festival.

The three-day event, held annually in mid-December, draws in artists from across India who gather to turn the white shores into a living canvas, creating dazzling sculptures from the white Goan sands.

For city slickers…

Short haul: Florence, Italy

Rapid heartbeat, confusion, dizziness; while nobody likes to get ill around Christmas, Florence syndrome is probably one complaint worth contracting.

The museums in Florence are quietest in December
Creative Commons Luca Sartoni / Les Haines / Joe deSousa

The psychosomatic disorder is triggered by overwhelming artistic beauty and nowhere has more than the Italian city itself.

In December, when the museums are quietest, faint over Florence’s frescos and weaken beneath its Renaissance majesty. Pack smelling salts for the Mozart recitals in churches and dustings of snow at dusk.

Long haul: Tbilisi, Georgia

Ever since the Iron Curtain fell in the 1990s, Tbilisi has been dolling up in the wings, and as UK citizens no longer need a visa to visit, its moment is finally here.

UK citizens no longer need a visa to visit Tbilisi, Georgia

Purling art deco elegance with peeling, old-world charm, Georgia’s capital is snugly protected by three mountain ranges, allowing modern life to flow past faster than the Mtkvari River below.

Rejuvenate in its famous sulphur baths, barter at the flea market or lose hours (and breath) in its remarkable churches, mosques and synagogues. With opera houses, forgotten piazzas and more vineyards than South Africa, if you haven’t got Georgia on your mind already, you soon will.

For thrillseekers…

Short haul: Levi, Finland

Forget visiting Santa – if you do one thing in Lapland this winter, make sure it’s ice karting.

Visiting Lapland? Then skip Santa and go ice karting instead
Artem Sapegin / Thinkstock

Finland is renowned for its world-beating rally drivers and amateur racers can follow in their tracks at the Eskimo Circuit in Levi, a theatre of motoring dreams carved from the snow.

After power-sliding around icy hairpins and jostling for space in slippery chicanes, racers can discuss the high-octane drama over a hot berry juice, which, in these chilly climes, is better than being sprayed in the face with a bottle of fizz.

Long haul: Hobbiton, New Zealand

With the final instalment of The Hobbit scheduled for release this December, why not pay homage to Bilbo Baggins and company on a Middle Earth-themed tour of New Zealand?

October On Holiday Tips

From freak festivals in Florida to closing parties in Ibiza, we round up the best destinations for an October getaway.

For beach bums…

Short haul: Ibiza, Spain

As summer abandons Europe again this October, eke out the last of the rays and raves in Ibiza, where nightclubs will be going out with a bang for the winter break.

Pasha, Acid Sundays and Circoloco will all host closing parties in the first week of October, but the last spin of the vinyl doesn’t mean the end of your holiday.

When the party finally stops head to the island’s north to help ease you back down with Balearic cuisine, beaches and beautiful blue waters.

Want things to get properly weird this Halloween? Then roll up to Florida for Fantasy Fest, which takes over Key West every October.

Welcoming freaks, geeks and everyone in between, this creepy carnival has grown to be one of the largest street parties in the USA and raves on for 10 weird and wonderful days.

What to expect: flamboyant fancy dress, pool parties, pirates, burlesque shows, DJs, wet T-shirt contests, fetish festivals and pet pageants, amongst other things. And when it’s over? Sweat out the excess on one of Key West’s fine sandy beaches.

This Halloween, sack off door-stepping scared old ladies and take your fangs to Brașov in Romania for some real bloodcurdling horror. Ringed by the dark Carpathian Mountains, Brașov is a city of Gothic churches, impenetrable forests and the imposing Bran Castle – home of Dracula.

A visit to the city at the end of October will mean bedding down in haunted castles, attending petrifying parties in medieval forts and avoiding having your blood sucked.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited to Count Dracula’s wedding at the witching hour, but there’s no guarantee either of you will make it to sunrise.

For too long, Gujarat in Western India has been little more than a handsome, bucolic scene rushing past through a train window as travellers trail towards the beaches of Goa.

But as the state readies itself for the Hindu spectacle of Navratri, that perspective can become a participatory one. Taking place from 13-21 October, Navratri is nine nights of music, chanting, dance, bright clothes and religious revelry, all in the name of Shakti, the divine feminine creative power.

Base yourself in the striking city of Vadodara, where the traditional celebrations will clash with more modern parties and fafda (a crispy gram flour snack) and sticky jalebi (a swirling sugar syrup pretzel) will be eaten by the belly full.

Navratri could help Gujarat step into the lightNavratri could help Gujarat step into the light
Wikimedia Commons / Hardik Jadeja

For thrill seekers…

Short haul: Bristol, UK

Visitors to Bristol’s Oktoberfest will find a distinct lack of lederhosen and giant pretzels. Set in the historic grounds of Ashton Court estate, this Oktoberfest is all about riding as fast as you can around some of South West England’s finest mountain biking trails.

On 10 October bikers take to the 9.5km (6-mile) course for a series of races culminating with an evening of DJs, food and booze that promise to keep festivities going well past dark.

Bristol continues its adrenaline-fuelled month with the inaugural Bristol to Bath marathon (25 October). Profits from the city-to-city race will go towards sustainable development projects in Malawi.

Bristol's Oktoberfest is more bike than booze Bristol’s Oktoberfest is more bike than booze
rui noronha / Thinkstock

Long haul: Nepal

Get your hiking boots on because October marks the start of trekking season in Nepal – and the country needs visitors more than ever after April’s devastating earthquakes.

If epic mountain landscapes and steamy jungles weren’t reason enough to visit, then perhaps the festival of Dashain (12-26 October) could tempt you? The biggest festival in Nepal, it celebrates the goddess Durga’s victory over evil, and sees many people working in Kathmandu return to their hometowns.

Up in the mountains is where Durga feels most magical, with strings of tiny communities illuminated by lights, decked in flowers and celebrating into the night with traditional music.