Category Archives: Travel

Lady Elliot Island Australia

Basking near Australia’s continental shelf, Marie Barbieri loses herself among marine creatures of all colours and contours on Lady Elliot Island.

I sharply inhale and halt dead still – or as still as one can hover atop a swaying reef. A majestic four-metre beauty arcs up and we clock eyes. It’s love at first snorkel with a manta ray.

He’s enjoying a body scrub, courtesy of a bluestreak cleaner wrasse that nibbles the attached parasites. This giant black and white kite tangos with the swell, its implausibly placed eyes holding the stare. We share a magical 10 minutes together, until he breaks off the affair.

Lady Elliot Island, located between Fraser Island and Lady Musgrave Island off the east coast of Australia, is the resident home of the Manta alfredi. Due to its isolation (80km/49 miles northeast of Bundaberg), it claims some of the most limpid waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

The glorious, paradisiacal island was actually built by poo (guano, to be precise), courtesy of excreting seabirds that fertilised and seeded the isolated cay.

In 1863, however, it was almost stripped of its vegetative richness. Around 30 Asian miners arrived to pillage Lady Elliot for her guano. Settlers deforested the island, sparing just eight pisonia trees. They dug the topsoil and sold 20,000 tonnes of guano as gunpowder and fertilizer to Sydney and London.

Roll on 1969, when visionary pilot Don Adams arrived, bringing with him native shrubs and seeds for re-vegetation. Planting sheoaks to naturally fertilise the depleted soil, he regenerated the topsoil and reintroduced pisonia trees.

They flourished into the feather-flapping forest here today, reunited with the eight, now 400-year-old, pisonia trees. Adams earned himself a conservation award for his work in 1994.

A glass bottom boat ride in Lady Elliot’s sheltered lagoon
Lady Elliot Island

Today, the Eco Resort upon the island looks to preserve the natural environment of the cay as well as the Great Barrier Reef.

Visibility in the water here reaches up to 30m (98ft), so it’s a pelagic banquet for the snorkeler. I spot the sexy sway of a blacktip reef shark as a green sea turtle periscopes for air before I almost brush scales with a school of big-eye trevally.

All is calm as ecotourism guide Ben shows us yellow trumpetfish needling past striking Picasso triggerfish, where blue-spotted rays, blue linckia sea-stars and giant sea cucumbers crazy-pave the sandy bed.

The larynxes of my group shriek when Ben points to a manta train whooshing by at breakneck speed. It’s a rarely seen courtship act, where males pursue the female, copying her moves while following her lead. She purposely derails the carriages, and the male that best keeps up, gets to mate with her. Our overexcited group, half strangled by camera straps, isn’t quick enough to snap the phenomenal sight.

The strikingly handsome Picasso triggerfish
Lady Elliot Island

Snorkelled and masked, we jump into the marine playground. I tally a count of eight juvenile sea turtles, vacuuming up drifting jellyfish (the non-stinging variety). Most sport long tails, which means they’re male.

Between November and March, endangered green and loggerhead turtles return to Lady Elliot to lay around 120 eggs per clutch. Around 8-9 weeks later, post-sunset, hatchlings surface from the coral shingle and begin their inaugural clamber down to the ocean.

Last year, the island experienced an epic turtle-nesting season. Sand temperatures determine turtles’ gender, and as Lady Elliot is the southernmost island in the Great Barrier Reef, conditions are a little cooler, so boys rule here.

Clad in reef shoes and armed with walking pole and SeaScope, Ben leads us on a Lagoon Reef Walk, where polyps contract as we pass micro-atoll corals. We carefully step around a smorgasbord of sea cucumbers that bas-relief the sand, while embedded clams and an anemone-draped clownfish remain more covert.

Siargao Island Philippines

download-22A little-known surf paradise in the Philippines is about to get a big wave of tourism. Emilee Tombs asks if Siargao can preserve the very thing that attracted people to it in the first place.

The journey to Siargao should have taken an hour, but we’d already been in the air that long when an enormous cloud tore across the sky and chased us twice around the island.

When we finally touched down I realised that the runway we’d been circumnavigating was little more than a finger swipe through custard, a patch of scrubland disappearing into the jungle around it.

After hauling my bag from the prop plane, baffled at the lack of security checks, I climbed into a waiting jeepney, the ubiquitous and colourfully adapted American army jeeps used as public transport in the Philippines.

Bouncing along the dirt track was like stepping back in time. The only life in the dense palm jungle was around basic stilt huts clinging to the road edge. Bamboo frames held up corrugated iron roofs which acted as petrol stations. One litre of gas in a Coca Cola bottle would set you back 20p. Carabao grazed lazily in lush rice paddies; the smell of slow-cooked Lechon pig hung in the hot air.

Siargao (pronounced Shar-gow) is one of over 7,000 islands that make up the Philippine archipelago. Perched 448km (278 miles) off the coast of cacophonic Cebu, the teardrop-shaped isle is relatively unknown, except to the surfing community, for whom it is a mecca.

Compared to neighbouring Boracay (an island with a 5-star Shangri-La resort, full moon parties and a busy airport), Siargao is a sleepy sibling. There are no direct international flights and volatile weather makes current airline timetables chaotic.

But all this will change from 2015 as more than £400,000 is set to be spent on improving and extending Siargao’s Sayak Airport over the next three years.

I was in Siargao to visit the legendary surf at Cloud 9, a break on the east coast made famous by the World Surf League in 2011. I also had a profound urge to set foot on one of the world’s last remaining undeveloped spots.

Whilst on the island I stayed at Buddha’s, a hippie collection of thatched bungalows and hammocks just metres from the beach. I’d rise each morning at 6am and make my way through palm fronds to the sand. I’d heave my board onto a waiting bangkang (a traditional wooden outrigger used to fish) that transported surfers beyond the reef.

By the time we’d reach the swell, the sun would be high and the heat intense. There were only ever a handful of other surfers to compete with, so I’d spend two blissful hours carving watery tracks before heading back for a breakfast of eggs, bacon and fresh calamansi juice. By 6pm I’d sit and watch another sunset, convinced I’d found a personal heaven, my own Cloud 9.

This feeling resonated with many of the expatriates I met on the island, including Gerry Degan, the owner of Sagana, a resort with direct access to the Cloud 9 surf spot.

Gerry and his Filipino wife moved here from Australia in 1995, when the tourism industry was non-existent. With the help of a local, Gerry bought a plot of land and opened the resort. The airport extension makes him anxious, but he’s pragmatic.

“It’s a catch-22,” he says. “We would all like to keep the charm of the undiscovered tropical paradise, but as word leaks out of course more people will come. As a business owner it makes things much easier, but as a surfer my concern is that the waves will become overcrowded and I came here to surf a quiet break.”

British seaside towns

download-23The Great British beach holiday is back in vogue. Ruth-Ellen Davis rounds up the best coastal resorts for a summer staycation.

1) Margate, Kent

Eating fish ‘n’ chips on the promenade. Licking ice-lollies on the beach. Paddling in the surf with your trousers rolled up. Think of the quintessential British beach holiday and Margate might well come to mind.

One of the original Victorian seaside towns, like so many others it was abandoned by holidaymakers in the 1990s when low-cost airlines promised better things abroad. But today this down-at-heel resort is enjoying a renaissance thanks to an influx of artists, high-speed rail links with London and the reopening of Dreamland, the UK’s oldest pleasure park.

2) Brighton, Sussex

A lack of sand hasn’t stopped Brighton from establishing itself as the UK’s coolest beach town. With its anything-goes attitude, hip inhabitants (Nick Cave lives here) and pier filled with classic attractions, this kitsch seaside resort is a whole lot of fun.

Its winding Lanes are an Aladdin’s cave of retro trinkets, and there’s a good nod to the city’s green credentials – pick up everything from biodynamic wine to vegetarian shoes. This August marks the 25th anniversary of Brighton’s annual Pride parade: as the UK’s self-proclaimed gay capital, it’s sure to be one heck of a party.

3) Bournemouth, Dorset

Bournemouth is booming. This buoyant coastal town has the UK’s fastest-growing digital economy and is being touted as the next ‘silicon city’. Its unassuming football club has also made a surprise leap into the Premier League and its generous sandy shores are becoming a hotbed of action.

A new pier-to-shore zipline is the latest high-speed way to take in the coastal views. Participants are launched from a tower at the end of the pier, out over the Blue Flag beach and down to the throngs of bathers bellow.

 

4) Whitby, Yorkshire

At a glance, Whitby is your classic coastal resort, with its traditional donkey rides, dubious amusement arcades and ubiquitous fish ‘n’ chip shops. But beyond its twee aesthetic, lies a Gothic spirit thanks to Bram Stoker, who set his 19th-century novel, Dracula, here.

A century on the book still haunts Whitby’s medieval cobbled streets and eerie abbey ruins. It also provides inspiration for the twice-yearly Whitby Goth Weekend (next event on 30 October), when the town’s Gothic inclinations are celebrated: think head-to-toe cadaverous costumes and a soundtrack to match.

Desert island

images-36Though somewhat inconvenient, becoming a castaway needn’t be a harrowing experience. Heed the lessons of Alexander Selkirk, a sailor who survived alone on an islet for over four years. Jack Palfrey retells his tale.

The roaring winds of the South Pacific buffer the bow of the Duke, a hardy British frigate, moored near the craggy island of Más a Tierra.

Aboard, the ship’s captain and experienced seahand, Woodes Rogers, awaits news from the small landing party that have gone ashore, investigating bright lights they believe to be French sailors stocking up on supplies.

Rogers whiles away the idle hours scribbling in his diary, a soiled manuscript that will go on to be published in England under the title: A Cruising Voyage Around the World.

“February 2, 1709: We are all convinc’d the light is on the shore, and design to make our ships ready to engage, believing them to be French ships at anchor,” he wrote.

As the sun bows to kiss the Pacific Ocean, Rogers becomes worried. Fearing his men have been captured, he commands a signal be raised for the crew to return. When he finally spies the returning boat, he is stunned by what he sees.

“Our Pinnace return’d from the shore, and brought abundance of Craw-fish, with a Man cloth’d in Goat-Skins, who look’d wilder than the first Owners of them,” he scribbled.

The wild man was Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who had been living alone on the small atoll for the last four years.

“At his first coming on board us, he had so much forgot his language for want of use, that we could scarce understand him,” authored Rodgers. “We offered him a Dram, but he would not touch it, having drank nothing but Water since his being there.”

The feral Selkirk intrigued Rogers. He admired his physical prowess and was impressed by his resourcefulness, inviting him to be a mate aboard Duke.

As a dense darkness smothered the vessel, Rogers ushered Selkirk below deck, hoping to be regaled by the castaway’s tale under candlelight.

Selkirk was marooned on Más a Tierra after a disagreement with his then captain over the seaworthiness of his ship. Selkirk dramatically suggested he would rather stay on the island than sail on.

His captain, somewhat of a literalist, left Selkirk ashore with his bedding, clothes, firelock, gunpowder and bullets. He also had his tobacco, a hatchet, a knife, a kettle, a bible and his mathematical books.

Grappling with a strong sense of despair, Selkirk turned his attention to survival.

World of cheese rolling

With competitors set to chase a cheese down one of the steepest hills in Gloucestershire again, we send Daniel Fahey to Cooper’s Hill to find out more.

This is where the cheese stops rolling: a soulless coach house that serves Yorkshire puddings with its hot-plate breakfasts and as much pig as you can eat, for less than a couple of pints.

When I arrive, abandoned plates sit smeared in gravy, glowing beneath an arcade machine; crushed pink wafers cover part of the carpet.

The bar staff are dressed in all black, a company-wide effort to look professional, but that illusion expires when one thumbs coins into the gambler, hoping to pocket a post-shift premium.

Most customers are either chugging past Cheltenham on their way to Gloucester, or vice versa. It’s a pit stop for paint-slopped decorators squawking over a tools down tipple; a cheap chat-and-eat for young mothers and their gaggles.

But there’s so much urine showered around the toilet seat, you wouldn’t want to shit here, let alone settle down for lunch.

Yet every late May bank holiday it clutters with so many customers that the owners charge for car parking and – according to a barmaid at The Cheese Rollers down in nearby Shurdington – punters “drink the place dry”.

Location, it seems, is everything.

This is the nearest ‘boozer’ to Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire, the famed gradient where senseless locals hurl themselves deathwards after a rounded slab of double Gloucester every May bank holiday.

The chase has been taking place here since at least 1800, the cheese rolling maybe longer than 1,300 years.

Similar customs were once observed at England’s great hillside chalk carvings, Cerne Giant and the Uffington White Horse, where pagans launched circles of solidified sour cream downhill during midsummer gatherings.

Then the cheese would represent the sun or the circle of the seasons and the roll would have been part of a ceremony that included other harvest celebrations like the scattering of seeds.

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.

Cycle around the world

Want to quit your job and go travelling but too skint or scared to take the leap? Take inspiration from Annie Londonderry, the first woman to cycle around the world. Coralie Modschiedler recounts her stirring tale.

On the morning of 13 January 1895, an enthusiastic crowd, giddy with anticipation, lined the streets of Marseille to see the arrival of a brave, young American woman in her early twenties.

Dressed in a man’s riding suit and astride a man’s bicycle, she had braved bitter cold and snow to reach the south of France from Paris. But despite the hardship, there she was, in the flesh: the famous, audacious Annie Londonderry – the first woman to attempt to cycle around the world.

A loud cheer went up and people waved and shouted as the petite, dark-haired cyclist wheeled by with one foot – her other foot, wrapped in bandages, was propped on the handlebars. Marseille was the last leg of her French sojourn and had been the most perilous so far.

“One night I had an encounter with highwaymen near Lacone [about 50km north of Marseille],” Annie later wrote in the New York World.

“There were three men in the party, and all wore masks. They sprang at me from behind a clump of trees, and one of them grabbed my bicycle wheel, throwing me heavily.

“I carried a revolver in my pocket within easy reach, and when I stood up I had that revolver against the head of the man nearest me. He backed off but another seized me from behind and disarmed me. They rifled my pockets and found just three francs.

“My shoulder had been badly wrenched by my fall, and my ankle was sprained, but I was able to continue my journey.”

Annie was a bold spirit who reinvented herself against all odds
Peter Zheutlin

While the dramatic encounter with highwaymen quickly became a staple among Annie’s many stories, it was never mentioned in the local press.

There was of course another explanation for why Annie pedalled into town with one foot wrapped in bandages – the inflammation of her Achilles tendon a few days earlier – but surviving a dramatic robbery made a much better story.

Annie never let the facts get in the way of a good tale. By then, she was reportedly halfway through a 15-month bike ride, a challenge she was undertaking to settle an extraordinary, high-stakes wager between two wealthy Boston businessmen.

If she could cycle around the world in that time and manage to earn $5,000 during her travels, she would earn an additional $10,000 on her return.

Her celebrity status was on the rise and the French press had been writing about her prolifically since her arrival at the northern port of Le Havre in December. She was a legend in the making.

Unbeknownst to the crowd of admirers who had gathered to see her in Marseille, the young cyclist from Boston was in fact Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a married Jewish working mother of three.

What’s more, Annie was not just a cyclist on a round-the-world tour, but a consummate self-promoter and inveterate storyteller who was about to turn her journey into one of the most outrageous chapters in cycling history and herself into one of the most colourful characters of the 1890s.

“I didn’t want to spend my life at home with a baby under my apron every year,” she would often say.

With the cycling craze and women’s movement for social equality in full swing in the mid-1890s, the bicycle represented to Annie a literal vehicle to the fame, freedom and material wealth she craved.