Monday, December 15, 2008

Africa News Today - The 36 best travel ideas for 2009 Next year is jam-packed with wild and exotic events, but don’t freak out - we've picked the best of them

January

4 Mudbath in Essex

It's a gloopy start to the year. Take a wide, shallow river surrounded by acres of silty ooze, add a start line on one side, a finish line on the other and 200 slightly unhinged competitors. Bingo — you have the Maldon Mud Race (www.maldonmudrace.com ). No more room to take part, but it's a great (if slightly sadistic) spectator sport, so join the throng to watch from Promenade Park at 11.30am. Tip: wear old clothes.

8 Sounds of the Sahara

Mali has the most exciting music in Africa, and the Festival of the Desert is its showcase: hundreds of mainly local musicians play day and night in the remote dunes 40 miles outside Timbuktu, watched by thousands of locals, desert nomads and a smattering of western tourists. It runs until January 10. Wild Frontiers (020 7736 3968, www.wildfrontiers.co.uk ) has a 15-day trip, leaving on December 29, from £2,635pp; the operator can also arrange flights.

20 A new era in Washington

It's going to be huge. Up to 4m people are expected to turn out to watch Barack Obama being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States: it'll be a set-piece occasion like no other, with a hell of a party after the formal stuff. Hotels in DC are already booked solid, but you can still be part of it by commuting in for the big day: Jetset (0845 025 7757, www.jetset-holidays.co.uk ) has four nights from January 17 in Annapolis, Baltimore or Richmond (all less than an hour from DC) from £619pp, including flights and car hire.

26 New Year in Hong Kong

The year of the ox will be welcomed in with a colossal night-time parade around Tsim Sha Tsui East: there will be dozens of floats, thousands of musicians, dance troupes, clowns and a few zillion bangers. Travelmood (0800 840 8305, www.travelmood.com ) has a three-night short break covering the festivities for £599pp, including flights.

February

2 Butterflies in Mexico

One of the great wildlife migrations reaches its climax, with up to 600m monarch butterflies gathering in a few pockets of forest in the province of Michoacan. Tree branches have been known to break under the butterflies' weight. Naturetrek (01962 733051, www.naturetrek.co.uk ) has an expert-guided tour that reaches the El Rosario butterfly reserve on February 2. The nine-day trip costs £1,995pp, full-board, including flights.

24 Carnival in Salvador

It's Mardi Gras, and stuff will be shaken and bottles emptied from Rio to New Orleans to Venice. The most full-on event, though, will be at Salvador, in northeast Brazil, which lays claim to the biggest street party on earth: mile after mile of bloco bands, sound systems, outlandish costumes and feverish dancing. Journey Latin America (020 8747 8315, www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk ) has a seven-day stay at carnival time from £1,768pp, including flights.

26 Cricket in the Caribbean

For the combination of a sunshine holiday and a sporting treat, there's nothing like a Caribbean Test tour. England v West Indies reads like a checklist of winter-sun favourites — Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad... Our pick is the Third Test at the splendid new Kensington Oval, Barbados. ITC Sports (01244 355527, www.itcsports.co.uk ) has a nine-night trip from £1,965pp, including flights. Match tickets are extra, but guaranteed, and charged at face value.

27 Butterfly in New York

Anyone who saw Anthony Minghella's production of Madam Butterfly will know he wasn't just a film director: he had a sublime way with opera, too. The production is being revived for the first time since his death, with Patricia Racette reprising the title role, at the Metropolitan Opera. Tickets cost £10 to £250; www.metoperafamily.org . Bon Voyage (0800 316 0194, www.bon-voyage. co.uk) has three nights in New York from £465pp, including flights.

March

16 Las Fallas in Valencia

The citizens of Valencia are a feisty bunch, but they're creative with it. You'll see the results during this festival based around 700 ninots, huge papier-mâché caricatures of public figures that are lampooned, ridiculed, stuffed with fireworks and ceremonially burnt on March 19. It's shockingly loud. Fly to Valencia with EasyJet (www.easyjet.com ) and stay at the smart Petit Palace Bristol (www.hotelpetitpalacebristol.com ; doubles from £256.)

29 Snowbombing in Austria

Mayrhofen's Snowbombing is the best bash in the Alps, a riotous dance and rock festival at 2,000ft, running until April 4. The bill speaks for itself: Dizzee Rascal headlines and Fatboy Slim plays a set deep in the forest. Six-night accommodation packages start at £249 on the organiser's website, www.snowbombing.com . That price includes entry into all events except the Arctic Disco, held in a custom-built igloo high on a glacier, and well worth the £22 extra. For flights, try Ryanair (0871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com ) to Salzburg.

April

5 Semana Santa in Granada

We all know that the Spanish can party, but they have a serene, reflective side, too, and you'll see it here during Holy Week. A succession of solemn but strangely uplifting torchlit processions fills the streets around the Alhambra, with hooded marchers, images of Christ strewn with jewels and flamenco devotional songs. Fly to Granada with Ryanair (0871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com ) and stay at the intimate Hotel Carmen de Santa Ines (www.carmensantaines.com ; doubles from £75).

9 Swordplay in London

The Chinese State Circus is touring the UK all winter (visit www.chinesestatecircus.com for dates and venues), but the tumbling, contorting, sword-flashing finale will take place at Alexandra Palace, N22, until April 19 (from £10, children from £7; www.alexandrapalace.com ). If the martial-arts display by the Shaolin Wu-Shu warriors doesn't make you wince, you weren't watching properly.

18 Rockets in Greece

One for the pyromaniacs. The exact reason that two rival churches in Vrontados, on the island of Chios, bombard each other with rockets every Easter is lost in the mists of time, but they do it with gusto: they'll be firing off about 60,000 between 8pm on April 18 and midday the following day. Thousands turn out to join the party and watch the spectacular salvos. Greek Sun (01732 740317, www.greeksun.co.uk ) has a guide price of £800pp for a week's fly-drive, including accommodation, flights and car.

30 Go orange in Holland

Queen's Day isn't much known over here, but it's a huge shindig for the locals, especially in Amsterdam, where an all-ages crowd of 700,000 gather on the evening of April 29 to dance along with the passing party boats that tour the canals. Make an up-all-night flying break of it: nip over on EasyJet (www.easyjet.com ), stay until Thursday afternoon and sleep when you get home.

May

17 Run wild in San Francisco

It's not the most prestigious road race, but the Bay to Breakers, a citywide excuse to let loose, is surely the most fun. How many others have a dedicated troop who run the course in the nude every year? Or centipedes, who run tethered together, or salmon, who wear fishy hats while going the wrong way, against the flow? Virgin Holidays (0871 222 5825, www.virginholidays.co.uk ) has a week covering the Bay to Breakers event, staying at the boutique Hotel Adagio, from £841pp, including flights.

25 Art in Provence

The exhibition Picasso, Cézanne should be one of the art events of the year: about 100 works gathered from public and private collections in France, Britain, America and beyond, exploring the relationship between the two artists. It'll run until September 27 at the Musée Granet, in Aix-en-Provence (www.museegranet-aixenprovence.fr ; entry £9). Fly to Marseille with British Airways (0844 493 0787, www.ba.com ) or EasyJet (www.easyjet.co.uk ) and stay at the Hôtel des Quatre Dauphins (00 33-4 42 38 16 39, www.lesquatredauphins.fr ; doubles from £60).

26 Kids' theatre in Edinburgh

Britain's largest performing-arts festival for children gets going today. Imaginate stages more than a dozen productions: 10,000 people came in 2008 for what was often their first taste of live theatre, to see anything from endearingly daft toddler-pleasers to challenging murder-mysteries for teens. For details, visit www.imaginate.org.uk .

June

1 Magic in St Petersburg

The White Nights arts festival officially runs from May to July, but June is the best month: the city is at its most romantic, bathed in a surreal twilight into the small hours, and while the streets glow, the performers shine. The full schedule will be announced next month, but opera at the Mariinsky Theatre should be a highlight. Exeter International (020 8956 2756, www.exeterinternational.co.uk ) has a four-night trip from £1,890pp, including two festival tickets, a backstage tour of the Mariinsky, flights and visas.

21 Music in Paris

The Fête de la Musique is celebrated across France, but the capital does it best. You can see some big names for free, but it's more in the spirit of the occasion to wander the backstreets and hear the locals doing it for themselves — anything from accordion-fuelled chanson to thrash metal. Go to Paris on Eurostar (0870 518 6186, www.eurostar.com ).

27 Lions in South Africa

The British and Irish Lions, that is. June sees the cream of the home nations take on the world champions on their own turf. England Rugby Travel (www.englandrugbytravel.com ) has a range of flight-plus-ticket packages — one covering the Tests in Pretoria on June 27 and Johannesburg on July 4 costs £2,049pp. Shame to see the Lions and not the lions too: an 11-night package, including both matches, flights and four nights in a Kruger National Park game lodge starts at £3,899pp.

July

3 Drama in Finland

If you fancy a refreshingly natural break in the Finnish lakeland — and it's worth it — base it around the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Held in the dramatic 15th-century St Olaf's Castle until August 1, it includes works by Puccini, Donizetti and Boito. Tickets start at £30; www.operafestival.fi . Crystal Lakes (0871 231 5661, www.crystallakes.co.uk ) has an eight-day fly-drive for £895pp, including flights, accommodation and car hire.

3 Divas in New Mexico

Our pick of the opera must-sees, however, is a little further afield — in Santa Fe, to be precise. Against a magical desert backdrop, this year's festival, running until August 29, has the French diva Natalie Dessay singing her first Traviata and the world premiere of The Letter, based on the Bette Davis film. Tickets cost £18-£127; www.santafeopera.org . BA (0844 493 0787, www.ba.com ) flies to nearby Albuquerque; from £788. The El Rey Inn (00 1 800-521-1349, www.elreysantafe.com ) has doubles from £66.

9 Rocking out in Serbia

So you reckon Glasto is a bit past it? Look east. The Exit festival just keeps getting better: held by the Danube at the Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, what started as a protest against Slobodan Milosevic is now the liveliest, most engaging bash in Europe, with 190,000 bright-eyed partygoers attending. Tickets cost £72 at www.exitfest.org , where you'll also find details of the camp site and of buses from Belgrade. Fly to the Serbian capital with BA (0844 493 0787, www.ba.com ); from £208.

August

1 Sharks in South Africa

All month, hundreds of ragged-tooth sharks congregate at Aliwal Shoal, off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. They look fearsome — 9ft of killing machine, with razor-sharp fangs all too evident at the business end — but they're docile at this time of year, and safe to swim with. Dive Worldwide (0845 130 6980, www.diveworldwide.com ) will take divers with nerve to meet them; from £1,579pp.

10 Puck Fair in Co Kerry

The oldest street fair in Ireland is also the best. The origins of the Puck Fair at Killorglin (www.puckfair.ie ) go back to an unwanted visit from Cromwell (the "puck" was a billy goat that warned villagers he was on his way), but these days Brits are more than welcome among the annual 100,000 visitors. The ceremonial crowning of the goat is followed by parties, parades, a cattle fair, rides, buskers, lots of Irish dancing and maybe a pint or 10. The fair runs until August 12. Fly to Kerry with Ryanair (0871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com ) and stay at the lovely Ard na Sidhe (00 353 66 97 69 105, www.ardnasidhe.com ; doubles from £149).

11 Fireworks in Plymouth

Flash, bang, wallop, what a contest: the British Firework Championships set the evening sky ablaze above the Hoe. Expect pulsating pyrotechnics as professionals battle it out. For details, visit www.britishfireworks.co.uk — and leave the dog at home.

September

1 Gorging bears in Canada

All this month, the grizzlies of Knight Inlet, on Canada's Pacific coast, concentrate on one thing: eating. The annual pink-salmon run, when thousands of fish battle upriver to reach their spawning grounds, is a wildife phenomenon in its own right, full of desperate drama — but when groups of up to a dozen grizzlies are chasing them through the shallows amid showers of spray, it's spellbinding. On a 10-day trip with Wildlife Worldwide (0845 130 6982, www.wildlifeworldwide.com ), you may also see orcas, humpbacks and dolphins: prices start at £3,295pp, including flights.

5 Bargains in Lille

The city centre transforms into the biggest flea market in Europe for the Braderie, with literally miles of clothing, bric-a-brac and antique stalls, and upwards of a million visitors combing them. Start early on Saturday for the best finds and haggle for all you're worth. Make a day out of it with Eurostar (0870 518 6186, www.eurostar.com ); the first train leaves at 7.10am.

23 Turner in London

Tate Britain hosts our choice for the most intriguing exhibition of 2009. Turner and the Masters will place JMW's canvases alongside those of the painters he sought to emulate — and perhaps outshine. Works by Canaletto, Rubens, Constable, Rembrandt, Poussin and more will square up to those by England's favourite artist until January. Tickets cost £12.50, but get in early at www.tate.org.uk — it should be a sellout.

October

4 Wine in Lazio

A couple of months ago, something miraculous happened in Marino, in Italy's Alban Hills: water was turned into wine, as householders found the local white pouring from their taps. Closer inspection showed it wasn't divine intervention, but a plumbing error: by the time the 2009 Sagra dell'Uva takes place, the booze should have been redirected to its proper place, the Quattro Mori fountain. It flows free all day — drink your fill — and the decorated streets see parades, porchetta stalls, fireworks, dancing and frascati-fuelled revelry. Fly to Rome with Ryanair (0871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com ) and make a day trip of it — it's just 15 miles from the city.

15 Arias in Wexford

Ireland's finest feast of music, the Wexford Festival Opera, made a bold move by demolishing its old Theatre Royal home — but this year's inaugural concerts at the new opera house were hailed as a triumph. This augurs well for the 2009 event, which will run until November 1. The bill will include a version of The Ghosts of Versailles specially revised by the composer, John Corigliano. For more details, visit www.wexfordopera.com , which also offers a comprehensive list of local hotels. Stena Line (0870 570 7070, www.stenaline.co.uk ) runs ferries from Fishguard to nearby Rosslare.

30 Camels in Rajasthan

Hundreds of thousands of tribesmen and animals gather for the camel fair in Pushkar. A vast tented city springs up in the desert for the biggest livestock trading event on the planet — strong adults usually cost about £700, if you're in the market — and all manner of jugglers, storytellers, magicians, musicians and mystics come along for the ride. The sheer energy of the event is astounding, and Bales Worldwide (0845 057 0600, www.balesworldwide.com ) has seven nights, with three at the fair, for about £2,100pp, including flights.

November

1 Classics in Brighton

Will your banger still be running in 100 years? Probably not — but then it wasn't made with the love and craftsmanship lavished on the pre-1905 models that take part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run (www.lbvcr.com ). The 500-plus engines start chugging at Hyde Park in the chilly dawn: layabeds are better off watching en route or at the finish line on Madeira Drive, where they'll putter in from about 10am onwards.

9 History in Berlin

All of eastern Europe will be celebrating the anniversary of the fall of communism, but Berlin — where the wall fell 20 years ago today — will do it biggest. The centrepiece will be a huge multimedia show at the Brandenburg Gate, involving hundreds of decorated 5ft stones toppling domino-style, to symbolise. . . something. Yes, sounds odd to us too, but knowing the way Berliners party, the music, booze and sense of occasion should be unbeatable, whether the dominoes work or not. Fly there with Air Berlin (0871 500 0737, www.airberlin.com ). We'd stay a short walk away at the elegant mitArt Hotel (00 49 30 2839 0430, www.mitart.de ; doubles from £97, B&B).

December

10 Dervishes in Turkey

You won't find a greater contrast to the endless ho, ho, ho back home. Devotees descend on Konya for the eight-day Mevlana dervish festival, 100 miles inland from Turkey's Turquoise Coast, to witness hundreds of Sufi mystics perform one of the world's strangest religious ceremonies, whirling themselves into a trance under the city walls. Unlike the tourist shows in Istanbul, this is the real thing. Cox and Kings (020 7873 5000, www.coxandkings.co.uk ) can tailor-make a seven-night trip to Istanbul and Konya, with three nights at the festival, from £1,295pp, including flights.

25 A Christmas swim

A Christmas Day dip makes a refreshing change from all that stuffing, and if you can't bear to plunge in, one of these events is great fun to watch — which must be why so many draw increasing crowds. They take place all around the British coast, but our picks are at Brighton (usually 11am), Porthcawl (11.30am), Lowestoft (10.30am) and Charmouth (11am — but turn up by 10.30am to see the fancy dress before it's ruined).


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