Holidays – what better way to open up new cultures, traditions and experiences? When you take a break away it’s great to split from the crowd and try something unique. Finding something that captures your attention in places geared up for the typical tourist can be tricky, but here are a few ideas that will have you coming home brimming with memories, not just souvenirs.
Reach for the stars
Are you a budding amateur astronomer? To see a bright blanket of stars above you need a clear night and a spectacular location – which could be closer than you think.
Take Tenerife – on this island light pollution is limited by law and it’s been rewarded with a Starlight Tourist Destination Certificate. Basically, it’s an incredible place to go stargazing. In fact there are many great stellar experiences throughout the Canaries, but the Mount Teide National Park – where you can tour the Teide Observatory – is one of the best. Here you can take the cable car up the mountain to see the sun set, followed by dinner and a show of stars above this incredible natural landscape. It really is other-worldly.
Stargazing can happen by chance of course, especially if you find yourself in a rural setting. Many of our villas in Tuscany are perfect for just that, with endless rolling hills, valleys and less city lights than many other locations. It’s said to be a great place to view the Moon’s craters. It’s also here that Galileo pioneered the telescope, so you’re in good historical company.
Cook up a storm
For an authentic experience of Italy, it simply has to involve food. After all, the Italians are famous for their pizza, pasta and other tantalising dishes.
There are plenty of places here to buy fresh from the land or have a cookery lesson from a generation brought up in the kitchen. Better still, take it one step further by picking or foraging your own ingredients in combination with a masterclass. Trips like truffle hunting give you the chance to source and learn about the ingredients in the gorgeous Tuscan landscape, cook them up in delectable Italian style and finally tuck in to a three course meal.
We’ve heard it on the grapevine
Winemaking is one of the world’s oldest traditions. All over Europe you can find festivals celebrating the good grape, as well as vineyards offering tours, tastings and historical insights. Destinations like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal all produce some exceptional blends, but if you want to do more than quaff it, look out for the grape harvests taking place from mid-August to early October.
This is the ideal time to get involved in the actual process at many harvest festivals. Some of the most renowned vineyards still pick grapes by hand and use old fashioned methods like grape stomping, and welcome visitors taking part. It’s not all work and no play, mind. Wine tourism is full of good cheer, with obligatory feasting and drinking!
Dance like no one’s watching
Salsa like a seňorita, get your rumba groove on, merengue until the morning or find your flamenco feet on your next holiday. Dance is an incredible art form, full of feeling and emotion, mesmerising to watch and even better to try. Spanish culture wouldn’t be the same without it, shaped over the centuries by the Moors and gypsies and now enlisted by UNESCO as an item of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’.
The iconic flamenco originated in Andalucia and symbolises courtship and passion, performed at religious festivals and private celebrations. If you’re planning to see Spain, there are plenty of places to learn their national dance. You can pre-book a lesson in many towns and cities. With expert tuition under your belt, next time you chance upon a fiesta you’ll be joining in, in true Spanish style. Plus it’s a great way to work off those delicious churros!
The not-so-lonely goatherd
Ever thought of being a goatherd for a morning? Probably not. It’s not the typical way to experience some of Portugal’s incredible northern scenery, but it’s probably the most unusual. Armed with binoculars, walking poles and a head goatherd to guide you, hike through the heart of this spectacular landscape alongside a large flock of goats.
Serra D’Arga and Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês are both areas perfect for goat herding. Accompanied by your stone-stomping friends, you’ll blend into the natural surroundings, so you may catch an up-close view of otters, boar, ibex, eagles and wild horses. Close to the Spanish border, your wilderness journey will have you hiking peaks with spectacular views overlooking the vast oak forests and valleys below.