The Lions in New Zealand
This year, New Zealand will be a dream destination for rugby fans and adventure seekers alike. The country’s passion for the All Black’s will reach fever pitch when the British and Irish Lions play a three-test series against the World Champions in June and early July. Expect bedroom and camper van prices to be at a premium, as tens of thousands of Lions fans will travel to The Land of the Long White Cloud.
But New Zealand offers so much more than just rugby, with its hugely diverse landscape with dramatic fiords and the Southern Alps on the South Island to the volcanic springs, national parks and the cosmopolitan cities on the North Island.
Check out: Auckland: One of the best rated cities in the world to visit or live, the City of Sails has an obsession with amazing food and sailing.
Check out: Queenstown: With jaw-dropping landscapes and adventure sports, it’s no wonder the Irish rugby team loved staying here during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Mexico has something for everyone. From the ancient Mesoamerican cities of the Aztecs and the Maya to the vividly coloured Spanish colonial towns, to the Megapolis that is Mexico City, one can absorb over 2,000 years of architecture and culture. Yet there is so much more. Visit the Northwest and take in the huge dizzying Copper Canyon and the Sierra Tarahumara before surfing the rugged Pacific coastline around Acapulco. Alternatively, chill out in the palm covered beaches of the turquoise Caribbean of the Mayan Riveria.
Check out: Mexico City: A sensory overload of colour, Mariachi Bands, street vendors and performers with ancient, colonial and modern architecture. It’s also just a short excursion to the pyramids of Teotihuacan.
Check out: The Mayan Riviera: Channel your inner Indiana Jones and take a tour to the Mayan cities of Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tulum in between partying along the Caribbean coast.
The Northern Lights in Iceland
The Northern Lights are one of nature’s more extravagant and mystical displays. They are caused when particles from the solar wind collide with the earth’s magnetosphere causing a multicoloured, swirling, twisting light show in the sky. While they can be seen anywhere in the Arctic Circle, Iceland has become a go-to destination in recent times. Along with its volcanic, alien-like wild landscape, Iceland also has some peculiar delicacies like Hakarl; shark fermented and hung out to dry for four to five months.
Check out: Reykjavik: Iceland’s capital and only major city is famous for its clubs and bars. As most locals don’t venture out till around midnight, with any luck you can catch the Northern Lights before hitting the bars and clubs.
Check out: The Blue Lagoon: Possibly Iceland’s most famous attraction, but who could resist taking a dip in 40 degree water surrounded by ice and snow with the bleak landscape as a backdrop?
The Great Wall and Forbidden City in Beijing
China is, quite simply, utterly massive. It is bordered by 14 countries including Russia, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. The Great Wall was started 2,300 years ago and is 21,196 km long. To put it in perspective, the US-Mexico border is only 3,200 km long and Ireland is 486 km long from north to south.
There are 3 recommended Great Wall sections near Beijing:
• Mutianyu – The most fully-restored section of the Great Wall.
• Jinshanling – The most popular Great Wall hiking route, with amazing original architecture.
• Jiankou – The section that appears most on Chinese postcards.
Home to 24 Emperors, the Forbidden Palace has a staggering 9,999 rooms filled with artefacts. With 980 wooden buildings and 14 million visitors a year, you’ll definitely need to get there early.
Check out: Jiankou: It can be steep and perilous, but it is a classic section of the Great Wall and will provide ample opportunity for the perfect profile picture.
Check out: Eat like an Emperor: Many of the restaurants located near the Forbidden City offer imperial dishes that were created during the time of the Emperors, solely for their tables. Who knew Peking Duck was a dish fit only for a king?
Grand Tour of the Golden Triangle: Seville, Granada, Cordoba
With Spain virtually on our doorstep in terms of flights, you can make like a Victorian and plan your own mini Grand Tour of the medieval Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus, or Andalucia as it’s known today. The cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada provide the curious tourist with a feast of resplendent Islamic palaces, gardens and of course mosques. And then there’s the tapas!
Rent a car at Malaga airport and head off on your tour, returning to the Costa del Sol for a few days of Sun, Sand and Sea. Alternatively, if you go during winter, you could head to the Sierra Nevada mountains for some skiing after you’ve had your fill of sightseeing. How many people do you know who have gone to Spain to ski?
Check out: Seville: The best time to go to Seville is during the spring festival of Feria, when the air is filled with the scents of orange blossom and jasmine and serious dancing, eating and drinking till the wee ours is the norm. Visit the Alcazar Palace built in the Moorish style for a Christian king. The gardens are used for the Water Gardens of Dorne in the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’. Nearby is the largest Christian cathedral in the world, the Giralda.
Check out: Cordoba: As the Arab capital of Al-Andalus, Cordoba also served as the cultural and learning centre for Muslims in Spain. The Mezquita is one of the most famous buildings and one of the most important mosques in the world. Its stunning beauty is matched by its precision engineering.
Check out: Granada: The Alhambra is of course the jewel in the crown of your tour. With its maze of pools and patios, the sand-coloured complex of Moorish palaces sits atop a mountain overlooking the city. A breathtaking must-see. In the city, every drink comes with a free tapas.
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