Unexpected destinations picture perfect for a February through March getaway—from surfing the Pipeline in Oahu to sipping keg-fresh Munich doppelbok
Dress up for Venice Carnevale
Why now? To don a mask amid the canals
Where? Piazza San Marco, Venice
Dates: From two Fridays before Ash Wednesday to Shrove Tuesday (31st of January to February 17)
The world’s best-known baroque fancy dress party, Carnevale Venizia is as extravagant as Rio’s Carnaval is riotous. Venetians have celebrated Carnevale since at least the 15th century, when private clubs organized masked balls and entertainment included bull baiting and firing live dogs from cannons. By the 18th century, Venice was in the grip of hedonism, and Carnevale lasted two months. After years of decline, it was abandoned when Mussolini outlawed masks, but was revived in 1979, quickly retaking its place among the world’s finest festivals.
The official opening is on Saturday, when a masked procession leaves Piazza San Marco around 4 p.m. Highlights include the Doge’s Ball (anyone with a costume and dance skills can go) and a parade of decorated boats and gondolas down the Grand Canal. Plenty goes on outside the main events, too; street performers filled the square and an ice rink is sometimes set up in Campo San Polo. Buy a mask and soak up the Carnevale spirit. carnevale-venezia.com
Dive Glover’s Reef
Why now? For lovely weather–it’s dry season between the Christmas and Easter tourist peaks
Where? 30 miles offshore, Southern Belize
Dates: December to May
Named after 18th-century English pirate John Glover, Glover’s Reef is the southernmost of Belize’s three atolls. Six small cayes of white sand and palm trees are dotted along the atoll’s southeastern rim, supporting a handful of low-key resorts and diving bases.
The reef sits atop a ridge on the edge of the continental shelf, surrounded by huge drop-offs. On the east side, where visibility is usually more than 100 feet, the ocean floor plummets to 2,500 feet. Divers regularly see Spotted Eagle Rays, Southern Stingrays, turtles, Moray Eels, dolphins, sharks, groupers, barracudas, and tropical reef fish. Coral patches in the central lagoon are brilliant for snorkelers. gloversreef.org
Hike the National Trail
Why now? Hit the desert before the summer heat arrives
Where? Tel Dan to Taba
Dates: March to May
The country-traversing Israel national trail was inaugurated in 1995, and rambles for 600 miles through the country’s least populated and most scenic areas, from Tal Ben near the Lebanese border in the north to the top of the Red Sea in the south. It is remarkably varied and beautiful.
It takes about 45 to 60 days to complete the whole trail, but for a short taste, head to the Eilat Mountains at the route’s southern end. From the waterfall at Ein Netafim (three quarters of a mile off the main road), follow the trail to Shehoret Canyon, ten miles away. Near the mouth of the Shehoret sit the Amram Pillars where there’s a campsite. Keep walking south for a few hours to the trail’s end, passing through the Nakhal Gishron Gorge to the Egyptian border. israeltrail.net
Cruise the Nile
Why now? The mighty river is full to bursting, and the weather is wonderfully mild
Where? Cairo to Aswan
Dates: February to April
It’s the most timeless of river journeys. The scenes on the banks of the Nile (swaying palms, oxen plowed fields, mudbrick farmhouses, and ancient temples) have changed very little for centuries, if not millennia. Also, the Nile is so much more than a river—it is the lifeblood of Egypt, the water wall that’s believed to divide the land of the living (east) from the land of the dead (west).
To sail along the Nile is the most iconic of Egypt experiences, and February—when temperatures range from around 64°F in Cairo to 77°F in Aswan—has the perfect climate for it. That month is also when the river is at its fullest, so the floodplains look lush, and there’s plenty of water to ensure easy sailing. If you come when the water level is low, mooring conditions could be restricted and you may need to be bused about, and where is the ancient Egyptian romance in that? egypt.travel Seen here: Sanctuary M.S Nile Adventurer cruise carrier.co.uk
Raise a glass at Starkbierzeit
Why now? It’s strong beer time!
Where? Paulaner Keller, Munich
Dates: Two weeks around St. Joseph’s Day (March 19)
Meet Oktoberfest’s little brother, the down-to-earth sibling whose company can be enjoyed without the crowds. For Bavarians, Starkbierzeit (strong beer time) marks a new season of beer drinking, coming just as summer begins to peep over the horizon. It is when brewers parade their most lethal ales, the doppelboks (alcohol content of 7% and above). The festival harks back to Paulaner monks of the 17th century, who brewed the first doppelbok to help them through their Lent fast (Starkbierzeit first keg is tapped at the Paulaner Keller). You’ll also find stone lifting contests taking place in the Löwenbräukeller beer hall. Just follow the grunts. meunchen.de
Surf the Pipeline
Why now? Your best chance to catch a big wave outside pro surfing conditions
Where? Oahu, Hawaii
Dates: February and March
Hawaii lies smack in the path of the major swells that race across the Pacific, with the biggest waves rolling into the north shores of the islands in winter, from November through February. On Oahu’s north shore, the glassy tubes of Bonsai Pipeline have become the unofficial world mecca of surfing. Winter swells can bring in 30-foot waves that break onto a shallow reef, while equally hazardous currents pull out the surfers and boogie boarders. If you are experienced, the best bet for snagging any space on a wave is to come at dawn, slightly after the peak surf season. Alternatively, wait until the summer when the Pipeline will have mellowed into a swimmer’s delight. To find it, head for Ehukai Beach Park and walk about 300 feet to the left. gohawaii.com
Tour the Galapagos
Why now? The sea is warm, the turtles are nesting, and seal pups line the shores
Where? 700 miles west of mainland Ecuador
Dates: March and April
The Galapagos Islands guarantee close encounters of the wildlife kind—above and below the sea. This remote archipelago was known to early explorers as Las Islas Encantadas (The Enchanted Isles) and none of that enchantment has been lost down the centuries. Visitors continue to fall under the islands’ spell as they come face-to-face with abundant bird life and lumbering giant tortoises. Large marine mammals are abundant. Sea lions and fur seals thrive in the rich waters of the Humboldt Current, and visitors are almost guaranteed close interactions. While cruising between islands, keep an eye out for dolphins and whales. Reptiles are island pin-up inhabitants, too, with giant tortoises, land iguanas, and marine iguanas in abundance. Keep an additional eye out, too, for the curious courtship dances of the albatross and Blue Footed Boobies. galapagos.org
Have Some Laughs
Why now? A right giggle at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Where? Melbourne, Victoria
Dates: Late March, for three weeks
Laugh your ruddy socks off, cackle till you cry, guffaw so much your belly aches: antipodean autumn sees Melbourne host the world’s third-largest comedy festival (behind Montréal and Edinburgh) and the largest cultural event by far in Australia—one that will tempt a titter from even the most miserablist onlooker. Last year, the festival was host to 469 shows and 6,488 smaller performances (including 159 free ones) thanks to the talents of no fewer than 2,228 artists. For three weeks, the Aussie city is taken over by standup comics, cabaret artists, actors, and street performers, as well as film screenings and multimedia broadcasts. The Melbourne Town Hall precinct becomes a huge comedy hub, and acts—both big-name and undiscovered pop up all over the city. Mostly it’s just a lot of fun. comedyfestival.com.au
Adapted from The Best Place to be Today: 365 Things to Do & the Perfect Day to Do Them. Compiled and edited by Sarah Baxter. Copyright 2014 by Lonely Planet Publications.