Her name was Rio and she dances on the sand,
Just like that river twisting through a dusty land,
And when she shines she really shows you all she can,
Oh Rio Rio dance across the Rio Grande!
Has ever a song introduced a city better? Long, lazy stretches of sun-drenched sand, looked over by a sprawling city that at its peak has one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, Christ the Redeemer.
And stand down 80s music fans. I know that Duran Duran weren’t actually singing about Brazil (and their hit Rio was actually something of a ballad to the USA, with Rio Grande referring to the river in Colorado). But I’m going to ask for your support in allowing Simon Le Bon and company to introduce one city and one huge, rich and diverse country that is going to get a lot of attention this year. I’m talking about you Brazil!
Firstly, let’s get football fever out of the way, which is something most people won’t be saying this year – at least not until their team is knocked out anyway. Rio de Janeiro and eleven other cities will be the focus of all football fans when the World Cup kicks off in June. Brazil is getting ready to welcome the 32 competing teams and an estimated 600,000 fans from around the world in what is only the second time in 50 years that the competition has been hosted in South America. There is little doubt, therefore, that the streets, bars and beaches of all the cities and towns in Brazil will have a carnival atmosphere during the competition, not least because Brazil is the favourite to take the trophy (again… sigh).
Speaking of carnivals, if football’s not your thing but partying is, then get ready to don sequins and shake your money maker in early 2014 by visiting Brazil for Mardi Gras. Most of the country’s cities will host traffic-stopping carnival celebrations including street parades, live music and samba dancing. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo will have arguably the biggest parties, and festivities in the northeast will look very different with the Bahia-style of carnival drawing strong influence from Brazilian-African heritage and music. Celebrations begin on February 28th in 2014 and will go on until the following week, ending the night before Ash Wednesday.
Now let’s take a closer look at the lesser known but equally exciting and colourful World Cup host cities. The country’s capital – and now home to a newly refurbished sports stadium – Brasilia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its abundance of modernist architecture. It is of course also home to the Brazilian President, the federal government and the country’s Supreme Court, which is definitely one of the city’s architectural highlights as well as the famous Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge.
credit: Josa Jr
Heading towards the coast, Belo Horizonte promises a ‘beautiful horizon’, the meaning of its name, but the city is perhaps more famous in Brazil for being its ‘capital of pubs’. Every year, hungry visitors flock to the Comida di Buteco competition, which aims to find the very best pub grub being served by the city’s many neighbourhood bars, but don’t expect an English roast or hotdogs – this is a celebration of local flavours! Belo Horizonte is also the home of cachaça , a famous liquor made from sugarcane, essential for the most Brazilian of cocktails, a caipirinha.
Further up the coast is Salvador – or São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, as it used to be called – a city also referred to as Brazil’s ‘capital of happiness’. Salvador is the centre of Afro-Brazilian culture, the home of Capoeira and is also where you’ll find some of Brazil’s most-loved foods, strongly influenced by West African flavours, like acarajé or ‘akara’ as it is known in Nigeria, where it’s believed to originate. But I recommend you don’t get preoccupied with too much food and culture, because the city is home to an astonishing 50 miles of beaches and has some of the best surfing spots in Brazil.
credit: Danielle Pereira
One of the World Cup’s most northern host cities is Natal, which charmingly means Christmas in Portuguese. Often overlooked by tourists to Brazil, Natal is well worth taking a closer look at thanks to a reputation as one of the safest cities in Brazil and because of the Via Costeira, a scenic coastal highway that provides easy access to Natal’s beautiful urban beaches. Its location also means it has year long sunshine and warm tropical temperatures, with November to April being the hottest months.
And finally I want to highlight Manaus, or ‘the Heart of the Amazon’, the world’s second longest river runs right through this inland city, and it’s the most populous settlement in the Amazon. Despite its distance from the other host cities, I think Manaus is a very special destination because of its legacy as an established eco-tourist haven and a fascinating history from European colony in the seventeenth century to the centre of Brazil’s booming rubber industry in the late 1800s. Needless to say, you should head to Manaus if exploring the Amazon Rainforest is on your bucket list and even in the city you can see a wide range of varied plant and wildlife, including the endangered pied tamarind monkey.
So there you have it, my quick overview of why the World Cup is going to make 2014 Brazil’s year, along with just a snapshot – actually a torn off, teensy little corner of a snapshot – of what there is to enjoy in this vibrant and diverse country. I’ve not even touched the sides of how much Brazil can offer, so perhaps you’d like to share your best Brazil travel tips and suggestions?
Pump up the central heating and turn down your blankets; winter isn’t coming to Europe, it’s very much here and it’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, now the festivities of Christmas are over and you can’t even wear your Christmas jumper anymore, there’s really nothing warm to look forward to for months. Unless, of course, you’re smart enough to escape and head south, which is something I’m thinking of doing. So, I set about doing a little research and a lot of daydreaming and here are the results, my top five favourite places in Europe where I won’t need my winter coat.
credit: Thomas Tolkein
Without comparison, the warmest place to be in Europe during winter months is on one of the Canary Islands. Sitting pretty in the Atlantic, off the coast of West Africa, winter months have nearly 200 hours of sunshine and temperatures are warm enough to sunbathe in. With a wide variety of activities to enjoy on each island, and some quite dramatic scenery and interesting history to explore, the Canary Islands don’t disappoint as a winter holiday destination. Indulge in some luxury on Gran Canaria, ride a camel on Lanzarote, discover Tenerife’s foodie scene or lie on one of Fuertaventura’s white sand beaches. And if you’re not sure which Canary Island is for you, read this post to find out which one is best suited to you and your family.
Another island lost in the Atlantic, Madeira is where many go to escape winter thanks to its mild temperatures and as much as ten hours of sunshine a day in January. A gem worth discovering at any time of year, Madeira is especially great to visit in winter months due to the reduced numbers of visitors and the low cost of living will make it a very affordable trip after your Christmas splurging. The island’s capital, Funchal, is a wonderful mix of modern and historic with a steep sprawling hillside offering magnificent views of the sea and white-walled and red-roofed houses below, but don’t panic, there’s a cable car to facilitate your climb. Away from the city you can find black volcanic sand beaches, the world’s largest laurel forest and some of the best nature treks in Europe. Don’t forget your sun cream!
Island of Crete, Greece
Greece’s largest and most populated island is found deep in the sunshine-happy Mediterranean Sea and promises temperatures that stay well above 15 degrees Celsius. While the locals will consider this to be positively chilly, for visitors from colder climes, it’s the perfect temperature for taking a hike or bike ride through the island’s mountainous landscape – though be warned it will be chillier up there! Alternatively, stick to the south coast, which is the warmest side of the island and here you’ll find it’s warm enough for the local swallows to stay here all year-round rather than flying off to Africa like their northern European cousins, which tells you how mild it can be during winter. In addition to an abundance of beachside restaurants and bars to enjoy sea views, Crete is a great choice for winter-dodging history buffs as the island is considered to the home of the earliest recorded civilisation in Europe and there are several historic sites to explore including ancient Minoan castles and century old churches.
A little further southeast in the Mediterranean and quite a bit warmer, Cyprus is another island worth escaping to during winter. Temperatures can be as warm as 20 degrees Celsius on the coast and having warmed up all summer, the sea is almost as warm too. This should mean it’s comfortable enough to swim around Aphrodite’s Rock near Paphos, an act that is supposed to give your love life a boost! On average, Cyprus has around 180 hours of sunshine in winter months, which is as much as London gets in May! In terms of what you can do while staying on Cyprus – apart from gloating on Facebook about how warm it is – the choice is yours; enjoy fresh seafood in a coastal restaurant, set off on a hiking adventure, take a boat cruise along the Akamas peninsula or get lost in Old Paphos, an area of great archaeological wealth where you can view mosaics dating back to the 2nd Century.
With a similar climate to Cyprus, Malta is one of the Mediterranean’s best kept secrets, often forgotten in winter, which means that the streets of capital city Valletta or the beaches of nearby Gozo, are emptier than during busy summer months. Surround yourself with some of Europe’s finest examples of Baroque and Neo-Classical architecture by staying in a penthouse apartment in Valletta where you’ll have a range of museums and galleries on your doorstep, or enjoy the city’s growing coffee culture, where you can sit – outside, of course! – and watch the world go by. With temperatures dipping in and out of the low twenties, expect sunshine and a blue sky above, perfect a boat trip to the island of Comino’s turquoise waters or head north on the mainland to Popeye’s Village, a colourful collection of houses built for the 1980 Popeye movie, a favourite with children.
Feeling tempted to escape the winter for a warmer European destination? Let me know where you decide to go and if any of these take your fancy you can find a self-catering apartment in all five destinations here – Canary Islands, Madeira, Crete, Cyprus, Malta.
Turns out I can’t not wade in with some predictions for 2014. I’m a bit of a list lover and New Year’s the perfect opportunity to add mine to the myriad floating around (everything from ‘Best Put Down’ to ‘Worst Selfie’). Stick to what you know I say, so here’s where I predict you should be travelling to in 2014.
If you live in the great city of Glasgow, you’ll probably have completely forgotten that from July 23rd to August 3rd 2014 it’s playing host to The Commonwealth Games. The preparations seem to have gone on forever. But, as a visitor, I predict the results will be something quite spectacular. Apart from the games themselves, the architecture that’s been born off the back of them is stunning. Plus you get to stay in one of the most hospitable cities in the UK, and since the games finish on the 3rd of August there’s hardly any good reason I can see, why you wouldn’t just head off to Edinburgh for The Edinburgh International Festival (first two weeks in August).
Sticking with sport and Scotland, The Ryder Cup is being held at Gleneagles in Perth from September 25th to 28th 2014. This is the first time Scotland has hosted this internationally renowned golfing challenge since 1973, so it’s a bit of a thing. ‘Bit of a thing’ barely begins to describe Perthshire, so even if you’re a Golf Widow (or widower) there’s lots to keep you interested. Perthshire’s home to Glamis Castle and the lovely city of Perth itself. It’s also for children who don’t want to hang around working out the difference between a Birdie and an Eagle. And for foodies, it’s arguably the best place in Scotland to be.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A slightly more exotic sporting location than Scotland (not if you’re Brazilian, obviously), Rio de Janeiro is just one of Brazil’s cities hosting FIFA World Cup 2014 matches between June 12th and July 14th 2014. But I’m giving it a shout out, because not only is it lovely and huge and sometimes very strange, it’s also where I like to think I’ll spend New Year 2015. With upwards of 2 million people on Copacabana Beach. Watching an outstanding firework display. Setting sail my small, white paper boat filled with offerings to the Goddess of Water. And then partying until I can party no more – don’t worry you’ll have got over your recent New Year fatigue by then.
There’s only one constant about Iceland’s landscape: it will be inconsistent with anything you ever expected. It’s made ‘mythical land’ appearances in movies like Thor and Prometheus and features heavily in Game of Thrones (visit and you’ll see why), but Ben Stiller’s 2013 ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, Iceland is itself – as well as Afghanistan, The Himalayas and Greenland. This gives you an idea of the diversity of a country where even the capital Reykjavik is more charming, imagined, Nordic fishing port than major city. ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ might not have been wholly loved by the critics but no one failed to say how gorgeous it looked.
Sometimes rugged, often challenging and unfailingly charming, Yorkshire is the Grand Depart for 2014’s Tour de France. Leeds is where it all starts and this lively, beautiful restored Northern England city couldn’t be a more perfect introduction to another lovely part of the UK.
The Seychelles, South West Indian Ocean
One of the most special and breath taking places to visit, The Seychelles are known for beautiful beaches and the type of sea people can’t resist calling ‘azure’. They’re also a truly unspoiled environment. And since 2014 is The Year of Small Island Developing States, I’m hinting it might be the time to go see before everyone else does.
In 2014, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is up for a slew of design awards and it’s a worthy contender. But, stunning as the museum is, it’s not all that’s happening designwise in Amsterdam this year. The Centraal Station construction is on-going and avant-garde cafes and bars are all over and Noord-District is home to really exciting and brave development. But, if you hanker after a touch of the traditional with your design, I think this is the year you should visit before the city’s Red Light District is completely consumed by the new.
2014 is the centenary of the start of WW1, the war they said would end all wars, but sadly didn’t. With its chaos and vast loss of life WW1 is seen as an end to innocence. The experience of visiting the battlefield sites at Ypres, Passchendaele and Tyne-Cot are often mistaken as exclusively adult, but in France and Belgium a visit is regularly included in the school year. This year, Belgium commemorates the centenary everywhere and events range from small and personal to international. If you haven’t visited the WW1 battlefield sites, you’ll be moved and fascinated.
credit: Martin Kauffman
If you’ve ever heard or seen René Redzepi, founder of Noma, interviewed you won’t have failed to be charmed by his humour, passion and generosity. So this year I predict Copenhagen is worth a visit to eat at ‘Amass’, former Noma’ Head Chef, Matthew Orlando’s new restaurant. It’s already a design hot ticket and the food holds true to a style that’s distinctly contemporary Danish.
It might seem as if Louvre Galleries are springing up everywhere at the moment, but the one I think is hottest is almost on home territory in Lens, Pas-de Calais (you could almost twin with my Belgium prediction). The Louvre, Lens is an incredible exhibition space extending the Louvre, Paris’ programme of allowing works to be seen (often for the first time) by wider audiences. The building’s superb glass and metal structure is very fluid and light and includes a unique underground area where the public can see work in storage and watch restoration projects.
I could go on and on, but 10’s traditional for New Year lists. Hopefully it’s more inspirational than some you’ve seen so far.
There are two certainties this time of year: no one loves turkey enough to eat it three days running and holiday adverts are ready to roll the minute midnight strikes on December 26th. And why not? If you weren’t one of the lucky ones who found their stocking filled with ‘get out of winter free’ cash on Christmas morning, planning a holiday could just be compensation enough to make up for the disappointment.
But if you’re as cynical as I am about the endless ads where sweet, cherubic toddlers daintily sip organic juice on remarkably deserted beaches while their equally gorgeous parents lounge nearby looking so relaxed they could quite possibly be dead, you’ve probably already been on a family holiday or two. You’ll know that for every romantic dinner and charming child photo-op there’s a sun, sea and surveillance flipside. And experience will tell you, the secret of harmony, peace and relative calm, is good forward planning and choosing the best spots early.
credit: Jess Pac
So – with still a few shopping days till Christmas – here are my 5 top family holiday destinations for 2014. I’ve mixed it up with beaches and cities, picked with an eye on a wide choice of family-friendly holiday rental accommodation and tried to cover most of the bases.
NEW YORK CITY – FOR TEENS AND TODDLERS
New York basically looks as if it was built for the sole purpose of training superheroes and does attitude as standard so it couldn’t be more perfect for the average world-weary teen. Think they’ve seen it all? Take them up a few of the taller buildings, into Lady Liberty’s hat or for a compulsory sail on the Staten Island Ferry (it’s free) and your teen can think again. And that’s before you even get started on the stores, streets, snacks and the utterly self-assured New Yorkers themselves. What might be a little less obvious is how good New York can be for tinier travellers and teens-in-training. The city’s approach to parenting is as determinedly competitive as just about everything else it does. So you can’t swing a buggy without hitting puppet shows, ferry rides, zoos, funfairs, circuses, bike rides in Central Park, gargantuan toy shops and an almost endless supply of interactivity.
DUBROVNIK – FOR ALL ROUNDERS
Between the beautifully quaint prettiness of its Medieval Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), ideal Mediterranean climate and Adriatic beaches, Dubrovnik’s a grown-up city where children fit perfectly too. Don’t let the relaxed, shorts and sandals dress code deceive you, Dubrovnik is ancient and cultured and has a 45 day Summer Festival of art, music, drama and spectacle to prove it. When it’s not actively entertaining, the city is still walkable and wonderful to explore. Beaches, islands, forests, gardens and parks tick all the child-friendly boxes. And a few days in the company of the unfailingly polite and charming people of Dubrovnik and you’ll soon see why one of the city’s most historically renowned exports is Diplomacy.
CRETE – FOR ESCAPISTS
Crete might be the largest of the Greek Islands, it’s certainly one of the best known, but if you avoid the big beach crowds there’s still plenty of unspoiled adventure to be had. Mountains of all shapes and sizes make the perfect escape routes for hiking, walking and climbing. The main beaches come complete with cafes and bars but, pack a picnic (local food markets are part and parcel of a Cretan holiday), and you’ll find coves and bays to call your own. There are safe waters for swimming, caves to explore, gorges and valleys to conquer, cycle routes for all types of cyclists and countless places to just stop and stare. The Greek Islanders are famous for their child-centred lifestyle and that easy, relaxed attitude is effortlessly extended to visitors.
VALENCIA – FOR CITY TYPES
Spain’s third largest city used to languish in the shadow of Madrid and Barcelona but that’s all changed. Valencia is as fresh and smart as Barcelona, with just as much going on as Madrid and – because third always comes with a complex – the city tries harder every which way. Sure you’ll find all the galleries, museums and monuments you could possibly wish for, but if you’re with tech-savvy small travellers Valencia goes all out to interactively entertain. I can guarantee you’ll be roped into more than one visit to the city’s innovative Biopark, you might as well get a season ticket for the aquarium and if you’re not renting next to the Science Museum make sure you’re on a direct transport route. And – like all Spain’s major cities – Valencia loves to shop, eat out, party and stay up late, so grown-ups get a big chunk of a holiday here too.
CORSICA – FOR THRILL SEEKERS
credit: cremona daniel
Cliffs, coves and corniches are the three ‘C’s’ that define Corsica. It’s one of Europe’s most exciting destinations for travellers who like their cycling with hard climbs and hairpin bends, don’t want crowded beaches and won’t give a village a second look unless it’s precariously balanced on a crag. A small enough island to enjoy every aspect, Corsica does resort style beaches as easily as secluded coves. Sea caves and sailing are almost compulsory. Towns, characterised by elegant plazas and pristine architecture , are very French but with plenty Italian in there too. Small villages range from remote and mysterious in the heart of the mountains to hanging over the sea round the island’s rugged coastline. And because eating is second only to climbing and cycling here, the food is wonderful, fresh, local and you’re expected to make a meal of every meal.
So here ends my top five family holiday recommendations for 2014. But since it’s not even Christmas 2013 yet, I’m bound to think of a few more to add to the list before the year’s out.
Featured image by jonmartin ()
Legend has it, Scotland got Hogmanay as compensation for bagpipes. The Great God of National Identity looked down, realised the Scots were condemned to an eternity of mournful dirges and said, ‘Here, have an insane party once a year to make up for it …. I am not without mercy.’ And Hogmanay was born.
credit: capn madd matt
Admittedly my details are a bit vague. But the bit about the bagpipes does have a certain ring of truth. And there’s no doubt that the Scots do have a tradition of seeing in the New Year like they don’t intend to live much past the 1st of January anyway.
credit: Ben Cooper
A bit of a ‘do’ for the bells is compulsory from Orkney to Stranraer. There are a few isolated spots where ‘insane party’ translates as ‘a wee sherry and a slice of fruit cake’. Certain restrained types even make do with some light ‘first footing’ (365 days of good luck befalls you if a tall, dark stranger pitches up at the door on the stroke of midnight, but it’s Scotland, so no guarantees). And then there are the Letter-Of-The-Legend-Die-Hards who don’t recognise the start of anything, let alone a New Year, unless the music’s loud, the partying fierce and you can’t move for fireworks, food, drink and much, much, much reeling and birling – Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland’s capital starts celebrating Hogmanay as soon as it can on New Year’s Eve with the annual Carnival on Market Street kicking off at 11am to let little Hogmanayers have all the fun of the fair before the festivities get too grown-up. This year there’s a giant Ferris wheel, all the usual ‘win an unfeasibly large furry creature’ type stalls and a seemingly endless supply of sugary snacks. After dark the Carnival lights up the Old Town’s tenements and towers spectacularly and rides with height restrictions and death-based names come into their own. This is probably the time to start thinking about alternative events if your Hogmanay companions are small enough to look genuinely cute in a onesie.
credit: Sarah Ross photography
My money’s on the Torchlight Procession this year. Reinventing the idea of ‘spectacle’ completely, upwards of 35,000 people gather at 7pm on the city’s George V Bridge and walk en-masse with flaming torches to Calton Hill for the annual Son et Lumière Finale. And all you have to do is buy a voucher (£8 in advance at www.edinburghshogmanay.com) pick up your torch on the day and be there. Calton Hill’s closed to all but Torch Carriers, so the walk and the £8 also entitles you to arguably the city’s best view – if getting to carry a big, lit torch through Edinburgh at night wasn’t quite exciting enough.
If you don’t make it to the Torchlight Procession, you could always head to Edinburgh’s venerable St. Gile’s Cathedral on the Royal Mile for the Hogmanay Candlelit Concert. Haydn tops the bill this year, along with Baroque classics and some essential Bach. You’ll find St. Gile’s Cathedral Choir in good voice as ever and they’re joined in force by several celebrated, young, international soloists. Tickets are £16 and bookable online at www.edinburghshogmanay.com.
credit: Lee Carson
Sounds a bit sedate? You’ll be wanting the Street Party then. This is one of the original and best in the UK, so it’s understandably very popular and tickets only – really, no ticket, no party, it’s the rule. But for your ticket price (£20) you get DJ’s, bands and non-stop party right through midnight and on into the wee small hours (as they possibly don’t say in Edinburgh). There’s also food, drink and thousands and thousands of people – if you were ever anxious about having no one to kiss at Midnight your worries end here.
Traditionalists might want to get in the party mood with a few reels and jigs courtesy of the UK’s biggest outdoor ceilidh, The Keilidh. Part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party the all singing, all dancing, ceilidh calling, strip the willowing Keilidh is a perfect warm-up or an event unto itself, depending on how you like your dancing. Tickets for The Keilidh are £37 and give you access to the Street Party too – and it’s on the Mound Precinct so pole position for the city’s incredible midnight Firework Display.
Speaking of midnight. This year Edinburgh has taken ownership of the whole kissing, teary-eyed, sentimental, over-emotional shooting match and even given it a name: Midnight Moment (it doesn’t sound so bad if you think of it in context, sort of). Calton Hill and the Castle will be setting off a ferocious amount of fireworks as usual and, as I said before, no shortage of people to celebrate with at the Street Party. But Midnight Moment’s real hook is Edinburgh’s ambition to achieve the world’s biggest rendition of Auld Lang Syne – you’ll find the lyrics online at www.edinburghshogmanay.com, so no excuses I’m afraid.
The Street Party isn’t everyone’s dram at Hogmanay, but don’t be despondent. Pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants all over the city are heralding in 2014 in their own way. And there’s no shortage of things happening that don’t involve being outdoors – Edinburgh is not warm on January 1st!
If you are outdoors, wear warm clothes – the Torchlight Procession’ torches are wax, so you might want to dress down for that event. Tickets for everything should be bought or booked in advance (things do sell out). And if you’re in doubt about anything at all, visit www.edinburghshogmanay.com, they’ve got a downloadable events programme and that’s where you’ll find the Auld Lang Syne lyrics.
credit: The Queen’s Hall
What else can I say? Clearly Edinburgh’s got Hogmanay organised so in Woody Allen’s words, ‘All you have to do is turn up’, or something like that. Have a wonderful Hogmanay (even if you’re somewhere that doesn’t call it that) and here’s to a great 2014!
Featured image by Chris Watt.