February might not seem a very inspiring month, but there's a lot out there if you know where to look
Gray though it may be as we crawl towards spring, maybe it's time to take advantage of the fact that not as many people travel around this time of year. Here's a little look at a few things we think will get you excited...
Wild walks, New Zealand
New Zealand is generally high on a lot of peoples' travel list, and for good reason. Stunning scenery, friendly people, exciting cities and lots of outdoor activities mean there's loads on offer.
February might even be the best time to go too, seeing as even though summer's coming to an end, it's still warm and sunny. It's also the end of the school holidays (schools restart in either the last week of January or the first week of February), so there'll be fewer people around and things might be a little bit cheaper.
Hike in the national parks, swim in the lakes, go kayaking or rafting, hire a mountain bike and explore the trails, or try a couple of the Nine Great Walks. Among the thousands upon thousands of kilometers of hiking trails across the islands, these nine show the beauty of New Zealand at its very best.
Each trail takes between two and six days to complete, and vary in their difficulty. Some follow ancient Maori trails, while some are custom-designed to take you via majestic views, along deep valleys, through dense forests, or across open plains where you can see forever.
Some require a kayak, others traverse the coast, but all of them are some of the greatest walks you will ever do. Maybe this February is the month to tick New Zealand off your list.
Carnival season, Europe
Traditionally, the amount of carnivals in Europe and elsewhere is because of the coming of Lent, so people were ready for a bit of a blow-out before the serious business of six weeks of fasting, prayer, repentance and such.
Nowadays these religious traditious don't hold as strongly, but people have continued to have the festivals. There are hundreds of festivals across the continent, but here are three we've picked out.
20-28 February are the dates for the Cologne Carnival. Actually the carnival officially starts on 11 November, but all events lead uo to the final week when everything goes crazy.
There are parties everywhere as pubs, parks, streets and squares all become centers of celebration, with residents of the city in brightly-colored costumes. Closing times for bars are pretty much ignored, so raise a glass of the local Kolsch beer and join in the fun!
Almost as over-the-top is the celebration in the little-known Spanish town of Sitges, southwest of Barcelona. From 18-26 February there are parades and performances, all of them massively flamboyant and colorful, and rejoicing in names such as The Burial of the Sardine and The Debauchery Parade.
Between 15-29 February, the city of Nice holds its carnival as well, which is a lot less traditional than those mentioned above, with live bands and shows to go with the parades.
A beautiful city in its own right, seeing the skyline lit up with fireworks while standing on the beach is an amazing sight, as is the flower battle: a day of parades with floats covered in flowers that locals try to catch, as hundreds of thousands of them are tossed into the crowds lining the streets.
Art comes to life, Mumbai, India
Beginning on the first Saturday of February every year, the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival celebrated its tenth year in 2019 and, in 2020, looks to be going from strength. It began with a mission to "physically upgrade the Kala Ghoda sub-precinct and make it the Art District of Mumbai", and it seems to be working, with the festival attracting visitors from across the region and the world.
The festival lasts for nine days, and comprises twelve sections, each running concurrently. These sections are visual arts, dance, music, theater, cinema, literature (including children's literature), workshops, heritage walks, urban design and architecture, food, a section specifically designed for kids, and a street section involving market stalls specializing in eco-friendly, handmade arts and crafts.
The whole thing is free (entrance simply depends on the size of the venue, so plan accordingly for things you’d really love to get involved with), and makes use of a number of interesting spaces in the area, such as galleries, auditoriums, gardens, shops, cafes, even a parking lot that becomes an outdoor sculpture park and street food center.
The weater in Mumbai in February is cooler than the usual heat and humidity, with warm, dry days and cool evenings which, for these nine days, will be filled with music, celebration, and a feeling of art coming to life.
Sun, sea and... snakes? The Gambia
Flying, the Gambia is only 90 inutes further than the Canary Islands, and the difference couldn’t be more marked. The Canaries, whether justified or not, have a bit of a reputation as a package holiday resort (although they are still a beautiful destination), whereas the Gambia, a tiny strip of land on the west coast of Africa, is barely acknowledged.
It averages nine hours of sunshine a day, and has temperatures consistently in the mid 30s, meaning that if all you want to do is lie on the beach, go for it! And what beaches they are. In the main tourist areas you’ll find resorts that are all beach bars, loungers and parasols, but there are some that are virtually deserted, as well as working beaches for fishermen, and beaches that function as lively, colorful markets.
Heading inland from the smallish, sleepyish capital of Banjul along the River Gambia, you soon reach the Kiang West National Park on the south bank and, on the opposite side, the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve.
The Reserve is a popular spot for birdwatching and boat tours through the mangroves and along the river where you might encounter manatees and crocodiles, as well as the occasional dolphin. Kiang West, meanwhile, contains birds of prey as well as leopards, hyenas, warthogs, and a number of different types of snake.
Maybe you should just stick to the beach, eh?
Sands vs. snow, Andalusia, Spain
If you're in Europe and looking for somewhere warm, you’re pretty much out of luck. Maybe the odd bit of wintry sun might trickle through in southern Italy, or you could try Greece or Cyprus perhaps, but another decent option might be Andalusia in Spain.
Temperatures start to slowly reach the high teens (Celcius) by the end of the month, as a combination of warm winds blowing in from North Africa and the protection of the Sierra Nevada mountains means the coastline between Malaga and Almería is a very pleasant place to be.
In fact, due to the mountains catching a lot of rain, they also serve to irrigate the section of coast known as the Costa Tropical, making this a lush and verdant part of the country compared to the sparser, drier surroundings.
As well as the beaches that are an obvious pull, the mountains themselves are a popular place to go. You might not think of Spain as a ski destination, but this it is. The Sierra Nevada is actually home to the third-highest point in Europe, so it’s a substantial range, but being so close to the sea means you could spend the day messing about on the slopes and your evenings walking along the beach (probably in a sweater, but still!).
Add to this the fine food and drink that Spain is famous for — without the number of tourists it’s also famous for — and you have a fantastic mix of culture, great prices, and more room to breathe. What’s not to like?
Be part of the saga, York, England
When most people think of Vikings, they think of Scandinavia, and hordes of bearded warriors setting out on their mighty ships to generally have a right old pillage of whichever bit of North Sea coast happened to get in their way.
The largest Viking festival in the world, however, takes place in York (one of those bits of northern England where the Vikings made landfall) and the people of York are intensely proud of that fact.
It was founded by the Romans as Eboracum, but the Viking name for the region — Jórvík — became the one that stuck, and eventually morphed into York. When the area was under Viking rule, the Jolablot Festival was what marked the coming of spring, and it’s what marks the Viking festival today.
History walks and talks, performances, battles, and living history throughout the city in the form of hands-on crafts events, archery, falconry, metalworking, storytelling, a World’s Strongest Viking contest, and even — amazingly — a Best Beard competition (it’s open to all ages and sexes: you make the beard yourself!)
Even if you’re not heading to York for the festival, it’s a wonderful city in its own right. The Minster is one of England’s great cathedrals, and the medieval center is a quaint maze of twisting streets, higgledy-piggledy buildings and ancient fortifications.
Written by: David Szmidt