Sacred sites are easily accessible in Sri Lanka; you can barely move a step without tripping over giant Buddha statues, temples and rock paintings. But the most rewarding of all requires a night-time expedition to a pilgrim’s mountain.

At 2243m, Adam’s Peak is far from the highest place on the island, but as the holiest it draws thousands of pilgrims each year, all of whom pant their way up 4800 stone steps to worship at the indentation in the rock at the top. Most of the pilgrims are Buddhists, who believe it is the footprint of the Buddha. However, this is an all-purpose religious peak: Muslims attribute the footprint to Adam, Hindus to Shiva and Christians to St Thomas. In fact, pilgrimages here pre-date all the religions and have been taking place for thousands of years.

It’s a 7km path from Dalhousie up through the cloudforest where leopards are said to prowl. Rock steps and handrails guide pilgrims up the steepest sections although none of it is especially scary. From May to November you may well have the mountain to yourself, and the averagely fit take around four hours for the climb. In the pilgrimage season from December to April, when the weather is also at its best, the path is illuminated by a necklace of lights and endless tea stalls offer refreshment along the way.

At the top offer a prayer in the tiny temple around the footprint, ogle the sunrise and then head across to the opposite side of the summit to take in a remarkable phenomenon – if you are lucky. The ethereal sight of The Shadow of the Peak occurs when the rising sun casts the perfectly triangular shadow of the mountain onto the clouds below for a few short minutes. It’s a magical view to carry in your mind through the pain of the next few hours, when knees and thighs howl in protest throughout the descent, and during the next couple of days – when your gait becomes an inelegant waddle.

Dalhousie is 30km southwest of Hatton, which is on the main rail line from Colombo and Kandy.

 

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On the last Wednesday of every August, 130,000 kilos of over-ripe tomatoes are hurled around the alleyways of Buñol until the tiny town’s streets are ankle deep in squelching fruit. What started in the 1940s as an impromptu food fight between friends has turned into one of the most bizarre and downright infantile fiestas on earth, a world-famous summer spectacular in which thirty thousand or so finger-twitching participants try to dispose of the entire EU tomato mountain by way of a massive hour-long food fight.

Locals, young and old, spend the morning attaching protective plastic sheeting to their house fronts, draping them over the balconies and bolting closed the shutters. By midday, the town’s plaza and surrounding streets are brimming to the edges with a mass of overheated humans, and the chant of “To-ma-te, To-ma-te” begins to ring out across the town.

As the church clock chimes noon, dozens of trucks rumble into the plaza, disgorging their messy ammunition onto the dusty streets. And then all hell breaks. There are no allies, no protection, nowhere to hide; everyone – man or woman, young or old – is out for themselves. The first five minutes is tough going: the tomatoes are surprisingly hard and they actually hurt until they have been thrown a few times. Some are fired head-on at point-blank range, others sneakily aimed from behind, and the skilled lobber might get one to splat straight onto the top of your head. After what seems like an eternity, the battle dies down as the tomatoes disintegrate into an unthrowable mush. The combatants slump exhausted into a dazed ecstasy, grinning inanely at one another and basking in the glory of the battle. But the armistice is short-lived as another truck rumbles into the square to deposit its load. Battle commences once more, until the next load of ammunition is exhausted. Six trucks come and go before the final ceasefire. All in all, it only lasts about an hour, but it’s probably the most stupidly childish hour you’ll ever enjoy as an adult.

See www.latomatina.com for info on Tomatina tours and plenty of photos and videos of the event.

 

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Ibiza’s summer clubbing season is an orgy of hedonism, full of beats, late nights and frazzled young things. It reaches a messy climax in September, when the main club promoters and venues host a series of seratonin-sapping parties to round things off and extract a few final euros from their battered punters. These end-of-season events tend to attract an older clubbing crowd, who prefer to hop over to Ibiza for a cheeky long weekend, avoiding the gangs of teenage pill-monsters that descend on the island in late July and August. The British rave dinosaurs join a resident hardcore of Ibizan clubbers and an international cast of party freaks and techno geeks, all brought together by a common appetite for dance music.

Where you go depends on your tastes. In San Antonio, the young crowd gathers at Eden and Es Paradis, whose entire dancefloor is flooded just before sunrise, while in the village of San Rafael, Amnesia’s essential closing party usually throws open its doors for free after 4am – the last worn-out dancers are often still there come mid-afternoon. Just across the road, Privilege, the world’s biggest club, parted ways with the famously debauched Manumission in 2008, but still throws closing parties for crowds of up to 10,000. In a laudable attempt to inject fresh energy into the scene, Ibiza Rocks has added live music, including Florence and the Machine and Pendulum, to the mix in recent years. Across the island in Ibiza Town, the elegant Pacha has the cream of the world’s best DJs, including Erick Morillo and David Guetta, cranking things up to delirious levels. Four kilometres south of Ibiza Town, the after-party at Space usually gets going around 8am, with punters donning shades and getting down on the legendary terrace before moving inside, where the walls quiver to progressive techno.

The Space closing party was once the event in the Ibiza club calendar but lately it has lost out to the hardcore action down at DC10. The no-frills club has had regular battles with the authorities over licensing, but it’s gained a loyal crowd of the hippest partiers (and most outrageous mullets) in Ibiza).

The Ibiza closing parties take place in the last three weeks of September; DJ, Pacha and MixMag magazines have listings.

 

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Dark, dreary and cold in Europe and North America, February often feels like a long drag before spring arrives. Yet it’s a fantastic time to travel. Warm, balmy weather and riotous carnivals beckon below the equator, while chillier climes should be embraced for snow-fuelled activities and unique wildlife watching opportunities. Here are our tips on the best places to visit in February.

Be a Big Kid at Harbin’s Snow and Ice Festival, China

In February the weather is cruel here with temperatures plummeting well below -30°C. Yet winter is when Harbin is most alive; every January and February this northern Chinese city hosts one of the world’s largest snow and ice festivals. Transformed into a frozen fairytale kingdom, Sun Island is packed with snow-tube pistes, while hundreds of illuminated ice sculptures fill Zhaolin Park: intricate full-sized temples, ferocious dragons and massive buildings decked out with elaborate stairways and slides that beg to be clambered over. At the festival’s finale, fireworks are accompanied by an open invitation to smash down the sculptures with pickaxes.

Track wolves in Yellowstone National Park, USA

America’s first national park is arguably one of the best places in the world to see these elusive beasts. During the summer the park is choked with hordes of would-be Attenboroughs, yet in the winter you’ll have the place more or less to yourself. Yellowstone is stunning in February, transformed into a frosted world of snow-blanketed valleys, frozen creeks and bubbling geysers. Plus, this is an ideal month for wolf tracking; packs move at lower elevations, drawn down to hunt shuffling herds of elk, and the wolves are more visible, their lean, dark bodies clearly silhouetted against the pristine white snow.

Scuba diving, Andaman Islands, India

Scuba Dive in the Andaman Islands

Near-deserted beaches, untouched reefs and remnants of an intriguing past increasingly lure visitors to the Andaman Islands, a remote tropical outpost cast 1000km off India’s east coast. This is paradise for scuba divers and in February things couldn’t get much more perfect – blue skies, balmy weather and crystal clear waters can be enjoyed before the summer’s heavy rains and cyclones threaten. These reefs boast some of the world’s most abundant marine life; rainbow-coloured corals flourish while iridescent fish, manta rays, loggerhead turtles and reef sharks fill the waters.

Party in Brazil

Rio might get most of the attention but Carnival’s frenzied excitement infects every city in Brazil, making February an unforgettable month. Prior to Ash Wednesday, Brazilian bacchanals take over the country as months of feverish preparation explode into pure unbridled hedonism. Salvador, Olinda and Recife are just a few of the places swept up in the excitement. The air pulsates with booming sound systems from hundreds of street parties, gigantic floats accompanied by flamboyantly costumed dancers riot through city centres and glitzy, licentious Carnival balls extend well into the early hours. When it’s all over, the country nurses its collective headache before perking up to plan the next year’s extravaganza.

Carnevale, Venice, Italy

Have a ball in Venice, Italy

Venice is suffocating in summer, yet winter here is magical. Empty streets, low-slung mists and icy canals re-establish the city as the capital of romance. Head here for Valentine’s Day, or wait until the end of February for the Carnevale. Refined and extravagant, this is the highlight of the Venetians’ social calendar, when the city becomes an endless catwalk of elaborate costumes and intricate masks. Kitted-out locals pose in the piazzas or run errands decked out with traditional black coats, white masks and tricorn hats. Quieter canals become runways for processions of elaborately-decorated gondolas, while grand dinners and masked balls fill the nights.

Dance with devils at Oruro Carnival, Bolivia

For one week a year, prior to Ash Wednesday, this sombre mining city explodes into Bolivia’s most spectacular party, promising bizarre parades, massive water-fights and enthusiastic drinking sessions. The main event, Entrada, is a huge procession of brass bands and grotesquely-costumed dancers that is so large it can last up to twenty hours. Among the profusion of stomping demons and cavorting she-devils, the fiesta’s highlight is the diablada (the dance of the devils) waged by Lucifer and Archangel Michel. After the festivities there isn’t much to see in Oruro, but February’s rains mean that the surrounding Andean countryside is at its most beautiful, blanketed with lush grasses and wildflowers.

Tea Plantation, Darjeeling, India

Explore Darjeeling’s tea plantations, India

Perched on a mountain ridge, 2200m up in the Himalayas, Darjeeling is surrounded by sculpted tea-plantations, lush forests and soaring snow-capped peaks. On the cusp of the tourist season, Darjeeling is relatively quiet in February. It’s also free from monsoons, and the area is exceptionally beautiful as the landscape shakes off its winter slumber. Clear skies and cool temperatures make this an ideal time to explore the Buddhist monasteries that pepper the area, trundle through the hills on the endearing Toy Train or launch an expedition to Sandakphu for magnificent vistas of Everest.

Get cultural in Oman

In the summer (March to October), Oman is oppressively hot, with blistering temperatures easily soaring above 40°C. February, meanwhile, promises pleasantly warm days and breezy nights. This mild climate is perfect for roaming around Oman’s dramatic landscapes of vast rolling dunes, rugged mountains, plunging canyons and quiet coastlines. There’s also a host of burgeoning cities to explore. Throughout February, the Muscat Festival holds Oman’s capital captive. This fascinating blend of arts, culture and tradition fills Muscat’s theatres with shows and concerts, while the Oman Food Festival and Muscat Fashion Week also draw in great crowds.

For more ideas on where to go when, check out the Inspire Me page. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Skip back a few millennia and we were all arboreal primates. We’ll never know for sure what those ancestors of ours looked like. But in Tsitsikamma National Park, you can discover the primate within by swinging through the canopy – 30m up.

In fact, whizzing is a better word, for instead of bombing through the forest on the end of a vine, Tarzan-style, you’re strapped into a high-tech harness and sent careering along a steel cable that’s strung between two trees. But you can yodel as much as you want.

Each cable slide – there’s a circuit of eleven – leads to a timber platform high up in a mighty outeniqua forest. Here, as you catch your breath, a guide sorts out your karabiner clips, gives you a few nature notes and gets you ready for the next slide.

The platforms and slides may stir up childhood memories of monkeying around in tree houses, but in fact they’re state of the art. Cleverly engineered using tensile forces, leverage and rubber blocks instead of bolts to keep the trees as pristine as possible, the whole circuit is based on a system designed by ecologists working in the Costa Rican rainforest. They used their cables to collect specimens and data. Trust the adventure-mad South Africans to use theirs just for fun.

The longest and steepest slides are the best: with a good shove, you can hurtle along at up to 50km/h, hyped with excitement. But on the gentler ones, there’s more time to enjoy the scenery: the light and shade playing on the foliage above, the intricate forms of the giant ferns below, the passing birds and staring monkeys. Or you can just soak up the rich, unfamiliar smells – the musty whiff of decaying vegetation mixed with the damp freshness of new growth – and the heart-pounding sensation of exploring a new domain.

A Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is available via Stormsriver Adventures (www.stormsriver.com).

 

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If the skies are clear on your first day in Cape Town, drop everything and head straight for Table Mountain. It’s an ecological marvel, and a powerful icon for the entire African continent. What’s more, the views from the top are unmissable – as long as the celebrated “tablecloth” of cloud stays away.

For Capetonians, Table Mountain is a backdrop and an anchor, both physically and spiritually. Close to the South African coast, it was one of the beacons that Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates fixed upon during their incarceration on Robben Island, just offshore.

The mountain’s famous plateau is part of a short upland chain that stretches from Signal Hill, just west of the city centre, to Cape Point, where a lighthouse marks the meeting of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. The obvious, and most popular, route to the top is to take the aerial cableway – a sizeable cable car that, thrillingly, gently rotates on the ascent. But if you’d rather work a little harder, you can tackle one of the hiking trails that snake their way up the cliffs.

Visit in the South African spring or summer and the fynbos vegetation, unique to the Cape, will be in full bloom. You’ll see plenty of pretty daisies and heathers in the tussocky wilderness, while proteas, sundews and watsonias add splashes of red, white and pink. Botanists have identified over 1470 plant species on the mountain – there’s more floral diversity here than in the entire United Kingdom. The wildlife scores top marks for entertainment value, too. Stars of the show are the dassies, placid creatures that look a bit like monster guinea pigs and are more than happy to pose for photos.

And then there’s that view. You may only be a thousand metres up, but gaze out over the city to the ocean beyond and you’ll feel on top of the world.

To make the most of the mountain, book a place on one of Hoerikwaggo Trails’ guided hikes (www.hoerikwaggotrails.com).

 

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“You can probably guess that I’m from the Cape Flats – born and fled that is!” So starts another night of impassioned, edgy and often bitingly satirical comedy from some of South Africa’s rawest young comedy talent.

The townships of Cape Town aren’t known as hubs of comedy, but the Starving Comics, an almost exclusively black and mixed-race group of young funny men and women, most of whom hail from troubled areas such as Mitchell’s Plain and Gugulethu, aim to change that perception. After decades in the international wilderness during apartheid, when comedy from the US and Europe was all but impossible to watch, this clutch of new comics have a voracious appetite for international skits and stars, and are deadly serious about giving South Africa a distinctive comic voice.

So this means an eclectic cluster of moneyed bohos, grizzled old Afrikaners, township residents and tourists can be found in a variety of modestly sized venues above bars and in tiny theatres across Cape Town on any given night to hear comics blaze a trail through comic journeys both satirical and surreal that can take in everything from political corruption to ice-rink etiquette.

To watch a gig with the Starving Comics is to be reminded that it’s possible to create comedy out of absolutely anything – even issues as tragic as the South African crime rate and the legacy of apartheid. It’s not the slickest comedy experience. Performers forget their lines, audiences are sometimes barely in double figures and getting info in advance about gigs can be difficult. But this is comedy at its rawest, bravest and most exciting. Even if, after watching these guys, you may never feel the same way about Nelson Mandela’s rugby shirt ever again.

The Starving Comics perform almost daily at various venues in and around Cape Town including Zulu Sound Bar (194 Long Street) on Mon nights. Contact the venue on +27 21 424 2442.

 

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First, tea is served. In a fancy teapot, with biscuits, by a butler dressed in pristine white uniform. You gaze lazily out of the window as porters labour in the crushing afternoon humidity, blissfully cool in your air-conditioned cabin. Then the train eases out of the station: the skyscrapers of Singapore soon fall away, and you’re across the Straits of Johor and into the lush, torpid palm plantations of Malaysia.

This is the Eastern & Oriental Express, the luxurious train service that runs between Singapore and Bangkok, the last remnant of opulent colonial travel in Southeast Asia – evoking the days of posh British administrators, gin-sloshed planters and rich, glamorous dowagers rather like the set of a Merchant Ivory movie.

To be fair, you’re more likely to meet professionals from San Francisco or Hong Kong on the train today. There are a couple of stops to break the three-day journey – a rapid but absorbing trishaw ride through old Penang, and an evocative visit to the bridge over the River Kwai – but it’s the train itself that is the real highlight of the trip.

If you feel the need to stretch your legs, the observation car offers a 360-degree panorama of the jungle-covered terrain, and there’s a shop selling gifts to prove you’ve been. Then there’s the elegant dining car. Eating on the train is a real treat, superb haute cuisine and Asian meals prepared by world-class chefs. Many choose to wear evening dress to round off the fantasy and after dinner retire to the bar car, where cocktails and entertainment await, from mellow piano music to formal Thai dance. A word of warning: after all this, reality hurts. Standing on the chaotic platform of Bangkok’s Hualampong station, you might long to get back on board.

Singapore to Bangkok costs around US$2000 one way – see www.orient-express.com.

 

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First, be glad that it rains so much in Scotland. Without the rain the rivers here wouldn’t run – the Livet, the Fiddich, the Spey. Without the rain the glens wouldn’t be green and the barley wouldn’t grow tall and plump.

Be glad it’s damp here in Scotland. Peat needs a few centuries sitting in a bog to come out right. Then a breeze, and a wee bit of sun, to dry it. You burn it, with that delicious reek – the aroma – to dry the malted barley. Earth, wind and fire.

And be glad it’s cold here too. Whisky was being made in these hills for centuries before refrigeration. Cool water to condense the spirit. After all, if you’re going to leave liquid sitting around in wooden barrels for ten or more years, you don’t want it too warm. The evaporation – “the angels’ share” – is bad enough. Still, it makes the idea of “taking the air” in Speyside rather more appealing.

And if it weren’t cold and wet and damp, you wouldn’t appreciate being beside that roaring fire and feeling the taste for something to warm the cockles. Here’s a heavy glass for that dram, that measure. How much? More than a splash, not quite a full pour. Look at the colour of it: old gold. Taste it with your nose first; a whisky expert is called a “noser” rather than a “taster”. Single malts have all sorts of smells and subtleties and flavours: grass, biscuits, vanilla, some sweet dried fruit, a bit of peat smoke. Drinking it is just the final act.

Aye, with a wee splash of water. The spirit overpowers your tastebuds otherwise. A drop, to soften it, unlock the flavours. Not sacrilege – the secret. Water. Is it still raining? Let me pour you another.

Speyside’s Malt Whisky Trail (www.maltwhiskytrail.com) points you in the direction of seven working distilleries offering guided tours.

 

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Pop stars, travelling from coach to bar and from plane to arena, are notoriously oblivious about the city they happen to be performing in. There are countless stories of frontmen bellowing “Hello, Detroit!” when they’re actually in Toronto. But some places have a genuine buzz about them. London is fine, but all too often its crowds sit back and wait to be impressed. If you want real passion, vibrant venues and bands who really play out of their skin, Glasgow is where it’s at.

Scotland’s biggest city has an alternative rock pedigree that few can match. Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Simple Minds, Snow Patrol and Belle & Sebastian have all sprung from a city that Time magazine has described as Europe’s “secret capital” of rock music. Its gig scene, which stretches from gritty pubs to arty student haunts, marvellous church halls to cavernous arenas, is enthusiastic, vociferous and utterly magnetic. Nice ’N’ Sleazy and King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (where Alan McGee first spotted Oasis) are legendary in their own right, but if one venue really defines the city, it’s the Barrowland.

Opened in the 1930s as a ballroom (which explains the fine acoustics), it was the hunting ground of the killer known as “Bible John” in the late sixties. It’s still a fairly rough-and-ready place – the Barras market is just outside, and its location in the Celtic heartland of Glasgow’s East End makes it a favoured venue for rambunctious traditional bands. Shane McGowan’s been there, drinking lurid cocktails, his slurred vocals drowned out by a roaring crowd. So have Keane, flushed at the success of their piano-pop debut, and looking bemused at the small fights that broke out near the front at their performance.

Of course, most gigs finish without the drama getting violent. With a 2000-person capacity that’s atmospheric but intimate, and without any seats or barriers to get in the way of the music or the pogoing, the Barrowland is a wonderful place to see a live performance, full of energy and expectation. I’ve seen PJ Harvey transfix the crowd, the Streets provoke wall-to-wall grins, the Mars Volta prompt walkouts, Leftfield play spine-shaking bass and Echo and the Bunnymen cement their return with dark majesty. Go get some memories of your own.

The Barrowland is at 244 Gallowgate, Glasgow (www.glasgow-barrowland.com).

 

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