San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican artistes were prominent in the New-York based creation of salsa in the 1970s, when the pan-Latin mix was given a rock flavouring and again began to appeal to a crossover audience. The island itself is a crucial stop on the salsa trail, with Nuyorican Cafe in Old San Juan probably the most famous nightspot.

Havana, Cuba

Cuba is beyond question the most important source of music in Latin America. This is the island that has given the world the habanera, rumba, the mambo, the danzón, the chachachá – dance music that has travelled all over the world, and gone back to its roots in Africa. One of the best places to hear live music in the Cuban capital is at a Casa de la Trova – which might be a grand old colonial building or a small impromptu performing space with a few chairs off the street.

Lafayette, Louisiana

Head out of New Orleans a couple of hours along Highway 10 to Lafayette – a mess of gas stations and advertising hoardings – and you find yourself in the heart of Cajun and Zydeco country. The music tends to be sold with images of alligators, swamps and spreading cypress trees draped with Spanish moss, but its home is not so much the bayous as the flat Louisiana prairies where farmers grow rice and cotton and farm crawfish.

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin has a flourishing live music scene, with the best traditional Irish music sessions packing out pubs in and around Temple Bar with locals and tourists. There are also a number of open-air events during the summer, including one-off gigs by major acts at places such as Croke Park and Marlay Park in Rathfarnham.

Java, Indonesia

The shimmering sounds of the gamelan have fascinated and delighted Western visitors to Indonesia for half a millennium. A gamelan is essentially an ensemble of tuned percussion, consisting mainly of gongs, metallophones (similar to xylophones, but with metal instead of wooden bars) and drums; it may also include singers, bamboo flutes and spike-fiddle.

Nashville, Tenessee

Country music is generally reckoned to have resulted from the interaction of British and Irish folk music, as brought by Tennessee’s first Anglo settlers, with other ethnic musics, including the spirituals and gospel hymns sung by African-American slaves and their descendants. Today, Music City entertains audiences 365 days a year in its world famous honky-tonk bars along Broadway.

Salzburg, Austria

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beautiful, Baroque hometown of Salzburg is the most glorious place to hear his music today. Luxurious candlelit dinner concerts are regularly held in the hall of the Stifskeller St Peter restaurant in St Peter Monastery, or you might see a concert in the mighty medieval fortress above the city.

Mississippi, USA

From the outside on a weekend night juke joints might look abandoned, but open the door after 10pm, and you’ll find one of the most influential musical genres of the twentieth century in full swing, with a hard drinking, hard partying crowd grooving and shaking to some of the Delta’s finest bluesmen. Red’s, on the outskirts of Clarksdale, and Po’Monkey’s, located in a field a few miles from Merigold, are patronized by an eclectic mixture of predominantly local characters.

Ibiza, Balearic Islands

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.

Glasgow, Scotland

UNESCO’s City of Music 2008 has an enthusiastic, vociferous and utterly magnetic contemporary gig scene, which stretches from gritty pubs to arty student haunts, marvellous church halls to cavernous arenas. Glasgow 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.

Seville, Spain

Spanish Flamenco is most effective in the raw, on stage, as hands and heels thwack in virile syncopation, a guitar bleeds unfathomable flurries of notes and the dancer flaunts her disdain with a flourish of ruffled silk. Seek out Los Gallos, one of the oldest tablaos, scour the cobbled backstreets for La Carbonería, a former coal merchants where free flamenco pulls in a volubly appreciative scrum of locals and tourists, or head to the old gyspy quarter of Triana where barrio hangouts like Casa Anselma exult in Seville’s home-grown form, the “Sevillana”.

Guadalajara, Mexico

In a country rich in musical culture, mariachis – those extravagantly passionate bands with their sly rhythms, natty hats and silver buttons – are the sound of Mexico. On feast days and for weddings and birthdays, the colonial city of Guadalajara reverberates to traditional mariachi tunes played on vihuelas and guitarrons.

Wales, UK

Male voice choirs are a Welsh institution, part of the lives of thousands of working men from Snowdonia to the Rhondda. Among the finest are the Morriston Orpheus Choir and Treorchy Male Voice Choir – visitors are made welcome during rehearsals and it is an intimate and moving experience to listen as the voices swell in four-part harmonies, as rich and complex as an orchestra.

Milan, Italy

Teatro Alla Scala is a stunning opera house founded in Milan in 1778. One of the most revered opera venues in the world, visitors flock here for the outstanding acoustics, opulent surroundings and world-class performances of great operas by Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti and Bellini.

London, UK

The professional theatre scene in London’s West End is world famous and musicals are fundamental to the success of Theatreland. The area around Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester Square attracts the best in the business and Olivier award winning musicals dazzle audiences from around the world night after night.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

It has been said that Argentina has two national anthems – the official anthem and tango. Forget the well-mannered ballroom, tango is a real roots music: sometimes sleazy, sometimes elegant, but always sensuous, rhythmic and passionate – “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire”.

Montréal, Canada

In a city renowned for the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, it’s no surprise to find a vibrant local jazz scene with some of North America’s hottest jazz venues. All year round, the city’s restaurants, bars and clubs showcase musicians jamming live on stage.

Berlin, Germany

The dance scene in Berlin is unlike anywhere else; all nationalities, ages and sexualities are represented in Germany’s capital city. Techno and electronica is taken seriously by DJs, promoters and clubbers alike and the party goes on all night whether the venue is an evocative abandoned building or a stunning state of the art super club.

India

Wedding season is for five or six months over the winter and the barat, or wedding procession, through the streets is a spectacular sight. The band starts outside the groom’s house and leads the procession to the home of the bride, where presents are given and a feast is held. The groom often rides a magnificent white horse, preceded by a band of perhaps a dozen musicians on trumpets, large baritone horns, tubas, saxophones and a couple of side drums.

Essaouira, Morocco

This North African seaport has a laidback musical rhythm all its own. Known for its array of music festivals, visit outside these times and you can still find traditional musicians playing bass drums, reed pipes and qaraqebs, metal chimes which are clacked together in the fingers. The Gnawas (or in French, Gnaouas) were originally transported from West Africa as slaves. Their hypnotic music, a blend of sub-Saharan, Berber and Arab influences, is key to their rituals.

If you’re planning on celebrating your Irishness this next March (or getting yourself adopted for the day), the most obvious place to head is Dublin. But not everyone can get there – plus prices are high, half a million people descend on the capital for the parade, and it’s hard to find a place to stay. The good news is, with so many Irish expats around the world it won’t be just Dublin that’s partying. Why not release your inner leprechaun in one of these five places instead.

Chicago, USA

Probably one of the best-known Irish diaspora communities lies in the Windy City, and they’ve built up some unusual ways of celebrating – such as dyeing the river green at 10am on the day of the parade. Be warned that the parade in Chicago always goes ahead whatever the weather, and is always on a Saturday – the one preceding St Paddy’s day, if they don’t coincide.

Monserrate, The Caribbean

As Montserrat came under English control when Irish indentured servants were forced from the nearby island of Nevis, it’s perhaps little surprise that it’s the only place outside Ireland and Canada where St Patrick’s Day is a public holiday. This emerald isle of the Caribbean celebrates many aspects of its unique heritage on the special day, not least the “freedom run” commemorating the failed uprising in 1768. And it’s a lot sunnier than Dublin.

Birmingham, UK

Birmingham’s rich Irish heritage is such that there’s long been a whole festival dedicated to St Patrick rather than just a single day. This begins the Friday evening before the Sunday of the parade and features a flower show, literary evenings, dance, music, drama and an art exhibition. This year the parade will be led by a team marking the coming of the Olympics to the UK. Probably the single most colourful event is the fundraising balloon race, when thousands of balloons are released into the sky at noon.

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul might be the last place that springs to mind when someone mentions St Patrick’s Day, but the Irish Association of Korea has been working hard to change that. With over 15,000 supporters at the most recent events, the celebrations look set to grow as more and more local businesses and sponsors get involved. There’s no parade this year but Korean-grown traditional and rock-based Irish music will be the centrepiece of a flamboyant festival instead, not to mention a display of gaelic football, face-painting, food and plenty more.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is unquestionably a party place. There are a variety of ways to celebrate “La Fiesta de San Patricio” here, from a parade to fancy dress leprechaun competitions, but the one best (or perhaps least) remembered by returning visitors is the traditional Buenos Aires pub crawl. These bar-hopping expeditions happen all year of course, but green pizza and green beer is a unique way to kick things off on St. Paddy’s Day. Some 500,000 Argentines are of Irish descent so it’s no surprise that the festival began as a purely religious affair – though the secular side has flourished in the centuries since.

People tend to laugh when I tell them that sumo wrestling is my favourite spectator sport. In its Japanese homeland it’s regarded as somewhat old-fashioned, with younger folk preferring to watch mixed martial arts. Abroad, the perception can be even worse; the generic assumption holds that it’s little more than fat blokes in nappies slapping each other for a few frantic seconds, until one of them falls over. However, with its refreshingly commerce-free mix of sport and ceremony, a day at the sumo is something that I almost never pass up when lucky enough to be in Japan. Tournaments take place every two months over a 15-day period; you join me here on the penultimate day of action at the Aki Basho tournament at the Ryōgoku Gokugikan stadium.

9am: get to know the wrestlers

The sumo day starts at 9am, and continues until 6pm. I head into town from my home in Tokyo after the hectic morning rush hour, then take my time on the way to the venue – almost every café along the way has a gown-wearing wrestler or two inside (you can’t miss them), and they’re often up for a little chit-chat.

10am: take your seats

It’s time to head into the arena itself. Centred on a packed-mud dohyo, it’s always near silent at this time of day; there are seven divisions of wrestlers to get through, and for the first few hours it’s a mix of young pups on the way up, old-timers on the way down, and those who have simply never made it. You could hear a pin drop, and these chaps are somewhat heavier. However, this is one of my favourite bits; even though I’ve purchased a cheap ticket way up in the gods, for a few hours I get to sit almost ringside. From here I can hear every grunt, almost feel every slap, and smell the talc the rikishi (wrestlers) give off as they pound to and from the ring. Even at these low levels, the deal is the same – the loser is the first to step outside the ring, or touch down inside it with anything but their feet.

12pm: bulking up like the big boys

Right, I’m peckish, and need to stretch my legs. The food in the stadium isn’t up to much, so I head a few blocks down the road to Tomoegata, a restaurant specialising in chanko nabe – the hearty, delicious stew that wrestlers eat several times a day in order to bulk up. This comes with rice and a mouthwatering array of side-dishes – it’s no wonder the rikishi are so big.

2pm: things get serious

Now time for the serious business: after an elaborate ceremony during which the rikishi are introduced, it’s time for the juryo division to begin. This is the second highest level, and from here on the guys are professionals – even first-timers notice the contrast in quality, and there are more visible nuances such as salt being thrown into the ring before a fight. With fewer elementary mistakes being made, fights tend to last longer, and I’m usually keeping my eyes peeled for talented fighters on their way up.

Earlier in the tournament, a wrestler named Chiyoo caught my eye with a breathtaking tsuridashi victory – requiring tremendous strength, this rarely-used technique involves picking the other wrestler up by the belt, and plonking them down outside the ring. I’ve never seen it executed so impressively before. Usually tsuridashi is used near the edge of the ring at the beginning of a fight, before the lactic acid build-up; here Chiyoo not only employed it after a lengthy tussle, but started his lift more than halfway across the ring. His opponent, Tanzo, weighed 152kg. Fat the rikishi may be, but there’s an awful lot of muscle underneath the blubber.

4pm: watching the highest division

It’s now time for makuuchi, the highest division; as with juryo before, it’s kicked off with a charming ceremony. The rikishi enter the ring one by one, and stand in circle facing inwards; when they’re all there, they in unison lift an arm, clap, raise their colourful aprons, then raise both arms. That’s all, but it gets me every single time, and I wonder why other sports abandoned tradition in favour of profit.

Again, when the fighting begins, the increase in quality is quite apparent. Each sumo fights once per day over 15 days; those who’ve won eight or more will move up the rankings for the next tournament, and those who’ve lost eight or more will go down, possibly even to the next division. Those who keep rising will eventually find themselves in the esteemed sanyaku ranks, special levels for the top wrestlers in the land. Those in sanyaku have to fight hard to stay there: over 15 days they have to face all the other top rikishi, meaning that only the truly talented will survive at this level, and even fewer will reach yokozuna, the very highest level.

5.50pm: the winning fight

All eyes are on the penultimate clash: Hakuho, an imperious yokozuna from Mongolia, versus Kisenosato, a young Japanese ozeki (the second-highest level) with lofty aims of his own. These are the only two fighters in contention; Kisenosato needs victory to be in with a chance on the final day, while a win for the other could bring Hakuho the trophy.

There’s no mistaking who the crowd want to win; recent Mongolian domination means that no Japanese have won a tournament since 2005. The atmosphere is electric, with the two giant rikishi returning to the ring to eye-ball each other multiple times, in front of a referee dressed like a giant piece of origami. Finally, in they thunder, meeting each other with a wallop easily heard over the noise of the arena. Kisenosato senses a chance and attempts a grab; Hakuho knows just how to deal with this and pummels his opponent to the ground. A streak of blood then ripples down his face, onto his chest: pure theatre. Both fighters break the sumo’s poker-face code: his chance gone, Kisenosato admonishes himself by the side of the ring, while Hakuho delights in taking his 27th title. The crowd give this all-time great a well-deserved ovation, but we’re all thinking the same thing… please, next time, let there be a Japanese winner.

Explore more of Japan with the Rough Guide to Japan. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Steve Vickers updates us with the latest news from the world of travel, which this week includes Indian visas, emails you can physically track and luxury doggie bags….

 Indian visa update

Last year we reported that India would be simplifying its visa application process, and now more details have emerged. As soon as October this year, tourists from 180 countries will be able to apply for a 30-day visa on arrival at nine international airports, including Delhi, Mumbai and Goa. For the time being, the visa application process for most tourists remains bafflingly complex, and involves a wait of around one week.

How far do your emails travel?

Keeping in touch with distant friends and family has never been easier. But have you ever wondered how far your emails actually travel when you hit ‘send’? This new plug-in being pitched on Fund Anything is designed to show recipients how far their email has physically travelled and provide the names of the countries the message has passed through, along with a map of the route. The purpose of the project, according to Email Miles founder Jonah Brucker-Cohen, is to expose the ‘disconnect’ we experience when sending data over huge distances. After Edward Snowden’s surveillance disclosures, there is another potential use: drawing attention to the complex routes our personal messages take, often through multiple countries.

A luxurious travel bag – for your dog

If you love dogs as much as you love travel, why not treat your pooch to this luxurious new dog carrier designed by suitcase manufacturer Tumi, which comes with its own leather passport holder? Well, because dogs like walking, and their pet passport would fit perfectly well in your pocket. Not to mention that the £375 price tag could buy you – and Fido – a nice holiday somewhere warm.

Swedish streets get even

Sweden’s second-biggest city is putting equality on the map. According to local news reports, more newly built streets in Gothenburg will be given ‘female’ names as local authorities try to promote gender equality. Since 2006, just 20 new streets in the city have been given names relating to women, while 38 have taken their names from men. Also on the agenda are plans to introduce new street names that better reflect the cultural diversity of the city.

Doctors on call

Top-end hotels in Florida have begun using an app to help poorly guests find a doctor without leaving their room. So far, around 160 hotels in the Miami area have started using the Skydoc app, which allows doctors to communicate with patients remotely and check their vital signs. If necessary, doctors can then visit the patient’s room and administer medication, avoiding unnecessary trips to hospital or a clinic. If the pilot programme works out well in Florida, it could be rolled out to luxury hotels around the world.

London to New York the quick way

Concorde is no more, but quick trips to New York could soon be back on the cards. Spike S-512, a super-fast business jet, is currently being developed in the USA and could be up and running by 2018. With room for up to 18 passengers, the supersonic jet will be capable of flying at 1,100mph, which, in theory, would make it possible to travel from London to New York in less than four hours. Part of the designers’ plan is to completely remove windows from the cabin (windows require heavy structural supports that could slow the plane down) and instead use cameras to stream panoramic views onto the interior walls.

The Age of Aquarius

This month, the Public Aquarium of Brussels is hoping to attract new visitors by offering free entry to anyone whose star sign is Aquarius. The aim is that the ‘fish’ offered free admission between 21st February and 21st March will take time to learn more about their endangered cousins in the tanks, and help to protect threatened species for future generations.

Final call

Made up of footage originally intended for a tourism campaign, this video by Ninja Milk flits between shots every couple of seconds, giving us a whistle-stop tour of Oman.

OMAN IN TWO MINUTES / A Travel Diary from Ninja Milk – Social. Content. on Vimeo.

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Sophisticated, globally minded and perfect for late-night parties – Madrid can be an expensive place to enjoy. So if you want to see the sights on a budget, timing is crucial. Many of the city’s best museums, galleries and historic buildings are free to visit but only for a few hours at a time, so it always pays to check before turning up. Here are ten things to do in Madrid for free.

Take a stroll through Parque del Buen Retiro

For centuries it was a royal retreat, but Parque del Buen Retiro is now open to everyone – with museums, galleries and monuments dotted across 350-or-so acres of green space. If you visit in May, it’s worth seeking out the Rosaleda (rose garden), where fragrant blooms explode in shades of peach and cherry.

Make the most of the free admission to galleries

Some of Madrid’s best galleries offer free admission at certain times of the week. For example, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, which houses works by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, is free at weekends and after 7pm on weekday evenings.

Browse the El Rastro flea market

Every Sunday morning, El Rastro takes over the rambling streets south of Plaza de Cascorro, with thousands of shoppers coming to try on clothes, flick through old books or rummage for antique jewellery. The sheer size of the market makes it worth having a look, even if you don’t want to buy anything.

See a piece of ancient Egypt

Madrid has plenty of old buildings, but in terms of sheer antiquity there’s nothing quite like the Temple of Debod – an ancient Egyptian complex built near Aswan more than 2,000 years ago. The enormous stone blocks were dismantled and sent to Madrid in the 1960s (as a thank you for Spain’s help in protecting other Egyptian temples from flooding) then reassembled in the city’s Parque del Oeste.

Look skywards at the Planetario de Madrid

It’s always free to look around Madrid’s planetarium, which has audio-visual exhibitions looking at all aspects of space and its exploration. There’s a hands-on area for kids, and a domed projection room (which costs extra) that guides visitors through the night sky.

Get lost in Madrid’s barrios

Take a short walk away from Puerta del Sol and you’ll discover some of Madrid’s most colourful barrios (wards). Try multicultural Lavapiés, where shisha bars and Indian restaurants line the graffiti-daubed streets, or hipster-packed Malasaña, known for its nightclubs and vintage clothing shops.

Party on the streets

Street parties and festivals are an important part of Madrid’s social calendar. One of the wildest events is February’s Carnaval, a six-day festival of music, theatre and dance that opens with a fantastical procession of floats and costume-clad performers.

 Visit the Royal Palace

Time it right and you can visit the Spanish king’s official residence for free. Unlike his predecessors, Juan Carlos I doesn’t actually live at the Royal Palace, a treasure trove of art and antiquities inspired by the Louvre in Paris, but it is still used for state events. Admission is free for EU residents on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

See flamenco for free

Okay, so you’ll need to buy a drink, but the late-night restaurant Clan gives you the chance to see authentic flamenco performances for free. The music starts sometime after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and dancing carries on until 3am.

Take a free walking tour of Madrid

You might need to tip your guide, but the three and half hour walking tours offered by Sandeman’s New Europe are officially free. Tours start outside the tourist office on Plaza Mayor everyday (at 11am and 1pm), taking in popular sights like the Royal Palace and Plaza de la Villa.

 

April is a fantastic month to travel. Spring in the northern hemisphere brings warmer weather, making it an excellent time to soak up the early sun in Marrakesh or take in the rhododendron displays in Sikkim. Over in Australia you can visit Uluru without the crowds, while California’s Coachella festival and Austria’s Snowbombing provide partying aplenty. Here are our tips on the best places to visit in April.

Go rhino-spotting in Nepal

Most people associate Nepal with mountains, but a thin southern stretch of the country is resolutely flat. These plains, which are known as the Terai, have two wonderful national parks, Chitwan and Bardia, both of which are home to endangered one-horned rhinos. The easiest time to spot these majestic creatures – and the parks’ other wildlife, which includes tigers and elephants – is in the spring (February–mid-April), when the long grasses (which can reach well above head-height) have been cut down to size.

Show mother nature you care in Costa Rica

April 22nd is international Earth Day, and what better place to spend it than immersed in Costa Rica’s spectacular flora and fauna? Indeed, Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity of any country – hundreds of species are found nowhere else on the planet. From rainforest conservation to assisting at a sea turtle hatchery, there are plenty of worthwhile projects to join, with idyllic temperatures making this one of the best places to visit in April.

Wander Sikkim’s rhododendron forests

Between mid-April and mid-May the rhododendron forests of mountainous Sikkim burst spectacularly into full bloom. They are best experienced on a walk or trek in the Singalila region in the west of the tiny state, which is sandwiched between China, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet in the northeast of India. Here you’ll find the 104-square-kilometre Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, a botanical haven with black bears and red pandas, as well as sublime vistas across a carpet of pink, red and violet rhododendrons to the Himalayas beyond.

Dance the weekend away in California

After a quiet few months, there are several great music festivals held in April. The big one is Coachella in Indio, California, which takes place over two weekends and features a huge range of music and art. It’s expensive, sure, but you’re guaranteed a great mix of big names and cult favourites, alongside the kind of little-known (for now) performers you’ll love discovering. Elsewhere, the Austrian ski resort of Mayrhofen hosts music and winter sport fiesta Snowbombing, while Down Under you’ll find the blues and roots festival Byron Bay Bluesfest.

Celebrate St George’s Day in England

On the week of 23rd April St George’s Day is marked with festivities across England, notably at various National Trust properties. Alongside re-enactments of damsel-rescuing and dragon-slaying, expect a selection of quintessentially English activities, including jousting displays, maypole and Morris dancing, and cream teas (but hopefully not rain).

Party amid tulips in the Netherlands

Two pillars of quintessentially Dutch culture combine this month, and each is more than enough reason to make for the Netherlands. Firstly, April marks the peak of the country’s famed tulip season. Flowers grow in the easily accessible northern regions, where the dull of winter transforms into a vibrant patchwork of fully-bloomed rainbow rows. Secondly, April 27th is King’s Day: Holland’s biggest national event, and one of the best parties in the world. Expect free concerts, markets, fairs and a sea of orange-clad celebrants flooding Amsterdam’s scenic sidewalks, spilling out onto the countless boats bobbing in the canals.

Marvel at submerged Salar, Bolivia

April is (generally) the end of the rainy season in Bolivia, during which the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s biggest salt lake, becomes partly submerged. This transforms the blistering, white plains – which are flanked by mountains and smouldering volcanoes – into a vast, shimmering mirror. Although some parts of the Salar are impassable and tour prices rise at this time, you are guaranteed an array of otherworldly and starkly beautiful sights.

Explore Australia’s Uluru on foot

Australia is one of the best places to travel in April, with the start of the month an ideal time to visit Uluru, where the tourist season yet to get into full swing and daytime temperatures (which can hit 40ºC at other times of the year) at a more manageable level. A fine way to experience Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) is the ten-kilometre hike around the base of the rock, which takes three to four hours. If you’re still feeling energetic, the hike can be combined with the two-kilometre Mala Walk, which passes by rock art, caves and shaded pools en route to the Kanju Gorge.

Get spiritual for Easter in Italy

When looking at where to go in April, Easter shapes many travellers’ plans. But nowhere celebrates Easter (Pasqua) with quite the same colour and fervour as Italy, which has events throughout the county. Highlights include: the Scoppio del Carro on Easter Sunday in Florence, which involves a symbolic firework display outside the Duomo after midday Mass; and the Sicilian town of Trapani’s processions, particularly those on Good Friday.

Enjoy Marrakesh in the springtime

With the temperatures hovering around 22ºC, late April is a wonderful time to visit Marrakesh and the Jemaa el Fna. As dusk falls, the city’s main square comes alive with an eclectic cast of musicians, storytellers, fortune-tellers, henna-painters, acrobats, medicine men, and snake charmers, as well as a fair few pickpockets and scam artists. The innumerable food stalls here are an attraction in their own right, serving everything from spicy harira soup and tasty merguez sausages to rather more exotic stewed snails and sheep’s heads.

Need more inspiration? Check out our list of the best places to visit in May

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. This feature was updated in January 2016. 

Rapa Nui – Easter Island – is shrouded in mystery. How did its people get there? Where did they come from? How did they move those gigantic statues? Some of that enigma comes to life during January’s fortnight-long Tapati, a festival that combines ancient customs, such as carving and canoeing, with modern sports, such as the triathlon and horse racing.

First, the islanders form two competing teams, representing the age-old clans, so if you want to participate, it’s best to get to know one of the captains. The opening ceremony kicks off with Umu Tahu, a massive barbecue, followed by a parade of would-be carnival queens wearing traditional grass skirts.

Most of the sports events are for men only: one breathtaking highlight is the bareback horse race along Vaihu Beach. If you fancy your chances against the proud locals, be prepared to wear little more than a bandana, a skimpy sarong and copious body paint. Another event, staged in the majestic crater at Rano Raraku, has contestants – including the odd tourist – paddling across the lake in reed canoes, running round the muddy banks carrying two handfuls of bananas and finally swimming across, with huge crowds cheering them on.

Meanwhile, the womenfolk compete to weave the best basket, craft the most elegant shell necklace or produce the finest grass skirt; visitors are welcome to participate. Little girls and venerable matriarchs alike play leading roles in the after-dark singing and dancing contests. They croon and sway through the night until the judges declare the winning team, usually around daybreak.

But the true climax is Haka Pei, in which three-dozen foolhardy athletes slide down the steep slopes of Maunga Pu’i Hill – lying on banana trunks. Top speeds reach 80km/h, total chaos reigns and usually a limb or two is broken, but the crowds love it. Should they ask you to take part, learn two vital Rapa Nui words: “mauru uru”, “no thanks”.

Tapati begins every year at the end of January. Lan Chile (www.lan.com) makes the 5hr flight to Easter Island several times a week from Santiago.

 

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Convertibles sell better in Britain than in much of the Mediterranean. That might make it sound like the inhabitants of this damp island are stupid. A kinder explanation is that they just enjoy the sunshine when it comes – an impression that will have struck anyone who’s attended a pop festival in the UK with the force of a stage diver. The tales of the rains that swallowed tents at Glastonbury in 2005 and turned 2008’s Bestival into a treacherous mudbath rapidly acquired legendary proportions. When the sun shines and the right band are onstage, people tell fewer stories, but the smiles are as broad as they come. And Green Man, which has had its share of blissful warmth and endless drizzle, is the pick of the festive crop.

Sat between Abergavenny and the Brecon Beacons, its estate location feels classically picturesque, but hills including the iconic Sugar Loaf rear around the site, giving that touch of the wilderness. Its capacity (10,000 at last count) is big enough to bestow a sense of occasion but small enough to mean you might manage to find your tent and friends, which will prove a relief to anyone who’s spent hours trekking Glastonbury’s acres. There’s no big branding here, and the staff spend more time helping you out than telling you what you can’t do – even the toilets are decidedly bearable. Green Man also manages the neat trick of being family- and hedonist-friendly – the DJ tent booms through the witching hours, but kids will enjoy the stalls, gardens and children’s parades.

Indeed, while many festivals that try to be all things to all people end up tying themselves in knots, Green Man pulls out some crackers. There aren’t many stadium headliners here, but the intriguing assortment of folk veterans, psychedelic hipsters and bluesy rockers have been picked by organisers who care deeply about their music. They’ve seen Animal Collective get the crowd frugging to swelling math-rock, Richard Thompson play nimble songs of love and loss, Bon Iver bring his Vermont laments to a sunny Saturday and Spiritualized rock out in the downpour. Worth the risk of rain? You bet.

Green Man takes place every year, generally in late August. See www.greenman.net for more details.

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

Rough Guide readers voted Berlin one of the top places to visit in 2014, and it seems like the film industry agrees. Everyone from Tom Cruise to Quentin Tarantino has made films here in recent years, continuing Berlin’s extraordinary cinematic history. From the earliest days of filmmaking at Babelsberg studios through the Nazi era, Cold War spy flicks – you’re not a proper cinema spook until you’ve gone to Berlin – to Hollywood blockbusters and post-reunification Ostalgie plus, of course, a touch of Cabaret, Berlin has been the setting for more films that we can count. But we’ve tried, and we’ve mapped them as well. The locations of key scenes are pinned below – in most cases where they were actually shot, though we’ve let a few studio re-creations in (can you spot which they are?). Let us know your recommendations for the best Berlin films on Twitter or Facebook, and we’ll add them to the map.

The road into Senghenydd from the imposing Welsh castle town of Caerphilly snakes along the side of a steep slope that drops into a rocky valley below. Lined with red-toned terraced houses constructed from local stone, the village almost clings to the hillside, and though coal mining died out here long ago, the landscape still bears its scars. You may need to pause on the high street to allow stray sheep to cross the road – this is one of Britain’s most rural corners.

Senghenydd is home to the Aber Valley Male Voice Choir, and though the choir gives concerts all over the world, it is here in the village’s ex-servicemen’s club that the sound is created and honed to perfection. The 59 men, many of them second- or third-generation choristers, perform everything from sombre hymns to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Singing in both English and Welsh, their voices swell in four-part harmonies, as rich and complex as an orchestra.

Male voice choirs are a Welsh institution, part of the lives of thousands of working men from Snowdonia to the Rhondda. The choirs grew from the companionship and community spirit forged by the men who worked down the mines of the south and the quarries of the north.

Times have changed, but they are still going strong. The choir in Senghenydd practises twice a week (the men come as much for the camaraderie as for the music), and visitors are welcome to drop in on a rehearsal – an intimate and moving experience. The high proportion of silver hair in the choir ranks might raise concern about whether the younger generation will carry on the tradition. But with nearly 150 male voice choirs in a land just short of three million people, this unique part of Welsh life is in no danger of disappearing.

For a closer look at the Aber Valley Male Voice Choir, see www.aber-valleymvc.co.uk.

 

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