Is the open road calling you? Are you craving a holiday behind the wheel? If so, we’re here to help. This quiz will help you pick the perfect road trip, whether you want to embark on one of the world’s most famous drives or strike out into the wilderness.

The days might be getting noticeably shorter and the crowds might be dispersing – but that doesn’t mean summer in Europe is coming to close. There’s still plenty of sun to be found if you know where to look. Whether you’re after balmy beaches or a relaxed city break, this is our pick of the best places for late summer sun in Europe.

Crete, Greece

Crete’s summers are long and warm, and there’s nothing better than kicking back at a beachside taverna and enjoying the last of the sun’s rays over plates of meze. For a glimpse of the island’s past, Crete’s Venetian and Turkish buildings are best-preserved in Chania; stroll around the narrow streets of the Old Town before taking a seat at a waterfront restaurant to enjoy the view of its lighthouse, one of the oldest in the world.

Switzerland

Warm days and cool nights make the end of summer the perfect time to go hiking in the Swiss mountains. You won’t be disappointed by the country’s enchanting scenery, with its fairytale-green hills, placid lakes and craggy mountains. Outside of high season you can be more flexible with your itinerary, so buy a Swiss Pass and head out to explore the towns.

Budapest, Hungary

Late summer is one of the best times to visit Budapest, when the usually crowded streets become calmer, giving you the opportunity to make the most of the city’s cafés and bars. Before it gets too cold to brave, take a dip in the luxurious thermal Széchenyi Baths; you can even play chess on a floating board.

Cornwall, England

For the picture-perfect streets of its small seaside towns, stunning views out to sea and warmer climate than much of England, Cornwall is one of the best places to enjoy the last of England’s summer. For a unique theatre experience, try to catch a show at the open-air Minack Theatre, which juts out over the ocean. You’ll find beachside restaurants armed with blankets and heaters for when the sun goes down and the temperature drops.

Barcelona, Spain

There’s so much to see and do in Barcelona, and the searing heat of Spain’s mid-summer can make it difficult to appreciate. Less intense temperatures later in the year make sightseeing more pleasant; experience Gaudi’s dreamy yet slightly barmy Park Güell, walk around the Gothic quarter and hike to the top of Montjuïc. La Rambla is one of the most famous streets in Europe, and rightly so – stop at one of its restaurants and feed on the bustling energy of a city that parties late into the night.

Gran Canaria, the Canary Islands

If you’re hoping for a beach holiday, look no further than Gran Canaria. Away from the built-up holiday resorts, you’ll find long stretches of sandy beaches. From the desert south to inland subtropical forests, the landscape is spectacular – and if you just want to lie on a beach with a book, this is the perfect place.

Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany’s tall towers, striking towns and vast vineyards make it endlessly compelling. It’s one of the world’s most popular destinations year-round, but head for a late summer getaway and you’ll still be able to enjoy the pool in the balmy midday sun. From San Gimignano’s stunning skyline to Siena’s unique Piazza, there are fascinating historical towns aplenty.

Zadar, Croatia

The beautiful, largely unspoilt old city of Zadar is less busy than much of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, and just as worth a visit for its marble streets and Roman and Venetian ruins. Head to the quay as the sun goes down and you’ll find that locals and visitors alike flock to watch one of the best sunset views in Europe, accompanied by the ethereal sounds of the Sea Organ and the mesmerising light display of the Greeting to the Sun, both created by Croatian architect Nikola Baši.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Without the hordes of tourists on their summer holidays, the roads aren’t quite so mad in Amsterdam, so embrace the cliché and hire a bike like the locals. Amble along the backstreets with no particular aim in mind and you’ll find the canals twinkling in the late summer sun. The events and festival calendar of the Dutch capital remains packed late into September, a highlight of which is the city’s Fringe Festival.

Provence, France

Fields of sunflowers and lavender; vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see; rustic cottages peppering the landscape; Provence is captivating. It would be easy to just sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, but if you’re feeling more active, take a day-trip to Arles for its Roman amphitheatre and forum, or mix with locals at markets no longer heaving with holidaymakers; and you can’t leave without sampling the region’s wonderful wines.

Lake Como, Italy

Milan locals flock to Lake Como in the summer months for the lake’s cooling respite from the heat of the sun. In late summer, it’s still warm and bright but not as hot, so miss the main tourist rush and enjoy the Italian lake at a more leisurely pace, from lying on a beach and absorbing the last of the summer’s rays, to exploring traditional lakeside villages.

Explore more of Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In August 2015 the world’s finest athletes gathered in one place to push their bodies to the limits. No, we’re not talking about the Beijing World Championships, we’re talking about the 30th annual World Bog Snorkelling Championships.

By Peter Barnett © www.focusdisplay.co.uk

That’s right. Last weekend around 150 competitors from across the globe assembled at Waen Rhydd peat bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales, to swim two lengths of the treacherous 55-metre water-filled trench.

While the organisers are strict in enforcing the rule that participants can only use doggy paddle (front crawl and breaststroke are banned), the dress code is more relaxed. This year’s outfits ranged from sensible wetsuits to an Elvis Presley costume.

By Peter Barnett © www.focusdisplay.co.uk

The world record is held by Kirsty Johnson, who paddled an impressive one minute 22.56 seconds in 2014. This year’s champ, Haydn Pitchforth, missed out on the record by a mere four seconds (but he still won, so he shouldn’t get too bogged down).

By Peter Barnett © www.focusdisplay.co.uk

Set up by 80-year-old local Gordon Green thirty years ago, the Bog Snorkelling Championships have turned Llanwrtyd Wells into something of an eccentric sports capital. In June the otherwise sleepy town hosts the Man Versus Horse Marathon, while in November the two-day Real Ale Wobble takes place – a perfectly hazardous hybrid of mountain biking and beer drinking.

By Peter Barnett © www.focusdisplay.co.uk

Explore Wales with the Rough Guide to WalesCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, find tours and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Pakistan is a country filled with unexpected highlights. Contrary to many preconceptions, its borders hold soaring mountains, glassy lakes and intricately-decorated mosques.

Our video of the week gives an insight into Pakistani life. In this 2-minute clip, film-maker Umar Bhutta returns to his homeland, travelling from north to south, visiting five cities and mile-upon-mile of stunningly beautiful countryside along the way.

“It is my hope that one day, very soon, it will be commonplace for all of you too, to visit this beautiful country” he says, “[to] experience the delicious dishes, the overwhelming culture and the gracious people, and have an unforgettable journey of your own.”


Pakistan in 2 Minutes from Umar Bhutta on Vimeo.

Check the latest advice from your country’s embassy or consulate before travelling to Pakistan. 

Photos don’t do justice to some places on Earth – you just have to go and see them. From the ancient pyramids and the Taj Mahal to the Golden Rock and the Colca Canyon, some sights are too stupendous to appreciate on screen. Get your bucket list at the ready, these are 22 natural and man-made wonders you need to see to believe.

1. The ultramarine sea and sheer cliffs of Shipwreck Bay, Zákynthos

2. The Pyramids at Giza in Egypt

Dreamstime.com: Dan Breckwoldt / Danbreckwoldt

3. The Wave in Arizona

Dreamstime.com: Csongor Tari / Cstari

4. The floating grass Uros Islands in southern Peru

5. The Erg Chebbi dunes in Morocco

6. Tongariro National Park, New Zealand 

Dreamstime.com: Dmitry Pichugin / Dmitryp

7. The Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, Australia

8. The Atrium of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai

9. Peru’s Colca Canyon

10. The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland

11. Cholla cacti in Joshua Tree National Park, California

12. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from the sky

Dreamstime.com: Bin Zhou / Dropu

13. Ganghwa’s dolmens, South Korea

14. The gentle curve of Wave Rock, Western Australia

15. The colours of Yellowstone‘s Grand Prismatic Spring

Dreamstime.com: Derekteo

16. The ancient city of Machu Picchu in Peru

Dreamstime.com: Jarnogz

17. Parque Nacional del Teide in Tenerife

18. The tufa rock formations at Mono Lake in California

19. The magical Golden Rock in Myanmar

20. India‘s mesmerising Taj Mahal

Photolibrary: Corbis

21. The unforgettable approach to Petra in Jordan

22. The icy expanses of Lake Baikal, Siberia

Dreamstime.com: Dshamanov

Four months after two devastating earthquakes struck the country, Nepal is slowly getting back on its feet. Shafik Meghji explains how, ahead of the peak tourist season, travellers can help the country recover by booking a holiday.

Why should I go?

Tourism is a vital part of the Nepali economy, directly supporting almost 500,000 jobs, and indirectly supporting many more. “Tourism is the backbone of Nepal’s economy, the major employer” says Ramesh Chaudhary, a leading guide. “Nepal’s economic sustainability heavily depends on tourism. Tourists can help alleviate poverty by travelling in various parts of Nepal. The number of tourists decreased drastically aftermath of the earthquake, but they have started coming again.”

Is it safe?

In July the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US State Department both softened their travel warnings for citizens visiting most parts of Nepal. Although travel companies cancelled trips in the aftermath of the earthquakes, many are now running tours for the post-monsoon peak season, which runs from late September to late November.

“Following the earthquake we were overwhelmed by the response from our customers enquiring after the wellbeing of the local guides and partners we work with in Nepal,” says Lloyd Kane, senior manager at Rickshaw Travel, which is running a range of trips this year.

“We have been speaking to our partners in Nepal every day since the incident and recently sent a team of senior staff members out to Kathmandu and the surrounding area to offer their support and find out what it’s like to travel in the country.

“They reported that life in Kathmandu is slowly getting back on track, hotels are open and ready to welcome guests and the country is as beautiful and hospitable as ever.”

Where can I go?

The earthquakes affected fourteen of the country’s 75 districts. Although the devastation is extensive in these fourteen central districts – they will take many years to recover, and travellers should avoid them for now – the remaining 61 survived relatively or completely unscathed and are safe to visit.

For example, the tranquil lakeside city of Pokhara, the national parks of Chitwan and Bardia – home to rhinos, elephants, tigers and a wealth of other wildlife – and Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha, all escaped major damage.

What about Kathmandu?

The capital – and the surrounding valley, the country’s cultural heartland – was badly affected by the earthquakes, but is now getting back to normal. In July UNESCO decided not to put seven Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites on its “danger list”, and they are now open to the public again.

Some – including the mesmerising Buddhist stupa at Boudha and Pashupatinath, Nepal’s holiest Hindu pilgrimage site – were largely untouched. Others, such as Kathmandu’s Durbar Square and the Swayambhu Temple, suffered significant damage, but restoration work is underway.

“Generations of skilled artisans have built and rebuilt these sites over the centuries,” says Mads Mathiasen, who runs Nepal-based tour operator Himalayan Trails.

“The heritage is not only in the bricks and mortar we see today. It is also in the spirit of the place and the connection of the people who live here, worship here and maintain these areas, including rebuilding the physical structures after earthquakes, fires or other types of damage which inevitably occur over time.”

More than ninety percent of Kathmandu’s hotels and guesthouses, particularly those in the tourist hub of Thamel, have reopened. Look for one with a green sticker, which indicates that government engineers have assessed it as safe: for a list of hotels with the green sticker, click here.

Most restaurants and travel agencies are also open for business, there is electricity (though the regular pre-earthquakes power cuts continue) and internet access, and ATMS are functioning as normal.

How do I get there and around?

Kathmandu’s international airport remained open throughout the earthquakes, and continues to be served by a wide range of airlines. Most of the regional airports and the major roads are also open, and outside of the worst-affected areas, it is straightforward to get around.

Can I go trekking?

Yes. Miyamoto International, a major engineering firm, has carried out assessments of the major trekking areas. It judged that both the Everest and Annapurna regions will be safe to trek in after the monsoon.

The Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal is overseeing assessments of other trails, and says most of the other popular trekking regions – excluding Langtang, Rolwaling and Manaslu – are also safe.

What about insurance?

It can be a tricky getting insurance for trips to Nepal, though the situation is likely to improve over the coming weeks and months: travel agencies can provide the latest advice.

Where can I find out more?

Nepal’s tourist industry runs a useful Facebook group. The just-launched About NepalNow website, a collaboration between travel experts and the Nepal Tourism Board, will be similarly helpful when fully up and running.

Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to Nepal. He blogs at unmappedroutes.com and tweets @ShafikMeghjiCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Home to wind farms, vineyards and wild meadows full of cornflowers and poppies, the countryside in the southernmost part of Sweden – known as Skåne – feels a world away from the dense pine forests of the north.

You can get a taste for the good life down here by hiring a car and hopping between local farms, which churn out more than half the country’s food, including plump strawberries and gangly stalks of asparagus. But to get really close to nature you’ll need to leave the roads behind and get off the beaten track. Or, in the case of this disused railway line near Lund, stick as closely to it as possible.

A disused railway, you say?

The scenic, 9km-long stretch of track between Björnstorp and Veberöd fell into disrepair in 1980 and quickly became overgrown. The branches of tall trees formed canopies over the rails, and weeds began pushing their way up between the heavy wooden sleepers.

Locals hatched a plan. Instead of letting the rails get completely swallowed up by nature, they kept them free of plants and debris and began hiring out old track inspection cycles so tourists could pedal along the route at their own pace, catching glimpses of wild eagles, roe deer and rust-red farmhouses along the way.

It’s been popular a popular summer activity among Swedes for years, and now foreign visitors are cottoning on.

Image © Steve Vickers

So it’s like a bike on rails?

Exactly. But with a little sidecar, too. Each dressin (trolley) has space for two adults and a child, though only one person can cycle at a time, so you might prefer to take it in turns.

While one person cycles, another can snap pictures and keep their eyes peeled for cows, horses, or the colourful butterflies and dragonflies that flit between the hedgerows. There’s a footbrake if you suddenly feel you’re going a bit too fast, but as there’s nowhere to go except forwards, the handlebars are completely useless.

From the start point in Björnstorp, which is little more than a painted shed at the side of the road, the track winds through patches of shaded beech forest and over the top of wide, open fields. After around 45 minutes you’ll reach the village of Veberöd, where you can admire the views and breathe in the country air before heading back to the start point.

Image © Steve Vickers

Is it hard work?

The return journey is ever so slightly uphill, which can get a little tiring, but otherwise it’s just like using a regular bike. The only real problem is when you meet someone pedalling in the other direction; as there’s only one set of rails, you’ll have to swap trolleys, turn each one to face the right direction, and then carry on along your way. At some points where the road crosses the train line, you’ll have to get off and push.

Is there anywhere to stop for food along the way?

Apart from one picnic spot around halfway along the route, grazing options for humans are a little limited. If you’re prepared to book in advance (and shell out around 1300 SEK per person), you can join a ‘gourmet’ cycling tour with food from local producers laid out tapas-style along the route.

A cheaper option is to do a food tour of the area under your own steam. The Lodge, atop a hill just outside Veberöd, does tasty pickled herring and potato salads, but also serves handmade truffles and coffee that’s brewed using locally roasted beans. A 20-minute drive southwest, Vismarlövs Café sells stone-baked walnut bread, hearty soups and pots of gloopy local honey.

Image © Steve Vickers

What else is there to do nearby?

Slick coffee shops, wonky medieval buildings and a lively student population make Lund, one of Sweden’s oldest and most spectacularly good-looking cities, the obvious place to stay. Winstrup Hostel is a solid budget choice (and the only proper hostel in town), with a super-central location and some of the comfiest bunks in the country.

When you tire of checking out museums and independent art galleries – and there are a lot of them spaced out along the city’s cobbled lanes – head back out into the country. The sleepy village of Dalby, not far from the disused train line, is the site of Scandinavia’s oldest stone church. It’s been around for nearly a millennium, but is equipped with a whacky audio tour that fills the whole nave with noise – and scares the hell out of unsuspecting tourists.

How do I do it?

Björnstorp, the start point for rides along the railway line, is a 20-minute drive southeast of Lund. Cycles are available to borrow every day from April–October, and cost 250 SEK for a 3hr 45min session – that’s plenty of time to cover the whole route in both directions. Bookings are best made by phone: +46 (0) 705 747 622. For more information see the Romeleåsen Dressincykling website.

Steve Vickers is the founder of www.routesnorth.com, an independent travel guide to Sweden. Explore more of Sweden with the Rough Guide to SwedenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Header image © Steve Vickers

World-Record holder, explorer, ex-Army Captain, occasional naked island-dweller… is there anything Ed Stafford can’t do? Ahead of his new Discovery Channel show – Ed Stafford: Into the Unknown, in which he heads to harsh environments, including West Papua and Ethiopia, on just a few hours’ notice to explore unsolved mysteries showing up in satellite images – we caught up with the man himself on a crackly line from Peru.

What was the scariest moment during filming for Ed Stafford: Into the Unknown?

I was outside my comfort zone in Siberia. It was so cold that it was actually causing my brain to slow down. I was slurring my words and my thinking capacity, which isn’t great at the best of times, just went down.

I got caught out because I just didn’t have the experience to realise what to do when you’ve got wet leather boots and it’s getting dark. I didn’t want to leave them outside my sleeping bag because I knew that they’d be frozen solid in the morning, so I put them inside my sleeping bag, which was right. But the wrong thing to do was to keep them on my feet. So my feet froze overnight and I had quite severe frostbite. I’ve got to have plastic surgery.

I do pride myself on being able to go to pretty much anywhere, but I’m also humble enough to say that I didn’t have much experience in that environment, so it did slightly get the better of me!

Ed meets locals in Siberia

You’ve travelled the length of the Amazon, been to deserted islands and seen incredible, untamed environments. What is the most beautiful thing you’ve seen, what will stay with you?

The things I end up getting touched by more than anything else are displays of human kindness. If I do have slightly teary moments it’s when somebody, out of the blue, gives you a plate of food when you’re starving.

In Peru, there are a lot of people who’ve been quite downtrodden and ask for money a lot. I got to a village where this old woman started walking with me and she had her three-year-old granddaughter with her. We walked together for about three or four miles towards this village and I thought, because I was getting a bit cynical and a bit travel-weary by this point, that she was only walking with me to ask me for money. When we got to this village she just gave me a hug, and her granddaughter gave me a big hug, and they just wished me well and saw me on my way.

Because I’d expected it to be so negative it literally brought tears to my eyes. They just wanted to walk with us and chat with us and have a nice time. It’s this kind of thing that I find beautiful, more than an amazing sunset or something. It’s when people touch you in some way.

Ed helping build a mud island in West Papua

Anyone who travels for a long time sometimes gets a little cynical, travel-weary, maybe a bit homesick. Do you have any tips on how to deal with that?

As much as I know that I love travelling and I love meeting people, you can get quite weary of it. I worked out that all I was suffering from was a sort of accumulation of small annoyances.

Invariably in Peru I had to answer the same questions or defend myself in the same way time and time again, as there is a degree of ignorance towards travellers. Over the months it became an accumulated intolerance, so that I could snap so easily at somebody who just asked me one question!

How do you combat that? I suppose just recognise it, and realise it’s my responsibility to turn up with a smile on my face and be understanding.

Ed Stafford in Zambia

These are people’s homes, this is their land; I’m the foreigner, I’m the one who has to step outside of his own comfort zone. If you’ve got the money to go and travel, then you’ve therefore got the responsibility to control what impact you have on people.

And that weariness – well, if you’re that weary of travelling, go home! You’ve got to still have the capacity to step outside of it and make the effort for people. And if you haven’t got that capability, I do think it’s time to go home.

What do you think it means to be an explorer today?

I don’t think it’s always a geographical thing, and we’re often not doing things for the benefit of science, either. It’s far more of a personal thing, a human endeavour – but I don’t think that makes it any less important.

We live in a world where people don’t challenge themselves that much, they don’t move outside of their sphere of comfort. To live in that sort of world, to wrap yourself in cotton wool, I don’t think it’s good for the soul.

Ed meets a local pastor in West Papua

It’s good to put yourself through challenges every now and again, and discomfort as well, so you understand a bit of the yin and yang of life. And it helps you grow – because you’ve got to think outside of the box and cope with things that you maybe haven’t had to cope with before – and on a personal level that’s really important.

At a bigger level, I think it’s partly about inspiring other people. If you’re doing something that helps you become a better person and it also vicariously seems to help other people, I don’t think there’s any negative there. You could talk yourself down into thinking it was a bit self-indulgent, but I genuinely don’t think that.

A lot of explorers try and hide behind “I’m going on this expedition to raise money for charity,” and I don’t think you always need that excuse. The trips are important, pushing the boundaries of human endeavour is important, and on a personal level just doing things that stretch you, gaining a bit more understanding about the world and yourself, is important.

Ed Stafford in Zambia

What’s next for you?

There’ll be three more all-new episodes of Marooned, which is the survival series I’ve been doing for the Discovery Channel. Two weeks in the Gobi Desert, two weeks in Guatemala in the rainforest, and then two weeks in Madagascar in the baobab forests. So three months of not eating much, probably!

These environments are a little more extreme than the last series, so it’s upping the ante a little bit, and I can’t wait to get back into it. There’s no script, there’s no one else to deal with – you literally have a blank sheet of paper on each episode, so that’s really exciting.

Ed Stafford: Into the Unknown will premiere on the Discovery Channel on August 27 at 8pm BST.

Staying the night in a treehouse – everyone’s favourite childhood fantasy – has now become a reality. Treehouse hotels have sprung up around the world, with mystical woodland hideaways now found everywhere everywhere from Costa Rica to Thailand. Here are 8 of our favourites.

1. Treehotel, Sweden

Sweden’s Treehotel, built by some of the country’s finest architects, takes the humble treehouse to new levels. Its six, strikingly modern “treerooms” range from the futuristic glass Mirrorcube to the alien-like UFO. And if a night here wasn’t unforgettable enough, there’s even a sauna suspended from the pines.

Peter Lundstrom, WDO – www.treehotel.se (top, right and featured image); Fredrik Broman, Human Spectra – www.treehotel.se (left)

2. Tree House Lodge, Costa Rica 

In 10 acres behind Punta Uva beach in the province of Limón lies a treehouse that owners Edsart Besier & Pamela Rodriguez promise will take you back to your childhood. Surrounded by a tropical garden and accessed via a wooden suspension bridge, it’s the perfect place to unwind.

Image courtesy of Tree House Lodge Costa Rica

3. Garden Village, Slovenia

A short walk from the banks of Slovenia’s famous Lake Bled, Garden Village is a fairytale come to life. Neat rows of luxury glamping tents are staggered down the hillside, while six treehouses hide in the woods alongside, connected by wooden platforms and short suspension bridges. Romantic escapes don’t come much better than this.

Garden Village / Jost Gantar (top); Jonathan Smith / Dorling Kindersley (left); Tim Draper / Rough Guides (right)

4. Chewton Glen, England

You’ll find the ultimate in treehouse luxury at Chewton Glen in the New Forest. Four luxury treehouse cabins are squirrelled away in a wooded valley here and the extras are fittingly decadent: spa treatments, golf buggies to take you to the main hotel and gourmet hampers delivered through a secret hatch.

Images courtesy of Chewton Glen

5. Tongabezi Lodge, Zambia

It’s hard to imagine waking up to the crashing of Victoria Falls. but when you stay at Tongabezi Lodge’s Tree House, this becomes a reality. Hidden away on the banks of the Zambezi river, along the cliff face past the pool, this ground-level treehouse offers a tranquil situated away from the main lodge. Staying here is a way to “experience the beauty and majesty of Zambia without setting a foot outside”, they say.

Image courtesy of Tongabezi Safari Lodge – www.tongabezi.com

6. Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica, Peru

Deep in the Peruvian Rainforest, a stay at Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica plunges you into jungle life. Set within a 17,000 hectare private reserve, this luxury resort offers the likes of spa treatments, jungle treks and bird watching expeditions. Best of all, however, is their Canopy Tree House – although at 90-ft above the jungle floor, a night here is not for the faint hearted.

Images courtesy of Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica

7. Milandes Treehouse, France

Ever wondered what it would be like to have your own private castle? Well now you can find out with a night at Milandes Treehouse. This extravagant construction has been built in the style of a traditional French châteaux, and as you admire the panoramic views you are guaranteed to feel like royalty.

Image courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk 

8. Free Spirit Spheres, Canada

The gently rocking Free Spirit Spheres on Vancouver Island in Canada might look childlike, but these treehouses are strictly for adults only. The experience is designed to conjure mystery, magic and a connection with the forest – maybe even thoughts of elves and fairies, they say.

Free Spirit Spheres by Kyle Greenberg via Flickr (CC license) [top]; Treehouses 2010 by chillbay via Flickr (CC license) [left and right, with small crop]

It’s hard to encapsulate the full depth and variety of the USA – any nation that can marry cities as life-filled as New York, San Francisco and LA with landscapes as breathtaking as those of Alaska, Arizona and Hawaii is beyond easy summary. Its rewards come in droves, from all-American icons like baseball, blues and bourbon to the unbridled spectacles like Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

As a travel destination, the USA’s possibilities stretch to the far horizon – with plenty of surprises along the way. Here are 7 of the country’s offbeat highlights from the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

1. Flash some flesh at Fantasy Fest in Florida

The saucy climax of Key West’s calendar is a week-long party known as Fantasy Fest. The old town is transformed into an outdoor costume bash, somewhat tenuously pegged to Halloween; really, it’s a gay-heavy take on Mardi Gras and flesh-flashing costumes. The week is punctuated with offbeat events, like the pet costume contest where dogs and their owners dress the same, and a sequin-spangled satire of a high-school prom.

FantasyFest2-27 by Brian Lin via Flickr (CC license)

2. Attend the most surreal show on Earth in Nevada

Picture a nudist miniature golf course, an advanced pole-dancing workshop and a bunch of neon-painted bodies, and you may be getting close to imagining what Burning Man is all about. Every year during the last week of August, several thousand digerati geeks, pyrotechnic maniacs, death-guild Goths, crusty hippies and too-hip yuppies descend on the Nevada Desert to build a temporary autonomous “city”. Known as Black Rock City, this is the most survivalist, futuristic and utterly surreal show on Earth, where the strangest part of your alter ego reigns supreme.

Burning Man 2013 CARGO CULT by Bexx Brown-Spinelli via Flickr (CC license)

3. Kayak alongside a glacier in Prince William Sound, Alaska

As you manoeuvre your way towards the towering face of one of Alaska’s many tidewater glaciers, the gentle crunch of ice against the hull of your kayak sounds faintly ominous. It’s nothing, though, compared to the thunderclap that echoes across the water when a great wall of ice peels away from the glacier and sends waves surging toward you. Your first reaction is quite naturally a jolt of fear, but no need to panic: the danger will have dissipated by the time whatever’s left of the waves reaches you, leaving you to look on in awe.

4. Visit North America’s largest bat colony in Texas

Just after sunset, Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the deep crevices of the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, flapping and squeaking in a long ribbon across the sky. An eclectic mix of townies and tourists watches from the south bank of Town Lake and from the bridge itself. Picturesque from any spot, the bats’ game of follow-the-leader is most impressive when you stand beneath the ribbon and look up – that’s when the sheer number of these creatures hits home. During the summer, the best viewing season, more than 1.5 million bats reside here, making it the largest urban bat colony in North America.

5. Attend Portland’s last true burlesque show in Oregon

Underground tunnels, quirky museums, swingers’ sex clubs, crackpots, ghosts and geeks. These aren’t the stories you find in the official history of Portland, but in Chuck Palahniuk’s offbeat 2003 guide. One of Palahniuk’s top picks – and ours – is now Portland’s last true burlesque/drag show, the Darcelle XV Showplace. Expect hilarious stand-up comedy – prepare to be insulted – lip-synced Broadway hits and the obligatory Rocky Horror tribute.

Darcelle XV Showplace dragshow extraordinaire by Herb Neufeld via Flickr (CC license)

6. Chase Storms in Tornado Alley

The central plains may not seem the likeliest of places to find a weather wonder, but every long, hot summer these cornfield-flat states play witness to some of the most powerful storms on Earth. Behind every terrible storm is an even greater equipped team of daredevil storm-chasers who specialize in stalking tornados from vans loaded with the latest in GPS systems, Doppler radars, satellites and lightning-detector sensors. Few people know that you can join these professionals on the hunt, keeping an eye on the skies as they try to anticipate growing storms.

Corbis: Warren Faidley

7. Thrillseek in the roller coaster capital of the world in Ohio

Your knees buckle slightly and you step in. The safety bar locks over your lap: there is no going back. Above the rallying cries of your fellow riders, one question screams inside your head: “Why am I here?” “Here” is Cedar Point, the roller-coaster capital of the world, which sits on the shores of Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio. Seventeen dot the park – more than anywhere else on the planet – including a fair share of the fastest, steepest and longest thrill rides ever designed, like the perennial favourite, the Magnum XL-200. On cloudless days it’s even possible to see Canada from the ride’s zenith 205ft off the ground.

Cedar Point 004 by Jeremy Thompson via Flickr (CC license)

Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

 

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month