As autumn looms in the north and spring is blossoming in the south, October is a beautiful month around the world. From the last of that European sunshine, to the wacky festivities of Halloween in the USA, here are the best places to visit in October.

Watch nature’s giants, Península Valdés, Argentina

Every year, between mid-June and mid-December, majestic southern right whales come to breed in the waters surrounding Península Valdés in northeastern Patagonia. Weighing up to 50 tonnes and measuring up to 18m in length, these cetaceans were once a favoured target for whalers – they were the “right” whales to harpoon because they are slow, float when killed and yield lots of oil – but are now protected from the moment they enter Argentine waters. October is an ideal time to spot them, as well as elephant seals, penguins and orcas (killer whales).

Get some late summer sun, Crete, Greece

While autumn may be setting in across Europe, it is still possible to catch some late summer sun if you head south. Crete has the longest summers in Greece, and you can still swim in the sea and lounge on the beach well into October. If you’re feeling a bit more energetic then October is also a great time to hike through Crete’s dramatic Samariá Gorge – the arduous but rewarding 16km route takes you past pine forests, abandoned villages, and sheer rock faces.

Samaria Gorge, Crete, Greece

Party hard, Ibiza, Spain

The start of October heralds the end of Ibiza’s elongated summer season and as the hedonists prepare to head home, the clubs like to sign off in style. Highlights of Ibiza’s epic closing parties can be spent with the top resident DJs at the world famous Pacha, with its five rooms of various musical mayhem, and the converted airport hangar club DC10, where 1500 revellers can dance the night (and following morning) away.

Go white-water rafting, Nepal

Nepal is one of the best places in the world to go white-water rafting, with an array of options from easy half-day trips for first-timers to epic, week-long adventures to challenge even expert paddlers. The peak rafting (and kayaking) season is from mid-October to November, when the rapids are exciting but more manageable than during the monsoon. Two highlights are the Bhote Koshi, the steepest and hardest of the country’s raftable rivers, and the Upper Kali Gandaki descent, an exciting route that can easily be added on to a trek in the Annapurna region.

White water rafting, Bhote Kosi River Nepal

Browse and buy leading art, London, UK

The annual October Frieze Art Festival (one-day tickets from £32) in London is the UK’s leading contemporary art fair. Visitors can view – and, if their budgets allow, buy – works by over 1,000 leading artists from around the world. The event, which also features debates, lectures, film screenings and musical performances, coincides with Frieze Masters, a linked event that showcases artworks made before the turn of the year 2000.

See Desierto florido, Chile

Most of the time the semi-desert plains between the town of Vallenar and the city of Copiapó in northern Chile are covered by little more than cacti, sparse patches of shrubs and little else. However, every four to five years or so a transformation takes place and the landscape is briefly covered by an immense carpet of multi-coloured flowers. The phenomenon, known as the desierto florido (“flowering desert”), varies greatly in intensity and is nigh on impossible to predict: it generally takes place from early September to late October in years when there has been an unusually high level of rainfall during the winter.

Flowers bloom on the desert in the Llano desert, Chile

Dress up for Halloween, USA

Halloween isn’t just for kids. The biggest event in New York is in Greenwich Village, with a parade involving tens of thousands of participants in wildly imaginative costumes, plus puppets, circus performers, artists, dancers, and music from around the world. As you might expect, New Orleans also celebrates Halloween with some style – expect raucous parades, ghost tours, huge street parties, costume competitions, and a late, late night.

Celebrate Durga Puja, Kolkata, India

Known elsewhere in India as Dussehra, Durga Puja is the most important festival of the year for Bengali Hindus, and nowhere is it more spectacularly celebrated than Kolkata. It marks the slaying of the buffalo demon Mahisasura by the ten-armed goddess Durga, symbolising more generally the victory of good over evil. The festival climaxes at the end of the fortnight, with thousands of lavish papier-mâché Durga idols parading through the city’s streets before being immersed in the Hooghly River.

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The deep south, toe-end region of Aspromonte is still considered by many Italians to be out of bounds. For it is here, among the thick forests, crenellated mountain peaks and tumbledown villages, that the n’drangheta, or Calabrian mafia, based their empire until the 1990s. The organisation had its origins in landless nineteenth-century peasant workers who stole livestock, and by the 1980s mafia means of extracting cash had extended to regular kidnappings of local businessmen, who would be held for ransom in the dense woodland of the mountain slopes. The glare of publicity eventually drove the various ringleaders out of villages such as San Luca, and still keeps many potential visitors away.

That means that the delights of this unexplored corner of Calabria can be seen without fear of stumbling across a mafia don or a coach party. The Pietra Cuppa, or “Valley of the Large Stone”, is known to locals as the Uluru of southern Italy. A vast behemoth of granite jutting out of the slopes on the Ionian Sea side of the mountains, local folklore insists that it’s possible to see six human faces in the surfaces of the rock. Elsewhere, endless mountain roads corkscrew their way around the area, occasionally opening up to reveal all-but-abandoned villages clinging to the sides of cliff faces. Many have succumbed to the effects of poverty and random rock falls to create incredible ghost towns. The population of the upper half of San Luca village vacated en masse in the early 1970s, leaving villas, churches, shop fronts and gardens to the forces of nature ever since. Now whole days can be passed exploring these remains.

Accommodation in the Aspromonte mountains is limited to a rustic cabin owned by local farmer Antonio Barca. Here, perched on top of a steep hill, miles from the nearest village, evenings are spent drinking homemade wine on the veranda and eating vast platefuls of polenta and lamb chops, cooked by Antonio’s wife Teresa.

Italy’s last undiscovered corner is several universes away from Venice and Versace. The national staples of natural beauty and political corruption still hold sway here, but the lack of visitors, the deserted winding roads and the thrill of being at the very bottom end of the country’s toe all contribute to this being a very different – and now completely safe – Italian experience.

Aspromonte can be accessed at any time of year except Dec–Feb, when snow can make roads impassable. Go to www.parks.it/parco.nazionale.aspromonte for more information on the park. The Barca farmhouse (www.misafumera.it). San Luca can be reached only by car and is about 35 km away from the coastal town of Reggio Calabria, which is served by the Italian rail network.

 

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From Kinross to Kent, Britain is home to all manner of beautiful gardens, ranging from wild and sprawling estates to compact, tidy arrangements. Here’s a few of our favourites, taken from Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain.

Aberglasney Gardens

Once a grand Carmarthenshire estate, Aberglasney fell on hard times during the twentieth century and by the mid-1990s the house was totally derelict: its windows empty sockets, its masonry crumbling and its gardens choked with weeds. Just when it seemed doomed to collapse, a Restoration Trust stepped in, led by a team of experts who were determined to patch up the damage and perhaps reveal some of the glories of the past. The gardens (pictured above) were the main focus of their interest: they were known to date back well over 500 years, making them a perfect candidate for research. Their hunch has already paid off: little by little they have made some astonishing discoveries.

One of the earliest revelations was a real breakthrough. Carefully, the team excavated the stone-walled cloisters immediately west of the mansion, digging down through the centuries to discover a formal garden dating back to late Tudor or early Stuart times. Even more astonishingly, coins dating back to 1288 were found among the debris. Now that a re-creation of the early seventeenth-century layout is in place, you can wander the raised stone path that tops the cloister walls to admire its geometric lawns and think yourself back to the grandeur of the era.

On the south side of the house is another superb development: the ruined masonry of an ancient courtyard has been shrouded in glass, creating a subtropical hothouse. Named the Ninfarium after the glorious Italian gardens of Ninfa, there’s a Zen-like calm to its shady, orderly pathways.

Aberglasney Gardens, Llangathen, Carmarthenshire, www.aberglasney.org

Drummond Castle Gardens

Scotland, Perthshire, gardens of Drummond Castle

The long beech-enclosed drive that leads to Drummond Castle has a sense of drama, but gives no inkling of the exotic vision ahead. The castle itself is a bluff medieval keep surrounded by turreted domestic buildings, all heavily restored in the nineteenth century. You pass through a courtyard to access a wide stone terrace, and the garden is suddenly revealed: a symmetrical and stately Italianate vision in the shape of Scotland’s flag, a St Andrew’s Cross. The lines of the cross are punctuated by urns and Classical statues, and at their centre is a seventeenth-century obelisk sundial. It’s an artful garden in every sense: steep steps lead down to the sundial, and beyond the topiary and the neat flower beds a wide avenue cuts though dense woodland, continuing the line of the parterre’s central path but making a visual connection between the formal garden and wider, wilder estate.

The first Lord Drummond began building the castle in the late fifteenth century, and in 1508 there is evidence that the estate supplied cherries to James IV when he was on a hunting trip. The sundial created by Charles I’s master mason was put in place in 1630; in the following century the family was more preoccupied with assisting the Jacobite uprising than pruning the roses, but in calmer times in 1842 Queen Victoria planted two copper beeches here, and enjoyed walks in the garden with Albert.

It remains in feel very much a courtly garden. The paths seem tailor-made for stately strolling, giving you the space and time to admire the marble statuary, snooty peacocks and neatly clipped foliage. And when you’ve explored the parterre, don’t miss the abundant blooms in the glasshouses, and the impressive kitchen garden.

Drummond Castle Gardens, near Muthill in Crieff, Perth & Kinross, www.drummondcastlegardens.co.uk

Mottisfont Abbey

Before you even get to the roses at Mottisfont Abbey – which is, after all, the point of the visit – you encounter some sensuous temptations. First you cross the River Test, arguably the finest chalk stream in England, which runs clear and shallow through gentle meadows fringed by grassy downland. This is the place for walks (the Test Way passes by here), or quiet sitting – or trout fishing, if you can afford it.

You then walk through Mottisfont’s lovely grounds, a grassy haven bordered by chalk streams and studded with old oaks, sweet chestnuts and the improbably massive great plane. Then there’s the Abbey itself, a mellow pile with Tudor wings and Georgian frontages and a stately drawing room whose eccentric trompe l’oeil decor – all painted swags and smoking stoves sketched in grisaille – was created by the English prewar artist, Rex Whistler.

But beyond the river and the house and the grounds lies Mottisfont’s heart: its twin walled rose gardens. They are fabulous, harbouring one of the finest collections of old roses in the world. Among the six-hundred-odd varieties you’ll find names that hint at exotic beauty, such as Reine de Violette, Tuscany Superb and Ispahan, and names that suggest a more blushing Englishness, such as Eglantine and the Common Moss Rose. Climbers, noisettes and ramblers trace glorious patterns on the high brick walls, cross pergolas or spill up into apple and pear trees. The shrub roses, meanwhile, crowd noisily between the box hedges and lawns and lavender pathways, jostling among the hosts of bulbs and perennials. There is something to see, then, right through spring and summer.

Mottisfont, five miles north of Romsey, Hampshire www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

Alnwick Garden

The sign on the gates to the Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens, Northumberland, UK

It makes sense to lock up dangerous criminals and wild animals, perhaps – but plants? Well, yes, when we’re talking about these plants. Within the 40-acre Alnwick Garden, the botanical annexe to Alwnick Castle, lies a sullen little plot of deadly flowers and bushes deemed so dangerous that they too are kept behind bars. Visitors to this cultivated collection of botanical death should be wary. Don’t sniff too hard, perhaps… Though one suspects their deadly pollen and spores could permeate even the ominous wrought-iron gates, fronted with skull and bone signs, that declare: “These plants can kill”.

Unlike the rest of Alnwick Garden, the poison garden can only be visited on a guided tour. The heavy iron gates are locked behind you. This is serious stuff. Flame-shaped beds are planted with tobacco, mandrake, hemlock – and innocent-looking rhubarb, the stalks of which make lovely crumble, but whose lush green leaves can kill. Maximum security is applied to coca (for cocaine), cannabis plants and poppies, the heads of which contain all that’s required to make opium, heroin and morphine.

Weaving through the garden, guides debunk myths, tell old wives’ tales and impart ancient wisdom. Learn here about Old Man’s Beard, rubbed by professional beggars into sores to make them weep piteously. Or the hallucinogenic properties of Deadly Nightshade. Chewing a humble laburnum leaf, you are told, will lead you to froth at the mouth and wildly convulse.

Alnwick Garden, Denwick Lane, Alnwick, Northumberland www.alnwickgarden.com

RHS Garden Wisley

The Manor House at RHS Wisley Garden, Surrey, UK. Water lillies growing in the canal pond at Wisley.

As you walk through the brick entrance arch at Wisley, you’re hit by scented air wafting through from the flourishing acres beyond. And there really are acres and acres here – 240 of them, to be exact, all lovingly, scrupulously, passionately tended. Ahead lies the serene canal and walled garden; beyond, secretive paths lead through the Wild Garden’s woodlands to the staggering new glasshouse, which rises out of an entire lake. The preternaturally heated interior heaves with tropical ferns and palms and creepers, all fighting their way towards the glass. There’s even an indoor waterfall.

But why go straight on? A left turn takes you up a breathtaking avenue of lawn, between 20ft-deep mixed borders from which English cottage garden flowers dance and nod in coloured ranks. Beyond, there’s the elegant rose garden, and beyond again what seems like an entire ecosystem of rhododendrons and magnolias on Battleston Hill. And beyond that, the Jubilee Arboretum rises back up towards the Fruit Field, which is really an entire hillside combed with 450 types of apple, plum and pear, many of them rare and rich varieties. It’s not exactly encouraged, but on an early autumn day you could even quietly taste a windfall pear or two – or buy them in the shop later.

Wisley isn’t all about loveliness, though, or even drama. Instead, it’s alive with passion and energy. The Royal Horticultural Society is dedicated to research and education, so you’ll see guided tours pausing to consider a fine clematis, enthusiasts gleaning tips from the model allotment, or maybe volunteers weeding through a host of experimental pumpkins.

RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey www.rhs.org.uk/wisley

Highgrove Gardens

It’s amazing what a few words of encouragement can do. When the Prince of Wales bought Highgrove House, his family home near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, the estate didn’t even have a lawn. Some thirty years later, what was once an empty landscape is now one of the most innovative gardens in Britain. Clearly, Charles has spent a lot of time talking to these plants.

Tours start at Highgrove House itself, surrounded by scented plants such as wisteria, honeysuckle, jasmine, holboellia and thyme, and meander for two miles through a series of interlinked gardens, from the immaculate Sundial Garden, fronting the house, to the Arboretum. Most eye-catching in its marriage of form and function is the Prince’s Islamic-style Carpet Garden, a medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show, whose colour and appearance – which includes fountains decked in elaborate zelij tiling – were based on the patterns of Persian carpets within the house.

Arguably the most interesting sections, though, are the Wildflower Meadow and the Walled Kitchen Garden. The former was co-designed with one of the UK’s leading biodiversity experts, and – as an organically sustained initiative that also helps preserve the country’s native flora and fauna – is a living example of the philosophy that underlines much of Highgrove and the Prince’s nearby Duchy Home Farm. The meadow features more than thirty varieties of British wildflowers – ox-eye daisies, yellow rattle and ragged robin among them – and is home to some of the National Collection of Beech Trees, part of a conservation programme that safeguards the diversity of the country’s plant heritage.

Highgrove House, Doughton, Tetbury, Gloucestershire www.highgrovegardens.com

Swiss bridge

Dawyck Botanic Garden

Edinburgh’s famous Botanic Garden may get the royal seal and most of the press, yet a mere 45-minute drive south stands what is arguably the world’s most exquisite arboretum. Sequestered in one of the most scenic corners of the Scottish Borders, Dawyck is a veritable masterpiece of horticultural passion and creativity, matured over three centuries into a stunning sixty acres of botanic forest.

The secret of this place lies in its range of species from climatically similar corners of the globe. One of the best times to visit is in spring, when you’re welcomed by the Himalayan feast that is the Azalea Walk in full bloom. Over the brow of the hill, 300-year-old giant redwoods tower next to a rustling brook. Incredibly, these are actually infant trees, just a tenth of the way through their lives, and mere striplings compared to their 300ft-tall Californian forebears.

Just beyond the upward curve of the burn another giant hoves into view: the rhubarb-like gunnera plant feels truly exotic, even tropical, a South American specimen with foliage as big as a golf umbrella.

Atmospheric features like the old chapel, the stone humpback bridge or Dawyck House, relics of the garden’s heritage as part of the Dawyck estate, give purpose to those panoramic shots, or you could zoom in to the striking snakeskin bark of the Manchurian striped maple, possibly an evolutionary disguise to protect saplings. Even if you forget your camera, Dawyck will imprint itself on your grey matter anyway, a humbling lesson in the glorious potential of landscape.

Dawyck Botanic Garden, Stobo, near Peebles, Borders www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/dawyck

Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst Gardens Cottage, Sissinghurst, Kent, England

The famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle is equally fascinating both at a distance and close up. There are several angles from which to admire it – framed by a shady arch, for example, or backed by the weathered walls of the Priest’s House – and there’s fresh beauty in every white iris, lupin and sunny-centred daisy.

It’s one of a series of room-like areas of planting with which the poet Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, a diplomat-turned-politician, adorned the grounds of Sissinghurst. When they arrived in 1930, the site was derelict, but Vita, who had an ancestral connection with the castle, saw in it an opportunity to shake off some of the sadness she felt at being shut out of the inheritance of her childhood home, Knole, simply because she was a woman.

The couple had different approaches to gardening: Harold enjoyed the discipline of orderly spaces separated by brick walls, yew trees and box hedges, while Vita was a romantic who enjoyed creating mysteries and surprises. In 1938, they opened the garden for an entrance fee of a shilling. The romantic-looking Elizabethan Tower that dominates the estate was originally a lookout; for the Nicolsons, it was the perfect vantage from which to survey their leafy domain. Climb up to its highest windows and you can see how beautifully the gardens, orchards and vegetable plots nestle within the Wealden countryside, complementing it just as they intended.

The garden at Sissinghurst Castle, Biddenden Road, near Cranbrook, Kent www.nationaltrust.org.uk

 

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The steep cliffs rising out of the Judean Desert look like an unlikely place for a fortress, but there, 400m up, overlooking the Dead Sea, sits the legendary stronghold of Masada. Masada was first fortified by Herod the Great in the late first century BC, who was apparently so scared his people would revolt that he built this virtually impenetrable fortress. There’s a cable car for those who don’t fancy taking one of the various different paths that lead up the hill, but to get the feeling that you really conquered Masada, opt for the ancient snake path, which winds its unsheltered way up the eastern side – an exhausting forty-minute walk. Your reward is an archeological site that appears to dangle over the edge of the precipice, and tremendous views across the desert and the Dead Sea.

Buses run to Masada from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Eliat. Check out Tourist Israel for tours and transport info. 

 

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Britain is home to an almost endless number of world-class rambling routes. We’ve narrowed down the choice to eight of our favourite spots for a brisk walk or a challenging hike, but do add your own favourite picks below.

Epping Forest

One of the last remaining vestiges of the ancient woodland that once blanketed England, Epping appears in local annals from at least the twelfth century. Rambling along sandy, dappled paths on foot, galloping on horseback through meadows of waist-high grass, or splashing cross-country through muddy puddles on a dirt bike, it seems impossible that you are not, in fact, deep in the countryside, but only thirty-five minutes away from the city.

Though exploring by bike or on horseback gives you a sense of the sheer scale of the forest, the greatest pleasure is in meandering through Epping’s 50,000 veteran trees, twisted by pollarding into living sculptures, which rise in spring from a sea of pristine bluebells. A popular route begins at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, now somewhat marooned by the side of a busy road in Chingford. From here it’s a delightful stroll across lush meadows where longhorn cattle graze and rare butterflies flutter by, down to Connaught Water, one of many wetland areas in the forest, thronged with reeds, water lilies and royal ferns.

Malham Cove and Beck in the Yorkshire Dales, UK.

Malham Cove

The soaring, curving grey-white amphitheatre walls of Malham Cove soon hove into view as you approach across the green Yorkshire fields. A 260-foot-high waterfall without the water, formed fifty thousand years ago when the outflow from a melting glacier poured over the lip of a high limestone cliff, it’s a truly grand sight, on a different scale from the surrounding dales.

It’s an easy walk from Malham village – you can push a stroller all the way to the foot of the cove – but there’s work to be done if you want to unlock Malham Cove’s real secrets, which lie on top of the cliff, up the breath-sapping steps to the side. From here, the views down the dale are magnificent, while underfoot is an extraordinary limestone pavement fractured into broad slabs (known as clints) and deep fissures (grykes).

To complete the circuit you can descend back to Malham via Gordale Scar, a deep ravine that requires strong nerves and a head for heights – the last part is nothing less than a hands-and-feet scramble down a waterfall. If you find yourself praying to the moorland spirits, you can thank them for your safe descent in nearby Janet’s Foss, a mossy, wooded dell rich with the scent of wild garlic, where dippers and wagtails flit over the pool of a charming waterfall.

Malham National Park Centre (www.yorkshiredales.org.uk) has maps and route guides for local walks.

The Peak District

Sunrise Mam Tor, Peak District.

Wedged between Sheffield, Manchester and Derby, it’s no surprise that the Peak District is Britain’s most visited national park. The park divides into two areas: the brooding Dark Peak in the north and the gentler White Peak in the south, each named on account of their different geologies.

These two geologies produce very different yet equally enticing landscapes, both of which can be easily explored in a weekend. Higher and wilder, the Dark Peak is formed of tracts of wind-whipped moorland interspersed with “edges”, outcrops of the underlying millstone grit that create dramatic escarpments such as Stanage Edge. Although modest in height they still offer panoramic views across seemingly endless miles of heather and grass. There’s little human habitation here – this barren landscape is the lonely home only to sheep, grouse, rabbits and hares.

See www.visitpeakdistrict.com for more information.

Offa’s Dyke Path, Wales

Offa's Dyke path sign

Sitting on a gravel beach trying to put hiking socks over cold, wet feet might not seem like an auspicious finish to one of Britain’s oldest long-distance trails, but this is the classic finale to Offa’s Dyke Path. Purists wade at least ankle deep into the Irish Sea at the path’s northern terminus, Prestatyn on the north Welsh coast – a repeat of the performance twelve days or so earlier at Sedbury Cliffs, near Chepstow on the Severn Estuary, where (minus blisters) they began. In between, hikers negotiate 177 miles of some of the finest and most varied landscape that the Welsh Marches has to offer, from gentle green valleys to wild moors and ancient woodland by way of historic towns and hidden hamlets.

The path is named after Offa’s Dyke, a massive earthwork (ditch and rampart) up to twenty feet high and sixty feet wide built in the eighth century by Offa, King of Mercia, to separate his territory from rival kingdoms – whether to keep out the Welsh or to keep out the English, opinion divides. The path broadly follows the course of the rampart, though while it was being developed in the 1960s the route planners made a few judicious improvements: rather than follow the dyke through Wrexham and other industrially marred areas they diverted it through the Wye Valley, over the Black Mountain in Brecon Beacons National Park and along the Clwydian Range with its long views over north Wales to Snowdonia. The result is one of Britain’s finest national trails – never too crowded and never monotonous.

For more information consult the National Trail website (www.nationaltrail.co.uk/offasdyke).

Britain’s most dangerous walk, Morecambe Bay

Backed by the Lakeland fells and famed for its spectacular sunsets, Morecambe Bay may look dramatically beautiful, but with its shifting sands and fast-moving tides this vast expanse of tidal mud flats is one of the most dangerous stretches of coast in Britain.

To attempt to ford this treacherous terrain by yourself would be sheer folly. There are quicksands, hidden channels and swirling currents, and when the tide roars in, its speed is said to be faster than any horse can gallop – as testified by the countless stories of disappearances over the years. Once upon a time, monks from Cartmel Priory conducted travellers safely across the bay. But following a petition in the 1530s, the sands were deemed so dangerous that an official guide was appointed by royal command. Step forward Cedric Robinson, 25th Queen’s Guide to the Sands.

For almost half a century, Cedric has earned his keep by his intimate knowledge of the ever-changing terrain; he claims he can read the sands in the way that others read newspapers. He plants laurel branches to mark the route – when rain and fog descend it’s the only way to trace a path back to safety. Once a fortnight between May and September, Cedric takes groups out at low tide on the eight-mile walk. It’s an exhilarating hike in the strangest, most ethereal of landscapes. Cedric leads the way, followed by a tractor and trailer and up to 150 hikers, many of whom attempt the walk for charity.

Numbers are limited, so you should register in advance on 015395/32165. The schedule is at www.grange-over-sands.com.

The Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury

St Martha's Church near Guildford in Surrey

The Garden of England is a tourist-board cliché, but one that does perfectly describe the lush country explored on the Pilgrim’s Way. The landscape is domesticated but beautiful, with rolling vistas, apple and pear orchards and the odd scattering of tile-hung or half-timbered cottages. And you are following in some very ancient footsteps: this was an Iron Age trading route, acquiring its pilgrimage status only after the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. The original Pilgrim’s Way was an amalgam of country roads and paths leading from Winchester and serving pilgrims from south and west England and continental Europe (via Southampton). At Harbledown, just outside Canterbury, this route merged with Watling Street, the route for the main body of pilgrims from London and the north.

This abundant countryside is especially appealing in April or in late summer and early autumn. You can make a selective two-day pilgrimage yourself, exploring a particularly bucolic stretch of the route, and arriving at the pilgrims’ goal – magnificent Canterbury Cathedral. The walk begins at Charing in Kent, leading through woods and farmland to Boughton Lees, home to the Flying Horse pub which has been serving pilgrims for hundreds of years. From here you continue to idyllic Chilham where you can stay overnight at the friendly Woolpack Inn before hiking across fields and through dense woodland to Canterbury.

The Chilham to Canterbury stretch of the Pilgrim’s Way follows the North Downs Way (www.nationaltrail.co.uk/northdowns).

The Pennine Way

Bleaklow from Mill Hill in winter.  Peak District, Derbyshire, England, UK

The Pennine Way begins at the village of Edale in the Peak District and meanders 270 miles north to Kirk Yetholm beneath the Cheviots, a mile across the Scottish border. Along its course, it leads through some of England’s most beautiful and least crowded countryside. In the early stages, it passes the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution – today, stone slabs from the derelict mills and factories have been recycled into winding causeways over the once notorious moorland peat bogs. This is Brontë country, too, grim on a dank, misty day but bleakly inspiring when the cloud lifts.

The mires subside to become the rolling green pastures and dry-stone walls of the Yorkshire Dales that rise up to striking peaks like the 2278ft-high Pen-y-ghent – the “Mountain of the Winds”. The limestone Dales in turn become the wilder northern Pennines, where no one forgets stumbling onto the astounding glaciated abyss of High Cup Nick. The Way’s final phase begins with an invigorating stage along Hadrian’s Wall before ending with the calf-wrenching climax over the Cheviots.

See www.nationaltrail.co.uk/pennineway for more information.

The Pembrokeshire coast

Walking the Coast path at Coast path at St Non's at St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales

In Welsh, Pen-fro, which was anglicized to create Pembrokeshire, means “land’s end”. While the coast at Wales’s southern tip bears a passing resemblance to Cornwall, it is nowhere near as famous – indeed, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path may be the best long-distance walk in Britain that no one knows. For now.

The trail follows the shoreline of Britain’s only coastal national park. Most walkers set aside a fortnight to complete the 186-mile route from Poppit Sands at St Dogmaels near Cardigan to Amroth by the seaside resort of Tenby, passing west to east from solitary cliffs to family-holiday favourites. Tracks are good throughout, campsites are abundant, and you’ll never be more than two days’ walk from fresh supplies.

For Bear Grylls-style bush-bashing head to the Highlands. For the rest of us, however, the sheer variety of scenery makes the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path a superb tramp, especially in the bloom of late spring. Most of the way you cling to the clifftops, teetering along fabulous coastlines around Fishguard, St David’s Head and Marloes, and occasionally dipping down to one of the 58 beaches en route, where low-tide crossings at Dale and Sandy Haven keep things interesting.

The path is managed by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority (www.pcnpa.org.uk); see also www.visitpembrokeshire.com.

Where are your top walks or hiking spots in Britain? Let us know below.

 

Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain includes 500 great British experiences – find out more.

With sublime sushi, soaring skyscrapers and vending machines that churn out everything from eggs to ice cream, Tokyo is the planet’s most mind-boggling metropolis.

Wandering its neon-lit streets can easily eat up your time, and put serious pressure on your wallet. But as this round up of the free things to do in Tokyo shows, a trip to the Japanese capital needn’t be stressful or expensive.

Peek at the latest gadgets

Rising high above the gleaming department stores of Ginza, the ritziest district in Tokyo, is the sleek Sony Building. Ignore its high-end shops and restaurants and head straight for the free showroom, where you can get a sneak peek of Sony’s latest gadgets, including robots, laptops and high-definition TVs. 

Visit Tsukiji Fish Market

Unless you’re especially squeamish (or vegetarian), consider an early morning trip to Tsukiji Fish Market, which buzzes with traders and tourists from as early as 4am. It’s the world’s biggest wholesale fish market, and where most of the city’s Japanese restaurants source their sashimi.

Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

Wander by The Imperial Palace

A short walk from Tokyo Station is the Imperial Palace, home to the current emperor of Japan. Surrounded by moats, cherry trees and solid stone walls, the palace buildings are rarely open to the public, but it costs nothing to wander through the peaceful and meticulously kept East Garden, which bursts into colour during spring.

Explore Asakusa for free

Tourists often pay a rickshaw driver to take them through Asakusa, the old entertainment district surrounding Sens?-ji, one of the city’s most important Buddhist temples. Our advice is to stay on foot, following wafts of sweet, smoky incense down towards the shrine. Alternatively, look out for the free, panda-shaped buses that cut through the district en route to the 634-metre-high Skytree building.

Asakusa, Tokyo

Get a taste for modern Japanese art

Art lovers looking for free things to do in Tokyo will be pleased to hear there’s no cost to mooch around the first-floor gallery of the glass-and-steel Spiral Building, where young Japanese artists exhibit avant-garde collections. In the adjoining café, beer and wine are both cheaper than a cup of coffee.

Prepare for disaster

The Life Safety Learning Center, run by the Tokyo Fire Department, is a free “disaster museum” educating people on what to do when the ground starts shaking. Visitors can learn first aid skills, step inside an earthquake simulator and even try to escape from a smoke-filled building.

Visit the Sumo Museum

With artefacts covering several centuries of sumo’s 2000-year-old history, the free Sumo Museum is located at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium, which hosts major tournaments.

Sumo Wrestling Tournament in Tokyo

Explore Tokyo on two wheels

On Sundays, the Palace Cycling Course lends out 250 bicycles – from mountain bikes to tandems – on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s free, and visitors have until 3pm to explore a designated route running around the outside of the Imperial Palace.

See Tokyo from above

For free, Lost in Translation-style nightscapes, head up to one of the two observation decks at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No 1, the tallest skyscraper in Shinjuku.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No 1

Take a free guided tour

Staffed by volunteers and designed to help promote intercultural understanding, Tokyo Free Guide gives visitors the chance to take a free tour of the city, guided by a resident. The only thing guests have to cover is the guide’s expenses.

Have you got any top tips for enjoying Tokyo for free – or even on the cheap? Let us know below.

As the Northern Hemisphere is getting colder in November, below the equator things are hotting up as spring gets ready to give way to summer. The cooling temperatures aren’t all bad however, as the temperature in Egypt and India becomes far more bearable, and autumn in South Korea is a sight to behold. Check out these best places to go in November.

 

Surf in Senegal

Quieter than the beaches of Morocco and with more reliable surf, Dakar, on Senegal’s west coast, offers surfers a chance to ride the days away while soaking up sunshine, unique culture, beautiful scenery, fresh seafood and awesome waves – all in one fell swoop. November is the beginning of the winter season, when the waves still start small, but have a larger range (0.5–3m) – good for surfers of all levels. If you want to learn from scratch, improve your skills or just fancy staying somewhere sociable with other surfers, you could try one of the surf camps around Dakar’s northern beaches, or hop over to one of the nearby islands for some bigger waves, such as the tiny NGor Island. Less than a kilometre away from the mainland, NGor is far enough from Dakar for some peace and quiet, but close enough that you can jump on a boat back the city for the evening, if you’re in the mood for something a bit livelier.

Six epic surfing spots >

Explore a national park in South Korea

Naejangsan National Park, in the mountains of Jeolla-do province, transforms into a burst of fiery colours in the autumn. The foliage – mostly maple trees, but also elm, ash, oak, dogwood and hornbeam, amongst others – flares up into a magnificent scene of crimson, green, yellow, and everything in between. About three hours from Seoul by bus, the park makes for a beautiful day-retreat, with waterfalls and lakes, 1880 different species of wildlife, several pagodas and temples, and an expansive peaked area ­– 76,032 square kilometres – to explore.

Naejangsan National Park

Party for Diwali in Jaipur, India

Jaipur, the “Pink City”, is one of the most thrilling places to celebrate Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of lights, which runs November 3–7 this year. The whole city comes out to celebrate, and you’d be hard pushed to find a dark spot on any of the streets, as you bathe in the glow of the seemingly infinite numbers of neon lights dangled over the buildings, and the fireworks exploding over your head. Tuck into some delicious, tooth-wrenching Indian sweets while you’re at it.

Ski in the French Alps

Can’t wait till Christmas? Or fancy getting to grips with some guaranteed snow on a cheap(er) ski pass and quiet slopes? The high-altitude French alpine resorts of Tignes and Les Deux Alpes start their seasons in November. With altitudes of up to 3200m, these are the first resorts to get the winter snows. But if, in these unpredictable days of European weather, that doesn’t work out, you can make your way up to the glaciers, where you can ski to your heart’s content – whatever the weather.

Celebrate Thanksgiving in NYC

The most widely celebrated American festival, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season in the US. Most people spend this day, right at the end of November, with their families, but New York offers plenty to keep travellers entertained too. There’s the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to dazzle you in the morning, a range of cafés and restaurants – such as Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village and The Red Cat in Chelsea – offering traditional Thanksgiving meals (as well as tempting alternatives for those who’d rather opt out of the seasonally popular big bird), before you work it off with a skate round the ice rink at Bryant Park, or spend a more leisurely few hours immersed in the plethora of arts, crafts and jewellery at Union Square Holiday Market.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City

Learn to kitesurf, Egypt

The feeling of the wind powering your kite and hurtling you over the open ocean at breakneck speed is like no other. If you’re after the thrill and fun of kitesurfing, Hurghada, on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, is the place to try it. It barely ever rains, it’s almost always sunny and there’s plenty of wind – perfect conditions for this sport. There are also shallow areas for beginners, and, with average highs of 26°C in November, it’s an ideal place to escape the cold, late-autumnal drizzles and get to grips with a new adventure sport. Although, learning to kitesurf doesn’t come cheap; an eighteen-hour course, which will usually be split over three or four days, will set you back about £420 ($660).

Loads more Egypt trip ideas >

Round up elephants in Surin, Thailand

Ever noticed that a map of Thailand looks oddly like an elephant’s head? Perhaps it’s time you joined the hundreds of elephants marching through the city of Surin, on the border with Cambodia, as they make their annual procession on the third weekend of November towards a feast of giant proportions: the “elephant breakfast”. The following day, the elephants perform a show in the aptly named Elephant Stadium, where they re-enact battles of the past. Frankly, it would be odd if the map didn’t look like an elephant.

Melbourne Cup, Melbourne, Australia

For more than 150 years, over 110,000 spectators have come to watch “the race that stops a nation” on the first Tuesday in November, as thoroughbred horses dash round 3.2km of turf track. Don’t underestimate the popularity of the Melbourne Cup – not even the world wars stopped it from going ahead. If you don’t manage to get to the race itself, there’ll be plenty of parties going on in the city, where it’s a public holiday. Make sure to pre-book accommodation (very) well in advance.

For more travel inspiration, try our Inspire Me page. Find hostels for your November trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

By the time you’re halfway up the notorious Lamjura Pass – which rises in one lung-busting, 2km-high staircase of green, terraced hillside from steamy river to airy ridge – you’ll be asking yourself why. Why did I ever think of walking to Everest Base Camp? Why did I carry so much stuff? And why did I not fly in to Lukla, halfway up, like all the other trekkers?

At the top of the pass, feelings can change dramatically. It’s not just the glass of spicy-sweet chiya tea from a trailside lodge that does it, nor even the nip of home-distilled raksi. It’s the astonishing prospect. Behind lies two days’ tough walking, stretching back to where the tarmac ended. On either side, stony slopes festooned with prayer flags rise into a thin sky. Ahead, the eye – and the path – climbs and falls over ridge and succeeding ridge towards Everest.

Another two or three days of switchbacking past Buddhist monasteries and ramshackle villages brings you to Lukla. Here, an improbable airstrip, perched on the side of the gorge, receives the vast majority of Everest trekkers. From Lukla, all trekkers toil on up together through stony Khumbu, the fabulous high heartland of the Sherpa people. And all trekkers, as long as they can stand the thin air, arrive at either the great glacier beside Everest Base Camp or the heady peaks and lakes of Gokyo.

The Everest trek is a transformative, uplifting experience, however you do it. Walking in on the old route from Jiri, however, offers something extra. You’ll find a greener and maybe more authentic side of Nepal, where the lodges are smaller and where fellow walkers on the trail are often as not Nepalis. You’ll be fitter – you’ll have come the hard way. And you’ll really feel you’ve earned your Everest.

Jiri is 12hr by bus from Kathmandu, and Jeeps continue by rough track towards Bhandar, which can save a day or two’s walking. The Jiri route takes three to four weeks to Everest Base Camp and back (though you can always fly back out of Lukla, 35 dizzy minutes by plane from Kathmandu).

 

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Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week.

More tourists welcome, but heavy planes are not

Climbers could soon be getting their crampons into five additional Nepalese peaks over 8,000m. Currently, just eight of the country’s highest mountains are accessible, but overcrowding on Everest (and an understandable desire to grow the industry) has encouraged officials to open up new mountains.

The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation is expected to make a decision about whether to approve expeditions on the new mountains at its annual summit (geddit?) this October.

If the new climbs are approved, increasing tourist numbers along the way, it’s not clear how well the country’s main airport will cope. Nepal’s civil aviation authority recently wrote to airlines using Tribhuvan International in Kathmandu, asking them to stop landing wide-bodied aircraft there. It’s thought heavier planes could be to blame for the cracks and potholes discovered on the ailing runway in recent weeks.

Blingy ringy thingies

With plenty of time left to run, an inventive Kickstarter campaign called Sesame Ring has smashed its fundraising target. The idea? To create wearable rings that act like Oyster cards, saving passengers the trouble of ever losing their travel passes. A nice twist is that the rings are created using 3D printers, making them super easy to customise.

But the thought of being married to one transport network, with a ring and everything, doesn’t sit easily with me. I can imagine promising myself to the London Underground, and then throwing the ring away to have an illicit affair with Bangkok’s Skytrain.

For anyone who travels a lot, the only alternative would be to wear a different ring for every city. As I still value the use of my fingers, I think I’ll stick to having a wallet full of travel passes.

Oyster card, London Underground

Art or porn?

Scandinavian hotel chain Nordic Choice has stopped giving its guests access to porn through on-demand TV stations. Yes, apparently that’s still a thing.

The chain’s owner, Petter Stordalen, reportedly reached the decision after getting involved with a Unicef campaign to help children affected by trafficking and sexual exploitation. “It’s a natural part of our social responsibility to not support an industry that contributes to trafficking,” he said.

Guests staying at the chain’s 171 hotels will instead be offered access to “high-end contemporary video art”. It’s a smart move, distancing Nordic Choice from a controversial industry. But with free, in-room wifi so widespread, it’s hard to imagine this kind of ban changing guests’ viewing habits.

Northern flights

Summer is ending and tour operators are already hard at work, trying to sell us winter breaks. Buried by the latest flurry of wintry PR was the news that fledgling Norwegian airline FlyNonStop will soon be launching flights from London City to Alta, in the far north of mainland Norway.

Northern Lights, Alta, Norway

As well as being a prime spot for watching the Northern Lights, the Arctic town has a rich Sami culture and thousands of prehistoric rock carvings on its doorstep. Best of all, the town’s sheltered location on the edge of a plunging fjord keeps temperatures mild. Well, for the Arctic.

Now for the bad news: the flights are not quite as direct as the airline’s name suggests (there’s a touchdown en-route at Bodø), and they are only available as part of a pricey package that includes a stay at the Sorrisniva igloo hotel.

Trips start in January. For information and prices contact The White Circle.

Disneyland in Africa

Hyperinflation and unrest scared tourists away, but Zimbabwe is hoping to win them back with a £193m theme park near Victoria Falls. The attraction, described by Zimbabwe’s tourism minister as “Disneyland in Africa”, is likely to include hotels, restaurants and conference facilities. Plans are still vague, but making anything manmade look good beside a natural wonder like Victoria Falls could be tricky.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

New Year in North Korea

Tourists making the trip to North Korea usually arrive on flights from China, but new routes to the country could soon be opening up – including some from Europe.

Jo Song Gyu, director of the state-owned International Travel Company, promised new flights as part of a “bright future” for tourism in the impoverished country. The news follows an announcement by Koryo Tours, a British-run company based in Beijing, stating that North Korea is now open to foreign visitors all year round, including the previously ‘closed’ period between December and January.

Before you get carried away with plans for a wild New Year in Pyongyang though, remember that visitors still have to spend their trips in the company of government minders.

Final call

Lastly, here’s a gorgeously shot video reminding us that modern jet planes are incredibly graceful machines, capable of bringing people together – or tearing lives apart.

Wolfe Air Reel from 3DF on Vimeo.

Spotted an unusual travel story? Let us know on Twitter (@RoughGuides) or Facebook, or comment below.

You can wallow in it, make pies with it, even smear it all over your face. But in The Netherlands they have a different use for mud. They walk across it for fun, striking out from the coast of Friesland at low tide to the Wadden Islands, a string of four islands between 10km and 20km offshore: an energetic pastime that goes right to the heart of the Dutch fascination with water and, well, primeval ooze.

It’s a tough but rewarding pastime, and one you’re not allowed to do on your own. Only experienced guides are allowed across the mudflats: the depth of the stuff is variable and the tides inconsistent – sometimes there’s not much margin for error between tides – and in any case despite all the mud there are always deep channels left behind, even at low tide, and it pays to know where they are. You also have to get up early: most group treks start around 6am, and can take anything from three to six hours to reach your final destination. You need to be properly equipped: knee-high socks and high-top trainers are a good idea, as is a warm sweater and cagoule; and a complete change of clothes stashed in a watertight pack. It’s freezing when you start and can be pretty hot by the time you finish, so dress in layers. But above all wear shorts; whatever happens you’re going to get covered in mud, so you may as well not weigh yourself down with mud-caked trousers.

Real hard-cases go to Terschelling, one of the prettiest and liveliest islands, but at 18km and six hours also by far the most gruelling choice, especially as for a lot of the time you’re wading through water rather than mud; in fact they don’t let you try it unless you’ve already completed the easier trip to Ameland, which takes about half the time and manages mostly to avoid the water. On the other side, a tractor will take you to a café in the main village where you can devour one of the best and most well-earned late breakfasts of your life.

For more information, and to organize tours, see www.wadlopen.net or www.wadlopen.com.

 

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