How to make the most of your annual leave in 2019

When was the last time you took a holiday? Not a rushed weekend away, but a full two weeks off – no work emails, no Linkedin, nothing. If you can’t remember the last time, you’re not alone; a recent YouGov study* commissioned by Stansted Airport has revealed that 41% of workers in Britain did not take their full holiday entitlement last year – despite annual leave being a legally protected benefit. Across the pond, the situation is even starker, with just 28% of Americans planning to take their full vacation allowance in 2019.

Here at Rough Guides we firmly believe that you should make the most of your time on earth – and with just six months left of 2019, it’s high time to think about how to make the most of your remaining annual leave. Read on for our pick of the best experiences for the rest of the year, ranging from riding the rails of a gravity-defying mountain railway to witnessing one of nature’s most spectacular events.

To read our guide to the best places to travel in 2020, click here.

Words: Georgia Stephens

Make the most of your annual leave: incredible experiences for the rest of 2019

July: Ride the Semmering Railway in Austria

Trundling through a chocolate box alpine landscape of wooded hills and curved stone bridges in the eastern Austrian Alps, the Semmering Railway between Gloggnitz and Mürzzuschlag is one of the world’s great train journeys. And at one point it was regarded the greatest: built between 1848 and 1854 it was the first true mountain railway, stretching along over 40km of track hand-laid by 20,000 workmen.

At the time it was a daring feat of civil engineering, surmounting precipitous cliffs and dizzying switchbacks with sixteen viaducts, fifteen tunnels and over a hundred bridges. The track had to rise for over a kilometre in altitude, in the process becoming the highest railway in the world. Overnight it opened up the mountains for the Viennese elite, and while its steam trains have long since been replaced (except on certain special runs), the historic line remains – and has since been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The peaceful town of Semmering itself is one of eastern Austria’s favourite alpine resorts, luring skiers and trainspotters in equal measure with its towering peaks and crisp mountain air. From Vienna, most services heading to Graz stop at Mürzzuschlag, from where you hop onto a connecting train to Semmering.

Get in touch with us if you’re thinking of visiting Austria – our tailor-made trips service can connect you with a local expert to book a fully customised holiday. 

Image: Kalte Rinne Viaduct on theSemmering railway © Dinkaspell/Shutterstock

August: Enjoy a digital detox on Herm Island, the Channel Islands

Equal parts beautiful and blustery, the remote island of Herm, three miles east of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, is a castaway’s dream. Its 1.5 miles of white-sand beaches, craggy coves and dramatic headlands are shared between just sixty full-time residents, giving even the most antisocial of visitors plenty of room to roam.

Bracing seaside walks are the island’s speciality, and you can spend your days wandering barefoot along sandy paths fringed with swaying grass and wildflowers. Your only choice is whether you want to do so clockwise or anticlockwise – altogether, it takes just two hours to circumnavigate the island.

Herm really comes into its own once the day-trippers go home, when your only company on the beaches will be wading oystercatchers and the razorbills, guillemots and peregrine falcons that wheel overhead. Alongside a single shop and pub, there’s just one hotel – The White House – where you won’t find a single television, clock or phone. Cars and bicycles are banned on Herm, so your luggage will be transported by tractor.

Despite being a tiny community, there’s still plenty to keep you occupied. Puffin Bay is where you’ll find Europe’s most southerly puffin colony, and you can spend hours at a time admiring the comical little birds. Pop into tiny St Tugual’s Chapel, built in the eleventh century, or peer into what could be the world’s smallest former prison (capacity: one). From Guernsey’s St Peter Port Harbour, it takes just twenty minutes to reach Herm on the Travel Trident passenger ferry.

Image: Springtime on Herm Island © Elke Kohler/Shutterstock

September: Watch the Great Migration in Tanzania

It’s that iconic image of Africa: hundreds of exhausted wildebeest teetering on the banks of the churning Mara River, their hooves sliding in the wet earth towards the waiting mouths of hungry crocodiles. This is the Great Migration – the largest overland migration in the world – when 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and a host of antelope traverse woodlands, hills and open plains of East Africa in search of food.

But far from an individual event, it’s actually a continuous cycle. Following the short dry season, millions of animals set out on a three-month journey starting in May from the southern Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, following the rains and the route etched into their DNA. By September the rumbling herds reach the northern Serengeti plains, the setting for one of the world’s most dramatic river crossings, before finally reaching the Mara and gorging on its nutrient-rich grass. Come November, they turn tail for the return trip. “From December to March the migration is back in the south of the Serengeti for the calving season,” says Inge olde Rikkert, local expert for our tailor-made trips service in Tanzania. “You’ll be able to see lots of babies.”

The herds’ movements vary from year to year with the cycle of the seasons, so timings can’t always be guaranteed. Your best bet is to travel with a guide and stay in a mobile tented camp, which offers the most freedom to follow the colossal herds: “These camps move around during the year to put you as close to the action as possible,” says Inge.

Rough Guides has partnered with local experts in Tanzania to offer trips to witness this spectacular event – get in touch if you’d like more information.

Image: Wildebeests undertake the Great Migration © GUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock

October: Snorkel with manta rays in Indonesia

Visitors to Manta Bay, off the coast of Nusa Penida 30km east of mainland Bali, come for just one thing: the chance to dive in the presence of manta rays. Measuring up to six metres from wing to wing, these enormous creatures cruise like aquatic albatross over Indonesia’s coral gardens and carousels of colourful fish, and are without question one of the country’s greatest natural attractions.

While the mantas have long attracted attention, it hasn’t always been for the right reasons. Until February 2014, Indonesia was the largest fisher of rays and sharks. Thankfully this has changed; the area is now the world’s largest manta sanctuary – encompassing an enormous six million square metres of ocean – and offers full protection for both Oceanic and Reef varieties.

Manta Point is one of the rays’ favourite cleaning stations, and on a dive here you can watch as they glide close to the reef to allow the resident wrasses to scoop up any parasites, before disappearing back into the plankton-rich haze.

Of course, with 25 percent of the world’s fish species and 15 percent of its coral, Indonesia is home to much more than just manta rays. Drop beneath the surface and you’ll have the chance to see turtles, nudibranchs and reef sharks, as well as the rare and utterly enormous mola mola. The best time to dive is between August and October when visibility and conditions are at their best – though manta rays can be encountered throughout the year.

Rough Guides tailor-made trips can connect you with a local expert in Indonesia to plan and book a fully personalised trip – find out more.

Image above: Manta rays swim in Manta Bay, Indonesia © Sergemi/Shutterstock

November: Visit one of the world's highest vineyards in Argentina

At first, the mountains surrounding Salta, high up in the Argentinean Andes near the Bolivian border, feel inherently incompatible with wine, looming large over an arid landscape of dust, gravel and sparse patches of dehydrated thorns. But then, at 3,111m above sea level, you spot it: the wrought iron gate of the Estancia Colomé hotel and its now world-famous vineyard, Altura Maxima – “Maximum Height”.

This is one of the highest vineyards in the world, a bodega founded in 1831 and since transformed by Swiss business tycoon and winemaker Donald Hess into a five-star hotel, art gallery and 25-acre organic wine estate. Here he has used his fortune – as well as multiple generators – to cultivate an oasis of grapes in one of the most isolated, energy-deprived and sparsely populated corners of the country.

Hess uses a form of biodynamic agriculture, coordinating planting with the cycles of the moon, but it’s the vineyard’s lofty location that has the biggest impact on the wine. It’s said the intense sunlight found at high altitude thickens the skins of the grapes, resulting in smoother tannins, fresher acidity and more intense colour. Put altogether, they make a world-renowned Malbec.

At Estancia Colomé there are nine suites in all, each with a fireplace and a private terrace offering sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. You can spend your days here with a glass of red in hand, or wandering the vines in between cooling dips in the outdoor pool. Aside from wine, Hess’s biggest passion lies in the massive light and space installations by the American artist James Turrell, and you’ll find a museum stuffed with his works on site – it’s the only one of its kind in the world.

Planning to visit Argentina? Try our tailor-made travel service and book a fully customised trip designed around your preferences.

Image: Estancia Colomé Vineyard in Argentina © Grupo Colomé

December: See nature's Christmas lights in Waitomo, New Zealand

On first glance, the rolling emerald hills surrounding the rural community of Waitomo seem nothing more than a sleepy stretch of Hobbit country. But just below the surface, you’ll find one of the North Island’s most spectacular natural attractions.

The Waitomo Caves system, whose name originates from the Maori words wai (water) and tomo (hole), encompasses 300-odd mapped limestone caverns ranging from claustrophobic underground streams up to great yawning chambers dripping with stalactites.

It was first explored in the late nineteenth century when local Maori chieftain Tane Tinorau floated underground on a raft made of flax flower stalks and discovered a subterranean starscape of ghostly blue lights scattered across the ceiling. The creatures responsible? Thousands of bioluminescent glowworms, not actually worms at all but insect larvae that use light to attract their prey. Seen together, they form one of nature’s greatest natural light shows.

There are two main ways to see them. The first is on a guided tour of Glowworm Cave, which will lead you between ethereal rock formations to an utterly enormous cavern known as the Cathedral. The trip ends with a memorable boat ride through a glowworm grotto.

For a more adventurous option, try blackwater rafting through the (supposedly haunted) Ruakuri Cave. Rubber ring in hand, you’ll float along an underground river by the light of your head torch, bumping off walls, teetering along ledges and leaping backside-first off cascading falls for an unforgettable glimpse into the glowworms’ watery world. The best time to visit is in December – New Zealand’s summer – when the weather (and the water) is at its warmest.

If you’re planning to visit New Zealand get in touch – our new tailor-made travel service can pair you with a local expert to plan a fully customised holiday. 

Image: Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Waikato, New Zealand © Shaun Jeffers/Shutterstock

*Source: YouGov study


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