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Look beyond the obvious in travel destinations

By in Travel, Tourism, Hospitality on July 11, 2016

Browsing your options for your next outing? Edward Frost, British Airways’ commercial manager for South and East Africa has some suggestions: here he picks a few familiar and not-so-familiar places for your bucket-list, and cites from attractions for each that might not immediately spring to mind:

Iceland

Whether or not you followed the Iceland soccer team’s prowess in the UEFA tournament, this wildly diverse, fascinating island on the edge of the Arctic Circle is worth visiting at least once. Its population – about 320 000 – is smaller than many cities but is celebrated for its warmth, hospitality and talent: artistic, musical, literary and culinary. And the countryside? It’s a primordial theme-park of volcanic activity with vast, grinding glaciers, burping mud-pots, geysers that roar and steam and of course, 30 active volcanoes, which take turns in shaking the island underfoot. Frost recommends:

  • The Northern Lights: Seeing the aurora borealis depends on the weather, but they occur over Iceland from September to mid-April. They can often be seen from downtown Reykjavik, although a drive out to the lunar, post-glacial landscape offers an atmospheric night of camping out, followed by snorkelling or a snowmobile tour.
  • The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with steaming, mineral-rich pools in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Unlike the reviled 1980 movie of the same name, this lagoon is famed for soothing body and soul.
  • Nightlife: the plethora of live music and festivals has earned Iceland a reputation as a cultural epicentre. The society could be anthropomorphised as a young geologist with Nordic tattoos who moonlights as a sushi chef, writes bestselling crime fiction and plays bass in a metal band. Frost suggests events like Bræðslan, hosted in a former fish-factory in Borgarfjörður eystri on the east coast of Iceland, a small village with just over 100 inhabitants, and the LungA festival in the town of Seyðisfjörður, which focuses on music, art and design. There’s also the quirky, annual Thjodhatid (Puffin Festival) on Heimaey, the largest island of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. For around 140 years the event celebrated puffins as part of the local culture and the menu, but eating the birds is in decline and it’s now more about birding, live bands, some fine craft beers and dressing up as weirdly as you can.
  • Spot Elvish: Many Icelanders firmly believe in the island’s huldufólk, or hidden folk, elves reputed to live mainly in the town of Hafnarfjörður and the nearby Hellisgerði park. You can take a guided or self-guided tour of huldufólk hotspots.

Croatia

Dubrovnik in Croatia has wonderful Gothic and Renaissance architecture, with massive city walls, churches, monasteries, museums and fountains. In the Middle Ages, it rivalled Venice as a city-state and this legacy has been beautifully preserved. That in itself makes the city worth a visit, and the surrounding Adriatic is famed for its islands, sailing and diving, but Frost also suggests the following:

  • Fly into Dubronik and out of Split – or vice-versa – and island-hop from one to the other. An essential stopover, he says, is Hvar, which offers beautiful day-trips by boat and evenings wandering picturesque cobbled streets and sampling excellent restaurants. Croatia’s has more than 400 islands, most of which are linked daily by car-ferries and large catamarans. Try Vis, which is largely untouched by development and is dotted with Greek and Roman ruins. Mljet has primeval forests and picturesque villages and lakes, one of which has an islet with a Benedictine monastery. Korcula and Sipan are renowned for their wines.
  • Underworld wine: directly beneath the busy runway of Dubrovnik’s international airport is the 100 000-square-foot Đurović Cave, with stalactites, stalagmites and evidence of early humans, from the Bronze and Iron ages. So far, so interesting. But the cave also hosts the Skycellar wine-cellar with excellent wines from the nearby Konavle winemaking region.
  • The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb has an array of tokens to lost love, from a dinosaur piñata to an axe with which a jilted lover demolished her ex’s furniture. From the mundane and melancholy, each item tells a poignant story. Not your typical museum, but an award-winning one.

Livingstone, Zambia

Just a few minutes from the magnificence of the Victoria Falls, Livingstone is emerging as a hotspot for excellent game-viewing as Zambia appears to have been spared the poaching that has plagued Zimbabwe’s wildlife. Some top-notch accommodation is available, such as the Royal Livingstone Hotel and the Royal Chundu Lodge, which has secluded, luxury accommodation on Katombara Island. Frost suggests investigating:

  • Devil’s Pool: Not for the faint-hearted, the pool invites bathers during low-water season. It’s on the very edge of the Victoria Falls;
  • Microlight and helicopter flights over Victoria Falls remain popular, as do bungee-jumping, bridge-swinging and water-water rafting;
  • As an antidote to the adrenaline, the Royal Livingstone Express offers sundowners and six-course fine dining in a magnificently restored steam-train, which meanders through the Zambezi Valley. Railway-buffs will swoon over the 1920s rolling-stock, while the cuisine, setting and service have had good reviews from patrons.

Mauritius

Long a favourite for honeymooners, there’s a Mauritius beyond the beaches, seafood buffets and cocktails brimming with rum, fresh fruit and paper umbrellas. It also has rain-forests, waterfalls and spectacular diving and snorkelling, and Frost notes the following:

  • Festivals: the island’s inhabitants have an eclectic mix of ancestry, including African, Chinese, Indian, Muslim, European and Madagascan, and as a result celebrate Christian, Hindu, Buddhist an Muslim festivals. These include the Holi Festival, between December and February, when people pelting each other good-naturedly with coloured water and powder, and the Chinese Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, in January of February. This culminates with an energetic parade of dragons and lions, with fireworks. The predominant colour is red, symbolising happiness. In October and November, the Hindu festival of Divali sees small clay lamps and other types of lighting arrayed in homes and streets, as a symbol of good triumphing over evil.
  • The Morne National Park is a UNESCO Heritage Site at the southwest end of the island offers and atmospheric, intriguing backdrop to learning about the escaped slaves who hid and lived in its forests and caves. Their resilience and ability to evade slavers led to Mauritius being nicknamed the Maroon Republic.