Tasting tours and tulips, fish fries and far-flung festivals … Just in time for spring, our editors have selected ten trips that will awaken your senses—and your sense of adventure. Share your favorite and tell us your own trip ideas in the comments.
Holi Festival, Jaipur, India
Photograph by Leeuwenberg, Hollandse Hoogte/Redux
Jaipur, capital of northwest India’s Rajasthan state, owes its “Pink City” nickname to terra-cotta-hued building facades within the Old City walls. Each spring, a tide of raucous revelers magnifies the Technicolor-like glow during the frenetic city’s Holi celebrations. Heralding the arrival of spring, Holi—the Hindu “Festival of Colors”—is marked throughout India and around the world (beginning March 27 this year). In traveler-friendly Rajasthan—Land of Kings—locals and visitors jubilantly join impromptu and organized color eruptions. Prepare to be doused with brightly tinted powders and scented water. Long-sleeve shirts, pants, and a layer of sun block help minimize skin staining, but count on tossing your clothes at festival’s end. Jaipur ushers in Holi with its annual Elephant Festival March 26. Held at the Jaipur polo grounds, the festivities include elephant polo and tug-of-war matches, as well as a parade of elaborately painted pachyderms. Splurge on a luxury tent at the Oberoi Rajvilas to soak your Holi colors away in a vintage, claw-foot tub.
Waikato, North Island, New Zealand
Photograph by Chris McLennan, Alamy
From Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, it’s about an hour’s drive south to the northern reaches of the Waikato region—a 25,000-square-mile mix of rolling farmland, black-sand beaches, volcanic mountains, and glowworm-laden caves. Fans of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey flock here to tour the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata. Adventure seekers can rappel and raft through the Waitomo Caves with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company or ride the waves at Raglan, the iconic surf beach of Endless Summer fame. Waikato is also home to Tūrangawaewae Marae, the official residence of the reigning Māori monarch and site of Turangawaewae Regatta Day’s (March 15 to 16) impressive parade of war canoes on the 264-mile Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest. Get a bird’s-eye view of the region via hot air balloon at Balloons Over Waikato (April 3 to 7), or on helicopter transfer from Auckland Airport to Taupo’s plush Huka Lodge, the exclusive, 25-room Relais & Châteaux retreat near Huka Falls.
Tulpenfestival, Noordoostpolder, Netherlands
Photograph by Siebe Swart, Redux
Late March through mid-May, precise rows of blooming tulips unfurl like crayon-colored ribbons across the flat Dutch landscape. While not as famous as North and South Holland’s Bollenstreek (Bulb District), central Flevoland is home to about 5,000 acres of bulb fields—tops in the country. Most of the fields are located in Noordoostpolder—the Netherlands' youngest tulip-growing area—located about an hour’s drive northeast of Amsterdam. During the annual Countus Tulpenfestival, April 18 to May 6, clearly marked routes make it easy to drive, bike, hike, or ride via special horse-drawn carriage and covered wagon tours along the polder’s most vibrant commercial fields. The fertile land here used to be part of a shallow North Sea inlet (Zuiderzee) reclaimed for agricultural use beginning in the 1920s through a complex system of pumping stations and dikes. On Noordoostpolder’s west coast, walk the brick-paved streets of historic Urk. This charming fishing village was a secluded Zuiderzee island until 1942, when the massive water-to-land reclamation project absorbed Urk into the mainland.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tour, Lexington to Louisville, Kentucky
Photograph by Luke Sharrett, The New York Times/Redux
All bourbon is whiskey, but only U.S.-distilled corn whiskey meeting exacting standards (like being aged in new, charred white oak barrels) can be called bourbon. The seven distilleries comprising the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour—Four Roses, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey Bourbon, Woodford Reserve, and Town Branch—produce about 95 percent of the world's bourbon. Guided tours and tastings (don’t miss the chocolate-covered bourbon balls) are included at most stops, many of which are tucked away on Bluegrass State back roads. The tour isn’t a geographic route (distilleries are clustered mid-state from Lexington west to Louisville), so plot your own path past thoroughbred horse farms and historic small towns. Allow about three days to visit all seven, plus a few micro-distilleries on the new Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. Spend a night at the Woodford Inn in Versailles (pronounced ver-SAYLZ) where the Friday night fish fry includes live bluegrass music on the lawn. Early risers can watch the racehorse training sessions (6 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily) at nearby Keeneland.
Danube Delta, Romania
Photograph by Vadim Ghirda, AP
From April to September, millions of migrating birds visit the Danube Delta’s sandy islands, floating reed beds, cane fields, forests, and freshwater lakes. Situated in southeastern Romania, where the Danube River meets the Black Sea, the 2,200-square-mile UNESCO Biosphere Reserve—and Europe’s largest continuous marshland—hosts more than 300 species of birds, including white pelicans, red-breasted geese, and pygmy cormorants. With few roads, travel is almost exclusively by water. In the gateway village of Tulcea, hire a private boat with an ARBDD-licensed Associatia de Ecoturism guide, rent a kayak or rowboat, or hop one of the regular or fast ferries serving the delta’s three main navigable channels—Chilia, Sfantu Gheorghe, and Sulina. Ibis Tours, Naturetrek, and the Traveling Naturalist are among the outfitters leading small-group, bird-watching tours into the delta. Packages typically include Bucharest airport transfers, meals, English-speaking guides, and basic lodging in floating pontons (hotel boats). Near the fishing village of Murighiol (accessible by car) visit the Halmyris archeological site to observe ongoing excavations at the legendary Roman naval port and supply depot.
Madeira Flower Festival, Madeira Island, Portugal
Photograph by Doug Houghton, Alamy
Madeira, Portugal’s “Floating Garden of the Atlantic” is 310 miles off the African coast, a 90-minute flight from Lisbon. In Funchal, the island’s largest city, buildings, streets, and storefronts bloom with floral murals, sculptures, and intricate flowering carpets during the annual Flower Festival (May 9 to 15). The main event is Sunday’s Flower Parade. Dozens of elaborate floral floats and thousands of costumed folk dancers move to the castanet rhythm of Madeira’s folkloric brinquinho—a whimsical, puppetlike percussion instrument powered by dancing wooden dolls. Saturday morning’s smaller Children’s Parade attracts hundreds of flower-costumed youngsters, each carrying a single bloom. Snag a viewing spot along Avenida Zarco’s black-and-white mosaic sidewalk, or wait in the Praça do Município (Town Hall Square) to watch the children build a blooming “Wall of Hope” with their flowers. Following the parade, dress in your “smart casual” best for afternoon tea at the Old World Reid’s Palace Hotel. Book a Tea Terrace table to savor panoramic Atlantic views along with buttered scones and a pot of Reid’s signature blend.
Photograph by Daniel Garcia, AFP/Getty Images
March ushers in the vendimia, or grape harvest festival, season in the high-altitude vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina’s premier wine-producing province. Hundreds of bodegas (wineries) are spread across a 57,000-square-mile valley surrounded by soaring Andean peaks. Catch an hour-long flight east from Santiago, Chile, to the bustling city of Mendoza, where you can sample over 90 regional wines by the glass and craft a custom blend at the Vines Tasting Room. From here, head south via remise (private taxi), rental car, or light rail to neighboring Maipú. Tucked among the orchards and vineyards are family-owned guesthouses like the five-room Finca Terrada, where grapes are grown to produce the Terrada label’s artisanal Malbecs, Merlots, and Torrontés. At the 11-room Club Tapiz guests can lend a hand in the harvest. Rent a bike or book a personal bike tour at Mr. Hugo's to visit Maipú’s wineries at a leisurely, albeit bumpy, pace. Many small wineries don’t accept credit cards, and most are closed on Sundays, so call ahead and carry plenty of pesos.
Cape MAYgration Shorebird and Horseshoe Crab Festival, Cape May County, New Jersey
Photograph courtesy Queen Victoria Bed & Breakfast
Cape May, New Jersey’s southernmost county, was spared the wrath of Superstorm Sandy, so it’s business as usual at the Cape May Bird Observatory. Visit during the annual Cape MAYgration Shorebird and Horseshoe Crab Festival (May 16 to 19) to see North America’s second highest concentration of spring shorebirds (Alaska’s Copper River Delta is number one) and the world’s largest aggregation of breeding horseshoe crabs. Delaware Bay is a critical refueling stop for the red knot on its 9,000-mile flight north to the Arctic from Tierra del Fuego. Each May, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds descend on buffered bayside beaches to feast on fertilized eggs deposited by waves of spawning horseshoe crabs. Register online for boat tours, naturalist-led field trips, and other programs to create a personalized festival itinerary. Spend at least one morning listening to the songbird chorus at Higbee Beach, returning in time for homemade granola at the Queen Victoria, the Albert Stevens, or another gingerbread-trimmed Victorian inn in the Cape May National Historic District.
Hatfield-McCoy Trails, West Virginia
Photograph courtesy Hatfield-McCoy Trails
Over 600 miles of motorized-use trails wind through the hills and hollows of southern West Virginia’s coalfields. Named for the area’s legendary feuding families, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails span nine counties via six trail systems, giving ATV (all-terrain vehicle), UTV (utility task vehicle), and off-road motorcycle riders access to some of southern Appalachia’s most rugged and remote terrain. A seventh system—Ivy Branch, scheduled to open in July—will be the first for full-size 4x4 trucks. Each system includes options for every skill level, from easy, family-friendly green trails to adrenaline-pumping, expert-only black runs. Vehicle rentals, plus rustic lodging and basic supplies, are available at trail-access campground/lodges like Ashland Resort in Northfork. For off-road rookies, the Pocahontas trail system is a safe, scenic starting point. Of the system’s 57 total trail miles, 35 are easy, and the trailhead is in historic Bramwell, former home to more than a dozen wealthy coal barons. Visit their restored Victorian mansions and learn about the town’s coal mining past during the Spring Home Tours (May 11).
Swartland Wine and Olive Route, Western Cape, South Africa
Photograph by Cephas Picture Library/Alamy
There’s a distinct vibe to the official wine routes crisscrossing South Africa’s Western Cape. Along the Swartland Wine and Olive Route, an hour’s drive north of Cape Town, the feel is decidedly Mediterranean, local, and low-key. Organic wine farms, boutique wineries, farmers markets, and small chef-run cafes outnumber sprawling, commercial wine estates and large-scale restaurants. Fruit orchards, olive groves, and wheat fields (turning mint-green this time of year) stretch from the Paardeberg Mountain region north to the Berg River. Visit the twin villages of Riebeek-Kasteel and Riebeek West for the annual Riebeek Valley Olive Festival (May 3 to 4). While in the valley, bike part of the 18-mile Kasteelberg cycle trail, stopping at family-owned Kloovenburg Wine and Olive Estate to visit the rustic wine cellar, sip Shiraz, or spend the night among the vineyards in the luxurious Kloovenburg Pastorie. For a more traditional stay in a Cape Dutch Victorian farmhouse, head south to Paardeberg Mountain and the Fynbos Estate. Hidden in a tranquil kloof (glen), the botanist-owned farm-winery is part of the Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative’s conservancy project.
For the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, it should be noted that the Buffalo Trace distillery near Frankfort is NOT officially part of the Bourbon Trail (they've chosen to spend their marketing dollars elsewhere), but it's a spectacular facility and they do give tours. Give yourself extra time and try to line up a "hard hat" tour, which covers areas of the distillery not included in the typical tours. In Louisville there is also the "Urban Bourbon Trail", a group of bars specializing in bourbon, where you can taste bourbons that are hard to find outside this region.
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