Bed down for the night, in an igloo
Our first entry is the Hotel de Glace in Quebec, Canada – the only hotel in the world made entirely out of ice! Expert artisans in the production of sculptures and structures in frozen water and snow carve rooms, eating utensils, bars, and stairs every year…everything you need to spend an unforgettable experience under the ice in true Inuit style, with a layer of comfort added.
The hotel staff holds information sessions for all guests, where they are told how to make the most out of their stay – usually an overnight experience. The hotel’s great packages make it extremely easy to find the one that fits what you’re looking for, whether it’s a theme suite that holds both fire and ice (with fireplaces inside the rooms) or something a bit more traditional like an igloo.
People who have been there describe the experience as a Nordic poem coming to life! And it’s hard not to imagine why. This definitely is top of our list of the most alternative holiday destinations we could find. The Hotel is only a bus ride away from Quebec and so, whilst you’re there, why not try to complete the experience with a trip to see the northern lights? What more could you ask for in a holiday?
Travel back to the Wild West
If what you’re looking for is a trip to the past, there’s no place better than the Wild West Carnival in Calgary, Canada. Dubbed ‘the greatest outdoor show on earth’, the carnival takes place over 10 days every July in southern Alberta’s newest city. Bolo ties, blue jeans, white Stetsons, leather boots…the city becomes the epitome of every Western film cliché you can think of – and proud!
The main event is, of course, the daily rodeo competition, which includes bronco and bull riding, wild pony racing and calf roping. The heart of the carnival is Stampede Park, which hosts not only the show-running activities, but restaurants, bars, cabarets, casinos…a Vegas wild West style!
For a more relaxed selection, there’s the Agricultural Building showcasing some of the best cattle Canada has to offer, the Tepee Village where you can try traditional foods and last but not least – the World Blacksmith Competition! Over 1.2 million visitors are expected this July 2016, from the 8th – 17th, to enjoy a taste of the wild, Wild West.
This Carnival holds together some great reasons to get on a plane and visit Canada for a couple of weeks. Perhaps catch a rodeo accent as a souvenir to bring back home!
Take part in ‘The Mighty Wine Fight’
Renowned worldwide for its production of wine, La Rioja is a Northern Spanish province situated between Soria and Pamplona. With over 500 wineries and most of its expanse covered by vineyards, it’s easy to see why the people of La Rioja gather every June to fight over who makes the best wine, who has the finest grapes and who has the best methods for producing this famous beverage. The weapons? Well, wine, of course!
Also known as ‘The Mighty Wine Fight’, between the 28th and 29th of June locals and tourists from all over Spain and the world gather in Haro to climb atop a mountain and throw pouches, balloons…and everything you can imagine that can hold wine at each other! It all begins with a ‘pre-fight’ party on the evening of the 28th that, in true Spanish style, goes on for the entire night. People gather on the street to drink and celebrate the region and the town.
As dawn draws near, they begin a trek that will take them atop the mountain to keep celebrating only this time by throwing the wine at each other. After the fight, the whole town and visitors come back down again to revel in what they’ve done by drinking some more beautiful local wine, dancing and overall loving life.
A safari from the sky
Seeing some of the most magnificent animals on earth up close in their natural habitat must be one of the most popular holiday objectives, but have you thought about seeing the vast expanse of the Serengeti, the herds of wildebeest migrating together, and marvelling at the groups of zebras…from the sky?
A less known alternative to taking a jeep through the savannah is taking a hot air balloon. This will give you not only an inside view of the way animals behave in the wild, but also of the unforgettable landscapes, scenes and settings of Africa. Companies like Hot Air Safaris offer trips through the Masai Mara National Reserve with balloons taking flight from the area of Talek, ending in the Tanzania border.
If you’re wondering about the balloons, they are something to behold; the fleet of five balloons is capable of carrying up to 16, 8 and 5 passengers, just the thing if you’re with groups of friends or your significant other for a romantic getaway. And it doesn’t stop here: Hot Air Safaris has a very special relationship with the Masai community. This means that you might be able to gain some unique information about the area, the culture and the customs from a true Masai, who are often invited to join in.
It’s all about fairies and chimneys in Turkey
Cappadocia, or Kapadokya, is a region in Central Anatolia, Turkey. Documented since Greek times by philosophers like Herodotus, Cappadocia is home to the fairy chimneys – volcanic rock formations created when lava flows are continuously sculpted by the winds and rains of Turkey for thousands for years. The area was occupied by a myriad of historic figures but the most important, and which give Cappadocia the status of a Unesco World Heritage Site, were the Byzantines.
The Göreme Open Air museum is a cluster of Byzantine monastic artistry made of rock-cut churches, chapels and monasteries. As you walk inside the religious settlements carved inside the fairy chimneys, you are welcomed by the extraordinary mosaics of the 11th – 13th century depicting liturgical narratives, lives and deeds of saints and biblical figures.
But that is not all that this incredible location offers: during the turbulent first years of Christianity, Christians were often mercilessly persecuted, which led them to flee from these sacred places to subterranean tunnels or more, subterranean cities, capable of hosting up to 10,000 people each. Tours of these cities take you to a completely different side of history, unknown to many other than those who venture into the fairy chimneys of Turkey.
Swing over the edge of the world
2600 meters above sea level is La Casa Del Arbol, which is, simply put, the best place on earth to observe the Tunguraua volcano. The name of the volcano derives from the Quichua words tunguri and rahua. They literally translate as ‘throat of fire’, giving the volcano a name to live up to with its most recent eruption only in 2006! What La Casa Del Arbol does is allow you to swing over the top of a hill that, thanks to its unique location, overlooks the expanse of the volcano.
As you move forwards and backwards, the throat of fire, and its crater, seems to oscillate in front of you – as does the ground below! This creates the illusion of a drop into the abyss. The locals call this experience ‘swinging over the edge of the world’. La Casa Del Arbol is situated in the province of Baños, in Ecuador.
It’s very easy to reach this destination. You can rent a car, take a bus of, if you’re feeling a little adventurous, there’s a local bike service. They offer both normal bikes and quad bikes and, they give you helmets and maps to help you along the 30 – 40 minute drive. The edge of the world is waiting!
A trip to the highlands…in Ethiopia
Following from the theme of cities carved into the rock, we now want to take you back to Africa and, specifically, to Lalibela in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is called the horn of Africa, due to its location at the very tip of the right hand side of the continent.
The highlands of Ethiopia have kept some of the best-guarded secrets in the world intact for thousands of years. One of them is Lalibela. A Unesco World Heritage Site, Lalibela hosts a series of 11 magnificent monolithic churches such as Beta Giyorgis, or church of Saint George, a religious structure from the 12th century which has baptised the area as ‘the new Jerusalem’.
Local stories credit King Lalibela with its creation. The King (also known as King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela) was visited by an angel, who had a message from god to worship him in a way that everyone could see. The King obeyed, building what is now regarded as ‘an ancient world carved in stone’.
Lalibela features rituals and festivals, which have been kept intact for the past 1,000 years! Hotels nearby offer excursions to the area, as well as a selection of luxurious activities and escapades to enjoy the benefits of the present along with the secrets of the past.
Immerse yourself in Keralan life
A sliver of a coastal state in India’s deep south, Kerala features 600km of azure coast, networks of glistening backwaters and the spice-covered hills of the Western Ghants. This location is a far cry from the chaotic cities traditionally linked to Indian culture, offering a more blissful way of life. For those seeking peace and quiet in pristine natural surroundings, Kerala could be the destination for you.
Kerala’s diverse culture is heavily influenced by the three main religions of the region, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Exquisite sculptures, traditional music and dance are enjoyed by the locals and visitors and, despite a community invested deeply in religious beliefs, Kerala is a region open to modern ideas and technological changes
The unique experience of a Kerala homestay tour gives you an incomparable view on Keralan life, allowing you to stay with different families throughout the state. Spending time with the host families is better than any excursion as you participate in all traditional activities as well as enjoying local, home-cooked cuisine. From leisurely breakfasts and lazing around the pool, to tea on the veranda and an evening under the stars, the warm hospitality of Keralan families is second to none. A Kerala homestay allows you to experience this inimitable culture, shrouded in colour, spice and life.
An alternative sun and sand destination
If you’re looking for something along the lines of the traditional sunbathing holiday but with a unique twist, why not try the trio of Gili Islands? Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air offer the whole spectrum of activities: white sandy beaches, nightlife, snorkelling, scuba diving and water sports you would expect from a sea and sand holiday, but all in beautiful, pristine Indonesia.
Gili Trawangan has some of the best clubs and bars to fill the nights, Gili Meno has quiet, romantic beaches and translucent waters and, if you’re looking for a bit of both, Gili Air is the place for you. Speedboats leave Bali every day headed for the trio, and the islands all offer their unique range of accommodation, from hip hotels in Trawangan to a more local selection with huts along the beach in Meno and Air.
What makes these locations so special is the approach the locals and the government have kept to tourism in the area, no motorbikes and no cars…just the sound of the waves and sea breeze. You can hire sailing boats for trips around the island, and some dips in the sea that feel like you’re far, far away from civilization. Tanning is something entirely different in Indonesia.
See the night turn day in Thailand
Yi Peng is the yearly lantern festival in Thailand, happening alongside Loi Krathong, the festival of water floating lanterns.
This year, 2016, both are expected to take place around November. During the lantern festival, held in Chiang Mai, thousands of people converge to light khom loy, or paper sky lanterns, and see them float away into the night. Thousands of lanterns come together in the sky to celebrate and honour Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. The releasing of the khom loy signifies the letting go of negativity, of personal demons and regrets. It celebrates new beginnings and opportunities.
If you’re looking for a holiday that focuses on personal growth and positivity, this might be the thing for you. Chiang Mai is the largest city in Thailand, which also makes travelling to the festival very straightforward. Once in the city, just wander through the lotus-covered buildings and golden decorations that fill the streets to the nearest location with water. When you arrive, purchase a lantern or, if you carry your own, simply make sure you follow the lead of the nearest monk around you.
The land of smiles truly holds some amazing wonders for those of you looking to take something a bit more alternative with you than the sandy beaches and nightlife of Thailand.