When holiday planning, I used to start with the destination, which seemed sensible to me. However, like my lipsticks and jumpers, I have a tendency to go for the same colour or style that I bought last time because I know it suits me. Well, here's the thing, there are many more exciting colours and styles out there that are just as good, if not better, than those I'm used to. Ditto holiday planning... Bored with returning to the same destinations each holiday, I now start my holiday planning by asking what I'd like to do while I'm away, rather than where I'd like to go, and this has taken me to some great new places. Here are four activities you might enjoy in places where you may not have considered doing them!
Ask yourself what you enjoy doing on holiday, instead of where you want to go, to embark on a journey of discovery. This approach to holidays will take you to new countries, to see and learn so much about places you never would have thought of visiting, while still being able to throw yourself into all your favourite holiday activities. To help you on your way, I'm taking you to Portugal's Algarve, the Spanish island of Tenerife, Florida in the US, and onto a couple of Goa's gorgeous beaches in India.
1. Walking in the Algarve, Portugal
Portugal's Algarve region is famed for both its beautiful beaches and epic golf courses. If it's miles of sun-kissed golden sands you want, or acres of rolling golfing greens - there are 42 golf courses in this region alone - that are playable year-round in the country's balmy climate, then the Algarve is the place for you.
However, so few holidaymakers ever venture into the Algarve's lush interior. The region can be seen at its mountainous, magnificent best around Serra de Monchique, a mountain range which embraces the Monchique area in southern Portugal.
Whether you care to drive, walk or cycle off road on your adventure further inland to explore the forests and hills, is your choice. To truly appreciate the verdant vistas from the hills of Monchique you should, at some stage, leave your wheels behind to wander the many woodland paths. These will bring you out at spectacular viewing points from which you can gaze over the towns and villages tumbling down the hillside below. Monchique sits on the spectacular Pico da Foia, southern Portugal's highest mountain, and a trip to its peak rewards you with panoramic views of the whole region and out across the Atlantic Ocean - as well as a sense of real achievement.
At the heart of Monchique sits the prettiest little town of the same name. Its shady cobbled streets are peopled by industrious locals who go about their daily business in a way business has been carried out on this mountain for centuries. Whitewashed houses with brightly painted doors provide a luminous backdrop to your wander about the town, while its main square is the perfect place to break your walk to take some cooling refreshment under the canopy of trees, which fringe the square's al fresco dining areas.
As you travel down the mountain you should stop off to visit the historic spa village of Caldas de Monchique. The sparkling waters dance over ancient stones in the woodlands, as they have done for centuries, glinting through the ferns as they catch the sunlight which pierces the dappled shade, afforded by the enchanting covering of mature trees and shrubs. This place has been attracting visitors since the Romans made it their favourite retreat, while today, a welcoming café set in the mountain's rocky and 'ferny' face provides an extensive luncheon menu. There's even a modern spa across the road, offering its own menu of treatments, using the famed waters, including water massages and jet showers.
If you don't want to go it alone, there are many organised walking, cycling and jeep safari tours of the Monchique area, including some downhill cycle routes which make for a memorable holiday experience!
2. Splashing out in Tenerife
To be fair, I used this amazing feature on the tiny Spanish island of Tenerife for both a little pool action and an opportunity to relax. I'm talking about Lago Martiánez in the cosmopolitan town of Puerto de la Cruz on the north side of Tenerife. This is a unique art installation in which visitors can play and bathe in the artificial central lake and its surrounding seven swimming pools, all filled with salt-water which gives a non-swimmer, such as myself, more buoyancy and the ability to bob around the azure pool waters with a degree of relaxed confidence.
Most of us head for the sizzling south of the island and, because Tenerife is very easy to get around in a hire car, or by taxi and public transport, this magnificent lido makes for an easy day out from the sunny south. And it is certainly worth making the effort to spend a day here. Natural materials, such as rocks and the pale barks of preserved trees, have been crafted and painted into calming art forms, which mingle with real palm trees, acting as parasols for the sun loungers around the lake and pools. Meanwhile, five floating islands and sparkling fountains bring yet another dimension of fun and fascination to what must be the world's most unique water park. In contrast to the calm of the lido, take a glimpse over the mighty sea walls of this water park and you will see the giant waves crashing in on the natural black-sand beaches below.
Behind the creation of this artful water park is César Manrique, Lanzarote's famous son whose distinctive architecture gives that island a signature look which sets it apart from any other destination. His architecture also sets Lago Martiánez apart in the world of water park playgrounds. Though it is so much more than that. A small entrance fee includes the use of a sun lounger and parasol for the day and, once inside the lido, there are changing rooms with lockers, lifeguards in attendance at the pools, stalls selling traditional Canarian snacks, restaurants, bars and, by night, the pools and fountains become a light show, while an underground casino opens up for a very different kind of entertainment for the night owls.
Another remarkable water feature on Tenerife - apart from the popular Siam Park Water Kingdom - is the more intimate and 100 per cent natural El Caleton pools in the quaint and pretty town of Garachico. This chain of pools will make you stop and stare for a few moments when you first see them, as they really are an amazing sight, with their dark rocky rims contrasting dramatically against the bluest of waters in the pools and the white foam of the rolling waves fringing their sea-facing edge. In 1700 a volcanic eruption buried Garachico's old port forever. Thankfully, most of the town itself was spared, though from these seafront pools you can still see the two deep chasms burned into the hillside where the lava poured down, making its way to the sea. Today, several pools along the seafront which are framed from volcanic lava and magma make the ideal stop-off to cool off for a relaxed splash about, before taking lunch in the nearby café which serves the widest variety of the most delicious fish dishes, made with fish which is as fresh as it comes.
3. Go boating in Florida, US
If you're not out 'wining and dining' on holiday, then you will be on a beach, by a swimming pool, out walking and exploring, or participating in some water-based activity. Who doesn't love to be simply messing about on the water? In Florida, holder of the US title of The Sunshine State, there are some unusual ways to take to the water. You can swim with manatees in the Crystal River, for example.
However, if you'd rather be on the water than in it, take a boat trip - an airboat trip! And where better to take a boat out than the tropical Florida Everglades? Often called a swamp, it is actually a slow-moving, grassy river, which is carpeted with exotic flora and fauna, such as coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes and pine flatwoods which all form a safe home and environment for a myriad of animals. The 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park flows from Kissimmee, all the way out to Florida Bay. Highlights of a boat trip may well include sightings of alligators, Florida panthers, manatees and some pretty special inhabitants, such as the leatherback turtle, which is now an endangered species.
The airboat tours will take you gliding smoothly over and through the sawgrass marshes. The airboat tour will move you with ease away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation and out into the wild and wet grasslands, while the knowledgeable boat captains will give you a running commentary on these historic wetlands.
A swamp buggy is another way to get around this watery wonderland. These raised, open-platform vehicles, are designed to run on specially adapted tyres and a tour on one of these will take you through the denser parts of the Everglades. You will cross muddy marshes to take in this remarkable scenery at a really slow pace, giving you a better chance to see those gators and their neighbours, as well as native American campsites and burial grounds. Many tour operators also offer visits to their animal sanctuaries where you can see some of the Everglades' extraordinary inhabitants a little more closely than from your boats.
4. Be a beach babe in India
Who doesn't love a beach holiday? I'm not big on beaches myself, but even I find I'm inextricably drawn to a splendid stretch of sand at the end of a busy morning exploring. If the beach has something to offer which is a little different, then all the better. Goa in India has such an exotic ring to it; you'd expect the glorious Goan coastal reaches to be something special, and you won't be disappointed.
The backdrop to many of Goa's gorgeous sands are forgotten fortresses, little villages that have managed to retain their rustic charm and individuality, all fringed by lush forests. A short hop from the beach you will find some of India's cultural hot spots, such as the Latin Quarter of Panjim, and creeks lined with mangroves which you can kayak around. But you'd have to tear yourself away from the beach first...
Arambol Beach comes with lashings of Goan culture and the traditional bohemian ambience that established Goa's reputation as being the ideal laid-back beach experience. The sand is perfect and runs as far as the eye can see - well, for 10 miles. It is one of Goa's cleanest and greenest stretches of sand, being lined by palm trees and lots of other foliage, and then embraced by the Red Hills behind the forest. Unsurprisingly, it is not a crowded beach, but you can often lounge to the soundtrack of guitars and the soft beat of drums as small groups gather together on these sands for a gentle jamming session. You must wander to the northern end of the beach to take in the sights and waters of the sweet water lake there, and the famous banyon tree under which, legend has it, The Beatles sat down to meditate and find inspiration. If you want to relax even more, then venture to the back of the beach where you will find many opportunities to take healing and soothing therapy sessions, meditation and yoga classes, as well as beach stalls selling crystals so you can pack a little of this hippy idyll into your suitcase to help you chill out at home.
Cavelossim Beach sits between the Arabian Sea and the Sal River making it especially interesting for those long, lazy beach strolls along the soft sand bars. The little snack shacks and intimate restaurants dappled along the waterfront here mean that while you may feel as if you are a million miles from anywhere on these white sands, you are actually never far from a tasty plate of the local specialities. Black rocky outcrops contrast with the silvery sands and crystal waters making this a perfect place to relax under your parasol with a cool drink in hand. The waters here are very calm and safe for swimmers, if you fancy a cooling dip. Plus there are also lots of water-based activities to be enjoyed, including kayaking, dolphin-watching trips and, being so close to the Sal River, riverboat trips.
If you are a beach lover, then you must spend some holiday time on the Goan sands which are like no other beach, anywhere in the world. But then, India is like no other place in the world and Goa's beaches are just a stone's throw away from some truly unspoilt villages and towns, running over with rustic charm where you will be sure to be greeted with the warmest of welcomes by the kind and friendly locals there.
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