Holidays. Yep, them things. Who doesn’t love a holiday? Well, to be quite frank, I don’t. They provide nothing to me that the local swimming baths and sunbed don’t already offer. And if I really wanted to ‘get away from it all’ I’m sure turning up the heating a smidgeon and settling down with a BBC wildlife programme while sucking on an asthma pump would release a similar amount of chemicals from my brain.
However, you (yes you in the blue shirt, how did I know that?) do – judging by the fact that you’ve somehow found yourself in this part of the internet. And you’re in luck. Here are my tips for an alternative holiday experience.
1. The black beaches of Iceland
If peace, quiet and spiritual enrichment are the bang you want for your buck, then look no further then the black sanded beaches of Vík í Mýrdal in Iceland. This unassuming town situated in the southernmost region of Iceland promises calm, serenity, and an ever so faint hint of sulphur. One satisfied traveller said “I just... for the first time felt one with the universe, as small as a grain of sand yet as large as the ocean all at once...”
The beach (comprised of volcanic basalt rock particles) has been consistently voted among the most beautiful beaches on earth. It is edged by equally beautiful cliffs, home to puffins who burrow into the sands during the nesting season. The town of Vik itself is dwarfed by the Katla volcano, which, while making the locals’ existence a tad more perilous then the calm nature of their surroundings suggests, is well worth a gander.
Although the town and its unique natural marvels may not be a holiday’s worth of time to all but the most leisurely of travellers, it is well worth a day (and maybe even a night).
2. The fantasy coffins of Ghana
Africa is the birthplace of humanity and many who visit feel an almost mystical connection. However, a first visit can be a daunting prospect to those unacquainted to the reality of life and culture to be found here. With this in mind, Ghana is a perfect introduction to Africa with its inviting culture and many tourist hotspots.
While Ghana is in no way short of interesting customs to experience, perhaps the most unique of these are the fantasy (or proverbial) coffins of the Greater Accra Region. A curiously young tradition (It’s believed the process began sometime in the mid 20th century) the deeply religious Ga-Adangbe people believe in reincarnation. They attempt to gain favour with those passed on in the hopes that it will bring them fortune in their current life. They make beautiful coffins that are considered works of art and are designed to exemplify the spirit of those buried inside them; they can come in all forms from swords to lions and even cigarette packets (Marlboro, naturally).
Accra is found at the southernmost part of Ghana. To the west lies Cape Coast where you can enjoy pristine beaches and learn about the slave trade. From here you can make your way to the rainforest canopies of Kakum Park before finishing off in Kumasi to experience one of the largest markets in western Africa. Not too bad for your first experience of the motherland!
3. The three games of men of Mongolia
Mongolia, where Ghengis Khan ruled his feared Mongol Empire, is now one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Indeed, 30 percent of its population is nomadic. This is the perfect destination for an alternative holiday experience. From the southern Gobi deserts to the Altai mountains bordering China, Mongolia is a destination for only the most adventurous of travellers.
The Naadam Festival is a cultural reflection of the tough, nomadic Mongol lifestyle. Celebrated nationwide, the Naadam is a centuries-old tradition believed to have originated in the military. These days it is used to celebrate Mongolian pride and independence. Three games are held at the tournament. These involve throwing men to the floor, racing horses and shooting things, leading to its native name. It is truly the Chuck Norris of parties.
The three events of archery, Mongolian wrestling and horse racing (although the Mongol version resembles a marathon rather than a sprint) invite all comers to compete, professionals, amateurs, women and even children compete in these events in some way or another. While Mongolia is generally bereft of anything that could be described as a tourist attraction, the Nadaam Festival (best enjoyed in the capital, Ulan Bator) is an uncommonly pure event that very few outsiders will ever have the pleasure to be a part of.
4. Ibiza (what a twist)
Ibiza!? You say.
Ibiza!? The internationally recognised rave capital of the world!? You say again.
How the **** is that in any way alternative! You ******!!! You scream.
But hey ho ranger, settle down your bad self... and dig this. How do you become even more alternative then the alternative? You embrace... the “ternative”, of course! They who tackle the MDMA-induced dragon of Ibiza and tame it into a cultural marmoset conquers the dinner table.
Ibiza’s rural community has strong roots in viniculture and winemaking is a tradition of the island that remains strong despite its recent label as a haven for ravers. The San Mateu wine festival (held every December) celebrates this as vintners and residents from all over the island migrate to the untouched northern town of San Mateu, to share both their products and their company. The festivities take place in a field, with over 100 different wines to choose from. Fires are lit inside bathtubs with protective grates, to not only keep you warm but to set an unique atmosphere as you roast the local grub. And if you grow bored of the delicious food and free wine, entertainment is provided in the form of local music.
The town itself is a drive (or a moderate trek) away from the D’albarca coastline. Here you will find the beautiful D’Albarca valley, with fields, trees and hills covered in orange, lemon and almond trees.
Even if you’re not the biggest wine fan or expert in the world (and what better time to start then the winter months?) Once a year San Mateu provides a cultural hub of the hidden depths of Ibiza for you to explore, enjoy and relax within.