This summer, explore Slovenia on foot, Nahanni in Canada on boat, Liechtenstein on mountain bike and the Ningaloo Reef under water. Plus, attend the shoe festival in the Philippines, flower carpet festival in Brussels, music and food festival in Nashville and Siena's famous Il Palio horse race.
Where to go when: Summer season 2014
Athens, old and new
Greece's ancient capital bore the full heat of the global economic meltdown and yet this cultural and intellectual hub of yore continued to innovate - "at sites old and new". This June, for instance, the National Museum of Contemporary Art will open in the deserted Fix brewery, a remarkable and vibrant structure in the centre of Athens, created by the architect Takis Zenetos. The first crop of visitors can expect a series of periodical exhibitions on international art, mid-career retrospectives of contemporary artists and historical retrospectives in the form of paintings, installations, photography, video, new media and "experimental" architecture. A short walk away is the historic Acropolis Museum, which will have on display the restoration of the famous Caryatid statues. Another "new" experience would be checking into the Emporikon Hotel, which was originally built in 1900 and is now undergoing revivification and aims to be Athens' first truly chic boutique hotel when it opens at the end of this year. The hotel's 12 rooms are in the same neoclassical building as the culinary market Manas Kouzina-Kouzina on Aiolou Street.
Slovenia on foot
It's been said that Europe is best seen on foot. And if you have an itinerary, set by a local expert, which packs in a varied countryside and multiple cultural experiences along the way, as well as a great meal, soothing drink and comfortable bed awaiting you at the end of a day's full but leisurely walking, then now is the time to pack that haversack. The luxe walking-holiday specialist On Foot Holidays has a self-guided trip for beginners through Karst, Slovenia, where late spring brings along a profusion of wild flowers, butterflies and birdsong. The eight-night trek includes between three and five hours of hiking per day as well as stays on working farms, where you can sample local meats, herbs, fruits, olive oils and beverages. The trip begins in Slovenia's picture-perfect capital, Ljubljana, then heads west into the Karst, an area of woodland hills, meadows, vineyards, villages and traditional farm houses, and ends in the vibrant Italian seaport of Trieste. The self-guided trip costs from £725 (Dh4,500) per person, including b&b, five evening meals, six picnics, route information and luggage transfers between accommodation.
Call On Foot Holidays on 0044 172 232 2652 or visit www.onfootholidays.co.uk
Ningaloo Reef, Australia
Blessed with dry and warm winters, the north-west cape of Western Australia boasts ideal weather this month. Now is a good time, then, to break away from the tourist herd and head to the region's famous Ningaloo Reef - stretching more than 260 kilometres along the largely uninhabited, least visited and most pristine of Australia's coral reefs. Teeming with wildlife, Ningaloo is considered one of the best places in the world to whale-watch and, during the winter months, the area is a migratory route for dolphins, dugongs and humpback whales. Especially famous are the easy viewings of hundreds of gentle whale sharks. Water and wildlife aficionados can also snorkel with turtles, swim with manta rays and dive among 300 varieties of corals. Australia's largest fringing coral reef, Ningaloo is home to the Baiyungu tribes and is a Unesco World Heritage site, protected by an eponymous marine park. The beaches of the reef are a breeding ground of the loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles, while the terrestrial part of the area features a network of caves, conduits and groundwater streams that the more adventurous can explore with a local guide.
Emirates flies to Perth, from where a flight to Learmonth takes 90 minutes with Skywest (www.skywest.com.au)
Go here in July:
A Summer in Paris
Come summer, Parisians vacate the French capital, leaving the très chic boulevards free for families to enjoy. One could stay on in Paris forever, but if you only have a few weeks in hand, head there in the first week of July for the Paris Cinema Festival with screenings in indoor and outdoor settings across the city. Stay on for Bastille Day on July 14 for the parade on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in the morning, fireworks by the Eiffel Tower in the evening and parties late into the night. And on July 27, head back down to the Champs-Élysées to take in the final leg of the legendary Tour de France cycle race. Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Paris has a dedicated director of children's relations, who can keep your tots - tiny or otherwise - happy and busy all month long with visits to the Louvre, citywide treasure hunts, ballet and cooking lessons with the pastry chef - perfect if you want to take advantage of the 70 per cent off summer sales on till the end of this month, endearingly referenced as "Handbags at Dawn".
Games in Glasgow
Sport fans should head to Scotland this summer to watch history unfold as the region adds to its outdoorsy appeal - with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup in the Highlands. Starting July 23, the 12-day Commonwealth Games competition is set to be the largest multi-sport event to ever come to Scotland. The Games will be mainly held in and around the Athletes' Village in Dalmarnock on the bank of River Clyde in Glasgow, although more enthusiastic spectators may want to head to the village of Barry and then to Edinburgh for the full-bore shooting and diving events. From the precision of lawn bowls to the wrestling and judo combats, the high adrenalin of track events, and the grace of gymnastics - the 10 core and seven selected sports will be fiercely competed with a confirmed total of 70 participating nations this year. As if that were not enough in the fun and games department, come September, the ultimate golf competition - the Ryder Cup - tees off in the Gleneagles resort in Scotland.
Il Palio, Siena
Every year since 1656, the enormous Piazza del Campo in the Italian town of Siena hosts the famous Il Palio horse race. The 90-second bareback dash is held twice each summer; this year, the first race is on July 2 and the second on August 16. The mood may well be merriment itself, but the race holds considerable significance to the 17 contrade (districts) of Siena - and the winning rider brings great esteem, and apparently good luck, to his contrade. Although the race itself is brief - and the best view is got from the east side of the track - the medieval streets of Siena come alive with music, parades, feasts and a blowout street carnival, thrown by the winning contrade, which has been known to last for days. No tickets are necessary since entry into the Campo is free, but you can buy balcony tickets for unobstructed views, and it is recommended that you book ahead for accommodation as rooms fill up fast around Il Palio dates. The race usually begins at 7pm, and is over a mere three laps, but as previous visitors will testify, the party will have just begun.
Visit www.paliotickets.com for accommodation and balcony ticket combination deals
Go here in August:
Flower Carpet in Brussels
On August 14 this year, the Grand Place of Brussels will be transformed into a blooming haven as the biennial Flower Carpet event kicks off. Combining the meticulous work of renowned horticulturists and Belgian craftsman, the event sees the assembling and laying out of a floral tapestry - using 300 cut and assembled begonias per square metre - on the streets outside the city's historic town hall, for all to admire. Although the shape, size and design of the carpet is planned a year in advance, visitors can see the actual assembling - by 120 pre-decided volunteers - between noon and 7pm on August 14 and attend the official opening at 10pm. The million-flower tapestry will be on display until August 17. This year, the event's exclusive partner, Hotel Amigo of the Rocco Forte group, offers visitors the ?367 (Dh1,870) Begonia Package, which includes two tickets to the town hall with its panoramic view of the manufacturing of the flower carpet as well as an in-room facial and massage treatment using floral ingredients and a romantic dinner and drinks at the hotel's Ristorante Bocconi.
For more information, www.roccofortehotels.com
Ride to Liechtenstein
The only country to lie completely within the Alps, the small but savvy Liechtenstein's 160 square kilometres are well worth discovering, and best done by hiking or mountain biking. The two classic trails are the Princes' Way - in the Rätikon range - and the 80-kilometre Principality of Liechtenstein to Rhine Valley track that also takes in neighbouring Switzerland. Opt for the former if walking is more your thing; the hike begins at 1,400 metres above sea level and takes in Gaflei Saddle, the Schrofen and Helwangs peaks and Bärgälla Saddle, which offers breathtaking views of all the mountains and valleys in Liechtenstein. For bikers, the 80km journey along woodland paths, Alpine villages and mountain passes is a ride come true - the ascent up to Montlinger Schwamm along Wildmannli Bike Route No 55 and from Sennwald along Rheintal Bike Route No 48 are rather plain sailing. Not so much the St Luzisteig mountain pass and the scenic Bündner Herrschaft - but they're worth a bucket-list shot, anyway. Liechtenstein also celebrates its national holiday on August 15, with a carnivalesque gathering and fireworks in the capital, Vaduz.
Visit www.swisstrails.ch for walking and riding tours
Paddle trip on Nahanni River, Canada
Although it is by no means the toughest white-water river in the world, the South Nahanni in Nahanni National Park in the Northern Territories is considered a paddler's paradise. Experienced paddlers and plucky beginners travelling with licensed outfitters can whip their paddles through four spectacular canyons as the river churns up rapids, boils and whirlpools - one rather aptly named Hell's Gate. Multi-day canoeing, kayaking and rafting trips can also be organised with camp and cabin accommodations on hand. One of the first parks to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, Nahanni makes up 2.8 million hectares of wilderness rolling out of ice fields, mountains, alpine tundra and boreal forest, and the park boasts gorges deeper than the Grand Canyon and a waterfall that's twice the height of Niagara - at the unmissable Virginia Falls, the river plunges 300 feet with the Sluice Box Rapids above the falls and a dramatic spire of resistant rock in the gushing centre.
For those paddling by themselves, Nahanni River Adventures (www.nahanni.com) has a guide, which you should bring along with your 1:250,000 topographical maps
Go here in September:
Waterfall watching in Laos
Southern Laos is a formerly volcanic area known for its numerous ethnic minorities, high-quality coffee and a cascade of waterfalls that call to be visited, right around this month. The Champasak province, known as the Bolaven Plateau, is home to the famous twin waterfalls - Tad Fane, which drops 120 metres, and Tad Lo, where you can swim amid stunning rock pools and lush vegetation. Owing to the international attention it now attracts, the area may be filled with tourists, and those interested in a bit of privacy - and adventure - can trek to the other, more isolated waterfalls in the same Pakse-Paksong area - there's Tad Cham Pee, 1,800 metres from the main road and only accessible by foot and some serious trekking; Tad Yuang, which has well maintained roads and is the smallest waterfall in the region; the majestic Tat Katamtok is only accessible by a motorbike ride around the "big loop" of the plateau on the Ho Chi Minh trail; and the Couple waterfalls, also along the trail, between Paksong and Attapeu, and known for their super-cold water.
Audley group offers high-end tailor-made trips across Laos. Visit www.audleytravel.com
Shoe Festival, Philippines
Last year the theme was "I feel good", and Marikina's Sapatos Festival broke records by selling 90,529 pairs of shoes, retaining the much-coveted title of Shoe City of the Philippines. This year, the annual Sapatos Festival starts on September 9, and for the next few weeks, the city government will sponsor a shoe caravan that travels all over Metro Manila to showcase Marikina-made shoes, famous for their handcrafted and radical styles. Although the festival has many other events and collaborations in the offing - designers such as Leeroy New, Vania Romoff and Kristel Yulo were commissioned to come up with footwear for the catwalk in 2013 - the bazaar, which is the caravan's last stop, remains the highlight of the event. A day's trip to Patio del Zapateros, dubbed the "one-stop shoe shop" along J?P Rizal Street, is a must - here, shoppers can choose from 47 home-grown brands at a 30 per cent discount. The festival came about from "The Shoe Must Go On" campaign after the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, and this year, close on the heels of Typhoon Haiyan, the makers and manufacturers are determined to show that Marikina city is still the place to be in for well-made footwear.
Music and food, Nashville
Now in its second year, the quintessentially southern and undeniably cool Music City Food and Wine festival celebrates the vibrant culinary scene that has emerged in Nashville, Tennessee, mother ship to the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Jeff the Brotherhood and Diarrhea Planet. On September 20 and 21 this year, national master chefs and beverage experts will collaborate with local talent to give festivalgoers a taste of classic Southern dishes as well as regional crossovers and seasonal favourites - think hot chicken, Elvis paninis, buca beignets and the world's best ribs. With more than 30 demonstrations and food panels, the Grand Tasting, which goes on all weekend, will showcase 25 top local restaurants and more than 40 beverage exhibitors alongside celebrity chefs and live musicians. If you're extending your stay, check out Pinewood Social, a newbie restaurant, bowling alley, bar and karaoke joint, and 404, a boutique restaurant in a former auto garage as well as Nashville's more established joints - the honky-tonk Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and the venerable Ryman Auditorium.
Tickets for Nashville's Music City Food and Wine Festival are now on sale at www.musiccityfoodandwinefestival.com
- Compiled by Panna Munyal