April is when many of us really start to think about our plans for the summer and begin to get itchy feet. But what’s to stop you seeing some of the world in April itself?
As the weather gets warmer, we’ve found some lovely treats from around the world. Colourful national holidays, interesting ways to see the sights, ancient traditions to be discovered and much more.
Two-wheeled adventures — Jordan
Of all the countries in the Middle East, Jordan has possibly the most amazingly diverse range of terrain and sights: mountains and deserts, modern cities and ancient temples, seaside resorts and nature reserves. So what better way to see everything there is to see than on a bicycle?
Beginning with the deepest valley in the world, the Jordan Valley, you can head along the 47-kilometre-long (29 miles) route, even detouring to Aqaba on the Red Sea, the country’s only coastal city. No matter where you go in the country, you’ll experience some breathtaking sights.
The 15th century town of Dana sits close to a huge gorge and biosphere park. Mount Nebo is where Moses looked out across the promised land. The walled Roman city of Jerash. And, of course, the iconic Petra.
It’s a wonderful country, and exploring it by bike gives you even more of a sense of freedom, meaning you can make your own timetables, get off the beaten path, and even camp at night if you’re feeling extra adventurous. Make this the trip of a lifetime.
Tea time — Jiangsu Province, China
Tea tourism? Sure, why not. Coffee tourism is a thing now, so why not tea? Especially when it comes from some of the finest and most venerable sources in the world.
The city of Suzhou can be your base as you travel to the East Hill Mountains and Taihu Lake region, getting involved in the Biluochun Tea Culture and Tourism Festival. Both locals and visitors alike are encouraged to help pick the tea leaves, and see the entire process of tea making for themselves.
Biluochun tea is one of the more exclusive teas in China, with a history of well over a thousand years. This is to do with the fact that the entire production process is done by hand, and because the leaves (admired for their supposed healing power) are so delicate and sweet that they can be eaten after drinking the tea.
Learn about all this and see more, including ancient tea ceremonies, performances of local music and folk art, and eat traditional sweets and treats.
A country in bloom — the Netherlands
Come the spring and the Netherlands is one of the most colourful places in the world as a national icon reappears. It’s peak tulip season, so travel around the country for mile upon mile of fields in rainbow stripes.
It’s a truly stunning sight, but if you want the best of the best all in one place, head to Keukenhof Park and Gardens. With over 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in bloom over 32 hectares, it’s not called the Garden of Europe for nothing.
On Saturday, 13 April, the 72nd edition of the Bollenstreek (bulb growing area) Bloemencorso (flower parade) will follow a 40-kilometre route from Noordwijk to Haarlem, passing Keukenhof at around 15:30. Get there early in the day to explore the garden and wait for the parade to pass.
In the capital, Amsterdam, there’s even more going on towards the end of April. Saturday, 27 April is King’s Day, a national holiday, and the Dutch equivalent of St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, with all the dressing up (in orange rather than green, obviously!), partying and fun that goes with it. As if it wasn’t enough of a party city already!
Cliches and curios — Paris, France
Who doesn’t love Paris in the springtime, etc. Well, we certainly do, before it gets unbearably crowded, it’s not too hot, and you don’t have to queue for basically everything. Sure, it can be rainy and grey, but what better excuse to dive into a little coffee bar or bistro with a loved one? Or, alternatively, have a look at some of the more unusual exhibitions in Paris throughout the spring.
On 29 April from 10.00 to 17.00 in the nave of the Grand Palais, there’s a chance to get up close with some of the wonderful cars participating in this year’s Tour Auto Optic, a five-day rally around France. This year commemorates classic British brands, so as well as famous names from across the continent — Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Porsche and so on — there’ll be more than the usual share of Lotuses, Jaguars, Triumphs, Morgans and the like.
If you like to see things at a more stately pace, at the Grand Palais you can see two new exhibitions. Firstly, Rouge, l’Art au Pays des Soviets focuses on the role of art and visual propaganda during and after the Russian Revolution, and La Lune, du Voyage Réel au Voyage Imaginaire celebrates 50 years since the moon landing with artworks taking their inspiration from the moon and space.
Baltic beats — Tallinn, Estonia
2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Jazzkaar, the biggest jazz festival in the Baltic region. This year it runs from 19–28 April, and musicians from all corners of the globe head to the beautiful city of Tallinn to participate.
The festival is centred around the Telliskivi Creative City cultural centre, just outside the Old Town, and although jazz is the core of the festival, it’s expanding into rock, pop, electro, classical and improv variations.
Interestingly, it’s also going in the direction of staging very intimate gigs in private venues, be they recording studios, coffee shops or even peoples’ houses. You buy your ticket and the venue is announced when the limited selection is sold out, meaning you never quite know what you’re going to get.
Other than that, you get to go to Tallinn, which is always a good thing anyway. With its medieval Old Town, walled, cobbled and quirky, it’s one of the best preserved in Europe. Mixing the old and the new, it’s also a hub for young business: it has the highest number of start-ups per head than any other city in the world. It’s a very cool place, and this spring could just be the perfect time to visit.
Blossom in the air — Kyoto, Japan
It’s a beautiful time of year all over Japan as the cherry trees erupt in pink blossom. The sakura trees and their blossom are a massively important part of Japanese culture, their massed clouds being a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, and their beauty and transience seemingly reflecting the fragile nature of life and mortality.
Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto, is possibly the best place in the country to view the trees in blossom. The Kamo River is lined with cherry trees, Maruyama Park is where you can sit beneath the blossom and have a picnic, or get a mix of history and culture at the Imperial Palace Park. The beautiful, canal-side Philosopher’s Path is another stunning option, either during the day or at night.
As the warmer weather moves from the south of the country northwards, so do the blooms. If you have the time, why not consider making this your guide to the country. Imagine that: a tour of Japan, from south to north, following the blossoming of the cherry trees. You’d see every side of this fascinating country, all the while being guided by its natural icon.