Whether you’re feeling full of energy, or need to slow down, July has something for everyone
July is usually a massively busy month when it comes to festivals, and while we’ve mentioned a couple here, we’re also highlighting a couple of lesser-known destinations and some lower-stress breaks. Here we go!
Road trip! The west coast of the USA
Either starting from the south and working your way north or vice versa, July is a great month to see some of the continent’s most famous sights.
Non-stop, it would take around 30 hours to drive from the Canadian to the Mexican border, but we’re suggesting a far more leisurely two or three weeks. Why not start just over the border in Vancouver in fact? July is the least rainy month for the city, so you’ll be almost certain to be able to explore the parks and forests in the surrounding region, as well as taking in the sights and sounds of one of Canada’s most densely-populated and most ethnically diverse cities.
Head down the coast into Washington state and hit Seattle. Grab a coffee or three, naturally, check out the Space Needle, and perhaps catch a baseball or soccer game (the northwest has really embraced soccer culture). From there it’s on to Portland, Oregon, hipster central, where microbreweries and tiny coffee shops jostle for space with vegan restaurants and second-hand bookshops.
It’s not the throbbingly sincere city you’d imagine, however; although easy to mock, its heart is in the right place. Oh, and a passing word on beaches: sure, it’s not as consistently hot as California, but this part of the world has some stunning beaches if you get off the beaten track and have a poke around.
So over the border into California we go, and through the National Parks and vineyards of the northern part of the state. Cruise into San Francisco and enjoy one of the country’s most iconic cities, before heading further down the coast on the famous Pacific Coast Highway, past the rugged cliffs and deserted bays of Big Sur. Join the beautiful people on the beaches of Santa Monica before ending your journey in San Diego, exhausted and refreshed in equal measure.
Of course, the above is merely the briefest overview of the road trip experience, so why not create your own itinerary and tell your own story this summer?
An undiscovered paradise, São Tomé & Príncipe
If you were asked to name as many countries in Africa as you could in five minutes, you’d be forgiven if São Tomé & Príncipe didn’t roll off your tongue. The two islands, located in the Gulf of Guinea, are home to around 200,000 people and offer some of Africa’s most spectacular and daunting scenery.
Príncipe in particular is incredible, an island shrouded in jungle and mist, where lush greenery forces its way out of prehistoric rock, and one of the few places on earth where even today a dinosaur wouldn’t look out of place.
Having been colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century, São Tomé (the capital shares its name with the larger of the two islands) grew wealthy on the back of cocoa, sugar cane and coffee trading (and some less salubrious practices), but that means that there are a number of simple yet elegant churches, some large, stately mansions and a number of merchant houses that make up the city itself. The central market throngs with traders, the fishermen bring in their catch, and locals stroll along the palm-fringed promenade that runs around the large bay upon which the city is built.
Since gaining independence in 1975, economic conditions have been tough, meaning that the grand buildings have suffered somewhat, but the plan to really kickstart the country’s economy is ecotourism. Currently, it’s one of the least-visited places in the world — welcoming only 30,000 visitors in 2018, for example — but the idea is that promoting São Tomé and Príncipe on its natural wonders would be exceedingly beneficial.
Beaches, jungles, fishing, snorkeling, hiking, climbing and more are all on offer, as well as experiences designed to allow the traveler to learn about the country’s history while not shying away from its (often brutal) colonial past. It’s also a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, and the tourism board hopes to raise awareness of the need to protect the country’s unique but delicate ecosystem while also providing economic opportunity for its citizens.
To that end, many resorts and companies have made it their business to become (or be on their way to becoming) completely sustainable. Maybe this July might be the time to get involved for yourself.
Water way to have a good time, the UK
Sometimes you just need to slow down and have a look around. Appreciate the world that surrounds you. Relax. Take your time. If this sounds like your sort of thing, then a canal trip around the waterways of Britain might just be your perfect holiday. There are many companies that rent out narrowboats, and the boat becomes your mode of transport and your home for a trip that’s a reminder of a slower, simpler time.
It’s an amazing way of discovering a Britain you might not know, and you also have the choice of what aspects of the country you’d like to see. You could traverse the Norfolk Broads, spending your days under vast skies, gazing for miles across the beautiful meadows and drifting lazily from village to village. Cross Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow and use the mighty Falkirk Wheel that joins the Union Canal to the Forth & Clyde Canal, or glide through the spectacular scenery of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales.
Alternatively, take a look at some of Britain’s cities from an unusual angle by heading through the Midlands via Warwick Castle, Coventry and Birmingham, the northwest on the Leeds — Liverpool Canal, or the Cheshire Ring via Manchester.
Whatever route you choose, when you rent your boat you’ll get full tuition on how to navigate the canals, how to work the locks, where you can and can’t moor your craft and, most importantly, where the best canalside pubs are!
The land of fire, Azerbaijan
In June, Azerbaijan will be fuelled by sport, with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix taking place along with four matches in the continent-wide European Football Championships. Wait a bit longer though, and if you come in July you’ll get to see the country with less of a tourist throng.
That’s not to say, however, that it’s free of tourism. Since the early 2000s, Azerbaijan has been marketing itself as the next big thing in travel and leisure, its extensive Land of Fire campaign being promoted across Europe. It seems to be working too, as a steady trickle of people make the trip. And what do they see when they get there?
They see a country that is neither Europe nor Asia; where the gleaming new skyscrapers of Baku ring a centuries-old citadel in the city center; where urbanites enjoy all the trappings of rapidly-Westernized living, while those inland still live in beautiful, rustic villages and small towns, surrounded by orchards and forests.
The spectacular views are backed by the mighty Great Caucasus Mountains, home to some of the region’s highest peaks, including Mt. Elbrus at a whopping 5,642 meters. The semi-arid desert that makes up a lot of the country is famous for its naturally fiery phenomena, now surrounded by temples and other places of worship, and it is here that Prometheus is said to have brought fire to humanity before being chained to the Caucasus Mountains by Zeus as a punishment. Hopefully, Azerbaijan will fire your imagination.
Going Nowhere, Spain
A festival you may not have heard of, Spain’s Nowhere Festival takes its inspiration from Burning Man, citing ten key principles as its foundations: community, cooperation, gifting, immediacy, inclusion, leaving no trace, no commerce, participation, self-expression, and self-reliance.
Noble these may be, but can Nowhere accomplish what they’re setting out to do, namely have a festival of music, art and general strangeness that succeeds based on the above principles yet doesn’t become at all commercial? Well, they’ve succeeded so far despite (or more likely because of) the harshness of the environment. It takes place in the Spanish desert, with temperatures routinely at 40 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit), and you won’t have any idea where it is or how to get there until you sign up to take part.
The festival publishes two survival guides: one physical, the other emotional, stating that “…the heat, the dust, the noise, dehydration and overwhelming situations may wear you down, with new routines and environments. Interaction with people can be too intense, or you can end up feeling very alone with no familiar comforts to fall back on.” You can either choose to free camp, or to join a barrio, a large area built by a group of people as a living and performance space. Barrios will get marked on maps as performance spaces so as a musician or artist you can perform there, or you can choose to simply wander and perform as you see fit.
However you choose to experience the festival, it’ll be an extreme experience that’s sure to stay with you for years to come.
The Calgary Stampede, Calgary, Canada
Yee and very much haw, everyone: the Calgary Stampede is, to all intents and purposes, a massive rodeo. But it’s grown into so much more than that. As their official mandate says, the Stampede “is a gathering place that hosts, educates, and entertains visitors from around the world. Our purpose is to preserve and celebrate western heritage, culture, and community spirit.”
Running from July 3–-12 July this year, it’s expected to attract around a million visitors who will, of course, expect to see some rodeo competition, but it’s also evolved into one of Canada’s largest music festivals, as well as boasting a host of other experiences to get involved in.
The festival can trace its roots back as far as 1886, and the first annual fair of the Calgary and District Agricultural Society. Come 1912 and the first rodeo event took place, and in 1919 the Victory Stampede took place to honor soldiers returning from the battlefields of the First World War. Since then it’s become an annual tradition, morphing into the two-week behemoth it is today.
There are rodeos and evening shows every day, displaying the skill and fearlessness of riders that take part. There are four music stages with artists from a wide range of musical genres. There’s a chance to meet and learn about Canada’s First Nations People, try some traditional crafts or dances, and discover their rich and varied cultures.
There’ll be food and drink from all across North America, fairgrounds with games and rides and, on top of all that, the Stampede maintains its affinity with the land with extensive recycling schemes, using the bedding waste and manure produced to plant and maintain thousands of trees around Calgary, donating unused food to charities that feed the homeless, and employing bats to keep mosquitos and other pests away!