You’ve earned a bit of a break. So what’s good in March?
Events ranging from the traditional to the modern take place in March each year, with an ancient Buddhist ritual and a modern musical phenomenon being just two of the events we’ve got for you. But there’s a lot more to see and do as well. Let’s go!
Travel back in time, Luxor, Egypt
Luxor lies on the River Nile, and is built on the site of the ancient city of Waset (or Thebes to the ancient Greeks), seat of the Egyptian pharaohs between the 16th and 11th centuries BCE. It’s sometimes known as the world’s greatest open-air museum, due to the presence of the ruins of the Luxor and Karnak temple complexes within the modern city.
Those temples lie on the eastern bank of the Nile, while over on the west there are further tombs and temples, adding up to an all-round beautiful setting of scattered ruins and mighty statues, places of worship, palaces, pavilions and avenues of columns down which strode some of the most powerful people of the ancient world.
The nearby Valley of the Kings is a series of tombs excavated from the rock and the final burying place of the most venerated figures in Egypt for a period of over 500 years.
March is the perfect time to visit Luxor, being cooler and less crowded than at other times, but whenever you come the whole place will give you pause to think about the thousands of years of human history that have gone before, the rise and fall of civilizations and ways of life that were seemingly infinite, and just how we might be viewed by generations to come.
A fruity festival, Mendoza, Argentina
Argentina is famous for its wine, and the Mendoza region is probably the most well-known of them all. Mendoza is also the name of the region’s capital city, and it’s here from 6–9 March that one of the greatest celebrations of the glory of the grape takes place.
Around 22,000 people attend the Grape Harvest Festival, and it’s been equated with other great cultural events around the world, such as the Rio Carnival, Mardi Gras and the Venice Carnival, so it’s a hell of a party! During the week, vintners from around the country arrive and set up for days of tasting events across the city, leading up to the Friday and the Via Blanca parade, in which each region of the country shows off their wares with floats, dancers, decoration and their regional Wine Queen.
The following day, there’s a reprise of the parade, only this time it’s even bigger, with stagecoaches, vintage cars, pack animals and gauchos (the legendary cowherds of the Pampas), as well as bands of musicians and actors drawn from across the continent. Everything leads to the finale at the mighty Greek amphitheater where over 400 actors put on a spectacular show praising the history and spirit of the vintners, culminating in the crowning of the Reina de la Vendimia (the Harvest Queen) and a giant firework display.
Undiscovered Italy, the Egadi Islands, Sicily
What if we were to tell you there’s a bit of Italy that hasn’t been that widely visited yet? If you really knew your stuff you’d guess, maybe, somewhere in the south. Puglia, Calabria, somewhere like that. And sure, those are places that people don’t really get to know, but we’re talking about a tiny archipelago of five islands off the west coast of Sicily: the Egadi Islands.
The islands consist of Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo and the rocky islets of Formica and Maraone, and are some of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Levanzo is the smallest of the three main islands, and is everything you could hope for: clusters of small, whitewashed cottages teetering on the edge of the cliffs that tumble down towards the tiny port, a haven for scuba divers who can explore the wreck of a Roman ship preserved at the bottom of the lagoon.
Marettimo is for walking. Castles and churches are dotted over the hillsides, and after a bracing hike up to the island’s highest point it’ll seem that you have the world to yourself as you gaze out over the ancient landscape to the sea. Then it’s to Favignana for a well-earned rest on the beach, or to stroll or cycle between the quaint fishing villages scattered along the coastline. It’s a glimpse of a simpler time.
Adventure in the Atlantic, Madeira, Portugal
With a wonderful climate pretty much all year round, Madeira is good food, beautiful scenery, relaxing when you need, and energetic when you want. Famous for its seafood, the four islands off the northwest coast of Africa are home to lush valleys from which the grapes come to make the eponymous wine.
It’s not somewhere to go if your idea of fun is lazing on the beach: simply put, there aren’t many. The islands are mountainous, rocky outcrops, thrusting out of the ocean to a peak — on the island of Madeira itself — of 1,862 meters. This means it’s a great place for hiking, exploring the caves, surfing, canyoning, and other vigorous activities, as well as slightly more passive things like going out whale and dolphin watching.
In the capital, Funchal, take the cable car up to the Botanical Garden or the Monte Palace and have a nose around. When you’re done, come back down the mountain using one of the island’s strangest but most traditional modes of transport: the Monte sledge.
This is a wheeled toboggan, made of wicker, and piloted by two drivers (Carrieros) who stand on the back and kick, run and steer the toboggan as it hurtles down the road to the bottom of the hill. This mildly insane mode of transport has been a Madeira institution since 1850, so it’d be rude not to have a go!
Otherwise, simply indulge in the wonderful cuisine of the island. Seafood, meats, vegetables and wonderful local fruit are all used to create food based on the peasant tradition of the island. The closer you can get to the traditional methods of cooking, the better it tastes, especially after a long day of being outside. An unforgettable meal just tops Madeira off perfectly.
The next big thing, SXSW Festival, Austin, Texas, USA
Austin is the location for the now-pretty-famous South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, and in 2020 it’s running from Friday, 13 March to Sunday 22. These days it brands itself more as a conference than a festival as, since its inception in 1987, it’s expanded from music into film, comedy, art, conferences and panel discussions, exhibitions, a video gaming expo, and much more besides.
The first festival attracted 700 musical artists (which was already a huge undertaking), whereas nowadays around 28,000 register. Adding performers and speakers from the fields listed above, the festival can lay claim to 32,000 registrants, making SXSW one of the biggest talent showcases in the world.
Events take place across the city of Austin, from the tiniest dive bar to the biggest theater, and the event holds so much kudos that bands and musicians will strive to attend despite the fact that they have to pay for their own travel and accommodation when Austin is at its most expensive. But it’s worth it.
It’s been the springboard for a number of bands to get noticed and signed; you never know who’s watching, and it might just be that one SXSW performance that’s your first step on the road to stardom. Indeed, as an attendee, you never know who you might see. South by Southwest could be your chance to see the next big thing, but playing in front of 40 people in a pub somewhere. You could have the chance to say “I was there”.
The fire of the ancients, Nara, Japan
To the east of Osaka lies the city of Nara, and it’s here that the Omizutori, a series of Buddhist religious events, is held in the first half of March. It’s been held every year for 1,250 years, meaning it’s one of the oldest continuous Buddhist festivals in Japan.
The most famous of these events is Otaimatsu, which is performed every night from 1–14 March at Nigatsudo Hall, a part of the much larger Todaiji Temple. Just after sunset, ten giant torches ranging from six to eight meters in length are set ablaze and carried to the balcony of Nigatsudo, and the blazing embers are allowed to shower down on the crowd below. This is supposed to bring about a safe and healthy year ahead.
The ceremony lasts 20 minutes, except on 12 March when it continues for 45 minutes. This is the most popular for attendees, and for this reason people are encouraged to walk past the balcony rather than stand underneath it for the whole time as on the other days. Whichever day you come, however, you’re encouraged to arrive relatively early, as people from across Japan come to get a view of one of their oldest traditions.