Saturday, 28 November 2015

Eight of the world's best road trips

Get behind the wheel and embark on a world famous road trip for an experience of a lifetime you will never forget. If it's mountain scenery, sea views, historic castles, wildlife or a journey into the past you are after, try one of these eight routes for a taste of the open road.

Iceland Ring Road

Iceland's 800 mile Ring Route is the perfect way to experience this magical land's impressive scenery. From the picturesque two-lane highway you can see waterfalls, mountains, lakes and glaciers, on your way to some of the country's most stunning attractions. Not to be missed are Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon, 200 feet high Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Sólheimajökull Glacier, the crystal ice caves under Vatnajökull glacier, and Myvatn Geothermal Area. Although you can circle the island in around 16 hours it is recommended you take 10-14 days to take in all the sights, especially between April and August when the Northern Lights will illuminate the sky.

Iceland Ring Road

Scotland North Coast 500

Dubbed 'Scotland's answer to Route 66' the country's newest driving route, North Coast 500, showcases the fairy tale castles, wild beaches and high mountain passes of the north. The route starts in Inverness, weaves along the west coast to Applecross and then northwards towards the bustling towns of Torridon and Ullapool. From there, you'll venture to some of the most northerly coastal points in Scotland. On route visit the famous Urquart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, enjoy fantastic views of the Highland mountains, walk along the pristine white sands at Balnakeil Beach near Durness and warm yourself up with a trip to one of the famous whisky distilleries.

Scotland North Coast 500

And now for the original Route 66!

Maybe the world’s most famous road number, Route 66 was one of the first highways in the USA and the main connection between Chicago and Santa Monica, California where a sign still signals the end of the road. This is the classic road trip through small town America, covering a total of 2,448 miles. Once a major path for immigrants heading west, the original Route 66 doesn’t exist any more, but you can still follow parts of it on portions marked 'Historic Route 66'. Rent a convertible, eat in old-school diners, and fill up at desert gas stations for the iconic American road trip.

the original Route 66!

The Cabot Trail, Canada

The Cabot Trail is one of Canada’s most famous road trips. It is a 186 mile loop around a large chunk of northern Nova Scotia. Passing through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, this drive has amazing ocean views and it’s not uncommon to see moose, a variety of birds and other wildlife along the way. The natural beauty of the highlands provides the perfect backdrop for outdoor activities such as golfing, kayaking, hiking, cycling, and whale watching. Three to five days is recommended to fully enjoy the experience, with great local seafood available to sample, and lots of arts and crafts as well as the scenery and sports. If you complete the Cabot Trail you can rest assured you have visited one of the world's most scenic destinations!

The Cabot Trail, Canada

Portugal's Perfect Road Trip

Portugal is as fascinating as it is diverse, with towering mountains, a beautiful rocky coastline, deep valleys and ancient cities. The perfect way to discover the country is the flexibility of a road trip. You can either do it by car (compare car hire deals on Voiture Portugal) or by campervan, depending on your budget and your appetite for adventure. Starting in Porto in the north, spend two weeks weaving your way down to Faro in the southern Algarve. On the way experience the country's magnificent Atlantic coastline, take a diversion inland to the spectacular world heritage town of Sintra then stay for a couple of days in the capital of Lisbon, with its quaint cobbled streets and painted houses. Finish the tour driving through impressive Algarve scenery stopping off in the charming town of Lago.

Portugal's Perfect Road Trip

Wild Atlantic Way

Opt for one of the most spectacular coastal routes in the world and take a drive along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. At 1600 miles (2600 km) in length, it is one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world. It winds its way all along the Irish west coast from the Inishowen Peninsula in the north to the picturesque town of Kinsale, County Cork, in the south. As its name suggests, the route unfolds over wild and rugged terrain, with towering cliffs and magical bays and beaches. Coastal villages and ancient monuments are dotted around offering a glimpse into Ireland's mystical past and traditional lifestyles. The route is divided into 14 stages for easier travelling, pick one to get started or attempt the entire marathon!

Australia’s Great Ocean Road

If you're thinking of going 'down under' take a drive on what is arguably Australia’s best coastal road trip, the Great Ocean Road. Starting in the state of Victoria at Torquay it passes along 157 miles of near-deserted beaches, lighthouses, rainforest, and pretty villages before reaching its finish in Warrnambool. Encounter exotic animals like anteaters, kangaroos, penguins, koalas and parrots, or have a swim or surf at the countless beaches. The most sensational stretch is the appropriately named 'Shipwreck Coast', home to the Twelve Apostles (now reduced to eight by natural erosion), a formation of rock pillars up to 200 feet high.

Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, Austria

If you are looking for a challenge why not tackle one of the most famous road trips of them all, the 36 hairpin bends and 48 kilometres between Heiligenblut and Bruck over Austria’s highest peak, the Grossglockner? Described by BBC's Top Gear program as a route for “thrill-seekers” the High Alpine Road is a big attraction for sports car enthusiasts who relish those hairpin bends. As the road climbs to more than 8,000ft there are stunning views over 37 mountains while taking in an ever- changing landscape of pine-clad hills, rocky cliff faces, lakes, meadows and glaciers. Stop-offs include the Building of the Road exhibition next to the Fuscher Lacke, charting the severe challenges faced by labourers who, in 1935, built what’s often called the “most beautiful road in the world”.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A journey into the Heart of Iceland’s music festivals

Every year Iceland hosts dozens of music festivals, both in summer and in winter. Below is a concise list of music festivals in Iceland, showing you exactly where to go to discover the gems of International and Icelandic music.

Sónar Reykjavík offers you the best concerts/DJs in electronic music combined with audiovisual productions from Iceland, and from around the globe. For 3 nights, on 5 stages and with over 70 artists and bands, the prestigious Harpa Venue transforms into a massive nightclub where creative expression through dance is a certainty.          

Reykjavík Blues Festival takes place at the end of March. The festival opens with blues concerts in downtown Reykjavík on the first day, which is then followed by blues festivities and concerts at the Hilton Nordica Hotel.

Aldrei fór ég suður (I never went south), was set up in  2004 by Mugison, an Icelandic musician.  The festival takes place in Isafjörður, in the Westfjords,  where Mugison lives, and welcomes the best of Icelandic music. One year Sigur Rós showed up in cowboy hats and performed hillbilly versions of all their old tunes. All concerts are free of charge!

Secret Solstice festival first took place in June 2014. With Massive Attack performing last year, and Wu-Tang Clan this year 2015, the festival immediately became a major popular event. The Secret Solstice is situated in the Laugardalur valley in Reykjavík; it’s been nicknamed Festival of the Midnight Sun, because it takes place over the summer solstice weekend... 72 hours of music,  and the sun that doesn’t set... quite a program!

Við Djúpið also happens around the time of the summer solstice,  in Isafjörður in the Westfjords. This festival is organised in co-operation with the Iceland Academy of Arts. Traditional music and classical music are on the program, and the festival offers lessons and workshops by renowned musicians.

Eistnaflug is a metal music festival running since 2005 at Neskaupstaður and hosts the most popular unsigned metal bands (most of them Icelandic).With more than thirty groups on the agenda, this festival doubles the population of this small town in the Eastfjords.

Siglufjörður (folk music festival) begins on the first Wednesday of July and offers concerts, conferences and workshops to promote traditional Icelandic music and Icelandic instruments. Steindór Andersen and Sigur Rós made a noticeable appearance there in 2009.

The British festival ATP (All Tomorrow’s Parties), were invited in 2013, to the old military base of Ásbrú, close to Keflavík, and return every year for a few days at the beginning of July. Good quality International bands (Belle & Sebastian, Public Enemy, Portishead, Mogwai, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) performed at ATP,  as well as upcoming local bands. Amazing concerts, cinema, DJs and other activities have made ATP successful for three years in a row.

Iceland Airwaves is without a doubt the most well-known and most popular festival in Iceland. With more than 100 groups and musicians on the program, this festival attracts travellers from all over the world. For five days in November,  downtown Reykjavík vibrates to the sound waves of the festival and music can be heard everywhere!

Joanne, Iceland24
November 2015