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Steppes Big 5: Australian Swagging Experiences

Join Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain on BBC2’s Stargazing Live, to marvel at the star-studded southern skies of Australia. One of the most magical ways to experience Australia’s wilderness is to spend a night sleeping in the open, under a twinkling starry sky, in a luxury swag (a deluxe reinvention of a bushman’s bedroll!). Swagging literally means to Travel with one’s personal belongings in a bundle. There are a number of places where it is possible to experience luxury swag camping and with such a lot of sky and relatively few people Australia has some of the most stunning star studded heavens.

Bamurru Plains, Kakadu

Stay at this wonderful remote bush lodge on the edge of Kakadu National Park and after your chef prepared 3 course evening meal head out to The Hide, a 6 metre high platform with 360 degree views of the surrounding landscapes. Spend the night snuggled up in a deluxe swag listening to the nocturnal sounds of the nearby floodplains.

Bamurru Plains, The Hide, Kakadu National Park, Mary River, Northern Territories, Australia

Longitude 131˚, Uluru

Facing the iconic monolith of Uluru, Longitude 131 is a magical retreat hidden amidst the vast outback of central Australia. Having recently added a balcony to each of the fifteen luxury guest tents, it is now possible to spend the night beneath the stars. Port, cognac and other digestifs are served by firelight before settled down in your bespoke luxury swag for two for the night.

Longitude 131, Guestroom with terrace and views of Uluru

Sal Salis, Ningaloo Reef

When shown a photo of Sal Salis the general response is a sharp intake of breath followed by an “oooooooohhh, where is that??” A remote safari camp nestled in the sand dunes just feet from the sandy beaches and turquoise, coral filled waters of the Ningaloo Reef on the west coast of Australia. This is the place to come to spend your days swinging in a hammock, snorkelling with turtles or swimming with Whale Sharks! Abandon your tent for the night and instead sleep on the beach under the stars.

Sal Salis tented accommodation

Pepperbush Adventures, Tasmania

Not something offered as standard but we can arrange for a night under the stars with Craig ‘Bushie’ Williams – owner of Pepper Bush Adventures, a real life Tasmanian bushman and one of the countries most respected wildlife guides. Indulge in a bush tucker meal cooked over the fire in the middle of nowhere while spotting the local wildlife as the sunsets, before settled down for the night in your swag.

On tour with Craig Williams - Pepperbush Adventures

Arkaba Walk, Flinders Ranges

Experience outback walking in style on a 4 day walk through the ancient and ever changing landscapes of the Flinders Ranges and camp out under the stars. Camps are set up in spectacular locations so this is an amazing chance to experience the true scale and beauty of the outback but with a few creature comforts to make it an extra special experience. Covering 45 km’s over four days a support vehicle takes luggage between camps and a guide and all meals and drinks are included.

Arkaba Walk, Swag Camp

Start planning your Australian adventure now. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Steppes Big 5: Latin America Carnivals

Carnival Season, Brazil

It is carnival season in Latin America and with the residents of Rio preparing to drum, mambo and shimmy their way through the streets of the city this coming weekend, we thought we would share our favourite carnivals with you. Joyful processions, music and masquerade are not just the reserve of Brazil…

1. Brazil

Aside from the world-famous Rio Carnival, here are two others that we feel are well worth considering:

Olinda is a beautifully preserved colonial town and its annual festivities are known as the ‘carnival of participation’ during which people of all ages are encouraged to make their own costumes and join in with the street celebrations. Notable for the huge papier mache puppets, known as ‘bonecos’ which are carried aloft amidst the colourful parades and rousing music.

Probably best known as the first carnival to feature an electric parade float the colourful carnival of Salvador de Bahia is the second largest after Rio and nowadays features a huge truck decked out in some serious lighting and topped by a live band which forms the centrepiece of the celebrations.

2. Argentina

A carnival with the devil at its centre, the festivities at Quebrada de Humahuaca begin with the unearthing of Satan – a large devil shaped doll, buried at the end of the previous year’s festivities.  Mixing traditional indigenous and catholic celebrations, Satan is let out to play during 9 days of partying before being buried for another year.

3. Bolivia

Located amidst the Andean highlands at 3,710 metres above sea level, Oruru Carnival is the highest located carnival in the world and celebrates the traditional dress, cultures and dance from all corners of Bolivia. Recognized by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” the centrepiece of this 10-day festival is the ‘Dance of the Devils’ featuring hundreds of devils dressed in suitably scary costumes. The aim is to appease the devil through offerings, dance, music and costume. The festivities end with a huge water bomb fight.

 4. Mexico

Nicknamed the most joyful carnival in the world, the 9 day Veracruz carnival is the largest in Mexico. Opening with a huge bonfire to burn away bad moods the festivities feature numerous competitions for the best group based on anything from their costumes to their dancing and even their joyfulness.
The carnival ends with the burial of Juan Carnaval, a mock funeral and an amusing reading of his will.

Traditional Mexican Bunting

5. Colombia

Set in the colonial town of Barranquilla, this 4-day carnival has strong European, African and Indian traditions and is the largest carnival outside of Brazil. Another carnival that has been recognised by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” the festivities stem from a mix of catholic and pagan celebrations. Beginning with a six-hour parade of flowers the festivities feature much drum and wind based music and many dances with strong African links having originated from the Congo.

If you would like to plan a holiday to Latin America to coincide with any of the above carnivals. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Steppes Big 5: Film Locations in China

The Great Wall, released today, is the most expensive shoot set entirely in China. Directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Matt Damon, the story may not be historically accurate (there were no monsters attacking China), but it reveals stunning panoramas of the man-made marvel that is the Great Wall of China.

The wall is made up of many sections built over time by the different ruling dynasties. The best preserved are just outside of Beijing, with many Steppes clients visiting the Mutianyu or Jinshanling sections of the Great Wall.

This is not the first movie to display China’s stunning beauty. Here are Steppes Big 5:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) – The highest grossing foreign-language film in the USA was filmed in several magnificent locations in China such as the UNESCO-listed Hongcun Ancient Village near Huangshan (Yellow Mountain).

Hero (2002) – The highest grossing film in China on release and won several awards for its cinematography. It also alerted many to the spectacular scenery of Jiuzhaigou National Park, a short flight from Chengdu in Sichuan Province.

Avatar (2009) – The highest grossing film of all time and credited for the use of impressive 3D visual effects. The floating Hallelujah Mountains in the imaginary universe of Pandora were inspired by the sandstone karst formations of Zhangjiajie National Park within the Wulingyuan Scenic Area.

The Last Emperor (1987) – A true story of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last ruler of the Chinese Ching Dynasty. Told in flashback, the film covers the years 1908 to 1967. Shot on location in China, the film won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Visit the filming locations including the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and the Museums of the Imperial Palace, Changchun. This epic movie is still a feast for the eyes.

Kung Fu Panda (2006) – A computer animated action movie, revolving around a panda who aspires to be a Kung Fu Master in ancient China. Winning numerous Annie awards  for Best Animated Feature and Best Music in an animated feature the musical score alone is worthy of a watch, produced by Hans Zimmer collaborating with John Powell.

To absorb the culture of China, Zimmer spent time in the company of the China National Symphony Orchestra as part of his preparation. Why not time your travel to China to coincide with a performance at the Beijing Concert Hall.

Travel with Steppes and experience the best that China has to offer. From private access at some of the most important sights to lesser visited areas. Spend a day with pandas or hike along the Great Wall. If you are interested in visiting one or all these film locations, please contact our China experts.

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Steppes Big 5: Reasons to Travel to Western Australia

Kangaroo, Australia

The west coast of Australia is often overlooked for the more famous east coast but why not choose Perth instead of Sydney or the Ningaloo Reef instead of the Great Barrier Reef. Far less visited and no less spectacular here are our top five reasons why Western Australia gets our vote:

1. PERTH

Following a recent mining boom, Perth and the surrounding areas are enjoying investment and restoration leading to the tagline ‘the re-birth of Perth’. International hotels are taking up residence in the city and historical buildings getting a new lease of life in the form of boutique hotels like COMO The Treasury. Elizabeth Quay will re-connect the city from the Swan River to the harbour and become home to gourmet restaurants and a buzzing atmosphere akin to that of Sydney Harbour. Annual festivals, huge city parks and the trendy port of Fremantle all combine to make Perth a destination in its own right.

‚€‚Perth, Australia

2. Whale Sharks & Humpbacks

Far less visited than the Great Barrier reef and located just metres off the shore, this pristine reef stretches for 260km and is home to Manta ray, Green & Loggerhead turtles, dugongs and dolphin as well as being on the migratory route for Whale Sharks and Humpback Whales.

When to visit the Ningaloo Reef: To swim with Whale sharks visit from April to July and Humpbacks from August until October.

Humpback Whale

3. World-Class Food, Wine & Beaches

Located south of Perth, Margaret River is a hidden corner of Australia, home to world-class vineyards and wonderful beaches, equally great for surfing on as well as sunning oneself. A gastronomic destination the region is renowned for its artisan food produce. Hunt for rare black truffles with highly trained truffle dogs before sampling your treasure.

When to visit Margaret River: October through to March is a great time to visit Margaret River and the surrounding beaches.

Beach, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia

4. Pristine Wilderness

The Kimberley’s are a vast wilderness of mangroves, rivers, ancient aboriginal rock art and tumbling waterfalls. This should definitely be on the radar for anyone who dreams of escaping the rat race and truly getting off the beaten track.

When to visit The Kimberley: It is hot and humid with monsoon rains from January to March so the best time of year to visit is from June to September.

Mitchell Falls and Mitchell Plateau, Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia

5. open spaces, aboriginal culture & wild flowers

Covering 2.5 million square kilometres with 12,500km of coastline and encompassing one third of Australia’s land mass, there is no shortage of wide open spaces and far reaching scenery in Western Australia. Rich in Aboriginal history, the Bradshaw cave paintings can be found here, dating back some 60,000 years they are believed to be among the earliest figurative paintings ever made. Glorious wildflowers carpet the parts of the region from June through until November.

Wild Flowers, Hickman Crater, Western Australia

Get in touch to learn more about our holidays to Western Australia. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Steppes Big 5: Thailand and Indonesian Five Star Getaways

In conjunction with Malaysian Airlines, Steppes Travel are offering truly incredible prices to five of our favourite resorts in Thailand and Indonesia. These limited offers are genuine and we keep pinching ourselves daily as they seem too good to be true. Stretch the body and not the budget with upgrades to business class from as little as £375 one way. Travel in style.

Thailand

Choose from a hammock hangout on idyllic 15 km wide Koh Samui, located in the Gulf of Thailand. Or go west to the Andaman coast, and buzzing Phuket,Thailand’s largest island. Fringed by natural rain forests and internationally acclaimed marine parks, diving and trekking adventures are on the doorstep if you can extract yourself away from serious luxury.

Belmond Napasai – Koh Samui

thailand Belmond

A seven night stay at Belmond Napasai starts from only £1465 per person including flights. Save up to an incredible £1000 per person. The offer includes one free night and an early booking discount if booked 90 days prior to stay. Complimentary one way business class upgrade is included with Malaysian airlines, subject to availability. Price based on two sharing a sea view Hill Villa on bed and breakfast basis. Children under the age of 12 may stay for free with complimentary breakfast. Please enquire for further details.

Why we like it : We love the peaceful location and traditional sense of Thai service

 

Banyan Tree Samui- Koh Samui

Banyan Tree

A seven night stay starts from £1815 per person for one week in a Deluxe Pool Villa. Receive two nights free on any seven night stay, and enjoy a complimentary 60 minute massage in resort. Children travelling may qualify for a free stay when sharing a room. Stay at Banyan Tree between now and the 15th June 2017.

Why we like it : Large villas scattered along the hillside with stunning views of the white sand beach

The Sarojin – Phuket

The Sarojin

A seven night stay starts from £1370 per person in a Garden Residence on a bed and breakfast basis. This price is based on two people sharing a room and flying Malaysian Airlines with a one way upgrade to Business Class. This price is valid for stays during September and October 2016. Prices from £1995 in November and December.

Why we like it : Genuine warmth of the staff and one of the best beaches in Phuket.

Indonesia – Bali

The island of Bali is a perfect summer getaway with weather at its driest during May – October. A destination for boutique hotels and stylish retreats, Bali offers fashionable night scenes in Seminyak; the coolest corner of the island with chic galleries and dining options. Or the flip side of stress easing jungle tranquillity in Ubud, Bali’s thriving cultural heart.

Alila – Seminyak

Seminyak Alila

A seven night stay starts from £1785 per person, based on a Pool Suite on a bed and breakfast basis. Malaysian Airlines one way upgrade to Business Class included.  Stay at the Alila between now and the 31st October 2016.

Why we like it : Style, and bags of it. One of Bali’s more contemporary beachside properties

Como Uma – Ubud

Como Ubud

A seven night stay starts from £1995 per person including a one way upgrade with Malaysian airlines to Business Class. Stay at Como Uma Ubud between now and the 31st March 2017.

Why we like it : A haven of peace but easy walking distance from Ubud’s bustling centre 

All these offers are subject to availability and need to be booked with Steppes Travel by the 19th August. Travel to be completed by the 15th June 2017.

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Steppes Big 5: Last Minute European Getaways

Cape of Trafalgar, Costa de la Luz, Andalucia, Spain

Escape the unpredictable British summer weather and book a short haul adventure in search of some summer sun. Either for a romantic break or a family holiday, here are our pick of European destinations for travel over the coming months, all of which have some amazing savings on offer.

1. France

Charter your own barge for the ultimate holiday with family and friends or join like-minded travellers for a wonderfully relaxing break. France has it all, from beautiful rolling countryside to pretty medieval villages, charming local markets and some of the best food and wine in the world. Experience all of this whilst gently cruising the French waterways on board your luxury hotel barge.

Amazing savings on offer for selected dates in August, September & October.

Anjodi Hotel Barge, Cruising, France

2. Andalucia, Spain

Stay at the Hacienda de San Rafael, once an olive farm, now a boutique hotel. Relax around one of the three pools or sip a glass of wine and read a book under the shady bougainvillea covered courtyard. This peaceful retreat is also a short drive away from the fabulous city of Seville, the beaches of the Costa de la Luz or the charming white villages of Arcos and Vejer de la Frontera.

Save 20% on all bookings in August.

Pool, Hacienda de San Rafael, Seville, Spain

3. Losinj Island, Croatia

Just 20 miles long by 2 miles wide with crystal clear waters and uncrowded beaches, Losinj is a little known island that historically could only be reached by ferry. The recent introduction of the sea plane arriving from Split will soon put this hidden gem on the tourist map. Small in size, but home to a handful of lovely boutique hotels, there are savings to be made with stays at both Hotel Alhambra and Bellvue.

Alhambra Hotel, Losinj Island, Croatia

4. Tuscany, Italy

Stay at Castel Porrona Relais, a boutique hotel in a medieval village amidst the Tuscan hills or Castello del Nero, a converted 12th Century castle in the heart of the Chianti wine region. Tuscany is a beautiful part of the world with some excellent special offers for travel over the next two months.

 

5. St. Petersburg, Russia

Take a short break to the magical city of St Petersburg to explore some of the worlds grandest palaces and largest art collections. The fountains at Peterhof are at their most spectacular in the summer months and the parks, gardens and museums are at their peaceful best in September.

Travel before October 24th and save £300 on a short break to St Petersburg.

Peterhof Palace and gardens, St Petersburg, Russia

Get in touch to learn more about any of the above last minute getaways. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Steppes Big 5 reasons to visit the Sacred Valley before heading to Machu Picchu

Inca Women Peru

The Incan citadel of Machu Picchu is a place that draws people from all over the world. It is a truly spectacular sight deep within the Andes Mountains that has fascinated many since its discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911.

Although photographs have daubed many international travel magazines and much has been written, nothing can fully prepare you for just how spectacular, awe inspiring and mythical this place really is. It is not surprising that when presented with the opportunity to return I was delighted and eager to marvel this great wonder once again. On this trip I spent some days within the Sacred Valley before reaching Machu Picchu. What I discovered in doing so was an absolute treat and highlighted just how much a visit to the area can offer.

1.Inca Sites

Although Machu Picchu remained undiscovered for centuries after the fall of the Incan Empire, many sites were discovered much earlier. Since Spanish colonisation many of these sites have been damaged but nonetheless remain sites of huge historical interest.

Travelling through the Sacred Valley it soon became apparent that there are Inca sites everywhere. With the benefit of a good guide I realised that the valley is in fact one massive outdoor museum, covered with archaeological places that each help to form an understanding of the workings of this intriguing empire.

One such place I visited was Moray, an Incan agricultural laboratory that was likely used to cultivate resistant and hearty varieties of plants high in the Andes. It straddles the mountainside and has been restored to reveal a fascinating side to Incan farming. Another extraordinary place I discovered is the small village of Maras. High in the Andes where natural sources of salt seem impossible, the area was cultivated by the Incas to form salt ponds from a natural spring. Using skilled techniques farmers continue to cultivate the area to extract salt to this day. Other fascinating sites include Qoricancha, Saqsayhuaman, Qenqo, Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Chinchero and many more, all in their own way providing an important insight into the life and culture of the Incas.

2. Location

The Sacred Valley stretches for approximately 60 kilometres and encompasses areas of fertile farmland and colonial villages scattered alongside the Urubamba River. It is this expanse of land between Cusco and Machu Picchu that formed the heart of the once magnificent Incan Empire.

Machu Picchu actually sits at a relatively modest altitude of 2430 meters above sea level, by contrast Cusco sits at 3400. Thus the huge appeal of a stay within the Sacred Valley immediately becomes both obvious and appealing; the chance to acclimatise. Many visitors will arrive into Cusco and head to a city hotel, whereas a relatively short drive into the Sacred Valley enables you to rest at a more modest altitude and unwind in beautiful surroundings.

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3.Superb hotels & Spas

Within the valley I discovered several delightful properties dotted across this vast mountainous floor. Owing to the idyllic surroundings nearly every room of each hotel can boast spectacular uninterrupted views. Anyone in search of total rest and relaxation will instantly feel rewarded by a stay here, an excellent area to unwind and switch off.  A vast range of treatments are on offer at many resorts providing the perfect opportunity to spoil yourself. Additionally I found the quality of the hotel restaurants to be of a high standard, so many taking huge pride in offering the very best in Peruvian and international cuisine.

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4.Adventure

For those who would prefer a more adventurous stay there are a wide range of activities to enjoy here. I had the opportunity to whitewater raft, horse ride, trek along the many Inca trails and zip wire. I opted this time for a biking tour. Quite simply a fantastic experience, the trips are great for all levels of fitness and can be organised with minimal uphill cycling. Cycle across the many pathways, meandering through the valley taking in the stunning scenery.

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5.Markets

One of the biggest draws to Peru and to the Sacred Valley in particular is the wonderful display of handcrafted clothing, jewellery and ceramics on offer at several of the village markets. The most renowned of these is the market within the village of Pisac. Here I found the cobbled streets are lined with artisan creations that are often extremely colourful and superbly made. Well worth leaving some space in your luggage for.

Pisac Market

Inca Women Peru

The big draw to this beautiful part of Peru will always remain Machu Picchu but to spend a day or two in the valley itself is fun, relaxing and incredibly rewarding.

Get in touch to learn more about our Peru holidays. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Big 5 iconic highlights of China

I have just returned from a trip taking in some of the most popular places to be visited by the first time traveller to China; Beijing, Xian, Guilin (Yangshuo) and Shanghai, plus Chengdu, home of the Giant Panda. With such iconic sites come the inevitable crowds but I have found a few ways to view some of these amazing sites without the masses. As such here are my suggestions of how to avoid the masses and experience China a little differently.

1. Giant Pandas and Six Senses Luxury

Six Senses Qing Cheng, China

It is hard to find havens of peace and quiet in China but at the Six Senses you are in a very quiet location with the opportunity to walk and cycle and see Giant Pandas at the new Panda reserve at Dujiangyan. This reserve is only accessible via a tour operator so offers the chance to view these gentle giants with few others around.
Beautiful rooms, a pool, gym and a pleasant garden in which to sit make the Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain an ideal place to unwind after the direct flight on British Airways from London to Chengdu.

2. Wonders of Beijing

temple-of-heaven-beijing-china

In the Forbidden City view the private living quarters in the Chonghua Palace, a truly exclusive behind the scenes opportunity. Spend a day being carried (not compulsory) in a sedan chair at the Great Wall and decadently dine in one of the watchtowers on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

Follow in the footsteps of emperors and stay at Aman at Summer Palace using their “secret” door to access the Summer Palace itself when the crowds have gone.

3. The Terracotta Warriors
Ancient-city-pingyao-china

Xian is home to the amazing life size terracotta warriors that guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Jump the queue using our fast track knowledge and electric cars and stand face to face with the warriors themselves while other visitors look down from above. See the miniature warriors of the Han dynasty, equally impressive, a great favourite with clients, but seldom included by most programmes, except us of course.

4. The Li River

Banyan Tee Yangshuo, CHina

Yangshuo, near Guilin, is well known for its stunning lime stone scenery, the Li River and cormorant fishing. In 1983 when I first visited, Yangshuo was a sleepy riverside town that awoke for two hours each day when the few tourist boats arrived and then resumed its slumbers. Now Yangshuo is a small town with literally hundreds of boats and thousands of tourists. Leave this behind and take a gentle raft trip along one of the tributary rivers, a far more peaceful and tranquil experience. Take a bicycle (the terrain here is great for cycling as it’s flat) and explore the winding tracks that pass through the farming community. Stop to speak with local people and gain an insight into rural life.

View Banyan Tree Yangshuo

5. Shanghai

Ahn Luh Zhujiajiao, China

Shanghai is changing all the time. A city that was once a thriving far Eastern port under the British and the French has again reinvented itself and is now the country’s leading financial centre. Bright lights and amazing food make it an exciting place to experience. It is also home to the world famous acrobats who perform death defying acts, ancient arts with a modern twist. Get the best of both worlds and stay in the picturesque water town of Zhujiajiao, located just one hour from Shanghai. Experience the buzz and energy of Shanghai before returning to the calm of your luxury hotel.

LUXURY HOSTED HOLIDAYS TO CHINA

The pinnacle of luxury perhaps suggests staying in the top hotel and dining in the finest of restaurants – however for us, service and expert guiding is key. Incredible attention to personal detail and immersion into a culture makes your experience.

We have fantastic guiding options. Opt for a local guide, someone chosen for their care, attention and knowledge. Or be guided by a western host who speaks fluent Chinese, lives in China and has studied this country’s culture and history. I was sceptical at first about the latter, but having experienced being guided by a western host on my trip I firmly believe that they are able to bridge the link effectively between the local community and the visitor for a fully immersive experience.

Talk to our China Travel Experts to start planning your tailor-made China holiday with us, call us on 01285 601 753 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

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Steppes Big 5: Reasons to visit Georgia in all seasons

This relatively small country encompasses beautiful mountains, wetlands, semi desert landscapes and open steppes. Peppered with ancient cities, monasteries, castles and churches, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not quite Europe and not quite Asia but a wonderfully exotic mixture of both, this accessible destination is rewarding in all seasons.

1. Georgia in Spring

Spring in Georgia offers lovely warm temperatures and is a wonderful destination for lovers of wildlife. Few people know that Georgia is home to one of the most important migratory corridors for birds, in particular raptors. As such it is a superb place for keen ornithologists or for those who just enjoy the sight of some wonderful bird life. Spring flowers carpet the hillsides below snow-capped peaks.

P.GE007.Stone Faces of Sno Village, Kazbegi, Georgian Military Highway, Georgia(0000046345)

2. Georgia in Summer

The mountains of Georgia are snow covered for most of the year but during the summer months from June to September the snow melts and often impassable routes become accessible. Trek through alpine meadows beneath towering mountains passing Glacier Rivers and ancient churches.

P.GE011.Enroute to Ushguli, Upper Svaneti, Georgia(0000023453)

3. Georgia in Autumn

Georgia produces some superb wines, much of which is still made using traditional techniques and today over 175,000 acres of the country are planted with vines. Wine is significant to the psyche of the Georgian people and the vine symbolises regeneration and wealth. During the months of September and October the harvest or rtveli takes place and is an important time of the year with much celebrating, singing, music and wine tasting!

September is also the month our small, expert led group tour departs for Georgia. Led by Ian Colvin this trip includes the highlights of this culturally rich country.

Grape Harvesting, Kakheti, Georgia

4. Georgia in Winter

Fast gaining a reputation as the Switzerland of the Caucasus, Georgia is a great destination for winter sports with some excellent skiing available amidst some of the country’s 16,000 ft pristine mountain peaks. Alternatively the cobbled streets of Tbilisi makes a wonderful long weekend with the chance to visit sulphur baths and museums, take in a puppet theatre performance and drink a glass of wine or two in the XVIII – XIX century’s cellars. Winter is not a sleepy season. Winter is a season of fun and relaxation!

P.GE901.Sulphur Baths and Metechi Church, Old Town, Tbilisi, Georgia(0000017008)

5. The People & cuisine of Georgia

The people of Georgia are known for their hospitality and whatever time of year you visit the country, expect a warm welcome and some of the most delicious food and drink in Europe.

C.GE.Traditional food & wine, Georgia(0000037773)

Get in touch to start planning your holiday to Georgia. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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The Gardens of India – Steppes Top 5

Mehtab Bagh Garden on the bank opposite the Taj Mahal

If there was ever an opportunity to experience India’s aesthetic richness it is to explore one of its historic and gardens. Emperors and dynasties have created some extraordinarily beautiful gardens from grand Mughal style terrace lawns to botanical gardens with diverse and rare flora. Step into one these gardens for a moment of contemplation and tranquillity to take a break from India’s exhilarating pace of life.

1.Delhi – Mughal Gardens

The Mughal Gardens are a group of beautiful gardens built by the Mughals in the Islamic architectural style. Located in the Rashtrapati Bhavan premises, the official residence of the Indian President. These gardens are utterly unique, divided into a grid of squares with handsome lotus shaped fountains. They have over 250 varieties of roses, 60 varieties of Bougainvillea as well as other flora with 250 varieties of bonsai plants and 33 varieties of medicinal and aromatic plants in the Herbal Garden. (The Mughal gardens are open to the public in February-March every year from 9.30pm till 2.30pm).

Rashtrapati Bhavan, Delhi home of the President of India

2. Agra – Mehtab Bagh

This Mughal style garden is located on the opposite bank of the river from the Taj Mahal, offering picturesque views of the ‘monument to love’, particularly at the sunset. It is believed that the great emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal for his queen, wanted an identical structure for himself at Mehtab Bagh. Though no structure exists here, archaeological findings have proved the existence of a garden complex. Mehtab Bagh is worth a visit as it provides bewitching views of the Taj Mahal. The garden has been renovated by the Archaeological Survey of India and planted with more than 40 species of flora. (Open daily from 6am to 7pm).

India White herons in the Mehtab Bagh garden with Taj Mahal view in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

3. Jaipur – Sisodia Rani Ka Bagh

This royal garden was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in 1728 for his second queen Sisodia. Sisodia Rani Garden is adorned with beautiful wall paintings of the Radha-Krishna love story. The paintings on the wall and the narrative details truly represent eternal love and befits the essence of this garden which itself is a symbol of love. This lush green royal garden is replete with flowerbeds, foliage, beautiful water fountains, pavilions, galleries, iridescent water channels and murals. (Daily opening from 8am to 4.30pm).

India, Rajasthan, Jaipur, Sisodia Rani Ka Bagh Palace, built in 1710 A.D. by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, view of the garden

4. Srinagar – Nishat Bagh or the ‘Garden of PleasurE’

Designed in 1633 by Asaf Khan, brother of Nur Jehan, Nishat Bagh is the largest of the Mughal Gardens in India. Rising from the Dal Lake in a series of manicured terraces and avenues of fountains playing against the blue mountain background, the gardens offer a beautiful view across the lake to the Pir Panjal mountain range to the west. The 12 terraces represent the signs of the zodiac and are planted with cypresses and cedars. The gardens also have the remains of some Mughal buildings including a double storey pavilion with latticed windows. (Daily opening from 9.30am to 7pm).

Nishat Bagh, terraced Mughal garden on Dal Lake, Srinagar, India

5. Kolkata – Indian Botanical Gardens

The world famous gardens, now known as Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, is a treasure trove of exotic flora amidst beautiful grounds. The highlight of the garden is the world’s largest Banyan Tree, over 250 years old, with as many as 2,880 aerial roots supporting a canopy covering 1.5 hectares. It is an awesome sight and well worth visiting during a stay in Kolkata. (Opening times 5.30am to 5pm Tues – Sun).

The colossal Multiplying, sacred fig tree, Botanical Garden of Calcutta, vintage engraved illustration. Magasin Pittoresque 1869

 

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