Guest blogger Marissa Cooke thinks there's no better time to plan your next escape than in the countdown to Christmas holidays.
To help your mind wander (even if you can’t!), she's created her own version of the 12 Days of Christmas. It goes a little something like this…
Day 1: A Partridge in a Prickly Pear Tree
Destination: Sicily, Italy
Kick things off with a bang on Italy’s volcanic island of Sicily. Explore the charming, un-spoilt villages in the foothills of the majestic Mount Etna, visit the UNESCO world heritage city of Noto and unwind on Sicily’s famously laid-back beaches. Don’t forego the rustic local Sicilian cuisine either - prickly pear jam and partridge casserole anyone?
Day 2: Two Madagascan Turtle Doves
From Sicily, hop across the Indian Ocean to the exotic island paradise of Madagascar, home of the Madagascan Turtle Dove. Explore Madagascar’s famous Parc National de Ranomafana renowned for its hot springs and lemur-inhabited rainforest. Take a soak in a rainforest hot tub then enjoy an afternoon at the beach with some home-made banana crepes. All in a Madagascan day!
Day 3: Three French Country Hens
Destination: Loire Valley
Next stop. take in the breathtaking countryside of the Loire Valley, France. Wind your way along the Loire river, visit picturesque Chateaus and wineries and enjoy the superb local cuisine.
Day 4: Four Colly Birds…and a Pint
Nothing says ‘English countryside’ like the sound of singing blackbirds and one of the best ways to experience the charms of the English countryside is to pub-hop from village to village! Going on a leisurely pub crawl between the picturesque and historic country villages in the Cotswold’s, the lakes or Peak districts has got to be a highlight of any trip to Bonnie England. English country gastronomy at its best!
Day 5: Five Golden Rings of Russia
The Golden Ring is a set of ancient Russian cities north-east of Moscow. Experience real Russian life outside of the capital, as well as some of Russia’s most sacred and historic architecture and sites with churches and monasteries dating from the 12 Century.
Day 6: Six Great Lakes Geese
Destination: Canada’s Great Lakes
Head across the North Pacific to the Great Lakes of Canada, home of the native Canadian Goose. Try your hand at fly-fishing, cycle the lakes circuit and of course, don’t miss the breathtaking Niagara Falls.
Day 7: Seven Hanoi Swans
Destination: Hanoi, Vietnam
Head over to South-East Asia and visit Vietnam’s historic capital Hanoi, home of the Hanoi Swans AFL club – watch a game of AFL with a uniquely Vietnamese flavour. Go silk-shopping in the Old Quarter, take a boat trip by night in Halong Bay and don’t miss the stunning Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.
Day 8: Eight Kazakh Maids a Milking
From Vietnam, travel west to Mongolia and the alpine Khoton and Khurgan lakes region, home to the Kazakh milk maids…try your hand at goat herding and milking, before retiring to your yurt for a well-earned sleep.
Day 9: Nine Rio Dancers
Destination: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Head to Rio de Janeiro home of Carnival and the samba! Brush up with some samba classes in the lead up to one of the world’s biggest and most colourful festivals.
Day 10: Ten Leaping Berlin Lords
Destination: Berlin, Germany
Parkour, or free-running, is thriving in Berlin, Germany - where intrepid free-runners take advantage of Berlins’ unique (and challenging!) architecture old and new – think Berlin Wall leaps and acrobatics. Take in the parkour spectacle in Berlin before immersing yourself in the city’s unique history, architecture and cultural life.
Day 11: Eleven Bagpipes Piping
Throw some haggis and try your hand at the bagpipes in the Scottish highlands. Explore Edinburgh, Scotland’s art and culture capital then head off the beaten track to explore the Scottish wilderness.
Day 12: Twelve Ghanese Drummers
Destination: Ghana, Africa
Discover Ghana’s amazing musical traditions and try your hand at traditional West-African hand drumming. Relax along Ghana’s beautiful Cape Coast, or, if the Big Five are what you’re looking for, go on safari in Ghana’s renowned Mole National Park.