I've moved! Now see my blog at bestplacetobetoday.posterous.com

Best place to be today: 16 March 2012 - Somaliland

Well, it's certainly better to be in Somaliland today than it was yesterday.

This enclave of East Africa is an autonomous, if unrecognised, breakaway bit of Somalia. The latter is not the best place to be, ever; it's frequently voted the unhappiest, most corrupt nation on the planet. But Somaliland is a different story - and, yesterday, pioneering publisher Bradt released its first guidebook to the place.

It's unlikely that the hordes will now flock here - though it is a good time, with the December-March cool, dry season being the best for exploring.

But if I was there today, at least Bradt's handy tome would help me stay on the safer side of the fence, and would point out the local must-sees.

I'd take in capital Hargeisa and the medieval port of Berbera; I'd look out for jackals, gazelles and baboons on the lofty Daallo Escarpment; and I'd be pretty impressed by the 10,000-year-old rock art at Las Geel, so bright it looks like it was painted last week.

Mostly, though, I'd be smug in the knowledge that I was part traveller, and part pioneer.

Note: The Foreign Office currently advises against all travel to Somalia, including Somaliland - whether you have a guidebook or not...

Best place to be today: 15 March 2012 - Ningaloo, Western Australia

They've arrived!

Yesterday saw the first whale sharks of the season (which runs from March/April to June) float by Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia.

Today, I would desperately love to float with them.

Dive and snorkel trips from the town of Exmouth are the best ways to see these 18m-long gentle giants, as well as the 500-odd other fish that live around the reef here. Or perhaps I'd opt for a four-day sea-kayak safari, paddling to parts snorkellers generally don't reach.

This is remote territory - Exmouth is a two-hour flight or two-day drive north from Perth.

Best drive, and make the most of the journey, stopping to surf in Kalbarri, marvel at the Hamelin Pools fossils, meet the friendly dolphins of Monkey Mia and wander the mango plantations of Carnavon, where there might just be a few fruits still hanging around: harvest season is Nov-Feb.

See www.westernaustralia.com


Best place to be today: 14 March 2012 - Ulm, Germany

Nice one, Einstein.

I mean it - nice one. You picked a fine place to be born.

On this day in 1879, Albert Einstein was brought forth in Ulm,
southern Germany (a memorial now marks the precise location). And, on the off-chance that it might boost my IQ, and because this Danube-side spot looks both cutting-edge and comely, this is where I'd choose to be today.

March isn't ideal weather-wise, but city breaks are far more forgiving in wintry climes. Besides, if I get chilly, a quick climb up the 768 steps of Ulm Minster's tower (at 162m, the world's tallest) should warm me up.

What else? I'd amble the ancient centre (the city was founded in 850), walking around the half-timbered
Fischerviertel (Fishermen's Quarter) and among the wonky buildings (including the lesser-known Leaning Tower of Ulm).

I'd search for sparrows too - these little birds are Ulm's mascot (legend says one helped build the minster), and sculptures of them are hidden all over the show.


It's not all old: now churches and cobbles are interspersed with modern gashes of glass and curves - the pyramidal library and Meier-design Stadthaus events hall give the town a contemporary twist. I think Einstein would have approved.

I'd finish with an anti-Atkins excursion. First I'd hit the Breadmaking Museum (which holds 14,000 dough-related delights). Then it would be a brew-pub crawl, to sample some of the best locally fermented tipples.

Cheers, Albert.

Best place to be today: 13 March 2012 - Abisko, Sweden

Walking up on a foggy morn, I feel the need for a little sparkle. And there are few places better for that than a remote spot in Arctic Sweden.

Abisko, nearly 200km north of the Arctic Circle and many more kilometres from pretty much anything else, is one of the world's best places to see the northern lights. It's virtually always clear and cloud-free; light pollution is zero; dark winter skies provide the perfect canvas.

This year, it's better than ever (so say NASA) - 2012/2013 marks a 50-year peak in auroral activity. And the past few weeks at Abisko have seen a highlight within that peak.

Reports from Abisko reckon that sunspot AR1429 has been going bonkers, stirring up an almost constant solar-particle party for a fortnight - super streaks of emerald that are, right now (thanks to another celestial phenomena), interlacing with the brilliant orbs of Venus and Jupiter. Just take a look...

I'd happily brave the Arctic chill for that.

Get there: Abisko is 100km west of Kiruna; Discover the World offers a direct UK-Kiruna flights (3.5 hrs)

Best place to be today: 12 March 2012 - south-west Sri Lanka

Today, being Commonwealth Day, it seems only fitting to want to be within it.

 

That's over 54 sovereign states to choose from. But, given the choice, today I'd choose Sri Lanka.

 

Specifically I'd pick the Indian Ocean isle's south-west coast. In March this region's in dry season - the main monsoon finished back in December; the mini rains don't hit til May. It's wonderfully sunny too.

 

But it's also one of the best times to look for whales hereabouts. Which is grand, as this is one of the best places in the world to spot the mighty blue.

 

Blue whale sightings off Dondra Head, near Galle, are excellent in March-April; 90% of boat trips right now manage to spy these behemoths huffing and blowing.

 

And while I was there, it would seem rude not to check myself into The Beach Hut, also near Galle: a villa for two with hammocks, palms, a personal chef and views out to the ocean (and, maybe, the whales...)

 

Best place to be today: 11 March 2012 - Bath, UK

Car drivers, couch-potatoes and the b-odour averse, and those wanting to roam quietly around Georgian glory - you probably shouldn't be in Bath today.

I, on the other hand, don't want to be anywhere else.

Today is the day of the Bath Half Marathon, a 13.1-miler around some of the Somerset city's pretty paved streets - as well as some of its frankly less-
scenic outskirts. And I WILL be there, lacing my trainers with about 11,000 others.

I know this running lark isn't for everyone. But I think there's no better way to speedy sight-see, and earn a slap-up feed at the end of it. (In Bath I recommend a pie at the Raven or lovely cakey things from the Guildhall Market).

There is the small matter of making it round all those miles first, including the sneaky hill up to Queen's Square, the soul-sapping second loop, and the final 'sprint' down Great Pulteney Street.

But it will end; though it can seem to take an age, those miles will tick down. And then it's you, a medal and a whole heap of endorphins.

Even the spectators walk round town with big grins on their faces, as if also hit by those feel-good hormones.

So, there are fluorescent T-shirts, a few silly costumes, camaraderie a-plenty, congratulations a-flowing. In short, today Bath's honey-stone gets that little bit brighter.

Best place to be today: 10 March 2012 - Saltholme, Teeside, UK

Today, the gloves are off (even though north-east England isn't that toasty in early spring).

Because today I want to be watching the 'Mad March' hares' feisty fisticuffs at Saltholme RSPB Reserve.

Pairs of hares start to box about now. It's not an expression of macho aggression; rather, it's the lady lapins fighting off the unwanted amorous advances of the men.

The bouts begin in February, but it's now that they become more frequent and more brawly: you might see eight or nine couples sparring at the same time.

The reserve is well set up for this rabbity ruckus: two viewing platforms (the boxing-themed 'red corner' and 'blue corner') have been set up at prime positions and, on weekends throughout the month, RSPB staff will be on hand to help you hare-spot.

And if the hares don't put on their show? Look out for the lapwings here which - not to be upstaged - spend March and April performing their odd acrobatic displays.

Image: Steve Round, RSPB

Best place to be today: 9 March 2012 - Baja, Mexico

Today, I want to tickle a whale.

And there is nowhere better to do such an outrageous-sounding thing than San Ignacio Lagoon, on the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico.

It's fine and sunny here in March: rainfall is low and temperatures hover around a pleasant 25°C. Not that I'd really notice. Because the gathering of almost the entire world population of grey whales would cause a slight distraction.

In winter these 15m-long leviathans cluster here in their thousands. Numbers actually tend to peak earlier in the season but it's now that they seem to be at their friendliest.

Usually you shouldn't fuss with animals - look, don't touch. But the grey whales of San Ignacio just love to have their heads scratched and stroked; they butt against the small boats, practically forcing passengers to show them some attention.

It would be quite scary if they weren't so very cute - quite an achievement for 30,000kg of blubber and barnacles.

Oh, there are dolphins galore here too. But even the flips and frolics of these acrobatic crowd-pleasers - which would usually steal the show - is a supporting act to the greys whales' great close-ups.

Top tip: For the best whale-watching, join a marine safari from San Diego (USA). You can also drive to San Ignacio and take half and full-day boat trips

Best place to be today: 8 March 2012 - Yunnan, China

On International Women's Day, I want to go where women rule.

An article in the Independent yesterday reckoned the best place to be a woman in general was Iceland; the best place to be a mother was Norway; the best place to be a female politician was Rwanda.

But it didn't mention Yunnan, south-west China. Here, in the area of Lugu Hu (north-east of Lijiang) live the Mosu people - one of the last matriarchal societies in the world.

Among the Mosu, the mother is the centre of the family. These grand dames decide on inheritances, pass on their names, generally make the key decisions.

There is no marriage as such, rather 'walking marriages' - women chose partners when they fancy but might change their minds; children are brought up by mum and her family, not dad.

The result, by all accounts, is an extremely stable society. And one where giving birth to baby boys is no more favoured than having girls.

So today I would brave March's early spring chill (averages now are around 10°C in Lijang, though it's dry and sunny), and head on to Lugu Lake to meet the Mosu.

I'd explore the island lakes by dug-out canoe (which would be skippered by a woman, of course), visit the Mosu Folk Museum,
admire their traditional weaving and dine on local staple - salted sour fish.

I'd learn about this
culture and wonder if, maybe, there might be something in it. Can it be a coincidence than Zhongdian - a town that's officially rebranded itself as 'Shangri-La', the ultimate mountain paradise - is just down the road?




Best place to be today: 7 March 2012 - Patagonia

On this day in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received his patent for the telephone. Today, I want to blow a raspberry at Bell and the communications wizards that followed him, by being somewhere no one can contact me at all.

Phone coverage is pretty scant in Patagonia - all those gnarled mountains and creaky glaciers get in the way of the strings between the paper cups. Which is fine by me - I want to enjoy the trails without my mobile interrupting.

It's just about time to get down to southern Chile and Argentina anyway - peak exploring season is Dec-Feb; it's already getting a little chillier by March, but the pay-off is that the notorious Patagonian wind tends to drop, making wild hikes and tented nights less blustered .

Of course, ideally I'd check-in to a rather lovely lodge instead of sleeping under canvas. If I had several spare pesos, perhaps I'd try the Singular, in Puerto Bories, Chile (pictured). Only just opened, this former sheep factory (built around 1915) is now a plush hotel.

The striking building overlooks the Fjord of Last Hope - which is probably what it was for the poor sheep, bound for jumpers and pies. For humans, it's quite the opposite: this swanky base is ideal for kayaking on icy sounds, hiking amid Torres del Paine, keeping an eye out for condor - and ignoring the rest of the world.


Best place to be today: 6 March 2012 - Jamaica

Well, if it's good enough for Prince Harry, it's good enough for me.

The young royal has just arrived on the cool Caribbean isle. It's a bit odd, as Jamaicans are making noises about distancing themselves from the British monarchy. Maybe Harry just wants a nice holiday?

I don't blame him: March is marvellous here. Rainfall is low; temperatures are high, though not oppressively so (think 22-31°C). It's the end of the very peak season, but just before April's winds pick up (which can make diving a little more difficult).

I wouldn't follow the prince - he has to visit hospitals and care homes. Instead, I would eschew the worthy sites - and also the lovely beaches - to head inland.

I'd get up early for a dawn walk in the Blue Mountains, fuelled by local coffee and jerk chicken. And I'd slip and slide about the caverns, ravines and jungle pools of Cockpit Country, where there's not an all-inclusive resort in sight.

I'd end up at the Pelican Bar, off Treasure Beach. This shack-on-stilts sits out on the sea, reachable only by boat. The perfect place to toast the end of a fine Caribbean day.

Best place to be today: 5 March 2012 - Burma

Shouldn't really be boozing first thing on a Monday... But, given the chance, today I'd chose to be imbibing in Burma.

Now, it seems every traveller worth their khakis wants to be here at the moment, what with the path to democracy looking smoother and Aung San Suu Kyi herself encouraging tourists.

Most of those eager explorers are after sightseeing: Pagan's temples, Inle Lake, Mandalay's highlights. All very impressive I'm sure.

I, however, fancy the wine.

It doesn't seem the most obvious Asian must-see. Which is probably why it appeals. But Burma's Red Mountain Estate, just north of Inle, looks pretty as a French picture, its serried vines neatly lined - just with exotic hills in the background and a few pythons slinking around the undergrowth.

I'd go now as March is good weather-wise: dry and sunny; cool at night but not too hot by day.

But I'd also chose now because the grapes are harvested mid-Feb to March - it would be nice to see the heaving bunches being picked, then retire to the chic cellar to complement the 2009 shiraz with tofu skewers and fish cooked in banana leaves.

Cheers to that.


Best place to be today: 4 March 2012 - Copper Canyon, Mexico

Today I'd like to be running 50-plus miles over gnarly, rocky, hostile terrain, that's lorded over by drug-runners and and rattlesnakes...

Sort of.

Today sees the start of the seventh Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, a race inaugurated in 2006 in the badland barrancos of northern Mexico by a gringo called Caballo Blanco, who was keen to see the local Tarahumara Indians do running battle with some hardcore US ultra stars.

The Tarahumara are awesome. They run, and run, and run -  in sandals made of tyres - and basically whup most of the competition. They also LOVE running, criss-crossing terrifying up-downs that would reduce the most macho to tears with broad grins on their faces.

Luckily, March isn't the fiercest time to be in the barrancos - still hot, but not suicidally so. And the wildflowers should be lending the parched landscape some colour. It's still a tough ask, racing that far - I might opt for the 18-mile option instead (a trifling warm-up jog to the Tarahumara).

But the main thing would be soaking up some Copper Canyon culture: eating piñole (Tarahumara Lucozade), trying to pick up a bit of Raramuri lingo and - hopefully - learning to run with a smile.

Essential reading: Christopher McDougall's excellent book Born To Run tells to story of this remarkable people and this remarkable race.

Best place to be today: 3 March 2012 - Yellowstone, USA

Today's forecast for Wyoming isn't great : "Mostly cloudy, with a 50% chance of snow and a high near 32 [0°C]. Breezy, with a WSW wind between 15 and 21 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph."

But I'd still like to be there, exploring the world's first ever national park.

March is a true off-season Yellowstone. This park receives three million visitors a year, but not many of them now.

The 'over-snow' season runs until 15 March (from 15 Dec) - which means the next two weeks are the last you can explore by snow-mobile or snow coach; from mid-March to April the roads are closed while they're prepared for the spring onslaught of regular vehicles.

However, I think I'd chose snow-shoes or cross-country skis anyway - so I could better (and more peacefully) get out into the wilderness. Need to be careful, though: March is when the resident bears start to emerge from hibernation. A sighting is a terrifying privilege; good bear etiquette must be obeyed.

Winter here is also a great time to track the 100 wolves that now live hereabouts, following a successful reintroduction programme. When the plains are snow-slathered, it's easier to pick up their tracks,
and pick out their grey coats against the sparkle of white.

How to escape the Yellowstone crowds in summer? See here.

(Image: Doug Smith)

Best place to be today: 2 March 2012 - Niseko, Japan

Stuff the Alps. If I'm going to go skiing - which I don't, very often - I'm going to do it properly, make an exotic holiday of it, and go to Japan.

And today I'd go to the pistes of Niseko, on the north island of Hokkaido. It's had a bumper season (18m of snow in the past three months), so should be nice and powdery. But now we've sneaked into March, it shouldn't be quite so chilly, and days are sunnier and snow-storm free.

The resort is vast, and its popularity with Aussies means an English-speaking infrastructure is well in place. That said, I wouldn't bother with a Fosters, preferring my apres ski a little more local: hot sake and a soak in a steaming onsen (thermal spring), if you please.

I wouldn't stay on the slopes all the time. I'd head over to the east of Hokkaido, to Tanchozuru Park. Here, until the end of the month, the elegant red-crowned crane perform their mating dance in the snow: bouncing, leaping, even throwing sticks in the air. A sort of avian Strictly-on-ice-meets-Winterwatch. Magic.


Best place to be today: 1 March 2012 - Wales

Happy St David's Day! Leeks, daffs, Black Mountains, red dragons - it has to be Wales today.

It's not that hot in March, but the spirit of cwtch should keep you warm. Like Danish hygge or German Gemütlichkeit, there's no direct translation of cwtch - but, roughly, it means 'safe place', an affectionate hug that confers cosiness and protection. I'll raise a Brains beer to that.

Best place to be today: 29 Feb 2012 - New York

If I was a romantic type (which I'm really not), or if I was feeling all Girl Powery (without the Union Jack dress), and wanted to scare the bejesus out of my boyfriend, I'd be in New York today.

Because it's Leap Day. And if I was going to pop the question, I think I'd do it here.

February/March is still a bit nippy in NYC, but the off-season-ness should help secure a hotel bargain, and mean wandering the streets wouldn't get too sweaty; indeed, I'd be able to wrap up in chic hat and scarf, and pretend I'm Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

But, to the BIG QUESTION...

If I'd saved enough on the flights (by visiting in an unpopular month), I might book a table at 21 Club, New York's one-time famed speakeasy, where Humphrey Bogart allegedly proposed to Lauren Bacall (at table 34). The chefs can even hide the ring in a specially constructed pudding (though that sounds like a waste of good cake to me).

Chances are I'd be too tight for such grand gestures though. So instead I'd lead the other half out into Central Park; I'd take him to the Shakespeare Garden (which
only contains plants mentioned in the Bard's plays), and get down on bended knee amid the wormwood and columbine.

If I was romantic, that is.

 

Best place to be today: 28 Feb 2012 - Cambodia

OK, it's sort-of not ideal.

The best months to be in Cambodia are December and January. Now, at the end of Feb, temperatures are creeping up to their oppressive April highs. But I'd still like to be in Cambodia today. And somewhere quite specific.

Song Saa Private Island opened earlier this month. And it looks dreamy. I am normally pretty immune to an overwater villa (what's the point of seeking romantic solace on a tiny 'deserted' island if all the shacks are so close together?), but this - now, this place looks something else.

The reason I want to be there is because very few people are. Cambodia's islands - the largely uninhabited Ko Rong archipelago - are allegedly the Thai isles of 20 years ago: unspoilt, pristine and paradisiacal.

But I also like the sound of the extras - kayaking out amid
bioluminescence; star-gazing with an expert and a telescope; a private dinner on the beach.

And if that late Feb-early March heat gets too much, I'll just flop out the side of my fancy floating room and cool off with the seahorses...

Song Saa looks lovely, if not cheap - check out its romantic daybeds and scatter cushions, and laudable eco-credentials here.

Best place to be today: 27 Feb 2012 - Peru

I'm not a surfer. But if I was (and I'd quite like to be - if only for the hair), today I'd head for Peru.

In the country's north, the swell is swellest right now; beaches such as Cabo Blanco and Máncora are crowded, but quieter breaks can be found. Plus the water's at its warmest: a decent 21°C.

It is a little damp elsewhere in the country, I grant you - Peru's wetter spell lasts until May.

But the Inca Trail - closed for the whole of February - reopens 1 March. So I'd have time to ride (or wipe-out in) some waves, then bus down to Cusco for the world's most famous walk, which would be looking fresh following its well-earned rest.

Best place to be today: 26 Feb 2012 - Antarctica

Quick! Not long left to get to the White Continent before those fluffy little penguin chicks - Adélies and gentoos and comedy-quiffed macaronis - fly the coup.

Late February is still just warm enough (a 'balmy' 0°C) for comfy expedition cruising. But it's from now to mid-March that all those birds leave Antarctica's icy land for a life at sea.

The sea's worth watching anyway, though - whale-sightings peak around the Antarctic Peninsula in February and March. Just remember to pack binoculars and plenty of ginger, to combat the nauseating turbulence of the southern seas...

Best place to be today: 25 Feb 2012 - Dominican Republic

I'm not a follower of fashion. But I'd be willing to follow it to the Dominican Republic.

For the Caribbean isle is in full Fashion Week fervour at the moment (the event runs 21-26 Feb 2012). And watching pretty dresses parade down a catwalk sounds more fun here than in London or Milan. You fancy there might be more colour; fewer self-conscious pouts, more exuberant grins.

In honesty, I probably wouldn't bother with the design-types and dressmakers at all. No, this is the time to explore the Dominican Republic's rather lovely outdoors - beyond the honeymoon-cliche all-inclusives.

It's balmy, dry winter, when the island is best for hiking (perhaps up 3,098m Pico Duarte, the Caribbean's highest point).

It's also best for whale-watching: from January to March thousands of humpbacks gather off the Samaná Peninsula, and a quick cruise can get you incredibly close.

Best place to be today: 24 Feb 2012 - Jaipur, India

John Madden, director of new Brit-luvvy-fest The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which opens in UK cinemas today) reckons that the one thing his Jaipur-set movie couldn't capture was the city's assault on the nose.

The film trailers look fabulous - vibrant colours; buildings at just the right level of crumbliness; seething, smiling life - but, yes, the smell of India is missing.

And it's quite a smell. Nothing can transport you back to this nation of 1.2 billion quite as quickly as its unique miasma of sweet woodsmoke, exhaust fumes, masala spice and human effluent.

So, today, I would skip the queues at the Odeon and head for Jaipur itself. February is perfect - winter sees warm (but not too hot) days and cool nights; the monsoon rains are still a few months off.

Hang around and you'll catch Jaipur's Elephant Festival (7 March 2012), where painted eles parade the streets and dumbo polo is the sport of choice.

I'd take an evening walking tour of the pink city, nibbling from street vendors, watching craftsmen and nosing into the elegant havelis (mansions).

Then I'd head out to the village of Dera Amer, just outside Jaipur, where a camp in the hills lets couples have a go at elephant polo themselves. Now, I'd like to see Judi Dench try that...

Best place to be today: 23 Feb 2012 - Florida

Today I want to be hugging an oversized Floridian mammal. And I don't mean Mickey Mouse.

I want to be bumping up against perhaps that most gorgeously ugly lumpen creature to ever grace the seas: the manatee.

That 'sea cows' were ever mistaken for mermaids (as the legend goes) says more about sailors' rum-consumption than the appearance of a manatee. But while they're not the prettiest, these chubby walrus-alikes are nonetheless adorable.

And a winter Thursday in Florida is a fine time to get close.

Manatees dislike the cold. So in the chillier months (Dec-Mar) they congregate in Florida's warm natural springs, easier to spot as they gather in just a few places. The best place is Crystal River, where you can don mask and snorkel and bask with them.

Mornings are ideal (the manatees tend to scatter come afternoon). And mid-weekdays - Tuesday to Thursday - are more fun, as there are fewer other snorkellers to get in the way.

Fortunately 'winter' here is a relative term, and air temperatures are still around 20°C. And if you do get a bit nippy? You mustn't stroke or prod the manatees, but you may find they - touchy-feely critters that they are - will approach you as you swim, and give you a warming bump.

Need to know: The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is about 145km north-west of Tampa, on Florida's Gulf Coast.

Best place to be today: 22 Feb 2012 - Christchurch, NZ

It's one year since a devastating earthquake shook up Christchurch, killing 185 people and damaging much of the city centre.

But with typical kiwi grit,
the gentle South Island city is resurging with the panache and raw energy of an All Blacks back.

So I'd like to be there today - and not least because late Feb is still warm, relatively dry and just inching out of high-cost peak-summer.

I'd like to see the progress of the 'cardboard cathedral', a temporary replacement for the one toppled by the quake.

I'd like to spend my dollars at the Cashel Mall Re:Start project, where 60-odd shipping containers have been tacked together to form a makeshift shopping centre.

And I'd like to drive along the coast to Akaroa (about 85km away), to take a swim with rare and tiny Hector's dolphins.

I'd like to see the city getting back on its feet.

Need to know: To keep tabs on places steadily reopening across Christchurch, check out popupcity.co.nz



Best place to be today: 21 Feb 2012 - Kathmandu, Nepal

I am desperate to be in Nepal today. And for the next 152 days.

Because, today, World Expeditions' second Great Himalaya Trail full traverse trip - a 1,700km on-foot crossing of the world's highest mountain range - is amassing in Kathmandu (and probably chomping pizza among the mountaineering paraphernalia of the Rum Doodle Bar), getting ready for the off.

Five months it will take, to cross from far east Nepal to far west. Setting off under February's clear, dry skies is a tantalising prospect. Soon the rhododendrons will be in bloom, too.

But forget the flowers. This epic hike, which tops out at over 6,000m, is all about the mountains - and meeting the people that live hidden away among them. One of the main missions of the GHT is to benefit remote communities that live otherwise cut off from the rest of the world.

So, there's no doubt: if I had a spare £19,990 and 152 days, me and my no-doubt-daunted legs would be flexing in Kathmandu, ready (ish) to take on the adventure of a lifetime.

Not so hardcore? The less hardy/wealthy can tackle the Great Himalaya Trail in smaller sections: there are seven stages, doable in 18 to 34 days each; contact World Expeditions.


Best place to be today: 20 Feb 2012 - Ottawa, Canada

The best place to be in the world today should be Ottawa. It's the final day of Winterlude, so the last chance to partake in the Canadian capital's near-three-week-long celebration of the chilly season - what is essentially a cheery two (be-gloved) fingers up at the region's frigid temperatures.

Only, this year, it's not cold enough.

Ottawa's Rideau Canal should - come February - be frozen firm and a-glide with budding Torvilles and Deans: its 7.8km Skateway is Winterlude's headline act. But, right now, it's just a very damp squib.

It takes a consistent -10°C or less to keep the Rideau suitably solid. And the biting Canadian climate is currently not biting hard enough, leaving the canal a treacherous slushy mulch.

It's a real shame. Because skating (not that I really can) along a sparkling ice-highway, right through the heart of the city, sounds like an excellent way to sight-see. There are even stalls selling you hot chocolate, right there on the encrusted canal, so you needn't unlace your skates for a warming brew.

There are still ice sculptures to admire, and the last dregs of the Winterlude party atmosphere. But here's hoping for a nice, long, bitterly cold snap to frost up Ottawa and give the city back its unique skate interstate.



 

Best place to be today: 19 Feb 2012 - Cuba

Perhaps he just looked out the window of his hacienda and thought, you know what comrades? It's just too beautiful to keep on running a country.

On 19 February 2008, inveterate head-honcho Fidel Castro announced he was permanently stepping down from his role as Cuba's president. Coincidence that he did so in this best-of-months? When the Caribbean isle is least humid, most dry, and luxuriating under balmy average highs of 27°C?

Well yes, coincidence. Such die-hard idealists aren't swayed by a sunny day (I don't think). But Fidel did pick an excellent time to start his retirement. And in doing so, allowed gentle winds of change to start blowing about his nation.

So today I'd go to Cuba, to drink mojitos in bars down Havana backstreets, to take salsa lessons in crumbling dancehalls and scuba lessons on perfect reefs, and to feel, perhaps, the last gasps of Castro-ism on this island quite unlike any other. 

Must do: Visit Fidel's childhood home, Finca Las Manacas, now a museum near Birán in Holguín province. Then delve into the Sierra Maestra Mountains - where Castro and his guerillas hid out in the 1950s. It's also where they built Comandancia La Plata, rebel HQ, from which the revolution was orchestrated; it's now open to visitors who make the effort to reach it.

Best place to be today: 18 Feb 2012 - Gambia

Did you know that, in February, London gets, on average, just two hours of sunshine a day? TWO! No wonder we're all SAD.

So today I would pack my Seasonally Affected Disorder off to The Gambia. Considerably less glum, this tiny slice of West Africa enjoys TEN HOURS of solar cheer per day in February, not to mention average temperatures of up to 32°C.

It's not all about the weather though: 18 February is Gambian Independence Day. I'm not saying I'd rush to the parade in capital Banjul's McCarthy Square, but I will certainly raise a Jul Brew to the nation, as I let the winter sun work its magic.

I would not be lazing in the beach, however. I would shun the popular Atlantic beaches and head 270km up the Gambia River, scanning for manatees and hippos en route to Badi Mayo - home to the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Trust.

Currently, 77 primates live in the national park here. And small numbers of visitors - the camp here holds around eight - can stay in stilted tents (pictured) and spend days boating out to the river islands to watch the chimps eat fruit, swing in the trees and generally enjoy all that sunshine.


Best place to be today: 17 Feb 2012 - Olinda, Brazil

Brazil is, without doubt, the country to be in today - unless you have a severe allergy to either sequins or feathers.

For today is the start of Carnaval, a knees-up of religious provenance that appears anything but when you see those luminous revellers dancing about in not much at all. This is pre-Lenten gay abandon, a sparkly-bikinied saturnalia of booty-shaking and street-parading on a scale befitting such a vast nation.

Rio is the obvious choice - the city's famed samba schools and alfresco parties draw two million people a day (but tickets for the main stadium can cost more than your airfare). Salvador, in Bahia, is oft touted as the more authentic alternative.

But I would head for the twin cities of Olinda and Recife, north-east Brazil, where feverish frevo rhythms fill the colonial Portuguese streets, tourists are few and far between, and everything is delightfully free.

Tonight I'd jostle into the crowds in Recife, to watch the madness process between the city's two islands, and test the strength of my inhibitions in the face a million gyrating locals - could I resist a little shimmy?

Best save some energy though - Carnival Saturday sees the Cock of the Dawn parade start from central Recife's Forte das Cinco Pontas (from 6am!). Worth getting up for: it's one of the largest street gatherings in the world, and everyone is encouraged to join the party.

 

Best place to be today: 16 Feb 2012 - Luxor, Egypt

The best place in the world to be today? I'd say southern Egypt. Not just for desert sunshine (a very pleasant, not-too-hot 21°C) but for an extra layer of history - should the country need more layers.

It was on 16 February 1923 that Howard Carter first peeked inside Tutankhamun's tomb, and saw the treasures within.

I wouldn't bother following his precise footsteps - King Tut's resting place is now devoid of its booty, and the remaining void isn't nearly as interesting as many of the other chambers in the Valley of the Kings. It also requires an extra ticket - the price of fame.

No, I'd go to the Valley of the Kings (as early as possible, to beat the crowds) to admire the hieroglyphs and craftwork of those Ancient Egyptians. But then I'd head for Luxor, and the river.

The Nile is at its fullest in February. So I'd board a traditional dahabiyya sailboat, if I was feeling flush (a bare-bones felucca if I wasn't), and float off past temples, tombs and millennia of unchanged life in the riverbank.

Best place to be today: 15 Feb 2012 - Melbourne, Australia

31°C and sunny. Enough said?

February is all summery loveliness in laidback Melbourne. Maybe even a little too hot at times, but it's also the month of lowest rainfall (average 1.8 inches) - not a bad trade off. And if it gets too toasty, you can wander down to the beach at St Kilda and jump into the ocean.

But what really appeals about Melbourne today is a balmy evening at the Moonlight Cinema. The Royal Botanic Gardens - home to eucalypts, cacti and camellias year round - is taken over by the big screen during the austral summer.

Crowds gather on the lawn, with friends and picnics; the opening credits start to roll as the sun goes down.

Tonight's movie is Melancholia, a very cheery offering post-Valentine's Day, but a stream of blockbusters and arty flicks will be played out under the stars, until 25 March 2012.

For something sloshier, I'd head out of town on Friday. At Rochford Winery, in the nearby Yarra Valley (one hour's drive), Movies in the Vineyard shows films alfresco at weekends from now til April, with seats and screen squeezed in among the grapes. Cheers!

Best place to be today: 14 Feb 2012 - Terni, Italy

It's not warm in Umbria today (perhaps 4°C, with winter sunshine) but it's arguably hot - if you head to the city of Terni.

It's not actually that pretty a place (Word War bombing and a distinctly unromantic weapons-production industry have seen to that) but it is
ideal for fully embracing Valentine's Day.

It was here,
on the plains around the Nera River, that St Valentine did his bishoping in the third century. And now his remains are interred in the nearby Basilica at San Valentino, 2km south-west, conferring their posthumous patronage on affianced couples, marriage and love in general (not to mention epileptics and bees).

Actually, I might want to defer my visit until Sunday, the 19th, when the annual Terni Marathon takes over the streets, plodding past the Marmore Waterfall (at 165m, the highest in Europe). Afterall, according to research, couples who train together stay together.

But for authenticity, if not the main celebrations, the 14th is the fitting date to pay your respects to the swoonsome saint (handily, also the patron of not fainting).

After a quick visit to St Val, I wouldn't linger (gun factories don't really do it for me). I'd head slightly south, to the ski slopes of Abruzzo, for cosy snuggling in mountainside chalets, plenty of glasses of Montepulciano and to test that exercise theory.

Best place to be today: 13 Feb 2012 - Zambia

Right now it will be chucking it down in Zambia. Absolutely hurling.

But it will also be absolutely buzzing (and I don't mean with malarious mossies).

February may be one of the wettest months in the southern African nation (though not as horribly hot and sticky as Nov-Dec). But I would still love to be there. Because Zambia - Zambia! - has just won the Africa Cup of Nations.

Can you even name a single Zambian player? I'm no John Motson but I can list a few fellows from the Ivory Coast line-up, the team of famous favourites beaten in the final. But as for a single striker from the Zambian Copper Bullets - not a clue.

So imagine the atmosphere in Zambia today. Amid the fecund foliage, absurdly green after three months of rainy-season dousing, is a nation going bonkers.

The bars of Lusaka are no doubt a-chink with Mosi beers. Victoria Falls - currently in high-water splendour anyway - is probably churning with that bit extra gusto. (Well, at least on the Zambian side; Zimbabwe didn't even qualify for the tournament.)

If I WAS in Zambia today, I'd be in Mfuwe Lodge, one of the few places in South Luangwa National Park to stay open during the euphemistically titled 'Emerald Season'.

I'd be here to watch the Luangwa River burst with hippos; to venture into the profuse bush (animals will be harder to spot but luckily Mfuwe has some of the country's best guides); and to get a bargain - visiting in the green is great value too. Just bring a brolly.

Click here for RSS feed