The Best Places to Travel in May

Apr 25, 2019

When the 20th-century naturalist Edwin Way Teale noted that "all things seem possible in May," he wasn't kidding. Picture pilgrimage towns temporarily—and intentionally—filled with snakes. Or secret valleys carpeted in roses. Oh, and there's that $2500 cocktail. Read on for the specifics, and countless other reasons to get out and experience what Teale would call "the world's favorite season."


London bursts to life in May, thanks in no small part to the Royal Horticultural Society's annual Chelsea Flower Show (May 21-25), where you'll find competitive gardening (top designers spare no effort in their quest for the gold); next-level flower exhibiting (more than 80 entrants are going for Best in Show); and one over-the-top display by the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies in celebration of the organization's 60th anniversary. Stick around town for a few days, and you can catch the Cricket World Cup (from May 30). Or if you arrive a bit earlier, play spot-the-Queen at the pomp-and-circumstance-y State Opening of Parliament procession mid-May. (She’s the one with the gold-topped carriage). Back in the 1930s, when she was still honing her monarchy skills, she learned to dance in the lavish ballroom of The Mandarin Oriental London—and the hotel recently reopened after a major refurb, including a reboot of the resident Michelin-starred restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Order the ribeye with mushroom ketchup and triple cooked chips to pre-fortify your system for another mid-May pleasure: London Wine Week (May 13-19). 

Abruzzo, Italy

May is an ideal month to explore this stunning mountainous region: The weather is consistently balmy (ideal for day trips to hilltop castles) and the lineup of local festivals is the slithering embodiment of unique. See: the May 1 Feast of San Domenico and the Serpari in the tiny village of Cocullo, where the patron saint’s statue is covered in dozens of (nonvenomous) snakes, then paraded through the winding, cobbled streets. For something less...reptilian, head to gorgeous Bucchianico for the Feast of Banderisi on May 19, when crowds in period costume take to the medieval town center with massive bouquets of paper flowers. After the parade, eat wood-fired pizza on the outside terrace of Il Gatto e la Volpe. Or push the boat out with a candle-lit dinner at Reale: a monastery-turned-Michelin-starred-restaurant near Abruzzo National Park, where you should try the ravioli with almond and mushroom infusion. Or if you're in the area on the last Sunday of the month, head to Rocca di Mezzo for the town's Narcissus Festival. Nope, not a celebration of the selfie-obsessed, but a day of folk dancing and parading—complete with daffodil-decked floats—to celebrate spring.

Louisville, KY

Sure, people hit the Kentucky Derby (May 4) to watch the race. But they're also there to rock their best hats, eat burgoo (an iconic local spicy stew) and drink about 120,000 mint juleps. If not just any julep will do, go for the limited-edition $1000 variety—or hey, the $2500 upgrade in the gold cup—either of which should be pre-ordered online from Woodford Reserve for pickup at Churchill Downs. (Yes, you get to keep the cup. And the John Asher Memorial Scholarship Fund at Western Kentucky University gets to keep the net proceeds.) And if that's not enough bourbon for you, do a deep dive into the state booze along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Take a bus tour or even a cycling tour and explore any of 16 distilleries in the Louisville area. And don't leave town via the newly named Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport without first visiting the Ali Center, a cultural institution dedicated to the greatest boxer in history: native son Muhammad Ali.

Puebla, Mexico

Cinco de Mayo (um, May 5) is known worldwide as one big margarita-fueled fiesta. But no place celebrates it quite like the city of Puebla, where the holiday originated on May 5 1862, when the Mexican army defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla. Each May, more than 100,000 revelers come to see the battle reenactment and join the enormous parade, which snakes through the baroque city center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with mariachis, dance troupes and fireworks. And let’s not forget food. Puebla’s signature creation is none other than mole poblano—the beloved blend of chilies, fruits, nuts, spices and chocolate that pairs dreamily with chicken or beef, and appears in abundance throughout the day's celebrations. Try Chef Liz Galicia’s ultra-traditional take at the popular El Mural de los Poblanos—or Angel Vázquez’ heretical (read: chocolate-free) spin at Augurio

Asheville, NC

May's a sweet spot for this cool Carolinan city, with temperatures hovering in the mid-70s—ideal for the alfresco activities that fill the calendar. Check out the Leaf Festival (May 8-11), five days of African, Latin, Appalachian and Cajun music. And though you'll already be in a blissful lakeside setting, any bonus zen seekers in  your travel party should head to the Healing Arts tents for yoga, sound healing and meditation. Then hit the food trucks for tempeh wraps, mate tea and homemade gelato. For a more traditionally southern outdoor experience, head to Biltmore Estate, the largest privately-owned home in the U.S., where acres of spring flowers await on the self-guided Biltmore Blooms tour (through May 23). While you're there, hit the immersive Vanderbilt House Party exhibition (through May 27). If you prefer the Electronic Age to the Gilded Age, check out the new Moogseum (projected to open May 23), an homage to the revolutionary inventor of the Moog synthesizer. You should also tour the Moog Factory to learn more about this music icon and longtime Ashevillian. In fact, May 23rd is locally known as Bob Moog Day—and this year's would have been his 85th birthday. 

The Dadès Valley, Morocco

Follow your nose to this secret valley in the Atlas—about six hours' drive from Marrakesh—and you'll wind up in Kalaat M’Gouna, where the sweet scent of fresh blooms permeates the air for three days during the Rose Festival (May 10-12). The city is also alive with Berber singing, dancing and sword-fighting displays, plus the all-important Rose Queen coronation. Between events, consider taking a camel trek to the nearby village of Merzouga. Or indulge in a spot of canyoneering in the Martian landscape of the Todra Gorge.

The San Francisco Bay Area

Creatives, pack your bags for the Bay Area, where May is custom-designed for you: Oakland Art Month runs throughout May with a packed program of dance, visual arts and cinema—one highlight of which is the Queer California Film Series. Then there's the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley (May 4 & 5), where a just a short list of luminaries includes Robert Reich, Joyce Carol Oates, Anand Giridharadas, Nell Painter and Moby. Next up is CAAMFest (May 9-19), the nation's largest showcase for Asian and Asian-American films (May 9-19). Try to catch—at a minimum—Blinded by the Light (same director as Bend it Like Beckham) and We Gon' Be Alright (based on the acclaimed essay collection of the same name). And last but by no means least, the forward-thinking Maker Faire Bay Area (May 17-19) offers the latest in virtual reality, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence. Enjoy more than 800 weird and wonderful hands-on exhibits from an international cast of artists, inventors and techies.

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