The Best Places to Travel in March
Technically, winter doesn’t duck out for another few weeks—but the world isn’t standing on ceremony, and neither should you. Go shake off the blahs at any of these early spring flings, whether your idea of a good time involves bonfires, bagpipes or balmy Brazilian nights.
Fireworks, bonfires, music—and all-night carousing. That’s Valencia’s Las Fallas (March 15 to 19): the fuego-fueled party to end all parties, possibly born of pagan spring rites, subsequently overlaid with Catholic symbolism—and now a largely secular display of insanely elaborate papier mâché puppets. These so-called ninots come in endless varieties, from film stars to politicians to mythological beings, but almost all meet the same fate: an enormous bonfire that gets going just after midnight on March 19. (The ninot that’s judged the best of year is spared from the flames and preserved in the Museo Fallero). If you can’t get here on that exact date, know that the preliminary daily festivities kick off on March 1, and involve everything from fireworks to a paella competition (you’re in the dish’s birthplace, after all). And whether or not you’re in town for the cook-off (Mar. 8), you’ll find life-altering paella. First stop: La Pepica, a hundred-year-old seaside restaurant that was once a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, and Queen Sofia of Spain.
St. Augustine, Florida
Hold on to your paddy caps: The world’s oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parade (Mar. 9) is not actually in Dublin—or for that matter, Newfoundland—but in northeastern Florida. New research suggests that Irish missionaries and soldiers who landed here with the Spanish conquistadors launched the world’s first procession in honor of St. Patrick at the turn of the 17th century. The town has since grown into Celt central—at least in March—when more than 1,000 partygoers get their green on with marching bands, floats and Irish dancers over the course of three days (this year, the 8th-10th). Hit the Celtic Music & Heritage Festival for all the visiting Irish and Scottish musicians; the Highland Games for the caber tosses and stone puts—and the signature parade for the bonanza of bagpipes, dancers and drummers. At a certain point—after the whiskey tastings and Irish food stall rounds—you’ll want to give your body a break. And that’s where these 2-hour guided kayaking tours of the local salt marshes come in: Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and sea turtles as you glide past the Spanish fort towards the four-hundred-year-old Mission Nombre de Dios.
In case of severe winter blues, get on a plane to Brazil stat and head north to Olinda, where the temperatures will be hovering in the mid-eighties, and carnival season (March 1-5) will be well and truly raging. Smaller, cheaper and arguably more colourful than Rio’s, Olinda’s legendary carnival surges right through the historic city center: a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with many rainbows’ worth of stunning colonial facades. Recife is just a 30-minute drive south, so be sure to check out that carnival, too, as long as you’re in the neighbourhood. Keep things extra festive with caipifrutas, fruit-filled variations on the caipirinha theme.
If you like your celebrations a bit more subdued and swanky, mingle with the bold-faced foodie names at Gourmetfest (March 14–17). This year’s all-star cast includes Michelin-starred chef Toni Mörwald (join him for a Black Truffle & Black River Caviar Dinner); champagne guru Clovis Taittinger (book the Sunday Morning Champagne Tasting); and Jose Cuervo director Sonia Espinola de la Llave—the first woman to be named a Tequila Connoisseur by the National Mexican Chamber of Tequila (you won’t want to miss her tequila and chocolate pairing). Lean DIY? Sign up for one of the celebrity chef cooking demos—or perhaps the wild mushroom hunt and lunch. Whatever you do, show up for the Grand Finale Dinner on Saturday night, when five Relais & Châteaux chefs will team up to produce a five-course extravaganza, complete with vintage wine pairings. On a non-foodie note, March is also the beginning of Carmel’s wildflower season, with whispers of another California super bloom in the offing this year.
If you were the kind of kid who vibed on water fights or colour wars, India’s Holi Festival (March 20—21) is for you. Think forty-eight hours of outdoor mayhem—revellers of all ages smearing each other with multi-coloured powders, drenching each other with water guns, and generally acting like crazed kids mid-sugar rush. Except that there’s a millennium and a half of history behind this celebration—a celebration of (among other things) the love between Radha and Krishna. In Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, locals hang —then swing at—buttermilk-filled ceramic pots, India’s answer to the piñata. In Delhi, the celebrations are capped off by a huge Holi-inspired music festival: Holi Moo. And in Udaipur, the Mewar royal family hosts a grand parade, followed by cocktails and fireworks at their stunning lakeside residence: Manek Chowk. To rub shoulders with the local glitterati, book a room at the drop-dead gorgeous eighteenth century Taj Lake Palace.
Though it may not come with millennia-old traditions, SXSW has—in its 32 short years—become one of the planet’s most iconic events. And given the 2019 line-up (from a screening of Jordan Peele’s Us to a performance by Bedouine), you may well decide that this is your year. Oh, and did we mention that The Daily Show With Trevor Noah will be there? Just be aware that South by Southwest is actually a series of successive and sometimes overlapping festivals: the Interactive Festival (March 8-12); the Film Festival (8-16); the Music Festival (11-17); and the Comedy Festival (8-16). For bonus performances with a side of legendary BBQ, hit Stubbs. And when you need a breather, head to Barton Springs, a tree-fringed natural swimming hole, just fifteen minutes’ drive from the center of town.