What will fuel your travel fantasies in May? Perhaps it’s the prospect of rubbing shoulders with stars from the silver screen as they descend on the French Riviera, or the idea of living life in Monaco’s fast lane when the Grand Prix comes to town.
High-minded travellers have tempting options at this time of the year, too, with literary love-ins taking place on opposite sides of the world in Wales and New Zealand; live music lovers, meanwhile, may want to check out the roll call of talent heading for Israel’s most boisterous city.
For a different kind of travel experience, you may wish to aid the rocket-launching locals of Laos in their bid to make it rain, or even join the pilgrims in Nepal and elsewhere celebrating the birth, life and teachings of Gautama Siddhartha – the historical Buddha.
Lonely Planet’s destinations experts have enough ideas to fire everyone’s imagination.
Côte d’Azur, France and Monaco
The Mediterranean playground of the Côte d’Azur, is synonymous with jet-setting VIPs and seaside sparkle year-round. The heady atmosphere intensifies in May when the red carpet unfurls for film stars and race-car drivers. All eyes will turn to Cannes for the famous Film Festival from 14-25 May. While it’s an invitation-only event, you can get close to the red carpet to catch a glimpse of the A-listers in town. For a double dose of glamour, don’t miss Monaco’s Grand Prix from 22-25 May.
Had your fill of glitz? Check out the rather more enduring masterpieces by some of Europe’s finest painters at the great art galleries along the coast, from Nice’s Musée Matisse to the Musée Picasso in Antibes. Or escape the mainland mayhem altogether on a day trip to Îles de Lérins, a small, pristine group of islands only a 20-minute boat ride from Cannes.
Tel Aviv, Israel
It’s no secret that Tel Avivans are always up for a party, but May really marks the start of a summer full of concerts, events and entertainment. Documentary film festival Docaviv takes place from 8-17 May, while Justin Timberlake, Pete Doherty and Carla Bruni all play gigs in the city this month.
Don’t expend all your energy on nightlife though, as the weather is perfect for exploring Tel Aviv’s outdoors. Join the beautiful people on the beach, take a dip in the Med, wander around the sprawling flea markets, or admire the street art of boho neighbourhood Florentin. When you need a break, find a seat on a shady patio and immerse yourself in the trendy café culture scene – the coffee here is some of the best you’ll find in the Middle East.
Dunedin, New Zealand
Famed for its gothic bluestone architecture, student life, and remote location in the South Island of New Zealand, Dunedin is the perfect place for a spot of cultural absorption. Visit during the inaugural Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival from 6-11 May, which features a host of leading literati, including The No 1. Ladies’ Detective Agency writer Alexander McCall Smith, 2013 Booker Prize–winner Eleanor Catton, current New Zealand Poet Laureate Vincent O’Sullivan, and many more big names.
The festival kicks off at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and features many events for families, including a children’s story train, a Mother’s Day high tea, and a live performance of new poems from acclaimed Samoan-Kiwi poet Tusiata Avia. In this Kiwi election year, grown-ups might want to save some energy for fierce political debate hosted in an Otago landmark, The Leviathan Hotel.
Crete is like a highlights reel of Greece – and a visit in May ensures just enough sunshine, minus the summer stampede of tourists.
Don’t miss the boat to Preveli Beach, a stunning spot set in a secluded lagoon at the mouth of a palm tree-shaded river. You’ll also want to tackle the steep climb up the cliffs to serene Preveli Monastery for knockout views and a taste of delicious honey. Samaria Gorge’s 16km hike is equally scenic in May: search for the elusive kri-kri (wild goat) amid the spring’s burst of wildflowers.
Time travel amid the ruins of Knossos, the ancient capital of Minoan Crete, then head to the Iraklio Archaeological Museum for a deeper insight into Minoan life. For simpler pleasures, ramble the old quarters of Rethymno and Hania (taking in the Battle of Crete anniversary festivities on 22 May), sip your way through the Iraklio Wine Country, and tuck into the fresh local produce that made Cretan cuisine legendary.
Famously described by former US President Bill Clinton as ‘the Woodstock of the mind’, the Hay Festival (hayfestival.com), held in late May each year, is the UK’s largest literary knees-up.
Acclaimed American novelist Toni Morrison, War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, and Oscar-winning actor Dame Judi Dench have star billing this year, and the event – from 22 May to 1 June – embraces readings, workshops, debates, events for kids, plus live music and comedy. Book your tickets and somewhere to stay in advance, as it’s a popular pilgrimage for culture vultures.
Hay has adventures on the doorstep: it’s close to great mountain biking in the Brecon Beacons and hiking along Offa’s Dyke Path. Foodie Abergavenny and pretty Crickhowell are good alternative bases for exploring the area from the south.
The exact dates of the life of Gautama Siddhartha, the historical Buddha, are disputed, but most Buddhist countries have agreed on an official date to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday. Buddha Jayanti, also known as Buddha Purnima and Vesak, falls on the full moon in the lunar month of Vaishakha (April or May in the Gregorian calendar). Unsurprisingly, Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha in Nepal, hosts a major celebration. The most important rituals take place in the central Maya Devi Temple, but celebrations spill over into the vast monasteries surrounding the site, constructed by Buddhist nations from around the globe.
Other important locations for Buddhist celebrations include Swayambhunath and Bodhnath in the Kathmandu Valley, Bodhgaya in India, Colombo and Kandy in Sri Lanka, and Borobudur in Indonesia.
Like your holidays hot, lazy and loud? Head to Vientiane in May: yes, it’s sweltering, but high temperatures mean cheap rooms, you’ve got a cast-iron excuse to take it slow, and a rocket festival ensures you’re going to get the maximum bang for your buck.
Take it easy: spend the morning sipping coffee and nibbling croissants at one of the city’s French-style bakeries; fritter away the afternoon on a head massage at a spa; watch the sun set on the Mekong as you stroll the city’s tree-lined boulevards.
Save your energy for when the full moon arrives, then join the locals in the wild – if slightly hazardous – Rocket Festival. Communities across Laos celebrate Bun Bang Fai by launching homemade bamboo rockets into the sky – a tradition meant to coax the rains to fall. Owners of the rockets that fly the highest are celebrated; underperformers are tossed in the mud.
Laura Crawford – Destination Editor for Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines. Follow her tweets @crawfplanet.
It might seem surprising, but the best place to celebrate the Cinco de Mayo (5 May, the date of the Mexican victory over occupying French forces in the city of Puebla) is in California. Thousands of expats in Los Angeles have ensured that the city commemorates the battle in a more memorable way than anywhere in Mexico itself, filling Olvera Street, near Union Station in Downtown, and partying like it’s 1862, with music, dancing and many, many margaritas.