National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C.
Blooming pink and white blossoms have heralded spring’s arrival in the nation’s capital since 1912 when the people of Tokyo gifted Washington, D.C., with 3,000 ornamental cherry trees. The living gift spawned the nation’s signature springtime celebration, extended to five weeks (March 20 to April 27) for the 2012 centennial edition. Daily events pay tribute to the relationship between the United States and Japan. While some—like the high-energy National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on Saturday, April 14—are date-specific, many extend through summer.
The National Geographic Museum’s “Samurai: The Warrior Transformed” exhibition, March 7 to September 3, explores the history of the samurai military tradition and includes artifacts such as a suit of armor presented to President Theodore Roosevelt. Also on display is the early 20th-century hand-tinted photographs of Japan taken by Eliza Scidmore, the first woman to serve on the National Geographic Board. Scidmore played an integral role in bringing the cherry blossoms to Washington.
The free Library of Congress exhibition, “Sakura: Cherry Blossoms as Living Symbols of Friendship,” illuminates the story of the landmark trees through watercolor drawings, Japanese color woodblock prints and books, and photographs.
During the festival, take the U.S. National Arboretum’s self-guided “Beyond the Tidal Basin” tour to learn about ongoing efforts to preserve the District’s blooming cultural ambassadors.
Coast Path, Wales
With the completion of its 870-mile Coast Path in May, Wales—situated west of England on the island of Great Britain—is home to the longest continuous coastal path around a country. The route, comprising several long- and short-distance trails, meanders along rocky Irish Sea cliff tops, sandy beaches, former railway lines, and ancient footpaths. Fourteen-mile Glamorgan Heritage Coast Path traces the area’s rich Norman history (cross the stepping stones to Ogmore Castle). Pictured here is Nash Point.
Well-known Pembrokeshire Coast Path, the country’s first national trail, typically takes about two weeks to complete. Use the efficient coastal bus service for a more manageable one- or two-day ramble from St. Davids (Britain’s tiniest city) along towering headlands blanketed with spring blooms.
Highlights along the 60-mile North Wales Path from Prestatyn to Bangor include Coedydd Aber National Nature Reserve and Medieval Conwy Castle—one of a hundred still standing in the country. Book a room facing the castle at Bodysgallen Hall & Spa, a 17th-century manor house with lily ponds and 16 stone cottages spread across 200 woodland acres.
Legendary hub of the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul has managed to retain its character through centuries of successive change. But unprecedented urban construction and proposed development around and over the Bosphorus Strait could forever alter the fabric and feel of the city.
Pay homage to the past while visiting April’s citywide International Tulip Festival or June’s 40th anniversary Istanbul Music Festival (May 31-June 29) featuring 750 artists and 23 music performances. Wake to the call to prayer in Sultanahmet, the city’s ancient core, where navigating the maze of alleyways can feel as mystifying as the must-see places: Hagia Sofia, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum (housing 800-year-old Selçuk rugs), the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar (last stop on the Silk Road), and the hauntingly lit Basilica Cistern (the largest of the ancient reservoirs hidden beneath the city), pictured here. To gain perspective on the potential impacts of Bosphorus development, soak in the passing panorama from the deck of one of the continent-dividing strait’s ubiquitous ferries.
Chile’s Lakes and Volcanoes Region
This glorious landscape of fuming volcanoes and emerald green lakes, ancient forests and steaming hot springs lies in the heart of Chile between northern Atacama and southern Patagonia. Settled and still cherished by the native Mapuche people, the region has ten volcanoes, scores of lakes and white-water rivers, and ten national parks and reserves. Pucon, a bustling adventure-sports town at the foot of Villarrica Volcano—centerpiece of Villarrica National Park—offers hiking (on volcanoes, mountains, and around lakes), white-water rafting, and soaking in natural hot springs. Two hours south is Huilo-Huilo Biosphere Reserve and its rare double volcano. Here, soar through the rain forest on three zip-line networks, glacier-trek on volcanoes, and walk the new Cultural Route showcasing local crafts like bee-keeping, weaving, and the making of traditional “wood fairies.” A final three-hour drive south leads to Chile’s largest lake, Llanquihue; its most photographed volcano, Osorno; and its first national park, Vicente Perez Rosales. Stay where “nature is the protagonist”—at the sustainably built Arrebol Patagonia Hotel in Puerto Varas.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Location—it’s within a day’s drive of half the U.S. population—helps make Great Smoky Mountains the most visited national park. But with over 800 square miles of terrain and more than 800 miles of hiking trails spread across some of the oldest mountains on Earth, there is plenty of room for everyone to roam. Spring is prime wildlife and wildflower viewing season in this international biosphere reserve. Spot wild turkey, deer, black bear, and elk in one of the park’s least visited areas, western North Carolina’s isolated Cataloochee Valley. Throughout the Smokies, pink lady’s slipper, painted trillium, and Dutchman’s-breeches are among the blooms blanketing stream banks, woodlands, and mist-shrouded meadows.
The 62nd annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, April 25-28, features 134 walks and programs led by rangers, botanists, entomologists, naturalists, and storytellers. Register online or at the park to join a wildflower trek along the Appalachian Trail through old growth spruce fir and pristine beech wood forests, learn the herb lore of Appalachia, or discover why the Smokies are called the Salamander Capital of the World.