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Travel: Real or fantasy? Visit the lands behind the myths

© PA / LuxtripperThe moon over the coast of Okinawa;
The moon over the coast of Okinawa

Although the idea of going on a foreign holiday might still feel like a fantasy for some, there’s no harm in indulging in a bit of make-believe.

If you’re seeking escapism beyond even the wildest of dreams, try these trips exploring some of the world’s most outlandish fables and beliefs – from mermaids with monkey heads, to elves hiding in rocks.


Nosy Boraha, or Île Sainte-Marie, off Madagascar’s east coast © Press Association Images
Nosy Boraha, or Île Sainte-Marie, an island off Madagascar’s east coast

The myth: During the 18th Century, the Indian Ocean was awash with pirates waiting to hijack vessels laden with treasures. Sainte-Marie, an island off Madagascar, became a popular hideout.

Captain Kidd supposedly stashed his loot there, where he sank his vessel, the Adventure Galley, which was rediscovered between 2001 and 2015.

Visit: Guests can stay on the sands of the Sainte-Marie Island at the Princesse Bora Lodge and Spa, an eco-conscious hideaway with sunken bathtubs,a beach restaurant and veg garden. Luxtripper offers a seven-night half-board trip from £1,795 per person, including flights and transfers.

Harz Mountains

The myth: Every year, witches would congregate at the top of Brocken mountain in Germany to worship the god and goddess of spring, Wotan and Freya.

The ritual of Walpurgisnacht was so dramatic, it captured the attention of German writer von Goethe, who used the Harz Mountains as a backdrop for scenes in his famous work Faust.

Today, wannabe witches and devils head to surrounding towns and villages on April 30, transforming the event into a Gothic-themed festival. Place names include Einhornhöhle (Unicorn Cave), Hexentanzplatz (Witches Dance Floor) and Teufelsmauer (Devil’s Wall).

Visit: Inntravel offers a seven-night self-guided walking holiday in the Harz Mountains from £890pp (two sharing), including transfers and some meals. Available until October 4.

Eastern Iceland

Icelandic landscape © Press Association Images
Icelandic landscape

The myth: Lurking in lava formation tucked into the shadows of mountain folds, “hidden people” can be found all over Iceland. Although these Huldufólk look and behave like humans, they are often invisible.

It is customary to leave food out for the shape-shifting beings at Christmas. On Midsummer Night (June 24), anyone who happens to be at a crossroads is likely to encounter mischievous elves, who will try to tempt them with food and gifts.

Living in harmony with nature, the Huldufólk also have a reputation for halting the construction of roads. In 1982, 150 Icelanders marched on the Nato base in Keflavík to look for “elves who might be endangered by jets”.

Visit: Learn about the Huldufólk on new six-day Trekking Eastern Iceland escorted group tour from G Adventures. Staying at a guesthouse in a small fishing village, travellers can join walks led by members of the community through valleys shared with the elves. From £1,232 per person, excluding flights, for August departures.


A beach in Okinawa Japan © Press Association Images
A beach in Okinawa Japan

The myth: Not all mermaids have flowing locks and big beautiful eyes. In Japan, the ningyo (a human fish or mermaid) has a monkey’s mouth with tiny teeth, a voice like a flute and cries white pearl tears. A majestic creature, she has the power to bestow eternal youth and beauty on any woman who manages to take a bite out of her.

But catching the sea nymph has never been easy: a portent of storms and misfortune, villagers in Okinawa fear trouble if she’s washed up ashore.

A belief eating a ningyo will bring bad fortune has partially helped preserve the dugong – a cumbersome sea cow thought to have been mistaken by early sailors for mermaids.

Visit: Travellers can snorkel in the crystal clear waters of Okinawa on a 14-night Sun, Sea and Sights in Japan trip with Luxtripper from £4,250 per person, including flights.

P.S. The Chiloe Archipelago, a group of small islands off the coast of Chile’s Lake District, is steeped in myths and legends. They are said to have their own ghost ship, the Caleuche, described as being capable of sailing under water. The Pincoya, a beautiful sea creature, is said to dance along the island beaches in a robe made of seaweed.


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