Go stargazing in 2014

Go stargazing in 2014

With Ireland’s County Kerry newly-designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, Alexandra Gregg explores the most romantic places to fall asleep under the stars

County Kerry is Ireland's first International Dark Sky Reserve, designated by the International Dark Sky Association in January this year. Not just that, but it's one of only three places worldwide to have achieved gold tier status, in recognition of its clear and bright night skies.

The new reserve is on the Iveragh Peninsula, a 700 sq km part of the Emerald Isle - remote enough to be devoid of light pollution and with easy visibility of certain phenomena, such as the aurora, the Milky Way and meteors. But it's not the only astro-tourism destination where you and your loved one can go in search of a starry night, away from the bright lights of the cities. Check out these top spots for falling asleep under a twinkling, illuminated canopy, counting shooting stars…

Canary Islands

With their mild year-round climate, the Canary Islands make stargazing an enthralling experience - without the need for a telescope. Because of the position of the islands you can see all the constellations of the northern hemisphere throughout the year, while the local government has taken measures to protect the region's skies from light pollution.

In Tenerife you can see the GREGOR telescope, the largest in Europe, and La Palma has the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, one of the best-equipped facilities in the world.

Chile

Coupling high altitude with dry air and a lack of light pollution, the Atacama Desert offers the perfect ingredients for stargazing. It's not the easiest place to reach, but those who make the journey will be rewarded with crystal-clear views of the southern hemisphere sky. Legendary formations like the Tarantula Nebula and the Fornax Cluster of galaxies might even make an appearance.

New Zealand

Around 4,300 sq km of New Zealand's South Island was recognised as the largest International Dark Sky Reserve in the world in 2012. Located in the Mackenzie Basin, it includes the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and the villages of Lake Tekapo, Twizel and Mount Cook.

For half a century it has been home to the Mount John Observatory, whose six telescopes can observe 50 million stars each clear night - great for an out of this world stargazing experience that you and your partner will remember forever.

Australia

Ablaze with countless stars, Australia's position in the southern hemisphere means you can see constellations that are not usually visible in the north, most notably the Southern Cross. This untouched outback is perhaps one of the best places to explore the wonders of the clear night skies, with the low humidity and minimal unnatural light that allows you to view the stars and planets in a truly breathtaking setting.

Head to Ayers Rock for nighttime views of a travel icon, set against a canvas of navy sky and glistening stars.

Namibia

Boasting a dry climate - especially during the winter - Namibia is famed for its clear, star-studded nights. With excellent views of the southern brighter constellations, like the Jewel Box Cluster and Omega Centauri, the country has superb stargazing conditions - aided by its wide-open spaces and minimal contamination by artificial light and air pollution.

For a truly heavenly experience, a collection of telescopes is maintained by the German-based International Amateur Observatory at the guest farm Hakos, just a two-hour drive away from Windhoek.

Scotland

If you're seeking a UK stargazing destination, why not head north of the border? The Scottish Highlands boast some of the darkest skies on the continent, including the UK's very first designated Dark Sky area, Galloway Forest Park. You have plenty to marvel at here: on a clear night up to 7,000 stars are visible, as well as the Milky Way. If you're really lucky, you might even see the enchanting Northern Lights!

Exmoor

Exmoor National Park, in Devon and Somerset, was designated the first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe. Plus, it's near the seaside! Good stargazing spots include Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake.

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