They say travel is all about going outside your comfort zone – and Halloween is the perfect time to quite literally do that. If you get a thrill from that skin-crawling, hair-standing-on-end, feeling-of-being-watched sensation, then here are four spooky sites to spend Halloween. That is, unless, you’re scared?
A Parisian pet cemetery
At first glance, Le Cimetière des Chiens looks like any other European cemetery: moss-covered stone tombs sink at angles into the soil. Garish plastic flowers decorate graves of loved ones, and the most impressive tombs are adorned with angelic statues of – wait, is that a dog?
Wandering among the graves, it quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary cemetery. Some tombs are topped with canines frozen forever in a pose of adamant loyalty. Others are draped with the languid bodies of cats. Messages of mourning are etched into the stone (‘his leaving plunges me into sadness,’ reads one), each describing the sorrow of the loss of a pet.
In the world’s oldest pet cemetery, an ‘affectionate’ hen is immortalised by a large stone tombstone erected by her ‘inconsolable mistress’. Arry the dog takes a large globe stuffed with tennis balls to the grave. Since it first opened in 1899, Le Cimetière des Chiens has been the final resting place for over 3,000 pets, including dogs, cats, as well as horses, hen, sheep and even a monkey.
4, pont de Clichy, 92600 Asnières-sur-Seine in Paris. Open 10am–5.30pm Mid-March to mid-Oct, and 10am–4.30pm rest of year.
Crypt of the Capuchin Friars, Rome
‘Here was a spectacle for sensitive nerves!’ wrote Mark Twain of the eerie ossuary located beneath a church near Rome’s Piazza Barberini. The brick church is hardly the place you’d expect to find the bones of 4,000 monks arrayed in a spectacularly sinister decoration. But in the Crypt of the Capuchin Friars, six tiny chapels are adorned entirely with the bones of monks who died between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Their bones are arranged in intricate patterns of flowers and vines, even fashioning a scythe clasped by a skeletal hand. In the Crypt of the Skulls, three skeletons in robes are hunched along the back wall. Columns of human skulls rise up around them, joining in arches above their hoods.
The eerily-decorated crypt was intended as a reminder to the monks that death could come at any time. This admonition is written on the floor of the sixth chapel, as if a message from the dead themselves: ‘What you are now, we once were: what we are now, you shall be’.
Santa Maria della Immacolata Concezione on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini, Rome. Open 9-12 noon; 3-6 p.m. Closed Thursdays.
The Island of the Dolls, Mexico
There’s nothing creepier than the eyes of a doll staring vacantly out at you as if it were seeing straight into your soul. That is, except for the eyes of hundreds of mutilated dolls staring vacantly out at you. Which is exactly the sight you would be met with if you travelled to Isla de las Munecas, in Mexico’s ancient Xochimilco district.
The legend of the macabre Island of the Dolls tells of a girl who drowned in the surrounding canals. Her body was found by the island’s only inhabitant, Don Julian Santana, who was so distressed by the girl’s death than he began pinning to trees the bodies of dolls he found in the canal’s murky waters. He hoped that the dolls would appease the little girl’s soul, but what resulted was a terrifying collection of lifeless limbs in varying states of decay and decapitated heads with empty eye sockets swinging listlessly from branches.
Santana’s nephew runs tours to the island, but be warned – some visitors claim to hear the dolls whispering to each other among the trees.
Isla de las Munecas is located in the Xochimilco district, south of Mexico City.
The Hill of Crosses, Luthuania
Nobody knows when crosses were first placed on this hill outside the Lithuanian city of Šiauliai, but there are said to be a hundred thousand or more of them protruding from the mound in a peculiar pastiche. Representing the Christian devotion of the Lithuanian people, the crosses are a mishmash of metal, wood and granite of varying sizes. It appears every patch of earth is covered with crosses, and when there was no more space, the crosses are pinned to each other.
Some crosses are elaborately-carved (cross-crafting is a traditional Lithuanian art), others are simple wedges of wood. During the Soviet era, the Soviets considered the site hostile and bulldozed the crosses year after year; each time, the Lithuanians would replace them, adding more each time. So the hill became symbolic of Lithuanian national identity and it remains a pilgrimage site to this day.
The Hill of Crosses is located 12km north of Šiauliai, and can be reached on day trips from Vilnius.
Do you have any spooky destinations to add? Let us know!