The Sierra de Gredos is a mountain range - part of the Sistema Central - that offers a fantastic walking experience in one of Spain's most overlooked areas. Just a couple of hours drive west from Madrid, it provides well signposted walks, many of which begin on the Platforma, an access road into the range itself. Abundant fauna - ibex, lizards, vultures - and glorious fauna, particularly refreshing stone plunge pools punctuating the 'gargantas' streams, make for a glorious hiking experience. Base yourself in Avila and you can enjoy cracking walks rewarded by chuleta, the region's stunning steaks!
Google map: bit.ly/14is02x
If you have your own car, could head into the range south from Ávila along the N502.
Stop off at any one of the villages on the north side of the range, along the Tormes valley, such as Hoyos del Espino or Navarredonda.
When I was in Stockholm I found a great wildlife safari just two hours from Stockholm! On one moose safari we saw about 10 moose! It was really great.
Karmansbo 18b, S-73115 Kolsva, Sweden
+46 70 6106150
While most of us head south to find our perfect coastal campsite the more discerning seekers of coastal camping will head north to the pristine beaches of the highlands and islands of Scotland, where you are likely to have a beach to yourself!
Wild camping spots abound but for those times when access to ‘facilities’ is desirable but won’t compromise on exposure to the wildness of the coast, Sango Sands Oasis will not disappoint. Just head as far north and west as you can go on the mainland well away from the pressures of modern life and you are there.
It’s a grassy cliff top location and the view down onto the bay is just amazing. It even caters for those who don’t like to pay for camping – it’s free out of season! Facilities remain open at these times, the only drawback being the lack of hot water.
The northern Highlands are on your doorstep, as are sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs and sea caves. The nearby beautiful Durness Estuary can be crossed by ferry to give you access to the wilderness area of Cape Wrath.
John Lennon spent many family holidays in Durness during his formative teenage years.
A delightfully small five-room lodge on a riverside farm just outside Wanaka resort town. The lodge is set high on an escarpment and enjoys fabulous views across the valley towards the Southern Alps. Good food, wine and architecture, professional service, free wifi and comfortable rooms. You can choose from a selection of walks and running trails on the property, bike along the river and lakeside tracks into town, embark on a more adventurous day hike into Mt Aspiring National Park or book a guided excursion from one of the many activity operators available.
Craig Smith runs Hatch Fly Fishing and is one of Wanaka's best guides. He puts in an extra effort to take you away from the crowds (not that New Zealand has crowds), to remote streams in beautiful landscapes that best suit the conditions on the day. Patient and fun to be with, he is excellent both with experienced and passionate fly fishers and with total novices.
Wanaka and Hawea, New Zealand
+64 3 443 8446
Cruising the steep southern shores it appears that Lake Como is the preserve of the Clooneys, Bonds and Bransons of this world. Head north of Menaggio, however, and the millionaire quotient drops to nearly nil, the opulent villas and five star hotels metamorphosize into campsites, B&Bs and agriturismi, and the price of a holiday tumbles accordingly. At the tip of the lake (the area known as Alto Lario) the panorama opens up and here the serious Alps begin. The best bases in the area are Domaso, Gravedona and Colico, although the surrounding hill villages do offer accommodation options too. It is a region beloved of outdoorsy types from all over northern Europe, especially windsurfers, kite surfers, mountain bikers and hikers. Pick a road leading uphill from the lake and meander up it to discover ancient churches, alpine meadows, stone hamlets, superb food and incredible views of forest, lake and mountain. Such a beautiful area and yet still very reasonable. And not a movie star in sight.
The local station is Colico, buses and ferries run all around the lake. Better still to travel by car: 1.5 hours from Milan airports.
Google map: bit.ly/13kYoSI
Stayed at Guludo with my husband for a week earlier this year. It's barefoot and eco and simply gorgeous. If you're looking for something a bit different and you love culture, snorkelling and responsible travel, then Guludo's perfect. It doesn't have all the mod cons of a flashy resort but it does have heart and soul and we fell in love with the place.
We opted for the road transfer from Pemba (about three hours), mainly because it was cheaper than the air option, which was fine. A day trip to Ibo Island is a must - a fascinating place, steeped in history. We almost stayed here before Guludo but quite pleased we didn't as there isn't a decent beach and it only takes a couple of hours to walk around.
This eco-friendly finca (estate) is on the Rio Tatin, a branch of the Rio Dulce and a mere 20 minutes boat ride from Livingston, Guatemala.
It's a place to become one with nature by setting off for a luscious hike through the rain forest or a sense-inspiring canoe trip to the Agua Calientes (natural hot springs).
The laid-back vibe is a great way to hear real-life travel stories from globe trotters themselves or settle into a hammock and swing your way into a good book.
Cabins are set both on the river and in the jungle and are like nature turned inside out.
+(502) 4148 3332
My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon staying in one of the branas. So romantic, so welcoming, so beautiful. Great little restaurant onsite. Wonderful walks and only a short drive to the coast if you want to combine this with the mountains.
Valle de Lago s/n Somiedo Asturias 33840 España
+34 985 763 776
Google map: bit.ly/10PkNUQ
San Pedro is a tiny ancient village with Arab ruins which has been turned into a little enclave of hippie travellers using two clean springs and several solar panels and wind turbines to operate the little cafe, shops and one restaurant. A naturist's choice with a dream of a beach and no pressure to go naturist. Visitors are asked to take their litter and it seems to have worked between 1992 and 2010, the two times I visited.
Go to Las Negras, park the car and walk for 12km west along a rather rocky terrain. Not even an SUV would make it there in one piece, which gives it that special attraction. Decent shoes, hat, shades and sun block are a must.
Google map: bit.ly/11QZMjc
“Pour les curieux, les amoureux, les randonneurs, les baigneurs…”- an irresistible three miles by one mile island of sweeping sandy beaches, a port, a restaurant and two cafés. Perfect for a five day break. Drive over – Portsmouth to Caen?- with tent and bikes, leave the car in Quiberon and take the boat. Cycle to the tip of Houat and camp wild like the French. Not a lot to do, just the beauty of nature, but that’s why you’re here isn’t it? A holiday you won’t forget.
Starting at Berwick-upon-Tweed a hike up the coast up to the English/Scottish border is a must as the beauty of the coastline is just breathtaking with coves, headlands and rocks which look like heads staring out to sea. The walk is generally easy but can be quite steep and dangerous at times because of the path being very close to the cliff edges and sheer climbs. But as long as you take your time and stay vigilant you'll be fine. A pose by the fence marking the border between England and Scotland as well as a photo by the border sign on the East Coast Mainline are both a must. To get to the border sign by the railway follow these directions - once you have got through the turnstile in the fence which has the Welcome to Scotland sign in front of it just turn left and walk across the field and follow the fence up to the stone wall by the railway line and the border sign is opposite to you.
Once you are in Scotland there are clear views down the coastline to St Abbs head. The entire walk from Berwick upon Tweed up to the England/Scotland border takes between one and two hours and clear signposting marks the way along the path so just follow the signs and stick to the path
In April I travelled to Belize with my four year-old son. We drove north and on the outskirts of Sarteneja is Shipstern Nature Reserve where we spent two nights staying in the guesthouse that the reserve built in 2012. The guesthouse is clean and comfortable, the food is great and most importantly it is right next to the forest. Morning bird walks can be conducted straight from the guesthouse front door and the observation tower, that gives views from above the tree canopy, is 50 metres away. Tourism revenue helps finance the reserve and also the co-management of other protected areas in Belize that Shipstern are work in. The relative isolation of Sarteneja limits the numbers of tourists to Shipstern Nature Reserve, a shame for the reserve and also for tourists missing out on a great wildlife experience. The wonderful team of rangers and guides led by Heron Moreno, offer an array of interesting walks and tours and some exciting trips such as the night tour of the lagoon, spotting Morelet’s crocodiles by lamplight from a canoe and climbing into bat caves as the winged mammals zipped past our heads. Both father and son were enthralled.
One of the projects that the team at Shipstern are focussing on is the planting of tree species that are affected by illegal logging. The reserve has a nursery for mahogany and they plant within the reserve and at schools to raise awareness of the issue. My son had the opportunity to plant one of the saplings and a plaque now announces his contribution to the reforestation.
Just over the river from Lisbon is the Setubal Peninsula. Take a full day there, and head to the Arrabida Natural Park area. It has one of the most beautiful beaches in the region, Portinho da Arrabida, where green hillsides drop dramatically down to white sandy beaches. As it is protected by the curve of the Sado estuary, the water is warmer and much calmer than the Atlantic coast, perfect for sunbathing and swimming. There are also plenty of activities - diving, sea-kayaking, walking - all in the middle of the natural beauty of the Park. Have some of the best seafood in Portugal by detouring for lunch in Setubal, where there are dozens of low key restaurants dotted around local squares, and finally visit the quaint village of Azeitao for a wine-tasting at the Jose Maria de Fonseca quinta, including the regional sweet wine, Muscatel.
Portinho da Arrabida - www.getportugal.com/en/poi-praia-do-portinho-da-arrabida-14032
Outdoor activities - www.vertentenatural.com/index_lang.php
Winetasting - www.jmf.pt
Located on the north coast between Perranporth and Newquay it couldn’t be farther away in spirit from all the tourist trappings of it’s neighbours, and it’s one of our favourite places to visit close to home.
The common is starkly beautiful, with a rolling landscape that falls away into a valley that runs down to the beach. There’s a second car park at the bottom of the common after which a sandy lane runs side by side with a stream studded with irises and willow trees that are just starting to show signs of life. And as the valley opens up the stream runs straight onto the beach, which at high tide is hugged by cliffs and on low tide opens up to a large sweep of sand.
There are no life guards, cafes or toilets and because of this it’s pretty quiet and dog friendly all year.
* Sian is our Been there local for Cornwall. You can check out her page here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/been-there-local-cornwall.jsp and her own blog about Cornish living: www.adventureswiththeblackdog.co.uk/
Portinho is a tiny village hugging a white sandy beach. There is a calm sheltered bay with turquoise waters- great for snorkelling. Behind Portinho rise steep limestone mountains, all part of the Arrábida nature reserve. Unspoilt, undeveloped and natural, the park is a wonderful area to explore- by car or on foot. Reminiscent of the scenery in Monaco, there are curving mountain roads, Mediterranean forest and views from on high over the bay. There are monasteries to visit as well as the village of Azeitão, with its vineyards and renowned wineries: José Maria da Fonseca and Bacalhôa. Great as a day trip from Lisbon, it takes about 45 minutes to get here, by car over the iconic 25 de Abril bridge. Otherwise, you could easily spend a week's holiday in Arrábida.
A couple of charming little B&Bs on the seafront in Portinho, great as a base for the area, and very reasonable, can be found here: www.hideawayportugal.com/modules/property/city-200.htm
Google map: bit.ly/ZURuD4
A day trip to Sintra is a must - don't forget to take a torch and visit the gardens at the Quinta de Regaleira.The first time I went I didn't take a torch and cut my nose on the wall of a cave much to my husband's amusement. It is a magical labyrinth of caves and tunnels that make you feel like you are in a fairytale grotto. If you have time you can climb the hill to the Pena Palace which is a fabulous, brightly coloured castle with extensive gardens to explore.
I've been with Sanjaya who drives for Yala safari Jeeps, four times now. He's a great driver who takes time to point out wildlife as you go rather than driving hell for leather through the park. He loves the park and the creatures and this shines through.
He'll pick you up from your hotel/ guesthouse, or meet you at prearranged place although he's based at Tissamaharama. We stayed at Richard's Cabanas while there.
Flee the tourist hurly-burly, coach party crush and cultural overload and head for the hills. Not the well-known wine rich Chianti Hills to the south, but to the altogether wilder, more rugged deeply forested Apennines to the east. The Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona e Campigna straddling the Tuscany / Emilia-Romagna border is just 40km from central Florence and easily reached by bus although a car would provide more flexibility for a day trip.
These majestic ancient forests in one of Europe’s oldest continuously wooded areas create a place of great natural beauty and profound meditative stillness. Chestnut woods on the lower slopes where old and dead trees have been kept seem magical and enchanted. Statuesque stands of dark fir are carefully managed while the higher ground is clothed in cathedral-like beech, sometimes serried ranks leaning at improbable angles, pushed over by a winter avalanche sometime in their past. Timber from here was used in the construction of the magnificent dome of Florence’s Duomo and was especially prized for shipbuilding.
The main ridge is traversed by the Grande Excursione Appenninica (GEA), a 375 km hiking trail extending from the Umbria / Marche border near Sansepolcro to Montelungo in Liguria. Marked and unmarked paths are plentiful in the national park though a good map is essential if your day communing with nature isn’t to become something much more unsettling or potentially life-threatening. Out of peak season and avoiding weekends the chances are you and your companion(s) won’t see another soul.
The mood of contemplation and reflection is sustained by an overnight stay at the Foresteria attached to the Monastero di Camaldoli (advance booking is advised to guarantee a bed for the night). Delicious fresh food, comfortable uncluttered rooms and an atmosphere of quiet dedication to work and prayer deep in the forest nourish body and spirit, perhaps almost ready for the return to the fray in Florence.
A broad wooded valley north of Lucca, the Garfagnana is a ruggedly beautiful area of Tuscany hidden between the Apuan Alps and the Apennines, often overlooked in the stampede for the art-laden cities further south. If you are tired of galleries, museums and crowds or simply prefer nature to culture, a 24 hour escape to Barga, one of the 'Borghi piu Belli d'Italia' with its twisting lanes, artistic residents and incredible panoramic views will refresh your crowd-weary soul and renew your appetite for all that Florentine art. Among the elegant medieval merchant's houses are several flower filled stairways leading to the cathedral which surveys the town from above. The vista over the tiles and verdant valley towards the Apuan Alps is ample reward for the climb. There are plenty of trattorie for the obligatory sampling of delicious regional fare.
Barga can be reached from Florence by train but it is not a straightforward journey as you must leave the train on the valley floor. Simpler and quicker to drive - around two hours from Florence. Stay in the impressive and serene Villa Moorings in the town or in one of the many nearby agriturismi.
Villa Moorings: www.villamoorings.it
Via Roma 18, Barga (LU) 55051.
+39 0583 711538
Google map: bit.ly/Zg84hR
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