Immersive outdoor adventures will be more of a draw than ever when travel returns. Here are 20 to whet your appetite
The pandemic has taught us all the value of the great outdoors.
From lockdown loops to the (relatively) carefree weeks when we escaped to Ireland’s gorgeous mountains, coast and lakes, the wilderness has been a source of comfort, escape and joy in anxious times. We’ve learned how good we feel when we get outside for even a short stroll — how fresh air and a brisk pace can give us a whole new perspective.
Science backs it up, too. A study of 20,000 people by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, for example, found those spending just two hours a week in nature were significantly more likely to report good health and wellbeing than those who didn’t.
Jasmin and Philip Stallard are the directors of New Wave Adventure Therapy (newwaveadventure.ie), based in Kerry. It blends traditional social work with outdoor adventure, creating an environment that puts people at ease while utilising the psychological benefits of the great outdoors.
“Nature is a really important aspect of our work,” says Jasmin. “It helps us to get back to the senses and to allow our minds to slow down… It is especially helpful as a basis for techniques and strategies to manage anxiety. During our sessions, we notice that our clients are really tuned in. The distractions of technology, home, work and the usual hum of life are replaced with tranquillity.”
All of which speaks to the desire many of us have to continue this feeling when we travel again. Tour operator Original Travel conducted a customer survey last year, which found that 48pc of respondents plan to visit somewhere outdoorsy to enjoy wide-open spaces for their first post-Covid trip. Others have shown a draw towards escaping the crowds. We want the world’s wide-open spaces, to fill our lungs with fresh, country air.
Some travel companies are already set up specifically for these kinds of adventures, with natural encounters right at their core. “The need for being in harmony with nature, connecting to something real and authentic, as well as spiritual recalibration, has increased as a direct result of Covid-19,” says just one — Knut Flakk, owner of 62°NORD, an experiential travel company in Norway.
And they’re not alone. There’s a whole world of new experiences waiting for us out there, bringing wilderness and wellness together, from outdoor yoga to wild swimming in waters a smidgen more clement than the ones we’re used to. Here are 20 ideas to get your search started.
1. Wild swimming in Sardinia
If you caught the wild swimming bug in 2020, why not dedicate a holiday to your passion? Swimtrek is a company specialising in small group swimming adventures, running trips that guide you through some of the world’s most gorgeous stretches of water. Their trip along Sardinia’s Emerald Coast takes in some of the remote islands of the north, within the Maddalena archipelago. You’ll spend your days swimming along the coast and between islands, and get a chance to hone your craft during in-depth coaching sessions with the guides. In the evening, you can enjoy a glass or two of well-deserved Sardinian wine and explore the local restaurant scene with your newfound swim friends.
Details: The seven-day trip costs from €1,188pp, on various dates, excluding flights; swimtrek.com
2. A Chic farmstay in Wales
Fforest Farm is a super-slick campsite that’s somehow managed to achieve the impossible — an earthy and traditional aesthetic that doesn’t feel chintzy or contrived. Accommodation is in domes, cabins, bell tents and the like, with a rustic yet stylish ramshackle vibe. There’s even a cedar barrel sauna tucked into the woods. When you’re not cosying up by the fire, you can ramble through the fields, go wild swimming or canoeing, and in the summer there are outdoor cinema nights. The sea is just a few minutes’ drive away, but if you want to be even closer to the water, they have a small coastal camp, too.
Details: Rates from €582 for a four-night break for a family of four; coldatnight.co.uk. Get the Rosslare-Pembroke ferry and Fforest is less than an hour away; irishferries.com
3. Go wild in Scotland
Sometimes you feel the urge to barrel off into the middle of the countryside, but don’t want to be completely alone — particularly if you’re a solo traveller, and even more so if you’re a woman. Luckily, this fabulous women-only wilderness retreat in Scotland gives you the best of both worlds. The itinerary is packed with outdoorsy loveliness — think wild swimming, restorative yoga, hiking and foraging — but you’re there with a group of like-minded women (and the maximum group size is eight, so it won’t feel too crowded). You’ll explore the vast openness of the Cairngorms National Park, sleep in a cosy Highland lodge and tuck into gorgeous local food. You’ll also learn about the innovative rewilding project at Glen Feshie.
Details: The six-night trip costs from €1,942pp, all inclusive; wildernessscotland.com
4. Cabin porn in Cavan
If you want a wilderness escape with a hefty dash of style, Cabü by the Lakes is just the ticket. Set deep in Killykeen Forest Park, it’s a wonderland for those who spend hours browsing #cabinporn, with cabins decked out in Aztec prints, deep plush couches and huge windows overlooking the tall tree trunks. The real gem? The Onsen-inspired outdoor nature spa, with saunas and cedar-barrelled hot tubs, set right in the forest. As the name suggests, you’re beside the lake, so you can go kayaking or fishing, or simply amble by the waterside. And if you want to feel at least a little social, an al fresco area dubbed the “Sittooterie” is the perfect place to snuggle under a blanket by the fire.
Details: Log cabins start from €175 per night, with a two-night minimum stay; cabu.co.uk
5. Sleep under the stars in Fermanagh
Finn Lough may be best known for its bubble domes, the little forest hideaways that allow you to sleep under a blanket of stars (or cloud, depending on your luck). But while those domes do give you an unparalleled immersion in nature, their Elements Spa is just as impressive. Set right on Lower Lough Erne, the spa trail leads you through a series of lakeside cabins, where you can bliss out in the float room, sweat in the sauna, then leap into the lake, before soaking in the hot tub among the trees.
Details: Domes start at €275 per night, Elements Trail from €67; finnlough.com
6. Birdwatch on Inish Beg
We’ve turned into a nation of birders over the past year, so why not bring your new hobby to the next level with a trip to Inish Beg? The island estate is thrumming with birdlife, with previous surveys finding pheasants, barn owls and even peregrine falcons here. You’ll find three little birdwatching hides dotted through the woodland, so squirrel yourself away and see what you can spot. Otherwise, there are lovely walking trails, gardens to explore and lakeshores upon which to ruminate. Accommodation is spread between cosy apartments, cottages and houses, as well as the stunning Boat House, which sleeps up to eight and sits right on the water.
Details: Apartments from €75 per night; inishbeg.com
7. Isolate in Inis Meáin
It’s notoriously tricky to snag a reservation at the Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites. Usually, bookings are snapped up almost as soon as they are announced. And while that’s still true for 2021, the likelihood of spots opening up due to international cancellations is pretty good. Which means you might be able to score a stay in these blissfully chic suites, with uninterrupted views of the desolate beauty of Inis Meáin and Galway Bay. Inside, the suites are the epitome of Scandi-Irish style, with cashmere Aran cushions, granite bathrooms and Oroko teak joinery.
Details: Suites from €960 for two nights, including breakfast, lunch, transfers and an Exploration Kit; inismeain.com
8. Go wild in West Cork
While Bóthar Buí commonly welcomes poets, artists and writers looking for a retreat, you don’t have to be a creative soul to take refuge. This beautiful collection of historic farm buildings and contemporary structures is the perfect place to escape the world. Surrounded by acres of ancient oak woodland, and with a little harbour down by the shoreline, Bóthar Buí is the ideal wilderness escape. The newer buildings have floor-to-ceiling windows to bring the outdoors in, and the bedrooms are deliciously cosy. It sleeps up to 10 people.
Details: Rates from €250 per night; botharbui.com
9. Stargaze in Mayo
Nowhere encapsulates widescreen beauty like the wilds of Co Mayo. The untamed landscape and huge skies are best seen come nightfall, on a stargazing walk with the folks at Terra Firma. You’ll set off into the depths of the Mayo International Dark Sky Park as the daylight dims and your eyes adjust to the encroaching dusk. Far from any artificial lights, you’ll see the mountain just as our ancestors would (though with a bit more Gore-Tex, presumably). Stay nearby at heritage property Newport House, or sleep in one of the pods at Westport Glamping at Doon Angus Farm.
Details: Stargazing Safari from €35; terrafirmaireland.com. See westportglamping.ie; newporthouse.ie
10. See-through solitude in Sweden
If being left completely alone sounds like your idea of absolute heaven (hello, parents of young kids), this Swedish concept may be right up your alley. Two cabins, made entirely of glass, sit high on a peninsula rising above Lake Iväg in Dalsland. The project started as a social study, which found that participants’ stress levels were reduced by 70pc after living alone in a glass cabin on an isolated island for three days. Now there are nine cabins around West Sweden that are open to the public. You’ll be left in isolation, with nothing but the open skies, flitting birds and lakeshore for company. Heaven.
Details: Prices from €394pp for three days, including most meals; 72hcabin.com; visitsweden.com
11. Barefoot luxury in Panama
Far from any hint of civilisation, Islas Secas is a jaw-droppingly beautiful resort set on a string of 14 private islands off the Pacific coast of Panama. The whole area is ripe for exploration, whether you want to throw on your snorkelling gear or leap into a kayak — the region is home to one of the largest coral reefs in the Pacific, as well as two protected marine parks. It’s pricey, but all the activities are included, and they go above and beyond — think picnics on private beaches and excursions to spot migrating humpback whales in the Secas archipelago. In the evening, unwind in your outdoor bathtub and sip a glass of wine as the sounds of the jungle come to life. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, this is it.
Details: Rates start from a pretty wild €1,233 a night but are all-inclusive; islassecas.com
12. Back to nature in Norway
The Sunnmøre region on the northwest coast of Norway is super remote, and breathtakingly gorgeous. From the sprawling glaciers to the jagged mountains, powder-blue lakes and giant waterfalls, it’s like stepping into a screensaver. It’s also a paradise for outdoor adventure, which is why 62ºNORD organises itineraries that incorporate activities like kayaking along the fjords and hiking empty mountains. All trips are tailor-made, so you can hop between countryside hotels and wilderness camping, to really make the most of the landscape. You can also deepen the experience by learning the basics of outdoor living, from experiences like building a fire to discovering the local plants and wildlife.
Details: Trips are tailor-made, but rates at the Hotel Brosundet start at €186; 62.no
13. Avoid humanity in Canada
If you prefer animals to people, you’re in luck in the Yukon. In this remote region of northern Canada, there are more than 160,000 caribou, and only 40,000 people. The human population is outnumbered even by moose, and while the resident grizzly bears don’t quite have those stats, they more than make up for it in… well, grizzliness. A stonking 80pc of the Yukon is made up of pure, pristine wilderness, with swathes of unspoilt forest and dazzling glacial lakes. It’s also an ideal spot to catch the Northern Lights, if you’re lucky.
Details: Ireland’s Canadian Sky has a two-week, self-drive Yukon & Alaska Explorer trip from €2,999pp, including flights; canadiansky.ie
14. Sleep in a tree in Belgium
Looking for something truly different? Originally designed as an art installation, these tear-shaped tents dangle from the trees on a lane leading to the Castle of Hex. Despite the sloping shape, they’re surprisingly stable inside, with a flat sleeping platform. The work of Dutch artist Dré Wapenaar, there are just four of these “Tranendreef” near the peaceful village of Borgloon, in the Limburg region (about an hour from Brussels). Lined up, they look almost like giant pears dangling from the trees. They’re available from April to September, inclusive.
Details: Tree tents cost €70 per night; borgloon.be
15. Survival skills in Scotland
Have you ever gotten stuck into one of those Bear Grylls or SAS shows and thought, ‘I could do that’? Well, it could soon be time to put your money where your mouth is. Launching this spring, the brand-new tour operator Wildnis will lead you through survival skills in the Highlands, from packrafting to abseiling. Oddly enough, there’s a fair dash of luxury involved — meals are cooked up by a Michelin-standard chef over the open fire each evening (which is the de rigueur cooking style for 2021, dontcha know). Think whole grouse “porchetta”, venison shoulder with a foraged nettle sauce, and a Scottish seafood platter, all with a dram of single malt, obviously.
Details: A four-night expedition costs from €3,890pp, with pick-up in Edinburgh; wildnis.co.uk
16. Trekking in Iceland
Iceland’s otherworldly landscape has always suited wild breaks. But the lustre was slightly taken off when you had to battle through coachloads of tourists to catch a glimpse of a geyser or waterfall. Break away from the Golden Circle and you’ll find a wealth of settings just as stunning, with barely anyone to ruin the view. G Adventures has a brand-new trekking trip in East Iceland, based out of the quaint town of Egilsstaðir. You’ll hike through some incredible sights, including Mývatn Lake, where you can enjoy a geothermal bath (with a fraction of the visitors that the Blue Lagoon gets).
Details: Six-day trips from €1,291pp (if booked before January 31); gadventures.com
17. Hide away in Norway
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your mental wellbeing is to switch off entirely. To hide away from the outside world, turn off your phone and eschew all distractions. Which is why the Arctic Hideaway is like a breath of fresh air. This collection of houses is on the island of Fleinvær, and each has a specific function — four for sleeping, one for eating, and one, which is raised on a special platform, is solely designed for contemplation. The views are astounding, whether you catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis or simply the wild purple sky before a storm.
Details: From €200pp; hostunusual.com
18. Treetop living in Finland
Imagine snuggling up under a thick duvet, hot chocolate in hand, and gazing out at the snow-topped fir trees of Finnish Lapland, all without ever leaving your bed. Views from the treehouse suites at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel are intended to be enjoyed right from the bed — some even have an additional “nest” bed just for that purpose. Inside, the vibe is cosy and very Scandinavian — think lashings of pale wood and faux fur on every surface — but when the outside looks so good, it’s hard to tear your eyes away.
Details: Scott Dunn has four nights half board at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel from €2,135pp, including flights and transfers; scottdunn.com
19. Heavenly hiking in Slovakia
We all know about the great mountain hiking in Switzerland or France, but the richness of stunning scenery in Slovakia is something of a well-kept secret. On this group hiking trip with GoKo Travels, you’ll discover natural hot springs, waterfall trails and dramatic mountain peaks, all with a guide who knows where to find the best spots. The Tatras Mountains are particularly stunning, with glacial lakes and an abundance of wildlife. You’ll be walking 10-15km a day, so you’ll definitely have earned a local beer in the evening. While it is a group trip, the sizes are kept small, at between three and eight guests.
Details: Seven nights from €1,275pp; gokotravels.com
20. Natural immersion in Indonesia
A natural retreat on Indonesia’s Anambas archipelago, Bawah Reserve is spread across six previously uninhabited islands, where you can sleep in overwater bungalows, swim in turquoise waters and go searching for sea turtles in see-through kayaks. As well as being impossibly beautiful, the ethics behind the reserve are solid, with projects and programmes focused on marine conservation, reforestation and community development for the Anambas people, including women’s empowerment.
Details: Rates start at €1,462 per night, all-inclusive; bawahreserve.com
NB: All prices and holidays subject to change/availability and Covid-related restrictions. Check your travel insurance, cancellation and change policies before booking
Feel like you need to escape your everyday life? That your work/life balance is out of whack, you can't cope with minor aggravations, or don't have a second to yourself? Are you completely and utterly burned out by it all?
The afternoon sun casts long shadows across a stony field on the edge of a swollen sea. A woman dressed in black crawls across the lumpen land on hands and knees. Her face is a picture of determination; her hair blows wildly in long blond strands about her head. The islands of Deenish and Scariff and the Hog’s Head Peninsula cast a dramatic purple backdrop against the blue water. Several sheep, daubed here and there in garish multicoloured markings, look on bemusedly while the cameraman shouts: