Protecting and accessing nature
Global campaigner the Conservation Collective is making waves across the Mediterranean, helping visitors protect the region’s increasingly under-pressure ecosystems. Its Sicily Environment Fund supports local hiking company Astrid Natura and Collettivo Rewild Sicily to train more walking guides, who will focus on the benefits of rewilding. Walking tours with qualified naturalist guides can also be booked with federescursionismosicilia.it.
With the Spanish government announcing that it will protect Andalucía’s Doñana national park wetlands from intensive farming, there’s never been a better time to visit. Here, it’s possible to experience five ecosystems in one day. Habitats provide refuge to over 200 threatened bird species and are also home to almost 100 lynx. Travel Counsellors organises bespoke trips to the region, including train travel and guided tours with a local biologist.
Nature connection is a dominant theme at a flurry of new retreats. Somerset regenerative estate 42 Acres will host one-day workshops and retreats this year (from £100), including “wild medicines” and “potent plants”. It also offers self-guided but fully catered retreats (from £175pppn).
More hands-on nature activities in the UK include a new Lens on Nature experience at North Yorkshire’s 1,200-hectare (3,000 acres) Broughton Sanctuary, including birding, habitat spotting, wild swimming, tree planting and working with the woodland management team (£150 a day for a group of six; cottages sleeping four to 11 cost from £500 for three nights). Further north, the recently opened dolphin-spotting facility Greyhope Bay in Aberdeen offers one of the best chances of seeing bottlenose dolphins from shore and hosts regular nature workshops.
Trees for Life’s rewilding weeks sell out quickly, but new dates for the autumn will launch by the end of January. New this year is a Trees for Life week at RSPB Corrimony in Inverness-shire, helping to restore the landscape after devastating wildfires last summer. If campaigning is more your bag, join a Right to Roam Mass Trespass; the next event promises to be family-friendly and will take place on Dartmoor on 24 February – where a challenge to the right to wild camp is destined for the supreme court.
Improving local lives
Mindful of overtourism and climate commitments, many European destinations are getting visitors on bikes, footpaths or public transport this year. Valencia, European Green Capital for 2024, is a great example, with more than 125 miles of bike lanes and 70% of the population able to use green space five minutes from home. Ecobnb’s Zalamera Bed & Breakfast (doubles from €95) is close to Valencia’s old town, making exploring by foot easy, although bikes are also available.
In more rural destinations, footpath restoration is a priority for purposeful travel businesses.
In Slovenia’s less-explored Logar Valley, floods washed away hiking infrastructure in 2023, but routes have reopened thanks in part to the financial support of slow travel specialist Inntravel. Similarly, in the Scottish highlands, Macs Adventure has pledged to give £5 towards footpath restoration for every guest on its West Highland Way trip – its most popular walking adventure. The self-guided holiday specialist has also partnered with Loch Ness Hub & Travel, a community-owned company that manages Macs’ luggage transfers in the area.
Also giving back locally is a new Sawday’s listing, Trevassack Holidays, whose three timber-clad lakeside lodges in Helston, Cornwall (from £104 a night, sleeping 5-6) are fully wheelchair accessible. Experiences on site include kayaking and sailing, with hoists, ramps and other equipment available so no one need miss out. Sawday’s itself is a certified B Corporation and Trevassack Holidays, run by the Children’s Sailing Trust (which provides accessible water-based experiences in Cornwall), is listed on Sawday’s as a “community champion”.
Supporting locally owned businesses is a quick way of ensuring travel spending makes a positive impact. In Sweden, Our Best Småland is a new tour (from £950pp for four days, all food and board included, 2-8 people) pulled together by four family-run businesses: it includes a stay at Trakt Forest Hotel and a nature camp with Outdoor Experience Småland.
In London, Women in Travel’s new Indian Community and Culture tour offers a vibrant slice of India close to home. The three-hour tour along Ealing Road promises an immersive introduction to the flavours, spirituality, clothing and traditions that define India, culminating in an Indian street food feast. Guests will visit the Shri Santana Hindu temple, sample Indian sweets and try on a sari. The tour is led by Vaishali Patel, who trained with Women in Travel’s Tour Guide Academy, and the fees pay for her time, fund the businesses groups visit, and support Women in Travel’s mission to provide less advantaged women with economic opportunities.
Eating and drinking for a better future
A UK Sustainable Food Places silver award for Visit Leicestershire’s Taste the Place campaign put the county on the map by championing local and sustainable producers. One celebrated experience is Leicestershire’s only Michelin Star restaurant, farm-to-plate John’s House. It has recently opened two guest cottages in a converted stable and hay barn (from £480 for bed and breakfast and the seven-course tasting menu for two).
Natural and biodynamic wines are on the rise throughout the UK and Europe. Estonia’s Wine Trail includes 20 small-scale wineries that are certified organic or following organic and biodynamic principles. One of the latest to join is Rüüp, in the north of the country, which has accommodation with a sauna and wood-fired hot tub. Natural wine buffs will also enjoy Trippin World’s new guide to Paris, which features a tour of natural wine bars in the capital, including newly opened Lolo Bistrot.
The latest tour from Bristol-based Good: Stories in Food is a full-day wine and cheese-tasting adventure in the Cheddar Valley. The day trip (from £110p) includes visiting a local cheesemaker, two biodynamic vineyards and lunch at the Pony, Chew Valley.
Also championing regenerative farming is a hub of businesses in the hills between the River Lynher and Saltash in Cornwall. Regenerative expert Tim Williams farms 120 hectares (300 acres) called Erth Barton, part of the Antony Estate, where Polly Moore and Shaun Treloar have just launched a range of retreats. Further inland, Williams and his wife, Claire Hannington-Williams, help run a permaculture plot on Crocadan farm. The soil-centric farm is chef Dan Cox’s latest project, with a new restaurant of the same name. The couple run a cafe called Mamm, a bakery and a farmers’ market on the site, creating a one-stop shop for local regenerative farmers. Nearby, the Greenhouse Spa Retreat has pods for two from £95 a night.
In June, Hertfordshire is the setting for the Groundswell festival, dubbed the Glastonbury of farming, with lots of events covering the regenerative farming movement. Last year’s programme featured talks by science and food writer Anne Biklé; Mike Berners-Lee, carbon footprint expert and author of How Bad Are Bananas; and Abby Allen, owner of Pipers Farm in Devon.
Jumping on the train
Opting for train rather than plane can reduce the emissions of a trip by up to 90%, according to the Man in Seat 61. The good news for rail enthusiasts is that, starting in March 2024, social co-operative European Sleeper will extend its Brussels to Berlin service to Dresden and Prague. Last year, Nightjet opened new routes, including Paris to Berlin and Vienna to Genoa. It’s also easier to get to the Alps by train this winter, with a Ouigo service running from Paris to Bourg-Saint-Maurice until the end of March. The Man in Seat 61 continues to have the most comprehensive and up-to-date information for those booking independently.
More tour operators are partnering with rail experts and ditching flights. Ramble Worldwide now offers 22 no-fly trips: a new seven-day Historic Normandy tour (£1,699pp including train travel) ties in with the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings in June. One of Exodus’s newest trips, walking the quieter Portuguese Camino (nine days, £2,199pp), can now be done by train thanks to a partnership with Byway. Intrepid has launched new overland tours from London to Madrid, and Madrid to Marrakech.
Sustainable Journeys develops lower-emission trips by opting for more sustainable places to stay, flight-free options and using public transport, bike, or foot wherever possible. It has an eight-day adventure around Latvia by rail, or an EV tour around west Sweden.
Ditch the car for bikes and hikes
Cycling for Softies has done some carbon labelling work with carbon consultancy ecollective to demonstrate how guests on some of its trips emit less carbon each day than the average person would at home in the UK. One of those is its Classic Vineyards of Bordeaux self-guided trip, whose starting point can be reached by train from Paris in just over two hours. Closer to home, the Great Sussex Way has launched a new wine tour by bike, with routes suitable for road, mountain, or ebikes and accessible by public transport.
Other new rail and bike or hike holidays include Responsible Travel’s latest south west coastal cycling holiday (eight days, £965pp) to and from Swansea station, and Welsh Walking’s four-day guided Offa’s Dyke trip (£997pp) from Leominster station to Hereford station. Pura Aventura’s nine-day Picos de Europa Inn to Inn trip (£1,500pp) is part of a new collaboration with TourSpain to offer more affordable and sustainable adventures from the UK.
In the western Balkans, the Trans Dinarica Cycle Route will also welcome bike-packers for the first time from July this year, linking roads, trails and bike paths for more than 2,500 miles. The route brings income to less-visited parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. Highlights include Sutjeska national park’s massive wilderness and Albania’s jagged Accursed Mountains and Dinaric Alps.