Grab your hiking boots, cowboy hat, paddle or binoculars and get your blood pumping on a short break.

This article is the first in a series featuring destinations and activities perfect for a quick getaway. From cuisine to culture to the great outdoors, discover ideas that will help you make the most of your weekend.

After a long week at the office, nothing quite beats an adventure in the open air. Mountainside, beachside and countryside sites offer a quick travel fix whatever your preferred pace. Grab your hiking boots, cowboy hat, paddle or binoculars and get your blood pumping on a short break.

Climbing in France
As the snows melt in the French Alps, a network of via ferratas (climbing routes) opens up. By means of steel cables and iron brackets anchored into rock faces, climbers reach a high-altitude world that would otherwise be seen only by hardened alpinists. If you can get over the tingly feeling in the soles of your feet as you contemplate the smooth stone precipice before you, rest assured that it’s actually safer than most Alpine sports, and lets you see the peaks and forested valleys of the Savoie region from angles not possible from the ski slopes. Simply Savoie runs weekends between May and October, in which experienced mountaineer Mark Tennent helps newcomers to pluck up the courage to tackle the mountain heights (£365; accommodation included).

Sea-kayaking around Malta
Less than 30 miles from end to end, Malta is an archipelago in miniature whose crinkled coastline fits in as much Mediterranean blue as possible in this, the smallest EU member state. Sea-kayaks are the most versatile means of exploring the shores of the main island (also called Malta), its smaller partner Gozo and baby Comino, which sits in between. Sea Kayak Malta arranges tours that take in caves, sea arches and an uninhabited island where St Paul is said to have been shipwrecked, with stops for swimming, snorkelling and a picnic lunch (full day £50).

Hotel Juliani is a rare boutique hotel in a seafront townhouse on Malta’s main island (from £65).

Canal-boating Scotland’s lochs
The Great Glen is one of the most eye-catching features on a map of Scotland – a 70-mile ruler-straight slash through the landscape from Inverness to Fort William, occupying an ancient fault line. Four lochs (Ness, Oich, Lochy and Linnhe) run along this line. Back in the 1800s, the great engineer Thomas Telford decided to finish what nature began 400 million years previously, and worked to connect the lochs to provide a practical sea-to-sea route. The Caledonian Canal was the result, and today it provides an experience quite different to chugging along most of Britain’s waterways. Despite triumphs of engineering such as the eight-lock flight at Neptune’s Staircase, most of the route takes you along natural bodies of water. And what bodies! The sight of ruined Urquhart Castle on the wild banks of Loch Ness is likely to be a high point of your trip (from £345 for three nights on a four-berth Caley Cruisers boat).

Cinematic walking in Spain
Travelling to the badlands of Arizona or Wyoming is a tad ambitious even for a long weekend, but there is a corner of Europe with impeccable cinematic credentials as a stand-in for the Wild West. The desert of Tabernas, in the southeastern Spanish province of Almería, was the location for classic spaghetti westerns, including the 1960s Dollars Trilogy. Spanish Highs runs guided treks through this barren region – either day walks, or overnight trips with camping or a local hotel stay (from £50 per person per day, plus £25 for accommodation – or tents provided free; Visits to old film sets ensure that Ennio Morricone’s spine-tingling score to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly becomes the soundtrack to your walks.

Hotel Catedral is a restored 19th-century house close to Almería’s cathedral (from £50).

Lazing on the beach in Sardinia
The second-largest island in the Mediterranean is blessed with more than 1,000 miles of coast, and sandy beaches that invite nothing more strenuous than bouts of paddling interspersed with lots of basking. While the Costa Smeralda in the northeast gets the celebrity attention, the mile-long stretch of sand at Chia at the opposite end of Sardinia is a jaw-dropper of a beach without the mark-up. The beach is sheltered by sand dunes overgrown with juniper bushes, and at one point runs between the sea and a saltwater lagoon that is often home to flocks of flamingos.

The swish Hotel Baia di Nora is a 20-minute drive up the coast from Chia. The hotel gives onto a private, white-sand beach (from £160 half-board).

Bear-watching in Slovakia
If you go into the woods of the High Tatras, be prepared to find one of the largest mammals on the continent. The Eurasian brown bear has disappeared from much of Europe, but in this mountain range that separates Slovakia and Poland, you have some of the best odds of seeing the magnificent animal in the wild. Exodus runs a three-night Bears of the High Tatras trip with rangers who guide you on walks to the remote valleys that bears are known to visit (£899 per person including accommodation). Two of the trips are in June, when bears are busy stuffing themselves after their winter hibernation. The other two are in September, when they turn their attention to autumn berries. Other inhabitants of the Tatras include deer, chamois, wolves and lynx, but whatever you end up spotting, this mountain wilderness is a glory in itself.

Alternative accommodation can be found at the 17th-century hotel Sabato (from £40).

Cycling the Tour de France in Corsica
In the 99 times the Tour de France has run since the first race in 1903, it has passed through almost every part of France, but has somehow missed Corsica. For the 100th race this year, more than 200 cyclists will begin the 2,088- mile route on this mountainous Mediterranean island. Even if you’re no Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pendleton, Corsica’s azure coastline and fragrant scrub-covered hills are a dream to explore by bike. Europe Active offers a three-day self-guided tour departing from Bastia, with your luggage transferred between stops (from £190 including hotels, plus bike rental from £40). Corsica’s roads will be busy around 29 June, but make a mini-tour of your own around April and May or September and October, and you’ll benefit from the island’s pleasantly warm shoulder seasons.

Hiking a volcano in Iceland
Hekla is one of Iceland’s most prolific volcanoes, having erupted five times in the past 70 years. For much of European history, it was believed to be a portal to hell, with the cries of the damned escaping from within. Naturally it draws hikers curious to see what all the fuss is about. Arctic Adventures organises six- to eight-hour hikes up its lava-strewn slopes (£150 per person including pick-up from Reykjavík). It’s an excellent way to appreciate the Icelandic landscape at its rawest, and from the top you can see Vatnajökull – Europe’s biggest glacier. If you need to blow off some of your own steam afterwards, you’ll be in good company with the runtur – Reykjavík’s famous weekend pub crawl.

Guesthouse Sunna is close to Reykjavík’s landmark Hallgrímskirkja church (from £50).

Sailing in Sweden
Few cities have an archipelago to their name, and surely none are so well loved as the 24,000 islands and skerries scattered beyond the Swedish capital of Stockholm. Close to the city, you’ll find wooded islands with summer villas posed discreetly here and there, and towards the fringes of the archipelago, where the Baltic Sea takes over, jaunty red-painted cabins cling to bare rock. Vaxholm is a short ferry ride from Stockholm, and makes the perfect base from which to set sail (boat £165 per person, for two to 10 people). An experienced captain is on hand, but otherwise it’s you and your crewmates who’ll be keeping the wind in the sails on a day-long trip, or an overnight tour, sleeping on a six-berth yacht. A dip in the icy Baltic is a vital part of a day’s sailing.

Waxholms Hotell is opposite the harbourfront on Vaxholm (from £125).

Touring Tuscany on a Vespa
The faithful Vespa would without doubt win a contest for the most quintessentially Italian motor vehicle. Tuscany Scooter Rental hires out these zippy numbers for self-guided tours through the hills of Chianti (£230 per person for a two-night package including hotels). Back roads lead past rows of grapevines to hilltop towns and villages such as Radda in Chianti and Monteriggioni. The scooters can fit two riders (some previous riding experience is highly advisable) and, in a twist to Henry Ford’s dictum, you can have any colour you like, as long as it’s red.

Tour prices include hotels. For longer stays, Podere San Lorenzo is an agriturismo (farmstay) in bucolic surroundings near Volterra (from £80).

The article 'Ten weekends in the great outdoors' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.