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).
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).
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
Cinematic walking in
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; spanishhighs.co.uk). 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
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
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
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
Touring Tuscany on a
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
The article 'Ten weekends in the great outdoors' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.