A year of being forced to stay put hasn't put paid to the slow travel trend and as we return to the pace of normality, you might well start longing for the leisurely life. Laura Gelder explores four ways to slow down.
Slow travel is a state of mind as much as it is a style of travel. As tempting as it is to tick off as many sights as you can, there’s merit in exploring a smaller list but lingering longer for a more immersive experience, staying put altogether, or letting the journey be the main event. Here are some ideas for how to journey slowly – all bookable through Charitable Travel of course!
Take the Train, not the plane
Trains are surely the travel lover’s way to travel. There’s something ridiculously romantic about trundling through new and ever-changing landscapes, catching fleeting glimpses of places you never knew existed and stolen snatches of other people’s lives. Train tracks can offer access to untamed landscapes that cars will never see. The Trans-Siberian Express (the longest railway in the world) crosses some of the most remotes places on the planet – the vast grasslands of Siberia as well as the Gobi Desert. The Ghan starts out chugging across South Australia but crosses the country’s arid Red Centre – the name is a nod to the hardy Afghan camel herders who first explored this vast desert.
Of course you can’t catch these trains from UK stations, but if you wish you can keep your holiday firmly on the rails from start to finish. Great Rail Journey’s offers rail journeys across the British Isles, including its Vintage Railways of the Isle of Man tour, and a new Edinburgh, Inverness, and the Highlands journey. Eurostar now links Amsterdam as well as Paris and Brussels – and from any of these cities your choice of onward connections is endless. Or, if you want to travel in real style, you could take Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which will swish you elegantly from London to the romantic Italian cities of Venice or Verona.
Railbookers has lots of rail options for UK favourite, Portugal. Fly into Porto and out of Lisbon, taking the train between with a two-night stop in Coimbra to explore it’s beautiful parks and Baroque architecture. There are rail journeys in almost every country in the world, from the iconic – like Rocky Mountaineer in Canada – to the obscure, like Taiwan’s Alishan Forest Railway, which winds through the green mountains, waterfalls, wasabi farms, and tea plantations of Alishan National Park.
Put your boots on
The ultimate in slow travel, walking is a great way to appreciate landscapes and access remote places. Using your own two feet means you can keep to your preferred pace and stop whenever you want to soak up the small details. You can incorporate walking into any holiday, whether you’re tackling the high passes of a mountain range like the Alps or the cobbled streets of a European city.
There are walking routes around the world that offer access to ancient treasures, like the Inca trail to Peru’s ancient city of Machu Picchu or the Great Wall of China. Famous walks traverse through or offer incredible views of cities, like the Sydney Great Coastal Walk or Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf Mountain. And there are plenty of long-distance routes if you want a challenge, from the UK’s Pennine Way between the Peak District and the Scottish Borders to 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only footpath between Georgia and Maine in the US. or you can conquer a peak, like Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or Mount Kinabalu in Borneo.
If you want to make walking the focus of the holiday, an organised tour takes the strain by providing guides for remote areas or, if you are walking long distances, transporting your luggage between each way point, leaving you light and free. G Adventures has introduced a number of new hiking holidays across Europe, including destinations like the Azores and Madeira – both hiking havens. It’s six-day Azores journey takes in the islands of São Miguel and Terceira, with hikes past impressive waterfalls, lava fields and bubbling hot springs. And on Madeira walkers will follow the island’s famous ‘levada’ trails, or irrigation channels, through dramatic rocky terrain and past tumbling waterfalls.
Go via pedal power
It might be faster than walking, but cycling still embraces the ethos of slow travel, letting you go at a leisurely pace and stop whenever you feel the urge. Whether you are a mountain biker looking for challenging terrain and a thrilling descent or someone dreaming of pootling between French villages with a baguette in your basket, there’s a holiday for you.
Some of the world’s best and most accessible mountain biking can be found in Scotland or over the channel amongst the Alps, crossing France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and Slovenia and offering challenging but well-mapped routes. Further afield other stand-out mountain destinations range from the Rockies in North America to the Himalayas in Asia.
If you’d prefer to keep it flat then you can’t get much flatter or more bike-friendly then the Netherlands, where you can pedal through its iconic scenery of windmills and dykes. Adventure specialist Explore has an eight-day trip covering the green heart of Holland, including the cheesy town of Gouda. Other easy-grade tours from Explore include its Cycling the Baltic States trip, taking in capital cities, national parks, beaches and medieval castles across Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Let the tide take you
While island hopping on a mega cruise ship isn’t really in keeping with the slow travel theme, there are cruising holidays which facilitate a more mindful style of travel. River cruising offers slow-motion scenery, with options ranging from the parade of historic cities along the Danube to exotic golden temples along the Mekong in southeast Asia.
Slower still, narrowboats are a great option for UK travel – the country is criss-crossed by hundreds of miles of canals which pass through major cities as well as stunning countryside. France also has a proliferation of waterways and French cruise line CroisiEurope has a fleet of barges which drift along the picturesque canals and rivers of Provence and the Loire Valley, serving gourmet cuisine inspired by the local terroir as they go.
If you seek the salty tang of a sea breeze, head to the Mediterranean for a sailing holiday. The beauty of yachts is that they offer access to deserted coves inaccessible to the average tourist. Tour operator Intrepid offers leisurely sailing tours through the Greek or Croatian islands. Or try its Hike, Boat and Kayak trip along Italy’s Amalfi coast – you’ll be incorporating three forms of slow travel in one go!
This is a feature from Issue 5 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.