Slow holidays off to a flyer on responsible tourism
ETHICAL TRAVELLER: Catherine Mackon responsible tourism
SLOW TRAVEL is the new Slow Food, a movement which aims to show that by slowing down in our travels, we bring holidays alive again: we allow ourselves to breathe in the air, see detail in the landscapes, hear the panoply of new sounds, and even taste the salt of the sea air.
Walking holidays just ooze “slow” and, contrary to what many people think, or fear, you don’t have to be superfit, “Sally-Gappers-of-a-Saturday” types to enjoy a walking holiday. Nor do you have to walk with a group of strangers because independent walking holidays, catering for all levels, where your accommodation, food, luggage transfer and maps are all provided, are big business nowadays.
But it is hard to know where to start your “slow” search. Let me speed things up by recommending a few responsible tourism experts. I love everything about Inntravel (see inntravel.co.uk/ or tel 00-44-1653-617001), which has walking holidays throughout Europe, with an option to include your European rail travel in the price of the holiday. Travel as a foot passenger from Rosslare to Roscoff, and Inntravel will organise everything from the minute you board the train at Roscoff, including the rail ticket, taxi to your hotel, and all you need to walk along the magnificent granite coast of Brittany. And when you complete seven days of walking from one coastal hotel to another, finishing in Lannion, you get the train back to Roscoff, and head home.
Inntravel also offers a gorgeous walking holiday for those sailing from Ireland to Cherbourg. From here you take a train to Tours, which is the starting point for a week of hedonist heaven, walking through vineyards of the Loire, and sampling the grapes at various chateaux en route. Another good reason for not driving. Similarly, if you want to take the train to Paris, and then travel on by TGV to join up with any of its other walking trips, the company will help you sort it. Just organise your ferry, let Inntravel do the rest of the booking, and your boots do the walking.
Headwater (headwater.com) is another reputable and responsible walking holiday company, offering independent and guided holidays around the world. Its week-long walk along the Lycian coast in Turkey is not all boots and backpacks either, with plenty of beach and booze stops at the end of each day.
It also has a walking holiday on the island of Gozo, Malta, where you have the convenience of staying in the same (five-star) hotel every night, but with a different walk every day, through lemon groves, gladioli-filled fields, and ochre-coloured hidden beaches.
You can walk over the Albanian Alps with KE Adventure (keadventure.com) or through Armenian volcanic craters and, one of its most popular, and most challenging, Corsica’s coast-to-coast G20 route, staying in mountain refuges and/or camping along the way.
Wonderful Ireland Walking Tours (walkingholiday.ie) also takes trekkers along the famous Dry Stone Path or GR221, which winds through the valleys and villages of the mountains of Mallorca.
For a walking cocktail with a twist of something quirky, you might also like the adventures of another of my favourites, Swimtrek (swimtrek.com). As well as offering extraordinary swimming only holidays, its trip in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides combines walking with swimming, and is a must for the outdoor, adrenaline junkies out there.
Starting the day with a trek across one uninhabited island and finishing it by swimming to another, is about as shiveringly slow, and utterly exciting, as it gets.
But Nature Travels (naturetravels.co.uk) is at the top of my 2011 walking wishlist, with its ice trekking holiday in Sweden. Sometimes known as Nordic Skating, this combines poles, skates, ice and trekking for four days of traversing frozen lakes. With the support of an expert guide who gives tuition and careful guidance across a labyrinth of lakes, sometimes even by moonlight, you skate from one woodland hostel to another. With a sauna to warm you up every night, this is not just slow travel, this is a trip in which you actually walk on water, and then finish each day in pure eco-heaven.