Adventure travel

Travel

Normandy conquest: all-action family fun in the French countryside

On a group family holiday at a Normandy chateau, a sceptical dad is pleasantly surprised by how much fun the entertainment and activities are – and that doing nothing is an option, too

Call it an exercise in contrasts. At the summit of Mont Saint-Michel, the bronze statue of the archangel is glinting in the midday sun, sword raised and wings outspread. At the foot of Mont Saint-Michel, a small jam-smeared boy is wriggling through a tiny window in the fortress wall and idly breaking into the courtyard of a gendarmerie. The archangel is the protector of the mount. The boy is my son.

Four of us – me, my wife, our four-year-old daughter Bethan and seven-year-old apprentice cat burglar, Joe – have come to western Normandy to join 15 other British families on an all-ages adventure break. This group day trip is a mere bit-player in the week’s itinerary. The holiday is primarily based 45 minutes inland, at an old countryside chateau near Les Chambres on the Manche coast, near Brittany. It’s a wholesome setting in which rabbits hop, peacocks preen and mobs of croissant-fuelled children tear around, brandishing makeshift lightsabers.

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Travel

Canada’s great outdoors: readers’ travel tips

Wildlife, mountains, islands and forests … Canada’s natural wonders – from Nova Scotia to Vancouver – have left an indelible mark on our intrepid readers

Send a tip for next week’s competition to win a £200 hotel voucher

If you want to experience authentic, raw, outdoor Canada then a few days in Willmore wilderness park will take you out of your comfort zone. Motor vehicles of any kind are banned, but you can hire a horse or a trapper (both about £20 an hour) – otherwise risk it on your own. Trails wind their way through dense forests and along wild river valleys. Take a sturdy tent or knock on the doors of hunters’ wooden huts when you see them. You may be greeted with a shotgun and a suspicious snarl as we were – then a plate of yummy moose meat, cooked on a blazing fire.
albertaparks.ca
gonca

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Travel

Walking Canada’s Fundy Footpath

The Bay of Fundy is famous for the world’s highest tides, but the spectacular trail along its north shore is used only by a handful of clued-up walkers. James Stewart signs up for a hiking adventure

The thing about distance, says Mike Carpenter, is that, like time, it’s relative. We are in his pickup truck, swooping up the coast north of St Martins in Canada’s New Brunswick. “Sure, the Fundy Footpath is short,” he concedes, “but it’s punchy. It feels a lot longer.”

We’re en route to the trailhead at Big Salmon river with Nick Brennan, the other half of activity company Red Rock Adventures. Every so often we round a bend to see the rust-red cliffs along which we will walk roller coaster into the distance. Unbroken forest fuzzes their summits – this is the largest stand of Acadian old-growth forest in Canada’s maritime states.

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Travel

Kyushu island, Japan: shrines and shugendo on the Kunisaki peninsula

A walking holiday on the Japanese island takes in rice-covered valleys, forests of cedar and bamboo, and the spirit of shugendo – though fortunately not its testing rituals

As Japanese lifestyle fads go, the ancient art of shugendo isn’t going to knock Marie Kondo off the bestseller lists. Its secret rituals, practised in the mountains of the Kunisaki peninsula, include treacherous climbs on rusty chains and regular dowsings in freezing cold waterfalls. Its disciples spend days and nights on the mountainside with little more than a blanket and an occasional bowl of rice. It makes that Tough Mudder your mate bangs on about look like an egg and spoon race at a church fete.

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Travel

Loch Lomond’s wild camping ban is a backwards and short-sighted step

New restrictions are unfair and could encourage landowners to restrict access to the full glory of the Scottish wilderness

When it comes to wild camping (pitching a tent away from the confines of a designated campsite), Scotland has always been forward-thinking. This was enshrined in the Land Reform Act of 2003, which allowed people to wild camp – free of charge – pretty much anywhere in the awe-inspiring countryside. Sadly this right has just been severely compromised.

On 1 March, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park, a 45-minute drive from Glasgow, introduced a by-law that made swathes of the west shore of the loch off-limits to all wild campers between 1 March and 30 September. The reason cited is antisocial behaviour such as littering. Park officials say these new measures are designed to protect this special place for others. Sounds good, I hear you say.

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Travel

Condor moments: trekking in Patagonia

There’s no better way to enjoy the drama of Patagonia than striking out on the W Trek – one of the most remote walks in one of the most beautiful places on Earth

As dusk fell, there on the skyline, at the top of a cliff nearly 100ft above us, was a female puma. Calm and elegant, she looked down on us as if she was choosing the next course of her evening meal.

She was joined by her two cubs. A group of us looked up as the mother groomed one of them and the cub returned the compliment, affectionately licking its mother’s face before, 15 minutes later, they vanished into the night.

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Travel

Meet the Mayans: a tour of the real Yucatán, Mexico

Escape the fleshpots of the Yucatán coast and head inland – you’ll find people eager to share their jungle home with visitors, and a world of hidden temples and natural pools

After dinner, Juanito and I sit drinking beer. Outside is all the clamour of the jungle night. We talk about the big hotels on the Yucatán coast, an hour away by bus. Had he ever been inside one of them? Juanito is 64 and has twice been president of the village tourism co-operative, but he shakes his head. “I’ve heard about them from local people who go and work there, but I’ve never visited.”

The Yucatán peninsula’s east coast is one of the world’s biggest beach destinations, attracting more than five million visitors in 2015. It stretches south from Cancún (“nest of snakes” in Mayan) for about 80 miles to Tulum, and much of the coastal highway is lined with massive hotels, each attempting to outdo the rest in grandiosity: from minimalist chic to monumental mock Maya, a plaster pastiche that might impress 10-year-old Indiana Jones fans.

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Costa Rica: ‘the most biologically intense place on Earth’

Costa Rica is famous for its national parks, but has only recently turned attention to supporting the people who live in them. Johnny Langenheim joins a community-led tour of its jungly Osa peninsula

It’s dusk and Don Felix is sitting on the porch of his cabin, sipping a can of Imperial beer. Two white horses graze in a meadow and beyond them, evening mist spills over a ridge thick with jungle. Fireflies flicker in the gathering darkness. I let out a long breath and feel tightness release in my belly. Henry David Thoreau had it right when he said: “We need the tonic of wildness.”

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Travel

10 of the best new family attractions in the UK

Waterparks, cycle trails and zipwires through the forest are among the attractions springing up across the UK this year. We’ve included affordable places to stay nearby, too

Forest playground company Treetop Trek will open its third centre this spring in Manchester’s Heaton Park, following on from courses at Brockhole in the Lake District and Ripon, North Yorkshire. The Manchester branch will be its biggest, with giant trampolines, and more than 20 zipwires.
treetoptrek.co.uk/manchester
Where to stay YHA Manchester has en suite family rooms for four from £49 a night, yha.org.uk

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Travel

A motorcycling adventure across Iran: ‘the standout attraction is the people’

Riding a trail bike 3,000 miles across Iran took Lois Pryce through spectacular scenery, but it was the warm hospitality she encountered along the way that made her fall in love with the country

In the dining room of a remote hotel in Iran’s Alborz Mountains was a locked glass case displaying a solitary English-language book. “The Valleys of the Assassins, Freya Stark,” said the hotelier as he unlocked the case, removed the book and turned to the page of a hand-drawn map. He pointed to our location. “You know Freya Stark? She came here in 1930. English lady, like you.” I nodded. She was one of the reasons for my journey.

I asked a man about Iranian hospitality. ‘People must look after each other,’ he said. ‘No matter what religion we are’

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Travel

A motorcycling adventure across Iran: ‘the standout attraction is the people’

Riding a trail bike 3,000 miles across Iran took Lois Pryce through spectacular scenery, but it was the warm hospitality she encountered along the way that made her fall in love with the country

In the dining room of a remote hotel in Iran’s Alborz Mountains was a locked glass case displaying a solitary English-language book. “The Valleys of the Assassins, Freya Stark,” said the hotelier as he unlocked the case, removed the book and turned to the page of a hand-drawn map. He pointed to our location. “You know Freya Stark? She came here in 1930. English lady, like you.” I nodded. She was one of the reasons for my journey.

I asked a man about Iranian hospitality. ‘People must look after each other,’ he said. ‘No matter what religion we are’

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Travel

Kuching, Malaysia: what to see plus the best restaurants, hotels and bars

The capital of Malaysian Borneo is one of Asia’s most alluring cities, with fabulous food and new hotels, but little traffic and few high-rises to spoil the laid-back vibe

Just as Penang was swiftly transformed into one of Asia’s hottest destinations a few years ago, the buzz in Malaysia right now is all about another under-the-radar spot, the little-known city of Kuching, riverside capital of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. There are several theories as to how the city got its name (Kuching is “cat” in Malay), but its roots are as a trading post, built up by the family of Sir James Brooke, the first of the “white rajahs” who ruled Sarawak for a century. When I first visited 20 years ago, Kuching was a backwater, where tourists would hardly break their journey on their way to trek in Borneo’s rainforests and national parks.

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Travel

Highlights of Malaysia: readers’ travel tips

The wild and urban attractions of this south-east Asian destination include scuba diving, orangutan spotting, remote island getaways – and a helipad rooftop bar in Kuala Lumpur

Kundasang is a beautiful mountain town in Sabah. I stayed at the Kinabalu Pine Resort, which has a great view of the 4,000-metre Mount Kinabalu. A lovely excursion is to Poring Hot Spring, an hour’s drive away in Ranau. It has many shaded bath tubs but my favourites were the pools with different depths, starting from half a metre with the deepest being about seven metres. The Poring Canopy Walkway, Sabah’s highest, is just next to the hot spring.
Doubles from £38 B&B, kinabalupineresort.com
Diana Abdul Wahab

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Travel

Shark tales: Martin Clunes dives off Western Australia

Magical creatures and remote communities excite the actor and writer, who immerses himself in Australia’s coastal waters for his new TV series

There are lots of remote communities in Australia, but there’s something different about an island. Maybe it’s the water, a kind of moat mentality. I’ve lived in a village and they can be pretty back-stabbing, whereas on a small island, if you have a problem you sort it out because you can’t run away. You can’t ignore things. We were in the Abrolhos Islands, off the west coast, for Anzac Day, and there were lots of drunk Aussies playing [traditional gambling game] Two Up. But it was a terrific atmosphere. There’s wild abandon, but also a lot of money raised for charity.

Filming for the Islands of Australia series was a big task. It involved journeys to and from 16 islands. It wasn’t until we stopped that it sunk in how enormous an undertaking it was. I don’t think we ever went from one to another. There was always a hub involved, and the loading of kit on and off planes and cars, but it was worth it.

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Travel

10 amazing landscapes in Chile – that you’ve probably never heard of

Chile has a wealth of beautiful landscapes beyond the iconic regions of Patagonia and Atacama. As the first direct flights from the UK launch, our local writer picks 10 wilderness areas featuring peaks, beaches, hot springs and indigenous villages

Inland from Chile’s second oldest city of La Serena stark mountains enclose the Elqui valley, unfolding into the Andes. The slopes are barren and bone dry but the valley floor is carpeted in the emerald green vines of pisco grapes (to make Chile’s classic brandy). This fertile oasis just south of the Atacama desert is not only the place for pisco tasting – major brands such as Mistral offer distillery tours here – but also a hub for stargazing with a half-dozen observatories and an increasing number of hotels. Most facilities are in and around the adobe village of Pisco Elqui where inky skies abound.
Getting there Pisco Elqui is 100km east of La Serena. Buses leave every half hour during the day from the Terminal De Buses in La Serena (£3.50) and pass by the airport en route to Elqui Valley.

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10 of the most inspiring adventures of 2016

From hand-cycling through Patagonia to retracing a Viking expedition, the writer and polar traveller Kari Herbert picks the year’s top journeys ‘with heart and soul’

To my mind, a great journey is one that inspires others. This past year has seen some great feats of endurance and adventure, with new ascents pioneered on remote mountains or implausible rock faces. Some have dived into flooded underworlds; others, inspired by history, have retraced the routes of the past; and large areas of challenging territory have been crossed on foot, or by bike or motorised paraglider. Whether famous or not, most have been shared with followers online. Here are a few journeys with soul and heart that have caught my attention this year.

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Travel

‘My best travel discovery of 2016’

Inspired by the surprises thrown up in our weekly A great little place I know series, we asked writers and adventurers to share their best discovery of the year

Peter Frankopan, historian and author
The world of 2016 is not all doom and gloom. In Asia, things are changing fast as the Silk Roads rise again. In September, I was in north-west China, in Dunhuang, between the Gobi and the Taklamakan deserts, on the southern Silk Road. The city is an oasis, the last stop, going west, before nearly 1,000km of sand, and near the Mogao caves, a Buddhist complex founded in the fourth century.

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