Adventure travel

Travel

Serene summer in Finland’s centenary national park

The Nordic country’s newly opened Hossa national park has all the wilderness an adventure traveller – or a bear – could desire

In a hide two miles from the Russian border in Finland’s Suomussalmi region, we watch and wait. For centuries, the European brown bear has been pushed by deforestation into increasingly remote areas, to do what a bear proverbially does in woods. Luckily, in Finland, where 76% of the land mass is dense forest, a bear doesn’t have to go very far for a little private time.

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Travel

Just chillin’: welcome to Iceland’s wild, wild Westfjords

Iceland’s popularity with tourists doesn’t mean that solitude is hard to find. Head west to its fjords and splendid isolation and nature are close at hand

There were no boats in the bay, no ships on the horizon. Underneath my feet was black sand that stretched a few hundred metres either side. The mountains of Deilir and Öskubakur were behind me and together we took in the sea view from Skálavík bay in Iceland’s Westfjords. The Denmark Strait was the water we watched and many miles north lay the east coast of Greenland.

Skálavík’s population is zero, the last residents having admitted defeat in 1964 in the face of weather that demanded more than a snug fleece and a decent pair of boots. Even in its pomp, in the 1890s, only 100 people toughed it out trying to make a living from the sea and the land. Now there are just hiking trails, plus a smattering of summer holiday homes and static caravans that sustain against the elements, courtesy of fences that rise above window level. Swings, a pushchair and toys on a porch or in a garden provided an eerie touch: a sort of presence amid absence.

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Travel

In praise of cycling (very slowly) around the world

Cycling the globe in 80 days may be a noble ambition, but doing it in 18 months – stopping to take in the views and talk to people along the way – is just as rewarding

When Mark Beaumont announced that he intended to break the world record by cycling around the globe in 80 days, I anticipated a slew of messages from my friends and family along the lines of “If he can do it in 80 days, why is it going to take you 18 months?” and “Where will you be in 80 days time, Kent?”

For I, too, have recently embarked on an around-the-world bike ride. It will take me at least 18 months – through Europe to Turkey and Iran and India, then on through Myanmar to south-east Asia. Next, it’s a flight to North America then down through the Americas all the way to Santiago de Chile, then home. If Mark succeeds, he will have cycled around the world in the time it takes me to get through Europe. He would lap me almost seven times.

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Travel

Getting Bleaker: penguins, pens and finding inspiration in the Falkland Islands

In search of solitude, Nell Stevens headed for the isolation of Bleaker Island to finish her first book but what she discovered changed her plans – for the better

If you could go anywhere in the world, anywhere at all, where would you go? It was a game I played as a child: close your eyes, spin the globe, stop it with a finger. Wherever I happened to be pointing, I imagined, would one day be my home. I plotted out futures for myself in Greenland, Mongolia, Hawaii: snow, mountains, waves. After a year studying fiction at Boston University, I was given the opportunity to go anywhere in the world for up to three months to focus on writing a novel.

In my student apartment, I opened Google Maps and zoomed all the way out. My gaze fell on the southernmost tip of South America, pointing like an arrowhead towards Antarctica, and then, hovering off the coast, the Falkland Islands.

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Travel

Croatia’s remotest island

After canoeing round deserted coves and spearfishing with the lighthouse keeper, Kevin Rushby is tempted to stay on beautiful Lastovo island forever

Mladin, keeper of the lighthouse, was outside his cottage, cleaning his speargun. It was a beautiful scene: rocky headlands and blue sea, deep and mysterious. Mladin pointed to the bay below. “In spring, I’ve seen dolphins herd thousands of fish in there and then go crazy eating them.”

The lighthouse, Struga, sits on cliffs at the end of a narrow peninsula that curves around the bay, almost separated from the rest of the island by a deep, dark sea-filled gorge.

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Travel

The elusive American wilderness: in search of my own private Idaho

Off-trail amid towering mountains, engulfed in freezing fog and stepping over fresh bear tracks, our writer finally finds America in the raw

In 1901, the pioneering environmentalist John Muir sat down to write a compendium of America’s wildernesses, places he had learned to love and also helped preserve as the world’s first national parks. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people,” he wrote, “are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity …”

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Travel

Norway’s Arctic north: eco-cabins and sea eagles

A new activity resort brings guests right up against the wonders of the Arctic Circle, with floor-to-ceiling views over the fjords. Peter Carty is captivated by the flora, fauna and Norse mythology

It is the largest raptor I have ever seen. The sea eagle flapping imperiously across the tree line has a wingspan of well over two metres. Each mighty wing is tipped with feathers like huge spatulate fingers, while the white plumage at its rear resembles exhaust smoke – fitting for this B-52 of avians.

The Steigen archipelago in northern Norway is almost as remote as it gets in Europe, lying 62 miles inside the Arctic Circle. Among other dramatic features, it is home to the continent’s largest colony of sea eagles. My base here is the tiny island of Manshausen, where a resort and activity centre has been created by polar explorer Børge Ousland – the first person to reach the North Pole in a solo and unsupported expedition – as a place for exploring “the harmony between people and nature”.

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Travel

Hiking Nepal’s forgotten trail

A walking trail created to increase tourism in a rarely visited part of Nepal was in its infancy when the massive earthquake struck two years ago today. It remains open but the brave communities en route are desperate for more visitors and investment

The young receptionist at Kathmandu’s Nepal tourist office gaped at me with a quizzical look when I asked about The Indigenous Peoples Trail. It was not a good start to my quest for hiking one of Nepal’s lesser-known treks independently. But I am the stubborn, adventurous type and even if the trail-makers had no idea how to help me, I was resolute about going.

The Indigenous Peoples (IP) Trail is a culture-focused, permit-free, low-altitude trek created jointly in 2011 by the Nepal tourism board and the United Nations in an attempt to increase tourism in the Ramechhap district. This rarely visited region, only 50 miles east of Kathmandu, straddles the Mahabharata, or Lesser Himalaya, range and harbours a mix of Tamang, Newari, Lama, Sherpa, Yolmo, Thami and Majhi peoples – the latter two groups only found in this part of the country.

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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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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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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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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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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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