Secluded holiday spots where the pace of life is slower.A few years ago I spent a week staying in the picturesque village of Limeuil, in the Dordogne region of France. Now, I’ve been to some very beautiful places in my time – but I think Limeuil would probably win the award for being the prettiest. Built on a lush green hill overlooking the meeting point of the Dordogne and Vézère rivers, the streets are narrow and winding, lined with old-world-style stone houses. But with all this isolated beauty also came a bit of a culture shock. As a city girl, I couldn’t believe how simple life was there.
There wasn’t a bank in the village (the nearest one was in a little market town five miles away – and that was only open three days a week), though there was a shop open in the mornings (where I could replace the toothbrush I’d accidentally left at home). Getting a mobile phone signal was almost out of the question.
If you live in the countryside, this might all sound very familiar to you (and you might be splitting your sides laughing at me right now…) – but I was definitely a townie out of my urban comfort zone. Living in London, I’m used to a 24-hour lifestyle, with shops being open late into the night, zipping across the city on a packed tube train and constantly receiving texts and emails on my mobile. So you might think I’d find it frustrating staying in a place where the pace of life was so much slower, where things were more difficult to come by, and the days were always longer.
But in all honesty, I loved it.
All the things I’ve mentioned above meant I felt far less distracted and really appreciated my surroundings. My partner and I had a great time swimming outdoors in the beautiful gardens of the little gîte we were staying in, biking through the fields or kayaking from St Cyprian back to Limeuil again. And I loved the feeling of dropping onto my bed every evening and falling asleep in minutes, wiped out physically from being active rather than mentally tired from over stimulation.
Although I’m too much of a townie at heart to live in a remote place permanently, I’m sure many of us could do with a break from our full-on lifestyles to reconnect with those we go away with – as well as ourselves. Here are five remote holiday destinations where you can do exactly that.
The Azores Islands, PortugalThis group of nine volcanic islands belongs to Portugal, but set in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, it’s actually one of the remotest places in Europe. Despite being small the landscape is greatly varied, from lush green mountains and forests which are perfect for hiking, to unspoiled lakes and unique volcanic rock formations. The islands also benefit from having a sub-tropical landscape, so the weather stays optimal for longer than other European holiday destinations.
There are plenty of adventurous ways to see this unique landscape: hiking, mountain biking or even kayaking across the lakes. The Azores are also one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries, giving you the rare chance to see whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. You can take a whale watching tour where you get the chance to meet and swim with a pod of wild dolphins. And after tiring yourself out with all of these activities, you can rest your sore muscles in many of the islands’ naturally occurring hot springs, including the thermal baths of Termas da Ferraria and iron water pools in Furnas, on the island of São Miguel.
Prefer the pace of the Azores Islands? See our Azores holiday rentals.
Brecon Beacons National Park, Powys, WalesBrecon Beacons National Park is a mountain range and surrounding area in mid-Wales. A popular destination with hikers and climbers who come for the challenging peaks and natural beauty, it’s also an area steeped in history and culture (the area is home to sites of former Roman settlements and The Hay Festival, one of Britain’s leading literary festivals, at Hay on Wye). It’s also quite accessible from the rest of the UK, which is perfect if you only have a few days to spare but want to feel “away from it all”.
If you want to explore, there are a number of pre-mapped out trails for all experience and fitness levels, which you can find on the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority website. Or if you fancy something different, Ellesmere Riding Centre organises horse trails of the mountain range, suitable for all ages and ability levels. If you really want to get out of your comfort zone, adventure company Interactivities allows your party to spend the day canoeing, climbing, abseiling or caving, under the supervision of a qualified instructor.
Slow things down in Powys and the Brecon Beacons from a holiday cottage.
Sierra Nevada National Park, Andalusia, SpainAfter the Alps, Sierra Nevada National Park is Europe’s second-highest mountain range. Famed for its skiing in the winter, in the summer it’s a hiker’s paradise. Explore torrential rivers, gorges, scree slopes, glacial lakes, snowy summits and mountains. The two highest peaks are the Mulhacén at 3,482m, closely followed by the Pico del Veleta, at 3,396m (climbing to the top to watch the sunrise is a highly recommended experience). On a clear day these mountains can be seen from as far away as Africa. Keen mountain bikers can visit Sierra Nevada Bike Park, and experience four trails of more than 20km in length, with a thrilling vertical drop of 1.565m. Photo: BY-Your-⌘
Another advantage of Sierra Nevada is that it’s less than an hour’s drive from the historic city of Grenada, home to the famous Alhambra, or the Costa del Tropical. This means you can easily combine your away-from-it-all holiday with a more traditional city break or beach break.
Take a sneak peek at our Sierra Nevada holiday villas and apartments.
Connemara National Park, Galway, IrelandConnemara National Park, in County Galway on the west of Ireland, is one of the most westerly points in Europe, so it feels very far away from anywhere else. I stayed on the Aughrus Peninsula with my family a few years back and remember standing on the beach, looking out into the endless misty Atlantic, and finding a signpost pointing west, saying “New York, 3000k”. Away from the beach the scenery is ruggedly beautiful; think rocky hills, peat bogs, heaths and woodlands. It’s possible to walk for hours and not see another person (although you might meet a few cows and sheep along the way).
Photo: Stéphane Moussie
For keen walkers, the real highlights are the trails around Diamond Hill. Start at the Letterfrack Visitor’s Centre and you’ll find maps and sign posts, which will lead you on different trails up or around this stunning peak. On our visit we came across a number of native red deer. Much larger than their British cousins, with antlers wider than your arms could reach, they made an impressive spectacle.
Head west for a rural Connemara holiday rental.
The Falkland IslandsThese quiet, sparsely populated islands have long been established as a favourite eco-tourism destination; the Falkland Islands are a must for those who want to go wildlife watching. Just taking a stroll along Bertha’s Beach (not far from the capital Stanley) or Bull Point you can come up close and personal with wild penguins, or spot albatross, killer whales and humungous elephant seals in their natural habitat. Whale and dolphin watching excursions are also available. If you’re interested in natural history, The Falklands also have rocks which are billions of years old, and tell the story of how the earth’s continents have shifted over time. The Stone Runs, large spreads of boulders which can be up to 4km long, are another major feature here.
Photo: Chris Pearson
The islands offer plenty of opportunities to take part in sporting activities, too. Stanley Golf Course is over 4,500 yards long, and wilderness fishing is a regular pastime. Offering over 1,000 miles of coastline, the islands are also a watersports haven. Surfing, windsurfing, and kayaking are readily available, or if you don’t like those, you can kite surf across the beach.
Hana Chelache lives in West London and enjoys writing about travel, food and life in London.
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