Springtime brings change and anticipation as days get longer and warmer, trees burst into leaf and flowers add vibrant colour; the earth seems to pulse with life while the air is filled with the scent of blossom, birdsong, and the promise of adventure.
If you haven’t already booked a holiday, it’s quite possible you’re thinking about one. Personally, we can’t decide between a last-minute rail holiday or a leisurely journey to an undiscovered corner of Europe, but we particularly like the philosophy of Inntravel’s Slow Holiday people. They’re known for their vast knowledge of beautiful, European destinations and an incredible range of self-guided holidays, not only to well-loved areas but to unspoiled parts of Europe. You know, places off the beaten track. From remote Nordic fjords to unexplored Mediterranean islands, Inntravel suggests taking time to really explore, to linger longer and delve deeper. We like that idea. Here’s our current shortlist of inspiring destinations.
A slow train through Asturias
Along the wild Atlantic coast of Spain’s Costa Verde, in Asturias, you’ll find the contrasting charms of lush hills and pastureland, timeless villages, fishing ports and great beaches; behind this, the rugged and remote Picos de Europa mountain range, a delight for walkers and nature lovers; plus, a fascinating culture and history. In Ribadesella, for example, you’ll find some of the most important examples of Paleolithic cave art in Europe. Meanwhile, in elegant, and very walkable, Ovieda you can soak up the city’s history and ambience from a lively ‘cider bar’ (in a cider boulevard, where else?!) an Asturian tradition that’s no doubt kept alive by its university population.
There’s no better way of experiencing the traditional Asturian way of life than on the narrow-gauge rail-track whose trains chug steadily between coast and mountains, through a bucolic and astonishingly green landscape – dotted with red-roofed homesteads, ancient granaries on stone pillars, and languid, grazing cattle – gathering and disgorging locals and commuters, offering occasional glimpses of the wild Atlantic and providing the perfect means of transport for the curious traveller.
The cities and palaces of Portugal
Portugal has a rich cultural heritage that invites further investigation. It’s a land of intrepid explorers, fortified wines and historical palaces. Its fabulous cities are all easily explored on foot. There’s Porto with its colourful waterfront, historical churches and port lodges; the ancient and alluring city of Coimbra, home to the country’s oldest and most prestigious universities; and of course, vibrant and cosmopolitan Lisbon with its distinctive colours and ornate architecture, its incredible bridge and iconic yellow trams; what’s more, Lisbon has a musical heritage that’s still present on its streets, a thriving art scene and spectacular views from various neighbourhoods.
Each Portuguese city has its charms so why not take a trip that includes all three, travelling by train to add on fairy-tale Sintra – once a favoured destination of writers and poets – with its ornate palaces and imposing Moorish castle, overlooking what was once a vast kingdom. And did we mention the Douro Valley wine region? Yet another good reason to visit this magical land.
Southern France – from Bordeaux to the French Riviera.
The many wonders of the south of France are impossible to sum up in a few sentences. The country’s southern regions hold a special allure. They stretch from Aquitaine and the wine country of the Gironde on the Atlantic Coast, through vast and beautiful Languedoc Roussillon – a sun-kissed land of hilltop medieval castles, Roman aqueducts and endless vineyards, from the Pyrenees to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea – past the flamingo-frequented shallows of the Camargue, to Roman Provence and the seductive food capitals of the French Riviera.
This epic journey can be taken entirely by train, starting in elegant Bordeaux, stopping in the magnificent walled citadel of Carcassonne to walk the ramparts and taking a boat ride on the Canal du Midi; travel to friendly Avignon to stroll along its bridge and visit the astounding Palais de Papes; then delve into Roman Provence to see the cultural centres of Nimes or Arles, ending on the stunning Cote d’Azur, in glamorous Italianate Nice – renowned for its arts heritage, its colourful, fragrant markets and haute cuisine – the jewel in the crown of the Riviera.
Norway coastal voyage
There’s a new Norwegian coastal voyage with Inntravel starting in May combining boat, train and car travel. This unforgettable journey takes you to the wildly beautiful Lofoten Islands in the far north, where you can explore the country’s Viking heritage and take a coastal journey on the Hurtigruten steamer to Bergen, passing dramatic cliffs and still, shimmering fjords as you travel. In Bergen, you’ll stay on the water’s edge overlooking colourful Bryggen with plenty of time to take a self-guided tour of the city and its many attractions. There’s more exquisite mountain scenery inland from Bergen in Balestrand, on a walking trail or bike ride, perhaps visiting the fjord-side Cider House, a unique distillery and restaurant run by a Norwegian-Turkish couple.
Head further inland to Flåm and enjoy an exhilarating bike ride or perhaps a more sedentary activity: sipping award-winning ales in surroundings inspired by Norse mythology. Or, how about a boat trip along a stunning fjord where waterfalls plunge 1,200 meters from the clifftops? In Flåm you can experience one of the world’s great train journeys, climbing beyond thunderous waterfalls and resplendent mountain scenery before switching trains for the descent into Oslo. Progressive, ultra-modern Oslo is a pleasure to explore on foot and offers a fabulous choice of galleries, museums, parks and live music.
A journey through the Peloponnese
The wild landscapes of the Peloponnese, from the astonishing Gulf of Corinth to the Mani peninsula, are unspoiled by tourism yet contain some of the most enthralling sites of classical Greece. A journey through the Peloponnese takes in the rich cultural and mythical history of archaeological sites, such as the beautifully preserved amphitheatre of Epidavros, fortified towns like Byzantine Mystras and the enchanting islet of Monemvasia with its castle surrounded by the aquamarine Aegean Sea.
The ideal way to explore the Peloponnese is on a self-guided, cultural journey by car with Inntravel. The scenery is simply awe-inspiring, from vast, sweeping beaches of golden sand besides pretty fishing villages where time stands still, to lush forests that coat the inland mountains. As you journey north to the outer Mani the landscape changes: cypress-clad hills tumble into the sea and inviting gorges offer rewarding walking between tiny villages with intriguing histories. On your route back, enjoy a final stay in chic Nafplion, the former Greek capital.