Beyond the swanky cocktail bars of London, Rome and Paris, there exists in Europe a semi-tamed wilderness that even the most frantic city-slicker would be hard-pressed not to enjoy. From the wildflower meadows of Transylvania and rolling viticulture of Tuscany to the cobalt-blue lakes of Slovenia and lush green hills of Ireland — Europe really has it all for nature-lovers. Here are five holidays to consider…
Horse-drawn caravan in County Wicklow, Ireland
With its proximity to the UK and drizzle-dominated climate, it’s easy to overlook Ireland’s countryside. But touring the winding lanes and green pastures of County Wicklow — the ‘Garden of Ireland’ — in a horse-drawn gypsy caravan is a great way to experience life in the slow lane. While it doesn’t make for the most relaxing holiday, it is definitely an invigorating one. The best part is that there are plenty of charming old pubs to stop off at along the routes and the rural setting is perfectly suited to whiskey and singing sessions round the campfire in the evening.
The caravan sleeps four and the horses are easy to control – and driving the caravan doesn’t doesn’t require any prior experience. Just be careful that your horse doesn’t run off during the night because, once located, it’s no fun riding bareback back to the caravan with a hangover.
Slovenia’s Lake Bled
The blue-green vividness of Slovenia’s Lake Bled in the country’s north-east is so picturesque that it almost looks fake. One TripAdvisor reviewer even likened it to a ‘cream cake’, possibly owing to the lake’s small island, Bled Island, which boasts a 17th-century church, and is well worth the pletna (boat) ride over to see its Gothic frescos.
A holiday here makes for a great short nature escape. There are plenty of scenic walks to get stuck into, with many places along the various routes to stop off for a bite to eat and a cold beer. The lake’s arresting beauty paired with too much alcohol, though, could easily pave the way to a premature marriage proposal, so be warned if you’re with your partner.
Rooms in the surrounding hotels and guesthouses tend to be fairly cheap or, if your feeling hardy, you could give camping a go.
A bee pavilion in Transylvania
Staying in a converted bee pavilion might sound like a hard sell to even the most ardent of nature-lovers. However, in Copsa Mare, a picturesque Transylvanian village, that is precisely what James and Rachel de Candole offer with their stylishly converted two-bedroom bee pavilion, that once moved boxes of bees around the Romanian wilderness to produce honey.
The pavilion, made for walkers, botanists, painters and horse riders, is towed to your chosen location in the surrounding hills or thick beechwood forests, where wild bears roam among the trees and in the blankets of wildflower meadows as honey buzzards drift stealthily overhead, in a setting so loved by the Prince of Wales. The hill view overlooks the centuries-old rural medieval architecture of the village which brings the place to life as much as the local shepherds grazing their flocks.
The pavilion sleeps four and a bottle of wine and breakfast is included. Bonfires, music, horse riding and fancy woodland dining can all be arranged.
Adventurous eco-lodge in Sweden
Kolarbyn Ecolodge in Sweden’s wilds is perhaps for the more daring of nature-lovers (and those who panic about their carbon footprint). Here you’ll rummage through the beautiful lakeside pine forests for wild berries and mushrooms in a setting that is home to red squirrels, moose and beavers; you will chop firewood to warm your eco-lodge and canoe or swim wild on the ‘silent’ clear Skärsjön lake.
It is an adventurous endeavour and the eco-lodges — made entirely out of natural materials, enough to make Bear Grylls swoon — are cute and comfortable. There is no kitchen, but with an abundance of organic supplies at you disposal, an open fire and an ‘outdoorsy’ guide to lend a hand, you’ll get on just fine.
Untainted Tuscany, Italy
Few places exude the culinary and cultural richness of Italy more than Tuscany — home to Chianti wines and fine cheeses, forgotten monasteries and more than 120 protected nature reserves. It is a perfect spot to indulge the senses in a natural setting. Untainted Tuscany is run by Sophie Chamberlain, an Englishwoman who has been living in Italy for more than 20 years and whose ‘desire to explore deep into the Tuscan hills’ has led her to offer bespoke tours geared around all of the above.
Take a slow uphill stroll that leads to a local family run vineyard where you’ll be greeted with wine, local cheese, meats and olives, or a deep forest trek — passing castles and abandoned monasteries along the way — leading to secluded pools that you can bath in.
Bespoke wine tours, culinary classes, picnics and walks can all be arranged with Untainted Tuscany.