On Saturday I was invited to Inntravel’s Discover Day 2017, at Cheltenham Racecourse, where I got the chance to learn more about their slow walking holidays and also have a chat first hand with the hoteliers and tourism boards who’ve attended the event.
As you know, my blog is focused on non-touristy experiences, so this event was very interesting for me as I got to discover less known places from very touristic countries, like Italy, Spain or Germany. The entire day was very inspiring because of the passion these people talked about what makes their destinations special. Each of them brought a little bit of a taster from their home countries, so each stall greeted its visitors with local drinks and delicacies to taste).
The special guest of the event was Kate Humble, the BBC presenter of the popular wildlife series Springwatch and Autumnwatch, currently exploring Wales off the beaten track on BBC 3 (you can watch it on the Iplayer). I enjoyed a lot Kate’s presentation, she has a great skill of storytelling and capturing the audience’s attention with her delightful sense of humour.
Which are the best slow travel destinations in 2018?
I was pleased to know that Normandy is one of the new cycling holidays that Inntravel is offering next year. As I live by the harbour, on the UK’s South Coast, I have travelled to Normandy several times exploring the beautiful countryside and eating my way through Cherbourg. Inntravel’s cycle route through Normandy focuses on the history, from the 1066 Norman invasion to England, to the D-Day landings. The route, starting in Crepon and finishing in Bayeux, leads to the famous Omaha Beach, Juno Beach and Gold Beach, allowing plenty of time to visit the dedicated World War II museums and memorials in each location.
By adding an extra day to the trip, you can also include a visit to Mont Saint-Michel, one of France’s most beautiful sights. In the summer months, if you climb to the monastery on top in the afternoon, you can explore it without other people around, as that is the time when the majority leaves.
A highlight of the trip is the delicious local cuisine based on seafood, accompanied by apple cider or calvados. Even if you would think that wine is France’s national drink, Normandy is actually famous for its high-quality cider. The harsh weather conditions and the colder climate are great for growing apples and not suited at all for grapes.
The local Normand cuisine includes the Camembert cheese, creamy galettes, oysters and mussels, and calvados infused veal.
Cycling in Normandy is quite easy due to the flat terrain and the route follows secondary roads and tracks through the lush coastal countryside. If you don’t fancy pedalling for 5 days, you can always opt for an electric bicycle.
Canary Islands are almost synonym with Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, which are beautiful but maybe a little bit too touristy, especially with everyone going there searching for some winter sun. However, the two smallest islands, La Gomera and El Hierro receive barely any tourists and are perfect if you are looking for sun but also for some peace and quiet.
El Hierro is the smallest and the least developed of the islands. Regardless, due to the building of a hydroelectric plant, El Hierro is the first island in the world to be self-sufficient using only renewable energy. So, don’t worry, there is electricity and even WiFi on the island. What makes El Hierro special is the unique natural landscape formed by the volcanic activity over the years. In fact, El Hierro has the largest number of volcanos in the Canaries, with over 500 visible cones and 300 covered by the recent eruptions. You will find here sharp mountains covered in thick juniper and pine forests and an incredible marine life. No wonder that Unesco has declared El Hierro a World Biosphere Reserve.
Life on the island goes slow as well, with small finishing villages and locals who probably don’t speak English, but they would be more than happy to invite you to a glass of locally made wine, at their house.
La Gomera is another must visit slow travel destination. Compared to El Hierro, La Gomera is a bit livelier, but not by much. The town of Valle Gran Rey is charming and laid-back, with plenty of cafes from where you can admire the beautiful ocean in front or the volcanic mountains in the back. Valle Gran Rey is colourful, inspiring a peculiar South American vibe rather than Spanish.
Isn’t Norway on everyone’s travel bucket list? I know it was on mine and after visiting the country twice, it still is. I don’t think I have ever seen a more impressive landscape in my entire life. And I mean gazing at the window for an entire 8 hours train journey because I couldn’t get enough of the mountains and fjords and snow-covered glaciers, all more beautiful than the other.
Norway is without a doubt a country where you must slow travel and one of the most accessible parts of it stands between Oslo and Bergen, making it convenient for tourists willing to fly into any of the two airports.
Fjaerland is a tiny village also known by the locals as the Glacier Village because of its privileged location, close to the largest icecap in mainland Europe, Jostedalsbreen. Another thing that makes Fjaerland special for a slow traveller is the number of second-hand bookshops in the village: 14, serving a population of only 300 people!
There are also plenty of activities to do here: mountain hiking, glacier walking, fjord kayaking, cycling or river fishing. In summer there are two buses a day going to two of the outlet glaciers, Bøyabreen and Supphellebreen, stopping at the interactive Norwegian Glacier Museum.
By choosing an Inntravel tour you will stay at the Fjærland Fjordstove Hotel & Restaurant which is opened from May until September. The owner, Bård Huseby, is passionate about the environment and the local landscape, talking with enthusiasm about his research on the glacier. When staying at his hotel you can be sure that your dinners will be prepared with fish from the fjord, deer from the woods nearby, local beef and lamb, all cooked with the herbs from the hotel’s own garden. Bård also makes his own craft beer so make sure to ask him for a taster. The hotel is situated on the shore of the fjord with a direct view over the glacier, offering you always a meal with a view.
What do you think of when I say Portugal? The dramatic coast of the Algarve? The charismatic and colourful city of Porto? The yellow trams of Lisbon making their way up the hills, on narrow streets? What if I told you that in the North of the country stands the most beautiful part of the country, the greenest corner of Portugal: Minho.
All the way from Portugal, we had the pleasure of listening to Francisco, the Count of Calheiros (yes, an actual Count!), telling us about the charm of Minho. Francisco is the owner of the Manor House, which is not a hotel nor a guesthouse. The Manor House is Francisco’s home, a traditional 17th century historical building standing on top of a hill, with surreal views over the Lima valley on one side and the ocean on the other. The Manor House is the Count’s home and he opened it to the guests of Inntravel. Here you will be received as family and not as tourists. The Manor House is surrounded by 13 acres of orchid gardens and vineyards and you never know when the Count will invite you for a wine tasting evening or a horse riding day.
The Count himself is a slow travel lover, as he confessed to us, walking the Camino de Santiago three times, the first time over 20 years ago, when him and his friends painted the yellow arrows on the Portuguese route. Back then, he told us, there was almost nobody doing the Camino.
Walking in Minho you will encounter the Caminho de Santiago, which starts in front of the cathedral in Lisbon and crosses into Spain through Valenca, in Galicia, being the second most popular route to Santiago de Compostela. You will also pass through Ponte de Lima, Portugal’s oldest town. If you happen to be here on a Monday, don’t miss one of the largest country markets in Portugal which takes place every second week.
Regarding the typical cuisine, in this trip you can enjoy the Bacalhau à Brás (cod with onions, olives, parsley, eggs and chips), the Francesinha (a sausage, steak, ham and chorizo covered in melted cheese and drizzled with spicy tomato sauce, topped with an egg), or the caldo verde (an onion, potatoes and kale soup often served with a traditional smoked sausage called “lingurica”). As for drinks, you can’t miss the Vinho Verde (Green Wine), a type of lightly sparkling wine produced only in Minho. The name doesn’t mean that the wine is green but that it should be drank while it’s still young.
So, where are you going to slow travel to in 2018?
Disclaimer: Please note that this post has been written in collaboration with Inntravel and I was invited to attend the Discovery Day 2017 event.
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