Amy Reeve 5 Jun 2019 04:21pm

Spirit of Adventure

There’s nothing quite like a holiday off the beaten track and these destinations could help to expand your mind, test your endurance or soothe your soul

Caption: Getty Images

Asturias, Spain

If it’s adventure as well as harmony you’re after, a trip to Asturias on the stunning northern Spanish coast combines great opportunities for canoeing, hiking, cycling and even mountain climbing, as well as worship and reflection in Covadonga. Asturias, a lesser-visited part of Spain, has four UNESCOrecognised biosphere reserves and protected natural spaces, meaning you can walk from one enchanting village to the next, staying at family-run inns along the way, amid blissful wilderness that has nearly 5,000km of hiking routes.

Then there’s the Sanctuary of Covadonga, considered one of the most important historical locations in Spain, carved into the mountains and surrounded by a waterfall, where you’ll find the Basilica of the Covadonga Virgin, as well as the statue and the tomb of Don Pelayo, the first monarch of the Kingdom of Asturias. Close to the Sanctuary are two lakes, which you can reach by car or bicycle – cyclists may recognise the route from the Vuelta a España (the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France).

Kyambura Gorge, Uganda

Volcanoes Safaris has launched a 10-year eco-tourism project to protect primates and other wildlife in the beautiful Kyambura Gorge, also known as the Valley of the Apes, in south-west Uganda. The gorge is home to chimpanzees, red-tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, and over 100 different species of birds, which the project hopes to protect through targeted conservation and community activities including a café, women’s coffee co-operative and children’s playground. There are guided walking trails of varying distance from Kyambura Lodge so guests can discover the natural beauty of the area for themselves. Kyambura sits on the edge of Uganda’s most-visited national park, Queen Elizabeth, with its enticing combination of savanna, tropical forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands.

Anglesey, Wales

There is wild camping, and then there is really wild camping. If pitching camp in the Dartmoor wilderness after a hike feels too sedate for you, then cliff camping, where you sleep on a portaledge high above the sea, might pique your sense of adventure.

Cliff camping is how the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite was conquered when climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson took 19 days to free climb it in 2015, sleeping on portaledges each night. You can experience the thrill without the spill in Anglesey by sleeping attached to the top of a cliff with climbing equipment. Look out for dolphins and seals, watch the sunset, gaze at the stars and listen to the crash of the waves below, safe in the knowledge you’re attached with very strong ropes. You can go on to explore other parts of north Wales when you’re back on terra firma, including its brilliant beaches and thrilling mountain scenery. A similar experience can be found on the Jurassic Coast in deepest Dorset.

Guiana Space Centre, Guyane

Rockets have been launching from Europe’s Spaceport in Guyane – an overseas department of France, and surely the most tropical part of the EU – since the 1960s, and are a great reason to visit this fascinating place deep in equatorial South America.

The capital, Cayenne, is a melting pot of French, Asian, African and Brazilian cultures (just imagine that cuisine) and the Guiana Space Centre is on the jungle-fringed slice of equatorial coast near Kourou. Aided by French-speaking guides, you can tour the Jupiter Control Centre and Ariane facilities. The highlight, though, is viewing a space launch from the jungle. The centre conducts up to nine each year and tourists can witness the spectacle by booking a free ticket in advance (or head to the beach and view it from there).

The tourist infrastructure hasn’t reached Caribbean standards yet, and you’ll need to brush up on your French, but the mountains, wild Atlantic beaches, Creole food, abundant wildlife and rockets are worth the effort.

Odry, Poland

The mystical stone circles at Odry in Poland are Europe’s second largest collection after the Stonehenge and Avebury monuments in Wiltshire, and are mostly intact, relatively undisturbed, and without the jostling you might experience at the UK site.

Dating back to the the first or second century AD, they comprise 12 circles, each with a large stone at the centre and ringed by 16 to 29 boulders as well as over 600 small burial mounds. The stones attract those inclined to magic and mystery, as well as archaeology. Some visitors report a vibe of good energy and peacefulness; a place where ailments such as fatigue can be healed.

If that turns out to be not quite true, the surrounding Kaszuby region’s sheer beauty and slower pace of life should shake you out of your funk. Not far from Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea, the area is known for its pristine lakes and vibrant folk culture – the natives speak their own language, Kashubi. Perfect for hiking, cycling, paddling, and buying the pottery and porcelain the region is famous for.

Sailing to Antarctica

If it’s a polar expedition that you’ve set your sights on, there are no end of tailored options, although be prepared for this bucket list adventure to set you back a bit.

Just imagine being at the heart of this pristine wilderness on a tall ship with the option to do some sailing for yourself, or floating past huge icebergs and towering peaks on a sailing boat accommodating just seven passengers and crew,watching penguins, spotting seals and whales, or even trekking on remote beaches close to Antarctic fur seals and southern elephant seals. You might even get the chance to take a plunge in the frigid Antarctica water in Andvord Bay.

Some operators hold permits from the National Science Foundation, so you can spend up to three nights camping ashore (weather permitting – you’re completely exposed to the elements here, remember).

All they ask is that you’re team-oriented and in good health, although if you’re prone to sea sickness you might want to give the frequent storms and wild seas of Drake Passage a miss and choose a tour that flies to Antarctica from Chile.

Te Araroa Trail, New Zealand

For those who want to test their endurance on a trip that lasts longer than a fortnight, New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail is the world’s newest long-distance thru-hike, which means thousands of miles of trekking over a number of months.

Stretching 3,000km from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island, the track exposes walkers to the wonderful diversity of New Zealand from tombolos, volcanoes, mountains, rivers, lakes and valleys to its famous hospitality (which you’ll rely on quite a bit, so be nice and respectful of your surroundings).

This is not for the faint-hearted. The Te Araroa Trust says skills required include navigation and river crossing, plus how to avoid getting hypothermia. But as one successful trail-walker says: “If you’re itching for a life-changing international experience where locals value giving back to this world and the land we inhabit, New Zealand is the place for you.”

Sheki, Azerbaijan

Once a stop on the bustling Silk Road, Sheki is a small town in Azerbaijan close to the lush green valleys of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and rich in Islamic architecture.

Its colourful traditional houses, grand stone buildings, tea houses (don’t miss the famed baklava), winding cobbled streets, mineral spring bathhouses, mosques and welcoming locals are reason enough to visit. But it’s the jaw-dropping Sheki Khans’ Summer Palace that’s the main draw. Built in the 18th century as the residence of Husseinkhan Mushtad, the architecture and interiors of the bijou palace are magnificent. Richly painted inside and out, there is also a huge stained-glass window made using the ancient Sheki art of shebeke.

You could combine a trip to the town with other ancient Silk Road cities in central Asia or visit neighbouring Georgia before everyone else catches on (hiking the Gergeti Glacier via Gergeti Trinity Church is a must).