Our love of trees, and the solace they have brought this year, shines brightly in this pick spanning England and Wales
On the limestone pavement above Malham Cove stands a solitary ash tree. The deeply etched grooves of the weathered limestone draw your eye towards this isolated figure. In summer, butterflies and skylarks fly around its limbs, while ferns and flowers sprout from the pavement crevices where gnarled roots anchor. Less-bountiful seasons are identified by the colour, presence or absence of ash leaves. The tree becomes a perpetual reminder of time passing in this grey-washed landscape. I find comfort in the presence of this emblem of survival.
With a reported 323% rise in people swimming outdoors, here is the expert guide to ensuring you take the plunge safely – even when temperatures plummet
When lockdown rules eased in May, a friend and I went for a surreptitious dip in a nearby lake. It was exactly what we needed. The shock of cold water provided the thrills, while merging into the landscape brought the bliss. Afterwards, we floated through the woods on a post-swim high. “Shall we do it again next week?” we said.
With public pools closed, we weren’t the only ones rekindling a love of bracing outdoor swims this summer. And staring down the barrel of a second-wave winter, we are also not alone in our desire to continue. The National Open Water Coaching Association (Nowca) has reported a 323% rise in swimmers this October, and more official swimming lakes staying open all year. While, across the country, venues such as Lake 32 at the Cotswold Water Park, near Cirencester, are offering inclusive “mental health” swimming sessions.
Galleries, museums and cafes are shifting their focus to offer visitors Covid-safe experiences outside, even through winter
In a remote corner of the Yorkshire Dales, there’s an unusual sight among the farm animals this winter. On the terrace of the Courtyard Dairy cheese shop, next to a colourful cow sculpture, sit a pair of Alpine intruders. The interlopers are not of the four-legged variety; they are ski gondolas, once used to whisk holidaymakers up the pistes of Courchevel in the French Alps. Now, these snug pods offer visitors the chance to feast on Alpine specialities such as raclette and fondue.
For owner Andy Swinscoe, bringing his cafe outside has been a lifeline in a bleak period. Around 75% of his business was lost during lockdown. Since then, the cafe and museum that had made the dairy a Dales’ destination for tourists have had to remain closed. Over summer, he introduced a cheese vending machine and started selling takeaway coffee and ice-cream, but says: “We felt like without the cafe, even though it was not the biggest part of our business, we had lost our appeal. Because we are in the middle of nowhere, we needed that draw to get people to us.” Andy invested in the gondolas in July and because they are socially distanced and protected from the elements, they’ve been a hit.
Planted by specimen collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries, arboretums are a ‘living library of trees’ that have become an invaluable public resource for recreation and education
Autumn’s blaze of glory, all flame-red leaves and burnt-gold foliage, offers an opportunity to marvel at the brilliance of the natural world before hunkering down for winter. Though, as nature goes into hibernation, forests, woods, parks and arboretums can often feel alive with walkers, joggers and families exploring them.
The experience of lockdown has changed many people’s relationships with nature and will undoubtedly extend our interaction with the arboreal beyond the traditional leaf-peeping season. Outdoor trends, such as forest bathing, awe-walks and even park strolls, have become a lifeline to many, and now the UK’s most spectacular spaces set aside for trees – arboretums – are seeing record numbers of visitors.
Enjoy ocean views from rooftop bars or just step out and get the sand between your toes. From Mazatlán to Pochutla, here are 10 charming beachside escapes
Mexico’s Pacific coast, more than 1,000 miles of it, is renowned for its beaches, as well as the resorts which have attracted Hollywood royalty. However, it’s also an area that can experience tropical storms, usually between June and December. The most recent was Hurricane Patricia, the strongest hurricane ever recorded at sea, which swept across the region at the end of October, but caused less damage than anticipated. Hotels are now operating as normal.
Well-known and deservedly popular for its jungle, coast and ancient ruins, the Yucatán peninsula can be a pricey place to stay – unless you pick one of these brilliant budget hotels and hostels
On the surface, this mid-size hotel in Cancún’s hotel zone is pretty unremarkable. The tile-floored rooms are big and clean, with terraces or balconies – though they’re not notably stylish. The restaurant is good, not gourmet. The pool is a sensible size. But set this against its glitzy, high-rise neighbours and check the rates, which are often lower than similarly appointed hotels on the mainland, 30 minutes from the water – and Beachscape starts looking pretty good. Then walk out on to the palm-shaded beach, one of the prettiest stretches in the hotel zone, and the place becomes a minor miracle.
• Doubles from $109, +52 998 891 5427, beachscape.com.mx
The Seychelles islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue may be known for their luxury resorts but there is also a great selection of family-run, more affordable guesthouses just as close to the archipelago’s famous, world-class beaches
For a room with a five-star view, Colibri is hard to beat. Nine rustic rooms – all wood and stone – ensconced amid tropical foliage that tumbles down a hillside to the turquoise waters of Baie Sainte Anne. There’s no beach but you can use the small infinity pool overlooking the bay at neighbouring B&B Chalets Cote Mer, also owned by Sylvie and Stephan, and costing about €10 more a night. You also share the waterfront creole restaurant. The owners can help with car hire but it’s a five-minute walk to a bus stop – which will take you to Praslin’s most famous beach Anse Lazio and the Unesco-protected Vallée de Mai nature reserve – and the jetty for ferries to Mahé and La Digue.
• Doubles from £112 B&B, +248 429 4200, colibrisweethome.com
From Cape Town and its peninsula to the Garden Route and the West Coast, the Western Cape is a dazzling part of South Africa, and its beachside accommodation doesn’t have to break the bank
A (very) unscientific poll finds a lot to be recommended in having your holiday in Blighty
I rang a colleague this week, not realising she was on holiday. I caught her on a campsite in Suffolk, in the pouring rain, camping gear strewn in the wind and children crying. Never again, she said. Yet my admittedly anecdotal poll of staycationers in Bournemouth to Broadstairs (my six brothers and sisters plus their families make up nearly a Gallup poll in themselves) tells me that the great unintended staycation summer went surprisingly well – until last week’s downpours, at least. This is what we learned.
The weather is really not that bad Bournemouth’s packed beaches were perhaps the iconic seaside shot of the coronavirus summer, for good reasons and bad. On five consecutive weeks from mid-July, temperatures in the resort hit 24C, peaking at 33C in early August.
Properties with a holiday feel, from a mini estate in Cornwall to a flat on Brighton seafront
When Uncle Ted has a few drinks and starts screaming that the world is flat, have a few tactics ready to counter his bizarre rants
It’s the holidays: time for eggnog, ironic Christmas sweaters, and interactions with relatives you’d avoid like the plague if you didn’t share DNA.
Perhaps in past years, you’ve argued politics over the dinner table. But thanks to our internet echo chambers, things may now get even weirder. You could find yourself not just arguing over Donald Trump’s impeachment, but also over whether the president and Robert Mueller were secretly teaming up to expose Tom Hanks as a cannibal; or whether the Federal Reserve exists because JP Morgan sank the Titanic; or whether Meghan Markle is a robot.
Four days spent alone in Florida pushed me to the limits of boredom. But it was just what I needed
I was in a chain hotel 20 miles north of Orlando for meetings that would last, on and off, for four days. This was not a holiday resort. Outside, the rain was bathwater warm, the pool windswept and empty. Inside, guests wandered the conference facilities, lanyards swinging. The breakfast buffet was like the idea I’d had as a child of how millionaires live: all the pineapple you could eat. It is a truism of escape plans that the problem with going anywhere is that you take yourself with you. But there is an exception to this, and I have found it. Burnt out? Always yelling? So tired you would gladly hand over your humanity to Elon Musk for a chance to become fully digitised? There’s another way. Open Google Maps, find a place that is not a place but, rather, on the way to other places, and select the blandest hotel you can find. Then go and sit in it for four days. I swear to God, it’s better than six months in Bali.
I thought about sending an email and didn’t. I took a three-hour nap, went downstairs and ordered more wings.
The Alhambra marks the start of a drive taking in historic cities, a river valley and mountains – and ends in Almería’s spaghetti western desert
Granada is dominated by its mighty Moorish fortress, the Alhambra. Book ahead and visit early, at its least-crowded, and then spend the afternoon meandering the narrow streets and plazas of the old town – the Albaicín. Stay in this area at the 16th-century Santa Isabel La Real, with its Alhambra views, (doubles from €95 B&B, parking available).
With the annual summer dash under starter’s orders, we suggest how to turn a schlep into a road trip, staying in treehouses, chateaux and cool hotels en route
From the north-west ferry ports (St Malo, Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre) down the west of France, via Nantes and Bordeaux, to the south-west
Get beach ready with our week-long planners to 10 glorious seaside spots, covering everything from secluded coves to surf lessons, boat rides and places to stay