With live music in the carriage, bear sightings and an active volcano in clear view, our tipsters’ rail trips show that it’s often more about the journey than the destination
The 68-mile trip round Mount Etna in eastern Sicily was full of contrasts: the bleak black landscapes of the lava fields; lush valleys covered in fig, orange, pistachio and olive groves; the almost-abandoned villages and stations at the start and the busyness of Catania. Etna was constantly in sight, often belching out black smoke. On the early stretch from Riposto to Randozzo there were few people inside or out. At Randozzo we grabbed a quick coffee at the buffet before changing to a modern train to continue to Catania. The scenery gradually become more urban and we moved forward in time at least a century.
• circumetnea.it, single under €10
The British countryside remains a distinctly white and often intimidating place for BAME communities. We interview three outdoor enthusiasts seeking to address this lack of diversity
The British countryside being the preserve of the white middle classes is a perception that is backed by stark figures, with ethnic minorities often deterred from heading into the outdoors due to deep-rooted, complex barriers.
At the time of the last census in 2011, 13% of the UK population, around 8.1 million people, identified themselves as black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). Yet a 2017 study by Natural England found that just 26.2% of black people spent time in the countryside, compared with 44.2% of white people.
Most of us haven’t been abroad this year but great discoveries needn’t be in far-flung places – they could be on your doorstep. The best tip wins £200 towards a Sawday’s stay
Whether you managed to safely holiday abroad and found a special place, or you stayed in the UK and happened on a local gem that’s formed part of your lockdown routine, we would love to hear your travel discovery highlights of the year.
It could be a cafe or treasure trove of a shop that adapted to this year’s special circumstances, a lovely park that you’d never been to before, a monument or area of woodland. Perhaps you climbed hills and mountains and found an incredible view or visited a nature reserve and saw something extraordinary. Whatever it is, please share your experiences.
With her job stalled by the pandemic, Helen Proudfoot found plenty of Hopes in Britain, from Scotland to Devon – and also did some fundraising
It’s been a tough year for the travel industry, but one cycle tour leader decided not to let 2020 get her down – by riding 1,000 miles around the UK in search of Hope.
Helen Proudfoot, who works for adventure company Active England Tours, planned a route seeking out villages and hamlets called Hope after work dried up during the pandemic – and raised money for The Bike Project, a charity that donates refurbished bikes to refugees, while doing so.
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