5 years, 13 days ago
It’s spring, traditional time for cleaning, clearing and generally breathing a sigh of relief and shedding at least one layer of clothing. We don’t want to rush you, but since you’re feeling a bit brighter can we tentatively suggest you might like to try some gentle exercise too.
The season of lambs and new buds and fresh, green leaves is just about the best for outdoor activity. Pick the right place and you’re almost guaranteed some sun, but nothing so hot it pins you to a lounger and doesn’t let you up till home time. Nowhere is really busy yet. Everyone’s still in a good, anticipatory mood before the summer crowds have taken the shine off. And if you want to try something new, this is the time when there aren’t so many folks about ready to mock your first efforts.
So what are you up for? Our spring break money is on swimming, cycling and walking – but not as you know them.
Think of swimming in Italy and it’s all about the lakes. But anyone who really wants to swim, swim, knows that most of the famous Italian lakes are beautiful but very large, very cold and very deep. So they’re not ideal for anything but a bit of shoreline paddling and floating unless you’re completely intrepid and then – we salute you.
What you want to try in Italy this spring is a spot of wild swimming in the gorgeous, still peaceful and pleasantly warm North of Tuscany. The Appenines and the Alps round these parts mean there’s no shortage of unspoiled, crystal clear pools, plunging waterfalls and general loveliness. But we like Candalla, about 40 minutes drive from Pisa, because it’s like a natural trail of water features and for us that epitomises the very spirit of wild swimming: you walk a bit, you swim in transparent pools, you dive off rocks, you walk a bit more, you catch some sun, you have another swim (there’s canyoning for the very bold) and so it goes on. Then when you’re done, you find a pleasant little trattoria, let your hair dry in the sun, sip some local wine and eat as much as you can – you deserve it.
‘Unbelievable’ is second only to ‘literally’ for overuse and misuse of the English language. Mostly when people say ‘it’s unbelievable’, you have to ask, ‘Is it really? Not possible to believe?’ But if we gave you stout walking boots and air-dropped you into the middle of Andalucia’s Sierra de las Nieves National Park and told you Marbella was a 40 minute drive away, you would find that ‘literally unbelievable’.
Unearthly and astoundingly beautiful this sparsely populated and completely unspoiled area is wonderful for walking and best in spring when it’s warm but not too hot and the hordes of summer visitors are a few months away. The trails range from easy strolling to strenuous hikes, but even the more challenging routes are broken up by endless breaks to stop and stare. The park’s an eco-paradise filled with wildlife (nothing that bites we don’t think), gorgeous and rare plants and flowers, flawless groves of trees, transparent pools, magnificent rivers and the occasional little, white Andalucian hamlet – because it wasn’t all quite enchanting enough. And, since Sierra de las Nieves is only a short drive from the Costa del Sol, it’s all very accessible for somewhere so satisfyingly wild to walk.
With every city in Europe stocking up on cycle hire and helmets, minding their urban road manners and generally deciding two wheels are better than four, if you aren’t confident on a bike yet, now is the time to practice. Nowhere does civilised cycling quite like The Netherlands and, since it’s spring, we’re recommending tulips as a theme. From the end of March, through April and well into May, the flat, easy going roads round about Harlaam and Amsterdam are surrounded by flower fields – even those given to huffing and puffing in ill-advised lycra get distracted. If you’re of a more gentle persuasion, take time to stop and wander round parks like world famous Keukenhof, explore the odd windmill or two and don’t miss the beaches – tulips are just a theme, not a rule.
Last word of advice: if you’ve been determinedly hibernating all winter, ease yourself into spring activity, don’t overdo things and remember, it’s not a competition.