Best of Green Travel in 2016
From skyrunning in the Dolomites, bodyboating in North Wales and cycling in southern England to travelling around Switzerland by train, staying in a lighthouse in Northern Ireland and yoga on an organic farm in Ibiza, here are some of our favourite experiences from 2016, as chosen by our team of contributors James Stewart, Rhiannon Batten, Paul Bloomfield, Sarah Baxter, Harriet O'Brien, Yvonne Gordon, Florence Fortman, Lucy Symons and Richard Hammond.
Best mountain run Sky running in the Alta Badia valley in the Italian Dolomites does what it says on the tin, says Paul Bloomfield. Start running. Run up the nearest mountain, as close to the sky as you can. Run down again. Spectacular – and the perfect excuse for gorging on the amazing local cuisine.
Best train journey Florence travelled on the Glacier Express from St Moritz to Zermatt in Switzerland in May as part of her Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. "It's such an epic journey – too many best bits to mention – but two particular highlights have to be crossing the awecome 6-arched, 213 ft-high Landwasser Viaduct, and climbing the Olberalp Pass, a pass so high (2,033m) it required a cogwheel train to push the carriages to the summit".
Watch our short video of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland:
Best Discovery Germany is gloriously, prolifically wild. Despite being best known for its big, buzzing cities, it has over 22,000 protected areas, ranging from national parks to sites of community importance. Together these account for around 40% of German land and seas. Which makes it – surprisingly – one of the most protected countries in the world. As Sarah Baxter writes in her feature on Germany's protected areas, "There is also huge variety in these preserved places. Therapeutic mudflats, meandering rivers, artist-inspiring islands, awesome Alps, forests that seem plucked out of a fairytales – Germany’s protected areas are wonderfully diverse, and often come with a dash of the unexpected."
Best local food experience On a trip to Naxos and the Small Cyclades, Florence visited a cheese-making farm on the south of the island where Stelios and his 700-strong herd of goats produce a tangy, award-winning Mizithra. Each goat has a different sounding bell and Stelios can recognise each individual one. As he opened the gate, the goats stampeded into the surrounding valleys – one of the most awesome sights of the trip. "My ears were ringing with the sound of 700 goat bells for the rest of the day!"
Watch our video to Naxos and the Small Cyclades:
Best wildlife experience In November and December thousands of seals congregate ashore on the east coast of England. Two of the best places to see them are at Horsey in Norfolk and Donna Nook in East Lincolnshire, where Richard and his film crew saw several thousand adult grey seals and pups on the beaches while filming for the National Coastal Tourism Academy. "It's the kind of mass wildlife spectacle that you'd expect in Africa or the Galapagos" says Richard, "yet it's right here on our doorstop".
Best Public Art While public art can be commissioned with the best intentions, it can quickly become a somewhat rusty dissapointment if not given some TLC. Not so with the striking Scallop Shell on the beach between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness in Suffolk. It was conceived by Suffolk-born artist Maggi Hambling (and made by Aldeburgh craftsmen Sam and Dennis Pegg) as a tribute to Benjamin Britten who spent much of his life in Aldeburgh and nearby Snape.
Best views Yvonne Gordon stayed St John's Point Lighthouse, Co Down for a travel feature for The Guardian. The 40m-high lighthouse has been working since 1844 and visitors can now stay in the former lightkeeper's cottages. As well as views over the open sea, the cottages also have views of Northern Ireland's beautiful Mourne Mountains across the bay.
Best new adventure The surprise of the year for James Stewart was when he joined Wilderness Scotland on its first road-bike trip across the Scottish Highlands. The east to west route – Aberdeen to Applecross, via domed hills in the Cairngorms, Loch Ness then Loch Torridon -– had some tough ascents over 6 days and 262 miles (not least Bealach na Ba, the UK's own King of the Mountains ascent, on the final day) and involved some cycling in snow (of course), but there was wonderful company and lovely highlands accommodation: the immersion into scenery that expanded by the mile, the quiet satisfaction of a summit made. "By the end I almost got the point of Lycra, too", he adds.
Best Cycle Ride Richard loved sampling some of the best cycle routes in southern England while filming for our video for Cycle Southern England. Highlights for Richard were the wooded sections of the Shipwrights Way and the Meon Valley Trail - a 10-mile flat trail along a disused rail track between Wickam and West Meon. If you've time, don't miss the wonderful Thomas Lord pub in West Meon - it became a regular stop for film crew who loved the home cooked sandwiches in the glorious garden.
Best city break Lucy loved Lisbon. "The city of seven hills is a little gem," she says, "and rickety, rattly Tram 28 is the best way to get from the bottom of the city to the top (get your ticket on board)." Portugal owns more sea than land, so you can be assured of some of the freshest seafood you have ever eaten, and listen to some traditional, passionate Fado (Mariza is her favourite).
Best green initiative James' most enjoyable green interview was with Martin Dorey, founder of #2minutebeachclean; an inspirational guy and project. He not only show how easy it is for each of us to tackle one of the biggest environmental issues of our era – marine rubbish – but how one person can make a difference. His one simple idea – we can all do our bit to clean the beach launched in 2013 – has now gone global; the #2minutecampaign Instagram page has posts from the UK, of course, but also throughout Europe North America – New York to Florida, Anchorage to California – and from Australia, New Zealand, Bali, Brazil, Peru even Papua New Guinea. Brilliant.
Best British foodie experience On a trip to the Brecon Beacons, James discovered that as well as soul-stirring scenery and literary festivals, the Welsh borders also support the messianic farmers and single-ingredient obsessives who in turn supply traditional shops, hopeful food start-ups and brilliant young restaurateurs. It’s a virtuous circle; a thriving foodie culture that’s yet to be gussied up.
Best Family Holiday Richard and his family joined in with turtle conservation while staying at Azur Hotel in Cirali, Turkey. You can read about the trip in an article he wrote for Family Traveller magazine: Turtle Conservation in Turkey, which was part of the magazine's Ocean's Issue, which was shortlisted in this year's British Travel Media Awards.
Best unexpected foodie delight On a trip to Wales earlier this year, Paul discovered the delights of Anglesey sea salt: not only did he find out why it's the best in the world (the secret is super-clean seawater filtered by mussels) but that it tastes amazing in chocolate!
Best holiday moment A local pint with a show-stopping view at the Druidstone Hotel in Pembrokeshire, was her best Holiday moment, says Rhiannon. Sit out at the front looking over the bay or grab a table in the walled garden and let the children explore its treehouse.
Best museum Grimsy Fishing Heritage Museum was Richard's favourite visitor attraction while spending the best part of a month filming on the east coast of England in November and December. "We (the film crew) were led round the museum by a former skipper of one of the old fishing trawlers and we were so engrossed in the tour we put down our equipment to listen to the captivating tales of life at sea. It was a harsh life that's fantastically well told and re-created at this fabulous museum", said Richard.
Best coastal activity Whilst shooting a video in Wales, Florence leaped off the cliffs into the sea near Rhossili in the Gower. Having never tried coasteering before, when the opportunity came up she jumped – literally – at the chance. The water was quite choppy but the crew eventually found a sheltered spot where she could launch off. "I couldn't sit down for the rest of the day but it was an exhilarating experience," she said. If you want to follow in Florence's (wet) footsteps, watch our video at the foot of this page. Also, check out Preseli Venture, which runs coasteering trips in Pembrokeshire.
Best green gizmo Rhiannon loves her amazing electric bike. Not only has it made the school run a dream but she wouldn't be without it for trips around town now. You choose the power, from 0 (you pedal just like a normal bike) to 5 (still pedalling, but without the burn, as she tackles the steepest of Bath's hills) and away you go. No waiting for a bus or faffing with parking.
Best food Yvonne Gordon tucked into fresh anchovy salad, tuna carpaccio and octopus cakes at Konoba Kod Marka at Šipanska Luka on Šipan island in the Elaphiti islands in Croatia, reached by a sailing boat. There's no menu - diners get a choice of meat or fish, and it's all local produce.
Best heritage moment One of the stand-out moments for Sarah was walking to Stonehenge. Ditching the car, she followed the Great Stones way from Swindon to Salisbury, passing Wiltshire countryside infested with ancient stuff: barrows, mounds, defensive dykes, white horses, hill forts, standing stones. "One of the best moments", she says, "was approaching Stonehenge from Durrington Walls on foot, picking up the processional avenue and not encountering another tourist until I was standing right at the stones' modern-day fence."
Best new watersport Is the Dee Valley the UK’s most active valley? Sarah Baxter thinks it might be. She enjoyed flinging herself down the Dee River in February on a glorified sun-lounger tbanks to Antony Fleming-Williams's new body-boating company, one of several small, passionately-run local businesses that are helping people explore the Clwydian Range & Dee Valley by board, bike, boat, kayak, horse and more.
Best romantic project For the last three years, visitors and residents in Exmoor have been scribbling limericks and lines, sonnets and rhymes in tin poetry boxes left across Exmoor in the summer. A collection of these have been published in a book, The Exmoor Poetry Boxes – A Harvest of Wild Words available at all three of the Exmoor Visitor Centres at Dulverton, Dunster and Lynmouth.
Best family-friendly YHAs Rhiannon's favourites are Dufton in Cumbria with a wendy house and treehouse in its garden (and lovely pub opposite – the Stag Inn) and YHA Dartmoor with its spectacular setting and access to outdoor swimming pools and country parks.
Best eco island Lucy discovered that Ibiza is home to some imaginative eco solutions: try the wonderful Can Marti where you can explore the northern part of the white isle if you are bored of swimming in their natural pool, practicing yoga or lurking in the hammam. Sheila at Walking Ibiza runs regular guided foot tours (Wednesday and Friday) of the lesser known corners of the Island for residents and visitors.
Best Glamping Experience Richard loved his first Featherdown Farm holiday at East Shilvinghampton, Dorset. His review says: "Loved it! If you’re used to the traditional put-up-your-own-tent camping (like me), you’ll find Featherdown Farms an indulgence. It really is ‘luxury camping’ thanks to the comfy bed, duvet, running water and other well-thought out facilities. Though don’t forget you’re still under canvas and evenings by the fire can still be cool… it may be 'luxury' but you’re not staying in a hotel! If you’re looking for camping in comfort (especially welcome if it rains), these tents are marvellous, our boys loved the farm and facilities (especially the wheelbarrows required to transport luggage and wood) and the food was imaginative yet practical and delicious."
Best heritage attraction Richard loved visiting the ceiling to floor roofed wooden and stone houses, underground rivers and fabulous traditional fare at Hotel Prvan Vrgorac Ethno Village while filming for the Travel Foundation in Croatia.
Best car rental We were thrilled to be asked to promote the launch of Co-wheels on the Isle of Wight. The hybrid vehicles rented out by this award-winning social enterprise will be available at various key locations, transport hubs and visitor hotspots across the island, including Ryde, Cowes, Newport, Freshwater and Sandown. After joining the car club, members receive a smartcard, allowing them to book online and have keyless access the cars. The high specification hybrid and low emission cars can be booked for short periods – from half an hour - or for days at a time at discounted rates. Hire is from £4.50 per hour or £31.50 per day, plus a small mileage fee of 15p per mile.
Best UK escape In the northern Cotswolds is the The Ebrington Arms. "A cosy-chic haven with real soul," says Harriet. It brews it own beer, hosts live music and offers dishes packed with local flavour. "Oh, and it’s in a particularly lovely area; off the beaten track yet easily accessible," she adds. If you want to visit the area, have a squizz at Greentraveller's Guide to the Cotswolds AONB.
Best mystical experience On one warm summer evening, while hiking the 53-mile Great Stones Way between Barbury Castle south of Swindon and the hilltop castle-cathedral site at Old Sarum, Paul strolled back to his B&B from the pub near Avebury. The setting sun lit the curious manmade Silbury Hill, the ancient burial mound of West Kennet Long Barrow glowered from the ridge to the south, and a solitary roe deer skipped away through the cornfield alongside the path.
Best pop-up place Rhiannon loves the fresh-from-the-garden food with heaps of imagination but no silly fripperies at Horto, a pop-up restaurant (now going permanent) at Rudding Park hotel in Yorkshire. The focus is on the property’s kitchen garden home to 100-plus herbs, flowers, fruits and veg. Rhiannon's favourite dish was Whitby crab with broad beans, a pea sorbet, buttermilk and horseradish granita, pea water and chive flowers. Yum!
Best hike With 50 lakes and a land which is two thirds covered by mountains, Macedonia is a hiker's paradise and Yvonne Gordon loved the hike to Treskavec Monastery on Mount Zlatovrv, 8 km north of Prilep. Located at 1,420m above sea level, the monastery is home to just one resident monk and has frescoes dating back to the 15th century.
Best rural-chic delight Harriet loves the wonderfully refurbed Plough at Kelmscott on the eastern fringes of the Cotswolds, with upcycled furnishings (such as a gym horse used as a bench) and a small (and beautiful) menu based on local produce. It’s just down the road from William Morris’s Kelmscott Manor.
As a salute to last year's initiative, we continue our Best cheese experience
Yvonne Gordon's highlight was watching Rikardu Zammit of Ta’ Rikardu restaurant in the old Citadel in Victoria, Gozo, make Ġbejniet cheeselets in his cheese-making room in an ancient fortress in the Citadel – and then tasting the cheese afterwards for lunch. She wrote about in her Greentraveller blog.
Best national tourism campaign We loved Visit Wales' #FindYourEpic campaign to inspire adventure travel in Wales, though we declare that we contributed our bit to this initiative, producing an online guide and video to mini adventures in its 8 protected landscapes:
A very happy 2017 from all of us at Greentraveller!