Slow down: 20 adventures to take at a leisurely pace
Time was when slow was pretty much a bad thing. Slow service, slow trains, slow-witted, slow to act… But now, not so much: slow has become desirable, a word paired with all manner of activities you never imagined had any sort of speed, never mind slow.
I’ll spare you the full list – it’s a long one – but here are some areas of life in which unhurried is now a prized quality: slow parenting, slow science, slow gardening, slow media, slow cities, slow fashion, slow ageing, slow counselling, slow education and – over at the BBC – slow radio.
But what does it all mean, this penchant for slow, and where did it all start? The second part is easy. It began with a hamburger, or rather, the threat of a hamburger. In 1986, McDonald’s unveiled plans to open its first Italian outlet in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna.
For many Italians, the prospect of “fast” food in a country with one of the world’s great cuisines was a culinary affront. A Piedmont journalist, Carlo Petrini, and a group of like-minded colleagues, issued a half-joking manifesto of a gastronomic philosophy they felt was contrary to that of McDonald’s. Its name: Slow Food.
McDonald’s opened its outlet, which went on to become one of the company’s top 10 franchises worldwide. But that’s another story, because Slow Food also prospered, growing from its informal origins into a dynamic organisation whose aims – well ahead of the curve in 1986 – now seem commonplace: superlative food, locally sourced ingredients, the humane rearing of animals and the preservation of traditional foodstuffs.
More than that, though, Petrini promoted a broader philosophy of slowness, arguing that the notion of slow food should also embrace conviviality and pleasure in the buying, preparing and sharing of food. These were things, he argued, which were being lost among the fast-living imperatives of modern industrialised society.
Petrini remains an evangelist for what has become a far wider slow movement – to live slowly, he says, is to live “responsibly, harmoniously and in harmony with nature”. The movement’s principle guru, though, is the Canadian journalist Carl Honoré, whose 2004 book, In Praise of Slow, has become a manifesto for slow living.
“Fast and Slow,” he writes, “are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections – with people, culture, work, food, everything.”
There you have it: not a Luddite return to a pre-industrial age, necessarily, but living better and with more balance in a fast-paced world.
So where does this leave travel? To my mind, the precepts of slow living can be applied better to travel – as they can to food and eating – than to some of the more far-fetched notions in my list.
Like many of us, I’ve been enjoying “slow” holidays for years without describing them as such. I regularly walk with friends in Britain, Spain and Italy, for example, travel that is literally slow (one foot in front of the another) and philosophically slow (convivial time with chums and immersive contact with nature and rural life).
My first cruise, to Alaska, was also slow, although I didn’t know it at the time. Having gone for the scenery, I was unprepared for how extraordinarily relaxed I felt at the end, as much a result of long, calm days at sea as any number of glaciers or sightseeing tours.
So we may not always recognise slow travel – skiing, for example: fast, slow, or a bit of both? – but its opposite is invariably obvious: flying to New York for the weekend: definitely fast.
Not that fast is bad and slow good. Both Petrini and Honoré acknowledge that life is balance. Sometimes we have to live fast, or want to live fast: the key is to take a break from fast – or indeed, from slow – and to recognise that you need the break. And what are holidays if not breaks from the quotidian?
Here, we offer a selection of trips that embrace the notion of slow. Some may have an apparent lack of oomph – that’s the point – as they involve having more time to do fewer things, and do them better; more time to escape technology and timetables; to dull the world’s background noise; and to enjoy what a good holiday has always offered – the chance to relax, reflect and reconnect.
1. Live the rural life in Alpujarra, Spain
Wake up and smell the almonds. And orange blossom, and figs, and pomegranates, with a stay in a whitewashed stone house in the hamlet of Mairena, in the Sierra Nevada foothills south-east of Granada. Immerse yourself in the rhythms of Inntravel’s Life in an Alpujarran Village: learn to cook with produce from the owners’ organic finca (Spanish for an estate), visit silk-weavers and wine-makers, and stroll along Moorish water channels through orchards and olive groves.
- From £645 including seven nights’ half board, three picnics and car hire, but excluding flights. Departures September-June. Inntravel (01653 617000; inntravel.co.uk).
2. Join a Himalayan transhumance, India
Each spring anwals – Himalayan shepherds – gather the sheep and goats that will be their charges for the summer, and head to the high pastures of the Saryu and Pindar Valleys. Join them on Village Ways’ In the Footsteps of the Anwals tour, accompanying the flocks from meadow to lofty meadow beneath gleaming peaks and glaciers and staying in simple community-owned guesthouses affording insights into traditional lifestyles.
- From £1,368 including 11 nights’ accommodation, meals, guides and transfers, but excluding flights. Departures in April and May; other tailormade hiking tours available. Village Ways (01223 750049; villageways.com).
3. Join the great Finnish bake-off
You can’t rush a good cake. Your grandmother knew it; so do the Finns. Absorb such culinary wisdom on Regent Holidays’ Culture and Cuisine of Finland tour, a languid gastronomic retreat in North Karelia. Days are spent gathering ingredients with which to conjure rye bread, cardamom buns, cakes and Finnish pasties, working up an appetite with gentle cycles and walks, and relaxing with nightly saunas.
- From £1,499 including flights, transfers, seven nights’ accommodation, most meals, guide, cookery demonstrations and cycle hire. Departs June 2 and 25 August 2018. Regent Holidays (020 7666 1290; regent-holidays.co.uk).
4. Pedal the river Loire in style
Covering just a small stretch of river between Blois and Tour, the pace of Belle France’s Loire Prestige en Vélo cycling tour is curbed further with the inclusion of Michelin-starred meals and stays at fairytale chateaux and manor house hotels – an itinerary that actively (if that’s the right word) discourages rapid movement. Dawdle between vineyards, villages and the royal palaces at Chenonceau, Blois and Amboise, pausing to sample local vintages.
- From £1,794 for six nights’ half board, luggage transfers, bike hire and route notes, but excluding flights. Belle France (01580 214010; bellefrance.com).
5. Make a pilgrim’s progress, Spain
The first Slow Traveller was arguably King Alfonso the Chaste of Asturias, who in AD814 trekked west to venerate the newly discovered bones of St James the Apostle, launching the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trails. On Foot Holidays’ self-guided Camino Primitivo offers a peaceful, flavoursome alternative to southern routes, rewarding participants with medieval towns, verdant hills, regional culture and cuisine (Galician octopus is sensational).
- From £1,050 including 14 nights B&B accommodation, some meals, luggage transfers and route notes but excluding flights. Best May, June, September and October. On Foot Holidays (01722 322652; onfootholidays.co.uk).
6. Explore the birthplace of Slow Food, Italy
It was in Piedmont three decades ago that the Slow Food movement was launched to conserve and cherish regional cuisine and culture. Fleewinter’s The Ultimate Foodie holiday celebrates the farmers, producers and artisans of Italy’s gastronomic heartland, and includes a private cookery class, truffle hunting, spa day and chocolate-and-wine pairing, with stays in stylish hotels in gorgeous scenery studded with Michelin-starred restaurants.
- From £990 per person, including six nights’ B&B, excursions and activities but excluding flights. Departures March-November. Fleewinter (020 7112 0019, fleewinter.com).
7. Dodge the bullet train in Japan
Japan’s Shinkansen famously fly along at up to 200mph. Yet a country renowned for its breakneck hurtle into modernity still retains corners where life is unhurried, where artisans create delicate bonito flakes by hand, where Kaiseki feasts must be savoured over hours, and where soaking in a hot onsen is de rigueur at the end of a day’s hike on Walk Japan’s Izu Geo Trail.
- From JPY372,000 (£2,435) including six nights’ accommodation, breakfasts and dinners, one lunch, guide and baggage transfers but excluding flights. Six departures in May, November and December 2018. Walk Japan (0081 978 52 2778; walkjapan.com).
8. Live like a nomad in Morocco
What do you really need to live a fulfilling life? Intrepid Travel’s Walking with Berber Nomads tour provides ample time to consider this question, joining an Ait Atta family for the seasonal migration along routes through the High Atlas pioneered by their ancestors some 4,000 years ago. Forego mobile phones for milking goats, baking bread and settling into the tempo of nomadic life.
- From £765, including seven nights’ accommodation (five in nomadic camps), most meals and transport, but excluding flights. Departures September 22 and October 6 2018. Intrepid Travel (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com).
9. Roam the authentic Algarve region
Away from the coastal resorts, time doesn’t so much slow as go backwards. Here, on The Carter Company’s Authentic Algarve self-guided walking holiday, you’ll find somnolent villages tucked away between groves of cork oaks and strawberry trees, where beech martens forage and bee-eaters flit. Visits to local artisans – rope-maker, basket-weaver, baker – provide insights info traditional culture.
- From £990 including seven nights’ full board, luggage transfers, route notes and some activities, but excluding flights. Departures March-May and mid September-November. The Carter Company (01296 631671; the-carter-company.com).
10. Steam through Saxony, Germany
The mere whiff of a steam engine transports the nostalgic among us back to a less frantic age, and sets the ideal pace for exploring the past glories of Germany’s easternmost state: castle-guarded valleys, the romantic landscapes that inspired Bach and Caspar David Friedrich, Dresden’s Baroque marvels. Arena Rail Holidays’ Berlin, Dresden & the Elbe Valley Steam holiday boards three of the region’s historic trains plus a paddle steamer along the river.
- From £1,445, including seven nights’ B&B accommodation, three dinners, train travel from London and excursions. Departs 10 September 2018. Arena Rail Holidays (01858 435655; arenarailholidays.co.uk).
11. Trace Spain’s longest river
“Blue space” enhances mental wellbeing, say the boffins. But it’s not rocket science: rambling alongside a river is as slow as travel gets – that’s why they call it meandering. Pura Aventura’s self-guided Ebro Inn-to-Inn walking holiday delves into the Cantabrian mountains to trace the upper reaches of Spain’s longest waterway, discovering medieval monasteries, nesting raptors and regional wines en route.
- From £1,415 including eight nights’ B&B, five picnics and dinners, luggage transfers, maps and walking notes, but excluding flights. Best March-June, September-November. Pura Aventura (01273 676712; pura-aventura.com).
12. Explore a Swedish archipelago travelling at paddling pace
South-east of Norrkörping, Sweden’s Baltic shore is dotted with 6,000 mostly uninhabited islands – the St Anna archipelago, a glistening wonderland for paddlers. Much Better Adventures’ guided Kayak and Wildcamp short break offers the chance to lose yourself in this littoral labyrinth, wild camping with just sea eagles, fishermen and perhaps the occasional seal for company.
- From £762 for five days, including kayaking, cooking and camping equipment, guide, meals and local transfers, but excluding flights. Four departures in June, August and September; self-guided trips available. Much Better Adventures (020 0333 1176; muchbetteradventures.com).
13. Sail where the Greeks go slow
One of Greece’s slow travel secrets – its second-largest island, Evia – hides in plain sight a couple of hours east of the capital. True, it’s not entirely undiscovered – the Roman and Byzantine empires left their mark – yet its Venetian forts, Bronze Age “Dragon Houses”, secluded beaches, olive groves and sleepy villages were long the preserve of Athenian peace-seekers. Board a wooden caique for Explore’s eight-day Greek Cruise and Island Walking tour, cruising between swimming coves and shady trails.
- From £1,085 including flights, accommodation, breakfasts and lunches. Departures September 16 and 23 2018. Explore (01252 884723; explore.co.uk).
14. Savour the soul of Tuscany
The region’s south-east is the Tuscany of calendars and classic films: waves of emerald hills striped with cypresses and vines, medieval hilltop towns, and food. Such food: plump olives, rich pecorino cheese, chestnut cakes – all fuel for ambling on Headwater’s self-guided Taste of Tuscany Walk, based in a welcoming agriturismo near Montepulciano. Soak up the ambience (and artisan cuisine) with cookery classes, wine-tastings and hot-spring bathing.
- From £1,259 including flights and transfers, seven nights’ B&B accommodation, four dinners, maps and route notes. Departures May-October. Headwater (01606 369193; headwater.com).
15. Trundle through Transylvania area
Southern Transylvania’s verdant countryside is studded with timeless Saxon villages clinging to traditions and lifestyles long lost elsewhere in Europe. But that doesn’t mean endless goulash and garlic; rather, on The Slow Cyclist’s guided cycle tours it’s leisurely bike rides, atmospheric castles (yes, Vlad “Dracula” was born here), picnics in the Carpathian foothills, homestays in beautiful old houses and plenty of Romanian red (wine, that is).
- From £1,250, including five night’s accommodation, all meals, bike hire, guide, support vehicle and transfers, but excluding flights. Group departures May-October; tailormade available. The Slow Cyclist (07540 441485; theslowcyclist.co.uk).
16. Wind down between wineries in Georgia
Georgia gave us wine – the word, derived from “gvino”, and reputedly the grown-up grape juice itself, woven into the fabric of Georgian culture for at least 8,000 years. Steppes Travel’s sedate Georgia Food and Wine affords ample time to absorb Tbilisi, the troglodyte Silk Road settlement Uplistsikhe, ancient capital Mtskheta and the famed viticulture region of Kakheti, with tastings at wineries en route.
- From £2,995 tailormade including flights, accommodation, meals, activities, private guide and entrance fees. Steppes Travel (01285 601050; steppestravel.com).
17. Bike China’s backroads
When rural China moves, it does so at pedalling pace. And that’s the best way to roam the countryside south of Guilin, as karst outcrops, bamboo forests and rice paddies gradually unfold around you. World Expeditions’ Backroads to Yangshuo cycling tour also explores Yao minority villages, an ancient Buddhist monastery and picturesque Moon Hill.
- From £1,490 including 10 nights’ B&B accommodation, eight lunches and two dinners, bike hire, guide and support vehicle, but excluding flights. Eight departures in 2018. World Expeditions (0800 0744135; worldexpeditions.co.uk).
18. Drift past vineyards and chateaux in Languedoc
The Canal du Midi was built 350 years ago to speed up commercial transport between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Today, it serves the opposite function, instead hosting the most languid of holidays. Clocking an average speed of just 3mph, European Waterways’ Classic Canal du Midi barge cruise provides time to absorb Carcassonne’s medieval citadel, Roman remains, Cathar castles and – naturally – the bounty of local wineries.
- From £2,520 for six nights’ all-inclusive accommodation aboard the Anjodi, including transfers and local tours but excluding flights. Departures April–October. European Waterways (01753 598555; europeanwaterways.com).
19. Get agricultural on the Amalfi Coast
When life gives you lemons, make… limoncello. That’s what the locals do – along with using the zingy citrus in a host of other dishes. On G Adventures’ Local Living Amalfi Coast guided tour, stay in a charming agriturismo perched above the Amalfi Coast, learn to cook regional fare and roam spectacular trails including the lauded Sentiero degli Dei – “Path of the Gods” – to Positano.
- From £1,059 including seven nights’ B&B, two lunches, six dinners and local guide but excluding flights. Departures April–October. G Adventure (0344 272 2060; gadventures.co.uk).
20. Focus on picture-perfect Africa, Malawi and Zambia
Painting forces you to stop moving, to drink in your surroundings, and examine the wild wonders of landscape and wildlife. Art Safari’s Big Game in Large Open Spaces itinerary sets you and your paintbrushes down in Liwonde National Park, Malawi, and Zambia’s flagship South Luangwa National Park with expert tutoring to help you spot and depict the animal inhabitants in their natural habitats.
- From £4,125, including 14 nights’ accommodation, most meals, transfers, guide and tutor, but excluding international flights and visas. Departs September 6 (other Zambia and Malawi tours available. Art Safari (01394 382235; artsafari.co.uk).