What better antidote for being cooped up inside – or indeed the drudgery, din and dusty air of the city – than the great outdoors? Nature affords us the perfect contrast to crowded urban living. In small doses, such as a few stolen moments in a back garden brimming with flowers, it’s a blessed (if momentary) reprieve. But to really admire nature in all its glory – and to reap the rejuvenating rewards – there are bigger, wilder and altogether more remote destinations that deserve your attention.
Here are six soul-stirring places certain to cure even the most acute bout of cabin fever…
About 400km off the coast of East Africa lies the island of Madagascar. This nation is isolated enough that an astounding 90 per cent of its flora and fauna is endemic – native to the island and found nowhere else on Earth. Lemurs are perhaps the stars of Madagascar’s wilds – there are more than 100 species, here – but they share the island’s lush forests with many other creatures, including the silky sifaka, the cat-like fossa, the tenrec and the panther chameleon.
Madagascar’s plantlife, too, has the capacity to dazzle. Here, hundreds of vibrant orchid species add a splash of colour to the verdant undergrowth, and bizarre baobab trees form natural avenues to wander. The island’s extraordinary nature, idyllic beaches and fascinating culture promise an exceptional escape.
It’s Portugal, but not as you know it. The island chain of the Azores lies scattered in the Atlantic, 1,400km away from Lisbon, and feels a world away from Europe.
This volcanic archipelago offers lucky visitors some of the most spectacular scenery to drink in, explore and photograph. Undulating, forest-strewn hills, dramatic calderas and geothermal lakes draw the adventurous out and about, while well-developed towns and cities – such as capital, Ponta Delgada – provide a charming, comfortable base from which to venture.
The expansive horizons of Patagonia, tempered with its soaring peaks and glaciers, stretch for miles across one of the world’s most dramatic and beautiful landscapes. This sparsely populated region lies in the far south of South America, straddling Argentina and Chile, and is hemmed in by the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. Continue southward, and the next significant landmass you’ll wash up on is Antarctica.
If you desire escape combined with adventure, there are few equals to this remote wilderness. Trek across impossibly blue glaciers, navigate rugged trails by horse – the gaucho way – and spot wildlife gambolling amidst the Andean mountains and breaching the icy oceans.
The Sahara Desert
The immense Sahara, the largest hot desert in the world, is one of the most open landscapes on Earth, covering an area of over 9 million square kilometres. Its sweeping, wind-carved dunes twinkle under the beating sun and blue sky, sporadically interrupted by improbable oases and camel caravans.
This panorama of golden sands has its own magic, and one of the best destinations from which to fall under its spell is Morocco. When you’re not camping out under the stars on Saharan dunes, you can explore the imperial cities of Fez, Rabat, Meknes and Marrakech, known for their architecture and vibrant souks.
The Caucasus is a spectacular, mountainous region that forms the dramatic boundary between Europe and Asia. This is the land of Europe’s highest peak – the snow-shrouded monolith of Mount Elbrus – and the region’s vertiginous, verdant valleys are a sight to behold.
Despite its abundant natural beauty, this landscape remains off the radar for many tourists – at least, for now – making it an excellent choice for escaping the crowds and immersing one’s self in nature. Situated within the region, Armenia and Georgia are particularly unsung destinations; discover the cultures of these highland countries, including a treasure trove of ancient ruins, churches and monasteries together with centuries-old folk traditions.
Located to the south of China, Taiwan may seem an unlikely choice for an escape to the outdoors; it is one of the most densely populated countries, and full of sky-scraping, bustling cities. Yet, away from the urban sprawl, this island country’s landscape of deep gorges, snow-capped mountains, hot springs and rugged coast is a revelation.
For serenity paired with natural scenery, explore Alishan Forest Park, Kenting National Park and Taroko National Park, with its spectacular gorge. Cycling is especially recommended, and there are ample coastal and countryside routes offering picturesque passages through Taiwan’s most lush and open landscapes.
Kerry Golds is Managing Director of Cox & Kings. Cox & Kings is an award-winning tour operator with a history of over 260 years, specialising in luxury small group tours to the world’s most captivating destinations.