For awe-inspiring skies and grassland hikes, set your compass to Romania. A herd of wild European bison, which last roamed here in 1919, have recently been reintroduced to the country’s Țarcu Mountain range as part of a major rewilding project. Much Better Adventures, along with conservationists from WWF, run four-day treks through the Carpathian Forest undergrowth, using old-school tracking techniques to locate these majestic beasts. Accommodation is in wilderness cabins and safari-style camps, and there’s also the chance to stop off for swims in mountain lakes and rivers. From £663 for four days.
If inner exploration is what you’re craving, take up the lotus position at Gaia House, a Buddhist mindfulness retreat in the gentle hills near Newton Abbot. Once cocooned inside this Grade II-listed building, you can unplug from emails, notifications and small talk as you live in contemplative silence with strangers for a week. World-renowned Dharma teachers run a daily schedule of mindfulness talks and workshops, applying the 2,500-year-old teachings of the Buddha to modern life. From £525 for seven days.
The spectacular sandstone city of Petra, with its cliff-carved tombs and temples, is the jewel in Jordan’s crown, but there’s plenty more to see on a 10-day walking tour. Hike up to the Jabal Al-Hash mountain ridge and drink in the views of the colourful Wadi Rum desert, and go back to basics and camp under the stars with the Bedouin to catch crystal-clear views of the Milky Way at night. From £2,189 for 10 days.
Nestled between the fjords of Skagafjörður and Eyjafjörður, the Troll Peninsula is a mix of lush meadows, barren valleys and ink-black fjords. Take a traditional Icelandic horseback ride from turf-topped bolthole Deplar Farm to one of the region’s bubbling hot pools and ease yourself into mineral-rich waters, which locals prescribe as a tonic for skin conditions and stress. Back at the revamped farm, supplement the natural highs with guided sound baths and treatments from cult skincare guru Tata Harper. From $8,700 (£7,570) for three nights.
Already ticked off a marathon? Add the Mongol 100 to your new year fitness resolutions: a madcap, 100-mile challenge across a frozen lake in northwestern Mongolia. The objective is to traverse the entire body of water from north to south by foot, skate or bike. The gruelling race finishes at the Khovsgol International Ice Festival, known for its traditional ice sumo matches, winter games and intricate frozen sculptures. $4,750 (£4,032) for eight days.
The 70th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Mount Everest falls in 2023. If you don’t fancy taking on the world’s highest mountain yourself, you can explore the surrounding Himalayas by immersing yourself in the way of life of Nepal’s mountain-dwelling sherpas. Adventure Life runs tours that take you on a trek through the beautiful Khumbu region of Nepal, stopping off at traditional sherpa villages, where you can learn more about their unique way of life. From $3,967 (£3,440) for 15 days.
Costa Rica is renowned for its lush wildlife — roughly a quarter of the country is made up of protected jungle. Hands Up Holidays runs upscale volunteering opportunities for visitors who want to help local conservation efforts but don’t fancy roughing it in gap year digs. Partnering with a wildlife centre for orphaned and illegally trafficked animals, guests can feed and ‘muck out’ out sloths, kinkajous and spider monkeys while bedding down in a five-star eco-hotel. From US$7,240 (£6,300) for 10 days.
One for the bucket list (of deep-pocketed travellers), this is the trip of a lifetime. Crunched into the Antarctic ice lies a futuristic cluster of fibreglass camping pods with heated bedrooms, hot showers and a private chef. At luxury base camp Echo, you can sip martinis shaken with 10,000-year-old ice before trying some more ‘traditional’ Antarctic pursuits, including visits to the South Pole and treks to observe colonies of emperor penguins. Although they look imposing, the camp’s space-age tents are designed to be dismantled and leave no trace between seasons, so there’s minimal impact on this pristine environment. From $62,500 (£54,000).
Published in the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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