No-fly luxury travel: seven of the best experiences across the UK and Ireland

As travellers look to reduce their carbon footprints by cutting back on air travel, luxury trips around the UK and Ireland are becoming increasingly popular. From sampling seafood to exploring waterways, here’s how to get a dose of luxury closer to home. 

Hiking trail at the top of Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park, Ireland.

Photograph by AFP via Getty
By Tamsin Wressell
Published 13 Oct 2022, 12:04 BST

1. Taste Ireland

The Irish culinary scene has leapfrogged traditional expectations of stew and pies to stand at the vanguard of the food world. Innovative restaurants like The Saddle Room and the Michelin-starred Greenhouse have established Dublin as a premier foodie destination, with chefs capitalising on the excellent local ingredients. Its seafood is world-beating — salmon, crab, oysters and mussels — while its rich variety of agricultural produce has gained international recognition. Taking a tasting tour of Ireland is sone of the best ways to get a comprehensive picture of all the kinds on dishes on offer, from the eastern pastures of Wicklow to the shores of the Wild Atlantic Way in the west.  

How to do it: Abercrombie & Kent offers a nine-day tailor-made, self-drive itinerary that includes a private tour of The Burren Smokehouse to sample local salmon, plus classes at Ballyknocken House, Farm and Cookery School, oysters and mussels in Connemara National Park, a lesson in preparing fish at Ballymaloe Cookery School, followed by lunch. The trip starts in Dublin before continuing to Wicklow Mountains, West Cork, Cork, Connemara and Galway, before returning to Dublin. Accommodation included, from £3,929 per person. 

2. Explore the waterways

Slow travel has gained increasing traction over the years, with a focus on the present that incorporates a sustainable approach to communities and the environment. Planning a narrowboat trip along the UK’s waterways is a great example of slow travel. Over 2,000 miles of canals and waterways are threaded throughout the country, once serving as essential arteries of business during the Industrial Revolution. These canals and towpaths wend their way through beautiful countryside and have been repurposed for public use. Some of the best routes loop through several canals, of which the Grand Union is arguably the most scenic, connecting urban and rural landscapes in Warwick, Foxton, Oxford and Coventry, among others. From here, you can opt for a slower, more scenic approach, or focus on completing the loop within a week.

How to do it: Boutique Narrowboats has a selection of canal boats (complete with luxury touches like rainfall showers) available to hire, with set or bespoke itineraries available. Training is included for anyone new to narrowboating, with routes centring around the Grand Union Canal. Starting off at Union Wharf marina near Foxton Locks, the routes can head towards Leicester for a short city break, or for a gentler experience, there’s the countryside of the Leicestershire canals. Towpath pubs and restaurants are scattered along the canal routes, but trainers are available on the first day to recommend the best route to suit. Narrowboats are available to rent for three, four or seven days, starting from £504 for three days off-peak.

Puffins of Skomer Island, South Wales.

Photograph by AFP via Getty

3. Adventure in Pembrokeshire

Volcanic, rocky hills, inlets sourced from glaciers and craggy limestone dot along the coastline in Pembrokeshire, on the southern coast of Wales. Walking, kayaking, coasteering and surfing are all popular here, and there are more blue flag beaches than in any other Welsh county. There’s also 14 national reserves; the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, meanwhile, is the only coastal park in the UK, while the Pembrokeshire Coast Path takes in over 186 miles of ascents and descents along sea cliffs, lush hills and golden beaches. Rock hopping, wild swimming and cliff jumping all allow visitors to make the most of the points where the rocky cliffs meet the ocean, while nearby Skomer Island is a great spot for nature watching. There’s the Celtic Trail for cycle enthusiasts, diving sites (like the 350 wrecks in Skomer Marine Reserve) and surfing in Freshwater West. 

How to do it: Pelorus focuses on adventurous travel. Its Peaceful Pembrokeshire itinerary runs year-round for seven nights. Over the course of a week, there’s abseiling, cliff jumping, surfing, kitesurfing, rock climbing and scrambling. Suggested accommodation includes Roch Castle Hotel and Penrhiw Priory, in secluded woodlands. From £6,000 per person. 

4. Sail to the Isle of Wight

Now’s the time to hop over to the Isle of Wight and see why it’s been going through a boom in popularity over the past few years. Its capital, Newport, has some serious hipster credentials with the opening of trendy restaurants like Thompsons and its winding lanes sprouting buzzing bars and cafes. It’s a mecca for nature-lovers too: white cliffs, towering sand dunes and glittering beaches are just waiting to be explored. Freshly caught seafood features high on the fine-dining experiences on the island — don’t miss the whole grilled lobster drenched in garlicky herb butter from the award-winning The Hut. The weather is temperate and there are walking and cycling trails throughout, but one of the best ways to explore the coastline is off-shore. There are a number of sailing and boat charters available year-round, but an alternative is to sail to the Isle of Wight from mainland England. 

How to do it: Borrow A Boat is a yacht charter marketplace offering a luxury sailing adventure to the Isle of Wight. The Allegro is a fast motor cruiser, at a length of 45ft with an open cockpit for entertaining. It sleeps four guests, with the boat also including a saloon, kitchen equipment, sunbeds and three cabins. Set sail from Southampton (with the option of having a skipper on board) from £1,150 per day. 

The Round the Island Race is an annual yacht race around the Isle of Wight.

Photograph by AFP via Getty

5. Hike in the Hebrides

Discover just how wild the UK can get by exploring this chain of windswept inter-connected islands. They are perennially popular with adventure seekers lured by the jagged peaks of Skye or the starkly beautiful beaches of Harris —  perfect for a spot of coasteering or snorkelling. During the day, there are hiking routes, whisky distilleries and wildlife to discover here, while at night, it’s one of the best places in the UK for stargazing. Standing stones and ruins line the hiking and cycling routes that wind their way through the islands, while the fresh seafood and whisky provide fuel and sustenance to enable adventurous types to continue along the trails. A course of 156 miles goes through 10 islands, across six causeways here, but there’s still real variety in the landscape, from deserted beaches to imposing mountains and freshwater lochs. 

How to do it: Black Tomato creates exclusive itineraries, with its Hebridean Hiking Adventure venturing across multiple islands. Experts at the company have mapped out unique and hidden routes, trailing from the Isle of Skye to the Inner Hebridean Islands on a private rigid inflatable boat. There’s hearty fare to be had and private whisky tastings along the way, too. The trip can be tailor-made, with a suggested length of 10 nights, including accommodation in luxury Highland lodgings starting from £8,750 per person. 

Ancient ruins on Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall.

Photograph by AFP via Getty

6. Cruise the UK 

Explore the white cliffs and rocky shores that make up the 7,723 mile UK coastline of the UK , from the Scottish Isles in the north to the Jurassic coast in the south. It’s home to a rich variety of animals and plants, with turtles, whales and sharks occasionally spotted. Puffins are often seen nesting on some of the islands that surround Wales and Scotland, while seals dot the shores on the northern coasts of England and dolphins are spotted in the south and north. Exploring the seas that surround the island can give a different viewpoint, from the yellow and purple heaths that cover the clifftops on the Isles of Scilly to the stone castles on the shores of the Sound of Mull in Scotland. 

How to do it: Hurtigruten Expeditions runs a series of cruises around the UK. For a more unique experience, join its British Isles — Remote Islands, Natural Wonders and a Diverse Coastline route. Departing from Dover, the 13-day trip takes in the Pembrokeshire Coast, Rathlin, the Inner Hebrides, St Kilda, Stornoway, Isle of Man, Scilly Islands and more. The cruise includes onboard and land activities, with departure dates between April and August. From £3,040 per person.

7. Take a wellness break in the Lake District

In need of some inner peace? It’s closer at hand than you might think. The UK has been beefing up its wellness offerings, making it no longer necessary to travel to a tropical retreat all the way around the world to take a proper break from the stresses of modern life. Whether it’s a yoga retreat in Bedfordshire or CBD immersive treatments at The Coniston Hotel in in Yorkshire, there’s sure to be something within train or driving distance. The Lake District is home to some of the best spa lodges in the country  — Langdale Hotel’s ‘Brimstone Spa’ is a treat with its host of thermal experiences. The lakes themselves provide peaceful spots for swimming and kayaking, while the surrounding mountains are great for restorative walks, meditation and reconnecting with nature.

How to do it: Overlooking Lake Windermere, the Gilpin Hotel and Lakehouse provides a picturesque and peaceful setting for a wellness retreat. It’s set across two buildings, including a private spa and 100 acres of private grounds. Health Travel runs a three-night stay at the Gilpin Lakehouse, with each suite having its own private hot tub. The stay starts with a private spa consultation to map out personalised treatments, as well as massages and salt scrubs. Guests can access the boathouse, spa and swimming pool, and meals are served at Michelin-starred HYiSHi restaurant. Three nights with accommodation, meals and wellness programme from £1,850 per person.  

Published in the Luxury Collection 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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