Three holidays for nature lovers

Isokenkaitsen Klubi
Isokenkäisten Klubi: the cosiness is heartwarming

A trip out to the sticks needn’t mean abandoning creature comforts. Chris Carter reports.

“As the nights turn frosty, most Scots start pondering some last-minute Mediterranean sun, but I say go full autumn,” says Alice Rickard in The Sunday Times. This time of year Kuusamo, a mass of hills and lakes located just 40 miles from the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, is aflame with fiery oranges and golds. Ruska is what the Finns call the turning of the leaves. It isn’t just something you see. You feel it too.

Isokenkäisten Klubi (from £87, IKK.fi) is a family run wilderness hotel situated among miles of forest by the peaceful, clear-water Lake Heikinjärvi. Traditional Finnish activities on offer include foraging, saunas and cooking lessons.

“As I open the little wooden door to the Lappish hut, known as a kota, I pray that my cooking lesson is going to be easier than trying to pronounce the hotel name,” says Rickard. “Before any recipes are exchanged, we are greeted with homemade herbal teas around a fire. The cosiness of it all is heartwarming. Watching the Finnish hammer wooden pegs to secure locally caught salmon to a board to cook over the fire is an almost meditative experience.”

“Picking berries, watching bears, drinking tea around the fire: I never expected to feel such a sense of warmth in such a cool, northerly climate… I throw on my coat, cocoon myself in my scarf, step out into the darkness, and there they are – the Northern Lights.”

Enjoy Snowdon from a hot tub

The Welsh Highland Railway
Hop aboard a steam train for a Welsh autumn adventure

Forest Holidays Beddgelert (three nights from £665, ForestHolidays.co.uk) is a cluster of 16 self-catering cabins, located on the quiet side of Snowdon in north Wales, says William Gray in The Sunday Telegraph. Here you get to enjoy the best of both worlds – creature comforts and nature. After all, “how cool is appreciating nature from an outdoor hot tub, lying back in the bubbles and gazing up through the canopy of an ancient oak wood that’s all-of-a-flutter with redstarts, flycatchers and nuthatches?” Each morning, the whistle of a steam train reminds you of the myriad activities available beyond your woodland sanctuary. The Welsh Highland Railway runs along one boundary of the site, stopping at a small station where you can hop aboard for the 25-mile ride between Caernarfon and Porthmadog.

Mountain bikes can be hired from the Forest Retreat reception and shop. “Half an hour later, we were cycling through an elfin forest beside a stream that sluiced through jumbled boulders. We emerged into a clearing where foxgloves lined the track like pink fireworks, but our gaze was soon tugged across the valley to Mount Snowdon… Pushing on… we reached Llyn Llewelyn, a lake so dazzlingly blue it looked like a slice of the Bahamas slipped into the Welsh highlands.” Toe-dabbling turned to paddling. “Before we had time to remind ourselves we were in North Wales, we were wondering whether we didn’t actually prefer wild swimming to hot tubbing.”

A break for keen swimmers

British Columbia
British Columbia: perfect for a spot of wild swimming

“‘You have to go quickly – no point in easing yourself in, chuckles a woman as I wince while getting into the frigid water,” says Rhiannon Curry in The Independent. Taking a dip in the lakes and rivers of British Columbia, western Canada, certainly casts the idea of wild swimming in a new light. There are around 20,000 lakes here, so it is possible to go a whole day without splashing within earshot of another soul. “This is wild swimming with a hefty dose of wilderness.”

Squamish is the first stop along the Sea to Sky Highway, which joins Vancouver to the “breathtaking” Rocky Mountains. In winter it is a base for skiers heading for Whistler. In the warmer months, there’s a pretty river as well as a number of lakes to swim in. Cat Lake is a local favourite, with its rope swings and pine tree-lined shores. Alice Lake is also nearby, making it easy to have more than one swimming trip in a day.

Back in Vancouver, Kitsilano swimming pool is a man-made lido rather than a lake, but it is a must for keen swimmers. Perched on the edge of the ocean, the huge outdoor pool has recently been refurbished. What’s more, it’s heated, so no grimacing as you wade in.”