Five of the best sustainable holidays across Europe | green travel

Green Route of Wellness, Slovenia

This summer, the country’s tourist board launched a new Wellness Green Cycle Path. A nearly 200-mile loop cycle route linking natural spa resorts, it begins in Ljubljana and heads north towards the Austrian border and then southwest towards Croatia, winding through mountains, plains and vineyards. There’s a castle on an island, a beer fountain, and miles of wildflowers. The first stage ends in medieval Kamnik, a town with red roofs of castles and monasteries with views of the mountains, the largest arboretum in Slovenia (with 2m tulips in April) and the Terme Snovik spa in the wooded valley of Tuhinj.

The stations along the route are all certified by Green Slovenia, which promotes recycling, renewable energy, car-free arrival, eco-friendly cleaning, locally grown foods, natural building materials, and more. Spas offer pools fed by thermal springs, mineral drinking waters and salt wellness experiences, saunas, massages and barefoot paths.

Along the route, cyclists can visit the world’s oldest noble vineyard in Maribor or sip a glass of magnesium-rich crystal water in Rogaška Slatina. Slovenia’s temperate Mediterranean climate means good cycling for most of the year, although April to October is recommended. The Wellness course has several accompanying trailsincluding a Green Gourmet cycle route or a three-day circuit Pannonian road through Pomurje region. The food trail begins with a train ride on the Bohinj Railway under the Julian Alps. A free pass encourages the use of public transport in the area for those who want to linger.

Sustainable city break in Berlin, Germany

A recycled caravan in the Hüttenpalast in Neukölln. Photography: Jan Brockhaus

When the luggage storage company Bounce recently asked about sustainable hotels and transport, Berlin emerged as the most environmentally friendly city in Europe. According to his analysis, 84% of tourists and residents travel by bicycle, on foot or by public transport. And Germany Summer Programwhich offers unlimited travel on local and regional trains for €9, got even more people out of their cars.

Berlin joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council in August 2021 and Visit Berlin lists eco-friendly hotels, restaurants and tourist sites. They include places like SPRK Deliwho makes everything from surplus food. Club Kitchen is popular with hipsters in Mitte, serving bowls of salad with sweet potatoes, ginger, pumpkin seeds, edamame and other tasty things. East German caravans recycled from a former vacuum cleaner factory in Neukölln Huttenpalast in the hammock 25 Hours Bikini Hotel overlooking the zoo, the town is full of cool places to stay.

To explore the wildest corners of Berlin, buy an all-zone transport card (€10 per day, including Potsdam with its parks and palaces). The 100 and 200 buses are good sightseeing routes, from Alexanderplatz to the zoo to the leafy Tiergarten. Head into the Grunewald with the 218 bus to find Berlin’s best hike, the cliff-top Havelhöhenweg. follow this six mile marked walk in front of sandy beaches for wild swimming and quiet cafes in the woods.

YHA Walking Festival

YHA Snowdon
A Snowdon dark sky guided challenge will feature in the festival

These months of solitary walks during the Covid lockdowns have sparked a lot of interest in walking. The United Kingdom Association of Youth Hostels hopes to tap into it with his new March Festival. There will be group walks, downloadable routes, tea or coffee offered to walkers, and 25% off at various youth hostels. There’s a guided challenge from the dark skies of Snowdon – climbing the mountain by torchlight and back down at sunrise for breakfast at the hostel. Many hostels, such as Eskdale in Cumbria and Blaxhall in Suffolk have been pioneers in sustainable practices: energy efficient lighting, solar hot water and community recycling schemes.

The festival runs from September 4 to October 20. “We want more walkers to experience our hostels and all they offer,” says James Blake, CEO of YHA. “Whether it’s a bed for the night, a daytime visit for a cup of tea, filling a bottle at a filling station, using a drying room or just taking a break in the toilet.”

Individuals and groups can register their miles on the festival site to travel around the world in 46 days. Blake points out that if 5,000 people travel five miles each, together they will have circumnavigated the globe. The YHA was established in 1930 to help foster “greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside – a goal that seems as new and necessary as it did 92 years ago.

Birdwatching in Extremadura, Spain

Common Crane in Extremadura.
common crane in Extremadura

Extremadura is one of Europe’s top birdwatching destinations, with everything from bee-eaters to honey buzzards. Raptors are particularly spectacular, with 23 nesting species including 1,200 pairs of black vultures. More common cranes winter here than anywhere in Europe. Covering 16,000 square miles, Extremadura is larger than the Netherlands, with a human population of just over one million and a huge range of habitats.

Since most birdwatchers arrive here independently, the Extremadura Tourist Board create the first ornithological club in the world, modeled on the wine or whiskey routes, to help travelers find information, guides and places to stay. Travel can actually help conserve biodiversity, as money from birdwatching provides a valid economic reason to preserve habitats.

A magnet for birdwatchers since opening in 2005, the Casa Rural El Recuerdo (three nights from €216 room only) is an old farmhouse with an organic olive grove and vegetable garden. The guest house generates half of its energy from solar panels. Owners Claudia and Martin Kelsey encourage year-round wildlife excursions for the large number of migratory birds, as well as summer butterfly and dragonfly excursions. As a local guide, Martin can take visitors to see the species they want to find without having to drive too far, which means less fuel and more time in the field.

Green Velo, Poland

Poland Green Velo Trail Swamp near the Narew River
The Green Velo Trail crosses marshes near the Narew River

With more than a thousand kilometers of linked cycle paths and quieter roads through wild natural landscapes, The longest fully signposted bike path in Poland travels through the eastern regions of the country. Five regions, with funding from the European Regional Development Fund, have cooperated to create the epic Green Velo trail. Miles of cycle path have been designed to be low maintenance and have no impact on water supply or vegetation; there are benches, charging points, bike racks and trash cans. Accommodation varies from campsites to castles.

The trail winds through 12 zones or “biking realms”, such as the Świetokrzyski National Park, with its immense forests and mountains. In another realm, the marshes around the Biebrza and Narew rivers are perfect for birdwatching and elk watching, for cycling past golden marsh marigolds and purple Siberian irises. The signposted Vélo Vert route goes around the edges of protected valleys, with a view of the spring-flowering marshes. There are bats, beavers and many more wildlife along the Narew Valley towards Łomża with its convent and cathedral.

Other attractions along the route include the mysterious Krzyżtopór Castle near Ujazd and the city of Kielce, with its palaces and galleries. The Green Velo makes a loop through the center of Kielce, passing the Kadzielnia Reserve in a limestone quarry; there are concerts here in a natural amphitheater among fossil-filled rocks.

Mary I. Bruner