20 of the best sustainable holidays in Europe for 2020

Posted by on July 08, 2017

Electric road trip through Switzerland

You may be trying not to burn fuel, but that doesn’t mean forgoing the delicious unrolling of a road trip. Switzerland has launched a route for electric vehicles, with 300 charging stations covering 1,970km through some of Europe’s most eye-popping scenery, in a country committed to maintaining 30% woodland coverage. The “grand electric road trip” route goes over five Alpine passes, by 22 lakes, the vineyards of the Montreux Riviera, through foodie Ticino, or the Jura. It launched quietly two years ago but is being given a big push for 2020 by the Swiss tourist board, as sustainable travel is the focus. Its website has green activities and accommodation, including those with e-vehicle charging stations.
Rail to Geneva or Zurich, then e-car hire, europcar.ch. Swiss Youth Hostels is dedicated to sustainability and offers climate-neutral booking, myswitzerland.com

Cultural trips along the Normandy coast

Le Loft apartment, Hornfleur. Photograph: Mehdi

Brittany Ferries’ more eco-friendly vessel launches on Portsmouth and Caen-Ouistreham sailings in the summer (exact date to be announced). The LNG (liquid natural gas) and electric-hybrid produces lower carbon emissions and will be the first of its kind to operate cross-Channel. It’s good timing for a tour of new cultural attractions along Normandy’s coast. Go east to Marcel Proust’s favourite seaside resort, Cabourg – the inspiration behind Balbec in his masterwork, In Search of Lost Time – where a new museum, La Villa du Temps Retrouvé, due to open in August, tells the story of this famously arty coast through his eyes. Opening in June in neighbouring Deauville, Les Franciscaines will be a museum complex displaying more than 500 artworks in a restored convent. Stay nearby in pretty Honfleur at Le Loft (sleeps four from £110 a night), a renovated apartment in a colombage (half-timbered) building.
Crossings from £230 return for two people and a car, foot passengers from £60 return, brittanyferries.com

Sail around Galicia

The future may be wind-powered, but rather than tacking across a dreary British lake, how about learning the ropes of sailing in Spain, on one of Rubicon 3’s new holidays? On an 11-day tour of Galicia aboard an 18-metre clipper expedition yacht, the group of eight – mostly solo travellers – will stop in out-of-the-way rias, the deep inlets common to this coast, for seafood in fishing villages. There will be hikes into the mountains and tapas in ancient walled towns, too. There’s also a month-long voyage from Tower Bridge to St Petersburg: it sold out this year but will run again next summer, so check the website for updates.
Galicia trip departs 28 October from Muros (take train via Paris, Bayonne, Santiago de Compostela), from £1,499pp including most food, rubicon3.co.uk

E-bike and e-car wine tours in the Loire

La Grande Maison, Loire valley

Sue and Michaela run a gorgeous rural farmhouse hotel, La Grande Maison, in the Loire valley, where next year they’re launching wine tours by electric car and e-bike. Guests are taken from vineyard to vineyard in their e-car, or the couple lead the way on a tour by e-bike – using fat-tyred RadRunners, which have a top speed of 25mph. All the wineries are organic, biodynamic or natural, with vegetarian and vegan picnic stops among the vines along the way. Both trips include a wine-tasting supper in the hotel.
A two-night electric-car tour, including breakfast, tastings, wine-tasting supper, transfers and lifts to restaurants, costs €425pp; the two-night e-bike tour is €400pp, both based on two sharing, lagrandemaison.net. Take train via Paris to Saumur

Easy train to Sweden

Gothenburg

With itineraries designed by The Man in Seat 61, a new collection of European rail holidays by Original Travel takes the hassle away. All depart on the Eurostar from London, with hotels, activities, train tickets and timetable wrangling taken care of. The journey to Gothenburg starts with a night out in Hamburg before a ferry from Germany to Denmark, then it’s on to Gothenburg by train to devour some cinnamon buns. Two nights on the island of Marstrand, home to ornate wooden houses, precedes one in a floating hotel on one of many tiny islands visited by ferry. The “World’s Sweatiest Art Trail”, with sculptures you cycle, run and bike between, fills one day; a mussel-harvesting boat safari another. Then it’s back the same way, with a last hurrah in Hamburg.
Ten days from £2,505pp based on two sharing, including carbon offsetting, originaltravel.co.uk

Train and trek the Pyrenees

The vintage trains that take in the dramatic mountainscapes of the Pyrenees are like something from a children’s storybook – and the basis for a group holiday with rail specialist Arena Travel. Rides include the Roses Express through the Cap de Creus national park, the Yellow Train across the Tet valley’s forests and viaducts, a journey through vineyards on the Red Train, a coastal railway and the Núria valley’s Rack Railway, ascending to more than 1,000 metres. Three guided hikes take the group further into the rugged landscapes, one along the Refugees Trail, used by those fleeing to France during the civil war. The Catalan town of Roses is your base.
Eight days from £1,095pp including return Eurostar from London, TGV from Paris to Perpignan, half-board hotel accommodation, excursions and guiding, arenatravel.com

Tuscany’s beaches and hill country

Food at Biotique Agrivilla i pini

A smattering of new eco-hotels across Tuscany is a good excuse for a tour of the region’s coast and inimitable hill country. Near the medieval hilltown of San Gimignano, a new vegan B&B called Biotique Agrivilla i pini (doubles from £130 B&B), provides plant-based food from a zero-waste kitchen, organic wine, a saltwater pool and rooms decorated with natural materials. Green accommodation website ecobnb.com has a few new Tuscan pads, including a treehouse at Glamping il Sole (rooms from €70 B&B) on a farm in the Maremma hills, and new yoga courses from April-September at Podere di Maggio (from €60 B&B,sleeping two) glamping site and farmhouse, in a pristine valley near Grosseto, with hot springs and Tyrrhenian beaches nearby. In Siena, stay at Paradiso numero 4 (doubles from €75), a B&B on the top floor of an ancient building, which aims for no plastic and zero waste.
Trains from London to Milan (10 hours 40m) or Rome cost from about £70 each way, then connect to Florence or Siena

Belgian beer by bicycle

The Belgians have been getting beer right since the middle ages. Tasting the country’s finest and most flavoursome brews is the focus of a potentially wobbly new tour on wheels from UTracks. The self-guided cycling holiday takes in some of Belgium’s coolest cities and towns, starting from Genk, then following quiet roads to Bocholt, home to a large brewery museum. More beery pit stops include Postel Abbey, where monks have brewed beer since 1611, a Trappist abbey, and the cafes and shops of the design-savvy city of Antwerp. University town Leuven and untouristy Diest, on the banks of the River Demer, finish the route. Six days’ moderately difficult cycling covers 231 miles along rural roads, forest and farm tracks, and in cities.
From £840pp a week, including seven nights’ hotel B&B, info pack with maps, luggage transfer and bike with panniers. Departures 4 April to 19 September. Excludes train from London to Genk, utracks.com

Greek islands by rail and ferry

Corfu. Photograph: Getty Images

Sunvil has launched “Greece by rail” for 2020, including rail travel from London on trips to Parga, Paxos, Lefkas, Sivota and Corfu. There’s a need to embrace slow travel as it takes a couple of days to reach Greece. A nine-night Corfu itinerary includes one night’s B&B in Milan, continuing to Bari the next day and catching an overnight ferry to the island. Accommodation might be the Kalami Bay apartments with pool, on a hillside above the pretty hamlet of Kalami on the north coast, where many of the nearby tavernas operate a free taxi-boat service.
Nine-day trip from £1,099pp including room-only accommodation and one-way rail, and flight for the return; a rail return costs £500 extra, sunvil.co.uk

Wildlife safari, Spain

Griffon vultures in Monfragüe national park

Griffon vultures, bustards, Spanish imperial eagles, great spotted cuckoos and larks are among the species to tick off on a wildlife adventure to Extremadura, in western Spain. This is one of Naturetrek’s new no-fly group trips, which also aim to minimise disposable plastic use. After the ferry to Santander from Plymouth, there’s a boat ride in the Bay of Biscay to spot whales and dolphins, before a rail journey to spend two nights in Madrid for some urban bird-watching in the Real Jardín Botanico. Onwards by rail to Cáceres‎, where the group stays in a spa hotel for five nights, venturing into the steppes and plains each day, including the Monfragüe national park, a favourite raptor hangout.
£2,295pp full-board including all travel and excursions. Next departure 10 May, naturetrek.co.uk

Sail to France

Travel to France using wind power on a no-skills-necessary sailing voyage on your own skippered yacht. Channel Fairview Sailing provides a seadog to do the grunt work on sailings around, and from, the UK, with a crossing to the north coast of Brittany its most exciting option. Boarding in Hamble, Hampshire, it’s a day’s sail to Le Havre, then the group can choose where next to make landfall: Honfleur, Trouville or Deauville, or Caen and the Normandy beaches, before returning to Hamble. Tie up in local marinas or at mooring buoys, going ashore for dinner and drinks, informed by your own savvy seafarer.
From £2,500 for seven nights for six people (£417pp), self-catered, fairviewsailing.co.uk

Walk with nomads on the Lycian coast

In Turkey, the nomadic Yörük people have kept much of their ancient tradition and culture alive, and their name means “to walk”. Many live in the south, among the western Taurus mountains near the Lycian coast, keeping large flocks of sheep and goats. On a new walking tour, travellers join them on their annual migration from the high summer pastures to winter grazing lands near the sea, seeing how they work, dining with them, and in the evenings listening to melancholic songs played on the saz (similar to a lute). There’s time, too, for the historic sites of Patara, Xanthos and the sunken city of Kekova.
The 10-day trip costs from £999pp including half-board, based on two sharing, luggage transfer, guides and activities. Next departure 16 October. Travel by rail to Istanbul via Munich, Belgrade and Sofia, then on to Bodrum, Marmaris or Fethiye, walksworldwide.com

Forest glamping, Slovenia

A sleek new resort in the Slovenian Hills, Forest Glamping resort Blaguš features 16 high-spec curvy cabins made from glass and timber, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out towards Lake Blaguš, a peaceful spot for wild swimming. This north-eastern Alpine part of the country, near Maribor, is known for hiking and wine, while at the glampsite, tree-hugging and climbing, mountain biking and campfires are the order of the day. There’s also a forest library and, as if the retreat wasn’t fairytale enough, the owner is also a shoemaker, welcoming guests to become elves-in-training by joining one of his shoemaking workshops.
From €140 a night B&B sleeping two, under-6s free. Train to Maribor via Vienna from London St Pancras on Eurostar, charmingslovenia.com

Black Forest by steam train

Photograph: Getty Images

Rail holiday specialist Ffestiniog has increased its range of train adventures for next year, among them an eight-day tour of Germany’s Black Forest from the resort of Titisee. There are lovely footpaths to explore and the trip includes a number of rides on historic and steam railways, from the curly-wurly Sauschwänzlebahn (Pig’s Tail line) to a circular route crossing the whole forest from west to east, climbing via a series of hairpins to give views of the Rhine valley. It’s a group trip but there’s plenty of opportunity to branch off independently.
From £1,495pp including rail travel from London to Brussels, then high-speed to Aachen, unlimited travel card, excursions, hotel accommodation in Aachen, Titisee and Bonn, guide and welcome dinner, ffestiniogtravel.com

Roman history, south of France

Pont du Gard, Nîmes

In September, the new Roman Museum of Narbonne is set to open. It’s designed by Foster + Partners and will display the largest collection of Roman artefacts in the south of France, in an area rich in Roman monuments and sites. It’s also part of a new self-guided rail holiday with Inntravel, visiting the Roman arena in Nîmes and the Pont du Gard – part of the 20km aqueduct that supplied the city – and the Roman theatre in Arles.
The Provincia Nostra tour costs from £925pp including return train from London St Pancras, rail journeys between cities, and six nights’ B&B in hotels. Departures 1 April-31 July, and 1 September-31 October, inntravel.co.uk

Beach house, Sicily

Eco Casa Penna

Just a short potter past the potted cacti in the garden of the new Eco Casa Penna, you will see warm turquoise waves lap the rocks beside the sandy beach of Sampieri. In the evening, it’s a short walk to the seafront town of Marina di Modicafor dinner – or cook something up from the market and dine on the large, covered deck of the house. The property uses solar power for the electrics that are deemed essential, but there is no aircon, dishwasher, washing machine or microwave – and a set amount of water is included, to discourage waste.
From £1,330 a week, sleeping six. To reach Sicily by train takes 29 hours, travelling by Eurostar to Paris, then Rome, then by ferry to Palermo for a connection to Siracusa, essentialitaly.co.uk

An open-air bed in Switzerland

Photograph: Nordwand AG, Silvan Widmer

An art-meets-accommodation project in Switzerland, Zero Real Estate involves simply a bed – a decent one – on a platform in the Swiss countryside, with no walls, no roof, just two nightstands with lamps, the sky above, mountain scenery all around, and a butler to bring drinks, breakfast and morning coffee. Having appeared in a few Swiss locations in recent years, the open-air concept is being rolled out across seven regions of eastern Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Many will be in the Lake Constance region, where there’s another interesting place to stay in Radolfzell, at Aquaturm hotel (doubles from £104), a redevelopment of a high-rise water tower, now energy-neutral, with all energy self-generated from solar, wind and geothermal sources. The area has a few zero-km restaurants too, including Restaurant Muhle in an old monastery and the Schloss Wartegg Hotel, supplied by its own garden and lake.
From £230 for two, including backup indoor room at Hotel Alpenrose, butler and breakfast, more locations and details to be announced, toggenburg.org/zerorealestate. Travel by rail to Zurich, then Radolfzell for Aquaturm

Green waves in Ibiza

Photograph: Victor Frankowski

A few sailing companies are offering solar-powered charter yachts for holidaymakers, including Ibiza’s La Bella Verde, self-billed “pioneer of the green boating movement”, which rents vessels for 2-35 people for day trips and has won awards for its innovative boat design. It has been running sailing trips to Formentera out of Salinas, in a national park, for six years. For 2020 it is adding departures from San Antonio, to enjoy the west-coast beaches of Cala Bassa, Cala Comte, and Cala Tarida with sunset enjoyed by Cafe Mambo. It will also add voyages from Santa Eulalia to Cala Nova and Cala Llenya, or to Tagomago – a private island in the north with a chiringuito beach cafe.

The yacht used has cabins, so there’s the potential of a longer trip of a few nights. This year, the company created the first emission-free Plastic Ocean Cleanup catamaran, which collects plastic from the sea in a net. This is now operated by the iBi Foundation, but holidaymakers can join for free, spotting dolphins and cleaning the sea. Ibiza and Formentera aim to be single-use plastic free by 2023. For next year Bella Verde is building a boat from 100% recyclable and sustainable materials, to address the problem of many boats ending up in landfill, releasing toxic chemicals as they degrade. Bella Verde launches in Sydney, too, in 2020.
Boat hire from €600 a day for six people, including some drinks, meals from €25pp. Green places to stay include an agriturismo in a restored 17th-century farmhouse, Can Domo (doubles from £130 B&B) in Santa Eulària des Riu. To reach Ibiza without flying, take a train to Valencia, via Eurostar to Lille and on to Nîmes, then catch the ferry to Ibiza (five hours, from £35 one way). See ibizaproduce.org for green places to eat and buy food.

Icy challenge in the Alps

Auberge accommodation in the Alps

Undiscovered Mountains has a (pretty hardcore) short break for intrepid types in the southern French Alps this winter, which it describes as an “eco challenge” – some of the proceeds go to the Conservation Volunteers charity, which develops green spaces in the UK. Participants are invited to ice-climb up frozen waterfalls then build and sleep in their own igloos, with the aim of promoting more-sustainable winter holiday activities outside of ski resorts, and furthering appreciation of the Alpine environment. You’re supposed to have fun, too.
From €565-€656pp including one night half-board in a hotel, one overnight igloo expedition, one-day guided ice-climb, all equipment, carbon offsetting, two picnic lunches, half-day self-guided snowshoe session, transfers from Gap station but not rail travel from the UK. Departures in January and February, undiscoveredmountains.com

Montenegro’s Adriatic coast

Kotor. Photograph: Alamy

There are many authentic pockets of life, and plenty of striking scenery along Montenegro’s coast – with jagged mountains and forest close to lively seaside towns. With five nights in cafe-filled Kotor, a ride on the Bar-Belgrade Railway from the coast to the capital Podgorica, time in the high mountains of Biogradska Gora national park and a night in Belgrade, the Montenegro Explorer tour is one of several new rail holidays in eastern Europe from Tailormade Rail. The company will add and arrange complicated rail journeys from the UK, too.
From £1,799pp for 12 days (including a £600 supplement for travel from the UK by rail rather than flight). Includes B&B accommodation in hotels, transfers, excursions and local travel, tailormaderail.com

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