The best sustainable breaks to book in 2021

f 2020 was the year of no travel, let’s make 2021 the year of green travel where, if we’re lucky enough to get away, we prioritise sustainable breaks with a positive ethos.

A responsible trip can give back rather than take away, or can simply allow you to relax, guilt-free, in the knowledge that your carbon footprint hasn’t taken a huge leap in size.

From off-grid eco lodges to slow travel itineraries, here’s our pick of the best trips to take next year (clear conscience included).

All of the below trips are either flight-free or accessible by short-haul flight.

Exploring the French Alsace region flight-free

At least one good thing came out of the pandemic: Byway, the world’s first platform for flight-free holidays, was founded during the UK’s first lock-down. The pioneering travel company was set up to offer off-the-beaten track trips accessible by train, boat, bus and bike. Working with local, independent accommodation and experience providers that prioritise sustainability, Byway certified as a pending B Corporation – one of the most rigorous sustainability certifications in the world – back in March. Its seven-day tour of the Grand Est region (formerly Alsace) in France takes in Strasbourg, Colmar and Dijon, all accessed by train. From £682pp, departing 6 March 2021.

A taste of Spain

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Original Travel recently launched a new collection of itineraries entitled ‘Travel Less, Travel Better’ to encourage customers to “make a positive change in the way we explore the world”. The collection features philanthropic holidays, responsible travel, slow travel, rail and road trips and sabbatical itineraries. The company has also put together a number of train-only itineraries for those who want to travel greener next year. One of its tastiest offerings is a six-day gastronomic tour of Bordeaux, France, and San Sebastian, Spain. Travellers will tour vineyards and do wine tastings, enjoy a guided pintxos (Basque tapas) tour, and prepare and eat lunch with the members of one of San Sebastian’s secretive gastronomic societies. From £2,115pp.

Learn to fish in Lastovo

On the small remote island of Lastovo in Croatia, Intrepid Travel is working with WWF to develop tourism that benefits the local community and preserves the island’s culture, identity and natural resources. One of the main issues on the island is overfishing and the number of fish are in decline.  As it’s becoming harder for fishermen to earn a decent living from fishing alone, Intrepid has created the Croatia Retreat: Lastovo Island trip, which includes time for visitors to join fishermen on their boat for the day. Travellers will help out with the fishing and enjoy a freshly made seafood lunch on board. They’ll also learn about sustainable fishing and the journey from sea to table. The money earned from this allows the fishermen to take fewer fish from the sea, helping to preserve the ecosystem. The five-day retreat starts from £750pp, including four nights’ accommodation, B&B, with some other meals, transport and activities.  

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Getting wild closer to home

Next year sees the launch of Wilderness England, a new tour operator offering adventure holidays in England’s National Parks and wild areas. Offering a programme of guided and self-guided trips, both on foot and on bike, the company encourages a more sustainable approach to travel by promoting the beauty found closer to home in domestic destinations. Its 12-day coast-to-coast itinerary takes hikers from St Bee’s Head on the shores of the Irish Sea to Robin Hood’s Bay, criss-crossing three of northern England’s National Parks and covering 128 miles on foot. Beginning in the Lake District, hikers will make their way to the Yorkshire Dales before crossing the North York Moors and finishing at the North Sea. From £3,495pp, including 12 nights’ accommodation, all meals, guiding and transfers. Departs 30 May, 13 June, 1 August, 22 August and 5 September 2021.

Skiing green in Arosa

If you want your skiing with a side of eco, Valsana Hotel in the Swiss resort of Arosa has been awarded Green Globe Certification – a worldwide sustainability system based on internationally accepted criteria for sustainable operation and management of travel and tourism businesses – and Best Green Ski Hotel at the World Ski Awards for the second year running. Receiving an outstanding compliance score of 93 per cent, the award recognised the hotel’s sustainable architecture and design, high tech energy solutions and offsetting carbon emissions programmes. The resort itself shares 225 slopes with neighbouring Lenzerheide, with a good mix of red and blue runs for intermediates. And Arosa is accessible by train in a day – you can reach Zurich via Paris and Basel, before taking the fast train to Chur and getting the charming single gauge railway up the mountain. Rooms from CHF420 (£348), B&B, including access to the spa.

Off the beaten track on the world’s ‘greenest’ island

El Hierro is the second smallest Canary Island and was the first island in the world to become totally self-sufficient, powered by 100 per cent renewable energy. Declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve and Geopark, El Hierro has remained largely untouched by tourism and is home to various entirely endemic species, including the critically endangered El Hierro giant lizard, for which there is a captive breeding programme. Slow travel specialist Inntravel is offering a week-long self-guided walking trip to the island to take in its best bits on foot. From £915pp, the trip includes seven nights’ B&B, five dinners, two picnics, route notes and maps, luggage transfers and return flights from Tenerife North to El Hierro. Available from 1 April 2021.

Eco-camping on Guernsey

Located on the second biggest Channel Island, WildGuernsey offers a “green-living holiday” with eco-camping a stone’s throw from the sea. Locally grown food and foraging workshops come as standard, while accommodation is in sustainably sourced canvas yurts that are made in the UK. Facilities include a fire pit or rocket stove and a horse box field kitchen to cook a supper of freshly caught or gathered food. The site is car free and employs a ‘foot, bike and bus scheme’, encouraging guests to explore the island in an environmentally friendly way. Guests that book for seven nights or more will even receive a free bus pass if they travel without a car. One night camping with WildGuernsey is priced from £25 (for a tent sleeping up to three people); return passenger ferry from Poole or Portsmouth to Guernsey with Condor costs from £60pp.

Wilderness wandering at a Finnish eco-lodge

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Want to experience the wildness of nature somewhere truly remote? Exodus Travels is offering packages to Basecamp Oulanka in Finland, renowned for its environmental and sustainability practices: all energy used is renewable, all waste and water is recycled, and the heating system uses special wood pellets for fuel. The Exodus Travels Foundation donates money to the WildOulanka Foundation for every guest staying at the lodge, which is put towards the preservation of the local forest. Careful management of the protected area has led to the reappearance of several species, including bears, and the protected area has the ability to absorb 23,480 tons of carbon dioxide – enough to cover the emissions of all Exodus Travels’ customers travelling from London to Kuusamo. A seven-night Finnish Wilderness Week costs from £1,949pp, B&B, including return flights, all Arctic equipment and clothing, transfers and local tour leaders throughout.

Campervans with a conscience in Ireland

A new business is offering a more sustainable way to tour around Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Started by a father and son team in Tipperary, Buckled Wheel offers lightweight trailers (500kg, less than half the weight of a normal “white box caravan” tear drop trailer) for rent that can be towed by both hybrid and electric cars. Much easier to tow than a traditional caravan, the reduced weight also reduces fuel consumption. The company uses and sells the latest sustainable camping products too, such as blankets that are made from 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles, and has partnered with Mossy Earth to commit to planting a tree for every trailer rented out in 2021. Trailers sleep up to four people and are fully equipped with gas hob, fridge, oven and grill. Rental costs from €50 a day.

Reducing impact in the Azores

The Azores are the first archipelago in the world to achieve international certification of a sustainable destination by an entity accredited by the Global Council for Sustainable Tourism. The Portuguese islands take conservation very seriously, and actively invest in renewable energy – the islands have generated hydroelectric power for well over a century, there have been wind farms here since 1988 and São Miguel currently harnesses geothermal energy. The eco-friendly Lava Homes on Pico Island, opened in 2018, offer a heated outdoor pool, yoga classes, and an onsite grocery store, restaurant and craft shop offering gifts made on the island. The 14 self-catering cottages are equipped with solar power and heating is achieved using pellets stoves (which burn compressed wood or biomass pellets). Cooling is done through natural ventilation and the ancient water-capture tanks are used to water the gardens. Sunvil offers a seven-night stay combining the islands of Pico and São Miguel from £1,507pp, B&B, (two nights on Sao Miguel and five nights on Pico), including return flights, inter-island flights and transfers.

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