Take a car-free trip across Europe to ease your environmental conscience and boost your mood

·5-min read
Cycling through Tallinn, Estonia (Alamy/PA)
Cycling through Tallinn, Estonia (Alamy/PA)

There’s something very satisfying about reaching a destination under your own steam. Getting from A to B powered only by physical fitness and enthusiasm can often be as rewarding as spending time in the place you’re aiming to reach.

According to estimates by the RAC 25% of the UK population don’t hold a driving licence. A far higher number would likely admit they’d be happier not to be behind the wheel while abroad.

Then, of course, there’s the environmental aspect to consider. With sustainability rapidly becoming a priority for travellers, one of the easiest ways to reduce our carbon footprints is to switch from planes to trains or ditch cars in favour of buses or bikes.

Many countries have invested heavily in public transport systems over the past few years. Norway for example, has an excellent fleet of electric-fuelled public ferries.

The growing popularity of hiking and cycling holidays also makes it much easier to explore without turning a key in the ignition. Plus, there’s the benefit of boosting physical fitness at the same time.

If you want to swap motors for muscle-power on your next holiday, here are a few options for seeing parts of Europe car-free.

Pedalling through pretty England

Cycling in the UK can be a gamble at any time of year. But even though sunshine is never guaranteed, golden landscapes are certainly in store this autumn. Starting along the Oxford Canal, this gentle cycling tour continues through the villages of the southern Cotswolds, including Minster Lovell with its Cotswold stone and thatched cottages on the River Windrush, the medieval town of Burford and Bibury – described by William Morris as “the most beautiful village in England”. Finish in Bath home to the historic Roman baths.

How: Headwater (headwater.com; 01606 369 416) offers an eight-night self-guided Oxford to Bath Cycle from £1,679 per person (two sharing) including accommodation with breakfast, bike hire, GPS route maps and navigation app, and services of a local representative.

Free-wheeling in Estonia

A predominantly flat country with over 6,500 kilometres of trails – the majority of which are off-road – Estonia is an ideal destination for cyclists. For those wanting to cross the country by bike, the 981km EuroVelo 10 starts near the Latvian border in the south and passes through Pärnu, Tallinn, Lahemaa, the oldest national park in Estonia, and ends at the Russian border. For a shorter ride, try the 18km circular route around Kihnu island, a former seal hunting and fishing island, where the women take care of the preservation of the island’s cultural heritage while the men are out fishing.

How: Exodus Travel (exodus.co.uk; 020 3993 7598) offers an 11-day Cycle the Baltics trip from £1,549 per person (two sharing), including accommodation with breakfast, cycle hire and a tour leader throughout. For more information on the routes and cycling in Estonia, visit visitestonia.com/discovercyclingroutes.

Footloose in Menorca

Home to an abundance of winding coastal paths, peaks and rugged coves, the varied landscape and dramatic scenery of Menorca make it a prime hiking destination. Hikes include the iconic Camí de Cavalls, an historic path running around the entire coastline of the island. First constructed for military purposes, it has seen a number of improvements thanks to investment from the Sustainable Tourism Tax. Stay in Morvedra Nou Hotel, an elegant, family-run 17th century Spanish finca near Ciutadella.

How: Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com; 01273 823 700) offers an eight-day walking holiday from £1,145 per person (two sharing) including flights and half-board accommodation. For more information on visiting Menorca, visit menorca.es.

Rambling around Guernsey

A bronzed landscape and amber light provide a perfect backdrop for one of Guernsey’s best loved events, the Autumn Walking Festival. More than 40 morning, afternoon, and evening guided walks will take place from September 11–26, exploring the islands of Guernsey, Herm and Sark. Learn from local experts about their history and attractions, while tackling inland rambles or hiking rugged coastal paths. The walks vary in difficulty and length (ranging from one to five hours including an all-day Sark option) and are suitable for all ages and abilities. Prices from £10 per person.

How: Channel Islands Direct (channelislandsdirect.co.uk; 0800 640 9058) offers a four-night B&B stay at The Duke of Richmond hotel from £435 per person, including flights from London Gatwick and based on travel throughout September. Alternatively, with ferry travel from Poole, the trip is priced from £365. For more information on the festival, visit guernseytravel.com.

Blazing a trail in Switzerland

Travel by track and trail on an adrenaline-fuelled trip to Swiss mountain Mont Blanc. As part of their commitment to shrink carbon emissions, Exodus Travel has expanded its train travel offering with over a third of all holidays now available flight-free – including an adventurous 15-day mission to explore one of Europe’s most iconic peaks.

The journey from London to Geneva by rail is approximately seven hours and, following a change of trains in Paris, the route continues through mesmerising mountainous terrain, crossing the spectacular Cize-Bolozon viaduct over the Ain gorge. Spend the next 10 days hiking with three rest days reserved for sitting back and enjoying the scenery.

How: Exodus Travel (exodus.co.uk; 020 3993 7598) offers a 15-day Tour du Mont Blanc Camping Trek from £1,799 per person (two sharing), including supported camping, rail travel from London, and most meals. Various departures in 2022.

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