Those in search of somewhere exotic needn’t stray too far from home – these staycations will make you feel like you’re abroad. By Janine Kelso
Like a picture-postcard Italian village with its pastel-coloured buildings, atmospheric piazzas and tropical flowers, Portmeirion can be found in the most unlikely of destinations: North Wales. This Mediterranean-style village was lovingly created by eccentric architect Clough Williams-Ellis after he bought the land in 1925. He spent the next 50 years transforming it into a town that wouldn’t look out of place on the Italian Riviera. With only two hotels and a smattering of cottages to spend the night, it is mostly visited by day-trippers.
Great Rail Journeys’ commercial director Julian Appleyard says: “Portmeirion is a popular stop on our Railways and Castles of Wales tour due to its stunning architecture and atmosphere that mirrors that of the Mediterranean.”
Sample package: The six-day Railways and Castles of Wales tour costs £775 per person with Great Rail Journeys, including five nights’ accommodation, 10 meals, a farewell gala dinner and a guided tour of Portmeirion. Departing August 20, 2021. More information.
Floating almost halfway between Scotland and Norway, the Shetland Islands have a distinctly Scandinavian flavour. It’s possible to see the northern lights here in winter, while the sun barely sets in summer apart from a few twilight hours that locals refer to as the ‘summer dim’. Colourful timber homes dot Shetland capital Lerwick, which also hosts Viking fire festival Up Helly Aa every January. Popular with outdoor enthusiasts thanks to almost 1,500km of coastline, the islands offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, cycling, kayaking and diving. Teeming with wildlife, visitors can spot seabirds, seals, dolphins, puffins and, of course, Shetland ponies. It might be one of the most remote parts of the UK but the archipelago is easily reachable thanks to regular ferry crossings and flights from mainland Scotland.
Sample package: Ramblers Walking Holidays offers a 14-night Orkney and Shetland Islands tour from £2,425 per person, including half-board accommodation, return flights from Glasgow, transfers and a tour guide. More information.
Isles of Scilly
Lying just off the Cornish coast, the subtropical Isles of Scilly are the UK’s warmest destination. The archipelago’s five pint-sized inhabited islands and 100s of uninhabited ones are awash with dreamy white-sand beaches that could easily be mistaken for those in the Caribbean. Visitors can enjoy island-hopping, boat trips to see the seals and seabirds, and water sports such as kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
But the Scillies’ real star attraction is horticultural gem Tresco Abbey Garden, home to 20,000 exotic plants from around the globe and described as “Kew without the glass”.
Beverley Scarr, general manager, short haul products at Premier Holidays advises travellers planning a trip to the Isles of Scilly to book well in advance as the islands are “extremely popular”.
Sample package: Four nights’ bed and breakfast in a three-star hotel in St Mary’s costs £579 per person with Premier Holidays, including return ferry from Penzance, departing October. More information.
Sprawling almost 120km from coast to coast across rugged countryside, Hadrian’s Wall falls slightly short of the Great Wall of China’s mammoth 21,196km. But what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in epic scenery and rich history. Dating back to AD122, the wall was built to protect the wild north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. Explorable via numerous walking trails that vary from a few hours to a few days, there’s plenty to see along the way, including towers, forts and turrets. It takes around six to eight days to trek the entire route.
Sample package: A nine-day England and Scotland tour, including a visit to Hadrian’s Wall, costs from £1,268 per person with Contiki, including round-trip coach travel from London, hotel accommodation, eight breakfasts and two dinners, departing September 10. More information.
Reminiscent of the Algarve’s heavenly coastline, Cornwall’s beaches sizzle thanks to their white sands and turquoise waters. Standouts include photogenic Kynance Cove on the Lizard Peninsula, regularly hailed as one of the best beaches in the world. Peaceful Porth Joke Beach in Newquay appeals to surfers, while Gyllyngvase Beach in Falmouth is a hit with families thanks to its generally calm waters.
“Cornwall’s picturesque coast can rival the gorgeous beaches of the Algarve surrounded by steep colourful cliffs,” says Intrepid’s head of business development Joanna Reeve.
Sample package: Intrepid’s four-day Walk the Cornish Coast costs from £491 per person, departing August 11. More information.
Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye
Scotland’s famous Loch Ness could easily rival New Zealand’s Nelson Lakes National Park, while the magical Isle of Skye bears an uncanny resemblance to Stewart Island. Renowned for its Loch Ness Monster myth, the eerie loch is also the UK’s most voluminous lake. Soak up the scenery by walking or cycling a section of the new 130km Loch Ness 360° Trail, or by hopping aboard a sightseeing boat. Head to Skye to hike through the Waternish peninsula, sip wee drams of whisky, and lap up the majestic scenery.
Sample package: Trafalgar offers a seven-day Best of Scotland tour (including Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye) for £1,350 per person, including six nights’ accommodation, 10 meals and all transport, departing November 28. More information.
Main image credit: English Heritage