Typically, we don’t like slow. Slow-witted is stupid. Slow service irks. Slow movies are dull. Slow clocks are wrong. And slow runners don’t win actual races (only allegorical tortoises do that). Then there’s the inevitable slowing of age – muscles, mind and metabolism all gradually losing vim. We’re in no rush to dwell on that.
But slow travel? That’s different. While these other forms of slowness seem to equal less, slow travel is about getting more.
Slow travel is booming in the wake of Covid, as we’ve all had time to reflect on what we really want from our holidays and found the answer might be experiencing the world in a different way. Slow travel is about steering clear of over-touristy places and seeking out hidden corners instead. It is exploring in a more mindful, measured and immersive fashion – perhaps by boat, train or on foot. It is digging to the bottom rather than skimming the surface, peeping behind the scenes, being led by the locals. It’s about eating nonna’s chicken cacciatore rather than KFC, directly benefiting small, independent businesses rather than “the man”. It may mean visiting fewer places overall but will likely mean logging a greater number of truly memorable moments.
Slow travel is the friend of memory – which is a massive plus if you feel yours is losing its edge. When we grind along in a cycle of sameness, days, weeks, months become an amorphous blink-and-miss-them blur, nothing remarkable enough for us to really stop and take note. But head somewhere different and throw in new sensations – like learning to cook tortillas, swimming with the world’s biggest fish, losing repeatedly at backgammon in a spit-n-sawdust taverna – and the mind perks up. Time doesn’t feel quite so fleeting. Going to new places, trying new things, meeting new people and engaging more in the present can help you feel you’re not missing out on your own life.
Brilliantly, you don’t have to be a fit young thing to embrace slow travel. It suits a gentler, maturer approach, where a few hours spent kneading dough with the village baker or sharing a train carriage with a local family can tell you more about a country than a tiring, breakneck “highlights” tour or a massive-mileage bike ride where there’s no time to enjoy the view. Yes, you might be getting older and winding down, but life travelling in the slow lane is looking pretty good.
Here's our pick of 20 great in-depth adventures to get you started.
Embark on a regal circumnavigation, Britain
Survey the Queen’s domain in her Platinum Jubilee year by circumnavigating the UK on a classic Thames barge. The Round Britain Jubilee Voyage embarked from Plymouth on June 1 and will return two and a half months later after a gradual unfurling of ports, clifftops, bays and beaches. Six guests can join a leg (five-12 days each) of the voyage; try the Scottish Lochs section, from Inverness to Belfast, to cruise highlands and islands, taste whisky, spot whales and get as hands-on with sailing as you like.
Snark Sailing Holidays (01962 841411; snark.limited) offers the 11-day Leg 7: Scottish Lochs trip from £2,168pp including full-board accommodation but excluding flights; July 30 2022.
Steam back in time, Sweden
It takes six hours to drive from Gothenburg to Stockholm – but why rush? Take four days instead, via the Gota Canal. Steamers have run this route since 1869 and travelling aboard the old M/S Juno today is like stepping back into the 19th century. En route you will negotiate one river, three canals, eight lakes and 66 locks, with ample time to disembark and explore Sweden’s rural interior, dotted with castles and Viking heritage.
Best Served Scandinavia (020 7664 2241; best-served.co.uk) offers a six-day Gota Canal trip from £2,175pp including flights, B&B accommodation and full-board cruise; tailor-made.
Voyage with giants and dragons, Indonesia
Pinisis weren’t built for speed, which makes these traditional schooners ideal for slowly exploring the teeming tropical waters of the Indonesian archipelago. Seatrek’s handsome vessels offer several voyages; on the sailing between Bali and Komodo you will access areas that are otherwise impossible to reach, encountering volcanic islands, Bajau “sea gypsies” and remote villages; you will swim among kaleidoscopic corals, giant manta rays and whale sharks, and walk with Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizards.
Seatrek (00 62 36147 43902; seatrekbali.com) offers an eight-day Whale Sharks, Corals & Dragons (Bali-Komodo) cruise from £3,244pp including full-board accommodation, excluding flights; May-September 2022.
Sail and cycle, United States
Decelerate your US-bound travels by boarding the Queen Mary 2. The world’s last ocean liner takes a week to reach New York; relish fine dining, star speakers, classes and fresh Atlantic air. On arrival, why not continue slowly? Ride the Amtrak Vermonter train and hop off at Burlington for a cycle around the charming inns, scenic byways and fall-fiery trees of the Green Mountain State.
Cunard (0344 338 8641; cunard.com) offers a seven-night Transatlantic Crossing from £1649pp including homebound flights and full-board accommodation; departures monthly. Macs Adventure (0141 530 5452; macsadventure.com) offers a seven-day self-guided Classic Vermont cycling trip from £1,235pp including B&B accommodation; tailor-made.
Drift languidly through Provence, France
The très jolie MS Anne-Marie is a sublime mode of transport for slipping slowly through southern Provence. A premium canal barge with 11 en-suite cabins, a large sun deck, bicycles on board and a jacuzzi at her prow, she cruises from Arles to Sète. En route, passengers can explore the wild Camargue and fortified Aigues-Mortes, learn about olive oil and oysters, join a bull sorting with herders and enjoy superb lunches, dinners and Provençal wine.
CroisiEurope (020 8328 1281; croisieurope.co.uk) offers a seven-day Charming Provence cruise from £2,380pp including full-board accommodation, excluding flights; October 15 2022, March-August 2023.
Relax by rail
Take the slow train, Spain
Northern Spain’s dawdling FEVE railway is Europe’s longest narrow-gauge network – and a great way to explore the area’s beautiful unspoiled beaches, bright fishing towns and traditional sidrerías if you’re not in a rush. Spend a week using the trains, enjoying the views from the windows, and hopping off for short walks around bays, along clifftops and around Ribadesella’s pretty plazas, Cudillero’s colourful streets and bustling Oviedo, enjoying delicious Asturian hospitality along the way.
Inntravel (01653 617000; inntravel.co.uk) offers a seven-night self-guided Slow Train Through Asturias trip from £625pp including B&B accommodation, excluding flights; tailor-made.
Rail and sail, South Africa, Zimbabwe & Botswana
Sink sumptuously, and more sustainably, into southern Africa. After four days really getting to know Cape Town, you will hop aboard the Rovos Rail train in Pretoria to chug in bygone glamour to Victoria Falls, pausing for a safari in Hwange National Park en route. Then it’s all aboard the intimate Zambezi Queen for a cruise down the wildlife-packed Chobe River, plus expeditions.
Ker & Downey Africa (00 27 212 012484; ker-downeyafrica.com) offers a 12-day Rovos Rail and River Safari from £5,452pp including accommodation and most meals, excluding flights; tailor-made.
Go low-carbon to Corsica, France
Mountainous Corsica is arguably the most magnificent island in the Med. And you can build the anticipation of arriving on the Ile de Beauté by taking your time. Travel through France by train – with stops in Paris, Cassis and Nice en route – then head over by ferry. Explore Corsica’s Bonaparte history, brasseries, dazzling beaches and rugged innards, using scenic buses and trains to explore the island, before sailing and taking the train back home. Bonnes vacances, indeed.
Byway (020 3488 6841; byway.travel) offers a 14-night trip to Corsica from around £1,422pp including B&B accommodation and most transport; tailor-made.
Cross a continent, Canada
From fishing coves to Francophone culture, cosmopolitan cities to near-endless prairie, mighty Rockies to crashing Pacific, there is a lot of Canada. And this trip, which travels via a series of iconic trains from Nova Scotia’s maritime charms to pulsing, peak-backed Vancouver, doesn’t miss an inch. Top stops and detours include comely Québec City, buzzing Toronto, Niagara Falls and mountain-bound Jasper, but best is looking out the window and watching all of Canada roll by.
Discover the World (01737 214250; discover-the-world.com) offers a 15-night Trans Canada Rail Adventure from £4,808pp including accommodation and trains, excluding flights; tailor-made.
Make for Marrakech, Spain & Morocco
Watch Europe segue into Africa on an overland odyssey from London to Morocco by rail. There is time for wine tasting in Bordeaux, pintxos grazing in San Sebastian and admiring Andalucia’s Moorish marvels before taking a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar: the coolest way to reach the Continent. The souks, sights and smells of Tangier, Fes, Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech lie ahead, with a chance to mingle with local train passengers as you go.
Explore (01252 391103; explore.co.uk) offers an 18-night London to Marrakech by Train trip from £2,730pp B&B, excluding return flight; departs September 5, October 17 and 31 2022.
Eat and amble, Italy
Piedmont is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement, and a week’s gentle walking in this delicious region reveals not only castle-dotted countryside but also some of the best eating in the world. Staying at two bases – in medieval Saluzzo and hilltop La Morra – spend a week strolling through chestnut woods, shopping at local markets, following truffle trails, rambling through Barolo vineyards, joining a cookery class, pausing for gourmet picnics and finishing each day with delectable dinners and fine local wines.
Hedonistic Hiking (hedonistichiking.com) offers a seven-night Jewels of Piedmont trip from £2,510pp including full-board accommodation but excluding flights; October 21 2022.
Stroll on safari, Zambia
Be fully immersed in the African bush by exploring it on foot. South Luangwa National Park is the original home of the walking safari, and still one of the best places to stroll with lions, elephants and a menagerie of other animals. Walk (at a gentle pace) between magnificent lodges and mobile camps with expert guides, feel the thrill of seeing wildlife with no barriers, sip sundowners round campfires and drift off beneath a canopy of stars.
Original Travel (020 3582 4990; originaltravel.co.uk) offers a 12-day Zambian Walking Safari from £6,750pp including flights and full-board accommodation; tailor-made.
Pedal the fjords, Norway
Sunnhordland, south of Bergen, is peak Norwegian fjords country, a land of deep inlets, high peaks, glittering glaciers, quaint fishing villages and salty fresh air. Inhale it better by bicycle, so you have time to stop to admire the spectacular scenery, visit the markets, stroll the cobbled streets and visit Scandinavia’s smallest castle. Moderate fitness is required for the undulating terrain but numerous ferries criss-cross the region, allowing you to shorten your rides without missing the magnificent views.
Freedom Treks (01273 977896; freedomtreks.co.uk) offers a six-night self-guided Sunnhordland Fjords Bike Tour from £1,206pp including accommodation and most meals, excluding flights; tailor-made.
Wander by the Douro, Portugal
You will be well-watered on this walking break: following the Douro, you are guaranteed both serene river views and plentiful glasses of the wine produced on its Unesco-listed banks. Graded four out of 10, daily walks explore terraced vineyards, tiny chapels and traditional villages but are not taxing – and there are options to take shorter routes if you fancy a more relaxed pace or more time kicking back with a local tipple.
Ramblers Walking Holidays (01707 331133; ramblersholidays.co.uk) offers a seven-night Regua & the Douro trip from £1,480pp including flights and half-board accommodation; departs July 1, September 16 2022.
E-bike into the unknown, Greece
There is something special about the Mani, the remote Peloponnese peninsula that Patrick Leigh Fermor once called home. It has heaps of history and mythology, dramatic cliffs, sparkling seas and interesting characters – yet few tourists make it here. Linger for a week, exploring by e-bike and on foot with fantastic guides and posh picnics, to uncover its secrets, from hidden coves to lost villages, shepherds’ paths, olive producers and pirate tales.
The Slow Cyclist (020 7040 4487; theslowcyclist.co.uk) offers a six-day Mani trip from £3,100pp including full-board accommodation, excluding flights; departs September 19, October 25 2022; private trips also available.
Return to the roots, New Zealand
We have waited a long time for New Zealand to reopen, and a slow-dive into Aotearoa’s heritage seems an ideal way to get reacquainted. With an archaeologist and an award-winning Maori guide, make an opulent journey from Auckland to Queenstown, mixing indigenous stories with one-off experiences. Be welcomed at a marae, explore Maori battlefields, follow forest food trails, take private tours at museums, heli-hike into untouched wilderness and paddle a Maori war canoe.
Arcadia Expeditions (00 61 2831 98762; arcadiaexpeditions.com) offers a 12-night Story of Aotearoa trip from £16,775pp including full-board accommodation but excluding flights; October 6 2022, March 26 2023.
Slide across the subcontinent, India
Appreciate India’s infinite variety on a five-week odyssey by big train, toy train, rickshaw, houseboat, bus and jeep. From the ravishing palaces of Rajasthan to the lazy backwaters of Kerala, you will look out for big cats, waft through tea plantations and tick off Unesco treasures. But you will also get a real taste for the culture via cooking classes and street food adventures – and you will support numerous initiatives improving opportunities for Indian women.
Wild Frontiers (020 3925 9461; wildfrontierstravel.com) offers a 34-day Great Indian Adventure from £8,950pp including full-board accommodation but excluding flights; October 22 2023.
Drive differently, Chile
Take Chile’s roads less travelled on an epic drive from the northern edge of Patagonia, through the Lake District and wine country, to the southern Atacama Desert. Along the way lie serene Chiloé Island, lush forests and falls, Mapuche culture, the imposing Andes, vineyard stays, Neruda’s coastal retreat and matchless star-gazing. You will cover a lot of ground – 1,550 miles – but staying two or three nights at each stop allows plenty of time to enjoy the ride.
Pura Aventura (01273 676712; pura-aventura.com) offers a 26-day Hidden Treasures of Central Chile Road Trip from £8,630pp including accommodation and most meals, excluding flights; tailor-made.
Find alternatives, Thailand
Uncover a quieter side of South-east Asia’s most popular destination by staying away from hotspots, mixing heritage hotels and homestays, seeking out hidden temples, riding a sleeper train and immersing yourself in traditional Thai life. That includes time in northern Phayao Province, getting to know the Thai Lua tribe, and exploring the biodiverse forests and wetlands of Phatthalung from both a community lodge and a lovely lake hotel. Finish on Koh Jum, a little-known but dazzling Andaman isle.
Experience Travel (020 3993 2939; experiencetravelgroup.com) offers a 16-day Secret Adventures in Thailand trip from £4,850pp including flights, accommodation and most meals; tailor-made.
Zone in, Nicaragua
When travellers do head to little-visited Nicaragua, it is often in combination with its Central American neighbours. But narrowing your focus, and spending time with locals, will offer much greater insight into this under-sung gem. For instance, cycle around handsome Granada and meet the communities on its outskirts, get hands-on at a tortilla-cooking class, learn hammock-making and painting, dance to marimba beneath puffing volcanoes and join a creative school project on the Pacific coast.
TravelLocal (0117 325 7898; travellocal.com) offers a 12-day Meet the Locals of Nicaragua trip from £1,540pp including B&B accommodation but excluding flights; tailor-made.
For full details of entry requirements and Covid rules for your favourite destinations, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-travelrules. Refer to gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for further travel information.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.