An easy 12-mile (19km) cycle south from Valencia takes you to the sand dune beaches of El Saler and the Albufera nature reserve. I stayed two nights in the Parador de El Saler hotel, which looks on to the Mediterranean sea and is surrounded by pine forests. The nature reserve means the area has few buildings and is full of birds. I cycled to a birdwatching centre 10 minutes from the hotel to see flamingos. Albufera is famous for its very shallow salt-water lake and there are sunset trips in traditional flat-bottom boats. There are plenty of restaurants serving paella (cooked outside over fires made from orange-tree branches). I loved the beach and the forest.
A visit this month to Jökulsárlón glacier in Iceland was worth the effort. The drive from a small town, Vik, to the glacier through a vast expanse of snow-covered plains gave an exhilarating feeling of being on another planet. Small icebergs that had cracked away from the glacier and been chucked on to the contrasting black volcanic sandy beach glittered like diamonds – an extraordinary spectacle. Vik is idyllic, with snowy mountains on one side and the black sand beach on the other. The aurora watched from a hilltop church’s grounds was a spectacular display of colours.
Ceapabhal, known locally as Toe Head, looms wherever you are on the Isle of Harris. It only took me 15 years of visiting the Outer Hebrides to pluck up the courage to climb it. The views from the top are panoramic: the topaz waters and powder-white sands of almost every beach on the island sparkle below. From my elevated position, feathers glowed golden in the sunshine. For the first time, I had the privilege of looking down on not one, but three magnificent raptors. Enormous golden eagles swooped beneath me before soaring on thermals into the clouds.
During our journey on the West Highland Way there was one place where I wished I could stay longer. The north end of Loch Lomond stole my heart with its dramatic landscape of placid lake and imposing mountains. We stayed in Beinglas Farm campsite, a quiet, friendly place with a bar, shop and good breakfasts. Walking away from loch you come to the Falls of Falloch fairly quickly, and many other small waterfalls besides that have an enchanting, fairytale quality. Take a dip in the little pools if you are brave: the water is as clear as a mirror.
Cycling and walking have led us to discover local gems. Glasson Dock, a port that time forgot, should be your starting point. Cycle up the gravel-and-tarmac old railway line along the estuary to Lancaster (about five miles). Cross the Lune on the elegant Millennium bridge and then head towards Morecambe. Just a few hundred metres from this excellent and well-used cycle track is Susan’s Pies – our favourite is cheese and onion. Resist eating now but turn along the coast to Heysham, where you can eat in the graveyard of Grade I-listed S Peter’s church near the much older ruins of St Patrick’s chapel and its rock-cut tombs, overlooking the famous bay.
We had an utterly wonderful long weekend with family in Cornwall, where we were encouraged to partake in their regular activity of an early-morning dip in Bude sea pool, an outdoor swimming pool built the 1930s among the natural dramatic rock formations of the cliffs. The unheated seawater is refreshed with every high tide, and taking the plunge is a highly recommended to invigorate the soul and make you feel truly alive.
With its palm trees, subtropical plants and striking coastal views, Henry’s campsite in Helston, Cornwall, transported us to a vibrant and bohemian world where for one week all we needed was common sense, flip-flops and a pitcher of cider. Mornings were easy, with a slow wander up to the farmhouse for coffee and a croissant (dodging free-range chickens and children en route), followed by sunny days spent wandering the coastal paths, stopping at beach bars and swimming in hidden coves. Our evenings ended perfectly with live music, fire-pit marshmallows and watching the sun melt into the ocean.
Amarante is a small, quaint village in the north-east of the country. I was taken here on a surprise trip by my partner and was pleasantly surprised by the fantastic selection of restaurants and cafes. Our trip was spent taking short walks by the river and exploring the great tourist-friendly city of Porto, 35 miles away. For those looking for a challenge, I would recommend Paiva Walkways in Aveiro for its 12km mountainside trail through the beautiful hills of Arouca. All in all, a week away in September cost us £200 each, which, when you consider the cost of other European getaways, is an absolute steal.
Having visited twice on short breaks this summer, we are now big fans of the market town of Diss in south Norfolk, with its historic “Heritage Triangle”, home to an abundance of independent shops, and its mesmerising mere. Among Diss’s many attractive historic buildings is the imposing neoclassical Corn Hall, still partly used as a corn exchange until the 1990s and now an arts venue. The central six-acre mere, teeming with fish, was once thought to be the waterfilled crater of an extinct volcano. We enjoyed relaxing on the lakeside decking of the Waterfront Inn and walking over the water on the floating boardwalk.
Dovedale in Derbyshire was close enough to our school in north Birmingham for it to be the location of all our field trips, armed with measuring wheels, notepads and generic juice cartons – but I don’t think I appreciated its beauty back then. The stepping stones are a natural starting point, but walk in any direction and the vistas are stellar, the hill of Thorpe Cloud being the star. Without the class clown as a distraction, Lion Head rock really does look feline, and lovely Milldale becomes reachable without teachers who just want to get back for happy hour. This quiet time of year is perfect. Enjoy hot food and a movie at the cosy Northern Light Cinema in Wirksworth, about a 40-minute drive away.