Don’t limit yourself to terra firma-whether on a kayak outing or in a gently rocking berth at bedtime, H2O is the way to go
1. SLEEP ON A BARGE IN FRANCE
It may have an Italian name and the British red ensign flying from its stern, but the Bella Mia is moored on the resolutely French Canal du Midi – an epic waterway that links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic near Bordeaux, passing rows of plane trees, ancient chateaux and shaded vineyards en route.
Available to up to four staying guests, the houseboat is every bit as charming as the setting – with dark mahogany interiors and a smart deck on which to sip coffee, scoff croissants and watch other boats sweeping past.
Should these inspire you to set sail on an adventure, the owner of the boat will happily captain her on a short day trip along the canal (£35 per person). Alternatively, you can use land-based transport to reach the nearby town of Béziers – home to a 19th-century aqueduct, where the Canal du Midi passes spectacularly over the Orb River on its way to the sea.
ARRIVE: Béziers’ tiny airport is served by Ryanair flights from Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester and Luton.
2. MIX GIN AND LUXURY IN LONDON
Modes of transport and alcohol consumption typically don’t make for sensible bedfellows. One notable exception to this rule is the (stationary) Butler’s Gin barge, moored amid the graffiti-tagged warehouses of Hackney Wick, East London.
Here, on weekends, the company offers tastings of its Victorian-recipe tipple, with drinkers sipping gin cocktails and hearing of London’s long, ruinous love affair with the spirit, while narrow boats putter past outside.
Afterwards, see a different side to the capital’s waterways by bagging a berth on the Sunborn London – an oligarch-grade luxury yacht moored at Royal Victoria Dock. The finest rooms have balconies from which you can admire the Millennium Dome, Canary Wharf and all the comings and goings of river traffic on the Thames.
ARRIVE: Trains to London cost upwards of £39 from Bristol, £55 from Manchester and £70 from Edinburgh.
3. SAIL CROATIA’S DALMATIAN COAST
The Dalmatian Coast is perhaps the Mediterranean’s most intricate coastline – a wondrous muddle of long limestone peninsulas, juniper-and pine-shaded islets and rolling hills that rise almost sheer from the waves.
It’s also well within reach for a weekend’s nautical odyssey, if you join Huck Finn Croatia’s three-day Weekend Sailing Trip in the region. Participants cast off from a bay near Dubrovnik aboard a modern yacht, whose skipper then plots a course for the nearby Elafiti Islands. Here, days are whiled away snorkeling the shallow seas, while nights see participants staying aboard, drifting off as the currents of the Adriatic beat against the hull. The trip culminates in the village of Ston – home to ramparts that are Croatia’s small-scale answer to the Great Wall of China.
ARRIVE: BA, easyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Norwegian and Thomson fly to Dubrovnik from major UK airports – most flights run April to October.
4. MAKE LIKE A MERMAID IN COPENHAGEN
Copenhagen is a spiritual home to seafarers from marauding Vikings to the Little Mermaid, so it’s only fitting that the most stirring views of the Danish capital are to be had from the water.
Or, more specifically, from aboard the CPH Living Hotel – a barge moored in the harbour in the Christianshavn neighbourhood. On board, rooms feature all the usual Scandinavian design trimmings – artful lighting, blonde wood surfaces and, best of all, huge windows from which you can watch speedboats and sightseeing cruisers slip past, all while wearing your jimjams.
ARRIVE: BA, easyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair and SAS fly to Copenhagen from nine UK airports, including Aberdeen, Heathrow, Newcastle and Stansted.
5. GO CANOEING DOWN THE WYE
‘O Sylvan Wye,’ wrote William Wordsworth, watching over the Welsh river from his hilltop perch high above. ‘Thou wanderer thro’ the woods/How often has my spirit turned to thee!’ The Romantic poet never got to travel the Wye in a canoe, however. Take a voyage down its lower reaches, beginning in Monmouth, and continuing along the Wye Valley to admire the soaring arches of Tintern Abbey and the hilltop views from Devil’s Pulpit.
ARRIVE: There are no railways in the Wye Valley, so the region is best reached by car- Monmouth is 1.1/2 hours’ drive from Birmingham and 2.3/4 hours from London.
STAY: Redhill Grange b&b has rooms in a three-century-old barn on the edge of Monmouth.
6. SEA KAYAK IN THE TUSCAN ARCHIPELAGO
Robinson Crusoe-type castaway kicks can be hard to come by in Europe, but a helpful place to start is Elba – an island of stony headlands and bright blue bays, a few miles adrift of the Italian mainland. Sea Kayak Italy offers two-day kayaking trips around its shores, accompanied by an experienced tutor, where seafarers steer among the skerries and the starfish-dotted shallows, while savouring the views up to Elba’s wooded interior. Participants camp Crusoe-style for the night on a secluded beach.
ARRIVE: The closest major airport to Elba is at Pisa, with a wide choice of flights from the UK. Silver Air flies onward to Elba.
STAY: Albergo Le Briciole has rooms with fine views over the Elba coast.