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International travel may require a bit more planning these days: there are more forms to fill out, Covid tests to undertake (where restrictions haven’t quite lifted fully) and vaccines to prove. But travel has well and truly come back and rather than city breaks and crowded historic sights, it’s the natural world that people are desperate to travel to - think rural destinations where they can reconnect with nature and escape the trappings of modern life.
In fact, results from the Adventure Travel Association, who surveyed travelers in the US, Latin America and Europe, showed that since the start of the pandemic, 83% of participants said they preferred to travel to natural areas rather than cities. Furthermore, 52% of participants chose nature as their top new travel interest.
We’ve picked five rural locations from 2022– areas large and rural enough to satisfy travelers’ wants and needs. Each one has a specific reason we think it’s worth a visit, whether that’s something new of note or a link to a historic event.
Rural central Portugal
In the last five years or so, Portugal has become a very trendy destination, and while the capital Lisbon now suffers somewhat from over tourism during certain seasons, there is one area of the country which has yet to be explored by mass tourism – this is the rural area of Central Portugal. While the city of Lisbon received six million visitors in 2019 before the pandemic, the whole of the region of Central Portugal received only 1.6 million visitors. Loved by local Portuguese tourists, the region is characterized by soaring mountains, long golden coastlines, historic villages and castles.
Travelers can experience activities such as hiking in the Serra de Estrela Natural Park, white water rafting along the Pavia River, surfing the waves at Nazaré and bird watching at the Aveiro Lagoon. The area was recently put on the map in 2021, when the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge opened in the Arouca Geopark, known for its extraordinary geological finds.
Selected to host the Olympics in 2020, Japan’s expectation to receive a slew of visitors was scuppared by the pandemic. When the events did eventually go ahead in 2021, athletes performed to near-empty stadiums and spectators from outside of the country were nowhere to be seen.
But could 2023 be Japan’s year instead? While the country is still subject to tight COVID restrictions, a small number of tour groups are being accepted, although some travelers may prefer to sit tight until the country is back open for easy exploration. For visitors wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto, they could instead head north to the island of Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the least densely populated area of Japan, with an average of 65 people per square mile. Volcanoes, hot springs, ski resorts and the rainbow flower meadows of Shikisai-no-oka mean that Hokkaido is a great year-round destination. Despite its size, the area is home to not one, but three national parks, perfect for getting away from it all and connecting with nature. Daisetsuzan National Park, Akan Mashu National Park and Shiretoko National Park all benefit from far fewer visitors than other more famous parks near Tokyo.
Prince Edward Island, Canada
2022 was a historic year in Canada as the Canadian government, along with the Mi’kmaq indigenous people of Prince Edward Island, have made an agreement to create a new national park. The Pituamkek area, which means ‘At the Long Sand Dune’ in the native language, comprises a series of islands, sand dunes and rare geological features, and is set to become Canada’s newest national park. It is also home to several ancient Mi’kmaq archaeological sites, as well as sites of deep cultural and historical importance to the native people.
So it’s worth visiting Prince Edward Island in 2022 and 2023 for the ideal rural escape, before the park becomes a reality and inevitably attracts more visitors. Prince Edward Island itself is known for its red sand beaches, terracotta-colored cliffs and wild coastline, as well as its own national park. It is also Canada’s most rural province, with one of the highest proportion of people living in rural and small-town areas.
Highlands of Scotland
2022 marked the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. She is currently the longest reigning monarch in the world and the Platinum Jubilee celebrates her 70 years on the throne. The Queen has visited many countries on earth during her lifetime, but the country that remains one of her favorites is Scotland. Holyrood Palace is the Queen’s official Scottish residence, but Balmoral Castle is said to be the favorite of all her royal homes. This year could offer a great opportunity for visitors to discover it her majesty’s favorite haunt.
Balmoral Castle lies on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park - the UK’s largest – and is home to one quarter of Scotland’s native forest, filled with cool mountain lochs and rivers, swathes of purple heather and undulating green verdant landscapes. It’s also home to plenty of wildlife such as red deer, golden eagles, red squirrels and ospreys. What’s more, the park is full of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking or golfing on one of its 12 courses. The Cairngorms receives an average of 1.92 million people every year and around 21%of those are international visitors.
Besides nature, it’s beach escapes that travelers have been yearning for during the pandemic, and where could be better than the Caribbean? Of course, visitors are still looking for quiet destinations away from the crowds. The Nature Island of Dominica is one of the Caribbean’s least-visited countries and offers the perfect combination of beach and nature in a rural island escape. Before the pandemic, Dominica welcomed an average of around 350,000 tourists to its shores per year. This was much less than the more popular islands such as the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, which saw 6.4 million visitors and 2.6 million visitors in 2019 respectively. Covered with soaring mountains, lush rainforests and tumbling waterfalls, Dominica has a unique twist compared with other Caribbean islands. Here, visitors won’t find the classic white powder sand beaches, but black volcanic ones instead.
Adventures on Dominica include snorkeling, river tubing, hiking in the rainforests and swimming in waterfalls. It is said that the island is home to 365 rivers, one for every day of the year.