• Retreat and relax: Top national parks for soothing breaks

    Retreat and relax: Top national parks for soothing breaks

    Digital detoxes are becoming a well-known basis for breaks. Casting aside your smartphones and laptops is easily achievable (with enough willpower!) in virtually any holiday context – but recently, a new trend is taking things one step further.

    This is the concept of ‘Restival’. Restival itself is an event staged in different destinations across the world each year, and it’s relatively small – catering for approximately 100 people – who are looking to disconnect from their digital devices and reconnect with themselves, nature and other people. Designed to promote overall wellness and relaxation, these events are midway between a meditation-style retreat (the key difference being they are much less cut off than this kind of break typically is) and a festival (without the rowdier elements). On these breaks, activities such as yoga and meditation are freely available, but guests are encouraged to create their own schedules and do as they please.

    However, already Restival is beginning to enter the common consciousness as more than a particular brand of holidays, becoming as much a concept in its own right. Indeed, it can provide more than a little inspiration for crafting your own relaxing holiday – a holiday that isn’t just about unwinding, but reconnecting with yourself, with nature, and with who you’re travelling with.

    With that in mind, we have put together a list of some of the very best national parks to visit if you want to escape the digital and rediscover yourself and the natural world.

    Belluno Dolomites National Park

    Fly to: Venice
    Journey time from Venice: An hour and 20 minutes via the A27

    Situated in north-eastern Italy, Belluno Dolomites National Park is the perfect place to relax and bask in the beauty of the celebrated Dolomites mountain range. It is particularly beautiful in the spring and summer, when it’s liberally sprinkled with colourful wildflowers. This park is home to some fantastic hiking routes, so expect to see plenty of hikers during your visit – especially if you come here between late June and early September. And if you’re a keen hiker yourself, you may want to join them – there are six high-altitude walking trails that are particularly famous, known as the Alte Vie delle Dolomiti. There are also plenty of gentler nature trails, including the Val di Canzoi and the Val Falcina.

    Alternatively, the park’s wonderful mix of dramatic ravines, cliffs and wildlife makes for great leisurely sightseeing, so you’ll find ample opportunity for gentle strolls and quiet meditation in the open air – and, of course, the chance to simply sit, clear your mind and enjoy the view. Particularly worth a look are the Park Gateways, including Valle dell’Ardo, Val Pramper and Val di San Martino.

    There are plenty of charming places to stay in the reserve, including mountain huts, apartments and B&Bs, where you can wake up with serene views of the mountains.

    Ecrins National Park

    Fly to: Grenoble
    Journey time from Grenoble: 45 minutes via the D1091

    Few locations offer such dramatic and sublime scenery as the Alps; it’s hard to imagine a better place to relax and reconnect in. Fly to Nice and you’ll be just a 45-minute drive from the stunning Ecrins National Park, which is one of the country’s largest. Home to approximately 700 kilometres of footpaths, this destination is made up of steep valleys, tranquil lakes, lush meadows and, of course, dramatic mountain peaks.

    Taking a stroll here is also the ideal way to reconnect with the past – many of the footpaths here have stood for centuries, having historically been used by the likes of shepherds and smugglers.

    It’s a wonderful destination for a variety of other outdoor activities too, if you’re keen for a little exercise while you enjoy the peace and quiet around you. For example, the park is very popular among climbers, while there are also some great spots for skiing – such as Puy-Saint-Vincent – tucked away among the peaks. Alternatively, why not pay a visit to one of the many designated natural reserves in the area, such as Vallee de la Severaisse or Cirque du Lac des Estaris?

    As a quick tip, it’s worth paying a visit to one of the many local information centres, known as Maisons du Parc, to help make the most of your trip.

    Mljet National Park

    Fly to: Dubrovnik

    Journey time from Dubrovnik: 2 hour ferry

    If you are wanting to escape the towns of Dubrovnik then you must see Mljet.  Departing early in the morning and leaving in the evenings you can take advantage of the ferries when island hopping around Croatia. Mljet is blooming with beautiful bright greenery and crystal blue waters. Take in all the nature and spectacular views on a bike which you can rent once you reach the island. For all explorers make sure you see the Odysseus Cave which you can swim through or see by foot. The cave creates a beautiful spectrum of colour in the summer days and is the perfect excursion for keen photographers and swimmers.

    Arrabida Natural Park

    Fly to: Lisbon
    Journey time from Lisbon: 30 minutes via the N10

    Little-known among tourists, Arrabida Natural Park is just a 30-minute drive from Lisbon. It’s an incredibly beautiful spot, pairing a dramatic coastline with wood-covered slopes and fascinating wildlife. Reaching up to a height of 500 metres, the Serra da Arrabida provides ample scope for getting away from it all, whether you’re keen to walk in the fresh air among the abundant Mediterranean plants, or you’d rather relax on one of its endlessly tempting golden beaches, such as Portinho da Arrabida, or tranquil sandy coves.

    There are plenty of waymarked paths to venture along by bike or on foot, and these are the best way to discover all the treasures the park has to offer. It’s also worth paying a visit to the beautiful Sado Estuary Nature Reserve while you’re here, where you can get to know the both the local landscape and culture by taking a trip on one of the galeoes do sal (traditional boats). Along the way, look out for dolphins playing in the water, and the incredible array of local birdlife.

    Keen to get away from it all? Read our top tips for a digital escape.

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