Rainbow-coloured flower fields, jagged peaks, crystal ice fields, verdant valleys and tall golden reeds from which shy animals peer out — these are all the makings of postcard-perfect landscapes that have been the subject of artistic expression since the age of watercolour paintings.
The Picassos of yesteryear have evolved to include amateur photographers, pros armed with top-of-the-range DSLRs and enthusiastic Instagrammers; indeed, many nature seekers invariably feel compelled to make, and share, impressions of the glorious outdoors. Whether you are one of these or a nature lover who prefers to take in all the beauty with his or her own eyes, picturesque natural landscapes are simply irresistible to any urban jungle dweller.
So, heed the call of Nature and take time off to explore the great outdoors at these five scenic locales this year!
Lake District, United Kingdom
Dramatic fells, sunny meadows with burrowing rabbits, glistening lakes and historic castles where tales of the supernatural abound — such is the allure of the idyllic Lake District that has enthralled many English literary writers such as William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, and there’s hardly any reason why you shouldn’t be. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth, the magic of Peter Rabbit will be in full force this year with special art exhibitions and storytelling sessions that run March through October; the district will also be abuzz with the anticipation of being inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (it is the UK’s nomination for 2016).
And while you’re visiting the UK, don’t forget to check out the many flower shows in England’s famous gardens, during the designated Year of the English Garden.
The Dolomites may be a UNESCO World Heritage Site and top skiing destination, but this mountainous region in northern Italy is not familiar to many Asians. Perhaps, the time has come to give this giant the attention it deserves. Already packed with ski runs, hotels and fabulous hiking trails in the region — the Alta Via 1 was named one of 25 incredible hikes in the world by Business Insider — the Dolomites has kicked off its new winter season with an extensive upgrade of ski facilities across the board. To up the ante, the Dolomite hotel scene has a new addition to the fold — the family-run NaturHotel Miraval — while luxury hotel Rosa Alpina expanded its wellness offerings with an entire new wing. There’s also the swanky new Messner Mountain Museum (MMM) Corones, one of six museums created by Italian explorer Reinhold Messner dedicated to the history of mountaineering, built right into the rock of Kronplatz, offering breathtaking views of the Dolomites.
This spring, the flower fields, bubbling onsens and powder snow of Hokkaido will be within easier reach from Tokyo following the official launch of the Hokkaido Shinkansen. From 26th March 2016, instead of taking a flight from Tokyo, you now have another — and cheaper — option of taking a direct high-speed train from the capital to Shin-Hakodate in the southern part of Hokkaido in under four hours. Less explored destinations such as the scenic Aomori Prefecture in northern Honshu and the cherry blossoms of Matsumae Castle can also be easily visited en-route. One highlight of the train journey — prepare for a long stretch of near pitch-darkness during the crossing from the main Honshu Island to Hokkaido as the train descends into the Seikan Tunnel, one of the world’s longest and deepest undersea tunnels built beneath the Tsugaru Strait.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Following the controversial killing of Cecil the Lion last year, the international spotlight has again been cast on trophy hunting in Africa. Botswana, which celebrates its 50th year of independence this year, is a trailblazer, having banned animal hunting within its borders since 2013. The strict anti-poaching legislation has allowed wildlife to thrive in Botswana, and what better place to admire the game than in Okavango Delta, the only wetland wilderness remaining in Africa. The delta presents the unique option of a tranquil cruise in a traditional mokoro canoe beyond the usual safari game drive. Save for the splash of the paddle and cries of the kingfisher, prepare to lose yourself in the beauty and silence of nature as your guides steers past frolicking hippos, bathing elephants, exotic birds, and all kinds of wildlife imaginable.
News of the Northern Lights possibly less visible for the next decade may spark a rush to see the aurora borealis. But rather than booking yourself on a ‘more traditional’ igloo experience in Finland or mainland Norway, Svalbard — a group of Norwegian islands in the Far North — may be worth visiting for a true Arctic experience. Away from the crowds, you are met with serenity in a landscape of endless white marked by glaciers, ice caves, fjords, and streaks of colourful dancing lights that cut through the dark winter sky. Arctic animals such as walruses, foxes and reindeers roam the untouched wilderness, but even this wintry haven is not spared from rising temperatures and increased glacial melting that are threatening the survival of its resident polar bears. In short, visit it while you can.