Where to go on holiday in 2020: the alternative hotlist

Opened last year, the 270km Juliana Trail, a hiking route through the Julian Alps, takes walkers away from some of the most visited parts of Triglav national park in a bid to combat overtourism. The circular trail, which starts at Kranjska Gora near the Italian border, is divided into 16 stages, with most of the daily routes starting at a railway station or bus stop.

Bike Slovenia Green offers another way of exploring a multi-stage itinerary through the Julian Alps, around Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled and on to the Adriatic coast. The series of one-day cycling loops visits places that have a Slovenia Green certificate, such as the karst village of Komen, known for fresh cheese ravioli, fresh herbs and prosciutto. Designed by sustainable travel agency Visit GoodPlace, and funded by the EU, the bike routes go through three wine regions, and take cyclists to family-run hotels via quiet roads and cycle paths.

Also new for 2020 is a Best of Slovenia By Train trip from Inntravel. Travelling via Vienna and Venice, it makes use of Slovenia’s charming, old-fashioned rail network and takes in highlights from alpine Bohinj to capital Ljubljana and Piran on the Adriatic coast. (from £1,045 for seven nights, inntravel.co.uk).
Jane Dunford


Islands near Gothenburg, Sweden.

Explore Sweden’s eco-certified city
Almost everything you can do in Gothenburg, you can do with a clean conscience. For the past three years Sweden’s industrial second city has topped the Global Destination Sustainability Index, thanks to its efforts to “minimise any negative impact on people and the environment”. All major venues are eco-certified and 92% of hotel rooms hold an official eco-certification, making Gothenburg one of the world’s greenest hotel cities. Even the Opera HouseConcert Hall and Liseberg amusement park are eco-certified, and restaurants have good access to local and organic produce.

Step off the train at the central station – you took the train, right? –and walk five minutes to the ferry stop opposite the Opera House. The Älvsnabben ferry plies a gentle loop up and down the river and it is going electric in 2020. Gothenburg is a small big city, or maybe a big small city, with a cultural scene that includes Way Out West, a three-day summer music festival that is 100% vegetarian and has reduced its carbon footprint year on year. And, in half an hour, you can be deep in the Bohuslän countryside, or kayaking upriver to picturesque Jonsered, with its sustainable hotel Le Mat.

The Hagabion cafe and bar in the central Linné area is renowned for a vegetarian menu that changes daily. People gather here, too, for a drink before moving on to the many other restaurants, bars and venues nearby. At the heart of the city is the Gothia Towers hotel, the biggest hotel in Europe to be certified according to the Breeam standard for environmental certification. Out of season, rooms can be had for £100, though a luxury room with access to the spa and glass-bottomed pool on the 19th floor will cost (much) more.

The kitchen garden on the roof boasts Sweden’s highest apiary, with 150,000 bees. The garden produce is Krav-certified for sustainability and, like the herbs and spices grown here, the honey is used in the dishes of the Upper House restaurant, and in its own beer (brewed in-house).

 Sauna at Frihamnen. Photograph: Beatrice Törnros

For the energetic, Gothenburg hosts the world’s largest half marathon, with more than 60,000 runners. It also has many events for cyclists and swimmers, including the world’s biggest annual swim-run event (1 August). Hire a bike to see the city and explore further afield. Put the bikes on the train for the 20-minute trip to the town of Kungsbacka, and cycle around Lygnern lake. Alternatively, stick to the southern coastal path from the centre to Särö island.

There is no shortage of spots for wild swimming at lakes in and around Gothenburg. A short bus ride away is Gunnebo Slott manor house and gardens, with its organic restaurant – and lakes nearby. Typing badplats (bathing spot) into Google Maps will bring up a wealth of places with wooden quays and ladders into the water. There’s canoe hire on Surtesjön lake and nearby waters on the northern edge of the city, and sea-bathing to the south at Näset. On the island of Tjörn, further north, the Pilane outdoor sculpture park is breathtaking. For unwinding afterwards, there’s a free public sauna at Frihamnen, across the river from central Gothenburg.
David Crouch

Val di Vara

Grazing cows, Val di Vara, Italy

Italy’s ‘greenest’ valley
The rolling Vara valley in north-west Italy is not unusual in suffering a haemorrhage of young people from rural communities but it is unusual in its response: going greener. At the turn of the century, thanks to an enlightened mayor, farmers up and down the valley, which runs parallel to the coast between Genoa and La Spezia, started switching to organic production. The idea spread to hotels and restaurants, artisanal producers and tourist initiatives and led, in 2013, to the creation of the Val di Vara Biodistrict, to represent the businesses and run community events.

Today, 55% of the valley’s 345 sq km of hilly terrain is under organic cultivation – compared with 11% in Italy as a whole (which in itself puts the UK’s 2.9% to shame). And more than 100 business have organic certification. Farmers around San Pietro Vara are raising “wild” Limousin cattle with barely any human input and the Val di Vara dairy co-op makes cheeses to ancient recipes.

The area’s Bio Festival, launched in 2018, is now an annual event, with streetfood, games, livestock shows and music. And last summer the Biodistrict started running full-day bus tours of the valley from Levanto on the coast (€47 adult, €25 child, family 2+2 €141, including lunch and tastings).

In the past few years, young locals have opened five farms to the public and started 13 agriturismos, offering rustic rooms and farmhouse meals, plus jams, liqueurs, olive oil or meat to buy. Try Il Risveglio Naturale or Il Filo di Paglia. Local cycling enthusiast Marco runs five-hour e-bike tours of the valley – in Italian and English – from agriturismo L’Antico Cornio, with tastings of focaccia, cured meats, cheeses and wine (€60pp, book at foodyexperience.com).

The capital of Val di Vara is Varese Ligure, a walled town dating from 1161, with a castle, medieval churches and a 16th-century stone bridge. On a small riverside square, Pietro Picetti, who is in his 70s, hand-carves wooden moulds for stamping corzetti (or croxetti), the local, disc-shaped pasta – once with prominent families’ coat of arms; now often just with pleasing patterns, or your initials! Visitors can have an organic lunch of corzetti pasta with walnut sauce at Albergo Amici in Varese Ligure, before stocking up on foodie gifts from, say, honey and fruit farm Cascina le Bosche or herb and saffron producer Le Piccole Erbe. Dinner could be at the equally organic Antica Locanda Luigina in Mattarana.

To work up an appetite for all this bounty, the Vara river and its tributaries offer kayaking, rafting and canyoning (valdivara.it) and the area is crisscrossed by footpaths including the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri – a 400km ridgetop cycling/hiking route. There’s more adrenaline action on the high ropes and zipwires of Parco Avventura Val Di Vara.
Liz Boulter

Flims Laax Falera

Films Laax Falera Ski Resort in Switzerland.

Eco-snow sports, Swiss-style
The Flims Laax Falera region in eastern Switzerland’s Graubünden canton is well-endowed with natural beauty but there’s a particularly primeval air to the landscape here. For starters there’s the Rhine Gorge, known in the local Romansh language as Ruinaulta and more commonly as the Swiss grand canyon. After a huge landslide thousands of years ago, the Rhine scoured a path through the debris, creating what is now a dramatic summer playground for hikers, rafters and bikers. Hikers can also explore the Unesco site of Sardona, where tectonic plates once crunched together, pushing the rock upwards and leaving a distinct limestone line across the mountains.

Winter offers snowy walking trails, pro-standard snowparks and 224km of slopes in three linked ski areas. With the highest piste topping 3,000 metres, snow is reliable, yet as in many other Swiss resorts, Flims Laax Falera has recently seen its snowline creep upwards and its ski season shorten. Its plans to tackle the climate crisis are more ambitious than most.

In 2010 the Weisse Arena Gruppe, which operates the ski resort, introduced a Greenstyle project, aiming to gradually transform itself into the world’s first self-sufficient, carbon-neutral alpine resort. Energy consumption has fallen by 15% over seven years, and all its electricity now comes from carbon-neutral sources. Ski lifts generate power through photovoltaic panels and waste energy is recovered and reused; piste bashers groom slopes at optimum energy efficiency; and the Rocksresort has twice been named best green ski hotel at the World Ski Awards.

The three villages all have water refill fountains, recycling stations and charging points for electric cars, while an e-shuttle is bookable on the resort’s app, with proceeds going to the Greenstyle Foundation. And this winter, a new weekly repair service at the Riders Hotel will mend ski clothing for free. Test out your rejuvenated gear on the slopes before stopping for a drink at the piste-hopping Travelling Bar, which is also doing its bit – 10% of turnover goes to Greenstyle.
Caroline Bishop


Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

A vision of the urban future
Rotterdam is a city that’s not afraid to experiment. From the architecture of Rem Koolhaas, one of its most famous sons, to the annual Rooftops Festival, which in 2019 saw 65 rooftops repurposed to host events, Europe’s largest port is a fascinating living laboratory for anyone interested in what urban living might look like in the coming years. There’s even a Sponge Garden for studying how best urban green spaces can be used to capture and hold rainwater and return it to the natural environment.

Many of the city’s innovations are focused on a waste-free circular economy. It’s home to the world’s first floating farm, where 32 cows are fed on scraps from local hotels and restaurants, and produce milk for city residents and manure for Rotterdam’s flowerbeds. And at Blue City, a former indoor subtropical swimming complex has been repurposed to provide workspace for more than 30 startups working in the circular economy. “Waste” coffee granules from the Aloha Bar-Restaurant become soil for the mushrooms grown by a neighbouring startup; another is fashioning fruit peelings into leather.

Culture Campsite Rotterdam
 A sleeping pod at Culture Campsite. Photograph: Heeman-Fotografie

From 1 May, visitors wanting to immerse themselves in the city’s vision can stay in one of Culture Campsite’s spaces in the riverside Delfshaven district, with choices of upcycled “sleeping objects” including a greenhouse, a silo and a cattle shelter.

Although Rotterdam’s main attractions tend to look to the future, it has not forgotten where its citizens came from. With around 180 nationalities calling the city home, it has a claim to be one of the most multicultural in the world. A great place to understand this richness is the Story House Belvédère. This community-run enterprise in the Katendrecht district is part-cafe, part-gallery and part-events space. Headphones lining the walls play recordings gathered from around Rotterdam, sharing the voices of the many cultures that give the city its character, and there are exhibitions by its annual immigrant artist in residence.
Jeremy Smith


A caixer (horse rider) rears up on his horse during the traditional Sant Antoni festival in Fornells, Menorca.

Marine protection and sustainability to savour
Menorcans realised early that a sustainable approach to tourism was essential for avoiding the overdevelopment that has spoiled so much of the Mediterranean coast in Spain. A Unesco biosphere reserve since 1993, the island has crystal-clear waters, a thriving local culture and unique gastronomy.

The best way to access the white sandy beaches of the south and rocky coves of the north is via the Camí de Cavalls, an ancient path for mounted soldiers connecting defensive lookouts that encircles the island. Thanks to pressure from a local NGO, it was reopened as a public right of way in 2010 and is now much-loved by Menorcans and visitors alike for walking, cycling or horse-riding.

Since 2016, the Balearic Islands has collected a sustainable tourism tax and used it to fund local conservation initiatives such as the Underwater Atlas project, which maps the seagrass beds essential to the marine ecosystem so that they are not disturbed by boat anchors. Snorkelling around the coves to the east of Binimel-là beach you’ll find waters bursting with life – look out for octopus and even the odd Moray eel. Last year, some 20 sq km of coastal waters was added to the existing Unesco biosphere reserve, making it the largest protected marine environment in the Mediterranean.

View over Cala Pregondo and Cala Pregonda, near Fornells, North Coast, Menorca, Balearic Islands, Spain, Europe
 Cove near Fornells on the north of the island. Photograph: Penny Atkinson/Alamy

The ferry from Barcelona arrives in the second largest town, Ciutadella, at the western end of the island. There, on 23-24 June each year, the Fiestas de Sant Joan brings parades of Menorcan horses, jousting and fireworks. Enjoy the festivities with a pomada – a mix of lemonade and distinctive Menorcan gin – legacy of a century of British rule. The British also left a taste for butter, which features in many local recipes.

Stay at Ses Sucreres (doubles from €95 B&B) in the pretty, whitewashed village of Ferreries in the centre of the island, and visit the homemade produce market in Plaça Espanya, held on Saturday mornings, to sample the Mahón-Menorca cheese, with its distinctive sharp, salty flavour. Seafood also plays a huge role in local cuisine – Es Cranc restaurant in the tiny northern port of Fornells is known for its outstanding caldereta (lobster stew). Menorca is currently in the running for European Region of Gastronomy 2022.
Annette Pacey


Aerial shot of Superkilen Park, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Carbon-neutral capital
Shopping, sightseeing and museums are the mainstays of most city breaks. Copenhagen has all these – but where else could you go skiing in the city centre, or float in the clear water of open-air harbour baths? CopenHill, a huge new urban ski slope, was built atop a renewable waste-to-energy power plant. As well as skiing and snowboarding, it has running and hiking trails, and the world’s highest outdoor climbing wall.

For outdoor bathing, there are several options, such as the central Islands Brygge baths or the Nordhavn quarter, which has boardwalks, cafes and a beachy vibe. Real seaside isn’t far from the city: Amager Beach Park is an easy 5km bike ride away and has miles of white sand, islands and a lagoon. Other activities in town include sailing in solar-powered GoBoats and kayaking.

Copenhagen has pledged to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. It is well on the way to reaching its goal, so is already a great place for a sustainable stay. It’s one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, so explore it on two wheels – there are many hire points, 375km of cycle tracks and several pedestrian/bike bridges over the harbour.

Public transport is excellent, and expanding: the metro’s new City Circle line now links the centre with the neighbourhoods of Østerbro, Nørrebro, Frederiksberg and Vesterbro, and another new line opens this year, connecting the northern harbour.

Gro Spiseri restaurant, Copenhagen, Denmark.
 Gro Spiseri restaurant

Noma put the Copenhagen food scene on the map with its use of ultra-local ingredients and innovative takes on traditional techniques but there are plenty of other restaurants with great food and low carbon footprints. Gro Spiseri is a rooftop farm-cum-restaurant where diners eat in the greenhouses, and Baest has its own microdairy producing cheese from biodynamic Danish milk.

More than two-thirds of the city’s hotels hold an eco-certificate. One of the newest is the industrial-chic Hotel Ottilia (doubles from £120 B&B), converted from two former brewery buildings in the emerging Carlsberg City district. It serves an organic breakfast, has a free “wine hour” from 5pm-6pm and the rooftop restaurant has views over the city.

To get to Copenhagen from the UK without flying, take the Eurostar and onward trains to Brussels, Cologne or Hamburg, stay overnight, then continue to Copenhagen the next morning. (Stopping at one city on the way there and another on the way back adds to the fun.) Details at seat61.com
Rachel Dixon


Vineyard on the Nussberg, Vienna.

Hikes, bikes – and affordable public transport
Austria’s capital and the “world’s most livable city for 10 consecutive years”, is surrounded by vineyards and woods, and dotted with gardens and parks, which together make up around 50% of the urban area. Former imperial parks are incorporated into the Lainz game reserve, the Lobau Unesco biosphere reserve in the Donau-Auen national park, and the well-known Prater park, whose grounds accompany a famed funfair. The city has 240km of signposted hiking trails through the Vienna Woods and other recreational areas, all accessible by public transport.

The public rental bike system, Citybike Vienna, allows you to crisscross cobblestone streets to canalside avenues and sample the 300km of paths on the Wienerwald Cycle Route and the extensive Danube Cycle Path.

The city has spent €8m on tree planting as part of initiatives to redesign parks and streets. Zieglergasse in the 7th district is Vienna’s first climate-adapted street, completed in December 2019. With drinking fountains, cooling arches, garden and shaded areas, alongside more space for bikes, it has been dubbed the “Cool Mile”. Nearby Neubaugasse, in the same district, will unveil a similar redesign in mid-January, for planned completion by autumn. Construction of a “Cooling Park” in the adjacent 6th district’s Esterházypark is due in spring 2020, and will include two “climate trees” made of three-metre-high mist showers within an expanded shaded, green space.

Urban gardening is common, on organic city farms and private allotments, aided by some of the city’s 200 million bees in beehives atop the Vienna State Opera, the Burgtheater and the Old General Hospital. Some districts hold weekly local farmers’ markets, although the main central markets of Naschmarkt, Karmelitermarkt and Brunnenmarkt at Yppenplatz all feature local vendors selling organic produce. Access to fresh mountain water is the norm, with 1,000 free drinking fountains throughout the city.

Vienna is proud of its affordable and accessible transport system: the annual inner-city transport card costs €1 a day. With a focus on lowering car usage, the Friday Nightskating event invites people to take to the streets on skates and bikes, as a way to encourage people to see the city without noise or pollution. A push to get more people to use the extensive rail network is backed by Austria’s train operator, OBB. The addition of services to Brussels and northern Romania, on top of routes to neighbouring countries, will establish Vienna as the best-connected city by rail in Europe in 2020.
Becki Enright


European Brown Bear (Ursus arctos arctos) adult, walking in woodland, Transylvania, Romania,

Bears, bison and biodiversity
You don’t have to fly to southern Africa to go on safari – Romania is one of the best places in Europe to see large mammals in the wild. The country has seven million hectares of forests – a significant proportion is ancient virgin woodland – and is home to the continent’s largest populations of brown bears, as well as wolves and lynx.

Among organisations working to protect the wilderness is Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), which has ambitious plans to create the largest forested national park in Europe. Focusing on restoring degraded forests and the wider ecosystem, FCC recently launched an ecotourism programme, including bear tracking. It has built four wildlife hides and trains specialised guides for one- and multi-day trips. FCC is also rolling out a four-year bison reintroduction programme in the region’s Făgăraș mountains, in partnership with the ProPark Foundation for Protected Areas and Conservation Capital. The first animals will be released into the wild this spring.

Besides benefiting local communities through wildlife tourism, the reintroduction of bison – which disappeared from Romania 200 years ago – will also increase biodiversity. In a separate venture by Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania, the European commission-funded Life Bison project has already released 60 animals in Carpathia’s Tarcu and Poiana Ruscă mountains, with more to come this year. Bison-tracking holidays in the area are offered by the European Safari Company (part of Rewilding Europe). A two-night experience costs from €299, including guiding and meals. The Bison Hillock Association, also involved in the project, offers a choice of trips, too, with hiking, cycling and homestay options.

While the country faces issues with extensive illegal logging (two rangers were killed last autumn trying to protect the forests, and protesters took to the streets in November demanding more government action), ecotourism is increasing steadily.

“There are challenges but ecotourism is growing organically here and lots of small-scale ethical businesses are opening, using local guides and produce, with the money staying in the community,” said Andrei Blumer, president of the Association of Eco-Tourism in Romania.

In the Danube Delta, new conservation projects include the reintroduction of water buffalo on Ermakov island. “We have amazing nature and wildlife and offer something unique in Europe,” said Blumer.
Jane Dunford


Utsjoki, Finland.

Native culture and natural beauty
It may not come as a surprise that a country led by a 34-year-old female prime minister and an all-female coalition is also a world leader in progressive environmental policies. Among the Finnish coalition’s key policies is a pledge to become a carbon-neutral country by 2035. Tourism is playing its part, with a rigorous sustainability policy that puts protection of the country’s natural environment first.

In Helsinki, where nature trails and clean coastal waters are part of the fabric of everyday life, more than 75% of hotel rooms are certified as environment-friendly. Some even feature a carbon calculator so guests can measure the impact of their stay and get tips on reducing it. The city’s Think Sustainably initiative encourages attractions to use green energy sources, compensate visitor emissions and incorporate social responsibility into their business practise, through their recruitment policies and by donating part of their profits to good causes. The flagship and architecturally striking Art museum, Amos Rex, uses renewable energy supplier Ekosähkö; while urban sauna Loyly – built from sustainably-sourced wood – serves organic food in its restaurant and plans to offer leftover meals for sale at a discount to cut back on waste. Helsinki is also at the forefront of responsible fashion with stores selling upcycled or secondhand clothes and several fashion “libraries” that have clothes for loan.

But a commitment to protect nature – and people – runs the length and breadth of the country. In Utsjoki, the northernmost municipality, the 1,200-strong community is reinventing its tourism, after new regulations put an end to salmon fishing, once its largest source of income. Now Utsjoki is promoting its wilderness and Sami culture through mountain biking, kayaking, snow-shoeing and visiting the three villages to experience modern Sami culture, where reindeer husbandry is still a significant part of life.

In the east, local company Äksyt Ämmät runs small-group tours of the forest, rivers and lakes of North Karelia. These are hosted by local guides and offer stays in small, family-run guesthouses: from a two-hour snow-shoeing tour through Koli national park (adults from €30; children €15) to a week on an island on Lake Saimaa (from €1,328pp) cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing and meeting villagers.

In the autumn, Finland went a step further in its mission to create a tourism industry built on the long-term preservation of the environment, by introducing a tourism pledge, and encouraging visitors to not just enjoy nature but to “respect and treasure” it, too.
Isabel Choat


Aqueduto da Amoreira, Amoreira Aqueduct, 16th century, in Elvas, Alto Alentejo, Portugal.

Making tourism a force for good
Tourism has been a game-changer for Portugal, making Lisbon and, more recently, Porto into weekend hotspots with boutique hotels and hipster bars and restaurants. This has not been without a cost – one that’s been borne primarily by local residents and businesses, who find themselves forced out of neighbourhoods by rising rents. Acknowledging that this growth was too rapid, the government is determined that a planned increase in visitor numbers will be managed sustainably, spreading tourism across the country – and the seasons – and putting local people first.

It is three years into a 10-year sustainability strategy under which millions of euros has been invested in a variety of programmes aimed at boosting tourism beyond the honeypot destinations. One such programme is Revive, designed to breathe new life into abandoned or run-down heritage sites. One of the first – of 33 – to open was Vila Galé, a former convent converted into a hotel in Elvas, a Unesco-listed but overlooked town near the Spanish border. A similar scheme, Revive Natura, will do the same for rural sites, such as former rangers’ cottages.

In the southern Alentejo, the largest artificial lake in Europe, Alqueva, was once ignored even by locals but is now a destination with water sports, beach areas, boutique hotels and a dark sky reserve.

By 2027, 90% of tourism businesses will have to comply with rules governing water, waste and energy use, with help from government funding. Underpinning it all is a commitment to turn tourism into a force for good. A recent study found that just 30% of people in major cities are happy with tourism; the goal is to increase that to 90% by 2027.
Isabel Choat



New RHS Garden Bridgewater Tree planting in the Paradise Garden at RHS Garden Bridgewater.

Europe’s biggest gardening project
More than 700 volunteer gardeners have been busy in Salford, removing invasive species from a 154-acre site and planting more welcome ones, including 40,000 crocus bulbs for a dazzling spring display. They are not toiling alone: a small herd of rare-breed pigs has been clearing brambles and digging over the soil. Oh, and there are quite a few professional gardeners on board, too.

This is the new RHS Garden Bridgewater, the biggest gardening project in Europe. The £30m-plus site is due to open this summer on the site of Worsley New Hall, a 19th-century mansion on the edge of the city that was demolished in the 1940s. It is the RHS’s first new garden in 17 years and first urban garden, it has been designed by landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith. A million annual visitors are expected to generate £13.8m a year for the local economy by 2029, with 140 jobs in the garden itself and 180 more in the surrounding area.

Community is at the heart of this garden. Richard Green, the head of Bridgewater, says: “There is no other garden like this in the north-west of England, not on this scale. It is a mix of stunning horticulture and a place for people.”

As well as the green-fingered volunteers, GPs are already referring patients to the garden through a “social prescribing” pilot scheme, whereby people struggling with isolation, mobility problems and other conditions are prescribed activities such as gardening. A dedicated therapeutic gardener, Ozichi Brewster, leads this programme, which has so far helped 40 people. Patients can plant hanging baskets, make bug hotels, go on woodland walks or join tai chi and yoga sessions in the wellbeing garden, a hub for community organisations such as dementia support groups and veterans.

Young people have also been helping in the garden under the National Citizen Service. Soon there will be classrooms and a learning garden – about 7,000 local schoolchildren will be invited every year – and apprenticeship schemes. Adults can garden in community allotments in the walled garden; four of the plots will be dedicated to growing produce for a local food bank. There are also demonstration areas to inspire visitors to transform their own gardens.

Other prominent features include a kitchen garden, providing fruit and vegetables for the cafe; a Chinese garden created with Greater Manchester’s Chinese community; and a calming “paradise garden” with a huge pond. A wild woodland play area with hobbit holes, a bug garden and a low ropes course is designed to help children of all ages get outside, connect with nature and socialise away from screens.

Those who can’t wait for the official opening in the summer can book a two-hour guided tour (£5, until April). Or why not join the green army? The garden is recruiting now for its next batch of volunteers.

Opens summer 2020. Free entry for RHS members, and for Salford residents every Tuesday for the first year. Everyone else can have two free visits a year.
Rachel Dixon


The Scots pines of Glen Feshie near Kingussie in the Cairngorms, Scotland.

Ambitious habitat restoration project
It’s easy to presume that the Cairngorms national park, with its ancient woodlands, peat bogs, untamed rivers and forbidding mountains, is faring well when it comes to conservation. But in fact, much of its native flora and fauna has been damaged by hundreds of years of poor management and a burgeoning deer population. One organisation is now helping turn the tide by putting together the most ambitious vision for habitat restoration Britain has ever seen.

Cairngorms Connect is a collaborative habitat restoration project launched in 2019, with funding from Endangered Landscapes Programme, covering 600 sq km (13% of the Cairngorms national park). The area contains some of the UK’s most prized ecosystems – from its only sub-Arctic montane plateau to forests that are home to pine martens, wild cats, eagles, capercaillie and rare tooth-fungi.

Committing to an ecological timeframe of 200 years (there’s no room for a short-term mentality here), neighbouring land managers — including Wildland, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry and Land Scotland — will work together to restore native woodlands, peatlands, wetlands and rivers.

In 2020, visitors will get a better sense of the project thanks to a newly refurbished visitor centre, interpretive walks and volunteering opportunities. Since 1959, when it was just a caravan parked on borrowed land, the Loch Garten Osprey Centre in Abernethy has grown into the RSPB’s second-largest and most diverse reserve, home to more than 5,000 species. Thanks to funding from European Structural Funds, the centre will in 2020 be renamed and refurbished with improved access, and open for eight months of the year: the Loch Garten Nature Centre will help explain Cairngorms Connect as part of a wider conservation story.

Beyond the centre, interpretive walks will be added to the Big Pines and Two Lochs trails to enhance understanding of the UK’s largest single remnant of ancient Caledonian pinewood.

While Cairngorms Connect’s focus for 2020 is getting local communities involved, visitors will get a look-in, too. Volunteers can join one-day projects from seed collecting to planting (once live, opportunities will be advertised on the Cairngorms Connect website).

Rewilding tour operator Scotland: The Big Picture has launched a four-day Wilderness Weekend: Cairngorms Connect (15-18 May, from £765pp), which takes visitors on a conservation-oriented journey through the diverse landscapes.

Also opening in the region next year, as part of the Cairngorms national park’s net zero by 2045 vision, is a Speyside Way extension and a Strathspey electric bike project.
Holly Tuppen

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