It’s time to focus on unwinding after these trying times. Credit: Andreas Dress/Unsplash

Relaxing Holidays Around Europe

Everyone needs a holiday and you’re guaranteed to enjoy one with our picks for the best long weekends

by Shandana A. Durrani

Before the pandemic, we used to spend most of our adult lives telling everyone we know that we need a holiday, even if we’d just gotten back from one. We’d use our few days off to fly somewhere at ungodly hours, rush through our destination, complain about all the other people doing the exact same thing and return home weary and exhausted. Now, everything has changed. 

COVID-19 halted non-essential travel worldwide. As Europe slowly adjusts into a post-COVID world, travel is picking up. But it’s a different kind of travel: one that is more experiential and slow-paced. One where bucolic settings that are easy to get to by bus, train or car have become the norm. 

We’ve selected five places where you can enjoy a truly relaxing holiday, from farming holidays in Austria to reading retreats in Italy. Sit back, relax and feel good about the world again.

On the farm

Set in the mountainous Tennengau region of Austria, Lammerauhof Farm in Abtenau is a family-run bed and breakfast that has been welcoming guests since 1948. The working farm, owned by Anita and Reinhard Windhofer, affords plenty of activities for your R&R: from cycling, to hiking to ping-pong. The Windhofers serve fresh milk from their cows as well as baked bread and pastries for breakfast. Bask in the mountain views as you pet rabbits, dogs, cats and their pony, Sissy. End the evening with homemade schnapps before settling in for the night. 

Lammerauhof Farm offers three apartments and total seclusion, making it a safe holiday plan for small groups. 


In the swim

We all know how to float but very few of us actually master the art of swimming. Why not use this holiday to hone your skills? Swimming has been proven to be the perfect sport: low-impact, calorie-burning and soothing to the soul. Swimquest offers week-long swimming holidays in small, controlled groups around the world. Head to Formentera, one of the smaller Balearic islands, near Ibiza, Spain, for a “Total Immersion” week. Coach James Ewart guides participants on how to swim farther, faster and without pain. Explore the island’s sandy beaches and turquoise water, which make for a pleasing respite from the bustle of Ibiza. 


King (or queen) of the castle

Europe is brimming with castles, and some of them double as hotels. Château d’Hassonville in Marche-en-Famenne, Belgium, is a 17th-century masterpiece surrounded by the Ardennes. Guests can choose from 20 tastefully appointed rooms and unwind in the outdoor sauna and hot tub. Head out on a private forest walk or rent a bike to explore on your own. If you’re even more adventurous, the hotel can arrange a falcon tour or group fencing class. 

At your arrival, you will find all the safety measures required by the Belgian government, such as masks and antibacterial gel at every entrance. The restaurant will operate at half capacity to make sure social distancing rules are followed. 


Read about it

Have you ever wanted a holiday where you do nothing but catch up on reading? That dream can become a reality at La Macchina Fissa. This eight-room villa in the Parco del Mincio near Mantova, Italy, offers reading retreats that would make any bibliophile drool with envy. Boasting 6,000 books, La Machina’s library is a veritable treasure trove of tomes and the manse also boasts more than 250 works of contemporary art. Experience the authentic Italian way of life as you help your hosts tend their garden. 


Horse sense

Is there a better way to become one with nature than riding a horse into the sunset? From first-timers to equestrians, Unicorn Trails will provide the perfect horseback riding holiday. Experienced riders who know their Arab from their Warmblood will delight in the eight-day Carcassonne Pyrenean Trail run, which spans the mountain range dividing France and Spain. If you’re a novice, opt for the short-break alternative, which lasts for only four days and provides plenty of time to sightsee and taste your way through the region. 

Relaxing Holidays Around Europe
After training with Unicorn Trails, this could be you! Credit: Simon Priss/Unsplash

The trail’s remoteness as well as participation limits—eight people max—make it an ideal excursion for anyone looking to maintain social distance.