Top 10 trips for novice thrill seekers
From kitesurfing in Mauritius and rock climbing in Canada to swim trekking in Cumbria, you don't have to be an sports expert to enjoy a serious outdoor challenge. Mark Rowe offers action-packed adventures for beginners
Sunday 25 February 2007
1 . Splash out at the lakes
A lake is no place for absolute beginners but swim-trekking is no longer the sole preserve of would-be triathletes. Specialist companies offering guided swims across some of Britain's - and indeed Europe's - most beautiful waterscapes now actively encourage competent swimmers who may be daunted by the challenge of swimming more than 25 metres before reaching the side of a pool.
The Lake District is one of the most popular places for swim- trekking. With a lack of motor craft on most of the lakes, combined with the enforcement of speed limits on Windermere, the conditions for swim-trekking have never been better.
A typical day involves swimming across a selection of the isolated and dramatic Western lakes of Crummock Water, Buttermere and Wast Water, half a mile wide and, at 260ft, Britain's deepest lake.
The package: Swimtrek (020-8696 6220; swimtrek.com) offers a two-day swimming course in the Lake District from £215 per person, including half-board. The accommodation is based on two people sharing.
The company also offers similar excursions to the Scilly Isles, the Hebrides, the Virgin Islands and Croatia.
2 . Surf the skies with a kite
Kitesurfing - literally named, as it does indeed involve surfing while being pulled by a kite - is one of the world's fastest growing extreme sports.
It is also an activity where beginners are more likely to spend time on their backside than whisking along the shoreline, so professional lessons are generally considered essential before you let yourself loose on the open sea - crashed kites have an alarming propensity to re-launch themselves unexpectedly.
Smooth waters, consistent wind and empty beaches are best and, while there are good locations in the UK, the sheltered expanses of Mauritius put some distance between you and the experts.
Typically, courses last 10 hours, and teach you the basics, correct movements and how to react to unexpected situations. Theory lessons include safety rules and guidelines, while simulators help to provide a better feel for the techniques and tips.
The package: Kuoni Travel (01306 747008; kuoni.co.uk) offers seven nights at Les Pavillons, Mauritius, on half-board including flights and transfers, from £1,149 per person based on two sharing. Kite surfing trips can be organised through the hotel at the adjacent Club Mistral. A starter course lasting 10 hours is spread over several days and costs £215.
3 . Take climbing to the extreme
While images of extreme climbers teetering on the edge of yawning chasms can be enough to induce vertigo in sofa-huggers, the sport is keen to offer classes to beginners.
Lessons teach basic safety and rope techniques for climbing outdoors and rock climbing movement skills, and novices can soon climb between 30m and 100m (you're strapped into a secure harness, so will not fall down). One of the most thrilling locations to pick up this sport is the Canadian Rockies surrounding Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise.
Here, the rocks of sandstone, limestone and quartzite mean you can climb in different spectacular locations every day. All that is required is a reasonable degree of fitness.
The package: Canadian Affair (020-7616 9933; canadianaffair.com) offers a seven-night holiday from £518 per person. This includes seven nights' room-only accommodation in Banff based on two sharing, and return flights from Gatwick to Calgary.
A two-day rock introduction course can be booked through Yamnuska Mountain Adventures (001 403 678 4164; yamnuska.com) and costs £112, including all equipment. More information is also available at travelalberta.com.
4 . Learn kayaking in clear waters
Sea kayaking is one of the most portable activities across the globe. Yet if you want to avoid being the kayaker who goes around in circles or capsizes, a beginner's course is a wise idea. Among the most attractive locations is the Adriatic Sea off Croatia, where the Elaphiti Islands run in a chain parallel to the mainland and boast an ideal sea kayaking environment, with calm inlets, caves and harbours.
English-speaking guides will help you earn your stripes, after which you can paddle between the densely wooded islands or hug the coves off Dubrovnik. In turn, the city, which now has Unesco World Heritage status, makes for a fine base for the holiday.
The package: Original Travel (020-7978 7333 ; originaltravel.co.uk) offers a five-night stay at the four-star Hotel Uvala in the Lapad area of Dubrovnik, from £645 per person, based on two sharing. The cost includes three days' private kayaking and half a day of tuition, flights and half-board.
5 . Net some tennis tuition
Turkey's reputation for nurturing tennis stars is pretty much on a par with that of Britain, which may mean there is a degree of mutual understanding at one of the country's leading tennis resorts, LykiaWorld, based in Oludeniz near Fethiye. But if you've been inspired by Andy Murray's achievements, the resort is an ideal place to learn which end of the racket to hold.
The tennis academy is run by a professional German tennis school and tuition takes place on all-weather surfaces, as well as a practice hitting wall. Lessons are on a one-to-one basis or in groups of up to four players. The resort enjoys a dramatic location, at the foot of the Lycian Mountains and alongside the Aegean Sea. Accommodation is tailored for both couples and families.
The package: Thomas Cook online (0870 750 5711; thomascook.com) offers one week at LykiaWorld (0870 224 55 24; lykiagroup.com) from £393 per person in June, including flights, full- board, based on two people sharing. Beginner's tennis lessons with English-speaking coaches cost from £84 for three one-hour sessions.
6 . Go snow-kiting in summer
It was a natural evolutionary step to put together a snowboard and a kite, with the resulting sport, snow-kiting, developing for those in search of quirky activities in dramatic, remote locations.
Clearly snow-kiting is more accessible the further away from the equator you are, but too much snow is bad news for beginners. Instead head to Iceland in May, June and July when milder weather brings soft, powdery snow and steady, reliable breezes that make for less taxing conditions in which to get on top of the sport. Activities take place at the Langiokull Glacier, reached on snowmobile and surrounded by geysers, caves and lava fields. Experts reckon you'll need two days to feel confident about taking to the skies on your own.
The package: Black Tomato (020-7610 9008; blacktomato.co.uk) offers three-night packages to Iceland, from £899 per person, based on four people sharing on a self-catering basis. This includes return flights from Heathrow to Reykjavik on Icelandair, snow-kiting tuition and airport transfers.
7 . Get into the swing of golf
Golfing holidays are the sort of activity that could break up a marriage. If you have never picked up a club before then it may be best to do so in a specialist resort where partners or family have other interests to turn to. The Aphrodite Hills resort near Paphos in Cyprus runs a Start Golf programme for the complete beginner. This comprises three hours of lessons on a driving range learning the fundamentals of the sport on a one-to-one basis. The resort also offers the same programme for couples. To develop your confidence you can draw on the resort's computerised swing analysis system, which enables your coach to scrutinise your technique through slow-motion replay. Should you be emboldened, you can then try the resort's 18-hole golf course. Meanwhile, your travelling companions can take to the spa, the swimming pools, or the beach.
The package: Prestige Holidays (01425 480400; prestigeholidays.co.uk) offers a week's stay at Aphrodite Hills in April for £829 per person based on two sharing. The package includes b&b, flights and transfers. Golf tuition is extra - four 45-minute sessions cost £127.
8 . Walk high in winter
There can be few more thrilling or magnificent spectacles than a winter landscape viewed from the top of a British mountain. The trouble is, that unless you're content with seeing such a view in a coffee-table book, you'll have to hike up there through snow and often unsettling conditions - something that can deter experienced hikers as well as first timers. In an effort to dispel the myth that high-level winter walks are the preserve of an elite few, Glenmore Lodge, Scotland's National Outdoor Training Centre, has started operating winter skills weekend courses for beginners. The intention is to introduce complete novices to the basic skills needed to walk safely in the British mountains in winter. Topics include navigation and route choice; ice axe and crampon use; emergency procedures; basic avalanche and weather awareness; and equipment advice. Lessons are given in classes no larger than six clients.
The package: Glenmore Lodge (01479 861 256; glenmorelodge.org.uk) runs two-day courses for £190 per person, based on a twin share and including most meals.
9. Wild forest walk
Put on those walking boots and head for the unusual landscapes of Madeira. Highlights include paths through the Laurissilva Forest, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Quinta Serra Golfe (00 351 291 203420; quintas-madeira.com) offers a seven-night package from £350 for two people, including b&b but not flights. For more information on walking on the island visit madeiraislands.travel.
British Airways has return flights from £110.
10. Pukka chukka
Polo is played with passion in Argentina and it is possible to learn the sport on a ranch in the Pampas. Games are based at the family-run Estancia El Paso, a 19th-century ranch house.Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers an activity week in Argentina from £1,533 per person (based on two sharing) including return flights to Buenos Aires and three nights at the Mansion Dandi Royal hotel in Buenos Aires.
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