Affordable and sustainable holidays: where to go in 2020

Want to save the planet while simultaneously slipping on your OOO? We hear you. Nicola Moyne's edit of the most environmentally-friendly destinations that won’t cost the earth is what your passport's been waiting for

Sustainable travel is something of an oxymoron these days. We all know that hopping on a flight or buying a new capsule wardrobe for a week in the sun is bad for the environment. Yet, on the flip side, travel can also serve as the driving force for positive change in developing countries, and help to protect some of the world’s most endangered wildlife and habitats.

So how can you ensure that your getaway is helping to preserve rather than pollute the planet – while also avoiding those super-splurge eco hotels and costly conservation packages?

According to the experts, one of the most effective ways to travel more sustainably is to support countries leading the charge to ‘go green’. The latest Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks each country based on its efforts to address – and enforce – environmental issues that have the biggest impact on health and sustainability worldwide, such as how it’s tackling climate change and pollution, as well as its performance in water resources and agriculture. What’s more, the top 10 are practically on our doorstep, with direct routes – by plane, train or boat – from UK shores. Here’s the lowdown on seven of the most affordable, sustainable hotspots for 2020 and how to amp up your eco credentials while you’re there…

Go beach hopping in Malta

sustainable holidays

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Sunburnt landscapes, azure-blue lagoons and historic, medieval hilltop towns: it’s not hard to fathom Malta’s rise to ‘must-see’ in recent years. But, for a true island escapade in the Med with serious sustainability points to boot, it’s best explored by boat. Home to miles of blonde coastline, honey-coloured coves and some of the world’s best scuba diving and snorkelling spots, Malta offers up the perfect sailing conditions for those who fancy a private charter. Need to build up your sea legs first? Fear not: the boutique ferry from Cirkewwa will transport you to neighbouring Gozo’s sprawling red-sand beaches, or you can hop aboard a sunset sail to cruise the island’s beautiful bays and pretty fishing ports.

Book: Short-break yacht charters from about £425 per day. Visit maltasailingexperiences.com

Take the high (-voltage) road in Switzerland

sustainable holidays

Zero Estate

Voted number one in the EPI report for its ongoing commitment to sustainability, the rolling Swiss Alps and snaking woodlands provide a haven for hikers, bikers and adventurers looking to go off-grid for their very own Sound of Music moment. But if mountain-hugging hikes don’t quite tick the box, hit the (electric) ‘grand road trip’ instead. Unlike the gas-guzzling highway heroes of America, Switzerland has just launched a new road trippers’ route for electric vehicles, offering up 300 charging stations across more than 1,900km through some of the Europe’s most stunning scenery. The road runs through five glorious Alpine passes, past 22 gin-clear lakes, and the inviting vineyards of Montreal Riviera. In short, refuelling  really won’t be a problem for you, or the car.

Book: See eurocar.ch for car hire and myswitzerland.com for further details on the route. While there, check out Zero Real Estate, too. This art-meets-accommodation project promises the ultimate open-air experience with a luxurious kingsized bed nestled in the Swiss countryside and mountainscapes for miles – all, of course, energy-neutral. From £230; locations vary, visit toggenburg.org/en

Explore the cultural charms of Normandy

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With Brittany Ferries set to launch a more eco-friendly fleet from Portsmouth this summer, sailings to the Normandy coast are a low-carbon option for ferry fans. This patchwork of sleepy seaside villages along the rugged northwestern coast of France has long attracted aristocrats, writers, artists and artisans. Today, the region’s rolling hills and lush meadows dotted with half-timbered farmhouses continue to draw in fashionable crowds searching for a rich glass of red and splash of French culture. Head to the soon-to-open La Villa du Temps Retrouve for a Balbec retrospective in Marcel Proust’s favourite seaside resort, Cabourg, or visit neighbouring Deauville for Les Franciscaines– a museum complex displaying more than 500 artworks in a restored convent.

Book: Honfleur’s beautifully restored Le Loft. Room from £110. Ferry crossing from £60 return, brittanyferries.com

Go glamping in the British countryside

sustainable holidays

Canopy and Stars

From idyllic lakeside cabins to beautifully-crafted tree houses cradled high in woodland hollows, there’s a wealth of premium UK glamping options for stylish staycationers right now, which means you might not even need to leave the county to get away this year. Check out the covetable edits offered up by Canopy & Stars and Glampingly – two leading companies that specialise in unique, luxurious spaces that are also highly sustainable. Our pick? This West Sussex-based cabin comes complete with its own private lake for the best wild-water swimming opps this side of summer.

Book: Ditchling Cabin sleeps 4 and costs from £320 per night. See canopyandstars.co.uk

Book the slow train through Sweden

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Gently winding its way 850 miles north from central Sweden to Swedish Lapland, the Inlandsbanan rail journey is one of the most scenic in Europe. Chugging through miles of dense pine, spruce and birch forests into arctic Sweden’s most iconic wildernesses, this nostalgic carriage ride into the Land of the Midnight Sun is one of the most magical – not to mention environmentally friendly – ways to travel. Hop off for a refreshing swim in one of the glassy trackside lakes; explore the nomadic reindeer-herding culture of the Sami en route; or simply recline Business-style and drink in the slow, quintessentially Swedish vistas.

Book: A 6-day itinerary starts from £630 per person. Visit res.inlandsbanan.se/en/package-tours

Do a wildlife safari in Scotland

sustainable holidays

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Leading the charge for sustainable adventure tourism in the UK, Wilderness Scotland offers up year-round nature-based holidays for the active traveller. Think birdwatching, hiking, pony trekking, sea kayaking and dolphin watching, as well as wild foraging and coastal explorations. Check out its popular Rewilding Retreat to explore the highlands’ lost tapestry of Scots pine, rowan and hazel forests; discover soaring sea eagles and roaming red deer; then hunker down for the night in a secluded Scottish lodge nestled deep in the moss-cloaked glens.

Book: The Rewilding Retreat starts at £1,325 per person for 6 nights. See wildernessscotland.com

 Learn to surf in Portugal

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With high-speed train options from London to the Algarve on offer, you don’t even need to set foot on a plane to duck and dive the long Atlantic rollers in Portugal. For the most sustainable of sun-soaked days, book yourself into the latest retreat from Soul & Surf, which already runs hugely popular programmes in Kerala and Sri Lanka, and donates one per cent of its profits to leading marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage. Days are spent learning to master your board on the beginner breaks, while balmy evenings are all about making the most of the meditative yoga shala back at the rustic farmhouse. Expect Soul & Surf’s signature laid-back vibes, shared platters of healthy local fare, and pro-taught surfing and yoga schedules. This is sustainability served up with style.

Book: A 4-night Weekday Escape starts at about £350 per person, including surf and yoga tuition and most meals. See soulandsurf.com

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