Walk in Trossachs National Park

Taking a holiday within a holiday

Part of the joy of travel is getting away from the repetition of everyday life. Whether your days are consistently the same or consistently unpredictable, a change can feel remarkably refreshing.

If you’re travelling for more than a week or so, consider dropping a significant variation into your holiday at regular intervals. We stumbled onto this idea while exploring the UK and Europe.

Varying the nature of your holiday

If your itinerary has you visiting one exciting city after another, things can start to get a bit samey-samey. Sure the attractions are all different, but the nature of the holiday doesn’t change. You settle in, get your head around the local transport and squeeze your way along busy footpaths filled with hyped office workers dodging the drifting tourists. You queue for most things, turn up in time or miss out, and have to book ahead for dinner at a certain time each night. Then you get up and do it all again. It’s huge fun, but there’s a pattern to it that starts to take over no matter how diverse the experiences are along the way.

Replacing footpaths with walking trails

After exploring London and Glasgow, we drove around the top of Scotland to Edinburgh. One of our first stops was Brig ‘O Turk, a tiny village in the Trossachs National Park and a hub for hiking trails. The temporary change of pace was wonderful. Peace and quiet, no public transport, no scheduled attractions, just wide open spaces, spectacular landscapes and the feeling you have it all to yourselves.

Walk in Trossachs National Park
Walking in the Trossachs National Park

Going rural between cities

While in Portugal, we broke our journey between bustling Lisbon and Porto with a week in the countryside. We’d planned this hoping to get a taste of rural Portugal, but hadn’t realised how refreshing the change of scene would be.

Given the craziness of Lisbon and Porto driving, we caught a train out of the city to the university town of Coimbra. There we picked up a small rental car, got used to left-hand driving on the relatively quiet streets and headed inland towards the border with Spain. We spent a magnificent week in a restored one-bedroom farm cottage, which was part of a traditional six-house village at the end of a dirt road. Our South African-born Airbnb host pointed us in the direction of local experiences that suited what we wanted to do. Unhurried daily drives took us to a huge farmers’ market, a Portuguese BBQ chicken lunch where English was neither written nor spoken, white-sand river beaches for swimming, forest walking trails, mountain villages and small historic towns.

Our plastered stone cottage had its own vine-covered patio that looked across the valley to hills covered in forest. It was so quiet you could hear church bells from distant villages ringing down the valleys and at night the sky was filled with stars. We ate lunch while out exploring and made simple but delicious dinners at home each night. These were washed down with ridiculously inexpensive good-quality Portuguese wines. Despite our very limited Portuguese, wherever we went people were gentle, welcoming and patient; even when I missed a red light and drove down a one-lane cobbled street to meet a stream of local cars coming the other way. The whole countryside experience was easy and relaxing with a refreshingly different structure and feel, which set us up nicely for the wonderful city of Porto.

Vine-covered patio rural Portugal
Our vine-covered patio in rural Portugal

Grabbing a spontaneous overnighter

A holiday within a holiday doesn’t have to be long or even pre-planned. If you’re short on time and feel like a change of scene, just find out where the locals go for a weekend away and head out there during the week.

On one occasion we left our belongings at our Lisbon Airbnb apartment, packed small bags and booked a night at a hotel in the popular mountain village of Sintra. We initially planned this overnighter to avoid the huge queues that form as trainloads of tourists and locals pour out of Lisbon for a day exploring Sintra’s palaces and castles. We deliberately travelled after the morning rush, visited one palace late afternoon, dined in the village that evening after most people had returned to the city and were into the most popular Sintra attractions before the crowds arrived the following morning. Sure, we’d paid for accommodation in two places that night, but it was worth it. The unexpected bonus was the break it gave us from Lisbon’s bustle – that same refreshing feeling you get when you pack light and escape for a weekend away from home.

Sintra streets at night
After dinner walk on the now quiet streets of Sintra