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Travel: The Best Mate Breaks

A selection of adrenaline-soaked extravaganzas that are best enjoyed with pals.

Words by: Annabelle Woollcott


Surfing in Portugal

Why go? Portugal has the best year-round surf in Europe and it’s usually on the warm side. If you still need convincing how about miles of gorgeous sandy surf-able beaches, hidden coves, and rocky caves? All this spreads out before the Marina town of Lagos, a funky little place that’s full of world travellers and surf seekers. Plus Nelson parked his boats here during the Napoleonic Wars so if it’s good enough for Horatio then it’s good enough for us.

Oh, and the food is phenomenal. If you want a good feed after a hard day’s riding then you’re in the right place. The many fabulous and affordable restaurants serve up the freshest fare. Or maybe you’d just prefer to relax with a cocktail? In case you hadn’t noticed Lagos does a pretty good impression of heaven.

Who goes? Whether you’re starting out or already ripping, this is definitely the place to hone your skills, as there’s plenty that’ll test you around the Lagos coastline.

Alternative buzz: “When the surf used to be not so good we’d go Damn Jumping,” Toby from The Surf Experience told us, “now it’s a total request and part of the week!” They also offer horse riding, biking, wakeboarding and kitesurfing… that’s if you can tear yourself away from those perfect sets.

Downtime: Lagos is a rock n roll town. There’s usually live music and wicked DJ nights often imported from our fair Isle. If you’re looking for a quiet one, there are numerous coffee shops or wineries if you fancy yourself a bit of a vinho buff (that’s Portuguese for wine).

More info: A week long surf trip with accommodation, breakfast, lunch, transport to the best breaks, tuition and, err, love (their words not ours!) starts from £269 at surf-experience.com. Accomplished riders should head out September to April and the summer months are better for beginners. Easyjet fly to Faro International Airport from Luton, Gatwick and Stansted from as little as £40 rtn (if you bag one of their crazy deals) Bmibaby.com fly from Cardiff and Birmingham and flybe.com go from Southampton and Exeter. All three carriers will transport your stick for you for a supplement (usually £20).



Mountain biking in Tuscany

Why go? Some people may warn you that the views in Tuscany can wind you with their beauty, but that still won’t prepare you for the fact that the views in Tuscany will wind you with their beauty. You don’t arrive at the top of a Dolomite after a first gear slog and still have breath left, unless you have the lungs of a whale. But if you do, the sheer gorgeousness of the Italian countryside will rob you of the rest. Or you’ll lose it whooping for joy as you career down the awesome downhills. Away from the asphalt, there are ample trails to keep even the most adventurous cyclist occupied, and whether you’re into road or you’re all about the mountain, Tuscany will provide. ‘Tuscany is definitely top of the list for a trip with the girls,’ Rider Rachael Lambert, 22, a brand developer for Specialized said, ‘it combines the best of travel, culture and adventure.’

Who goes? A mishmash of international mountain and road riders at every level. Expect well-heeled Americans, stylish Europeans and the odd crazy Brit crew.

Alternative buzz: Plan your trip between Florence, Sienna or Piza for historic cities and sites. In the summer you can try mountain climbing, BASE jumping or a spot of paragliding should the mood take you. Or chill out in the port town, Livorno, where little rocky coves provide perfect sun traps.

Downtime: Florence has a kicking après-sunset scene. Take your heels and head to the bohemian Oltrarno quarter, south of the river. Saddle sore? Make the most of Tuscany’s naturally occurring thermal waters. Splash out at the 5star Adler Thermae Spa in Bagno Vignoni (adler-thermae.com).

More info: A two night, self-guided cycle tour starts from £80pp at activitybreaks.com. Aim to go spring or autumn for the best climate for cycling. Meridiana fly from Gatwick to Florence from around £181 rtn. They’ll transport bikes (boxed) for a £24 supplement each way. Easyjet fly from Luton to Pisa from £100 rtn. They also transport boxed bikes (excess weight charges may apply). Check out Specialized’s Designs For Women’s range at specialized.com. Prices start at £299.



Kitesurfing in Sardinia

Why go? Sardinia has the most consistent winds in Europe, particularly around the Porto Pollo area. It’s a perfect starting point for the inexperienced and won’t disappoint the pros either. It’s thought to be Italy’s breeziest spot, where winds can reach Beaufort 8 plus, which for those of us whose minds went AWOL during school geography is pretty impressive, as the scale stops at 12. Fortunately the bay offers enough shelter to ensure safe as well as awesome conditions.

“When you get it, you feel like you’re flying!!” says Lisa Day, 31 from Docklands, London “It’s extremely exhilarating, but at the same time gentle and smooth. At the end of the day it puts the biggest smile on your face!” And if that hasn’t, then tipping off the beach straight into one of the beach bars for a well-earned cocktail (or eight) certainly will.

Who goes? Seasoned and wanna-be kite surfers flock to Sardinia year round. The place is literally teaming with thrill seekers and beach lovers from all over Europe.

Alternative buzz: Wakeboarding, sailing, wind surfing, diving, swimming, the list goes on and on… Sardinia is stunning and even the most hard-hearted urbanite will get a buzz from the scenery. Most tour companies offer loads of alternative adrenaline hits if the wind conditions are ever less than perfect.

Downtime: The closest town is laid back, Palau – delivering bliss after a hard day in the harness. The sports centre at the beach has a cool little beach bar that serves free tapas every night as the sun goes down. There are also regular beach parties with a thoroughly chilled out vibe.

More info: A seven night, fully-catered, kitesurfing package starts from £275, inclusive of transport, breakfast, dinner, equipment and tuition at freshtraxxx.com. Beginners are best visiting over the summer months. Easyjet fly from Gatwick and Bristol to Olbia, Sardinia (40 minutes from Porto Pollo) from as little £58.98 rtn. Meridiana also fly from Gatwick but can be slightly pricier at £176 rtn. While Easyjet carry your equipment free of charge providing the weight does not exceed 32kg, Meridiana apply a £51 surcharge each way. If you’re looking to get your own gear check out powerkiteshop.com and airjamexpress.co.uk who offer free UK delivery.



Canyoning in Perthshire

Why go? Canyoning is essentially plunging, scrambling, sliding and swimming through an achingly-beautiful 350ft gorge (so-called because of it’s sheer ‘gorgeousness’ one presumes.There’s little else that feels more gut-wrenchingly thrilling than throwing yourself into swirling white water from a 20ft cliff, apart from maybe slipping over the precipice of a naturally smooth stone slide and being pounded under a waterfall. That and more await you on a Scottish canyoning trip.

“It’s the most exhilarating natural high’ says Claire Pinder, 21 from Henley, ‘in two layers of neoprene you don’t much think about the cold, it’s just all such a mental rush. Nothing beats it.” Best of all, as Kirstin Reeve, from Nae Limits, puts it, “Scotland is available to adrenalin junkies all year round, it just depends how you like it served”

Who goes? Outdoor-loving thrill seekers. Scotland’s a surprising Mecca for easy-on-the-eye adrenalin junkies and laid-back adventure sports-types from all over the world.

Alternative buzz: If casting yourself into the deep seems too extreme, try mountain biking through the woodland, check out a Highland Safari or have a go at kayaking on Loch Tay. Grabbing a picnic in the village of Kenmore before padding over to Priory Island for lunch amongst the monastery ruins is one of the coolest ways to spend an afternoon.

Downtime: Basing yourself in either Glasgow or Edinburgh means that while access to all the outdoor fun is great, you still have the awesome nightlife of the biggest Scottish cities. Check out Nice ‘N’ Sleazy’s in Glasgow and for Edinburgh check out The Egg on Saturdays at The Wee Red Bar.

More info: Adrenalin activity prices start at £50 from naelimits.co.uk. Hostels start at as little as £20 a night. visitscotland.com has the skinny on all your accommodation needs and more. Flights to Scotland’s major cities go from most London Airports. Ryanair fly from Stansted to Glasgow and often have fares for stupid prices like £3.49 if you book early. If your carbon footprint is looking a little hefty you can always get the train. Check out Scot Rail for the London to Edinburgh sleeper service from £116 rtn. The centre supplies equipment but if you want your own check outdoorgb.com and needlesports.com.

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