Spring into action with breaks where you can embrace the outdoors and work up an appetite, from the Scottish Highlands and Swiss mountains to Suffolk forests.
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If you want to get away from it all in spring and enjoy good food in an area of outstanding natural beauty, we've picked three destinations for you to try. From wild game in the remote Scottish Highlands, to award-winning Swiss cheese in Verbier and local wines in Suffolk, these breaks will offer you the best of nature's harvest along with breathtaking scenery.
Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Scotland
Best for... local drams and Highland game
The Alladale Wilderness Reserve in the Scottish Highlands offers over 20,000 acres of balm for the soul. The Wilderness is an impressive conservation project, with knowledgeable guides and various ambitious projects, including the gradual reintroduction of wild cats and original highland plant species.
Stay in one of the three remote lodges to finish your novel; hike the magnificent glens; mountain bike, fish for brown trout, or try clay-pigeon shooting. Shaggy highland cows – straight from central casting, majestic red deer and the swooping golden eagles provide ample inspiration for one of the reserve’s photography retreats, led by renowned photographer Max Milligan.
Eagle’s Crag and Ghillie’s Rest (three- and two-bed cottages) are beautifully decorated in calming neutrals and natural fabrics, which absorb the soft highland light. For larger, hardier groups, Deanich Lodge is a more basic, bunking-down affair, and sits in its own remote spot at the heart of the reserve with views of the glen.
For a more luxurious experience, larger groups can base themselves at the main lodge and enjoy chef Tom Park’s inventive Scots cooking. Crispy haggis 'bonbons' are served with pre-dinner drinks, and the impossibly tender venison (from the estate) comes with a glossy chocolate sauce and locally-grown vegetables. The cranachan, with homemade shortbread, raspberries and local whisky, is perfection. (The smaller lodges can also be catered for by arrangement.)
An exciting artisan food culture is taking shape locally, which makes Alladale the perfect base for adventurous foodies. The organic Black Isle Brewery in Munlochy produces wonderful craft beers, and they also run the excellent Black Isle Bar in Inverness.
At the Dornoch Distillery intelligent whisky and gin food pairings – bacon-wrapped scallops with a peaty Ardbeg 10 – will knock your socks off. At Golspie Mill softly-spoken Kiwi Mike Shaw produces small batches of exquisite stone-ground flour, including ancient varieties such as peasemeal and beremeal, using restored 19th-century water-powered equipment. His flour-spattered surfboard is propped in the corner of the mill. The Tain-based Highland Patissier create beautiful, jewel-coloured chocolates with Mexican flair. Their macaroons and homemade tarts are highly sought after at local markets and food fairs.
How to do it
Alladale is a 90-minute drive from Inverness airport or station. The main lodge (sleeps 14) costs from £165 per person per night, full board; self-catering is £950–£2,000 per week (three nights minimum).
Review by Charlotte Coleman-Smith
Best for... rich raclette & foraged mountain food
Once the slopes have cleared, the Swiss ski resort of Verbier – one of the world’s most famous winter wonderlands – is a burgeoning hub for active foodies. From spring through to autumn, its lush, alpine meadows are populated by black Hérens cows, which produce milk for the area’s globally renowned raclette cheese. They look benign as they graze high up in the mountains, but hikers beware: they can be surprisingly feisty, a trait now encouraged by organised bovine fights where farmers determine their herd’s ‘queen’ (farmers intervene if it goes beyond horn-locking to ensure there are no serious injuries).
The town’s award-winning cheesemaker, Laiterie de Verbier, produces local raclette to a traditional recipe handed down through the generations. You can sample the rich recipe and buy the ingredients at the counter or from the cheese vending machine just outside the factory, stacked solely with half- or quarterwheels of raclette and bags of DIY fondue to which you just add some white wine. A hearty quarter wheel of raclette cheese costs £21.
Mountainside restaurants reached by hiking, biking or cable car include La Croix-de-Coeur, offering artistically presented local specialities, including dried meats and fresh herbs, with spectacular scenery. A delicious three-course lunch featuring traditional roasted apricots decorated with rosemary costs £27 (call to book on +41 27 775 25 36).
Back in Verbier, Le Chalet d’Adrien offers fine dining, wine and inspiring views from an elegant terrace looking out over the valley. Italy isn’t far away, and risotto made with chanterelle mushrooms is a popular dish here. It costs around £92 for a four-course dinner.
If you want to learn to pick and cook edible plants, try a foraging hike at the neighbouring La Tzoumaz, where the guide, nicknamed Cherries, demonstrates gathering nettles for pesto without getting stung. She also identifies common flowers such as clover and daisies, which add some colour to salads. Half-day tours from £284.
How to do it
Verbier is two-three hours by train from Geneva Airport. The free Verbier Infinite Playground (VIP) Pass includes complimentary travel on ski lifts and buses. Rooms at Hotel Bristol cost from £57 per person, including a generous breakfast with continental and cooked options.
Review by Julia Horton
The Brecks, Suffolk
Best for... forest walks and homegrown food
To throw yourself into spring, you don’t need to roam far into the hinterland. Drive half an hour east from Suffolk market town Bury St Edmunds to reach The Brecks: an unexpectedly wild region encompassing the UK’s largest lowland forest. Follow quiet country lanes out to Wyken Vineyard (if you’ve arrived via Bury St Edmunds, refuel at cold-press coffee landmark Frank & Ernst.
The Leaping Hare, Wyken’s converted 14th-century barn-restaurant, has a fresh, New England aesthetic at the hand of American-born owner Lady Carlisle. Pick up bundles of asparagus at Wyken’s Saturday farmers’ market (9am-1pm), and sample the award-winning Bacchus with your refined farmhouse lunch (standout main, confit of Wyken pheasant, £16). Walk it off in the estate’s beautiful formal gardens.
Head into the woods for more appetite-enhancing activities. The Breck’s Thetford and Kings forests have lately fashioned themselves into outdoor playgrounds offering everything from mindfulness walks and bush survival skills (you can also learn to bake bannock bread), to towering treetop zip-lines, forest biking, off-road driving and even shooting (clay pigeon, field sports).
Elveden Estate is the place to try many of these wild woodland pursuits, and also stop for lunch at its super-seasonal restaurant (don’t miss the game pie; mains £9-11). Elveden’s Food Hall is a vast repository of all things East Anglian, stocking goods from over 50 local producers, including must-buy Giffords Hall’s sparkling and pinot wines, Suffolk Gold and blue cheeses, and house-made sausages.
The restaurant at nearby Tuddenham Mill makes the most of its forest surroundings with foraged foods, Brecks game, plus plenty of locally produced veg, cheeses and wines. Menus might include Breckland lamb rump, locally-hunted roe deer, along with North Sea hake, Norfolk lobster, and an impressive choice of Suffolk wines (mains from £23; tasting menus from £40). Don’t miss the Baron Bigod blue cheese, made with milk from local Montbéliarde cows from Fen Farm Dairy.
This boutique mill house hotel, elegantly laid out around its Domesday-era millstone, has recently added five affordable ‘nook’ rooms overlooking the river and meadowland. Four of these wooden pods offer glamping-style accommodation and one, a mini spa.
How to do it
Tuddenham Mill nooks cost from £145 per night per couple including breakfast. Greater Anglia has London Liverpool Street to Bury St Edmunds returns from £23. For further information on activities in the Brecks, go to Visit Suffolk.
Review by Sarah Barrell
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Assistance for this feature was provided by: visitsuffolk.com, alladale.com and verbier.ch.