Give something a new name and a new sport is born. Enter skyrunning, essentially going for a run somewhere very high up. The term has taken off in the Alps and describes a high altitude version of fell-running over rough ground, and snow at higher altitude. Icicle, a company based in Chamonix, has launched skyrunning weeks with guided runs of 15-20km a day and coaching, for runners capable of half-marathons.
• £699pp B&B and activities, June-August
Marathon drinking sessions
However much training you do, running a full or half-marathon can be pretty miserable. Wouldn’t it be more fun if there was booze involved? Following on from the infamous Marathon du Medoc (10 September) through the vineyards of south-west France, in which the last few miles involve wine-tasting, the Wine Run in Lanzarote (13-14 June) covers 21km of volcanic wine-producing terrain, with plenty of plonk and gastronomic treats all along the route. If that wets your whistle, there’s also the Half Corked Marathon Weekend in Canada’s Oliver Osoyoos wine country, British Columbia, with wines and foodie pitstops, and a picnic at the finish line. Closer to home, the Bacchus Half Marathon (11 September, ) at the Denbies wine estate in Surrey, saves the wine-tasting until after the race.
This is the sort of holiday that could only exist in the 2010s … a “coastal retreat with mindfulness and ocean activities” that dubs itself a “seacotherapy” break. Extolling the therapeutic benefits of being in or near water, the three-day trip in Aberdovey incorporates psychotherapy techniques, creative activities and mindfulness workshops, interspersed with wildlife-spotting boat trips, standup paddleboarding, plus singing, dancing, swimming, art and yoga on the beach. There’s glamping involved too, of course.
• £350pp, May-July, seacotherapy.co.uk
Toughmudder, RatRace, Survival of the Fittest … the UK’s obstacle course running races get more dirty and gruelling by the year, with skips full of ice to wade through, haybale stacks to vault, water jumps and mud tunnels. New to the scene this year is the Urban Survivor in Falmouth, Cornwall, organised by Tuff Enuff (tuff-enuff.co.uk) on 28 February, which uses the town’s features, from steep steps to dips in the sea. The website mudstacle.com has tips on training for these type of events, including those all-important monkey bar techniques.
You could spend weeks on Spotify and YouTube getting to grips with an unfamiliar musical genre this year, or you could master a new sound the fun way, on a music-focused holiday. World music specialist Songlines has a new Assam Musical Adventure in India (8-17 April, £2,050pp excluding flights) where travellers experience the sounds of the region – at zikir folk music gigs, singing by school pupils on Majuli island, tribal village shows and jhumur and saora performances, the dance and songs of Assam’s tea workers.
Learning to survive after being deposited in the Colombian jungle is the basis of Adastra Adventures’ latest trip, covering the basics (shelter building, snake bite first aid) in the Sierra Nevada near the Caribbean coast – where the terrain varies from jungle to desert to glacier – over two weeks. It’s £3,000pp for 13 nights all inclusive, excluding flights. Or go more Tom Hanks and opt for a desert island castaway experience with Docastaway, where – on its “adventure mode” experiences – basic needs such as food, shelter, and survival training are taken care of, so castaways can focus on enjoying a desert island adventure on remote islands in Indonesia (€140-160pp per day), the Phillipines (€80-88pp per day) or Oceania (€380pp per day).
Cue the Ministry of Silly Walks jokes… but “extreme walking” is honestly a New Thing, at least in Carmarthenshire, where weekend breaks under that banner involve mountain navigation, night orienteering, walking behind waterfalls, abseiling, exploring mines and scrambling.
• From £200 for two days for two people, Hawk Adventures
You versus food
Anyone inspired by the sight of a sweating bloke stuffing his dribbling face hole with a 30-inch, 11-pound pizza covered in meat toppings in Atlanta, 29 deep fried catfish in Oklahoma, or 15 dozen oysters in New Orleans, can find all the Man vs Food challenges from the US TV show and pick some to try themselves at manvsfoodlocations.com. Closer to home, greedy guts can take on, say, the Lumberjack’s Double Knuckle Challenge at the Oktoberfest Pub in Fulham, London, and win a stein glass and their mugshot on a wall of fame if they can consume two giant pork knuckles on a bed of chips with sauerkraut and a stein of Lowenbrau. Or in Portsmouth, there’s the Wicked Waffle challenge to gobble four waffles and 12 scoops of ice-cream within 45 minutes. There’s even a vegan challenge, at the Vegan Grindhouse, in two Birmingham locations, where the meat-averse can take on the Death Proof Burger Challenge, a stack of three vegan quarter pounders, three rashers of “bacon”, three of “cheese” plus salads and three sauces (£5 off your next meal if you complete it). And you thought we were only going to mention detoxing and raw food retreats in January!
Cognitive boot camp
With its schedule of onscreen memory tests and concentration training, the Sha Cognitive Development Programme on the Costa Blanca in Spain, through Healthy Holidays (£2,960pp full board) doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of laughs, but it promises to combat memory loss, improve mental performance and lower stress and anxiety with “neurotraining sessions”. There are massages and a pile of other treatments thrown in too. Alternatively, Health and Fitness Travel has a long list of de-stressing holidays. Or you could just go walking in the Lake District and do some sudoku.
Gain new skills
Why not make this the year you learn something new – there are no end of holidays and courses, whether it’s learning to be a mermaid and freediver in Cornwall (freediveuk.com) or gaining sailing skills on a Dutch tall ship as you cross the Atlantic. Pick a language from Mandarin to Norwegian and live with your teacher on a full-immersion holiday with Go Learn To, or head to a festival like the Good Life Experience in Flintshire (16-18 September), where you can tackle anything from ukulele to spoon carving. Want to learn a new cuisine? Perfect your tortilla and mole on a week’s cookery course in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (including accommodation and meals, from £1,330 , which offers 26 hours of lessons, plus tastings and market visits with mother and daughter team Patricia and Monica.
Spokes for all folks
For an endurance challenge on two wheels, cyclists can tackle the 270-mile Veloscenic route, an old pilgrim trail from Paris to Mont Saint-Michel, where the Tour de France starts this year. It’s not hard to travel independently, but Biking France has an eight-day trip with B&B accommodation, dinners, maps, bike hire and luggage transfers from £1,450pp. Voyages SNCF has returns to Paris from London from £89.50. Of course, for those who literally like to feel the breeze on their backs – and everywhere else – the World Naked Bike Ride takes place in over 50 cities (dates vary) around the world as a protest against car culture, while Eroica Britannia is a 100-mile retro race (shorter routes also possible) through the Peak District on 19 June, with nearly 4,000 cyclists dressed in vintage get-up on old bikes. The original L’Eroica race takes place in Tuscany on 2 October (with a choice of distances up to 130 miles, preregistration now open).
Yoga, snowga, schmoga …
If your average yoga holiday isn’t enough of a challenge, try it while hanging upside down: aerial yoga can be hardcore and fun at the same time. Aerial Yoga Retreats has a four-day holiday in Valbonne, France in March (£425). Powder hounds might prefer Snowga – yep, yoga in the snow. Try it in Val Thorens where snowshoeing is combined with sun salutations and meditation (raquettenature.com, from €33 for a half-day). Another new wellbeing trend is “forest bathing”. A kind of mindful walking in the woods, the Japanese call it shinrin-yoku and have been at it for years. Now hotels such as Austria’s Forsthofgut and Italy’s Miramonti Boutique Hotel are offering shinrin-yoku options and Armathwaite Hall in the Lake District has a new two-night forest bathing package. At a whopping £650 (including B&B and spa), perhaps it’s better to write your own prescription: pull on some boots, head out to your nearest woodland and breathe … May the forest be with you.
Inspired by Bethany Hughes? In December, she began an attempt to travel the length of the Americas from Cape Horn to the northern coast of Alaska by non-motorised means – a journey that will take about five years. For a more manageable challenge, how about walking the length of the Isle of Wight or tackling the microstate of San Marino? Surrounded by Italy, it’s just 24 square miles. Easy. Or follow the lead of three friends Paul, Johno and Leigh who bought a black cab and set off on a 43,000-mile drive from London to Sydney. Their book, It’s on the Meter, is out in March.
Down the tubes
Why not use public transport to invent an alternative travel challenge? In London, visit all 64 underground stations within zone 1 in the fastest possible time (Glen Bryant is the record holder at 2 hours, 39 minutes) or ride every tube line to its end and explore what’s there (OK, tricky with the Circle Line). Check out other ideas at explorerticket.co.uk.
For film buffs …
There’s a fitting challenge to be dreamed up for any theme. Film buffs might want to pick a movie and resolve to visit every identifiable location (movie-locations.com is a good source to start with), while literature lovers could follow in the footsteps of their favourite authors around the world (choose Hemingway, and everywhere from Cuba to Italy to Key West awaits).
And in the buff
Remember the planking trend … the photograph meme of people lying face down, plank-like, in incongruous locations, that went viral? Well, the new planking is being snapped curled up naked in unusual places … to “mimic commercially packaged poultry”. It started in New Zealand (with the hashtag #frozenchook) and sounds like a headless chicken of an idea to us.