Off-Season Travel Is on the Rise and You Should Give It a Go

Forestis retreat in the Dolomites, Italy

Flexible work schedules, changing weather patterns and a desire to see the world without the crowds are a few of the reasons why off-season travel is on the rise. But off-peak travel takes on new purpose when it leads to a mutually beneficial relationship between locals, visitors and the environment.

Northern Italy in autumn

One insight from this year’s frenzied European summer tourist rush is that infrastructure in holiday hot spots can struggle under the weight of their own popularity. With the season frequently breaking its Gregorian confines due to ever-increasing heat waves (Sicily and Sardinia reached a blistering 47ºC in July), the cooler months (September to May) have taken on a tantalising new appeal.

If the snow-dusted Dolomites are on your list, you can experience their vistas as early as October. Nowhere will it feel more dramatic than through the spruce-framed windows at Forestis, a new ecoluxe alpine resort that sits eye-to-eye with the Geislergruppe massif. Its zerowaste kitchen, CO2-neutral design and renewable energy supply earn the “eco” in Forestis’s title, while the spa – a sprawling, 2000 square-metre complex set over two floors – is responsible for the “luxe”. Co-owner Teresa Unterthiner says guests can witness the phenomenon of the “burning Dolomites”, where the angle of the autumn sun and the transforming foliage tinges the entire site in shades of flaming red. “There are so many activities that are exclusively available in the area at this time of the year,” she says. “The Törggelen is one of them, when many farms open their gates and welcome people to try freshly harvested food and wine.”

While mornings promise an array of walking trails to fill your lungs with fresh air, an afternoon spent alternating between the resort’s outdoor Finnish sauna and glacier-fed cold-plunge tub will cure you of any real-world tensions.

Three-and-a-half hours south, in Italy’s Lake District, many resorts shut up shop when summer ends. While this means fewer dining options, it ensures deals on private rentals, minimal traffic and, best of all, the sight of Lake Garda’s sapphire surface offset by glowing foliage.

Kenya and Tanzania in summer

Swahili Beach Resort, Diani Beach, Kenya

An African safari in summer won’t take in the spectacle of the Great Migration (that usually begins in July) but it will provide a very special alternative. By January, when waves of pregnant wildebeest have funnelled out of the Masai Mara in Kenya and down into Tanzania’s southern Serengeti, mothers start bringing their young into the world. By February, there are about 8000 wildebeest born each day; by March, the zebras join the party. Majestic as the sight of one half of the circle of life may be, the other side is on display as well, with lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas taking full advantage, all but guaranteeing predator-on-prey action. Fewer safari vehicles clustered in one place not only means there are better opportunities for close animal encounters but also allows you to witness the most authentic expressions of wildlife behaviour.

Rutundu log cabins , set on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya, offer rugged seclusion amid the clean mountain air (and a guest book featuring a comment from then Catherine Middleton, written just after Prince William proposed to her here).

For travellers who prefer the sea and sand with their African sun, Swahili Beach Resort sits on Diani Beach in southern Kenya. Considered to be one of the most pristine stretches of sand in the world, its reefs are usurped only by our own Great Barrier Reef. Visit in early March and as a reward for enduring afternoon showers that herald the beginning of the rainy season, you’ll have unfettered access to crystalline waters and the chance to spot visiting whale sharks, turtles and humpbacks.

Iceland’s Golden Circle in spring

Torfús Retreat, Iceland

“There is an openness there, a subtlety and ephemerality in the light and the way it changes throughout the day,” author Hannah Kent once said of the country in which she set her debut novel, Burial Rites. “There’s such an atmosphere in Iceland. It completely captures your imagination.”

With opportunities to see the Northern Lights often lingering well into the northern spring (between March and May), planning your trip for the stilldefrosting shoulder season will reward you with a front-row seat to all that atmosphere, minus the crowds.

Take Mount Esja. The volcanic range that stands sentinel over the Reykjavik skyline is covered in snow and ice for much of the year. And during the summer, the ice is replaced by hikers. Picking a path to the summit in spring – when trails are less busy – leaves the peak’s wild beauty largely undisturbed.

Bunk down in one of the 25 turfcovered huts of Torfús Retreat (torfhus. is), 90 minutes from Reykjavik in the heart of the country’s Golden Circle. The rocky theatrics of The Great Geysir, only 15 minutes from your door, are more easily accessed without the tourist throngs, while hiking, horse-riding and even midnight golf will fill the lengthening days. Then you can retreat to the calm of your cabin – with its own basalt hot tub – to watch a raging storm lash the green wilderness outside.

Chile after dark

The Atacama Desert, Chile

The Atacama Desert is “probably the best place in the world to observe the distant universe”, says Professor Jonathan Bland-Hawthorn, director of The University of Sydney’s Institute for Astronomy.

Stretched like a pink-and-orange canvas across the salt flats and lunar landscapes of northern Chile, the Atacama is splendid in the sunlight. At night, though, under a blanket of stars so distinct that the Milky Way looks like spilled glitter, it’s arguably one of the most spectacular places on the planet – particularly in July and August, when tourism in most of Chile is at a low ebb.

“It hasn’t rained here for centuries,” says Bland-Hawthorn. “No rain means no clouds and no moisture, which means the night sky is clear and the air is very stable so the stars don’t twinkle as much, which leads to sharper camera images.” The Atacama is home to half of the world’s land-based astronomy projects (including the US$1.3-billion Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array).

The village of San Pedro de Atacama is 2400 metres above sea level and is the ideal base to explore the desert. On the edge of town, Nayara Alto Atacama is a high-altitude haven with adobe walls, where star-gazing dinners, excursions to the Valley of the Moon and the otherworldly El Tatio geysers can all be organised. Warm, unpretentious service ensures the kind of experience that stays with you long after you check out.

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SEE ALSO: How to Avoid the Crowds in the World’s Busiest Cities

Image credit: Ivan Kmit (Forestis retreat), Nils Schlebusch (The Atacama Desert)

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