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Bavarian castle high in the mountains with lush green trees

Bucket-list trips to book now

The late summer sun is still warming Europe this month. Soak up nature in the Swiss mountains or the Atlantic-swirled Azores, get your cultural fill in Germany or take it easy in a classic Finnish cabin. Whatever takes your fancy, it’s time to plan that long-overdue trip…


The mediaeval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Corinne Kutz/Unsplash). Opening image: the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle (Xiang Gao/Unsplash)


Best for: culture

If you’re in need of letting off steam this September, the country of beer halls is certainly the place to do it. But there’s far more to Germany than giant steins and lederhosen. Fly into Munich and just over 90 minutes later you’ll be gazing up at the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle, its twirled turrets ripped straight from a Disney film and plonked into a breathtaking landscape of forested hills thrusting towards jagged mountain peaks. Often underrated, Germany is one of Europe’s great has-it-all destinations – from the Bavarian Alps to the vine-braided Rhine valley, plus some of the continent’s hippest city scenes. Don’t want to rush it? Keep things simple by staying in the south, and you’ll get a taste of the best of it. Pootle around the cobbled streets of Bavaria’s gorgeous mediaeval towns, such as Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and get lost in the Bavarian Forest National Park (the kind of place where you really will see lederhosen). Blow off steam either in the thermal baths of elegant Baden-Baden (a smidgeon west, in Baden-Württemberg state) or the beer halls. You’ve earned it…

Entry requirements: Travellers must be fully vaccinated and complete a passenger locator form. Children under 12 accompanying vaccinated adults are exempt.

Take off to Germany

A lakeside hut in Finland’s taiga ecoregion (Adobe Stock)


Best for: relaxation

Forget crowded beaches. What we all need is a nice, laidback Scandi September – think hygge for your post-lockdown soul. With no fewer than 187,000 lakes and those end-of-summer days still stretching out long into the evenings, Finland fits the bill. This is one where you don’t want to be moving around too much. Instead, fly in for a couple of lazy days in Helsinki, before taking to the countryside and settling down in a lakeside cabin built for two. Feel like there’s nothing much to do? That’s exactly the point. Slow down and enjoy self-isolation as it should be: dangle your feet off a jetty, go for a ramble in the woods, or simply bask in the sun on a lakeside slab of rock. You’re missing just one thing: a sauna (make sure your cottage has one). Strip off, sweat it out – and then plunge into the lake to get your energy back. A week of cabin life and you’ll feel as recharged as a Duracell bunny.

Entry requirements: Travellers must be fully vaccinated or have proof of recovery from Covid-19 within the past six months.

Take off to Finland

The GoldenPass Belle Époque railway runs between Montreux and Zweisimmen


Best for: space

After months of being largely cooped up indoors, where better to inhale some fresh air than halfway up a Swiss mountain? Even former UK PM Theresa May comes here to clear her head – but there’s plenty of space for everyone in Switzerland, making it a top-notch socially distanced holiday. Get away from it all in the Swiss National Park, where your walking buddies will be golden eagles and ibexes. If you’re more of a hobbyist, take a turn around the Lavaux vineyards, clinging to the cliff edges of Lake Geneva since Roman times. Want some time out and about, but hiking not your thing? Never fear – Switzerland has exceptional railways. Hit the rails with the GoldenPass Belle Époque train, whose vintage carriages rattle up from Lake Geneva at Montreux to Zweisimmen, via mountain passes and chalet-studded valleys, with lakes and waterfalls in between. Real train nerds (don’t be shy) will love Jungfraujoch – the highest-altitude railway station in Europe, squaring off against the Alps’ longest glacier.

Entry requirements: Travellers must be fully vaccinated and complete a passenger locator form ahead of travel.

Take off to Switzerland

Lighthouse at the Ponta do Arnel in São Miguel (Damir Babacic/Unsplash)


Best for: nature

If you’re making up for lost time, the Azores is the place for you. Nine islands, one big gumbo of spectacular nature: turquoise lakes in volcanic calderas, ruffled mountains and a blanket of lush greenery, all swirled by the deep blue Atlantic. São Miguel is the largest island, but don’t mistake it for busy – head east to visit Ponta do Arnel lighthouse or, take a quick drive west from Ponta Delgada and you’ll be in the ethereal Sete Cidades, a three-mile-wide volcanic crater filled with two lagoon-like lakes, one jade, one azure, both an Instagram dream. You’ll also find geothermal pools, waterfalls and tea plantations on São Miguel, while hop over to second-largest island Pico to discover Portugal’s highest mountain ripe for climbing, at 7,713 feet. While the landscape could almost be Hawaii, the towns are unmistakably Portuguese – Angra do Heroísmo, on Terceira island, is a must for its pretty pastel-coloured buildings and stout, stately homes. Whale-watching in the Atlantic should connect you right back with mother nature.

Entry requirements: Travellers over 12 must be fully vaccinated and must fill out a pre-flight pre-flight questionnaire, which includes a PCR test taken within 72 hours of boarding. An EU Digital Covid Certificate allows you to skip this. If staying over a week, you must re-test on day six.

Take off to Portugal