Twenty epic weekend adventures

From skydiving in Spain to tiger-hunting in India. Brace yourself for Jeremy Lazell’s pick of 20 jam-packed, super-squeezed, mini-me adventures

Ten years ago, you were pretty flash if you could squeeze a city break to Reykjavik or Lisbon into one weekend. To make it as far as St Petersburg would have constituted a whole dinner-party’s worth of bragging. Now, the world is a smaller place — and your weekend can be a whole lot bigger. Bigger and more adventurous. After all, it’s not just the destination that counts — it’s what you do with it.

To celebrate the launch of our new compact travel section, here is our choice of the best compact adventures. There are 20 action-packed trips to tempt you — from the pulse-racing extremes of kayaking, skydiving, mountain-summiting and yachting to the cultural excesses of a Parisian opera-fest, a Shakespearian medley and a stellar weekend of Michelin treats. Be a playboy on the Côte d’Azur, ride across the Cape winelands, explore Roman Libya, go canyoning in Turkey or tiger-hunting in India — whatever you do, you’ll be back before anyone in your office has noticed you’ve gone.

Unless otherwise stated, all package prices are per person, based on two sharing, and include flights from London. Ask the operator for details of regional departures

CAPE CRUSADE, South Africa

Fly to Cape Town on Friday night and come back Tuesday morning, packing in more outdoor adventure in three days than most people eke out of a lifetime. There’s no jet lag (Cape Town is only two hours ahead of GMT), so it’s airport to hotel then straight off to Hout Bay, kayaking in search of seals before abseiling off Table Mountain. Sunday is no less spectacular, starting with a 2,000ft tandem paraglide descent off Lion’s Head, then trying your hand at kitesurfing in the Atlantic in the afternoon. Next day, just when ordinary mortals are buying souvenirs and packing for the flight that evening, something more gentle to round off your epic weekend: a horse-ride between vineyards near Franschhoek.
Days off work: 1.
Details: from £1,387 for two nights, B&B, at the five-star Mount Nelson hotel, including flights, transfers and all activities listed. Original Travel (020 7978 7333,


For a weekend of palate-pampering and unrivalled gastronomic excess, it has to be Paris. Two and a half hours away by Eurostar, you can be there in time for dinner on Friday: our recommendation is the monumental, three-starred Restaurant Alain Ducasse, just off the Champs Elysées at the Plaza Athénée. After that, the world is your huître, but Saturday at Ducasse’s cookery school, followed by an evening wine-tasting with his sommelier, could only be bettered if you had Sunday lunch at the Michelin-starred La Table de Joël Robuchon (16 Avenue Bugeaud; 00 33 1 56 28 16 16), sleeping it off all the way back to Waterloo.
Days off work: 0.
Details: £810 for two nights, B&B, at the five-star La Trémoille, including dinner at Restaurant Alain Ducasse, a day at the cookery school and an evening wine-tasting. Contact Gourmet on Tour (020 7396 5550, Eurostar (0870 518 6186, has returns from London to Paris from £59.


Ancient ruins in North Africa are a dirham a dozen, but nowhere has a greater concentration of well-preserved sites than the coast around Tripoli. Set aside a full day for Leptis Magna: covered for more than 800 years by sand, it is probably the best-preserved Roman site on the Med. Standing in its magnificent amphitheatre will whisk you back two millenniums in a minute. With two nights in Tripoli, you also have time for a half-day in Sabratha, the second of Tripolitania’s stupendous sites, plus the ruins of Oea, or a dive into the capital’s medina.
Days off work: 1.
Details: £965 for two nights, four-star, full-board, including flights, transfers, excursions and guiding. Contact Simoon Travel (020 7622 6263,


It is possible to learn to skydive in Britain, but with our weather it might take a month of Sundays to do it. Spain doesn’t have that problem: 20 minutes from Madrid’s international airport, with one instructor for every student and less wind and rain per year than many UK drop zones get in a month, Freefall University, near Aranjuez, is Europe’s best. After six fixed-line jumps, where your chute opens as soon as you jump, it’s straight up to 13,000ft, then straight back down, solo, at 120mph, free-falling for 50 seconds.
Days off work: 1.
Details: £1,109 for three nights, three-star in Aranjuez, with car hire, flights, tuition and equipment, with Freefall University (020 7060 0174,


Climbing the highest peak in North Africa isn’t as difficult as you might think — from May to November it’s a three-hour scree-slog from camp — but pulling it off in a long weekend takes some doing. It can be done, though: fly to Marrakesh on Friday, overnight in Richard Branson’s magnificent High Atlas Kasbah Tamadot, walk six hours on Saturday to a camp at the foot of 13,671ft Jebel Toubkal, then to the summit on Sunday for stunning views of the Sahara. Back to the hotel for a cold beer and a steam in the hammam, then fly out Monday after a quick shop in the souk.
Days off work: 2.
Details: £755 for two nights, B&B, at Kasbah Tamadot and one night camping, full-board, with transfers, flights, trek guide and porters, through CV Travel (0870 062 3415,


Drive through Tuscany in a gorgeous Alfa Romeo Duetto and you won’t want to get out to see the sights. It’s not the fastest car, and with the roof down you should avoid motorways … how wonderful. Pisa, away from the main routes near Florence, is the best place to pick up. Then head across Chianti to Locanda dell’ Amorosa, a hilltop estate set amid vineyards. On Saturday, the hill towns of Cortona and Montepulciano will keep your clutch — and camera — busy, and on Sunday you’ll have time for Siena before you fly home.
Days off work: 1.
Details: £950 for two nights, five-star, B&B, including car hire, tour of Siena and flights. Contact Bellini Travel (020 7602 7602,

QUICK STEP, Barcelona

Just a no-frills flight from the office, with a late-night culture that lets you squeeze every last minute out of your stay, Barcelona can’t be bettered as a hop-till-you-drop weekend escape. With the Picasso Museum, Gaudi’s treasures and the bars and clubs of the Barri Gotic just a short stroll from your hotel, you could leave your dance shoes at home and still feel overwhelmed by things to do. Throw in two two-hour salsa or tango lessons, meals out with your dance partners and outings to Barcelona’s hottest clubs escorted by your instructor, and you’ll need a week of sleep when it’s all over.
Days off work: ½.
Details: from £335 for two nights, three-star, B&B, close to Las Ramblas, including tuition, outings, flights and transfers. Contact Club Dance Holidays (0870 286 6000,

THE HIGH LIFE, Côte d’Azur

The weekend break for the person who has everything — or at least a stack of cash and a desire to part with it in style. Kick off with champagne and caviar at 36,000ft as your private jet whisks you from any airfield in the UK to Nice. Then it’s off by limo to your crewed, five-berth, 61ft motorised yacht. What happens next is up to you: anchor off the Cap d’Antibes for lunch at Juan-les- Pins, carry on down the coast for cocktails in St Tropez, or hit the baccarat tables at the Monte Carlo Casino — or even all three.
Days off work: 0-1.
Details: £8,732 for two nights, based on two sharing, full-board, including flights, transfers, lunch at the three-Michelin-star Louis XV in Monaco or the Café de Paris in St Tropez, and entry to the casino; four sharing costs £4,365. Contact Jeffersons (0870 850 8181,


Three 3,000ft peaks in three days? Easy. Now make that the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales — we did promise to pack a punch. Ben Nevis (4,409ft; seven hours up and down; OS Landranger 41) is the toughest challenge, so start here while fresh, then drive straight down to Wasdale (five hours) in the Lake District. Next day, after a morning up Scafell Pike (3,210ft; five hours; OS Landranger 89), drive to Pen-y-Pass in North Wales (five hours), right on the Pyg track — for next day’s ascent of Snowdon (3,560ft; five hours; OS Landranger 115).
Days off work: 1.
Details: Achintee Farm (01397 702240,; doubles £30pp B&B; packed lunch £5) is 20yd from the start of the Ben Nevis tourist track. Wasdale Head Inn (019467 26229,; doubles £49pp B&B; packed lunch £5) is, again, right on the path to Scafell Pike. Pen-y-Pass Youth Hostel (0870 770 5990,; bunks £12.50, nonmembers £15.50) is ideal for Snowdon.


Occupying five vast buildings on the banks of the Neva, and housing more than 3m works of art dating from the Stone Age to the present, St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum is an obvious target for a quick-fire blitz on the art world, but make sure you do it in style. And by style we mean first-class sleeper from Moscow, art-historian private guide for the day, a performance by the Kirov Ballet in the evening, and a trip to the Summer Palace the next day.
Days off work: 2.
Details: from £1,160 for three nights, five-star, B&B, with flights and transfers. The price includes all of the above, plus a tour of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, city tours and tickets to the ballet at the Bolshoi. Contact Audley Travel (01869 276217,

CHOCKS AWAY, West Sussex

Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield isn’t the only Elizabethan manor hotel we know with ballooning on its list of activity options, but it is the only one we’ve heard of that offers acrobatic flights in vintage Chipmunks (not unlike a Spitfire), all-day paragliding instruction on the South Downs, and day trips by private plane to Le Touquet for lunch as well.
Days off work: 0-1.
Details: £810 for two nights, half-board, including ballooning, Chipmunk flight and one day’s paragliding; a third night, with flight to Le Touquet, adds £209. Contact Pride of Britain Hotels (0870 609 3012,


With jet-lag-free overnight flights both ends, you can squeeze in three game drives, one walking safari and a night around the campfire without even asking the boss for a day off. But you need to pick the right camp — somewhere bush enough to fire your safari soul, but not so far from Nairobi that you’ll spend all weekend getting there. One hour by plane and 4WD from Nairobi is that ultimate high-thrill, quick-fix compromise: the fenceless, 11-tented Kicheche Camp, which has lions, elephants, buffaloes and leopards roaming the camp at night. Half an hour from the main migration crossing point on the Mara River, it recently saw a cheetah kill just a quarter of a mile from camp.
Days off work: 0-2.
Details: £1,028 for one night, full-board, including flights, transfers and all game-viewing activities; two nights cost £1,150, three nights £1,272. Contact Cazenove & Loyd (020 7384 2332,


The only city on the planet with five opera houses, Paris is the obvious contender for a really serious weekend opera-fest. You’ll only have time for three performances, so the Opéra Bastille, Théâtre du Châtelet and Palais Garnier are the standout venues to aim for, with time between croissants and crêpes on Sunday morning for a backstage tour of the Palais Garnier. The trick is to base yourself somewhere central: the Hôtel Les Jardins du Marais is just a short walk from the Opéra Bastille, where highlights this season include Madama Butterfly, Rigoletto and Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges. The Palais Garnier, meanwhile, is already into its Mozart season, and Wagner’s Ring cycle opens next month at the Théâtre du Châtelet.
Days off work: 0.
Details: £540 for two nights, four-star, B&B, including three first-category opera tickets, city guides, Palais Garnier tour, and return travel on Eurostar. Contact Travel for the Arts (020 8799 8350,


Almost relentlessly flat, and crisscrossed by carless canal paths, Holland’s Rhine river dykes couldn’t be more cycle-friendly. You could pick just about any stretch and have a weekend’s cycling to remember, but the three-day, 100-mile lowland loop from Utrecht to Schoonhoven and Deil is a European classic, using canal paths and back roads through wooded orchards littered with windmills, passing the historic harbour villages of Buren and Gorinchem along the way.
Days off work: 1.
Details: £140 for three nights, three-star, B&B, with cycle hire, route maps and 24-hour emergency recovery; panniers £5/day, luggage transfers £44/day for up to four. Contact Tulip Cycling (00 31 306 364 676, Airlines flying to Amsterdam include EasyJet ( and KLM (0870 507 4074,


Winters are long and cruel in northern Norway — not for nothing do the locals know how to make the most of their ice, with the area around Alta rapidly making its name as the Arctic’s adventure capital. There’s not an ounce of fat on this weekend break, cut lean and jam-packed with snowmobile safaris 250 miles inside the Arctic Circle, as well as a horse-drawn sleigh ride along the frozen River Alta in search of the northern lights, plus a night in an ice hotel, swimming in the Barents Sea and a king-crab fishing trip in a fjord close to North Cape.
Days off work: 2.
Details: £1,147 for three nights, half-board, including flights, transfers and all activities. Contact Norwegian Coastal Voyage (020 8846 2666,

BARD TIMES, Stratford

You can binge on the Bard if you choose your dates right. You won’t manage more than two plays on a weekend (no Sunday performances), but go in two weekends’ time, for example, and you could see The Comedy of Errors at the RST on the night of Friday 23, As You Like It, again at the RST, on Saturday afternoon, and the RSC’s Speaking Like Magpies at The Swan later that night. Spend Sunday backstage at the RST (12pm and 1pm; £5; 01789 403405).
Days off work: 0-½.
Details: tickets £5-£42. Contact RSC (0870 609 1110, The best hotel bet within a short walk of both theatres is the four-star Macdonald Shakespeare Hotel (0870 830 4812,, with doubles from £128, B&B.


Three things you’ll need to know: one, you’ll get jet lag; two, you’ll do an awful lot of travelling; three, you’ll be blown away by every minute. The trip starts with a night flight to Delhi, arriving in the small hours of Friday, grabbing six or seven hours of sleep before travelling by rail and private car to the jewel in Rajasthan’s wildlife crown, Ranthambore National Park. Tigers are the big draw here, and although only 26 now inhabit the 100,000-acre forested park, this is still one of the best places on the planet for sightings. Two nights in a luxury tented camp allow enough time for four excursions into the forest, then it’s back to Delhi by train and car, with a late-afternoon visit to the Taj Mahal along the way.
Days off work: 2.
Details: £1,095 for three nights, full-board, including game-viewing activities, guided sightseeing, transfers and flights. Contact Wildlife Worldwide (020 8667 9158,


Just about any hotel worth its salt scrub these days claims to have a spa, but that can just mean a converted closet and Best of Enya CD. If it’s serious, back-to-back, no-time-wasted self-indulgence you require, you need somewhere with at least 10 treatment rooms, which is why, with 20 treatment rooms, more than 50 treatments, a gym, yoga and aerobics instruction and pool, we made the Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall last year’s Sunday Times Spa of the Year.
Days off work: 0.
Details: £800 for two nights, full-board, at Seaham Hall (AA Best Hotel, 2004), including eight hours of his’n’hers treatments, spread over two days, and complimentary use of the steam rooms and gym. Contact Seaham Hall (0191 516 1400,


Ten years ago, Cappadocia’s staggering landscape would have been reward enough for a week’s worth of holiday — these days, we want it all in a weekend, and we want it wild. Minibus tour, anyone? Forget it, today you can see it from a balloon. A walking tour of the strange valleys and troglodyte villages, perhaps? Fine, but at night, with the moon playing mischief with the chimneys and cave-church facades.
Days off work: 2.
Details: £1,210 for three nights, B&B, in the Kayadam, a converted 4th-century cave house in Urgup. The price includes flights, transfers, sunrise balloon flights, moonlit trek and two days exploring Goreme and Urgup. Contact Exclusive Escapes (020 8605 3500,


It’s only a short flight and a one-hour drive to the Sierra de Aracena, just north of Seville, but climb into the saddle of an Andaluz cross, gallop between whitewashed Andalusian villages for three days, and you won’t half feel a long way from the office grind. There are many riding operators in Andalusia, but none has a more breathtaking base than the idyllic farmstead of Finca el Moro, your home for one night before a three-day ride through the hills, staying and eating in village posadas along the way.
Days off work: 1.
Details: £515 for three nights, full-board, including transfers from Seville and fully guided riding (competent riders only; up to six hours per day). Contact Nick or Hermione Tudor at Finca el Moro (00 34 959 501079, Ryanair (, BA ( and Aer Lingus ( fly to Seville.

RIVER RUN, Herefordshire

I’ve driven the Sahara and trekked the Himalayas, but no journey has given me more pleasure than Hay to Ross, paddling an open Canadian canoe along the River Wye, thanks to the herons, otters, swans, steep wooded banks and open farmland bends, plus the sheer pleasure of a gentle, serendipitous drift towards journey’s end. You need four days to do the whole lot, so just do Hay to Hereford, paddling about 15 miles (5-6 hours) per day, camping overnight in a riverside apple orchard at Byecross Farm, dining at the Yew Tree (01981 500359) in Preston-on-Wye, and stopping on day two for a picnic at Roger Parr’s 1920s Weir Gardens.
Days off work: 0.
Details: two-seater open Canadian canoes £30/day (four-seaters £50), including free pick-up from Hereford back to Hay, with Paddles & Pedals (01497 820604, Camping at Byecross Farm costs £2pp per night (01981 500284 or 07885 709505).