Turn off, tune in, drop out: Six tech-free holidays
Scrap the smartphone, wave goodbye to WiFi and recharge your personal battery on these digital-detox getaways
Forty-seven. That's the number of times most of us check our smartphones every day, according to a recent survey by Deloitte. Phone coverage has never been better, and with WiFi available in every cafe, hotel and even on some Underground lines, even the most minimal tech consumer finds it tricky to switch off completely.
Tour operators have cottoned on to this, and are now doing a roaring trade in "digital detox" getaways. But despite the hype, it's harder than you'd think to go incommunicado: if there's no WiFi in your hotel, you can just hold your phone out the window to get your (slightly embarrassing) fix. However, it is possible to completely escape the trappings of the information age – if only for a few days – on one of these spectacular holidays.
Escape to the wild in Scotland
Getting away from it all needn't mean traversing to the other side of the world. Set in the famously secluded Knoydart peninsula in northwest Scotland is the self-professed 'wildest guesthouse' in Britain. Skiary Lodge is a 200-year-old stone house nestled on the banks of Loch Hourn. Back in the day, this far-flung corner of the Scottish Highlands was home to a small settlement of herring fishers. Now, only Skiary Lodge remains. Groups of up to six can book the cottage for a true back-to-nature experience – complete with paraffin lamps, Rayburn stove heating and a complete absence of phone reception. There are no roads leading to the house, so visitors can either proceed via a scenic 30-minute walk or a free boat transfer from Kinloch Hourn. From your remote base you can while away the hours absorbed in nature or set off on a day trip to reach the summit of Ladhar Bheinn, Scotland's most westerly ‘Munro’ (Sir Hugh T. Munro was the first man to survey and catalogue Scottish mountains of over 3000 feet high). Skiary Lodge owners Tom and Claire offer a full B&B service, with delicious home-cooked meals served in a heated greenhouse adjacent to the cottage. The accompanying views of the loch and its resident seals and red deer provide more visual stimulation than any Instagram post.
Prices start at £89 per person, per night; skiary.com
Catch up on sleep in rural Italy
One of the pitfalls of the digital age is the expectation to be switched on 24/7, a habit that can wreak havoc on sleeping patterns. At Ti Sana, a wellness retreat and medical spa located in the picturesque Lombardy region of northern Italy, getting a good night's kip is firmly on the agenda. Among the many tailor-made health packages on offer is a dedicated insomnia programme, which uses natural therapies and wellness seminars to help unwind and de-stress, while evenings are spent in a special digital detox suite. It's all designed to help participants reach healthy, long-term sleeping solutions and restore mind and body. But if that all sounds like hard work, don't forget you'll be spending your time in a charming 18th-century hamlet, complete with luxurious spa, swimming pools, sauna and hammam. Activity comes in the form of gentle exercise classes such as yoga and Qigong, and there's always the chance to get out and explore the rolling Italian countryside on your doorstep.
Prices for 7 nights at Ti Sana from £2,198 per person (£2,433 for single occupancy), including full board, a choice of programmes, return flights and transfers; healthandfitnesstravel.com
Run with the wolves in Arctic Norway
Snowmobiles may provide high-decibel thrills across frozen lakes and slopes, but to cross the forests, hills and plains of the glistening Narnia that is the Scandinavian Arctic, nothing is as exhilarating as sitting in a sled, being whisked along by a pack of huskies. Giving a surprisingly smooth and fast ride, these close relatives of the wolf are strong and capable wayfinders, instinctively flying along forest paths leaving tree roots and rocks untouched. On a three-day Husky Safari with Artisan travel, award-winning musher Sven Engholm and his blue-eyed hounds will take you through breathtaking winter scenery, covering up to 30 miles a day. You'll be starting and finishing at Engholm's own husky farm and spending two nights in a remote cabin with the chance of spectacular Aurora Borealis displays and magical midnight silences, bar the odd howl from your four-pawed friends outside.
Three nights' full board accommodation, including flights, transfers, guidance, clothing and equipment, from £2,145 per person; artisantravel.co.uk
Regain balance in Sri Lanka
Dubbed the "best yoga retreat in the world" by the Observer magazine, the lakeside hideaway of Ulpotha in Sri Lanka is a tranquil utopia, where twice-daily yoga sessions take place under a pagoda to a chorus of tropical birdsong. When not working on your down-facing dog, you can swim or kayak across the spring-fed lake, snooze lazily in a hammock, watch the macaques throwing mango peel at each other, have an Ayurvedic massage or explore the local villages by bicycle. Those desperate for a phone signal can get one by climbing up to the nearby "sunset rock", but be warned: you'll never be able to do justice to that magnificent sunset or sense of utter peace using a camera. Better to simply embrace it before heading back to the retreat to catch the nightly frog chorus, while supping from a fresh coconut.
Two weeks' full-board, excluding flights, from US$2,940 (£2,348) for scheduled programmes; nealsyardholidays.com
Connect with the ancient world in Peru
Did Indiana Jones get in a sweat on a rope bridge? Well, yes, but he was being chased by a knife-wielding priest. So you'll be as cool as a cucumber as you navigate the 100ft-high rope bridge system at Reserva Amazonia in Peru, which offers astonishing views of the rainforest canopy. One of several hotels by award-winning sustainable luxury tour operator Inkaterra, there are in total three resorts within the Manu National Park, and Inkaterra runs multi-centre holidays between them. All have several hundred species of birds and flora, but the Hacienda Urubamba is the only one with an organic farm where you can pick your own native ingredients; while the Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel has its own glass-walled restaurant in the jungle and a luxury botanical spa.
A 13-day trip to Peru, visiting four Inkaterra properties, starts from £4,325 per person, based on two adults sharing. This includes two nights in Lima, three nights at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, two nights at Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba, two nights Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, three nights at Inkaterra La Casona, return flights and airport transfers, the train and a guided trip to Machu Picchu, plus guided daily excursions at the Inkaterra properties; rainbowtours.co.uk
Go native in South Africa
This hearty and affordable holiday at Mtentu Lodge in the wildest corner of the Wild Coast region of South Africa offers a vast array of activities for thrill seekers, whether canoeing and horse-riding, exploring the nearby deserted beaches with accompanying shipwrecks or being treated for any ills by the local Sangoma in their homes. But you won't be uploading any videos of these experiences until you get back to civilisation, as there's no internet and you can only get a phone signal after a 900ft climb up 'Signal Hill'. Situated within and owned in partnership with the Amadiba community, there are comfortable cabins and dorms available, all with thatched verandas taking in views of the ocean and of the Mkhambathi Nature Reserve, a land of open grassland and swamp forests. Showers are solar- and gas-powered and a percentage of profits go to the local community, who part own the lodge. It's only accessible by 4x4, horse or foot so even before you arrive, you'll know you've gone off-grid.
£192 for a three-day Amadiba Explorer package, including guided horse-riding and hikes through the wilderness, travel and transport not included; mtentulodge.co.za