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Travel Ten destinations that'll give you something to write home about

Iceberg Lagoon, Jokulsarlon.

Darren Baker

Whether ennui has you down or you're stressed to the gills, the right vacation should help you reset, and not take too much work to plan and implement that you're exhausted when you get home. Find balance with these 10 destinations that will challenge your limits – or slow you right down.


Invade Iceland You can be as adventurous as you want in Iceland: Explore on horseback, by hiking or ATVing, or simply driving across its nearly treeless (yet photogenic) volcanic and mountainous landscapes complete with glaciers, big screen-worthy waterfalls, hot springs and, in winter, Northern Lights. Wild West Tours specializes in the western peninsula, easily accessible from Reykjavik, and offers adventure packages via its fleet of large super-jeeps, tailored to each customer's need for speed. If you're seeking a rush, consider booking an extreme winter adventure that includes ice climbing and ATV riding. A less-active option includes the Viking Sushi boat tour with viewings of puffins, eider ducks and white-tailed eagles and samples of fresh-from-the-sea scallops and sea urchins. Optional with all packages is a national must-have: Icelandic wool gloves or a cap for 3,500 krona (about $32). Tours start at $180 (19,500 krona) a person. (

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Survive in the Rockies Travellers with fantasies of retreating to a mountain log cabin or winter campsite should start with the half-day, full-day or overnight wilderness survival course offered by Inside Out Experience based near Canmore, Alta. Learn how to start fires, build shelters, purify water, identify plants to eat, master basic first aid and ground-to-air signals, among other life-saving skills. Pair the workshop with a guided outing – in winter, a snowshoe tour or ice walk (in summer, white-water rafting, mountain biking, hiking or horseback riding) for a full Canadian Rockies experience. From $72 a person. (

Bike the Pacific Northwest The range of cycling tours from Washington state-based Bicycle Adventures runs from family friendly to (their word) epic, either on road or trails – and always with van support to move luggage, supplies and anyone who finds the hills too steep. The four-day, three-night Leavenworth Mountain Biking trip, for example, takes you through back-country trails with a day of white-water rafting to give your thighs and glutes a break. Participants are split into groups by ability and everyone gets a hot shower and good night's sleep (perhaps even a well-deserved massage) each night. $1,365 (U.S.) (

Stoke your ski skills B.C.'s Revelstoke Mountain Resort, three hours' drive northeast of Kelowna, is renowned for having North America's greatest vertical (1,713 metres) and plenty of snow (about nine to 13 metres a year). But it's also the only resort in North America offering lift, cat-, heli- and back-country skiing all from the same village, making it the perfect place to push your skiing endurance. The three-day Ultimate Excursion package, intended for advanced intermediate powder skiers, starts with a prep day to refine your skills with a pro before spending a second day cat-skiing and a third on a heli-skiing tour. $1,500 a person (includes equipment rental, lift ticket and lunch). (

Go green in Ecuador From a walking tour of Quito to a 13-night "100 species" photography expedition, Tropic is an eco-tour operator offering something for every style of adventurer. As a member of the International Ecotourism Society, one of its top tours is the six-day Green Ecuador Adventure Travel package. It takes guests through some of the country's highlights: a day in the capital city, a non-technical climb up 4,328 metre Fuya Fuya Mountain, a hike through the cloud forest in search of quetzals and toucans and mountain biking or horseback riding with a chagra, an Ecuadorian cowboy. From $1,200 (U.S.). (


Relax in a ryokan Thanks in part to their position on the Pacific Ring of Fire and to the plentiful natural hot springs that come with that geology, the Japanese have a long history of taking their ease in the water. After a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo, indulge in communal hot baths, sauna and spa at the 20-room Hakone-Ginyu, a ryokan (or traditional Japanese inn). Choose from a Japanese- or Western-style bed and spend some quality time with your private, open-air, hot-spring tub. From $300 (29,310 yen) a person a night. (

Splash about in Bath A spa destination since Roman times, the pretty English town of Bath (90 minutes by train from London) offers many attractions, from architecture (the golden-stone Georgian buildings are exquisite) and museums, to shopping, cuisine or soaking in the country's only natural hot springs. Book a room at the Bath Priory, a 33-bedroom hotel that is walking distance from the centre of town but feels as if it were in the countryside. Play croquet in the gardens, take afternoon tea in the drawing room and sneak in a treatment at the onsite spa before dining at the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant. From $268 (£148.50) a night. (

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Feel quiet in Quebec Le Baluchon Eco Resort is a countryside retreat 45 minutes from Trois-Rivières with 22 kilometres of forest trails and a slow-moving river fit for swimming, paddling or just simple contemplation. Start with the Health Spa Retreat Package, an overnight stay that includes breakfast, a four-course dinner, two spa treatments and access to the Nordic spa, sauna, indoor swimming pool, canoes and hiking trails. Ask for one of the recently renovated rooms that is based on the principles of "slow design," which means lots of local artwork and furniture made with renewable resources. In cooler months, make sure to request one with a gas fireplace. From $259 a person a night. (

Mellow out in Mexico Sometimes, a schedule-free beach vacation may not be enough to get the buzz out of your brain. Try a package that gives you plenty of spa treatments, yoga classes and visits to the steam room so you can really gear down. At Matlali Hotel, for example, a half-hour's drive north of Puerto Vallarta, guests can choose from the Detox & Fit or Relax & Breathe packages. Both include daily fresh organic juices and steam-room sessions, a collagen facial, two 80-minute massages and yoga and meditation sessions, but the detox package adds a 90-minute personal coaching session and two body treatments, while the relax package offers daily osteopathy therapy and two mineral-mud body wrap treatments. Wellness packages from $450 a night for single occupancy. (

Lose yourself at Lake Malawi Long, narrow, landlocked Lake Malawi stretches 580 kilometres between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania in southeastern Africa. Home to more species of fish – an estimated 500 to 1,000 – than any other lake in the world, it's a popular destination for both local and international visitors. Lose yourself at Kaya Mawa, a resort on Malawi's Likoma Island and a frequent member of global travel "best of" lists. It offers a spa, restaurant and bar as well as water sports (including diving lessons) and a beautiful sandy beach. Rooms were designed in partnership with a local textile workshop that supports single mothers. Guests are encouraged to explore the island by foot, mountain bike or ATV, and visit its cathedral and markets or take in a local soccer game. From $355 (U.S.) a person a night. (

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