♦ Forest-bather Dr Qing Li,
Finding our feet on the lush, wild trails of St Lucia; making the most of the Welsh coast; and keeping dry while bathing in the forests of China – our experts put you in the know…
QHiking the Pitons in St Lucia is on my list of must-dos, but what other wild walking routes are worth undertaking on the Caribbean island?
Matthew Thornton, via email
Hiking the magnificent Pitons should be top of your list, and the reward for doing so are some tremendous views of the south coast as it hugs the brilliantly blue Caribbean Sea. However, of the twin volcanic peaks, it’s only the higher Gros Piton that has a laid-out hiking trail (2–3 hours each way); the extremely steep Petit Piton is too dangerous to attempt.
Elsewhere, St Lucia’s Forestry Department maintains an excellent network of quiet trails in the lush, mountainous interior of the island – permits are found at the trailheads. First, try the circular 5km Forestiere Rainforest Trail, hiking past giant figs and ferns with glimpses of both the Caribbean and Atlantic coasts. Or there’s the 4km Des Cartiers Rainforest Trail, which ploughs high-canopied mature trees that are great for birdwatching (look out for the rare endemic St Lucia parrot).
The 1.6km out-and-back Barre de L’isle Rainforest Trail follows a high, densely-wooded ridge that divides the east and west sides of the island, while the 4km-long Enbas Saut Waterfalls Trail also has fine cascades and bathing pools.
Finally, after scaling Gros Piton, consider the far easier 45-minute community-run Tet Paul Nature Trail. Its wooden steps (dubbed the ‘Stairway to Heaven’) take you to an extraordinary platform that gazes past the ‘cleavage’ of the emeraldgreen rises of the Pitons, and on a clear day you can just about make out Martinique and St Vincent, too.
Lizzie Williams, author of Footprint’s St Lucia & Dominica handbook
Q This year in Wales is the ‘Year of the Sea’. What treasures can I spot along its coastline?
Roxanne Howard, via email
Nature asserts itself in spectacular fashion along the Welsh coast, with the likes of Merthyr Mawr – home to the second-highest sand dune in Europe – the exhilarating South Stack sea cliffs of Anglesey and tidal island Worm’s Head, off the glorious Gower Peninsula, all a world apart in terms of sights.
The beaches of Wales – Mwnt (a personal favourite), Aberdyfi, Barafundle Bay and Porth Oer among others – also rank alongside the finest in Britain, if not Europe. Curiosities lurk, too, and none more so than at Borth, where a petrified forest has lain submerged under layers of peat for millennia, revealing itself only at low tide.
There’s abundant wildlife, of course, with bottlenose dolphins to be found around Cardigan Bay, puffins on Skomer and storm petrels on Skokholm. And from a cultural perspective, the Italianate, fantasy village of Portmeirion is a startling antidote to some of the coast’s more traditional seaside destinations, such as Aberystwyth and Llandudno – the latter is still a rather handsome, if slightly oldfashioned, prom and pier resort.
Elsewhere, coast-bound castles at Harlech and Beaumaris are especially superb examples of the gargantuan fortresses constructed by Edward I as part of his formidable Iron Ring. Indeed, with enough time (and no little inclination), it’s now possible to walk the entire Wales Coast Path – yep, all 1,400km of it – and indulge yourself in its many extraordinary treasures.
Norm Longley, co-author of Rough Guide to Wales guidebook
Q I’d like to get back to nature without having to hike for countless hours through bush or go ‘wild swimming’. Is there a gentle yet adventurous alternative?
Charles Harrison, via email
Here in Japan, we have a practice called shinrin-yoku, which translates as ‘forest bathing’. No water is required for this type of bathing, however! It simply requires spending time in the forest to promote good health.
The practice originated in Japan in the 1980s as a national health service initiative, and now there are forest bathing centres all over the country. It has been proven to lower stress, help with anxiety and depression, boost energy and the immune system, and it can even promote longer sleep.
You can forest-bathe anywhere, though. After all, Japan spans a variety of climates, from chilly Hokkaido to the subtropical forests of the south. Some of my favourites are actually found in China, such as Zhangjiajie’s Tianmenshan National Forest Park, where the movie Avatar was filmed, or Shimen National Forest Park in Guangzhou. Perfect ‘bathing’ spots.
Dr Qing Li, author of Penguin Life’s Shinrin-yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing