Nature and outdoors

8 city escapes for countryside lovers

When you tire of the traffic and the skyscrapers, these cities offer some tranquil rural escapes, all within a short drive or train ride. By KATY WONG

We travel to cities for business trips, or even for long weekends somewhere different. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit among buildings and highways for the duration.

Here are some of our favourite outdoor experiences all within 60 miles of a key city.

The city: Tokyo

Tokyo day trips
Irwin Wong

The escape: Walking the wasabi hills

Distance: About 37 miles

Summary: Two hours west of Tokyo’s city centre, the area of Okutama is surrounded by mountains, limestone caves, hot springs and camping grounds. Home to the wasabi plant and fine clear streams, you can also hike the mountain to spot deer and raccoons. Mount Mitake is great for hikes, or you can take a short cable car ride to the Musashi-Mitake Shrine, at 929 metres, to enjoy spectacular views of waterfalls and rock formations.

The city: Hong Kong

Hiking up Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak, on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, January 26 2017.
Alamy Stock Photo / Argusphoto

The escape: Hiking Lantau Peak

Distance: About 19 miles

Summary: The second-highest summit in Hong Kong, Lantau Peak offers a great spot to capture the sunrise – as long as you don’t mind the five-hour hike to get there. The city’s top-notch public transport system makes a quick mountain visit during a short stay in Hong Kong easily doable. Some great pictures of a sea of clouds and clear views of the Skek Pik Reservoir will turn any Instagram feed into one worth showing off.

The city: Sydney

White faced heron hunting at the beach, Sydney Australia
RugliG / istock

The escape: Royal National Park

Distance: About 18 miles

Summary: Sydney offers much more than the Gold Coast beaches. If you’re the adventurous type, weekends of trekking or wildlife watching are right on hand. A few miles south of the city the Royal National Park is one of the world’s oldest national parks. There are forested areas, barbecue spots, picnic areas, walking trails, and from May to November you can see whales off the coast on their annual migration.

The city: Washington DC

Washington wine route

The escape: Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop

Distance: About 74 miles

Summary: You don’t have to be on the West Coast to sample some great American drinks. This wine loop in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah National Park offers wine, whisky and crafted beer experiences aplenty, all among the forested hills of a national park. There’s a planned itinerary available via the website for those who like to jump straight into the experience, or you can plan your own trip according to your preferred tastings. With wineries, breweries, and whisky distilleries as well as local dining options on offer, you could easily spend two or three days in the loop and still want more.

The city: Xiamen

Xiamen day trips

The escape: Gulangyu Island

Distance: About 4 miles

Summary: Xiamen is fast becoming known as one of China’s most exciting and high-tech industrial hubs, but just a short ferry ride from the skyscrapers there’s an island with no cars, heritage architecture and plenty of green spaces. Gulangyu Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with thousands of well-preserved buildings and museums, as well as green hills that show off a different side of Xiamen.

The city: Seoul

Seoul day trips

The escape: The Garden of Morning Calm

Distance: About 24 miles

Summary: The Garden of Morning Calm in Gapyeong – just an hour away from Myeongdong, one of the most popular tourist spots in Seoul – is a 30,000-square-metre garden house that contains about 5,000 kinds of plants. Nearby, Petite France is a collection of French-inspired villages and Nami Island offers a rustic-themed island excursion, with beautiful tree-lined walks, water sports, pottery classes and more. Various one-day tour packages are offered by local travel agencies.

The city: Dublin

Dublin day trips

The escape: Howth Head

Distance: About 10 miles

Summary: There’s plenty of history and culture inside Dublin itself, but for something truly oceanic, take a trip to Howth’s Head, a promontory jutting out into the Irish Sea. The Medieval-era Howth Castle and the National Transport Museum right next door offer a glimpse of history in the area, while grey seals offer something for the naturalists on Ireland’s Eye, a small, uninhabited island just off Howth to the north. The Baily Lighthouse caps off this coastal scene, a perfect picture opportunity and the last of Ireland’s lighthouses to become automated.

The city: Johannesburg

Johannesburg day trips

The escape: Somabula Nature Reserve

Distance: About 57 miles

Summary: An hour from Johannesburg, the Somabula Nature Reserve features 400 hectares of indigenous trees and pristine bush. With a camping ground and self-catering chalets, there’s a great opportunity to get up close to animals such as giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, porcupine and bushbabies. Night drives, mountain bike rides and horse rides are all on offer.

EDITOR’S PICKS

Discover More

Cathay Travell Book

ABOUT

Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
Discovery Book Silkroad Book