Giulia Ghinassi pokes with a stick at the old lupine scat unceremoniously plopped on the gravel trail. "A wolf's poo is like its social media," she explains. "You can tell a lot from it - its diet, its gender, its age."
According to Ghinassi, a nature guide at Tuscany's Oasyhotel, 13 wolves live in Tuscany's Oasi Dynamo Reserve, a 1,000-hectare, WWF-affiliated tract some 60km from Florence. Not unexpectedly for a species hunted to near extinction by humans, sightings are rare. But then, sightings aren't really the point at Oasyhotel. Despite its seemingly remote location in mountainous San Marcello Piteglio, the 16-lodge eco-stay is less about hair-raising animal encounters and heart-thumping extreme sports and more about accessible, easy adventuring.
Lazy adventuring is gaining momentum: trips that let you leap into nature's rambunctious interior without losing sight of the footpath behind you are outperforming extreme explorations. Scaling previously unattainable peaks or pushing harder, faster and higher? Old news. Today's travellers are escaping the digital dungeons of their social feeds via weekend digital detoxes, placid hill hikes and staycation escapes to seemingly secluded cabins whose isolated views belie their nearness to major cities. Foraging courses are popping up everywhere (including, of all places, London); inclusive adventure groups are encouraging previously under-served communities to lace up their hiking boots; bird-watching is having a renaissance; and - perhaps the clearest indication that we're hoping to leave digital devices behind in the car when we head out for a hike - paper map sales are on the up. In the UK, Ordnance Survey reported year-on-year increases in sales of maps, while the American Automobile Association produced 123 per cent more maps in 2022 than it did the previous year.
So why, when the travel industry has flipped back to business post-pandemic and there's never been more incentive to dream big and tick off a bucket list of travel experiences, are growing numbers of young travellers switching their one-way flights to Machu Picchu and year-long backpacking across Australia plans for gentle ramblings in their own backyard? A heightened eco-consciousness and money-saving savviness are undoubtedly part of the appeal, but there's something more to it.
"For us, it was about scaling back," says Charlie Wild, one half of the duo behind adventure Instagram account @the.travel.project. Wild and his partner, Jess Last, saw interest in the account soar when they launched an "Achievable Adventure" challenge during the pandemic, a "52 adventures in 52 weeks" initiative in which they toured the UK on the hunt for outdoor experiences that didn't require a hefty bank balance - or a backpack full of gorpcore gilets. Inspired by how roving to all corners of the globe had made them feel in the past, the pair wanted to reproduce those same benefits in their daily lives, sans the expense or the air miles. "We thought, OK, why can't we make this more realistic and find that feeling in a more regular routine?" explains Wild. Their adventures included sunrise swims in their local river, foraging along the Pembrokeshire coastline and spending a night in a Scottish cabin.
Immersion in nature at Oasyhotel. | Photo credit: Valentina Sommariva
#VanLife this isn't - the new era of adventure might take you off-grid (if only momentarily), but there are no romantic, bohemian aspirations of a new hippie culture. Lazy adventuring is about fitting outdoorsiness around your 9-5, rather than leaving the rat race all together.
In the hotel world, off-grid cabins are now all the rage: Unplugged's digital detox cabins - handily located near London and Manchester - provide secluded countryside escapes designed for switching off and recharging. They're equipped with phone lockboxes for those wanting to digitally detox. Aussie brand Unyoked launched its own modern log cabins in the UK in 2022, promising London "9-5ers" their "own private cabin, less than two hours away" with guaranteed phone reception (if needed). Likewise, in the north of England, David Cook's Northumberland Defender Hire offers would-be adventurers the chance to head off-range for a long weekend, living out of a souped-up Landrover Defender, complete with portable barbecue, a full arsenal of kitchen utensils, solar shower and a pop-up tent on the top of the car with a memory foam mattress inside. Bear Grylls wannabes pick the car up from Newcastle station and can be bedding down under silent starry skies within an hour or two. It's all very Swallows and Amazons, except you don't need a jot of outdoors experience.
Oasyhotel is located in a WWF-affliated reserve. | Photo credit: Valentina Sommariva
"It gives you adventurous experiences but isn't asking you to do something completely mad," Charlie Wild surmises of the trend. "We call it your dose of adventure. You don't need a full whack. Just having that dose keeps you feeling alive and energised for a week or two."
Tuscany's Oasyhotel might be a little further to get to than a camping trip in Dartmoor - and a little more luxurious than a hike up Mam Tor - but its ethos aligns with the rise of a gentler style of adventure, too. Guests staying in the pared-back, blonde-wood lodges (which, in accordance with reserve protocol, are all completely "moveable" and leave no impact on the landscape) are invited to do as much - or as little - as they want. They might go mushroom foraging, horseriding, hike through the pale-barked birches and white and red firs on a slow-paced nature walk, paddleboard their way across a private lake, try cheese making at an adjoining farm or attend an outdoor yoga class. Dawn nature walks are as much about listening for the twittering of European nuthatches as they are seeking out elusive wolf packs. There's a restaurant serving a daily-changing menu dreamt up by the young chef, a small bar that will whip up a thyme-infused Oasy sour on request, and treatment rooms if you fancy a pummelling. But there's also Adirondack chairs on the lodge porches for watching the sunset over Tuscany's bosky mountainous interior, and time to watch a praying mantis wander leisurely across the decking at your feet. "We offer a different kind of luxury," explains general manager Federico Galligani, who, prior to taking up the Oasyhotel position, worked at the likes of Rome's St Regis, and The Savoy in London. "The luxury of being out here in nature."
It all points to a gentler style of adventure travel, where achievable, slow-paced trips into the wilderness trump high-stakes thrills. Why haul yourself halfway up a mountain when an amble over the undulating Tuscan hills is just as rewarding? At Oasyhotel, on a night walk - probably the most adrenaline-inducing activity on offer - a single nugget of old, disintegrating scat is the only clue of wolfish activities. A deer sighting - two wide, alarmed eyes flashing in the torch beam - confirms that the apex predators of Italy have long vanished into the night. Perhaps, like us, they were clocking off from the 9-5, and going easy on the social media.
Oasyhotel is open seasonally, from 14 April to 13 October. Starts start from £472 per night. oasyhotel.com