A Walk on the Wild Side: Five Meaningful Travel Experiences with Animals

Whether horse-whispering in France, spotting polar bears in Norway or going on safari in Kent, our round-up of Europe’s best experiences that let you get up-close with animals encourage a fresh outlook and help you get back to nature.

Meaningful escapes and adventures hold more appeal than ever before. Whether mindful travel has always been a priority or it's a new area of interest, Europe's most unique animal experiences are a great way to immerse yourself in nature. From horse whispering in France to spotting polar bears in Norway, these trips will encourage a fresh outlook and fantastic memories.

Get back to nature with Europe's best, most immersive animal experiences

Horse Whispering

Bonelles, France

The forest of Rambouillet in northern France is home to hundreds of free-roaming horses and deer. Nestled in the midst of it all is Le Barn, a hotel whose concept embraces its surroundings to offer guests a sense of complete freedom and relaxation. Despite being just a 40-minute drive from Paris, its rustic charm, secluded location and focus on nature inspires a slow approach to life, if only for a few days.

Those looking to try something new should book in for an afternoon at neighbouring farm Le Haras de la Cense to take part in a two-hour horse-whispering experience. Befitting its secluded location, the artform celebrates a calming, focused approach to communication and draws from a psychological understanding of the animal to build a sense of trust. Expect to learn skills and techniques, and to spend quality time with the region's majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

If this sounds a little too intense, then trekking through the forest on horseback is also an option and can be booked directly through the hotel.

Salmon Leaping

Sutherland, Scotland

The Scottish Highlands can't be beaten for vast landscapes and Game of Thrones-esque terrain. It's home to some of the UK's lesser-known wildlife; pine martens and red deer can be found inland - although a sighting of the former is rare - and off the west coast humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins roam the waters.

At the Falls of Shin, Atlantic salmon can be spotted leaping their way upstream into waterfalls in an effort to migrate back to sea. "The great run" as it's called, takes place over the summer and by autumn, the strongest fish have successfully made their way into the calmer waters of the ocean. It's a great insight into the cyclical rhythm of nature and this species' survival tactics.

Check in at Links House in Dornoch, where experts are on hand to advise where and how to best watch the migration, and to offer insight on the region's best fly-fishing locations. Experiences are available to book directly through the hotel and promise an education as well as an adventure - there's an in-house fishing extraordinaire as well as an "experiences manager".

Arctic voyaging to see polar bears

Svalbard, Norway

There's something otherworldly about the Arctic landscape and its lack of human presence. Between the months of May and September, the midnight sun is at its peak and the ice around Svalbard archipelago in Norway begins to melt. Here lives one of the world's largest concentrations of polar bear - over 3,000 - and a tour around the north of the region is likely to include sightings.

For an immersive experience, book in for an eight- or 10-day excursion with Natural World Safaris. Explore the seas by boat to spot walrus, whales and rare species of bird as well as polar bears in the snow-covered landscape that they call home. Notice the ice melt as time passes and appreciate the bursts of greenery and vegetation springing to life.

Cheese-making at a goat farm

Málaga, Spain

Discover complete seclusion and a flavour of unspoiled, rural Spain by venturing into the mountains of the Sierra Crestellina Natural Park, specifically to the family-run goat farm Queseria Sierra Crestellina. Physically, it's just a 40-minute drive from Marbella, but its rocky landscape, disconnection from traditional tourism and back-to-basics mentality make it feel worlds away.

A five-hour cheese-making experience includes an overview of its history, a lesson in milking mountain goats and a chance to make cheese by hand using traditional methods. Location is considered key to the quality of the farm's produce and guests will learn what makes the surrounding area, and the fruitfulness of its earth, so important. Naturally, a cheese-and-tapas tasting rounds off the session. Make your base at Marbella's Puente Romano hotel, from where the farm experience can be booked.

Sleep among giraffes

Kent, UK

Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve brings a taste of the African safari to the UK and offers a chance to get close to some of the world's most beautiful creatures without having to board a plane. The grounds have been preserved to mimic the animals' natural habitat as closely as possible - it's easy to forget its European location once immersed in the plains. To fully appreciate the animals, book Giraffe Lodge, the adults-only on-site accommodation, that comprises just 10 glamping tents surrounding a wateringhole. Here, giraffes, zebra and wildebeest roam freely throughout the day and night, undisturbed by the small huts.

It's important to note that the reserve is primarily a breeding sanctuary for rare and endangered animals and it runs in partnership with The Aspinall Foundation. Proceeds are used to support overseas conservation projects.

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