We're heading to Slovakia - not to rowdy Bratislava, but deep into the country's jagged mountain ranges which bubble with hot springs and are lacerated by epic gorges. A fresh and welcome addition to the UK's green list, this year's unadulterated nature binge of choice is Slovakia: here are the five reasons why.
Why this Central European heartland is ticking all our nature-binge boxes
1. It's home to one of Europe's last remaining wildernesses
While countries all over the world are frantically waking up to the realities of mass urbanisation by pouring funds into rewilding projects, Slovakia's Wolf Mountains remain pretty and untouched on the country's Ukrainian border. Along with Lapland and certain parts of the Lofoten Islands in Scandinavia, Poloniny National Park qualifies as one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe. Visit now to see the Alps as they would have looked 500 years ago, though be sure to enlist the help of a local guide - you won't find any signposts, just plenty of disarmingly adorable bears, lynxes and wolves.
2. You can trek lightly trodden mountain paths with epic views
Awesome though they might be, Kilimanjaro and the Inca Trail are plagued with moral conundrums. You might ask to what extent the mass tourism boom has eroded local cultural traditions or question the ethics of undertaking a "charity fundraising hike" through some of the world's continents' poorest regions (all the while clad in the latest Gore-Tex get-up)? We're heading into the High Tatras mountains instead where true outdoors types can hike from one homely hut to the next, stopping intermittently for a night's sleep and hearty, mountain broth. The views are majestic, the lodges are cosy and the trails remain free from tourist footfall, for now anyway.
3. Or hit up Slovakia's underground scene
By which we mean its warren of ravines, caves and gorges. Start with the Slovak and Aggtelek Karst cave networks - a warren of more than 1,000 caves inhabited by 500 rare animals and speckled with 35,000-year-old prehistoric human remains. Geologists will go nuts for the caves' rare aragonite crystal formations (nope, us neither). Alternatively, don your sturdiest walking boots and slither across a snake of wooden ladders as you navigate the Sucha Bela, Maly Sokol or Piecky gorges which splinter Slovak Paradise National Park. As underground scenes go, Slovakia's pretty rad.
4. Do like a royal by visiting a thermal spa
Before fish pedicures, sheet masks and sound baths came to define modern "wellness", there were natural hot springs teeming with pools of healing water and nutritious puddles of mud. Just ask the Slovakian nobility: they've been dipping their toes into the country's bubbling thermal spas for the past millennium or so. We're scoping out the spa town of Piestany which is home to an elaborately tiled, Turkish-style hammam, and Bardejov which counts the historical socialites and beauty aficionados Empress Sisi of Austria and Marie Louise (wife of Napoleon) as former patrons.
5. Ski without the crowds
We're all about off the map, affordable ski destinations. Not only are they cheaper and less crowded than the Alps but they offer endless opportunities to humble brag. Winter Park Martinky is one such place. It's a favourite ski destination for Slovaks and overlooks the city of Martin which means ski supremos at the top of the mountain can scale the slopes and be clinking glasses in the city centre within the hour.