New BBC travel show Wild Escapes offers solutions for the time poor, writes Gemma Dunn
Assumed you’d need to travel to a far-flung destination for a taste of the exotic? Think again.
You probably won’t come back feeling physically refreshed, but it’s good for the soul
For BBC2’s newest travelogue, Wild Escapes, is doing its bit to encourage holidaymakers to shun eye-watering price tags and extensive journey times in favour of three-day exploits closer to home.
The rules: the flight time must be less than three hours from the UK and flights must cost under £100 per person, per leg.
And if the pilot episode is anything to go by, its bid is looking promising.
Putting Anita Rani and JJ Chalmers in the driving seat, the feel-good show follows the presenting duo on their first adventure to Italy’s stunning Dolomite Mountains.
Judging by their madcap itinerary – from dangling off the side of a 2,300m peak to a ‘farmer’s spa’ experience (think hay bath) and riotous festivals – it’s one trip they’re unlikely to forget.
“The Dolomites are just so surprising, beautiful and unexpected,” recalls Rani, 40.
“Whilst I was there filming the programme, I just kept thinking, ‘I must come back here with friends and family and my husband’, because it’s so easy to get to and so doable.”
She follows: “I’m loving it, especially because I do go to places miles away to try and find that isolation, but it’s difficult now in the age of Instagram. [And] people don’t always have the luxury of taking two or three weeks out.”
“The fact of the matter is we’re all restricted by time or money these days,” agrees Chalmers, 30.
“So the opportunity to cram something in and just say, ‘I’m going to go off and do this for a weekend’, is pretty much how life works.”
How did the Scottish father-of-one fare on this occasion?
“I’m the kind of guy that likes to burn the candle at both ends and blowtorch the middle if I can,” he quips, admitting it’s not an entirely relaxing break.
“Although there were lovely moments, nice dinners and feet up here and there, you probably won’t come back feeling physically refreshed, but it’s good for the soul.
• READ MORE: 5 Scottish islands perfect for weekend breaks
“You come back feeling rejuvenated,” he adds. “Especially if you’ve had a hay bath.”
Unusual therapies aside, a highlight for Chalmers in particular was tackling the Dolomites’ famous climbing route, the via ferrata.
“I’m that history geek, so whenever I go to a part of the world, particularly in Europe, I like to find out the history of the warfare that’s been there,” says the former Royal Marine-turned-TV presenter, who was left fighting for his life after a bomb blast in Afghanistan in 2011.
Of witnessing the untouched trenches, he adds: “I have a deep-rooted appreciation for it because whilst their experiences were far more extreme than what I endured, the experience is very similar.
“Outside of that, I loved the food and I loved the people. I loved all of it.”
The company wasn’t bad either.
Both self-confessed explorers, Rani (“I find it very hard to sit still”) and Chalmers (“I’m a fan of adventure, whether that’s long or short”) were the perfect companions for the job.
“It was just a great break to go away, get to know Anita and have a blast with her,” Chalmers says. “She was really good fun and ultimately she was up for absolutely anything, so the two of us just got stuck into every opportunity.
“I guess that’s why me and JJ work well together,” agrees Countryfile host, Rani. “JJ is very easy to get on with and we’re both very open-minded, so it works.”
Could either of them leave the rat race behind, go off-grid, for good?
“Not yet, I’m having too much fun,” Rani says. “East London is great and actually it feels like a nice little village, even though London is the big smoke full of millions of people.
“At some point maybe in the future, but right now I am happy to base myself in London and travel to remote, isolated places for holidays and Countryfile!”
“I’m lucky, I live in Edinburgh, but I am in and out of London every two to three days,” Chalmers adds. “I love my life at the moment; I’m making this up as I go along and holding on for dear life.
“But clearly with my background in the Marines, my heart belongs outdoors, whatever climate that is in.
“So to go to the mountains, particularly, which are just so beautiful, rugged and slightly dangerous...,” he finishes. “It’s hard to drag yourself away at the end of it.”
• Wild Escapes is on BBC2 on Friday at 7pm.