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Making a splash – our pick of the best water activity holidays

Sleep in remote lake cabins, search for underwater treasures, spot otters or embark on the sailing adventure of a lifetime – now is the time to discover your very own water world. James Litston dives in

Diving Italy

While slipping below the sun-warmed waves of the Mediterranean from the sandy beaches of Sardinia is the perfect way to begin your scuba-diving life, the Italian island is also home to diving spots to impress even the most experienced underwater explorers.

One such gem is the maze-like Grotta di Nereo, a network of tunnels and caves with multiple openings, home to slipper lobsters, groupers, conger and moray eels, as well as the largest mussel species in the world.

In the north-eastern corner of Sardinia you’ll find La Maddalena Archipelago National Park, a marine reserve famed for its thriving colonies of seabirds, plus dolphins, whales and loggerhead sea turtles. With more than 30 dive sites, there’s something for all levels, from adventure divers to those recently qualified. Without needing to have a log book full of big dives, you’ll still get to enjoy the colourful sponges, sea fans and red coral, along with all the sealife that resides in and around here.

There are also plenty of man-made ‘reefs’, such as the Angelica, a huge Japanese tanker which has been
a seabed resident for some 40 years. It is accessible for all levels, due to it resting between 12m and 20m, and has plenty to explore, even without needing the experience to go inside.

At the other end of the scale, the KT12, an armed German ship that was torpedoed by a British submarine in 1943, is one for advanced divers, coming to rest from 20m to 35m beneath the waves. It's well worth clocking up the dives in order to visit this well-preserved wreck. Other sites of note include an 8,000-tonne Italian freighter, also a relic of the Second World War, and Grouper Reef, home to a thriving colony of 50 hefty groupers.

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Travel Details

A six-night stay at the four-star Hotel Costa Paradiso on a B&B basis costs from £899pp, including seven days of diving through a PADI-certified dive school. travel.padi.com

Photo by Catherine Stephansen

Fishing Slovenia

Those in the know say that fly fishing is the most fun you can have standing up – and that's certainly true if you're casting in glorious surroundings in one of Eastern Europe's must-see destinations for keen anglers.

For the ultimate experience, both by the water, and away from it, try Slovenia. With the fly-fishing scene considered as offering the perfect combination of quarry and scenery, in a setting described as 'out of this world' by aficionados, it's another excellent reason to visit the much-vaunted neighbour of Italy.

The queen of the country's fishing rivers is the legendary Soča, whose extraordinarily clear, green-tinged waters cascade through an unspoilt valley. The main attraction here is the region's indigenous marble trout, for which late August and September are prime season. The fish can do some serious damage to the scales, with the record standing at a mammoth 20kg.

On a tour with fishing holiday experts Go Fishing Worldwide, knowledgeable guides will take you to the most trusted spots and share their own special skills to get your hand-tied fly dancing over the water, ensuring the wait for your first catch isn't an overly long one.

Try your luck in different habitats – from pools to riffles and roaring torrents – and admire the dramatic backdrop of sky-high peaks and broad-leaved forests while you wait for the trout to leap and bite.

As well as the Soča, there's the chance to fish on equally lovely freshwater lakes, chalk streams and brooks, before rounding things off with riverside walks and visits to sleepy villages. Toast each day's end with
a selection of well-earned (and local) beers, with their famously frothy foam, and nuanced native wines.

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Travel Details

A seven-night trip costs from £1,475pp, including flights, car hire, half-board accommodation with wine at dinner and six days' fishing, two of which are led by a local guide. gofishingworldwide.co.uk

Surfing Portugal

Waves rolling in from across the Atlantic Ocean make thunderous landfall on Portugal's coast. Watch them from the nation's south-western tip at Cape St Vincent, then grab a board and hit the surf in the nearby resort of Sagres.

With conditions running the gamut from gentle beach breaks to faster, more challenging point breaks, the varied shoreline suits all levels, from beginner to advanced – not for nothing is Portugal renowned for its surfing holidays. Learn or hone the necessary skills with Freeride Surf Schools certified coaches, who'll have you paddling out and popping up in next to no time. With your base as the Memmo Baleeira design hotel, you can also enjoy the on-site spa – handy for pampering wave-weary muscles.

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Travel Details

A six-night Surf & Sleep Retreat costs from £827pp, including accommodation with breakfast and tuition, equipment hire, local transport and insurance. frsurf.com

Photo by Emma Paillex/Unsplash

Sailing Turkey

The past comes alive on this expert-led cruise to the Bronze Age and Roman Empire. In Bodrum, with its crusader castle, you'll board a traditional gulet sailing vessel to discover the archaeological sites of Iasos, Labraunda and Priene, beginning an unforgettable journey into the past of ancient regions.

Among the remains of cities, shrines and forts found all along the rocky Aegean coast, the ruins of mighty Ephesus are a highlight. Once the capital of Roman Asia, this was one of the world's most significant cities
in its long-ago heyday.

With a little imagination fuelled by your guide's informative storytelling, its broken columns and fallen masonry become temples, shops and terraced homes, telling a vivid tale of times that are long since past.

Among its secrets are a passageway used by politicians to scuttle from the library to the brothel, or more noble tales of gladiators battling for glory in the 24,000-capacity arena. Beyond archaeology, expect ample time for languorous lunches starring the freshest local produce on deck and swimming in empty bays, plus, on dry land, walks through woods and olive groves on trails trodden for centuries.

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Travel Details

A seven-night Cruising to Ephesus itinerary costs from £2,465pp, including full-board accommodation, airport transfers, admission fees and guiding. petersommer.com

Kitesurfing Switzerland

Although considered a seaside spectacle, the origins of kitesurfing lie not on the shores of sun-kissed beaches in California or Australia, but in the altogether loftier surroundings of the Swiss Alps.

Delivering a question that any quizmaster would be proud to include in his repertoire, Andrea Kuhn, a
Swiss runner-up in the 1987 World Paragliding Championships, is said to have pioneered the adrenaline sport by lifting off from the Corvatsch glacier, high above St Moritz, before drifting down to Lake Sils and concluding the flight with a thrilling wind-powered surf across its surface.

The conditions that facilitated Kuhn's feat – crisp air and reliable onshore winds – have made the Engadin valley a magnet for kitesurfers ever since. With the precision of a Swiss watch, the Maloja wind blows
in each day around lunchtime, drawing dozens of colourful kites to fill the blue sky above Lake Silvaplana.

Learn the essential skills at a lakeshore kitesurfing school before getting out (and possibly airborne) on the water. Ringed by a mountain panorama at an elevation of 1,800m, there are few places so magical or memorable to give kitesurfing a try.

Later, relax and unwind at Kulm Hotel St Moritz, a luxury grande dame whose special summer package includes complimentary access to both Kulm Spa (with steam bath, sauna and indoor and outdoor pools with spectacular alpine views) and the village's mountain railways for high-altitude hiking across meadows filled with wildflowers. Golfers will also want to take advantage of the hotel's own nine-hole course, which, naturally, comes with idyllic views.

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Travel Details

A five-hour course in kitesurfing costs £170pp. A two-night Scintillating Summer stay at Kulm Hotel St Moritz costs from £543pp on a half-board basis, including a massage. kitesailing.ch kulm.com

Photo by Shutterstock

Kayaking Scotland

Wild and windswept, the Outer Hebrides are home to some of Europe's remotest shores. Explore them in back-to-nature style on this sea-kayaking adventure to the twin isles of Harris and Lewis.

Start out with a stay in a traditional stone-built bunkhouse, before setting off for three nights of wild camping on white-sand beaches unscarred by human footprints other than your own. Paddle through sea lochs to visit the Neolithic standing stones of Callanish – arranged in a cruciform formation with a stone circle at their centre – all the while keeping an eye out for wildlife such as eagles, otters and porpoises. Then, return to the civilisation of Stornoway, the island capital and home to the much-storied Lews Castle, to round off this simply unforgettable expedition in comfort.

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Travel Details

A six-night trip, departing 15 August, 2020, costs from £1,255pp, including accommodation, transfers, equipment, guiding and most meals. (Additional dates in 2021). wildernessscotland.com

Photo by Aaron Lee/Unsplash

Boating Germany

It's not only the waterways of England and France that boat lovers should consider. Germany's River Havel and its endless links to navigable lakes and canals make the state of Brandenburg ideal for boating.

Start in Berlin and work your way around the palaces and castles of Potsdam, or head northwards to discover medieval villages and riverside towns such as the fairy-tale Rheinsberg, on the River Rhin. Stop
off to cycle on country roads or trails through nature reserves, or paddle canoes through wilder waterways
too small to take boat traffic.

Stock up the galley with local specialities such as smoked fish, crayfish, gherkins and harvest vegetables. In September, listen out for the bugling calls of European cranes migrating through the region en route to Spain from their Scandinavian breeding grounds.

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Travel Details

A seven-night self-catered boat rental (sleeping 12) costs £4,609. No boating licence or experience necessary. leboat.co.uk

Photo by TMB Fotoarchive Zibell

Swimming Sweden

It's all about 'primitive luxury' at Kabin, a castaway cottage on its own leafy island in Lake Fjärden, around a three-hour drive from Stockholm.

Stocked with fresh local, organic ingredients for meals plus firewood for the stove, guests spend 48 hours here completely cut off from the outside world. The lake is virtually your own, so go native and skinny-dip like a local if the mood takes you, paddle a canoe across the placid waters or go foraging for wild berries for breakfast, then rustle up suppers to enjoy outside
on the wraparound terrace.

Although the Kabin has running water and all of life's necessities, this eco-friendly, low-impact cottage runs on minimal resources (but don't worry, there's still a charging point for your mobile) and the freedom, fresh air and gentle pace it offers are energising for the whole family.

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Travel Details

A two-night stay on a full-board basis combined with two nights' B&B in Stockholm costs from £915pp, including flights and transfers. best-served.co.uk

Photo by Erik Dungan/Unsplash

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