Do we lose our sense of adventure and curiosity as we get older? I think not! Even though I’ve passed my landmark 50th birthday, I still have a desire to get out to explore the world and make the most of every moment with family and friends. That’s why I love the Age is just a number campaign from Varilux, which encourages everyone to live life to the fullest regardless of their age. If you fancy rollerblading at 60, pole dancing at 70, karate at 80 or rock or roll dancing at 90, why not go for it and enjoy life to the max. The Varilux study shows that having a positive view of aging can help you live up to 7.5 years longer and leads to increased health and wellbeing. So in the spirit of adventure at any age, here are five of my favourite activities for the 50+ traveller.
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Mountain Hiking in the Alps and Dolomites
A few years ago I started hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc long distance trail with a friend and became totally addicted to mountain hiking. The TMB is a demanding 12 day hike around the Mont Blanc massif that takes you through France, Switzerland and Italy, hiking over high mountain passes and staying in simple mountain refuges. As we didn’t have the time to hike the whole trail in one go, we decided to break it up into stages, returning to complete each stage over four years until we had hiked the whole trail. Still, it was adventurous enough to leave us feeling that we had really challenged ourselves, with the exhilaration of being in the mountains among stunning and unspoiled scenery.
Many of those that we met on the trail were older than us and we realised that mountain hiking is an ideal way for the active over 50s to enjoy an adventure and feeling of getting away from it all. Since then our annual hiking holidays have continued in the Dolomites of South Tyrol, Tyrol region of Austria and the Serra de Tramuntana of Mallorca, the Salzkammergut long distance trail, all with their own charms and challenges.
Top tip: On challenging mountain hikes, you need to use hiking poles to support your legs and knees and help with stability on steep ascents and descents. Read my review of Leki walking poles
Canoeing in Canada
One of the highlights of a visit to Canada is spend time in a National or Provincial Park, where you stay in a cabin, campground or RV with a chance to get close to nature. Algonquin Provincial Park was an easy drive from Toronto and gave us our first taste of the wilderness while out canoeing with a guide at Lake Opeongo. We spotted several beaver lodges half submerged in the water and heard about the moose that feed underwater and have been known to suddenly rise from a clump of waterlilies to surprise the unwary canoeist. Despite keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife, we only saw a beaver surface briefly in front of us, then with a splash of his flat tail he was gone.
Later in the trip we visited Mont Tremblant park in Quebec province, a fabulous outdoor playground where we spent a day canoeing the Meandre de Diable, a winding stretch of river with sandbanks to stop for a picnic. We passed some river turtles sunning themselves on a log and watched the dragonflies skimming the water, realising that although the wildlife encounters were fleeting, it’s the sense of peace and being close to nature that is the biggest draw of this kind of canoe adventure.
Climbing a Via Ferreta
If you enjoy hiking and being in the mountains, climbing a Via Ferrata is the next notch up on the adventure scale, but easily achievable for the fit and active 50+ traveller. These climbing routes, literally “iron roads” originated in the Dolomites, where soldiers needed a way to move around the mountains in the First World War. There are different levels of difficulty, but unlike classic rock climbing, there are permanent cables and foodholds set into the rock, and you are always clipped on to them with a harness and karabinas. Unless you’re an experienced rock climber, this is one activity you need to do with a guide, and you’ll generally find an outdoor activity centre close by where you can book a guided experience with all the equipment.
I found that climbing the Via Ferrata required a fair bit of muscle strength and concentration if you’re not used to it, although of course the guides that take you are sure-footed on the rocks as mountain goats. When hanging on the side of the mountain, everything narrows in on the next handhold and the next foothold, like a mathematical puzzle that has to be solved. There can be scary moments, but when you reach the top, you literally feel on top of the world and the exhilarating feeling of achievement continues long after you get down from the mountain.
Top Tip: If you’re unsure about your strength or ability, book a private guide so you can take things at your own pace, and let them know what level of route you are happy to try.
Cross-country ski in Austria
I’ve done my fair share of downhill ski over the years, but on a winter snow break in Seefeld Austria this year I became a convert to cross-country ski. It looks deceptively easy when you see people swishing by, but is surprisingly energetic when you give it a go yourself. There’s a good reason why the locals say, “Langläufer leben langer” or “cross-country skiers live longer”, since you get a thorough all-over body work-out, but without the risk of heavy falls and broken limbs.
If you are trying the classic cross-country ski, the narrow skis stay in pre-made tracks and you shush along with knees bent, arms keeping a marching rhythm as if reaching forward to pick apples from an imaginary tree. We also watched some of the Nordic-ski pros in training, using the graceful ‘skating’ style of cross-country ski, which uses different skis and technique from the ‘classic’ style. It’s a style of ski that really builds up your core strength, as you are continually adjusting your balance on the narrow skis, and gives you a chance to enjoy the gorgeous mountain scenery.
Top Tip: If you haven’t tried cross-country ski before, it’s best to book a lesson at the start to ensure you learn the right technique. Be sure to choose a resort that has a good range of cross-country ski trails like Seefeld, if you want to get the most out of this activity.
Read more: Seefeld in Austria: A winter sports guide
Hot Air ballooning in Bristol
Hot air ballooning is an activity that requires very little exertion but certainly feels like an adventure! One of the best places in the UK to try ballooning is my home town of Bristol, where the Bristol Balloon Fiesta is held each year in August. I tried my first balloon flight this summer during the balloon fiesta, and although I found it a little un-nerving being in a small wicker basket with nothing between me and the city of Bristol 1000ft below, I was the first to ask to go up again once we had landed.
If you fancy giving it a try, balloon flights are offered in Bristol by Bailey Balloons and Bristol Balloons and the baskets for commercial flights are quite a bit bigger than the small one I went up in for a non-commercial flight during the fiesta. During the summer months the balloons take off around 6am or 6pm and the early morning flights can be chilly as you rise to altitude, so you need to wear layers to take on and off. The wind direction will determine whether you fly over the city or more rural areas, but it’s amazing to look down and see toytown houses and cows that are a small speck below you. This adventure requires no great fitness but you do need to be agile enough to climb into the wicker basket using the footholds in the side.
To show you can have fun and adventure at any age check out the videos at Age is just a number from Varilux. I love this campaign from Varilux to encourage everyone to live life to the fullest, whatever their age, be it rollerblading at 60, karate at 80 or rock and roll dancing at 90. If you have a video that demonstrates that #Ageisjustanumber you can be part of the project by submitting it on the Age is just a number website.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Varilux and the Age is just a number campaign.