Europe is not all about dreamy castles and winter wonderland – for the adventure-seeker and outdoor-lover, it’s packed with challenging terrain perfect for hiking, scuba diving and many other extreme adventures. Now that the festive season is approaching, plan out your travels in Europe to include some adventurous activities and experience a different side to the country. These destinations I’ve included below promise the most rugged landscapes and raw surroundings to guarantee the most power-packed sojourn.
1. Spitsbergen, Norway
Norway is one of the most northerly countries in Europe; almost a third of its elongated landmass lies within the Arctic Circle and remains ice-covered for much of the year. Hundreds of fjords indent the coastline, while treacherous mountains and magnificent glaciers dot the land mass. On a recent trip to Norway’s western edge, I ventured into Europe’s largest glacier and hiked through some of the continent’s wildest terrain. For hard-core adventurers, head to Spitsbergen, located just some 900kms south of the North Pole. The exhilaration of sighting Polar Bear as they roam the ice in search of food, watching the playful activities of Grey Seals or observing a group of walrus are just some of the highlights of the area.
Flickr photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink
2. The Pyrenees, France
Stretching across the border between France and Spain, the Pyrenees is a massive mountain range that runs for hundreds of miles that divide the two countries. One good way to explore the region is on a bike tour riding from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, via the passes of the Pyrenees. Trace the history of the Tour de France, while navigating countless hairpins to tick off the famous Tour de France passes: Col d’ Aubisque, the (in)famous Col du Tourmalet and the Col de Portet Aspet, to name a few. To savor more of the French countryside and beaches, include stays at charming Nice hotels or base yourself at one of the gorgeous Biarritz hotels.
Flickr photo by Fr Antunes
3. The Dolomites, Italy
The Via Ferrata in the Dolomites, Italy, is the best and original ferrate route in the world – a demanding trek through the dramatic Brenta mountain range, situated in the Italian Province of Trento. Using the extensive network of ladders and high-level trails, the calssic Via Ferrate route takes you through Via delle Bocchette, mainly constructed in the early 1930s. It’ll continue on through the Brenta mountain range, which extends 42km from Cima Tosa (3173m) via a dramatic ‘bocca’ (mouth) to Brenta Alta. For beginners, it’s best to hire an experienced guide to bring you through the route.
Flickr photo by bravowhisky23
4. Akureyi, Iceland
Iceland is a country of extremes: for a ferocious volcanic centre to the surrounding glaciers and freezing temperatures. There are three major glaciers: Vatnajokull, Langjokull and Hofsjokull with several smaller ones covering about 11 per cent of the land. The bays and fjords make its coastline a tempting feature, and the many glacial rivers running from the highlands to the ocean are among the wildest in Europe. Dubbed the capital of Northern Iceland, Akureyi offers excellent ice-climbing, sailing and dog-sleighing opportunities.
Flickr photo by Dirk Paessler
5. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
The Scottish Highlands are best known for Europe’s best hiking: passing through stunning lochs and ascending pine-fringed slopes. Hiking through Wester Ross offers glorious views across the moorlands including the 3,000-foot Beinn Damh, gaelic for “Hill of the Stag”. The Cairngorms National Park, largest in Scotland, is home to a diversity of land forms ranging from ancient Caledonian pine forest to arctic plateau wilderness. One fourth of the U.K.’s threatened bird, animal and plant species reside here, including many iconic species of the Highlands such as red deer, golden eagle, wildcats and otters.
Flickr photo by Bruce McAdams
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