For us Europeans when we want adventurous travel, spectacular scenery, and interesting food we nearly always start looking through the long-haul travel brochures. However, we should also look a bit closer to home. There are some fantastic parts of Europe that most of us have never visited but that can offer out of this world travel experiences.
Ever been hiking in the unspoiled mountains of Andorra? Have you experienced the jaw-dropping Caminito del Rey just outside Malaga in southern Spain? Have you walked through Frances Verdon Gorge? How about Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes and cascading waterfalls?
Pick any country in Europe, do a bit of research and you will find some stunning places to visit. You can design your own holiday around a few of these spots choosing to focus on one country or several in one trip. No long-haul flights, visas or injections needed.
Land-locked Switzerland is a good example of a great place in Europe to visit. This country is only about 1/5th the size of the UK but it is jam-packed full of natural wonders; the Swiss Alps, the Jura Mountains, several glaciers, spectacular rivers including the Rhine and Rhône, Lake Geneva and Lake Constance, mountains including the Matterhorn an Eiger. When you have had your fill of the great outdoors you can take advantage of the fantastic culture provided by the cities of Zurich, Geneva, and Bern which, by the way, also have international airports making getting to Switzerland a breeze. This very civilised country is bordered by Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein so there are plenty of options for a multi-country trip.
The Swiss National Park is in the East of the country on the border with Italy. This National Park offers unrivalled Alpine scenery and is easy to get to via train or bus. The are plenty of well-marked walking routes that will allow you to access this stunning area. You might spot a Golden Eagle, Ibex, Chamois, Lynx, Brown Beer or even a wolf while you are there. You can only stay overnight within the park boundaries in two lodges the Chamanna Cluozza (mountain hut) or in the Hotel Parc Naziunal Il Fuorn so it is a good idea to plan your trip and book in advance. Whatever you do remember to take your camera so you can capture some of the most majestic scenery in the world.
The unrivalled alpine beauty of the Swiss National Park
Mountains and Skiing
Switzerland is a very mountainous country, it has over forty mountains with peaks over 4,000m above sea level and multiple glaciers including Europe’s largest, Aletsch. If you like climbing then there are plenty of peaks for you to attempt including the dangerous Eiger. This also means Switzerland is a mecca for Winter sports fans.
One of the world’s best ski resorts is Zermatt at the foot of Matterhorn Mountain. This pretty alpine town offers plenty for non-skiers to see, do, eat and drink but for skiers, it is a paradise with 350 km of ski runs over three mountains and access into two of Italy’s ski areas. In the summer the town is also a great base for hiking and climbing with wildflower-filled meadows and grassy mountain trails galore.
The iconic peak of Matterhorn in the spring.
Lakes and Cities
If all this talk of hiking, mountain climbing, and skiing is tiring you out then consider a visit to the more tranquil parts of Switzerland. The country has serval large lakes including Geneva and Lake Thun. Lake Thun is just outside Bern and there are plenty of historic churches and manors to visit on its shores including Thun and Spiez castles. You can swim in most of the countries lakes and many have beautiful beaches, Luzern, in particular, is great for a beach day.
Lake Thun in Winter
The lakes provide a beautiful backdrop in Winter or Summer and the towns and cities that dot their shores offer plenty to do. Stroll around the towns, try a glass of locally produced wine, pop into a few luxurious shops and take a boat trip. What could be more civilised?
Vineyards on the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
Geneva is famous for its watches, chocolate and bankers. Its historic streets are lined with pretty shops, gardens and places to eat. You can visit any of the many museums and galleries and you can even visit the famous CERN. Zurich and Bern also make beautiful and memorable cities to visit.
The pretty city of Zurich
Waterfalls and Rivers
With all those mountains, lakes, glaciers and snow there is a lot of water in Switzerland and as a result there are some beautiful and exciting rivers and waterfalls.
There are lots of waterfalls worth a visit. On the Northern border with Germany are the vast Rhine falls which are 150m wide and make an awe-inspiring roaring experience. The spectacular Staubbach Falls drop 300 meters into the back of Lauterbrunnen town which is just South of Lake Thun and Bern. Very close by are the Trümmelbach Falls which are a series of subterranean linked waterfalls that you can visit by tunnel.
There are also plenty of rivers in Switzerland including the Rhine, Aare, Rhône, Reuss, Linth, Inn, Saane, Thur, Ticino, Hinterrhein & Doubs! The rivers all change in nature over their courses so you can walk next to gentle streams as the rivers form in the mountains and then experience the rushing gorges lower down as the tributaries combine and cut through the landscape. Then they calm down into wide gentle rivers which pass through rolling hills, towns and cities. Sit by their sides with a picnic, take cruise or go for dip – the choice is yours.
The powerfull Rhine Falls