Adventure Vacation Guide 2012: Chamonix, France

There is a stark difference between “adventure destination” and “adventure capital” in that adventure capitals offer some sort of adrenaline rush 365 days a year. A prime example of this never-a-bad-time-to-be-here type of adventure capital poised to be hot in 2012 is the legendary town of Chamonix at the base of France’s Mt. Blanc.

Summer and fall seasons turn Chamonix into one of the world’s most renowned mountaineering and rock-climbing destinations, and the epic treks departing from the Chamonix valley include the eight-day Tour de Mt. Blanc and The Haute Route, which was recently listed as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 treks in the world.

Or, for the best view of anywhere in the valley, the skies of Chamonix are dotted with the colorful confetti of paragliders blissfully hucking themselves off of craggy alpine peaks.

In the winter and spring months, the valley offers some of the best skiing found anywhere in the Alps, with the 2100m (nearly 7,000 ft.) vertical run of Les Grand Montets and the off-piste Vallee Blanche serving as the pinnacles of winter adventure.

After a slow start to the winter season where the resorts were essentially devoid of snow (late-season mountain biking!), the Chamonix Valley was just graced with enough record-shattering snowfall to once again postpone the start of the season due to white-out conditions and avalanche danger.

Plus, with the Euro plummeting against the dollar amidst European debt fears, 2012 is shaping up to be an all-around good year for outdoor adventure in the French Alps.

[flickr image via rachel_thecat]

5 European adventure destinations

5 great European adventure destinationsWith its old world styling and modern luxuries, Europe isn’t typically the first place that comes to mind when adventure travelers are searching for their next destination. But there are plenty of adventures to be had on the European continent as well, and here are five fantastic places to do just that.

Chamonix, France
One of the top mountain destinations not only in Europe, but the entire world, is Chamonix. Located in eastern France, the town sits at the base of Mount Blanc, the tallest peak in Western Europe, and is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders in the winter. Chamonix is also a popular spot for climbers year round as well, and there are numerous rock and ice climbing routes throughout the area. Alpine mountaineers are drawn to the region thanks to the many snow capped peaks to conquer and with hundreds of miles of single track in the area, mountain bikers have found plenty to enjoy as well. Chamonix is also one of the starting points for the famous Haute Route, a 110-mile long trek through the Alps that is amongst the most spectacular hiking routes in the entire world.

Zermatt, Switzerland
The mountain village on the other end of the Haute Route is Zermatt, Switzerland, another destination that is popular with the skiing and mountaineering crowd. Zermatt sits in the shadow of one of Europe’s most well known peaks, the Matterhorn, which cuts a distinctive profile in the skies overhead. Climbers come to challenge that peak as well, but less adventurous visitors can take a train to the summit to experience the breathtaking views too. There are miles of hiking trails throughout the region as well, and thanks to the high altitude (Zermatt sits at 5315 feet above sea level) skiing is an option year round.

5 great European adventure destinationsSpitsbergen, Norway
Located at the extreme northern end of the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway, Spitsbergen is an island paradise for the adventure traveler looking for some arctic fun. The region is a popular destination for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding, all of which are options for most of the year. Surrounded by the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Greenland and Norwegian Seas, Spitsbergen is also a great place for sea kayaking, although hiking through glacier caverns may be the most unique reason to visit. The island is a popular stop-over for cruise ships and it is often used as a launching point for expeditions headed into the Arctic as well.

Karlovac, Croatia
Located in central Croatia, Karlovac has the unique distinction of sitting near the confluence of four rivers. That makes it a fantastic, if lesser known, destination for paddlers looking for a variety of challenges. The Dobra River, for instance, offers an amazing canyon to run, with challenging whitewater in the spring and early summer months. The Mreznica, on the other hand, features a series of interconnected lakes with a number of waterfalls to either portage or drop, depending on your skill level. The city also offers unique glimpses into Croatian history and culture, and its location allows for day trips to great hiking trails or sea kayaking spots along the coast as well.

Urtijëi, Italy
Located in the Italian Dolomites, an offshoot of the Alps, Urtijëi is yet another mountain village that is long on charm and even longer on adventure. The town serves as a perfect base camp for rock climbers, base jumpers, and backpackers looking to explore the picturesque Dolomites which extend throughout the northeastern part of Italy. The region’s via ferrata trekking routes range from easy to frightening depending on the path you take, and in the winter months the mountains offer a less crowded alternative to other European ski resorts.

There you have it! Five great European destinations to help you get your adventure travel fix. Anyone of those places will provide plenty to see and do, and each is a beautiful outdoor playground just waiting to be explored.

[Photo credits: Zermatt Photos, Moroder via WikiMedia Commons]



Ten outdoor destinations with everything!

Who says you can’t have it all? For many travelers vacation time is limited. Those in search of adventure want to maximize that short window of travel time. Here are ten cities where adventure-seekers can expand their options with a range of heart-pounding choices.

Buena Vista, Colorado
Buena Vista translates to “beautiful view.” It’s easy to understand why the name stuck. Nestled into the central Colorado highlands, this Colorado town just might be the hidden adventure gem of the Rockies. Peak-baggers have twenty 14ers within roughly an hour-and-a-half drive from Buena Vista, making it a perfect base camp for high-altitude hiking. Ski Cooper, Monarch and Aspen are all close by for a winter sports fix and the class III-V Arkansas River provides thrilling whitewater rafting all summer long.

Cape Town, South Africa
South Africa is considered by many to be the adrenaline capital of the world. Cape Town has no shortage of blood-pumping options. Traditional sports like sea kayaking and mountain biking are epic here, but there’s also more unique endeavors like sand boarding. If that’s still not enough to get adrenaline junkies excited, there’s always the shark cage diving experience.
Vancouver, Canada
Adventure pursuits like sailing and kayaking are synonymous with this famous Canadian coastal city. Of course, skiing is the main draw in Vancouver, a fact reinforced by the city’s selection as host of the 2010 Winter Olympics. One visit to Whistler Blackcomb, among the top ranked snow resorts in North America, and the powder crazed will fall in love.

Quito, Ecuador

I was on the summit of a 15,763 foot active volcano within four hours of leaving my hotel in Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. This short trek with dizzying altitude is but one of the quick fixes found in this city of less than two million. Rural Ecuador is still developing its adventure sports attitude, but when using Quito as a starting point guides can be found easily. Cotopaxi, one of the world’s most perfectly shaped volcanoes, is only a two hour drive from town. Cycling and mountain biking have seen a huge boom in recent years and bike rental companies are eager to take visitors on epic rides through the Andes for up to two weeks in length.

Bar Harbor, Maine
In Summer, the population of this quaint Maine fishing village swells from around 5,000 inhabitants to 18,000, and for good reason. Surrounded by paddling and sailing opportunities, those making their way into the area’s bays can not only watch whales and seals but can spot a variety of stunning bird species such as Bald Eagles and Puffins. During my stay I found that land based options are equally as spectacular with Acadia National Park sitting just out the back door. Hiking provides views of the channels and bays while the park’s abundant exposed rock opens up endless climbing opportunities. There is even a climbing school in the city for those uninitiated to the sport.

Castries, St. Lucia
Once travelers work their way past the cruise ships and trinket shops, a world of adventure awaits in Castries, the capital city of St. Lucia. Professional mountain biker Tinker Juarez designed a trail system specifically for the Anse Chastanet Resort. Beginner, intermediate, and expert single track trails wind their way through former plantations and lush jungle vegetation. Diving and snorkeling opportunities abound along St. Lucia’s shore. More experienced divers will find wreck diving just off the coast. This Caribbean island is even home to a diving shop named Scuba Steves. What more could a beach bum want?

La Paz, Bolivia
Trek along ancient Inca trails, raft the class II-IV rapids or the Rio Tuichi, or take on the world’s highest ski resort Chacaltaya. If that’s not enough adrenaline, mountain bike the Death Road, reported to be the most dangerous mountain bike ride in the world.

Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland boasts average highs between 59 and 75 degrees year round. The mild temperatures make for an ideal adventure sports hub. Rappel into massive caverns with Waitomo Cave Adventures to explore the underworld of New Zealand. You will need at least two weeks to take in all the adventure Auckland has to offer. Surfing, horse trekking, sailing, and magnificent hiking can all be found near this city in the “Land of the Hobbits.”

Bend, Oregon
With a beautiful trout stream rippling through town and ski slopes just up the road at Mount Bachelor, Bend accommodates Winter and Summer visitors alike. I found a trail run around Todd Lake that was the perfect way to take in a pristine alpine setting. Backpack the 40-mile Three Sisters Loop and enjoy jaw-dropping views of these triplet peaks.

Chamonix, France

France’s Chamonix has long been known as the site of world-renowned ski resorts and awe-inspiring vistas of the Alps. But these days, the French city is also home to an “air park” where brave visitors can paraglide from just below snowy summits and soar above green pasture. For those who prefer their adventures a bit closer to the ground, there’s the Via Ferrata course. Via Ferrata takes rock climbing to the masses with metal steps and small ledges for climbers to use, all while clipped in to a secure cable system.

Having your cake and eating it too was never so easy. Any of these world-class destinations should be a crowd-pleaser for even the most ambitious adventure travelers.

15 Great Mountain Vacations

The U.K. based online magazine Wide World launched at the beginning of May, and is already building a library of good content for adventure travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. The articles vary greatly in subject matter and include an interview with free diver Sara Campbell, a look at the world’s toughest race, and a growing collection of gear reviews.

One of the feature articles is of particular interest for travelers, offering up 15 amazing mountain trips from around the globe that will give you something to do at altitude even in the summer. Some of the locations on the list are amongst the most famous mountaineering communities in the world, each well known for offering a range of outdoor adventure activities.

For instance, Chamonix, France appears on the list, and during the winter, the famous mountain town is filled with visitors looking to take advantage of the best skiing and climbing in Europe. But during the summer months, those crowds vanish, leaving one of the world’s best outdoor playground virtually deserted. Sitting at the base of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Western Europe, Chamonix gives easy access to some of the best alpine hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking found anywhere.

The other locations on the list are just as impressive, and each offers its own unique mountain activities. Some are great paragliding destinations, others offer horseback riding, rafting, fly fishing, and more. Most of the locations are in Europe and North America, with Queenstown, New Zealand being the lone exception. Any one of these mountain escapes would make a great getaway for anyone still looking for summertime fun.

Skiing Three Countries in One Day

Should you ever feel the need to impress your friends with the number of places you have skied in your life (and not go bankrupt as a result of it) head over to Slovenia. If you settle in the town of Bovec, home of Kanin, the highest ski center in the Slovenian Alps, you can venture out to nearby ski resorts in the neighboring countries: Sella Nevea and Tarvisio in Italy, and at the Arnoldstein in Austria. If you get the 7-day pass, you get two free coupons for skiing in Italy and Austria. The altitude stretches above 2000 meters (6000 feet) and a day pass will set you back less than $20.

Of course, you can ski three countries in one day in Chamonix if you are lucky, too, but it is a lot more expensive (closer to $50/day) and a lot more pretentious.