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.

The Great Wall of Singapore

Via ferrata
Singapore is home to the world’s tallest indoor climbing wall. Climbing it is unique for more reasons than just its height!

The BorderX via ferrata, aka “iron way,” aka “traditional European mountaineering activity reputed to have been started in Italy in WWI as a means of letting the Italian troops cross the Dolomites,” is an usual experience indeed. It is located in Orchard Central — a shopping mall. You climb past a food court. And yes, people sit there eating and watching you.

The 30m high wall has several color-coded paths you can take, depending on the length and difficulty you want. I took the challenge with my friend Natalie Soh, and, tied to each other, we made our way to the top. There are a number of different safety measures in place; for one, as I mentioned, Natalie and I were tied to each other. By looping the rope that connected us in and out of each “pigtail” (a curly metal rod rooted deeply in the wall) we passed, we were assured we would balance each other’s weight should one of us fall. We also had to have at least one, and preferably two, claw clips on our path’s safety cord at all times. Lastly, we had a very handy, very strong clip on our belts that allowed us to take a swingin’-monkey-style break at any time — quite a relief when your arms get tired or when you’re waiting for your compadre to catch up!

BorderX has trip times all day every day and the prices range from about $14.14 to $24.75 USD, depending on how long you want your trip to be and whether it’s a weekend.

If you think you can’t do it, be advised — they are not in the habit of letting people quit! But rest assured, we climbed with a broad age group; we had someone over 60 with us. “We want to help people overcome their doubts about themselves, and their fear of heights,” said our mountain guide and base camp manager Poh Yu Seung. The best part of the experience, besides the glory of reaching the top and gazing down upon the shopping mall? Eating okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) in the food court afterward, discussing our Michelle Obama arms (Wei brought it up, I swear — they’re an international phenomenon) and watching other people tough out the climb. It’s like a whole new level of entertainment.
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This trip was paid for by the Singapore Board of Tourism, but the views expressed within the post are 100% my own.