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6 Wild & Beautiful Places in Europe You MUST See!

By Darley Newman
September 14, 2014
WildEurope_Cappadocia
Chip Ward
There's more to Europe than winding city streets, vibrant cafés, and beautiful museums! The continent abounds with rugged mountains, pristine lakes, and secluded beaches to gallop—including some of the world's premiere parks and wildlife habitats.

Ready to take a walk on the wild side? Keep reading to discover six of Europe's most unforgettable natural wonders—and how you can experience them on a budget.

Connemara, Ireland

Step back in time with rugged nature, authentic culture, and awesome views along Ireland's wild western coast.

On Europe's edge, as far west in Ireland as you can travel, Connemara is a weathered, mythical and wild region, where travelers can immerse themselves in nature and Irish culture, history, and traditions.

SEE EUROPE'S WILDEST PLACES!

What to Do

Rent a car for your own Irish road trip. Start in colorful, bustling Galway City, then drive west along the north shore of Galway Bay. Road signs in Gaelic, one-pub towns, and Blue Flag beaches are just some of the signals that you've hit Ireland's wild west. Explore the impressive and winding Sky Road, which you can drive or cycle for quintessentially Irish vistas of offshore islands and the Twelve Bens mountains. Stretch your legs in Connemara National Park, where hiking a few of the steeper trails of the Twelve Bens will earn you bragging rights and unfettered views of scenic mountain expanses and distant islands. Next, make a stop at legendary Kylemore Abbey, located northeast of Clifden on a private lake. Meander through the Victorian gardens before feasting on scones, made with the Benedictine nuns' special recipe, and hot tea. For a special treat, time your visit to coincide with a choral performance in the abbey's church.

Where to Stay

Clifden, about an hour's drive from Galway City, offers a variety of homey B&B's and guesthouses. Check out the family-friendly Clifden Station House, located right in town. Walking paths are situated right outside delightful Dolphin Beach House on the Lower Sky Road.

Iceland Highlands

Nature to the extreme in the "Land of Fire and Ice."

Just south of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic, Iceland captivates travelers with intense adventure opportunities along striking black sand beaches and vibrant green moss-covered lava fields. You can snowmobile on glaciers, saddle up for a wild horse drive with local farmers, or hike alongside sputtering geysers. 

What to Do

Head into Iceland's Southern Highlands to hike the popular Laugavegur trail, where hot springs, black arctic deserts, towering glaciers, and red-and-yellow-colored mountains reward the intrepid traveler. Sign up for a guided tour or go it alone on this 34-mile route that connects two nature reserves, Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork (Icelandic: órsmörk). During the summer season, buses depart daily from Reykjavik to the trailhead. The Laugavegur trail normally takes three to five days, but the difficulty of this trail depends on the weather, which can range from T-shirt temps to whiteouts—in summer. Feeling even more adventurous? Hike past Thorsmork to the small village of Skógar to view one of Iceland's mightiest waterfalls. Another alternative that I love is to saddle up and travel the way Icelanders have for centuries on the small but strong Icelandic horse. Whatever you choose, pack your bathing suit, because settling into a warm geothermal pool at the end of the day is a must here in the far north.

Where to Stay

Campsites with access to toilets and showers, and basic mountain huts with toilets, kitchens, and sometimes showers are located in intervals along Laugavegur trail. Travelers should book huts well in advance and pack a sleeping bag and their own food for the journey. At the Volcano Huts in the Thorsmork Nature Reserve, there is a restaurant and bar.

Doñana Park, Spain

A bird-watcher's paradise with exclusive, wild Atlantic beaches.

Located at the tail end of Europe along Southern Spain's coast, Doñana National Park is one of Europe's best-known conservation areas. In a special spot where the Guadalquivir River delta meets the sea, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve welcomes a limited number of travelers to enjoy a European safari complete with beaches, pine forests, flamingos, and the endangered Iberian lynx. 

What to Do

Once a favorite hunting reserve of Spanish kings, Doñana National Park is one of Europe's largest parks, encompassing beaches, marshland, lagoons, pine forests, and massive sand dunes. A haven for wildlife, the park is on an important migratory route for birds traveling from Africa to Europe. From the principal visitor center at El Acebuche, close to Matalascañas, travelers may easily hike along several boardwalks through the wetlands to observe flamingo, red-crested pochard, azure-winged magpie, or the glorious hoopoe. More in-depth guided tours via 4WD vehicles depart from the El Acebuche visitors center and take travelers through a variety of ecosystems, including one of the last undeveloped bastions of beach in southern Spain and through an area of dunes so large you may feel like you're lost in the desert. In marshes, scrubland, grassland, and pine forests, keep a lookout for wild boar, fallow deer, and the rare Retuerta horse. While much of the park is restricted to guided tours in order to protect the fragile environment, travelers may also trek along footpaths at the visitor center at La Rocina and also at El Palacio del Acebrón. Housed in an old palace, this visitors center showcases special exhibits on the park's history and natural environment.

Where to Stay

The nearby resort area of Matalascanas has a variety of accommodations. Funky El Rocío's Hotel Toruño is a must-pick for flamingo and heron watchers. Be careful if you're attempting to book in late May or early June, as prices soar and rooms are scarce during the popular Romería del Rocío, an annual pilgrimage.

Scottish Highlands

Where romance, castles, and whiskey combine for a surprisingly family-friendly escape.

If your vision of "Wild Europe" involves romance, head to Scotland's Highlands, where endless heather-covered moors undulate under misty skies and men and women with thick brogues share a laugh between drams of whiskey.

What to Do

Explore the southern edge of Cairngorms National Park, Britain's largest national park, using Blair Castle as your jumping-off point. The traditional seat of the Dukes of Atholl, this classic, stark white castle set amid the lush green rolling hills has hosted a variety of important guests throughout history, including Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria. Tour this 13th-century castle, which boasts the last remaining private army in Europe. Next, enjoy the outdoors as the Scots do through country sports. Saunter along rugged tracks on sturdy Highland ponies or fish for salmon or wild brown trout along a peaceful Scottish hill loch or rushing river. Modern adventurers may also choose to travel by mountain bike or Land Rover. Just down the road, Scotland's smallest traditional distillery, Edradour, beckons adult guests for a tour and tasting to soothe muscles and warm up after a day outdoors.

Where to Stay

Stay on the estate and historic grounds and choose from a variety of family- and group-friendly accommodations, including Woodland or Highland Lodges, with impressive views of the surrounding hills. Close to the castle in the small village of Blair Atholl, the Atholl Arms Hotel offers wallet-friendly rates in a charming B&B setting.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Bizarre geological formations, centuries-old underground
cities, traditional villages, and delicious cuisine.

Hiking from village to village amid Cappadocia's enigmatic, pastel rock formations called "Fairy Chimneys" is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. These rock formations, also known as hoodoos, have fueled visitors' imaginations and local legends for centuries.

What to Do

Set off by yourself to hike one of the many trails through Cappadocia's valleys or take a guided tour by foot, bus, or horseback. The trails run from village to village past vineyards and apricot groves along the old Silk Road, with many villages carved out of the area's volcanic rock centuries ago. Keep a lookout for rock-carved churches and the entrances to centuries-old underground cities where early Christians sought refuge from aggressors. Step inside to cool off and get stunned by well-preserved, ornate Byzantine frescoes. For a special treat, take a hot air balloon ride to enjoy Cappadocia's surreal landscapes at dawn.

Where to Stay

Kirkit Pension, in Avanos (a historic pottery center with thriving local markets), is a boutique, family-owned, and budget-friendly cave hotel that delights travelers with tasty, locally sourced meals and live Turkish music.

Carpathia, Romania

Legendary—and spooky!—castles, gourmet cheese, untamed mountain peaks, and traditional villages.

Stretching across Central and Eastern Europe, the Carpathian Mountains encompass some of the wildest terrain in Europe, with dense forests, picturesque castles, alpine meadows, cavernous gorges, curious rock formations, and traditional Romanian villages. This part of Europe is truly for those with a keen sense of adventure and love of history. 

What to Do

Take a hike! In Piatra Craiului National Park, that is, home to a variety of caves, gorges and the longest and tallest limestone ridge in Romania. Keep a lookout for brown bears, wolves, and lynxes. Stop in unique villages, where the locals hold fast to a traditional way of life. Visit imposing Bran Castle, also known as "Dracula's Castle" after Bram Stoker's famous (fictional) vampire, and take in the legends surrounding this centuries-old fortress. Continue your hike in the Bucegi Mountains, where shepherds make Branza de Burduf cheese, which gets its distinctive taste from aging in fir tree bark.

Where to Stay

Budget-friendly pensions, campsites, and chalets are located throughout Piatra Caaiului National Park, including in the villages of Pestera and Magura. Pensiunea Pepino in Magura, in a beautiful location complete with its own private garden, serves up delicious, home-cooked Romanian cuisine right inside the park.  

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Adventure

Amazon Adventures in Tarapoto, Peru

No trip to Peru would be complete without a visit to the jungle, and one of the most beautiful places to visit on such an adventure is Tarapoto, otherwise known as "City of Palms." Located in the San Martin region of Peru, Tarapoto sits on a high jungle plateau (la selva alta) between the Andes and the Amazon Basin. Tarapoto can act as a base for light jungle excursions in the surrounding areas, or can serve as the jumping-off point for more hardy expeditions deep into Amazon rainforest. Climate and When to GoAs you might expect, Tarapoto is warm and humid all year round. Rainy season lasts from approximately January to May, which means that travel around this time may be wetter, muddier, and more mosquito-ridden than usual, but not impossible, or even unpleasant. Just be sure to bring with you a rain poncho, strong bug repellant, and a bit of patience! Things to See and DoThere is not much to see in Tarapoto City itself, although this is not to say that it's without its attractions. Popular day trips from the city include visits to the local waterfalls, such as El Ahuashiyacu, where visitors can swim in the lovely lagoon at its base. Another popular trip goes to Laguna Azul, a picturesque lake located in a volcanic crater in the nearby town of Sauce. The drive from Tarapoto takes about an hour, and requires travellers to get out of their means of transport while it's loaded onto a wooden barge that travels across a fast-moving river—a big part of the fun, in my opinion! Once at Laguna Azul, travellers can take a boat around the lake, stopping at points of interest along the way to swim, take photos, and eat. Travellers can make these trips with one of the many tour companies operating out of Tarapoto or negotiate their own trip with a local taxi or colectivo driver. Where to stayThere are a number of options for lodging in and around Tarapoto. A cheap, clean, and safe option for those wishing to stay in town is Hostal San Antonio, located around the corner from the Plaza del Armas, where a simply room with private bath (and WIFI!) will set you back around 15 dollars. The staff is friendly and helpful. A slightly more upscale option is Hostal Casa de Palos, located uphill from the Plaza del Armas. This boutique, minimalistic jungle-themed hotel has WIFI and a restaurant on site. For those wishing to have a jungle lodge experience, try El Shimiyacu Amazon Lodge, located 3 km from the city center and 5 km from the airport. Private baths, a kitchen, and internet access are available. If you want to stay the night at the Laguna Azul, there are a number of accommodation options in Sauce, including the posh El Sauce Resort, and the rustic Hotel Lago Lindo. ShoppingThe handicraft market is a wonderful place to purchase locally made goods such as coffee, liquors purported to improve virility, dream-catchers, hand-carvings, jewelry, hammocks, and other items. In the Plaza de Armas proper, you'll usually find shipibo women selling beautiful, hand-woven fabrics depicting themes relating to the jungle and ayahuasca, the entheogenic plant medicine that forms an important part of their culture. La Immaculada is a grocery store located on the lower right-hand corner of the Plaza de Armas. This is a great place to buy locally-made food items, such as honey made from the flowers of the jungle, chocolate made from cocoa grown in the region, coffee, andajis (hot sauces) made from special Amazonian peppers. For something different, try the mermelada de cocona (cocona jam), jam made from the small, yellow cocona fruit native to the region. Tara Leigh has traveled extensively in South America, where she had a wonderful time enjoying the food, taking in the sights, and meeting the people of that fantastic continent. This article was written on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned Amazon jungle lodge.

Adventure

3 Great Books About Inspiring Travel Adventures

This article was written by Kristen Mascia on behalf of Bookish.com. How compulsive are you, honestly? Maybe you love knitting—but do you love it so much you’d do it for an entire year, or travel the globe to meet other über-knitters? If you’ve got that kind of passion or stamina (not to mention the cash or time), we tip our hats to you. In fact, if you do set about taking such a journey, there may be a book in it. From bird-watching and hiking to eating strange foods and, of all things, dishwashing, we’ve rounded up memoirs by people who challenged themselves to do one cool/weird/impressive thing over and over again, regardless of where it took them. Into Thick AirJim Malusa flipped the script on the Seven Summits challenge by cycling to the lowest points on six of the seven continents. From Patagonia to Djibouti, he pedals his way through villages and into the hearts of locals who feed, house and befriend him. Bike enthusiasts will appreciate Malusa’s reflections on his travels in his book, “Into Thick Air.” Bowling Across AmericaAfter his father’s unexpected death, Mike Walsh set out to realize his dad’s dream of playing his favorite sport in all 50 states. For his father it was handball, but Walsh tackled that other beloved American hobby, bowling, traveling cross-country and meeting a whole lot of characters along the way. He remembers the journey in “Bowling Across America.” DishwasherPray tell: What would possess a sane person to wash dishes in all 50 states? We don’t get it, but that’s just what “Dishwasher” author Pete Jordan did for a decade starting in the ’90s, when he moved from state to state to take wash-up jobs in restaurants, hospitals, cafeterias, ski resorts and other unexpected places. Click here for more books and ideas to help inspire your next big adventure.

Adventure

Headed Down Under? Read These Books About Australian Adventures

This article was written by Daniel Lefferts on behalf of Bookish.com. Whether because of its opportunities for kangaroo sightings or the lively culture of its seaboard cities, Australia remains a favorite destination for travelers. As you plan a your summer getaway—whether during their summer this winter or ours in June—dive into these fascinating adventures tales set in Australia. In the Land of OzBooker Prize-winning novelist Howard Jacobson’s memoir of Australia, which is being re-released to mark the 25th anniversary of its publication, remains a classic portrait of the country. While offering hilarious notes on kooky locals and misadventures in the Australian Bush, he also zeroes in on the darker contradictions at work within Australian society, namely the fraught relations between whites and Aborigines. In a Sunburned CountryNo collection of Australia adventure lit would be complete without Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country.” In this classic travelogue, the itinerant travel writer trains his razor-sharp wit on every odd character, creature and locale he encounters, from the mysterious rock formations at Uluru to the giant (12-foot!) earthworms of Gippsland. If you’re looking for a bracingly spot-on portrait of the country that’ll also leave you keeled over with laughter, this is the book for you. 30 Days in SydneyMan Booker Prize winning novelist and Australia native Peter Carey returned to Sydney in the midst of the 2000 Olympics to take stock of how the city and country had changed during his 17-year absence. The result is a vivid and impressionistic guide to the spirit of Australia—as only an Aussie could deliver. Click here for more awesome Aussie-themed books to help inspire your next trip to the land down under.

Adventure

Summer in Big Sky Country

Splashes, shrieks, giggles, and grins. My family and I wade delicately, as suburbanites do, into a Montana creek after a long plane ride from New York. Even in late summer, the water is cold. TAKE A MONTANA TOUR! And it's easy to see why—early snow has dusted the distant peaks. Didactic Dad gestures toward the mountains and reminds his daughters that they're basically standing in melted snow. They're not listening—and why should they? Clara, my seven-year-old, is collecting the most colorful rocks she's ever seen (and couldn't care less that they've been deposited here over eons by the glaciers that give this park its name). Rosalie, just turned two, is simply delighted to be standing in water that's swirling and burbling around her. My wife, Michele, and I share a moment beyond words as we watch our girls discover Glacier National Park, nicknamed the Crown of the Continent for its stunning array of Rocky Mountain peaks, a place she and I have come to treasure as our favorite spot on the planet. For the next two days, we'll happily skip rocks, paddle canoes, and hike gentle, family-friendly trails in the company of mountain goats, bald eagles, and fellow awed humans. DAYS 1 AND 2 Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road 64 miles Arriving at Glacier International Airport in Kalispell, Mont., is nothing like "deplaning" at a cookie-cutter airport. Steps from the tarmac we're greeted by wildlife replicas like mountain goats and loons. Within minutes we're in a rental car and zipping up the winding roads into the mountains toward Glacier National Park (West Glacier, Mont., nps.gov/glac, $25 per car). We load up on provisions at a supermarket in Columbia Falls, then we enter the national park world—where the day's schedule is established gently by the rising and falling of the sun, the turning of the stars, and the puffy clouds in the Big Sky. We check in at Apgar Village Lodge (Apgar Village, Glacier National Park, Mont., westglacier.com, cabins with kitchens from $176), essentially a motel made up of individual cabins equipped with bathrooms and kitchens. We've reserved Cabin 22, right along the shores of McDonald Creek and a few steps from Lake McDonald, the biggest lake in the park. We drop our bags and head right for the creek's gin-clear water, washing big-city anxiety from our bodies. The mountains of the Continental Divide are reflected perfectly in the lake. Yes, our cabin has a kitchen, and over the course of our two days in the park we'll put it to good use flipping pancakes and burgers. But on our first evening in Apgar Village, we want someone else to do the cooking. Eddie's Café (Apgar Village, Glacier National Park, Mont., eddiescafegifts.com, ale-battered fish-and-chips $13.99) is the only game in "town," and it's just what we're looking for, with local trout and exceptional beef on the menu for decent prices. We tuck into excellent Redhook Ale-battered fish-and-chips and, for dessert, wild huckleberry ice cream by the lake. First thing in the morning, we hit the ultimate highway—with an emphasis on "high." As thoroughfares go, there's really no place like Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun Road. Completed in 1932, it hugs the sides of mountains as it snakes 53 miles across the park, up to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass then down to East Glacier. Along the way you can spend happy moments—or even hours—exploring the easy, .6-mile Trail of the Cedars, boulder-strewn Avalanche Creek, and jaw-dropping turnouts with views of the pine-studded valleys far below. Once you reach Logan Pass, 32 miles from Apgar, with a visitors center that includes the highest souvenir shop I've ever shopped at, plan on hiking a ways on a boardwalk that was built especially to preserve the delicate alpine flora that grow here during the brief summers. You can follow the boardwalk uphill to a platform overlooking Hidden Lake (if your legs survive the hike, you'll understand how the lake got its name!) and you're almost guaranteed to see mountain goats—white-haired, horned relatives of antelopes that live only at exceptionally high altitudes—clomping along the boardwalk up there. Back at Apgar that evening, we attend one of Glacier's evening ranger talks, this one on Native American folk tales. At our cabin, we drift off to sleep while the night sky is still a little orange in the west. You can spend days in Glacier, and I recommend taking Going-to-the-Sun Road all the way to the east side of the park, where you can explore the area around Saint Mary's Lake, Many Glacier, and other spots. For this trip, though, we've allotted just two days to the park and now we're headed for Bigfork. DAY 3 Glacier National Park to Bigfork 41 miles Bigfork, on the shores of Flathead Lake, hasn't yet made Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns list, but it certainly has a shot. It boasts a thriving main street (with the '80s-evoking moniker Electric Avenue) complete with a great book store, jewelry shops that specialize in local sapphires, art galleries, and no-nonsense eateries that will load you up with quality sandwiches. After "roughing it" in Glacier for two nights, the lure of Eva Gates's wild-huckleberry preserves is strong for us (456 Electric Ave., Bigfork, Mont., evagates.com, three jars of wild huckleberry preserves $35). We grab some snacks and also buy some syrups and preserves to mail back to New York, where the flavor of Montana huckleberries will remind us of this trip for months. We spend the night at a "stylish steal," the Swan River Inn (360 Grand Ave., Bigfork, Mont., swanriverinn.com, $195), ready to set out first thing in the morning for Montana's dinosaur country to the south. DAY 4 Bigfork to Bozeman 289 miles Today's ride is relatively short by Montana standards, but can stretch out as long as you like depending on how willing you are to stop and explore the "chain of lakes" that follow the Clearwater River down the Swan mountain range along the Bob Marshall National Wilderness. We stop at Rainy Lake for a short hike and hear the unforgettable cries of loons across the water. Next, we make a left at the giant cow. Well, it's actually a bull, the mascot of a convenience store at Clearwater Junction where we turn east on our way to Bozeman. With a collection of dinosaur fossils that rivals those of much larger museums in much larger cities, Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies (300 West Kagy Blvd., Bozeman, Mont., museumoftherockies.org, two-day admission $14) represents some of the bounty discovered by dinosaur hunters such as Jack Horner, and you can sign up for a dig yourself. (Be prepared for a long, hot day of digging and, possibly, disappointment.) We take our time strolling through a timeline of Montana history, including artifacts from Native Americans and early American settlers. There's also an exceptional planetarium and the Living History Farm, an original homestead reconstructed on the grounds of the museum to show visitors how a farming family lived more than a century ago. In the farm's kitchen, volunteers have been known to cook up a fresh feast using fruits and vegetables grown right on the grounds, and a cookbook of traditional (and yummy) recipes is available at the museum's bookshop. Our dinner is decidedly more contemporary—immense submarine sandwiches from the Pickle Barrel (809 West College St., Bozeman, Mont., picklebarrelmt.com, The Big Sky sandwich $7.40), an affordable favorite of Montana State University students here. Try The Big Sky, piled high with bacon, turkey, and cheddar cheese. With our amazingly tasty sandwiches in hand, we check in to a cozy home away from home—Homewood Suites by Hilton (1023 Baxter Lane, Bozeman, Mont., homewoodsuites.com, suites from $169). DAY 5 Bozeman to Helena 97 miles Bozeman can be your gateway to Yellowstone National Park if you've got the time, but on this trip, Helena, the state capital, is next. Though Helena feels like the big city at this point, it is still defined, as all these Montana destinations are, by the wildness just outside its borders. As we approach the city, peaks rise before us and the kids are delighted with the Sleeping Giant—mountains that look like an immense dude asleep on the horizon. Helena's Last Chance Gulch is a throwback to 19th-century prospecting days, though nowadays the only panning you'll be doing is for antiques and western art. We love the burgers at the Windbag Saloon (19 South Last Chance Gulch, Helena, Mont., 406/443-9669, burgers from $11). Shhh!—don't tell my kids this was the site of Helena's last bordello. Then we embark on a two-hour guided boat tour of a stretch of the Missouri River dubbed the Gates of the Mountains by Lewis and Clark for its towering cliffs (3131 Gates of the Mountains Rd., Helena, Mont., gatesofthemountains.com, 2-hour cruise $16). A night at the Red Lion Colonial Hotel (2301 Colonial Dr., Helena, Mont., redlion.com, from $115) and we're ready—well, not really—to fly back to New York. Standing on a crowded Manhattan street corner and realizing you're literally seeing more people at one time than you saw in an entire day at Glacier is a back-to-reality moment that comes all too soon.

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