David Houssa

The world awaits – Europe's best outdoor adventures - Walking

Clamber above fjords, wander ancient forests, cycle coastal paths or trek for bears: just a few of the exciting ways to get out there this summer, writes Jo Davey

Fjord and fell touring Norway

Some 1,100m up, the smooth ledge of Trolltunga juts out over the deep blue waters of Ringedalsvatnet. This unparalleled panorama is worth the effort. The first 1km of the 10-12 hour round-trip is a climb that gets the blood pumping and by the time you walk on to the spar of Precambrian bedrock, your reward is the view that has almost literally taken your breath away. The 27km hike means an early start, setting out when the puddle-strewn plateaus are still mottled with scudding morning mists.

Trolltunga is Norway’s world-renowned hike, but it’s certainly not the only show-stopper on the stunning Sørfjord. A branch of the huge Hardangerfjord, which begins in Bergen and spreads east like a glacier crack across the interior, Sørfjord has abundant adventurous but less gruelling trails, like the 2.5hr hike up Buerbreen valley. Just 30 minutes in, you get your first glimpse of Norway’s southernmost glacier. Here, the finger of Folgefonna spills over the rocky outcrop in a rough-hewn hulk of white-blue. Its trickling rivulets of meltwater merge into the electric blue river that roars alongside the trail, feeding the lush valley before pouring into the great fjord.

For much of the year, the trail is covered in strata of fog and snow, but summer brings bright blue skies and easy accessibility. Still, even in high summer, the breeze blowing down from Folgefonna has an icy bite – welcome after the haul to its base, up short rope climbs and over rudimentary bridges.

In the north, Kinsarvik’s Four Waterfalls trail is a quick hike crammed with cascades and Arctic beauty. Between the thundering falls, the Norwegian woods are painted with mint-green and lilac mosses that flatten softly underfoot. The dramatic and often deserted summit, where Sote Foss surges over the green and grey stone, is Sørfjord’s best sunset spot.

Trolltunga Trolltunga Active 1

Travel Details

Trolltunga tours begin at Unesco food city Bergen. Or rent a car and just follow the well-marked hiking paths. End the day at eco-friendly, waterfront Hotel Ullensvang; doubles from £204. trolltunga-active.com; hotelullensvang.no

On the bear hunt Slovenia

Just an hour away from the sophisticated, café-lined streets of Ljubljana, the ancient forests of Kočevje are filled with less refined inhabitants: the country’s native brown bears, the largest population in Europe and one of the densest in the world. Deceptively cute and positively cuddly-looking, with fur the colour of chocolate, these lumbering omnivores can reach up to 600kg and 2.5m in height, so going in search of one may not sound like the wisest way to spend your weekend. Bear trekking is, however, a unique outdoor experience and Slovenia is the best place for it.

The safest and surest way to see one is with local guides, who work with the tourism board and environmental agencies to protect the animals and keep the entire experience sustainable. Tours start with guides teaching you how to spot bear spoor, before taking you into the vast primeval forest to find telltale tracks. The bears are largely crepuscular, so the day is better spent enjoying their habitat than attributing every scuff and snuffle to a looming brown beast. After all, these woods are alive with bird calls and whispers of wildlife. Deer, owls, foxes, eagles and goshawks flit and prowl between the great silver firs and gigantic beech trees, their movements camouflaged by the thick canopy of sunlit green above. Your predator hunt isn’t limited to bear paws; the Kočevje area is home to wolves and lynx too.

With so much life to support, foraging is a natural activity and tours include a wild picnic of locally found and sourced ingredients like honey, forest herbs and fruits. Hunting for tracks and dining on forest-foraged food, surrounded by the rich smell of humus and the rustling of trees, can almost make you forget why you came. But as evening falls, you’ll watch from the safety of an observation hut as bears finally emerge from the same paths you trod earlier.

Marjan Artnak 002

Travel Details

Take a bear trekking tour with Kočevsko before resting up at charming art nouveau Guesthouse Veronika; doubles from £62. kocevsko.com; gostisce-veronika.com

Foraging walks Czech Republic

The madder and moss latticework of Sokolí Hnízdo looks like it’s always been here. Built, in fact, by a Bohemian prince in the 19th century, the elaborate wooden chateau stands next to the great grey slab of Europe’s largest natural stone arch, Pravčice Gate. Beyond, lie the forests of Bohemian Switzerland (despite the name, it’s in the north-west of the Czech Republic, a short hop from Prague). There is something quite fantastical about this verdant national park, which comes, in part, from an inverted climate: a phenomenon where heat falls into the ravines and cooler air settles in misted threads about the peaks and pillars of sea-carved sandstone. Rivers babble between narrow escarpments, where lime-green moss renders the rocks resplendent in the summer sun.

An undemanding five-hour hike around Pravčice takes you through dense pine forest, the air thick with sap and the floor awash with blooms. Wild orchids, roses and violets brush blueberry bushes, pears and plum trees, but the forest’s crowning glory is its fungi. Porcini, morels and gypsy mushrooms burst from fallen logs and the little gypsy caps, in particular, are a local foraging favourite, adding nuttiness to soups and stews. Although commonly done in a day, the park has weeks’ worth of biking and hiking trails. Having won the EDEN award for sustainable tourism, Bohemian Switzerland has become a headliner for the Czech Republic’s 2022 environmental tourism initiative.

BAVA Cesky raj Hruba Skala Trosky Credit Czech Tourism and Václav Bacovsky

Travel Details

Take a day trip with Northern Hikes from Dresden or Prague. Or stay at Garden Hotel Mezná, set deep in the national park and an hour’s walk from Pravčice Gate; doubles from £65. northernhikes.com; gardenhotelmezna.cz/en

Cycling the coast Estonia

It’s hard to imagine a bog being a beloved feature of any country, but in Estonia, they’re surprisingly scenic, sparkling like watery windows across the landscape and thus highly valued. Lahemaa National Park, on Estonia’s north coast, is one of the continent’s most important forest conservation areas and habitats. Home to moose, bears, lynx, wild boars and 200 bird species, Lahemaa was voted one of 2020’s top 100 sustainable destinations.

With trails spider-webbing across its expanse, cycling is a spectacular way to explore the park, whether as a day trip from Tallinn or as part of a multi-day tour. You’ll pedal past beaches with glacial boulders and belts of peach-coloured dunes, 7,000-year-old swamps, forests of aspen and pine and winding rivers. Lahemaa has a cultural legacy too. Its 747sq km are home to a medieval fishing village, ancient burial grounds and four stately manors including sprawling Sagadi and handsome Palmse.

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Travel Details

Curate your own tour from Tallinn with green biking company DMC Nordic. To stay, book a night at the Sagadi Manor Hotel in Lahemaa; doubles from £71. dmc-nordic.com; sagadi.ee

Multi-day trekking Romania

Thoughts of Transylvania rarely evoke mountainsides carpeted in vibrant pink, or lakes so plentiful and bright that the area is known as the blue-eyed land. But the south-west side of Transylvania is home to the Retezat, one of the highest ranges in Romania and a jaw-dropping landscape of kaleidoscopic summer colour. Part of the Southern Carpathians, the Retezat became Romania’s first national park and a Unesco biosphere reserve for good reason. There are around 80 glacial lakes tucked between the towering crags, said to have been created by giants digging in the area. It might be a local legend, but the region was indeed inhabited by giants once upon a time: dinosaur bones have been excavated here, alongside Roman ruins.

The folded landscape and theatrical peaks make the Retezat wilderness a hiking and mountaineering wonderland, with trails leading past virgin forest, tumbling waterfalls and breathtaking panoramas. Yet it’s the prolific plant life that put it on the map, with a third of all Romanian plant species found in the park. Meadows form brilliant carpets of flowers that transform the mountain range into a rainbow of white, magenta, lapis, violet and yellow. Summer rains keep the rhododendrons, gentians and fuzzy edelweiss blooming even as snow still dusts the highest peaks.

Animals are abundant, with Carpathian bears, lynx, grey wolves, wildcats, otters and marmots hiding on hillsides and in lakes. You’ll more likely see chamois, the black goats that gambol and scurry across the granite and karst. Birds, particularly raptors, patrol the skies, including rare golden eagles, peregrine falcons, eagle and pygmy owls. Rather less majestic are the western capercaillies, chunky grouse with black and petrol-green plumage.

Adrian Botescu

Travel Details

There are plenty of day hikes to be had, or take your time with a guided 5-day tour, tailored to your fitness level, with Uncover Romania, staying in guest houses and mountain huts. Contact direct for bespoke pricing. uncover-romania-tours.com

River trekking Greece

The Neda river in the Peloponnesian countryside is the only female river in Greece. It’s named for the water nymph who bathed the infant Zeus, born on Mt Lykaios at the Neda’s source. In mythology, the many falls teeming down into the narrow gorge are Neda’s braids, and in Ancient Greece local boys would honour her by cutting off their hair and throwing it into her waters. Today, it’s more tempting to throw your whole body in, and the blistering Greek sun makes wading through the unearthly water deliciously temperate. The river foams and flows between steep cliffs hugged by plane, olive, fig and oak trees, whose branches add obstacles on the way to Figalleia. There, a 25m-high fall plunges into a pool of duck egg blue – a secret swimming lagoon fit for the gods.

Shutterstock 1186023871

Travel Details

Take a half-day river hike with Trekking Hellas. Or linger longer and stay in a mountainside apartment at Ilakia guesthouse in the village of Nea Figalia; one-bedroom apartments from £64. trekking.gr/en; ilakia.gr/en

Mountain biking Austria

The triumph of cresting over the latest peak, tires crackling over pebbled paths, is only topped by the unrivalled Salzburgerland scenery. Sharp grey summits, magnificent valleys and blue skies stretch over Saalfelden Leogang, Europe’s largest biking region. Edged by the Steinernes Meer plateau and Leogang Mountains, its terrain is spanned by a multitude of well-maintained routes, complete with washing stations and gondola bike racks. A major draw is the Epic Bikepark Leogang, a world championship ground of trails, jumps, ramps and tournament tracks. Elsewhere, tours to the highest summits will earn you a glass of local schnapps and glorious views and the Flachau valley is another idyllic option, with lush Alpine meadows and trails for all levels.

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Travel Details

Stay at Hotel Forsthofgut in Leogang, where you can rent quality mountain bikes; doubles from £187. Full-board packages at Bikehotel Tauernhof in Flachau, including bike rental and guided tours, cost from £114pp. forsthofgut.at/en; tauernhof.at/

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