Thursday, 28 March 2013

Top 13 Unusual Natural Wonders in Europe






Combine rich European cultures with the great outdoors and some of the most overlooked and stunning natural sights in Europe. You'll most definitely have a holiday in Europe to remember...

The European natural wonders featured here are found in attractive and generally easy-to-reach travel destinations, offering you the chance to have that long-awaited relaxing break, as well as experiencing some of nature's truly awe-inspiring moments. (Possibly even without swarms of tourists because most of these are pretty undiscovered, so get in there before everyone else does - shhh)....

For amazing things to do and see in the European Great Outdoors, pick from these 13 unusual natural attraction favourites.

European Natural Wonder #1: Plitvice Lakes & Falls: Croatia 

Plitvice lakes and waterfalls CroatiaTowering, graceful cascades of the purest water plunge down sheer rock faces into various shining clear-aqua pools. Vast, calm lakes reflect the lush green forest and serene, hilly landscape.

This eden-like expanse is home to wild bears as well as a great many other wonderful creatures. The wonderful wooden walkways blend well with the surrounding landscape, taking visitors along the lake edges, close to the waterfalls, up hills for fantastic views, and to various lakeside stops to catch boats across the lakes. 

There are various trails you can take and the price of your ticket depends on the route you intend to take, and includes the relevant boat-trips unless you choose a walking only ticket. Some trails are simple and take less than an hour, and some are longer and cover a large area of the national park. Some are more of a hike, for which you will need a day there, or even two!

Plitvice is in central Croatia, very near to the North-Western tip of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is easy to find when driving, and well signposted (Plitvicka Jezera). If you don't have a car, the best way to visit is either a bus from Zagreb the capital (around 2 hours), or an organised tour. Most hotels will be able to connect you with a tour to this major attraction.

European Natural Wonder #2: St Beatus Caves, Switzerland

This stunning and never-ending labyrinth of caves is set into the mountainside of Lake Thun and packed full of stalagmites and stalagtites, waterfalls and pools. Of the 14 km of caves, 1 km is lit with walkways and can be explored on a guided tour. Wide areas and gorges as well as narrow passageways and huge limestone formations fill you with awe at every twist and turn. 
Guided tours last just over an hour and depart every 30 minutes. The caves are open from March until October from 9:30 - 5:00pm. The website for more information can be found in English here

European Natural Wonder #3: Melissani Caves, Kefalonia

This stunning cave and pool is a confusing mix of underground grotto and sun-lit lagoon. The roof of the cave - once intact - was blasted apart in an earthquake in the 1980s, and now leaves a gaping hole in the top for the sun to perfectly illuminate the surface of the water, leaving it gleaming with bright green and azure brilliance. 
The cave itself is a beautiful cathedral-like affair with a tall ceiling, and the boat trip circles the darkness or the cave and the jewel-encrusted lake.
Tours are by far the best at midday when the sun is high in the sky and illuminates the lake perfectly with shafts of light streaming through from directly above. This fantastic natural attraction is just Northwest of Sami town. Follow the maind road and look out for signs within ten minutes of leaving Sami. There is a parking area and a kiosk with a sloping walkway which takes you into the ground.

European Natural Wonder #4: Geysir, Iceland

One of the most geothermally active sites in the world - Geysir is home to a great variety of amazing geysers and volcanic, geothermal pools. The famous Strokkur geyser reliably errupts around every 8 minutes - the large pool of aqua water bubbles furiously into a large mound of boiling, clear water and seconds later sends plumes of boiling steam billowing tens of meters into the air. 
The velvety cobalt blue of the photo-sensitive water and the steaming depths of the deep pools is especially amazing when you stop to consider the earth's tremendous power and the contrast of all this heat with the surrounding icy landscape (especially in winter). 

Geysir is a high point of all of the tours of the 'golden circle' which mainly depart from Reykjavik (and are comprised of the main sights of Geysir, Thingvellir and Gulfoss). Geysir is also easily reached by car and is no more than an hour outside of Reykjavik. 

European Natural Wonder #5: Thingvellir Tectonic Plates, Iceland

The tectonic plates (for you non-geeks) are the parts of the earth's outer crust which is divided into various plates and don't quite cover the Earth's surface, so the gaps are where volcanic activity and earthquakes occur - some gaps are widening, or the plates are colliding. 

In Iceland the Eurasian and North American plates are drifting apart and Thingvellir and the Great Rift Valley in Africa are the only two places on Earth where the drifting apart of tectonic plates can be seen. 

Thingvellir is also included in the Golden Circle tour from Reykjavik which a range of tour companies organise. It is less than an hour's drive from Reykjavik.

The other high point of the Golden Circle tour is the Gulfoss Falls - another fantastic natural wonder.

European Natural Wonder #6: Blue Cave (Bisevo), Vis island, Croatia

A stunning and ethereal experience 3 hours off the coast of mainland Croatia by ferry, is the beautiful blue cave at Bisevo islet just off Vis island. Vis itself is very much worth a visit for its unspoilt Mediterranean beauty, and an organised boat tour to the blue cave is main attraction once you're there. 
The blue cave is a phenomenon which can be found also in Capri, Italy - but less touristed. It is a natural rocky sea cave, with the dark interior walls ignited the brightest azure blue by a perfectly angled sunlit hole in the rocks illuminating the crystal clear water. 
Like the Melissani caves in Kefalonia, the sun needs to be high up in the sky so the best time to visit is summer time around midday. The Mediterranean climate means summers of almost guarranteed clear blue skies.
The trip to Bisevo can be made with tour companies from Vis's main town of the same name (Vis), or its second town Komiza. 

European Natural Wonder #7: Northern Norwegian Fjords

With the endless deep blue polar night (or the midnight sun depending on the time of year), the Northern Norwegian Fjords make an unusual, stunning (and cruise ship-less) alternative to the Southern Norwegian Fjords. Both are stunning, and not for nothing are the fjords in the South world-famous. However the fjords in the North, with their tiny little fishing villages, and icy, snowy landscapes, can be the stuff of fairytales.

The best times to visit are Winter (for Northern Lights possibilities and lots of snow and ice), and the shoulder seasons for more daylight and higher temperatures. Summer is good for the midnight sun, however mosquitoes can be a problem further inland. 
Tromso is one of Norway's Northernmost cities. It is a beautiful twinkling city, set in the mountains and fjords of the North, with elegant bridges, Nordic churches, great shops and restaurants, many outdoors excursions and stunning mountain scenery. The Radisson Blu is a great recommended high-end hotel.

European Natural Wonder #8: Vasques & Les Calanques, Corsica

Corsica is home to a great many beautiful natural sights. One of the most indulgent being the wonderfully refreshing clear freshwater vasques (or pools). They are located in the hills and mountains, fed by natural streams and rivers and provide a great alternative to the often stiflingly hot beaches down at sea level. 

These Vasques can be found in various areas, however an excellent extensive system of different sized pools, waterfalls and and flat rocks to sunbathe on can be found on the way to the village of Chisa. The series of pools are quite a way down the side of the valley-side out of sight of the road and are found by looking out for the 'parking areas' - dusty areas by the side of the road!

Another fantastic sight is the reddish rock formations 'Les Calanques.' There are various walks that can be done along the coastline and though the maquis, varying in length. The open vistas of the sea and opposite mountains and cliffs are simply stunning, as well as the strange rocky formations of Les Calanques. 

The best way to see these sights is by car or bike, as they are out of the way of main towns and the infrastructure and public transport in Corsica is not very well-developed.

European Natural Wonder #9: Trummelbach Falls, Switzerland

Immense power and thundering sounds characterise these twisting, gushing frothy falls all tumbling through a myriad of rocky tunnels and caves. Take the soaking walkways around the rock to see this natural wonder from various angles and watch as tons of water gushes down rock faces and plummets into pools of milky, frothy water.

Entry fees apply, however they are well worth it for this stunning waterfall is far better appreciated from the walkways within the rock, and there is so much more to these falls than can be seen from the parking area. 

The Trummelbach falls are easy to find – follow Wilderswil from Interlaken. You are looking for Lauterbrunnen – a gorgeous fairytale valley with tall and graceful waterfalls splashing down on either side of the rock faces, and a green-carpeted valley floor, with soaring white peaks in the distance.


European Natural Wonder #10: Abisko National Park, Sweden

Abisko is always said to be one of Europe's last true wildernesses. When you arrive you will see why - especially in winter. Take a charlift up to the Aurora skystation and on the moonlit horizon there is not one streetlamp or artificial light to be seen, apart from the few specks of light below in the Abisko village. For hundreds of miles around it is literally forest, mountains, lakes, and (in winter at least) snow and ice.

The silence of this wonderful place presses in on your ears, and if you're lucky and you stay quiet, you will hear wolves, or see wild moose. During summer the midnight sun can be seen in the Lapporten - the famed half-circle gap between the mountains.

Abisko's appeal is that it is wild and rural. Getting there is easy with a car, and without is not too much of a problem as various tour companies go there for the midnight sun in the summer months and the northern lights in the winter months. 

European Natural Wonder #11: Northern Lights, Northern Scandinavia

Although never guarranteed, the Northern Lights are a fantastic reason to visit Northern Scandinavia. Some nights see simply awe-inspiring light shows, others just endless starry, glittery skies, and others still, blotchy and cloudy skies... However the Northen Lights wouldn't be quite so magical and mysterious without that uncertainty now would they?

European Natural Wonder #12: Alpine Wildflowers in Spring, Switzerland & Austria

Not really a natural wonder, so much as one of life's simple pleasures - but there's just something about the Alpine Springtime. Meadows burst into flower and the newly recovered grassy hillsides radiate green with the sunlight and recently melted snow.  

For the best meadows and spring hiking, Grindelwald in Switzerland is hiking mecca, and the Lauterbrunnen valley is stunning in springtime with its many waterfalls (see above - Trummelbach Falls). 

European Natural Wonder #13: Blausee, Switzerland

A small, modest little lake in the Kandersteg National Park in the Swiss Alps has a wonderful charm of its own. It's called the Blausee, which literally means blue lake, and when you see it in real life you can straight away appreciate why. Its bright aqua waters are famed for their trout, and you can take a little boat trip on the lake, but other than that it is the water itself and its serene landscape which makes it such a draw.

Aswell as great walkways around the lake, there is a cute little play area by lake and public barbecues also. It is relatively easy to find - just head up to Kandersteg by bus or car and the Blausee sign can't be missed, it is nearly as blue as the lake...

Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2013
All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

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