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Traveling Europe’s “Cool” Countries

Guest Blogger

 

 

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With a little bit of planning and a dose of adventure, tourists traveling the “cool” countries of Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Switzerland can venture into the wilderness. Travelers must be willing to trade out heavy suitcases for light packs and fancy hotel rooms for mountain huts or tents. The result? A trip full of surprises and an itinerary that just may change with the wind.

 

In Scandinavia it’s easy to choose your own adventure with allemansrätten (every man’s right), the ancient tradition allowing people to explore and wild camp almost anywhere as long as the environment is respected. Campers can forage for fish, berries and mushrooms on the natural landscapes. The best way to experience all it has to offer is by train, bike or on foot.

 

 

Sweden

The Inlandsbanan Railway winds its way 800 miles from the southern county of Darlarna up to Swedish Lapand located inside the Arctic Circle. One train travels in each direction daily and can be done in two days but can be made to last as long as desired. From the train passengers can view the stunning lakes of the south to the frozen tundra and impressive rivers to the north. The train stops 65 times along its journey allowing riders to hop out and view wildlife, eat, and/or stay a few days and wild camp along stunning lakes or mountain vistas. Passengers can buy their own tickets and choose stops or go with an organized tour.

 

Once in Lapland its worth exploring one of Europe’s last wild frontiers. This is easily done by hiking the famous 400 kilometer King’s Trail or Kungsladen. Called a life-changing experience by some, the trails pass through the Scandinavian mountain range. Hikers can wild camp or stay at one of the STF (Scandinavian Tourist Federation) huts along the way. The huts are simple in nature and everyone pitches in with daily chores such as chopping wood, washing up or getting water. A hut manager is on site to answer questions and oversee all activities.

 

 

Norway

In the beautiful port town of Narvik, explorers can hike, swim and wander along the wild Norwegian coastline or head into the rugged mountain country. The midnight sun keeps temperatures moderate and the endless light allows ample time for discovery. Heading south to Skjomenfjord, the intrepid adventurer can explore rock carvings along the water’s shore dating as far back as 5000 BC. For a unique cultural experience there are homestays with local Sami families. Nomadic in nature, they now welcome guests to stay in traditional kata tents while tending reindeer and learning to weave birch bark.

 

Bikers and hikers can traverse the notable Rallarvegen, a trail built to carry iron ore across the mountains to Sweden. The track boasts a 15-kilometer exposed section from Katterat on the Swedish boarder to the start of the Rombaksfjord. Visible along the route are remnants from World War II as well as abundant wildlife. For those looking for more of a vertical adventure, the national mountain of Stetin is only 80km to the southeast. The granite peak stands 1,400 meters high and requires hiring a guide with technical experience and equipment.

 

Far above the Arctic Circle sits the northern sports capital of Lofoten. Its beauty is unsurpassed and travelers can enjoy fishing, hiking, surfing at perhaps one of the most northern breaks on the planet, or kayak under the midnight sun - what the locals refer to as, “bathing in gold.”

 

 

Netherlands

The best way to experience this cycle-friendly country is simply do what the locals do and get on a bike. Numerous bike companies exist, appealing to both the recreational and more serious cyclist alike. Holland Bike Tours has options for all from leisurely rides through the tulip fields to more challenging routes around beautiful Lake Yessel (Ijsselmeer).

 

Another option for wheel enthusiasts is the more extreme blokarting (landsailing). Tracks have been created at IJmuiden aan Zee’s 300-meter-wide beach. Seaside sports offer both highly recommended coaching and insurance packages. If being on terra firma is more interesting than sailing just above it, the Dutch athletic sport of mudwalking (wadlopen) in the nature preserve the Walden Sea is worth a try. Referred to as horizontal alpinism, low tide allows for walkers to explore the bottom of the sea while navigating trenches, gullies and sand bars. A typical walk will include trudging through waist-high water, mire and thigh-deep mud before making it to one of the nearby islands. Mudwalking in “the Wad” is not for the faint of heart and requires a trained guide who will point out wildlife along the way while exploring the unique nature preserve and the largest continuous national park in Europe. Participants must be fit as timing with tides is imperative.

 

 

Switzerland

Thanks to the incredibly organized and efficient trails and hut system, Switzerland remains one of the best places to explore the mountains by foot. A less traveled tour that is gaining popularity due to its challenging nature is the Tour de Monte Rosa in the southern part of Switzerland. The route travels along ancient hiking paths traversing over 162 kilometers and up some 13,000 meters of elevation with views of the seven highest 4000 meter peaks in Pennine Alps. The tour can be done in anywhere from 7-10 days, or shorter variations are possible. Hikers can start in the high alpine town of Graechen, cross briefly into Macugnaga, Italy, and finish in the famed town of Zermatt with Matterhorn views.

 

For those who want to travel fast and light, there is a budding ultra.The Ultratrail Monte Rosa was started by famed ultra runner Lizzy Hawker. Runners have their choice of two courses 116k and 170k in distance that can be done all in one shot or broken up into three and four-day stage races.

 

Enjoy all that these “cool” countries have to offer!

 

 

 

*All content provided in this blog is supplied by Lyndsay Meyer  and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.

 

Image credit: Shutterstock