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European Workout

10 Ways to Make Your Next Trip an Adventure

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2004; Page P08

For many, an active trip to Europe means working up a sweat running up and down cathedral steps. Instead, throw some muscle into your exploring. Here are 10 sporty ways to experience Europe, and recommendations for countries best-suited for those activities, according to adventure travel outfitters and other experts. We've included sample package trips -- land-only prices are per person, based on double occupancy; airfare from D.C. is additional -- to get you rolling (or climbing or paddling).

Trekking/Hiking

Ireland is a natural choice for hikers, with wending, rock-walled trails that pass eye-popping scenery, from the Cliffs of Moher to electric green pastures. Along the way, you can chat up the locals or hit a pub. Inn-to-inn treks are popular in the south, but Northern Ireland is just as stunning. Across the Irish Sea, England's Cotswolds region and Lake District, as well as Wales, stand out for their ancient footpaths, markets and villages with manicured gardens, while Scotland is known for its fields of heather, jagged mountain views, wind-swept coastline and more sheep than trekkers. Or go from sea to shining sea on a coast-to-coast walk in England. In Slovenia, hikers can explore lakes, cities, forests and mountains all by foot, then sack out in bivouacs or huts. One trail of note is the Slovene Alpine Transversal, which dead-ends at the Adriatic Sea.


Whitewater rafting is popular across Europe, from Croatia to Austria. (Mountain Travel Sobek)

_____Active Europe_____
Euro Woes: Nine Ways To Save (The Washington Post, Mar 21, 2004)
Madrid Aftermath: Staying Safe Abroad (The Washington Post, Mar 21, 2004)
Mountain Biking in France: Pedal Power (The Washington Post, Mar 21, 2004)
Horseback Riding In Wales: Castles While You Canter (The Washington Post, Mar 21, 2004)
Hiking in Slovenia: Bled Buddies (The Washington Post, Mar 21, 2004)
Inline Skating in The Netherlands: Keep On Rolling (The Washington Post, Mar 21, 2004)

Sample trip: New England Hiking Holidays has an eight-day trip around Scotland's Highlands and islands, from Glasgow to Oban and back, for $2,695, including lodging, meals and guides. Depart July 5 or Aug. 15. Info: 800-869-0949, www.nehikingholidays.com.

Mountaineering/ Ice Climbing

Basically, if you head for the Alps you're in the right spot. Switzerland has the twin peaks -- Eiger and Matterhorn -- but also some equally challenging yet less-hyped mountains in the Val d'Anniviers and Val d'Herens regions. France's Chamonix-Mont Blanc is good for beginner to expert climbers, while Italy has the Dolomites, south of the main Alps chain, which are tough but don't require technical skill -- unless you so choose. Also notable are the picturesque base towns that make descending a little more bearable. For additional ice climbing, Norway has a number of frozen peaks, white-knuckle pitches and walls, such as Innerdalen, Romsdalen and Hurrungane.

Sample trip: Adventures to the Edge offers a seven-day Matterhorn ascent for $2,880, including training with a professional guide, Swiss hut lodging with breakfast and dinner, and some equipment. Dates throughout summer. Info: 970-209-3980, www.jpmountainguide.com.

Cycling

Nothing can be as intoxicating as a bicycle ride through Italy's Tuscany, with its wild flowers, tree-lined lanes, centuries-old bell towers and vineyards. Or, for Francophiles, Provence offers a whiff of lavender, honey and thyme, views of Roman aqueducts and vineyards, and other scenes straight out of Monet's garden. The terrain is ideal for long-distance riders as well as those who prefer to cycle, stop and stare. For a more understated ride, try Portugal's Minho wine region; just watch for those grape-hauling ox carts. The bike is the prime mode of transport in the Netherlands, and the amazing network of bike trails that crisscross the country is second only to the canals. Go when the tulips bloom.

Sample trip: Backroads' Classic Tuscan Experience offers nine days of cycling through such Italian towns as Chianti and Palaia, with cultural and culinary stops. Various May-October dates; price of $3,998 includes inn lodging and most breakfasts and dinners. Info: 800-462-2848, www.backroads.com.

Horseback Riding

Budapest and Vienna, known for their equine heritage, let you trot like nobility along paths lined with ruins and castles. However, if you care for less dressage and more Wild West, Wales is the spot. On remote trails, you can go from breaking surf to cloud-piercing mountains without ever leaving the saddle. Ditto for Ireland. Spain, meanwhile, offers rides on conquistador horses, with Navarra, near the bull-famous town of Pamplona, and Larioja, part of Spanish wine country, offering prime giddy-up terrain. In Greece, you can have your ancient temples and spanakopita, too.

Sample trip: Cross Country International Equestrian Vacations has a six-night Greek trip that tracks the Ionian Sea Trail, with beach and woodsy rides, cultural and historical sightseeing, and a side trip to see the Summer Olympic venues (by foot). Cost: $2,580 per person double, includes five-star lodging, meals, four days of guided rides, horse and tack, and transfers. May and October dates. Info: 800-828-8768, www.equestrianvacations.com.

Canoeing

On an Icelandic canoe trip, your boat might be a tad smaller than a Viking ship, but you can still conquer the intersecting rivers along the southern coast. See glaciers, hot springs and geysers, and bump along Class I and II rapids. Equally mesmerizing are the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye, where paddlers can glide past imposing green mountains that shelter castles and ancient villages. And don't forget Germany, especially the Werra, Unstrut and Saale rivers, lined with vineyards. Portugal also has some wild rivers, such as the Douro, which cuts through high canyons, and the Sabor, Tua and Rabacal, which flow past towns dating to the Middle Ages.


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