Fed up of being stuck indoors over the winter? Here are seven places for spring – all are truly delightful and should whet your appetite for travel and exploration in 2015.
1. Abisko National Park in Sweden
The Abisko National Park covers around 77 km2 (29.7 mi2) of forests, fjords, canyons and waterfalls in the northernmost reaches of the Swedish province of Lapland. The park features the Aurora Sky Station, one of the best spots in the world for viewing the Northern Lights between November and March. In fact, Lonely Planet has selected Absiko and the Northern Lights as the world’s most illuminating experience in the United Nations’ Year of Light 2015. There is plenty of scope for caving, fly fishing and Alpine, off-piste or Nordic skiing. Abisko is also the starting point for Sweden’s best known skiing and hiking route, Kungsleden (the King’s Trail, 440 km / 274 mi long).
2. Davolja Varos in Serbia
Designated a National Landmark, Davolja Varoš features two extremely rare natural phenomena in one area. The name means ‘Devil’s Town’ and refers to 202 rock formations on the Radan Mountain near Kuršumlija. Known as earth pyramids, they stand between 2-15 m (6.6 ft – 49 ft) tall. Layers of soft rock are topped by harder rock, which erodes at a slower rate and forms umbrellas of andesite, protecting the base from further erosion. The result is blocks of stone weighing up to 100 kg (15 st) balanced apparently precariously atop the towering pillars. Two natural springs of extremely acidic water, Davolja voda (Devil’s Water) and Crveno vrelo (Red Well), emerge beneath the formations.
3. Duncansby Stacks in Scotland
Although John o’Groats is often said to be the most north-easterly part of the Scottish mainland, Duncansby Head Lighthouse in fact holds that honour. The headland juts into North Sea with the Pentland Firth to the north and west and the Moray Firth to the south. Duncansby Stacks are two spectacular rock formations lying within the Duncansby Head SSSI, to the immediate south of Duncansby Head. They rise dramatically 64 m (210 ft) out of the sea and can be viewed best from the grassy cliff top above. As well as the striking landscape, a large variety of rare birds and marine mammals occupy the cliffs and waters around the headland.
4. Paklenica National Park in Croatia
Paklenica National Park in Starigrad, northern Dalmatia is centred on a karst river canyon on the southern slopes of the Velebit. The main focal features are the two canyons: Mala Paklenica, the smaller of the two, is 12 km (7.8 mi) long and 400-500 m (1,312 ft – 1,640 ft) wide, with vertical cliffs rising above both sides of the canyon to a height of over 650 m; while Velika Paklenica, the larger, is 14 km (8 mi) long and 500-800 m (1,640 ft – 2,624 ft) wide with cliffs at up to 700 m (2,296 ft). The park also contains a huge number of pits and caves, the longest being Vodarica Pit (300 m / 984 ft). There are hugely diverse plant, mammal, bird, amphibian and reptile populations dwelling amid the extensive forested areas, including many rare and endangered species.
5. Sfinx & Babele in Romania
High in the Bucegi Mountains in Romania, there is a plateau, also named Bucegi. Here, erosion by the wind and rain has worn away at the rocks to form striking figures such as the Sfinx and the Babele. The Sfinx is at an altitude of 2,216 m (7,270 ft), and when viewed from a certain angle, resembles the Great Sphinx of Giza. Babele means ‘the old women’, a name the stones have been given because of the way the natural mushroom shapes have emerged as the layers of soft and harder rock have eroded at different rates. Together, the two unique formations are one of Romania’s Seven Natural Wonders and are one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
6. Belogradchik Rocks in Bulgaria
The Belogradchik Rocks in north-west Bulgaria, declared a Natural Landmark by the Bulgarian Government, cover an area of 50 km2 (19.3 mi2) and are split into five main groups. The most famous and interesting are the central group of rocks, lying close to the town of Belogradchick, to the south, where each rock formation bears a name, such as Adam and Eve, the Schoolgirl, Mushrooms, Rebel Velko and so on. Each formation carries a legend of its own. There are also many hundreds of caves within the rocks, including Magura Cave, where both evidence of prehistoric species and cave paintings have been found.
7. Lagoa das Sete Cidades in Portugal
Translating as the Lagoon of the Seven Cities, Lagoa das Sete Cidades is a twin-lake in the crater of a massive dormant volcano on the western third of the island of São Miguel. The two lakes are connected by a narrow passage, which has a bridge crossing, from which you can view the dramatic colours of Lagoa Verde (the Green Lake) and Lagoa Azul (the Blue Lake) – each named for the colour it reflects in sunlight, caused by the presence of algae or cyanobacteria. The crater lake is one of the most important freshwater resources in the Azores archipelago.
…But we can’t stop there – we just had to include three more. It was far too difficult to pick only seven places!
8. Geiranger Fjord in Norway
Geiranger Fjord lies in the Sunnmøre region of Møre og Romsdal county and is one of Norway’s most visited tourist spots. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fjord cruise is one of the best ways to see the magnificent views of snow-covered mountain tops, rich verdant vegetation and dramatic waterfalls such as the Seven Sisters and the Bridal Veil. Kayaking and fishing will also reward you with breath-taking views, or hike along on of the many marked trails. You may still be able to catch some snow if skiing from the summits down to the fjord below appeals to you.
9. El Chorro Gorge in Spain
El Chorro (‘The Spurt’) National Park is one of most popular rock climbing destinations in Europe because of its dramatic limestone cliffs and the sheer-sided, narrow river gorge, Garganta del Chorro. There are said to be over 500 bolted climbing routes accessible on foot, mostly hard climbs. However, it is also a popular area for mountain bikers, hikers and campers. The gorge is spanned by a small bridge suspended 200 m (656 ft) above the water below. Access to the bridge for stunning views is via the Caminito del Rey (Little Pathway of the King), unfortunately officially closed at present for safety reasons, but which is in the process of being restored.
10. Lake Windermere in England
At 18 km (11 mi) long, Windermere is England’s largest natural lake. It is a long and narrow ribbon lake and lies entirely within the Lake District National Park in Cumbria. It contains 18 islands of varying sizes, the largest being Belle Island which is privately owned. The lake has long been a major tourist attraction and there are numerous passenger cruises operating for visitors to enjoy the scenic landscape and the wildlife or simply relaxing. The lake is an important migration highway for geese and other birds in winter. Boating activities are permitted, but there is a speed limit of 10 knots (19 km/h) to preserve the tranquillity and the environment of the area.