Europe has so many beautiful landscapes across its fifty countries that it’s hard to know where to start looking.
Our guide to the most beautiful landscapes in Europe criss-crosses the continent, taking you to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We also suggest things to do at each location, and the best time to visit.
- 1 1. Epirus Greece
- 2 2. The Bavarian Alps
- 3 3. Venice & the Venetian Lagoon
- 4 4. The Isle of Skye
- 5 5. The Amalfi Coast
- 6 6. Achill Island
- 7 7. Lake Bled
- 8 8. The Algarve Coast
- 9 9. The Tatra Mountains
- 10 10. Swiss Alps – the Bernese Oberland
- 11 11. Snowdonia, Wales, UK
- 12 12. Provence Lavender Fields
- 13 13. Tuscany
- 14 14. Retezat National Park, Romania
- 15 15. Crete South Coast & White Mountains, Greece
- 16 16. Gower Peninsula, Wales
- 17 17. Alpujarras, Andalucia, Spain
1. Epirus Greece
Epirus, in the north-west of mainland Greece, a rugged and remote corner of the country, is one of the hidden gems of Europe.
It’s also a real step back in time, to a partly forested mountainous area where many get by on sheep and goat farming. It’s also home to the world’s deepest gorge, some of the most beautiful villages in Europe and some beautiful coastline along the Ionian Sea.
Things to do in Epirus
Top of the list of places to see in Epirus is the Vikos-Aoös National Park in the Pindus Mountains, close to the Albanian border. The Vikos Gorge is the deepest in the world, the Voidomatis river having carved 490 metres down into the landscape.
This is very close to the stunning Zagorochoria, a series of over forty mountain villages. Many of these are joined by stone arched bridges built across the many rivers of the area in the 18th and 19th centuries. While here, be sure to seek out beautiful old villages including Dilofo and Konitsa, and the Ayia Paraskevi monastery in Monodendri.
Visitors to the east coast of Corfu will have seen the spectacular coast of Epirus from across the Ionian Sea, and it has some great places to visit. The best of the seaside towns is Parga, and Syvota, just to the north, also has some lovely beaches.
And if you want to get back to the 21st century, the place to do so is the regional capital, Ioannina, which has a lovely old town and a young population thanks to its university, with plenty of tavernas and bars to try out.
Best time to visit Epirus
May through to October is the best time to visit Epirus, as many places close during the winter off-season
2. The Bavarian Alps
The Bavarian Alps are among the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
They don’t quite reach the heights of the Tirol across the border in Austria to the south, but they’re every bit as dramatic, especially as you approach from the lower-lying north.
Bavarian’s Alps rise close to Germany’s southern border with Austria, to the south of regional capital Munich (München). They are home to Germany’s most spectacular mountains and its highest in Zugspitze, at 2.962 metres above sea level.
Things to do in the Bavarian Alps
The Bavarian Alps are home to two of the most beautiful castles in the world – the fairytale fantasy of Schloss Neuschwanstein, and another creation of ‘Mad’ King Ludwig II, nearby Hohenschwangau.
Nearby Munich is one of Germany’s great cities, and one of the best city break destinations in Europe. It’s best known for the Oktoberfest, one of the best beer festivals in the world (and also some of the world’s best beer). It’s also well worth visiting for the stunning Residenz, the palace which was the residence of the Wittelsbach dynasty of dukes, electors and kings that ruled Bavaria from the time of the Renaissance to 1918.
The Berchtesgaden National Park occupies a small corner of the Bavarian Alps, tucked in near the Austrian border, and the highlight of this is the Königssee, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The best views are from the Jennerbahn cable car, high above the lake.
Non-mountaineers can also take the Zugspitze cable car to the summit of the highest mountain in Germany. It’s one of the best cable car rides in Europe, and at €56 return for adults is great value if you go up on a clear day.
The Bavarian Alps are also home to what we feel is one of the most beautiful scenes in the world – the gorgeous church of St Sebastian in Ramsau, with the mountains the magnificent backdrop.
Best time of year to visit the Bavarian Alps
The Bavarian Alps are very much a year-round destination.
The Bavarian Alps are one of the best winter destinations in Europe, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the biggest ski resort in Germany. Winter is also a great time to visit even if you’re not into winter sports – Munich has one of the biggest and best Christmas markets in Europe running from late November. Spring (March onwards) through to autumn (October) is a great time to visit the region, with summer the best time to go hiking in the Bavarian Alps.
3. Venice & the Venetian Lagoon
For many, Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and we have to add our voice to this.
It’s one of the most remarkable urban landscapes in the world, in a highly improbable place to build a city, on hundreds of flood-prone muddy islands, with its buildings supported by millions of pine logs hammered into the ground.
Somehow the citizens of this tiny republic went on to build a trading empire covering much of the Mediterranean, accumulating astonishing wealth, pilfering the occasional holy relic and building one of the most beautiful cities of Europe, an evocative city full of amazing churches, monuments and astounding art treasures. It is without doubt one of the best places to visit in Italy.
Things to do in Venice
You could easily spend a week or more exploring Venice. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Europe to visit, with the likes of St Mark’s Square and Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and perhaps the most graceful of all the churches in Venice, Palladio’s island church of San Giorgio Maggiore all very close to each other.
Venice is one of the most romantic destinations in the world, and there’s nothing more enjoyable than getting lost there, wandering the backstreets and canals.
It’s also well worth getting out into the lagoon and exploring some of the outlying islands. Many make the trip north to Murano, Burano and Torcello. Burano is a gorgeous fishing village full of brightly painted cottages, a photographer’s dream, while the cathedral of Torcello is Venice’s original cathedral, now sitting out in a remote island with a single canal and a few houses.
Best time of year to visit Venice?
Spring is one of the best times to travel to Venice, as you avoid the worst of the crowds and the heat. September is also a wonderful time to go to Venice. If you don’t mind the cold, Venice in winter is when the city is at its quietest and also most affordable, when even the best hotels in Venice drop their rates significantly.
Top tip: If you are travelling to Venice you may like to read our Venice itinerary, best day trips from Venice and the best areas to stay in Venice. Make sure you get off the beaten path in Venice as there are many hidden gems away from the main tourist areas to be discovered and the magic of Venice is often found away from the crowds.
4. The Isle of Skye
Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, and the Isle of Skye is one of its most beautiful locations.
It’s located off the north-west coast of Scotland, and is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Skye is one of the most dramatic landscapes in Europe, with a series of jagged mountains, especially the Cuillins range in the south of the island offering some of the best rock climbing in the UK.
Things to do on the Isle of Skye
Hiking on the Isle of Skye is one of the best things to do in Scotland. One of the best hikes in the UK is the Quiraing route in the north of Skye, on the Trotternish Peninsula. A shorter hike nearby that’s hugely popular with photographers is up from the A855 road, up the Storr to the dramatic rock spires of the Old Man of Storr. This is one of the most iconic views in the UK, the rocks rearing up high above the Sound of Raasay below.
The Cuillin ranges in the south of the island present a much more difficult challenge. These are Alpine mountains, and for most ascents and descents you’ll need a good level of rock climbing and scrambling skills.
Skye also has magnificent coastline, with some of the best beaches in Scotland, including Coral Beach on Loch Dunvegan and stunning Elgol beach on Loch Scaviag, in the shadow of the Cuillins.
The Isle of Skye is dotted with small villages and accommodation options all over. There are plenty of campsites on Isle of Skye, and if you prefer a solid roof over you, a wide choice of hotels and hostels too.
The island capital, the picturesque fishing village of Portree, has the biggest concentration of hotels in the Isle of Skye, and it makes a great base to explore the rest 0f the island.
Best time to visit Isle of Skye?
Mountaineers love Skye all the way through the year, and for some the best time to climb the Cuillins is in clear weather after snowfall. This is also a magical time to visit the Isle of Skye if you’re on a driving trip or looking to do some lower level hikes.
However for most, late spring through summer and into autumn are the most likely times to visit Skye.
5. The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful coastal landscapes in the world.
The 50 km (30 miles) long Costiera Amalfitana is the name given to the southern coast of the Sorrento peninsula, from Punta Campanella headland in the west to the city of Salerno in the east.
The city of Amalfi was, along with Venice, Pisa and Genoa, one of the four great maritime republics of Italy, and its wealth is reflected in the Cathedral of the Apostle St Andrew, whose relics are kept there.
The rest of the Amalfi Coast is punctuated by a series of villages clinging to the shore beneath precipitous mountains and cliffs. It has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as an outstanding Mediterranean landscape, and it has captivated visitors in their millions, for many one of the most romantic destinations in Europe and, indeed the world.
Things to do on the Amalfi Coast
The narrow Amalfi coast road is one of the most scenic drives in Europe, with vertiginous rock faces on one side and the azure waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea on the other.
The city of Amalfi is fascinating, especially for its Cathedral and cloister, and it’s a dramatic sight with its houses cut into the sheer cliffs either side of the beach.
Some of the Amalfi Coast resorts like Positano are among the top destinations in Europe, known the world over, whereas some of the other villages along the coast, such as Cetara, are almost untouched by tourism.
The gorgeous mountaintop village of Ravello is worth the slow, winding bus ride or drive for the outstanding views over the coast, well over a thousand feet above sea level. The best views of the Amalfi Coast are from the gardens of the Villa Rufolo, and the statue-lined terrace of nearby Villa Cimbrone.
Regular Amalfi Coast boat trips also run between Sorrento and Amalfi, and are a great way to see the coast from a different angle.
Sorrento is the main local transport hub. You can catch the Circumvesuviana train from there to the ruined Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and, beyond, the island of Capri, ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the fascinating city of Naples.
Best time of year to visit the Amalfi Coast
As the Amalfi Coast is so far south, it enjoys a longer season than many of our destinations further north in Europe.
The main season is April to September, with July and August the hottest, busiest and most expensive.
However, it’s also well worth venturing there in the shoulder seasons, with temperatures often in the high teens Centigrade as early as February and as late as November. These are also ideal times to get some great Amalfi coast hotel deals.
6. Achill Island
Achill Island is the very first place on the Emerald Isle that I visited and one of the most beautiful places in Ireland.
I’ve always loved ‘last frontier’ places, where there is no ‘further’ other than thousands of miles of ocean. Achill is in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, on the west-facing coast of County Mayo, bearing the brunt of winds and storms whipped up across 3,000 miles – 5,000 km – of the Atlantic Ocean.
It is one of the most beautiful islands in Europe that I’ve visited, and it has a wild, harsh, sometimes stark beauty. Its moors and mountains rise abruptly out of the sea, while the coast takes a seemingly endless battering from the broiling froth of waves crashing ashore.
Things to do on Achill Island
The Atlantic Drive that runs along the south coast of Achill must be one of the best scenic drives in Ireland, on a par with the Sky Road to the south at Clifden and the Ring of Kerry.
Achill Island also has several great beaches. It was famously in the news in 2017 when the beach at Dooagh, which had been washed away in 1984 by a particularly bad storm, re-appeared overnight after another spell of ferocious weather. It has subsequently been washed away again.
However, our favourite beach on Achill is Keem Bay, tucked away in a sheltered corner of the south coast a few miles from Dooagh. It’s shielded from the worst of the weather by the high mountains behind, its waters a tropical turquoise, a staggering sight.
Best time to visit Achill Island
You never quite know what weather the North Atlantic is going to bring, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that spring and summer are the best times to visit Achill. The day we arrived on Achill, we were greeted by a horizontal squall of lashing rain, the outlines of the mountains ahead just visible through the thick grey murk. This was June 21st, Midsummer Day. However over the next two days the sun put in several appearances, the strong late sunlight dramatically illuminating the brooding landscape.
7. Lake Bled
Lake Bled is the jewel of Slovenia, one of the most picture-perfect places you could ever hope to see, and one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe.
In heart of Slovenia’s Julian Alps, a medieval church sits on an island in the middle of a crystal-clear turquoise lake, with a castle high on a cliff behind, and Alpine mountains behind that. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Europe, one to which I yearn to return.
Things to do in Lake Bled
You could easily spend a couple of days lingering around the lake. You can catch a gondola or (as I did) hire a boat and row out to the island yourself. There are a couple of small, narrow beaches small beaches on the lake where you can sunbathe.
For something more strenuous, there are some great hikes close to Lake Bled, including some trails up the surrounding hills giving great views over the lake. The Vintgar Gorge is
only 4 km (2.5 miles) from Bled – it’s a stunning walk through a narrow ravine, the wooden walkway clinging to the rock face on one side.
Bled is also on the doorstep of the Triglav National Park and some of the best hiking in Slovenia. Lake Bohinj is another breathtaking Alpine lake a short drive or bus trip from Bled, with some outstanding walks nearby. Bled is also close to the main resort for skiing in Slovenia, a few miles from the Austrian border at Kranjska Gora.
Best time to visit Slovenia and Lake Bled?
Lake Bled is beautiful all year round. I went in late summer when it was stunning, but I’ve seen images of the Lake throughout the year, and it looks magical all the way through. The autumn colours around the lake are magnificent, and in the snow it’s one of the most beautiful winter destinations in Europe, and tied in with Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana barely an hour away it’s a great place to take a winter break.
8. The Algarve Coast
The Algarve – the far south of Portugal – is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
The coast has three very different sections. The area between the Spanish border and Faro, the airport for the Algarve, has endless long, flat beaches.
The central Algarve, between Faro and the resort of Lagos in the west of the region, has the best of the beaches and coastal scenery, with many beaches surrounded by striking, spectacular rock formations. The Costa Vicentina to the west has some of the best surfing in Europe, the angry Atlantic depositing wave after massive wave on the vast empty beaches.
Best things to do in the Algarve
The Algarve coastline has some of the most beautiful places in Portugal. The peninsula immediately to the south of Lagos has two of the best Algarve beaches, Praia Dona Ana and Praia do Camilo, and the amazing fairy chimneys and archways carved out by the Atlantic around the Ponta da Piedade headland. Lagos is one of the best beach destinations in Europe, with plenty to choose from either side of the town.
There are also plenty of great coast walks in the Algarve, with coast paths linking all of the resorts in the central part of the region.
The long distance Rota Vicentina runs along the west coast, from Cape St Vincent lighthouse north into the neighbouring province of Alentejo.
There are also Algarve surf camps at several locations along the Costa Vicentina, where you can buy all-inclusive packages including surfing tuition and backpacker-style accommodation.
Best time to visit the Algarve?
Spring is our favourite – it’s not too hot, the crowds haven’t arrived, and the coast is carpeted with wildflowers.
We’d rule out the peak summer months, especially if you’re contemplating the larger resorts like Albufeira, when it’s too hot, crowded and expensive.
However, in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, the Algarve becomes one of the cheapest beach destinations in Europe. As there is so much coastline to explore, for these months of the year it’s also one of the best backpacking destinations in Europe.
During winter it’s one of the warmest places on the European mainland but many places close over these months.
9. The Tatra Mountains
The Tatras are some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe.
They form part of the vast Carpathian mountains chain that stretches across central and eastern Europe and straddle two countries – Poland to the north and Slovakia to the south.
Most of the Tatras are on the Slovak side of the border, with around a third of the range in Poland. They are smaller than the Alps – the highest peak is 2655 metres above sea level. However, this is an area to get a taste of Alpine mountains at a much lower cost than the Alps themselves – with some of the cheapest skiing in Europe to boot.
Things to do in the Tatras
Poprad is the main gateway to the High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry) on the Slovakian side of the border, while Zakopane is the main entry point on the Polish side. These two towns have far and away the biggest concentration and choice of Tatras hotels and accommodation.
Depending on your budget, your choice ranges from backpacker hostels to five-star luxury like the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras at Lake Strbske Pleso.
Zakopane is a lovely town, full of gorgeous wooden chalets quite distinct from those you see in the Alps to the west.
It’s also the departure point for popular hikes to Lake Morskie Oko, and cable car rides to Kasprowy Wierch and Gubałówka, both of which have outstanding views over the mountains.
There are some fantastic Tatras hiking routes either side of the border. Some of the lower level paths through the forested areas of the Tatras are suitable for most levels of ability and experience.
However, for most High Tatras hiking you need to have spent more experience under your belt. If you want to climb the highest mountain in the range, Gerlachovsky štit, you need to be a member of the UIAA (International Climbing and Mountain Federation), otherwise you have to hire a guide. This mountain was popular during the Communist era as it was the highest peak accessible to people living in several Eastern Bloc countries.
You’ll also find some of the best value skiing in Europe in the Tatras – prices are a fraction of what you’d pay in Chamonix, Switzerland or Austria.
Best time to visit the Tatras
Spring and summer are ideal for mountain hiking and climbing. However, when the snow settles, you’ll find some of the best budget skiing in Europe, with lift passes only €39 at Tatranská Lomnica, in the south-east of the range.
10. Swiss Alps – the Bernese Oberland
For many, Switzerland is the most beautiful country in the world. The Bernese Oberland in central Switzerland is one of the best destinations in Europe, hands down.
The sight of a seemingly endless mass of Alpine peaks rising out of the lush green countryside is unforgettable, and exploring these mountains and valleys gave us some of the best travel experiences in Europe we’ve ever had.
Best things to do in The Bernese Oberland
We spent much of our time in the Bernese Oberland exploring the magnificent Lauterbrunnen Valley, just to the south of Interlaken, in the shadow of the mighty Jungfrau mountain.
The area has some of the best mountain hikes in Europe, suitable for most levels of fitness. The Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg walk is one of the easiest Alpine walks you’ll find anywhere in the world, a net descent over 5 km (3 miles) with some of the best mountain views in Switzerland, with the imperious north face of the Eiger looking down on you much of the way and views down the valley to Grindelwald below.
The Bernese Oberland also has some of the best train journeys in the world, most notably the Jungfraujoch, the highest railway in Europe, which climbs to the summit of Jungfrau offering incredible views. Some of the other railways in the area, including the Schynige Platte and the run from Grindelwald to Wengen, are also pretty special.
It is also home to one of the most beautiful villages in the world in Gimmelwald, a tiny corner of heaven on a mountainside high above the Lauterbrunnen valley. Most of the houses are gorgeous old flower-decked wooden chalets and huts, the only sound is the occasional chime of a cowbell, and the mountain views are stupendous.
And when the snow arrives in winter, Wengen and Grindelwald are two of the best skiing destinations in Switzerland.
Best time to visit the Swiss Alps
In three words: all year round. In summer, you have glorious green Alpine valleys and mountains, and some of the best hikes in the world, as well as some of the best railway journeys in the world, with trains hauling themselves up seemingly impossible gradients. When the snow descends, the same places are among the best skiing destinations in Europe.
11. Snowdonia, Wales, UK
Snowdonia – Eryri in Welsh – is one of the most beautiful places in the UK.
It is one of three National Parks in Wales, and covers much of the north-west of the country. It includes several distinct mountain ranges, the most impressive of which are the main Snowdon massif and the neighbouring Glyderau range. Its mixture of mountains, forests, rivers and stunning coastlines make it one of the most striking landscapes in Wales.
Things to do in Snowdonia
The hiking in Snowdonia is among the best in the UK, with the Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) and its neighbouring peaks the most popular. However, you don’t have to travel far to escape the crowds – I’ve been up mountains like Moel Hebog, five miles from Snowdon, on a glorious summer’s day, without seeing another soul for hours.
Snowdonia also has some of the best mountain biking routes in the UK, from the forest trails through Coed y Brenin to the hair-raising descents down the mountains around the slate town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. In recent years some new activity-based attractions have also opened in the area, including Zip World which has everything from zip wire rides above slate quarries to treetop walks and rides through the forest.
If you want to keep things more gentle and sedate, there are enough things to do in Betws-y-Coed, the main gateway to the area, to keep you occupied. There are several pubs, plenty of cafes where you can enjoy a Welsh cream tea, and easy riverside walks, including to Swallow Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in Wales.
It’s also an area with outstanding heritage, including some of the best attractions in Wales. Three of the four Castles in the Gwynedd Castles UNESCO World Heritage Site – Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech – are on the edge of the National Park, and its slate industry has also been nominated for the same status – this will hopefully be decided by 2021.
Snowdonia is also home to some of the best heritage railways in the UK – Talyllyn Railway to the south, Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland. One of the best things to do in Wales is to sit back and let the Snowdon Mountain Railway do the hard work, taking you from Llanberis to the summit. These usually run from April to October, with some of the lines laying on occasional winter services.
Best time of year to visit Snowdonia?
Spring and summer are the most popular times, but it’s popular year-round at weekends, with the best winter weather – snow followed by sun – attracts climbers and trekkers heading for the summits. Snowdon was used as a training ground by Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition prior to becoming the first party to climb Everest.
12. Provence Lavender Fields
Provence, in the south-eastern corner of France, is known for a variety of amazing landscapes, from the spectacular Gorges du Verdon to the blustery peak of Mont Ventoux to the coastal wetlands of the Camargue.
However, Provence is best known for its magnificent lavender fields. For a few weeks every year, whole swathes of the countryside turn purple with endless rows of lavender, grown for fragrances and also food.
Things to do in Provence
The best areas to see lavender in Provence are mainly around the Vaucluse-Alpes de Haute Provence departement border.
One of the most iconic images of Provence is of the rows of lavender outside a church – the Abbaye de Senanque, which is a few miles from the hill town of Gordes. You should also find lavender in bloom next to the towns of Banon and Simiane-la-Rotonde most years.
Otherwise, my advice is to drive the minor roads around the towns of Sault and Aurel, both around 30 km east of the town of Carpentras, and further east, around Manosque and Valensole.
There are so many other places to see in Provence that we could easily fill a section of the website with.
But for now, we strongly recommend the cities of Aix-en-Provence and Avignon, the towns of Gordes and Bonnieux and our favourite village in the region, Roussillon.
Best time to visit Provence lavender fields?
Usually the lavender is in bloom between late June and late July. It’s a very hot time to travel around Provence, but you often get some respite from the cooling Mistral wind which blows south down the Rhone valley.
The lavender harvest can vary slightly, and it’s occasionally harvested early (around mid-July), and also late, with fields of lavender lingering into the first week of August.
The central Italian region of Tuscany is home to many famous, classic Italian landscapes – the gentle rolling hills, with cypress trees, olive groves and vineyards, with a church or farmhouses nestling into the scene is Tuscany in a nutshell.
Tuscany’s landscape is actually very varied – from the forested mountains and steep valleys of the Casentino to the Apuan Alps, but the most popular mind’s eye views of Tuscany are the vineyards of Chianti and the hills to south of Siena, especially the Val d’Orcia and the Crete Senesi.
Humankind has completed the scene with a series of beautiful Tuscan hill towns, from the complete walled fortress of Monteriggioni to the medieval skyscrapers of San Gimignano. Some of these – and the stunning medieval city of Siena – are among the most beautiful places in Italy.
Things to do in Tuscany
Tuscany is one of the top destinations in Europe, with a wealth of human history and outstanding culture to match the stunning landscape.
Florence is a fascinating city, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. It’s where the Renaissance began, and is home to a treasure trove of art with few equals anywhere. It has some of the finest art galleries in the world, and a medieval city centre that has been intact and virtually unaltered for 500 years.
Tuscany also has some of the most beautiful small cities in Europe, including the medieval gem Siena, and the once-great maritime power Pisa, home to one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Nearby, Lucca is one of the most beautiful places in Tuscany, a gorgeously quirky city that’s also one of the most under-rated destinations in Europe.
Tuscany is also known worldwide for its wines, from Chianti vintages to the likes of Montepulciano vino nobile. And it’s food is wonderful too, with regional specialities including ribollita, a bean and vegetable stew, to panforte, a delicious dessert from Siena. We also heartily recommend farro, a delicious barley soup from the Lucca region.
Best time of year to visit Tuscany?
Spring through until autumn – March to October – is the best time of year to visit Tuscany for its classic landscapes. In spring and autumn you sometimes get mists settling in hollows and dips in the land, creating a wonderful moody effect.
14. Retezat National Park, Romania
The Retezat National Park is Romania’s oldest national park, a high mountain wilderness between Timisoara and Sibiu in the south-west of the country.
The beauty of Romania is that so much of it is still relatively unexplored, and this relatively remote area doesn’t get anything like the number of visitors that Brasov and Bran Castle get. This wilderness in the southern Transylvanian Alps has over twenty peaks over 2000 metres in height. It’s one of the best places to see brown bears in Romania, and there’s also a chance you’ll come across chamois and European wildcats in the mountains.
Things to do in the Retezat National Park
The Retezat range is fairly small and compact, and the one thing everyone visits for is the mountain walking – the Retezat has some of the best hiking in Romania.
The only way to stay within the boundaries of the National Park is to camp, which many choose to do. Otherwise there are plenty of small hotels and pensions on the approach roads to Retezat.
Corvin Castle near the town of Hunedoara is one of the best castles in Romania to visit, a fairytale confection of towers and turrets. Disregard the surrounding steelworks and imagine it in a dramatic setting like Bran Castle near Brasov, it’s one of the essential things to see in Romania.
Retezat is also close to some of the most significant Roman ruins in Romania, the former province of Dacia. The Roman legacy remains to this day, with the Romanian language closely related to the Latin spoken by the Roman occupiers. The Dacian provincial capital was at Ulpia Traiana in Sarmizegetusa, one of several Roman sites in western and central Romania to comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When to visit Retezat National Park?
Summer isn’t necessarily the best time to visit Romania, but it’s the only time to visit Retezat. The season is fairly short, running from June to September – after that much of it is snowbound and inaccessible.
15. Crete South Coast & White Mountains, Greece
The dramatic south Crete coast gets but a tiny fraction of the visitors that the busy north Crete beaches and resorts do, and it’s all down to the terrain.
Much of the south-west Crete coastline – especially to the south of lovely Chania – is dominated by the mighty White Mountains, and there are hardly any roads or tracks in the area as the terrain makes it impossible. So there is but one way to get around and that is by boat.
Catching the morning Agia Roumeli ferry east is one of the best things to do in Paleochora, the local metropolis (population around 2,000). The scenery grows increasingly rugged after the boat leaves the first stop, Sougia, passing the astonishing Tripiti and Kavdos gorges before rounding the final headland before tiny Agia Roumeli village and the soaring Lefka Ora – White Mountains – come into view. The ferry continues past the gorgeous whitewashed village of Loutro and beach at Glyka Nera before reaching Chora Sfakion.
Things To Do In South Crete
The area around Paleochora is blessed with some of the best beaches in Crete. One of the most famous Crete beaches, Elafonissi, with its remarkable pink-fringed sands, is a short ferry ride away to the west. There are also several great beaches around Paleochora, including Pachia Ammos in the town and Gialiskari a few km to the east.
Agia Roumeli is the finishing point of the great Samaria Gorge hike, and from here you get your ferry (part of your Samaria Gorge tour package) to either Paleochora or Chora Sfakion in the late afternoon, having been dropped off at the start at Omalos at the crack of dawn.
Nearly all visitors to Agia Roumeli only stay a few short hours waiting for the ferry, and don’t get time to explore much of the long-distance E4 trail that runs along the coast east of the village. The pebble beaches of Zeromouri and Agios Pavlos, with its exquisite 11th century Byzantine chapel, are incredible – you can also charter a boat to the latter from Agia Roumeli harbour.
Best Time To Visit South Crete
You’re at the mercy of the ferries with this one. The season runs from May 1st to 31st October, give or take the odd day or two. There’s usually a morning ferry towards Agia Roumeli and a return boat late afternoon (5pm onwards).
We suggest May, early June and late September through October to visit the coast. Bear in mind that if you want to do the Samaria Gorge Walk, it is open from 1st May to October 15th.
16. Gower Peninsula, Wales
The Gower Peninsula, to the west of the city of Swansea on the south Wales coast – was the first part of the UK to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It’s best known for its many stunning beaches, but is also worth visiting for its exceptional cliff scenery. It’s beautiful inland too, with miles of heathland, long ridges with coastal views, ancient hillforts and burial chambers. An incredibly evocative part of the world.
Things to do in the Gower Peninsula
It’s natural to start by visiting some of the 20 or so Gower beaches. Rhossili Bay, the westernmost of these, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, a glorious three-mile sweep of golden sand with 80-metre cliffs offering superb vantage points. One of the most striking Welsh islands, the tidal island of Worm’s Head, lies just off the nearby headland, and can be visited two-and-a-half hours either side of low tide.
Rhossili is also the destination of one of the best Gower walks, starting six miles (10 km) south-east at Port Eynon. It’s one of the best coastal hikes in Europe, with compelling cliff scenery the whole way, including the soaring rock spires of sublime Mewslade Bay.
Three Cliffs Bay is another of the best beaches in the Gower, a hidden seaside Shangri-La spread across a meandering river valley and estuary, with a crumbling picturesque castle overlooking the scene. At low tide you can walk around the base of the cliffs to the vastness of Oxwich Bay, another great Gower beach, named after the village at the far end, three miles (5 km) away.
Gower is a landscape with many reminders of human history. It was home to one of the oldest human burials, the so-called Red Lady of Paviland, an ochre-dyed male who lived around 30,000 years ago and was buried in a remote cave. There are also Iron Age hillforts, including the Bulwark on Llanmadoc Hill, and the magnificent 5,000 year old Arthur’s Stone, on Cefn Bryn hill in the centre of Gower.
Best Time To Visit Gower
Gower can be visited year-round. Winter is wonderful for coast and beach walks, and spring is worth the journey for the many wildflowers proliferating along the clifftops. Summer is the busiest time by far, the one time of year the narrow main Gower road, the A4118, gets clogged with traffic. However it’s a wonderful time to appreciate the beaches, and between July and early September the pink and purple heather is in bloom across several Gower hills, especially the scenic vantage point of Rhossili Down.
17. Alpujarras, Andalucia, Spain
The Alpujarras – sometimes Alpujarra – are a region to the south of the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountains in mainland Spain.
The area includes the fertile, verdant, steep Poqueira and Trevelez valleys formed – and freshened – by snow melt waters from the mountains.
This remote, wondrous landscape is part of Granada province and was the last part of Spain where Muslims held out against forcible conversion or expulsion under the Catholic Reconquista of the late 15th century. Muslim resistance continued until the suppression of the second revolt, which ended with the death of the last Moorish leader in 1571. The villages were built by Berbers and their descendants, with characteristic white flat-roofed houses and narrow winding lanes.
Things To Do In The Alpujarras
Many people visit Granada to see the Alhambra before quickly moving on. The Alpujarras are one of the best day trips from Granada, but be prepared for up to two-and-a-half hours each way on the bus if you’re using public transport. The other option, of course, is to stay a few nights in the Alpujarras, enjoying the profound peace of this remote place and the views south to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
The bus runs up to the village of Capileira, one of the most dramatically sited villages in Europe. It’s at the head of the gorgeous Poqueira valley, just below the peak of Veleta, the third highest in Spain. There is a great walk along the valley, best started from the lowest of the three villages, Pampaneira. Guided walks to the mountains start from Capileira, from where it’s a two-day hike to the summit of Mulhacén, the highest peak in mainland Spain.
The village of Trevélez in the next valley to the east is known throughout Spain for its high quality jamon serrano. Its altitude – it’s one of the highest villages in Spain – is ideal for air-curing legs of ham, which you’ll find in every shop in the village.
Best Time To Visit The Alpujarras
You can visit Las Alpujarras at any time of year, but the best time to see it is in spring and autumn, when there is snow on the mountains. It’s also pleasant in summer, where the altitude takes the edge off the intense heat.