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Europe’s Natural Splendor

Category: Activities & Experiences | 02.23.2021

The countries of Europe are known primarily for their lovely cities and towns, their rich culture and history, and of course, their incredible culinary offerings. While these are all important elements of a great stay, what often gets overlooked by most visitors to Italy, France and Spain is the natural beauty of these countries. Lush forests, cascading waterfalls, mysterious canyons, imposing mountains, tranquil lakes – even a volcano – there’s so much more to Europe than its (wonderful) human achievements. Hike a trail, rent a canoe, bring a picnic and get lost. Gnocchi, paella and terrine might be food for the body, but a day spent in nature is food for the soul. So today let’s look at Europe’s natural splendor. 

Garrotxa Volcanic National Zone Park – Catalonia, Spain 

This park in Catalonia offers the best example of volcanic terrain on the Iberian Peninsula, boasting 40 volcanic cones and more than 20 lava flows. The landscape is marked by the deep valleys and walls of rock which give “Garrotxa” park its name – “rough lands of bad tracks.” Its unique climate and soil give life to a variety of vegetation including holm oaks, common oaks and beech trees, and its forests provide a protective habitat for many species of birds. The park boasts 28 walking routes as well as several bike trails, including the popular Via Verda del Carrilet, which takes you downhill, through the park, to Girona. 

Where to stay: Villa Can Puig Sec

This fantastic 6-bedroom farmhouse, restored at the end of 2017, is located in the heart of Costa Brava’s Baix Empordà, a beautiful region of medieval villages, sandy bays, and hidden coves. Surrounded by a lovely garden and featuring a splendid terrace with a pool and a fantastic al fresco dining area, this is an idyllic European retreat.

Gorges du Verdon – Provence, France 

This stunning gorge in Southeast France, formed by the sparkling turquoise waters of the Verdon River as it cuts through the limestone cliffs flanking its sides, is considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. At 25 km long and 700 meters in height, this striking natural wonder is a popular destination for local tourists, who come to hike, kayak, fish and climb its walls. The small villages that dot the fault, such as Castellane and Moustiers Sainte Marie, retain their Provencal charm, while the four pristine lakes along the gorge provide the perfect spot for a swim or a picnic. 

Where to stay: La Belle Aixoise

La Belle Aixoise is a gorgeous 18th-century bastide located 15 minutes from Aix en Provence. This lovely little town is one of France’s most treasured locations, known for being a town of both water and art and is overflowing with history and culture. 100-year-old plane trees surround the recently renovated, 6-bedroom villa and a breathtaking collage of a violet lavender field, an olive grove, dry stone walls, and mature oak and pine trees – it’s an experience all in itself.

Parco Della Val D’Orcia – Tuscany, Italy 

This park encompasses a large area south of Siena, and is mainly comprised of a hilly landscape with gently rolling hills and valleys. The river Orcia springs from a gorge and winds its way across the land, while two extinct volcanoes, Radicofani and Monte Amiata, provide excellent views over the valleys below. Northwest of Bagno Vignoni, a magnificent rocky gorge covered with woodlands and Mediterranean maquis opens out onto the vineyards of Montalcino and forests of beech, chestnut and rare holm oak trees abound. The Val d’Orcia is also home to a large variety of wildlife such as the porcupine, badger, beech marten, polecat, weasel, fox, and wild boar and several owl species and other birds of prey can be spotted circling above. A great way to see the tranquil beauty of this region is on the Treno Natura – the “Nature Train” – which travels along disused train tracks, giving visitors a unique perspective over the Tuscan landscape. 

Where to stay: Villa Fragrante

Set in the heart of a large 50 acre estate of woods, fields and olive groves, panoramic views on all sides stretch over the Tuscan hill-scape to the far horizon. The spacious sun-filled rooms and colorful vintage style decor set the tone for a relaxed and carefree vacation in this farmhouse all complemented with a full range of modern conveniences.

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