Certainly not for the faint of heart. One might say that clambering over sheer mountain faces for a strenuous 3-hour hike to reach a tiny boulder wedge between the rocks is fool-hearted enough. But to gain the courage to scoot onto the 5.3 m rock perched over a 984 m drop to the stunning Lysefjord below is a true test of courage. Not to mention it is undoubtably the most memorable photo-op in Norway. Although geographically close to the more famous Preikestolen, this hike is in a league unto itself. Prone to weather variations for sun to rain to snow in a matter of minutes, good preparation is paramount.
The wild and wonderful Lofoten archipelago, off the north-west coast of Norway, is an absolute treat for any hiker wishing to get away from it all. Stunning natural scenery, quaint fishing towns and spectacular bird watching all await the intrepid traveller seeking solace above the Arctic Circle. While 24 hours of daylight greet the summer visitor, winters can be a little extreme when it comes to weather. Getting there could be half the fun. There may just be no other better way to reach the islands than by the iconic Hurtigruten ship - although little ferries and planes make the trip too.
This place illustrates well why Norway is the king of fjords. After a couple of hours of scenic hiking, you finally reach the flat slab of rock that hangs dramatically with a 604 m sheer drop to the fjord below. Besides giving you a good dose of vertigo, it also offers a great view over neighbouring peaks and Lysefjord with its vertical walls to all sides. If you're lucky, you will even see the mad BASE jumpers throw themselves over the edge only with a parachute on their back.
Norway in general, and Geirangerfjord in particular, boasts some of Europe’s most beautiful waterfalls. Some of them are almost too easy to access – all you have to do to see them is stop your car and open your window. Others, like the Seven Sisters, require a boat trip and (for the best possible view) a steep hike. According to legend, the Seven Sisters – seven streams, each forming its own waterfall – were seven girls, dancing playfully down the side of the mountain. Across the fjord stands the much more powerful Suitor, who – not surprisingly – was a man seeking to court the sisters. Be that as it may, these waterfalls are worth almost any effort to get close to them – the fleeting view provided from ferries and cruise ships is not enough to really appreciate the beauty and raw power of them, so try a sea kayak instead!
Słowiński National Park is known for its huge, shifting sand dunes. At the highest the dunes are up till 40 meters above sea level. The stretch is the longest in Europe and every year the wind moves the dunes about 10 metres further east. The national park is not just sand, but also includes saltwater lakes and is home to many bird species. There are parking lots, trails and observation towers throughout the park.
Cabo da Roca is mainland-Europe's most western point (Europe's most western point is on the Azores). If you set sails from here and go straight west, you will end up in Delaware, USA. However, that never happened during the famous sea exploration era in the 15th and 16th centuries. Instead, the Portuguese discovered Brazil, several Atlantic archipelagos like the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde, explored parts of the African coast and established trading routes to India, southern Asia, and even got as far as China and Japan.
Cabo da Roca is a popular stop for sightseeing tours, so if you want to escape the crowds, head south of the monument. A trail continues along the cliff edge with amazing views of the coastline - just watch where you are going, it's a long way down.
The Curonian Spit (Kurshskaya Kosa in Russian) is a nearly 100 km long, narrow, sand dune spit that separates the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon. The southern section lies within Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia) and the northern within Lithuania. At its narrowest, the width is merely 400 m, making it possible to look across when standing on a high sand dune. The uniqueness of this fragile landscape of drifting sand dunes has made it an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only one in Kaliningrad Oblast. The National Park Kurshskaya Kosa makes up most of the spit, but there are several villages along the single road that goes the full length of the spit. The two main sights are The Dancing Forest, a collection of twisted trees, and the giant sand dunes at Efa. Not every local has been to these semi-famous spots, so beware when asking for direction or taking transport. The rest of the spit is mainly pine forest and long sandy beaches favoured by picknicking families during summer.
Lake Baikal is so large that it is hard to fully grasp its immensity: 636 km long, about 60 km wide and up to 1637 m deep, making it the deepest lake in the world. Any view from the shore makes it look more like sea than a confined body of water. The crystal clear fresh water is drinkable at most places and is home to some very yummy fish, like the omul. The railway from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude runs parallel to the shore for a while but to really experience the lake, go to Olkhon island or at least Listvyanka, a village on the shore 70 km from Irkutsk.
The Baltic coastline and the lagoon side of the Curonian Spit are both long sandy beaches with tall sand dunes. Some of the largest dunes are located on the lagoon side and called Efa after forester Franz Efa, who researched drifting sand. They raise up to a height of 60 metres above the sea, which is just a stone's throw away. As strangely as it might sound, it's not allowed to walk in the sand dunes, but a trail runs along the edge where the sand meets the forest, up to the top of the dunes. From here, the splendid views stretch across the Curonian Spit and what best can be described as a mini Sahara - well, at least in summer when the sun is shining and there is no snow.
A twenty-minute bus ride from the centre of Krasnoyarsk brings you to the Stolby National park. The park is famous for the 60-90 metre-high karst peaks (stolby) scattered throughout the area that the locals say ressemble "a land of forest giants". The bulbous formations were created by pulses of magma squeezed out of the pores of the earth's crust. A little like squeezing Vegemite between crackers! If you come in the colder months, hiking can be challenging to say the least but if you manage to climb to the top of a stolby and look out away from the rocks into the taiga forest, the view is incredible.