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Making-Tracks

Magical outdoor adventures in Europe

Creating lifelong memories

This is part one of a two-part series about outdoor (and indoor) recreation opportunities in France, Spain and Portugal. This first part focuses on the major highlights. Part two next Sunday, will be another humourous instalment of “What can possibly go wrong?”

How many outdoor activities can you fit into a 26-day holiday in Europe?

After the cancellation of a 2020 trip to e-bike in the Loire Valley in France and the Barcelona area of Spain due to COVID-19, Constant Companion Carmen (CCC) couldn't wait to book as many adventures as possible from mid-September to mid-October.

So, the holiday involved exploring Paris and e-biking through the Loire Valley for five days while touring four major chateaux. In Spain, the Sheriff explored two major caves; CCC did one cave and hiked a Royal Walk; both hiked the sides of a mind-blowing gorge and both learned how to ride Segways up to a medieval castle. Plus both accomplished hours of what can be described as urban hiking, including what seemed like endless stair climbs.

Undoubtedly, the trip’s main highlight was a seven-kilometre hike on the Caminito del Rey (The King's Pathway) through Los Gaitanes Gorge, a one-hour drive from Malaga, Spain.

In 1865, a rail line was constructed through the canyon from Malaga to Cordoba to link coal mines to the factories. Then, in 1906, engineer Rafael Benjumea completed a three-kilometre water channel to power a hydroelectric plant by taking advantage of a 100-metre drop from the top of the canyon to the gorge entrance.

For channel maintenance, a walkway was attached to the vertical rock walls but over the years, it deteriorated and became widely known as the most dangerous hike in the world. It was finally closed in 2000 after two deaths. However, a second modern walkway opened in 2015 and instantly became a popular tourist attraction with parts of the original walkway still seen in places. The steep-walled canyon is also considered one of the top rock-climbing areas in Europe but four have died there.

The walkway is extremely scary in places, especially when crossing a suspended bridge at the bottom end when a gale force wind is blowing up the canyon, as it did that day. This excursion is definitely not for those afraid of heights but it is an experience you will never, ever forget.

Other highlights had to be the Caves of San Jose (Heart of the Earth Coves de Sant Josep) near Valencia and the Drach Caves (Las Cueves del Drach/Dragon Caves) on Palma de Mallorca island. The San Jose caves provide access to the longest navigable underground river in Europe (2,750 metres), where you climb into a small boat and float 800 metres into a large cavern. Lights are dimmed and a recorded instrumental of Coldplay's Viva la vida (and also John Legend's All of Me) reverbates all around you. The experience was incredibly uplifting.

But the best was yet to come at the Drach Caves. While the San Jose caves have large stalagmites, stalactites and prehistoric drawings, the ceilings of the Drach Caves are covered with millions of short to long thin stalactites, plus numerous larger multi-coloured formations. And it has 170-metre-long Lake Martel, the largest underground lake in Europe, which you can cross by boat.

Near the end of this hike, 400 people sat in an amphitheatre and most of the cave lights were extinguished. Around the corner floated a small boat, its gunnels lined with white lights, and a quartet performed well-known classical music using two violins, a cello and harmonium. Completely entrancing. Again, a lifelong memory.

After that, you would think the rest of trip’s highlights would be anticlimactic. But only if you haven't toured every floor and wing in the Louvre in Paris (who says you can't see some of the finest art in the world in one day?) or taken a bus up a steep, switchback road to lofty Montserrat Monastery, perched near the top of a mountain or stood at the top of the wrought-iron-lattice Eiffel Tower built between 1887 to 1889 for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (the date marked the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution). Contractor Gustave Eiffel met that era's challenge to build a 300-metre (984-foot) tower.

In some respects, Barcelona was Gaudi, Gaudi, Gaudi. Famous (and local) architect Antoni Gaudí started construction in 1882 of the Sagrada Familia Roman Catholic basilica, his elaborate masterpiece, combining Gothic revival, art nouveau and Modernista styles.

When he realized his dream wouldn't be completed in his lifetime, he left all of his drawings, diagrams and models for others to finish but construction continues to this day. Two parts were completed days before this tour.

The Gaudi Apartments (aka Casa Batlló) were the result of a total restoration in 1904 of an old conventional house built in 1877. The funniest aspect is everything (and it is everything) represents Gaudi Modernisme (aka Catalan Art Nouveau) without being gaudy, but there is a perfectly ordinary cast-iron white bathtub in the bedroom.

Then, there was Parc Güell, a proposed housing development commissioned to Gaudí by one of his biggest clients, Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi, the Count of Güell. Built between 1900 and 1914, it was so unique it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now a public garden park on the side of a steep hill, it has beautiful Gaudi touches everywhere.

There was so much more on this trip—checking out the luxurious trappings and extensive gardens at the chateaux, exploring the numerous elaborate public parks, plazas and ruins of ancient buildings, learning about Spanish sailing history at the Maritime Museum Barcelona, touring the Picasso Museum and and strolling the narrow alleys in every major city that are crammed with street stalls and shops offering goods and food never seen in North America.

Virtually all major popular attractions (and even city streets) were crammed with people, even though tourism is winding down at this time of year. If you go, get used to it but obtain reservations online in advance to be sure of entry.

•••

The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival is back, thanks to Elevation Outdoors.

The Best of the Fest, as it has been nicknamed, will start at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 at Kelowna Community Theatre. Doors will open at 6 p.m. There will be live music is by local band Velvet Ears, with a half-time presentation from renowned speaker Greg Foweraker who will discuss the creativity of climbers across the generations.

"It's something Greg likens to artists who build on the past to take bold new directions,” said climber Jonathan Dean Urness who organized past film festivals.

“Greg brings a perspective of active climbing around the world over the past five decades ranging from bouldering in Australia to new alpine routes in Alaska and Pakistan. This promises to be a unique and inspiring presentation,"

Proceeds will go to more than 75 scholarships for the non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of local youth via participation in specially-designed outdoor sports programs, all offered to eligible youth free of charge.

Tickets for reserved seating cost $35 each and are available online at: theatre.kelowna.ca/upcoming-events/vancouver-international-mountain-film-festival-tour-2023

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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