Europe’s best countryside | Fjords, Alps, Lake District

Europe beyond the cities. Walking in Madeira, the Lake District, the Norwegian fjords, the Swiss Alps, Transylvania & Croatian islands on Adriatic Coast.

When we think of a trip to Europe, we tend to automatically focus in on the big cities. The mental image of Europe is the history of Rome, the cafés of Paris, the bright lights of London and the hedonism of Amsterdam.

The icons that spring to mind are the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Colosseum – it’s often easy to forget that some of Europe’s greatest highlights are absolutely nothing to do with the famous cities.

This is something I’m hugely guilty of – I’ll go to Madrid, but not the mountains surrounding it. I’ll go to Scandinavian capitals, but not the fjords or the Arctic. I’ve been to Edinburgh and Glasgow but not the Scottish islands and highlands.

It all hit home last weekend when I was on the Portuguese island of Madeira, staring down out over huge, green mountainous ravines to the Atlantic Ocean. I’d have never even thought of going there if I’d not been invited to get a sneak preview of January’s Madeira Islands Walking Festival ( But I’m so glad I did.

It’s one of those gorgeous corners of Europe that many people haring round the continent’s big names will overlook. It seemed like a completely fresh experience to strap on the boots, walking along ridges and through forests.

So, with this new frame of mind, I’ve created a list of five places that I’ve shamefully not been to yet. Despite having been to 42 European countries now (that bit at the top of the page is a little out of date), it seems as though I’m still to visit many of the best bits. Ahem, here goes…

1. The Norwegian Fjords

2. The Swiss Alps

3. The Lake District, England

4. Transylvania, Romania.

5. The islands of Croatia’s Adriatic coast

That’s pretty scandalous, and I intend to set about rectifying that as soon as possible. But the point is not really about glaringly obvious omissions – it’s about looking at what’s on the doorstep when you’re planning a trip to the big cities.

It’s only a couple of hours from London to the Peak District or Cornwall, from Paris to the Loire Valley or Barcelona to the Pyrenees. But, because our minds don’t tend to think like that, we’ll not even consider making the short journey out to some of the world’s most spectacular scenery.

Well, next time a European holiday is on the cards, why not think about what you can fit in between the cities?

What do you think are the most beautiful parts of Europe? Any favourites that are a short excursion away from the big cities? Share your top spots below.

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