12 places in Europe to ‘get away from it all’ – once the world is back on track
Like many of you, the current and global Corona-crisis has left me stuck at home unable to travel or even go for a stroll in the local park. To be honest, it is scary.
This pandemic seemed to hit the world fast and like ‘out of nowhere’, but when we get through the worst of it and the world starts opening up again, if nothing else, we might have learned to appreciate our freedom more and our normal possibilities to travel (mostly) where we want. Because it really is a luxury and the world is a truly amazing place to explore.
At the moment, I haven’t left my flat for more than a week, and I already miss popping out for a walk to clear my head or to be able to plan my next trip. While those things are currently out of reach, I dream of freedom.
Therefore, I took a look through my travel photo archive and picked 12 places around Europe where I have felt the most ‘away from it all’. Places where I could disconnect from stress and worries whether it was for half an hour or several months.
Take a look at these extraordinary places which might make you dream of your next trip – once the world is back on track.
Alp Grüm, Switzerland
I didn’t know snowshoeing could be so meditative before I tried it in the Swiss Alps in 2018. I was on a press trip in the canton of Graubünden with a bunch of other travel journalists when we got the chance to try our hand at this unique form of alpine exercise.
With our modern snowshoes strapped on our boots, we followed our experience guide from the tiny and isolated train station at Alp Grüm – reached only by train (like the Glacier Express) or by foot. And we walked through a stunning winter-landscape of heavy snow and pines covered in white.
Snowshoeing is hard work but once you get the hang of it and just zone into the experience you find a kind of peace that is only enhanced by the surroundings of the snowclad Alps. If you visit outside the snowy season, the area is excellent for hiking too.
Anaga Rural Park, Tenerife, Spain
Since spending a lot of time in West Wales, I got inspired to try some hiking, which is, in fact, one of the best ways to disconnect and experience landscapes. So I was excited when I got the chance to join the Tenerife Walking Festival in 2019.
This festival is a great chance to meet hikers from all over the world and to experience the extraordinary nature that Tenerife has to offer – from lush green forests to wild beaches, desert-looking landscape and volcanic scenery.
I took a special liking to the northeastern corner of the island where the rural park of Anaga offers diverse nature and a terrain form challenging hikes. At the moment I guess this year’s festival (at the end of May) is a bit uncertain, but if you love hiking and have the chance to go, do it! But besides the festival, the islands nature is open to hiking all year round.
Ballintoy, Northern Ireland
While many people head to Dublin and Ireland, much fewer seems to have discovered the wonders of Northern Ireland. Therefore, I was excited when I got the chance to explore its capital Belfast and the country further north on a work trip back in 2017.
Belfast alone was a very positive surprise, but where I really felt ‘away from it all’ was on a Game of Thrones-themed minibus tour out of the capital and up to the northern coastline. Despite terrible weather on the day, I enjoyed a bunch of exciting stops along the way – not at least the natural phenomenon of the Giant’s Causeway.
Up there, you really feel like on the edge of the huge island, and a place that felt really remote was Ballintoy and the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The moody weather gave the place a melancholic feel, but I would love to return on a sunny day.
El Chorrillo, Spain
There are not many places in Europe where you will find dry desert-landscapes, but one of the few is in Southern Spain in the western part of Anadalucía. Here, the Tabernas Desert, north of the city of Almería, has inspired many old western-genre movies and is still home to a few cowboy-themed tourist attractions.
A more abandoned filming-location can be found between Almería city and the Tabernes Desert though, in the rustic and lonely surroundings of El Chorrillo. A dry palm-clad kind of plain “hidden” by a rocky landscape.
Last summer, my girlfriend and I found our way there on our Almería road trip and we got the chance to explore the rather eerie and long-abandoned sets used for unknown westerns and even Game of Thrones (The Dothraki Village). Despite the lucrative GOT-tag, this place is surprisingly not promoted by the local tourism board and it can be tricky to make it there and back up by car (so take precautions if you do go).
If there is one place I always feel away from it all, it is the beautiful Spanish region of Galicia. If you’re not familiar with it, it is the top western corner of the Iberian Peninsula, just above Portugal.
I’m lucky to have a girlfriend who has family from there, and her grandmother still lives in a tiny mountain-village surrounded by lush nature and a clearer night-sky than I have seen anywhere else. Not the worst place to spend a little holiday on family-visits from time to time.
Since 2014, I have been enjoying this green corner of Spain on many occasions, like on a road trip along the northern coast a couple of years ago. Galicia is truly a place to disconnect and find peace.
Grutas de Mira de Aire, Portugal
During my latest work trip, before the Corona-crisis hit Spain for real, I got to explore the often overlooked centre of Portugal on a road trip. A trip that took my girlfriend and me through many exciting cities and towns around the country.
Portugal offers some stunning scenery and is much more than just Lisbon, Porto and the coast of Algarve. And one spot where I felt most hidden from the rising Corona-crisis was deep underground in the caves of Mira de Aire. A touristic cave listed as one of the countries 7 natural wonders, which is found in a cave-filled area near the town of Fatima.
I have seen my share of caves on my trips around Europe, but these were truly spectacular. It was like diving into another world of dramatic rock formations and towering stalactites and stalagmites. Just imagine how it must have been for the first people to discover such a place?
Kemeri National Park, Latvia
Okay, this one might top it all, when it comes to the feeling of finding yourself in “the middle of nowhere”. That is exactly how I felt when I was wading through the bogs of Kemeri National Park in Latvia in 2018.
I was during a work trip to write about the national park that I got the chance to try bogshoing with a personal guide. Bogshoing is like snowshoeing really, and it is hard work. But the remote location and the peace out there was like something I had rarely experienced in normally city-dense Europe.
The bogs were just beautiful and so is Latvia, and I can highly recommend visiting this often overlooked country once the world is back to normal.
The Scottish Highlands seems to be the idea of freedom and remoteness in a nutshell, and once you’ve been, it’s easy to see why. I got a little taste of this almost mythical corner of Europe on a train trip in 2017.
The West Highland Line runs from Glasgow and up north through the stunning highlands to rather remote end stations on the west coast. The southernmost is the lovely town of Oban, that I can highly recommend visiting.
But further north it gets even more remote in the tiny harbour town of Mallaig, from where the ferry takes travellers to the Isle of Sky – a place that is high on my list.
Mallaig is not really a touristic town itself, but here I really felt away from it all watching the local fishing boats return before sunset and the seagulls looking for food at the harbour. More than the destinations, the actual train journey through the highlands is truly unforgettable.
Peel, Isle of Man
Hands up? Who of you, who aren’t from the UK, have been visiting the Isle of Man? I thought so. The Isle of Man is a self-governing island found in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.
I was curious about this almost mystical place and got the chance to go there on a work trip in 2017. And although there are naturally many similarities to the neighbouring countries, the Isle of Man still felt like its own, and it was an exciting encounter.
I tried to see as much of the islands as I could in a few days and really felt remote when I visited the town of Peel on the less frequented western coast of the island. A lovely little place with a castle ruin and sandy beaches near its centre. A place I would never have thought I would find myself.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales
After having spent extensive time here over four years from 2015-2018, the Welsh region of Pembrokeshire started to feel like a bit of a “spiritual home” for me. A place of mind-blowing natural beauty along its rugged coastline with hidden coves and sandy beaches. A place to encounter both puffins and baby seals depending on the season.
My girlfriend and I were volunteering at an eco-friendly hostel for three straight seasons and had the unique opportunity to enjoy these landscapes daily. We found peace in a simple and stress-free lifestyle for a while, did a lot of hiking and got to explore the region extensively.
Pembrokeshire and Wales is a magical place that I can’t recommend enough. Especially if you want to escape a stressed lifestyle whether it’s for a week or for longer periods. I personally can’t wait to return one day. To the rugged cliffs, the colours of the ocean and the Atlantic sea-breeze.
Picos de Europa, Spain
For me, a road trip is a great way to feel a bit of freedom and not at least if the route takes you through some extraordinary landscapes like those of the Picos de Europa national park in Northern Spain. A mountainous area covering the regions of Cantabria, Asturias and Castilla y Leon.
We took the route around the national park in the spring of 2017 and discovered a lot of the region in just a handful of days. We could have spent weeks up there if time allowed, as it is truly a place calling for disconnection among mountain peaks and charming villages.
Picos de Europa is perfect for road-trippin’ in an area not overrun by tourists and for hikers, it’s a wonderland just waiting to be explored. Next time we’ll bring our boots.
See also: Spain: Movie set magic in Mogrovejo
Mount Snowdon, Wales
Let’s finish on top, literally, with the towering Mount Snowdon in North Wales. A spot where I had just half an hour to take in all the beauty in 2016. I had taken the easy way up by the Snowdon Mountain Railway, passing the more brave hikers on my way. But if time allowed hiking on my work trip, I would have loved the challenge.
With its elevation of 1085 meters, Snowdon is the pinnacle of Wales and higher than any peak in England – only surpassed in Great Britain by Ben Nevis in Scotland (1345 m).
Snowdon is not surprisingly the top attraction in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales and one of the major reasons why you should travel there. Personally, I felt a special moment of disconnection from the world below, as I tried to photograph the woolly locals grazing up there.
Where have you been feeling away from it all in Europe?
Please share your tips in the comments below…