Friday, July 11, 2014

The four corners of Europe

My continent, it isn't a particularly big continent, but Europe certainly pulls the punches when it comes to contrasts. And the big differences in climate and landscapes are especially apparent when you go as far as you can on each of the four points on a compass. 
Today's post collaborator, takes you on the journey due north, south, east and west in Western Europe as far as you can go. And then reveals what it’s really like when you’re in the four flung corners of continental Europe.

Up north
Where is it? Go as far north on land in Western Europe as you can and you get to Cape Nordkinn on the Nordkinn Peninsula in Norway, level with the likes of the Canadian Arctic and northern Alaska.

Vikings Land!

Photo credit: Polarbaer

What’s it like? Unsurprisingly, this land of seabirds, rocky coves and wild seas is about as remote as they come. Expect 24/7 daylight in the summer, but hardly a glimpse of the sun in the winter. And 12 degrees is as hot as it gets so you need to keep a coat handy.
What can I do there? Take in the northern lights in winter when you can also go on a husky safari. Spring and autumn are great for birdwatching on the Slettnes nature reserve – over 100 species nest here including the very rare Alaskan Snipe. And summer activities include walking, taking a leisurely (and warming) coffee in the lighthouse – the most northerly on mainland in the world – and boat trips.
How do I get there? Getting to Cape Nordkinn itself requires a day’s walk from Mekamm, although you can take a boat trip from Gamvik. The Norwegian Coastal Express also passes by on its cruise up and down the Norwegian coastline. You can reach Gamvik by plane from several airports in Norway or drive there via the Great Northern Fjording Road, one of the world’s best road trips.
Where can I stay? Limited accommodation is available in Gamvik with a bigger choice in Mekamm.

Deep south
Where is it? Europe’s most southerly mainland point is Punta de Tarifa on the bottom tip of Spain where the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet. You can’t actually get to the very south because it’s closed to the public, but you can walk across the causeway.

What’s it like? Home to the lighthouse and some ex-military barracks, Punta de Tarifa belongs to the historic town of Tarifa, Europe’s kite surf capital. You know you’re very far south because the silhouette of Africa always stands clear on the horizon. Expect a strong breeze always.
What can I do there? Explore Tarifa with its castle and walled old quarter then go to one of Spain’s best beaches (with giant sand dunes) nearby. Make the most of the strong winds and try your hand at kite or wind surfing. For a touch of cultural history, visit the Roman ruins at Baelo Claudia and then chill out with a mojito at one of the beach bars and watch the sun go down.
Enjoying mojitos on a beach club

How do I get there? Best to hire a car from Malaga Airport and drive or get the bus to Algeciras and then on to Tarifa. Once you’re in Tarifa, it’s just a short walk to the causeway.
Where can I stay? Tarifa has a great choice of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets – book well ahead in high season.

Sunset in Tarifa

Extreme east
Where is it? To get as far east as you can on mainland Western Europe you need to go to Romania and head for the Danube Delta and the port of Sulina.

What’s it like? This is where the River Danube pours into the Black Sea after making its way through ten European countries (one of them my beloved Budapest) so expect a watery world of marshlands and reed beds. The weather is generally mild with warm sunshine in the summer, perfect to make the most of the beaches.
What can I do there? Take a stroll round historic Sulina, once one of the main ports on the Delta and then make the most of the area’s wildlife – birdwatching is exceptional here as is the fishing (you’ll need a licence). For the best twitching and bites, go on a boat trip. Then relax on the beach before sampling the local bars and restaurants where local fish features high on the menu.
How do I get there? The best way to get to Sulina is via slow ferry or fast catamaran from Tulcea. Get to Tulcea by train or bus from Bucharest.
Where can I stay? Your options in Sulina are usually limited (better in the summer) so you might prefer to make your base in Tulcea where there’s a good choice of places to stay.

Far west
Where is it? The Cabo da Roca headland near Sintra to the west of Lisbon lays claim to continental Europe’s most westerly spot.
What’s it like? This far west point juts out into the Atlantic pounding the high cliffs and rock formations below. Temperatures are mild in winter and the almost permanent strong sea breeze keeps the summer heat down.
What can I do there? Walk around the cape itself along the coastal path before heading for one of the nearby sandy beaches where the surf’s always up. Then settle down with a drink to watch the sea go down over the endless ocean at the place where, according to Camoes Portugal’s greatest poet, the land ends and the sea begins.
How do I get there? Cabo da Roca is just a short drive from Sintra and Cascais, and an easy day trip from Lisbon. Or you get the yellow tram from Sintra to the headland.

Where can I stay? One of the nearby coastal resorts such as Cascais or Estoril are your best options or you can stay in Sintra, one of Portugal’s most beautiful cities.

Have you visited any of the four corners of Europe?
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