Nothing beats the surge of positive energy you get when you're enjoying the great outdoors.
Mountain climbing, long walks, cycling tours, water sports – holidays are perfect for immersing yourself in the activities you already love and discovering new passions.
Take your pick from the list of airBaltic destinations that are sure to give you an adrenaline rush! Read more.
active-destinations_16.12.2016_v.15.xlsxMatterhorn and Monte Rosa hike, Switzerland and Italy
The Matterhorn and Monte Rosa circuit is one of the finest long-distance hikes that the Alps have to offer. The route leads around the Monte Rosa massif through both Switzerland and Italy, providing views of the highest and most beautiful mountains, valleys and villages. You set out from the little Swiss village of Zermatt, enter Italy by crossing the Theodul Pass to Cervinia, hike through Alagna and Macugnaga, walk back into Switzerland via the Monte Moro Pass, move on to Saas-Fee and Grächen, and end your hike back in Zermatt.
The full trail (162.5 km) takes around nine days to hike, but those who have yet to reach that level of fitness can take a shorter three-day route, which incorporates an exclusive two-day walk almost entirely at 2,000 metres above sea level – without climbing up and down – a rarity in the high mountains. The full trail, however, is not for the weak and inexperienced. It takes you up or down an average of 700 metres per day, and you can expect to hike for around seven to eight hours each day. Thus, apart from breaks for meals, there will not be much idling around.
The trail offers accommodation, with huts available for a nightly fee at the destined end point of each day. Breakfast and dinner are also served at the huts. Food and shelter will cost considerably less on the Italian side, while a one-night stay with two meals will cost around 50 euros per person in Switzerland. It is not uncommon for budget travellers to use their own tents and cook their own food on light and portable gas stoves, which they carry along as part of their gear. However, a hiker of average physical fitness should try not to carry a backpack weighing more than 10 kilograms. If this is one of your first hikes, then better invest a little more in the accommodation and meals offered along the way.
Hikers will probably see lots of animals on Monte Rosa, especially mountain goats and rams with massive horns. The peak season for this trail is in July and August. It might be more pleasant to hike at the end of August and beginning of September, when the crowds have thinned out and the weather is still warm enough. This trail can also be done in June, but the beginning of the month may still surprise hikers with snowy paths.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
Norway is a hiking paradise with countless options for open-air activities, and Norwegian mountains are like endless hiking trails in their own right. Many web pages offer a vast range of planned hiking routes, some longer and some shorter. The Lofoten archipelago, though it does not boast the highest mountain tops, offers distinctive scenery, dramatic peaks and unspoilt nature. Along with an open sea, this part of Nordland County harbours sheltered bays and untouched empty beaches that provide an otherworldly and privileged experience of aloneness amid the grandeur of nature.
The mountain ridges of the Lofoten Islands are relatively low – 600 to 700 metres high on average – but when hiking across them, a 360-degree view is available at all times. You see all of the islands in the archipelago and you see the area that you will be crossing the next day.
One can opt to cross the whole Lofoten archipelago, which would take 8 to 13 days, but the most appropriate island for a shorter trail is Moskenesøya at the southern end. It boasts the tallest and sharpest peaks in the whole area. Due to the highly evolved infrastructure across the country, it is very easy to combine a fantastic two- to three-day hike with other activities. For example, after crossing a ridge and walking down to an empty beach, you can set up your tent and spend the night right by the sea, or rent a nearby hut. One can also rent fishing gear and bicycles, or go diving and killer-whale watching. Killer whales sometimes swim into the fjords, driving schools of cod ahead of them, and have a feast. You can catch fish legally and cook them for dinner on an open fire by your tent or at the beach. The comfortable blend of options – along with a wilderness that can still be enjoyed – make the Lofoten Islands a near-ideal hiking spot.
July and August are perfect months to visit, when the chance of catching the sun is the highest. The weather in Norway is often cloudy and rainy, so keep checking the forecast! Since the Lofoten Islands are north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set from the end of May until the end of July. Even in August, the days are very long and you practically never need a flashlight. This is an advantage in a place where there is so much to see, including the Norwegian mainland in the distance.
Mestia to Ushguli, Georgia
For those who don’t sit well with orderly and pre-planned perfection, a hike in the breathtakingly beautiful and wild Georgian mountains could be the thing to do. Fly to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and grant yourself some time to explore this city of immense contrasts. Then prepare to leave most of civilisation behind.
You might want to take the helicopter, which occasionally brings tourists to Mestia for the likes of 20 euros (most of the trip’s cost is covered by the state!) in 40 minutes, rather than the eight hours that it would take by public transport. The flight might not always take off when planned, but once you get on, it will give you a stupendous sightseeing experience.
Otherwise, take the marshrutka (local minibus) to Mestia in Svaneti, which is one of the highest regions of Georgia, near the border with Abkhazia. Travelling there is a mini-adventure in itself. Nothing is fixed and planned, but the locals are warm and helpful. Mestia is the furthest point that can be reached in this region of Georgia, and from there a spectacular hike can be taken to nearby Ushguli.
Actually, Ushguli is only near if you walk along the main road (which is not as “main” as you might think!) or hitch a ride in a jeep. The hike, however, will last three to four days and take you through beautiful meadows covered in the thickest carpet of beautiful wildflowers. It is said that Georgian jewels and treasures were sent to the Svaneti area from all over the country during times of war and placed in small watchtowers for safekeeping. The ruins of these towers can still be seen in many places.
To hike the distance from Mestia to Ushguli in three days, you will have to walk up to 13 hours each day. However, the trail can be extended over more days to reduce the workload. It is highly recommended to have experienced hikers in the group travelling to Mestia, and preferably someone who has done this path previously. Mestia to Ushguli is not a hike for beginners, nor is it for those who seek pre-booked accommodation options and readily available supply shops. Sleeping will likely take place in a tent, and the few tiny villages along the way will hardly have anything in them resembling a food shop. However, you might be able to buy some fresh tomatoes or cucumbers that the locals have grown in their gardens.
Alternatively, you can travel to Mestia and go on a one-day hike towards Ushguli and back. That way, you will still be able to enjoy the wilderness and beauty of the area, and see some of the abandoned villages that form a kind of national park. There are no mapped routes as in the Alps, but the sense of wilderness and raw nature is unparalleled and will form an unforgettable experience. Should you wish to stick to more inhabited regions, there is, for example, a one- or two-day hike available in Kazbegi, near Tbilisi. The little village is near a glacier, which you can hike up to in a mere day. You can take a marshrutka from Tbilisi to Kazbegi as well.
Landmannalaugar trail, Iceland
Landmannalaugar is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Highlands of Iceland. Located at the northern end of the Laugavegur hiking trail in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, it is the usual starting point of a trek that takes three to four days to complete and which finishes at Þórsmörk, heading north to south. For those who wish to add one or two days to this sufficiently difficult trail, it can be extended all the way to Skógar via Fimmvörðuháls, which is an area between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers.
The Landmannalaugar trail will allow you to experience the wild magnificence of Icelandic nature and the most diverse natural phenomena in a small stretch of land – if you are up to the challenge. You will pass the colourful Brennisteinsalda volcano, covered in steaming vents and sulphur deposits, as well as a fascinating red crater filled with bright blue water. Humorously named Ljótipollur, or the Ugly Puddle, it is anything but ugly. You will enjoy an incredible view of the whole Landmannalaugar geothermal area (which is one of the most geothermally active areas of Iceland) from the top of Bláhnúkur, a 60,000-year-old volcano, and will climb Suðuhámur, a mountain rich in liparite, while trekking through Vondugil Canyon.
This diversity looks all the more striking in a land that has so few trees. Aside from the hot springs and volcanoes along your way, green meadows will contrast vividly with the desert of volcanic ash. There are quite a few icy rivers as well – the product of melting glaciers, some of which hikers have no choice but to cross. You may have to wade waist-deep into the water, so appropriate clothing and strong boots for hiking are a must.
Although the hike is properly marked and maps can be obtained easily, it is crucial to keep on the right track, for the weather can be as unpredictable and harsh as the scenery is magnificent. Iceland is for experienced hikers, and those visiting for the first time would benefit from hiking together with someone who has been there before. The route usually opens at the end of May, but bad weather can delay the opening by over a month, so follow the weather information closely when planning your hike. That being said, a snowstorm or volcanic ash storm can hit at any time during the season, as well as strong winds. Iceland’s infrastructure is well developed and huts are available for overnight stays all along the way, along with meals and water. It is important to note that some areas along the way will lack natural water sources, so make sure that you bring along sufficient water for some of the trek, such as when you cross the volcanic ash desert. One can also camp in a tent, as accommodation in Iceland is relatively expensive.
Be ready to carry more than usual for this trail, because warm and wind-resistant clothing is crucial, and a change of clothing will be necessary after crossing a deeper cold river. Nevertheless, the breathtaking beauty of the landscape is 100 percent worth any struggle. For those who don’t feel ready to walk the full trail, a first-time experience of Landmannalaugar can be reduced to a one-day hike. Take a fourby-four transport bus to get there, walk around the area and return to the city later on the same day. For those who hike the route from start to finish, however, reaching the Skógafoss waterfall at the end of the trail near the ocean is something to savour and cherish.
Written by Agra Lieģe (Baltic Outlook, April 2016).
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