6 Superlative Weekends
Good, better, best – why waste time with the also-rans when you can pick from these record-setting travel experiences?
Trying to recreate James Bond’s death-defying stunts is generally not a good idea, but at the Verzasca Valley in Switzerland, travellers can make an exception. Here, outdoor specialist Trekking Team offers the chance to copy the famous opening scene of GoldenEye and plunge from the top of the 220-metre-high Contra Dam – seven seconds of adrenaline that’s also the highest bungee jump in Europe. True daredevils can even jump the floodlit dam at night, or backwards. Two hours to the north, the same company runs tours of the Hölloch cave system, Western Europe’s longest, for a further superlative.
Thought to be Europe’s oldest road, the 87-mile Ridgeway traces a route used by travellers for at least 5,000 years, running along the chalk ridges and hills of southern England. Today, it makes for highly scenic walks in the rolling downlands of Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, or the beech-cloaked folds of the Chilterns. Fora real sense of the road’s history, strike west, walking through water meadows and forest lively with birdsong. As the path continues, there are ever more reminders of its past, from medieval castles to Iron Age forts and barrows-culminating in the most impressive of all, the Unesco-listed Avebury stone circles.
Though the average oenophile may not have uncorked a bottle of deep red Areni, the small, mountainous country of Armenia has a cherished wine-making tradition that dates back more than 6,000 years – it’s even home to the world’s oldest winery, recently discovered in a cave. Old World Wine Tours’ four-day trip offers a taster of this intoxicating heritage: beginning in the capital Yerevan, it heads into the storied wine region of Vayots Dzor, dotted with ancient monasteries, for a day of tastings, lunch with a local family and a lesson in making lavash flatbread. Travellers get to see the medieval Noravank Monastery, surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs, and toast the trip with the country’s first ice wine.
Most Powerful Waterfall
Of all the waterfalls that tumble over Iceland’s rugged terrain, Dettifoss is the most powerful, setting European records, too. This cascade in the northern Vatnajökull National Park drops in a thunderous rush that makes the ground shake and raises a plume of spray high in the air. Nearby walks lead past canyons and surreal rock formations, and staying in the north, you’ll also find lava fields and lunar landscapes at Lake Mývatn, and café culture plus nightlife in Iceland’s second city, Akureyri.
In times past, the only people who braved the inhospitable Sahara were Berber nomads, who’d cross the sands with hundreds of camels. Today, travellers can get a taster of the world’s largest (hot) desert by heading out, like the camel trains did, on the caravan routes of the Moroccan Sahara. Fleewinter’s four-day Desert with the Nomads trip sets out by 4×4 from Marrakesh, heading with a guide over the High Atlas mountains into a landscape of kasbahs, oases and ochre villages. Stopping in beautiful Ait Ben Haddou, a Unesco-listed fortified city, the trip continues through the palm-lined Draa Valley before heading off-road to take on the vast dunes of Cheggaga. Here, guests try a night of desert camping, dining by the fireside to local music before retreating to comfortable tents. Next morning, there’s a chance to watch the sunrise illuminate the silent desert before embarking on a camel trek over the dunes, as well as a spin on a less-traditional quad bike.
According to local legend, when the giants who built the Croatian peninsula of Istria found themselves with a few stones left over, they used them to create Hum – a place with two streets, 20 or so residents and a claim to be the world’s smallest town. Bump up the numbers on a weekend’s stay in the sleepy settlement, which packs a lot of charm within its diminutive medieval walls. Take a short stroll through its narrow lanes and squares, checking out the vivid 12th-century frescoes of St Jerome’s chapel; at Humska Konoba, dig into Istrian specialities like prosciutto, biska (mistletoe brandy) and fuži pasta. Explore its forests and valleys on a scenic walk or bike ride before heading to some of the region’s more populous spots – historic Roc, the truffle-hunting centre of Buzet, or the culture-packed port of Rijeka.