After hibernating through a long, dark winter, spring and summer are the seasons in which Europe reanimates. Alfresco diners begin to colonise old cobbled lanes, vineyards burst into life, Spanish grandpas siesta under olive trees and white-sailed yachts start their dance across the blue waters of the Aegean Sea.
Of course, all this isn’t really a secret. The rest of the world knows it too. Which is why summer is Europe’s peak season and many of its beaches start filling up with lobster-pink tourists. But if you’re clever, and think beyond getting that effortless Grecian tan, there’s a whole range of adventure, colour and life to explore between April and September. So for all you earlybirds out there who know ‘winter is coming…’ and want to do something about it, here are our top reasons to flee a drizzly southern hemisphere in search of warmer climates in 2015.
While there’s nothing wrong with eating pickled herring under a frozen Scandinavian sky, summer in Europe is when food really takes off. In Spain it marks tomato season and, apart from flinging them at strangers, the Spanish also use them to make gazpacho.
Throw in some light salads drizzled with olive oil and sherry vinegar, a paella all burnt and sticky on the bottom and some homemade ice-cream (the best stuff comes from Alicante), and you’ve got a refreshing meal to ease you into your afternoon siesta.
When it comes to swimming in Europe, you’re really spoilt for choice. Let’s start with the coast: would you rather dive from sun-bleached rocks near Dubrovnik, bathe in the blue waters of Zakynthos in the Greek Islands or leave footprints in the black sands of Spiaggia Sabbie Nere in Sicily.
Or perhaps you’re after a freshwater destination. Budapest’s thermal spas do a roaring trade each season as locals and travellers alike flock to swim surrounded by some of the most gorgeous architecture in Europe. Or head for the hills and take a dip in Italy’s beautiful Lake Garda at the foot of the northern Alps.
Picture the scene. You wake early and head out into the misty woods of Tuscany. Accompanying you are an old man, a basket and a pig. You’re searching for, pound for pound, one of the most expensive substances on earth: black truffles.
July is a great time for Italian truffles, with many towns holding fairs and running truffle hunts in the surrounding countryside. Depending on your tastes, you’ll either appreciate the musky aroma and earthy quality of this fabulous fungus, or feel like you’re flavouring your eggs with dirt. Either way, memorable.
In summer the French hills are alive, not so much with the sound of music, but with the sound of hikers of all nationalities saying, ‘Woah’. Towering peaks are still capped with snow, picturesque valleys, alpine streams and quaint rural villages all combine to make you feel like you’ve stumbled into a postcard (or a Julie Andrew’s movie).
One hike in particular, from Chamonix to Zermatt, skirting the famous Mt Blanc, has to be seen to be believed. Just have your camera ready for the jaw-dropping 360-degree views from Col du Balme.
Okay so you may never qualify for the Tour de France (no matter how many times you take the stairs), but that doesn’t mean some of Europe’s most spectacular cycling is out of your reach.
In recent years, Croatia has opened up as a dramatic cycling mecca, particularly the village-dotted hills of the Istrian Peninsula. It’s easy to hire bikes in popular towns like Pula, and there are worse ways to spend an afternoon than pedalling along the picturesque coast, stopping occasionally for a roadside buzara (shellfish scampi) and spaghetti.
Iceland’s northerly latitude throws up some strange natural phenomena, but the one you simply cannot miss is the setting of the midnight sun. As the sun dips below the horizon, a technicolour mix of pink and gold stains the sky. The best views are usually found on the west coast: head to Reykjavík and try the lighthouse at Grotta in Seltjarnarnes.
If you’re partial to the old vino, late summer is the perfect time to visit the great vineyards of Europe. Of course there are the old French staples – Provence, Burgundy and the Loire Valley – but for something a bit different, try visiting the Wachau in Austria.
Its few precious kilometres of terraced vineyards are perched above the waters of the Danube and have the odd cliff-top castle thrown in for good measure. A late-spring drive through villages like Dürnstein, especially when the apricots are in blossom, is highly recommended, as are a couple of souvenir bottles of the region’s signature Riesling.
8. Highland Games
The Highland Games, like most of Scottish culture, are slightly bewildering to the outsider. Where else can you watch grown men throw trees around or try a half-time haggis? From May to September dozens of highland games are held in towns and cities all over Scotland, but if you have to choose one, make it the Braemar Gathering in Aberdeenshire: you might get a glimpse of the Royal Family, who traditionally attend each year.
No-one enjoys sailing through cold winds and stormy seas, but if your idea of a nautical adventure is sunbathing on a warm deck while the gentle waves of the Mediterranean lap against the hull, summer sailing in Europe could be for you.
Looking to narrow it down? It’s hard to go past the show-stopping scenery of the Amalfi Coast, although Greek islands like Mykonos and Santorini are definitely close contenders.
North Africa might not figure largely on your global surfing map, but the rolling Atlantic breakers off the coast of Morocco are some of the finest in the world. Spring and summer are great times to visit this spice-filled African gem, as the ocean breezes keep the coast cooler than the country’s interior. For the gnarliest waves, try the coast between between Oualidia and Rabat.
Check out our range of European adventures – we don’t think there’s anywhere better to spend a summer.
Image courtesy of Bethan, Flickr