It doesn’t matter how remarkable the famous monuments and museums of Europe might be, kids will eventually stage a rebellion and demand something more “fun”. We have three girls aged 11, 16 and 18, and active adventures that combine the rhythms of local cultures and remarkable natural surroundings keep everyone engaged. This past summer we enjoyed a three-day hike in the Pyrenees. Later Alice, my 18-year-old, and I continued on kayaked and hiked in the fjord region of Norway. Both adventures were the highlights of our European sojourn.
In the Western Pyrenees, we all walked a landscape beloved by the Basques, a fiercely proud culture that straddles the French/Spanish border. We collected wildflowers, bought nutty sheep’s milk cheese from local dairies and marvelled at sturdy Basque pottock ponies roaming the meadows to the sound of bells around their necks. As we crossed the border from France into Spain, we walked through the largest deciduous forest in Europe with massive oak and beech trees shading our path. Along the way, we discovered Iron Age megaliths and mysterious stone ceremonial circles and found a dramatic grotto tucked into a fold of limestone rocks. In the evenings, we shared our adventures with other walkers including several French families. We spent time together telling stories, laughing and singing – and walking – without, I might say, a single complaint.
Alice and I went on to the fjord region of Norway where we joined Njord Kayak to kayak for two days from Flam, at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, to Gudvangen at the end of the World Heritage-listed Naeroyfjord. Instead of passively gawking at waterfalls plummeting down rocky walls, high summer meadows ringed with snow, and the emerald waters of the deepest and longest fjord in the world, we were intent on developing a natural rhythm in our yellow double kayak. We stopped for lunch in the village of Undredal, and wandered up to the 40-seat medieval stave church, the smallest in Norway. That night, our campsite perched 400 metres above fjord level at Stigen farm. The views and the wood-fired, open-air Jacuzzi more than compensated for the hike up.
Next day, seal pups greeted us as we entered the much narrower Naeroyfjord. As we feasted on sausages grilled over an open fire, we laughed at the new name our guide Karlis had coined for our adventures. Karlis had dubbed it “sportistic”, meaning exploring the world physically, like an artist. We could only agree.
By Susan Gough Henly
Qantas, Emirates and Singapore Airlines fly to Paris daily. Trains run from Paris to Bayonne and then on a branch line to St. Jean Pied de Port where you can get a taxi to Kaskoleta Gite. Otherwise, a rental car can be left at the gite.
Scandinavian Airlines offers departures from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, via Bangkok or Singapore with Thai or Singapore Airlines then on to over 50 destinations in Europe via Copenhagen with SAS.
Australian citizens do not need a visa to France or Norway.
The best time to hike in the Pyrenees is from late May to early October. July and August are the best time to visit Norway’s fjord region.
A two or three-day kayaking package with Njord Kayak can be booked in conjunction with a Norway in a Nutshell tour from MyPlanet.
Go to www.myplanetaustralia.com