Features on cross-country skiing in the Leutasch Valley in Austria, caneoing in the Tarn Gorge in France and walking in the Dolomites.
1001 Escapes is a huge book of inspirations and homages to places in the world that are truly great escapes. The 1001 hideaways and experiences cover places worldwide. I wrote three of them, on my very favourite wilderness experiences: classic-style cross-country skiing in Austria's largest area designated for the sport, ambling along the Tarn in a two-person canoe in the peak of summer, and hiking high-level across the Dolomites in northern Italy.
Imagine taking giant steps and gliding with effortless ease through a snowy mountain landscape of spiky peaks and silent forests that looks like something out of C S Lewis' Narnia books. This is one way of envisaging cross-coutry skiing in the Tyrolean Alps. The rhythmic swooshing of your skis as they press down against the sparkling snow and friendly Grüss Gott greeting from a passing skier make this a bewitching mode of travel.
There may be taller peaks in the Alps, but the Dolomites are perhaps the most startling in shape and sheer drama. Go in early summer, before the meadows are cut, and you are greeted by the sight of spectacular wildflowers. The best place is the Alpe di Siusi, a high, grassy plateau above the Italian town of Ortisei, also known by its Austrian name of St Ulrich, in an area where German, Itlaian, and the local Ladin dialicet are all spoken. Miniature rhododendrons and brilliant blue gentians speckle the landscape. Walking here is almost effortless, along gentle tracks, with the soaring form of Sassolungo looming over everything.
If France every had a Wild West, this must be it. In the remote Cévennes region, the shallow River Tarn carves a course through an extraordinarily deep and long limestone gorge to make one of the great natural wonders of Europe. You can explore the gorge from the water, at your own pace in a two-person canoe, which you can rent at the village of La Malène. As the tourist boats chug past self-importantly, you can feel smug at taking the ultraslow, non-mechanised option and pull up at will on the shore or on a tiny gravel islet and picnic or swim the afternoon away in this wonderfully secretive place.
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