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March 11, 2019 4 min read

by Eric Senseman

Given an infinite amount of time and unlimited financial resources, we travelers would have the ability to visit every corner of the globe, every high-altitude summit, and any other destination we fancied. The fact is that neither time nor money is unlimited and these factors seriously restrict our visitations. Provided that our adventure-seeking trips are not infinite in number, and that Europe is the destination of choice, where should you-the traveling runner and adventurer-set out for exploration? Over the last two months, I have visited 25 European cities in 15 different countries; I have seen large cities, bucolic countryside, idyllic green spaces, and very nearly every possible type of landscape and culture that Europe has to offer. During all these explorations through over two-dozen cities and more than a dozen countries, I have sought out the nearest and best running-related destinations available. Here, I give you my best of Europe: the five best cities to visit and the best nearby places for adventure.

Related: Running Destinations in European Cities

Annecy/Chamonix, France (via Geneva, Switzerland)

Annecy and Chamonix, both in France, are within short distance of Geneva, Switzerland-42k (26 miles) and 80k (50 miles), respectively-and since both cities have meager populations and lack international airports, you'll need to fly or take a train to Geneva to visit them. It is worth spending a day or two in Geneva to enjoy its curated gardens and manicured city streets before visiting the Venice of France, Annecy, where you can paddle-board on the lake, hike up the steep Mont Veyrier, or run the many scenic trails in the area.

Chamonix is world-renowned for its iconic mountains, classic ski routes, and challenging trails and with its close proximity to Geneva it can be easily accessed as a day trip. However, it would be wise to rent a chalet here for a full week given the plethora of activities available year-round in this outdoor playground.

Marseille, France

This old French-port town in southern France is attractive to nearly every outdoor enthusiast. Indeed, Marseille and its surrounding areas offer such diverse outdoor activities as running, surfing, rock climbing, sailing, scuba diving, parasailing, and kayaking. Although the town itself has plenty to keep its visitors occupied, including a steep climb up to Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, the ultimate day trip is to the nearby Parc national des Calanques, or Calanques National Park.

Take the M2 metro to the Rond-Point du Prado stop, exit the metro, and then take the number 23 bus from the Rond-Point du Prado bus stop to the La Cayolle stop (it takes about 45 minutes for the one-way trip). From the bus stop, walk east and continue for about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) until you enter the park. Spend the next hours exploring miles of trails and coastline!

Related: Parc national des Calanques

Donostia/San Sebasti√°n, Spain

San Sebasti√°n, or "Donostia"¬ù in Basque, is a coastal town on the Bay of Biscay in the north of Spain just west of the French border that, though relatively small with a population of just less than 200,000 people, bustles with activity and culture. The city has a storied history, its present-day vibe is lively, and its streets are filled with cafes, restaurants, and bars. The most appealing part of San Sebasti√°n is the wide range of activities available nearby, including surfing and windsurfing in the bay and hiking and running in the nearby Pyrenees mountain range.

Several remarkable hikes along the pilgrimage trail known as Camino de Santiago, which end at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, can be taken east or west out of San Sebastian. Hike east 6k (3.7 miles) to Pasaia along the trails marked in yellow or west 16k (10 miles) to Orio on trails marked in light blue. Either route can be extended further for multi-day trips and public transportation can be used to return to San Sebasti√°n.

Barcelona, Spain

If you enjoy ingenious architectural feats (visible in every building, façade, or park constructed under the guidance of the great Antoni Gaudí), luscious beaches, warm weather, affordable accommodations, and first-rate food and beverage options, Barcelona is your town. Your leisure time in Barcelona doesn't have to be stagnant either: surf, windsurf, paddleboard, play beach volleyball, and run or bike on the paved paths along the coastline. If you want to venture just outside the city, oases of mountain trails become available, too.

Parc Natural del Garraf, which includes part of the Garraf Massif mountain range, is primarily west and slightly south of the city and affords an easy day trip. The south entrance of the park can be accessed via the R2S tram and CF1 bus and takes about 50 minutes for a one-way trip. The challenging trails and scenic views within the park make the trek well worth it.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg sits on the east end of the towering and extensive Alps mountain range and while the region around Salzburg might lack the highest summits in the Alps, its boasts an extensive trail system: more than 7,200 kilometers of trail exist in the province surrounding Salzburg. The charm of old town Salzburg will tempt its visitors to stay within, but if you enter the mountains outside the city, many adventures within short distance become available.

Untersberg is likely the closest mountain, situated roughly 12.5 kilometers (8 miles) south of Salzburg, of greatest impression, rising to a height of 1,973 meters (6,473 feet), near Salzburg, which is easily accessible as a day trip by city bus line 25 in the direction of Grödig. While its summit can be accessed by cable car, the peak can be reached via trails, just as it was for the first recorded time in the 12th century.


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