Autumn….a time of year when many climbers start to think about planning a winter trip to go sport climbing somewhere warm.
After the long days of summer out at the crag, on real rock, the prospect of a winter climbing indoors on plastic can, for some, be a depressing thought.
Enter the climbing trip!
With a goal in mind and a climbing trip to get fit for, those weeks spent training indoors can be a fun and focused time. A time when you bump into your old friends again (you know, those ones you only see at the climbing wall), drink tea, crank up the grades and chat about warm sunny rock.
I’ve enjoyed some great climbing holidays over the years. As a climber in the lower grades (usually leading up to F5’s outside and seconding up to F6b/6c), if there’s plenty to make me smile it’ll pretty much be a good area for lots of others. Add in the fact that I’ve often visited these places with friends climbing in much harder grades and between us, we’re pretty much covering the spread of grades up to F8a – surely enough to cover the majority of climbers reading this article!
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share with you 5 of my favourite European climbing destinations for some sunny sport climbing. Not all these are winter venues, but from my point of view all are worth repeat visits and for that reason alone they are 5 of the best as far as I’m concerned.
Maybe you’ll see a new area you’ve not visited before, or maybe reading will jog your memory about the time you took a climbing trip yourself to xxxxx.
So grab a cuppa and sit back and enjoy…..
1. Costa Blanca, Spain
My first ever climbing trip abroad (more years ago than I care to remember) was to the Costa Blanca. We stayed near the coast and climbed at the popular venues of Sella, Gandia and Toix. It was good, but I’ve since found that there is so much more to the Costa Blanca, backed up by the vastly extended Rockfax Guidebook which now covers the area.
If you want to get away from the high rise hotels, crowds and English bars, just make sure you choose to stay at a Casita in the hills. It’ll cost a little more but will be a totally different holiday. Alternatively, if you want to make your visit a cheap and cheerful budget break, check out the apartments on the coast.
Base your stay around the Murcia area and you’ll find it a much quieter location than the Benidorm area, opening up a whole different set of crags like Orihuela within a short drive. More recently, we stayed up in the hills near the Jalon Valley and combined climbing on fabulous rock (check Alcalali) with walking in stunning countryside up in the mountains.
I have to admit that I’d fallen out with the Costa Blanca a bit over the years, but that last trip rekindled my love of the place. With a high likelihood of sunny conditions all winter, amazing Spanish food, beautiful rural villages and fantastic limestone (usually well bolted for outdoors), what’s not to like.
Best time: November to April (it can be too warm at other times and the Rockfax guidebook generally has south facing crags)
Guidebook: Rockfax Costa Blanca
Getting there: Flight to Alicante or Murcia, plus car hire
Further Information: Rockfax Database – Costa Blanca
2. Frankenjura, Germany
When friends first invited us on a climbing trip to the Frankenjura, I laughingly declined stating that there would be nothing there for me to climb. Frankenjura is home of the climb Action Directe, one of the first 9a’s ever to be done. It was also home of the legendary Wolfgang Gullich and well known for steep, difficult routes.
Thankfully, I was persuaded to give it a go and loved it from the start – so much so that I returned 3 years running and still want to go back.
The rock is solid, pocketed limestone and beautiful to climb. There are grades and crags from very easy to very hard. Many of the crags are small places, tucked away in the woods (perfect for shade on hot days). One thing I had to get used to was having only 1 bolt at the top to lower off (instead of the more typical 2) and some of the bolting was entertaining to say the least (definitely take a clip stick for the first bolt!).
Tucked away in South East Germany, the Frankenjura has beautiful chocolate box villages, amazing locally produced food, incredible cakes and friendly locals who invite you to their village beer festivals.
The only downside can be the weather. Located in Northern Europe, it’s a great place to visit in the summer (we went in July and have friends who have visited in September). However, you do sometimes have to take pot luck with the rain. I guess the steeper you climb, the less of a problem it becomes!
Being English, I’m well used to dodging the weather and I’m long overdue a return trip to the Frankenjura!
Best time: June – September
Guidebook: Franken 1 & Franken 2 (Gebro Verlag)
Getting there: Ferry to Rotterdam (or Channel tunnel to Calais) and drive
Further Information: Rock Climbing in Germany
3. Ariege, France
We visited the Ariege in the French Pyrenees just before the Rockfax guide was produced (in fact the team were staying next door on a research trip at the time). Using local guidebooks, we went to a variety of crags from bolted limestone (Sinsat, Calames, Alliat, Sibada) to bolted granite (Auzat) – all in a beautiful setting.
The rock here was beautiful to climb on, although the grades could sometimes feel a bit difficult. Having not visited with the Rockfax guidebook, I’m not able to comment on whether that’s still the case.
The Ariege area is simply stunning, nestled right in the Pyrenees. It lodged itself firmly in my heart and I’ve hankered after a return trip there ever since.
If you want a day off from climbing, you can get right up into the mountains by car and then walk from there – the Plateau to Beille is perfect for this. There also looks to be some great mountain bike trails to sample and for a more relaxing rest day, check out the thermal pools and street cafe’s at Ax les Thermes.
Best time: The Ariege is said to be a year round climbing destination – visit in winter and climb at sunny crags, go in summer and look for shady crags. Winter is ski season in the area so can be very cold out of the sun. We visited in late May, which was perfect!
Guidebook: Rockfax France: Ariege, Niaux Limestone (Graham Lynch), Autour de Bedeilhac (JD Achard)
Getting there: Flight to Toulouse or Carcassonne and car hire (although tempting to drive next time!)
4. Costa Daurada, Spain
Until I visited the Costa Daurada, I hadn’t really appreciated the vastness of Spain and difference in locations.
I’ve visited the area twice now, basing ourselves the first time high up in the Siurana area – home to La Rambla 9a+. The location is amazing, high on a plateau and dropping down to access the climbing. The grades here are stiff, despite some easy numbers. However, as the common phrase in Siurana goes, if you don’t agree with our grades, go away and train harder for next time!
Having said that, the climbing is so wonderful that climbing a few grades lower than usual becomes irrelevant. I loved it here so much that a return trip beckoned, this time based in the town below Siurana, Cornudella de Montstant – opening up other climbing areas such as Arboli and Margalef.
Visiting the Costa Daurada area is a peaceful retreat into the hills. It’s a Catalan area so we got caught out a couple of times translating the menu. The Monstant region is a national park with amazing walking and a fantastic wine producing region.
Best time: We visited in Sept/Oct. The height of summer is probably too warm and due to the height it can snow in the depth of winter due to the altitude. Spring and Autumn are good times to visit.
Guidebook: Catalunya: Taragonna Climbs (Pete O’Donavan & Dani Andrada), also Lleida Climbs
Getting there: Flight to Barcelona (or Reus in season) plus car hire
5. Haute Provence, France
Based near Mont Ventoux, a climbing trip here combined the very best of soaking up French living with some excellent climbing on solid limestone. The main downside to the area is the length of drive to various crags, but then it’s so pleasant to be out on the roads here and seeing the French countryside, that it was no real hardship.
The crags we visited included Combe Obscure, St Ledger, Malaucene and Venasque – all very different but equally enjoyable. The great bonus of the area is that after a good day on the crag, there are plenty of cafe bars to sit back and chill out. It’s also a big wine producing area so there is plenty of choice from the local vineyards.
The area is iconic in the world of cycling, with the summit of Mont Ventoux featuring regularly on the Tour de France (and 3 different routes to the summit to choose from). It’s well worth a drive to the summit on a rest day – one day I’ll tackle it by bike!
Best time: Any time of year, choosing sunny crags in winter and shady crags in summer. We’ve visited in both June and September, with great conditions.
Guidebook: Rockfax France: Haute Provence, plus local guidebooks eg. Escalades autour du Ventoux (FFME) – especially if visiting St Leger where there are signs “mort a Rockfax” (death to Rockfax) to encourage local guidebook usage!
Getting there: Flight to Nimes and car hire, or Channel Tunnel to Calais and drive (overnight break or long drive in one stint)
Further Information: Rockfax Dateabase – Haute Provence
There you have it, 5 of my favourite destinations in Europe. There are others missed off like Kalymnos, hugely popular with climbers these days. I visited Kalymnos the year after climbing was first developed there and shared the island with only a handful of climbers. I loved combining a Greek holiday with climbing and ventured back another year, but since then the popularity had flown through the roof and I’m afraid that returning now will spoil the memories of a peaceful Greek island climbing trip.
Majorca and El Chorro in Spain are also popular winter destinations, but I’ve no first hand experience to report….yet!
I hope you enjoyed reading about some of my favourite places. I learned about some of these from other climbers and always love to hear about new places to visit. So, if you have any favourite places yourself, please share them in the comments below and I’ll take a look for the future.