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Climbing Western Europe --- France, Spain, northern Italy, Switzerland

Original Post
Drew R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 35

Hey all,

My wife and I will be heading to Western Europe for the first time and we're looking to do some hiking, climbing, etc as well as take in some cultural and historical things. We'd likely only spend 1-2 days at most places and keep moving as we're leasing a car and want to see as much as we can without getting burnt out in 4 weeks. We'll be there for the month of September. Tentative plans: We're flying into Paris (already booked), heading south into Spain, possibly Portugal, east to eastern Italy and Austria, and then back west through Switzerland and France, finishing in Paris.

Looking for Sport moderates .9s to low 10a/b ; 5b to 6a.

I'll only be bringing sport gear and am considering a tag line for multiptitch/longer single pitch depending what peoples recommendations are. So far for climbing I am thinking several different areas of Spain (lifetime full of options so have to narrow this down and figure out how many days we can spend in Spain), Ceuse, Verdon Gorge, Calanques, was considering Arco (out of the way) and Switzerland but took those off the itinerary for now unless someone tells me I need to climb there. Unfortunately this isn't a climbing trip, but more of a "take in Europe" trip with climbing mixed in. That being said, we'll consider all options as I still have to map out a route/destinations. We appreciate all constructive feedback.

In addition to any must do climbs/climbing areas, I appreciate recommendations on other must do/visit things: hiking, sightseeing, villages, cities, etc, etc. Thanks for your responses!

CathyO · · Catalonia · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 0

That is quite a trip. Be careful about calculating driving times. Western Europe doesn’t have big straight roads across endless open country like the US. Climbing areas are often at the end of small winding mountain roads. Towns are slow to get into, manage traffic and find parking. Your plan sounds to me like endless ass in a car and not that much time to climb or sightsee. 

CathyO · · Catalonia · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 0

But as one piece of advice - go to Chamonix. You can sport climb on the valley floor and use the cable car to sightsee up high. 

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2
pierref · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 0

Your plan make sense even if requiring a lot of driving if you are targeting May/June (if later, skip Spain and focus on Austria & switzerland)
Drive from Paris to Barcelona through the rhone Valley (lyon, Montpellier are nice cities  to visit). Short break to visit Salvador Dali museum in Figueras. Barcelona is a great city. Best places to climb/visit: Montserrat 50 km west (rock ?) and terradets (limestone) and Urgell area (150 km West). Portugal is nice (porto) but very far does not have top climbing areas. South East Spain (Alicante) is good for climbing but not really for sightseeing and quite hot even in May..
Barcelona to french riviera (Marseille & Nice): lot of limestone climbing in both areas and nice cities and villages.(check if Calanques area is open in June because fire risks)
Nice to Arco: great place and climbing and landscape and wine. Some sightseeing in Dolomiti (major part of climbing is on gear here)
Arco to Austria (Innsbruck (so so) & Salzburg (awesome)), climbing in Wilderkaiser (limestone)
Austria to swizerland (take care, some high elevation pass may be closed even late May) All the lake region is to visit and ticino is perfect for climbing (gneiss), Grimsel pass too (granit) but maybe still snow covered.
Come back to France through Valais Valley (Visit Sion and Martigny museum) and arrive in Chamonix (gneiss and granit). If too snowly in cham, no problem, there is a plenty of limestone craggs nearby. Visiting Annecy on a rest day.

Enjoy your trip

Drew R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 35

Thanks Pierref. We're going in September ... would that change any of your recommendations?

CathyO · · Catalonia · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 0

Spain - even north of Barcelona - will still be very hot in early September. Crags like Rodellar,  Camarassa and Tresponts will work but many areas will still be unclimbable much of the day. 

Phil Lauffen · · Innsbruck, AT · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 2,897

I confirm what Cathy said. Spain will not be worth it, as it will be too hot. Southern France will be tough as well. Calanques will be roasting, and I've not heard many good things about it from people that have been there.

I think Austria and Switzerland have some very good options at that time. There are literally ten thousand routes within 2 hours of Innsbruck. If you tire of limestone, there are dozens of beautiful, high-altitude granite crags. Check out for some good beta in the north tirol. On the way back, swing through Switzerland, and then Chamonix.

ddriver · · SLC · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,283
Drew R wrote: We'd likely only spend 1-2 days at most places and keep moving as we're leasing a car and want to see as much as we can without getting burnt out in 4 weeks. 

IMO this is the classic first-timer mistake.  Don't think I don't understand the impulse, but with this objective you WILL burn out, you'll "see" a lot, and experience a good bit less.  You'll also get tired of be in a car all the time.  Think about trying to break up those driving marathons by spending at least 4 days in one place, and then identify 3 or 4 places where you'd like to do that as anchors for your trip.  As stated above, driving times are often longer than you would expect just by looking at a map, even if you're on the autostrada. 
ddriver · · SLC · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,283
Drew R wrote: Thanks Pierref. We're going in September ... would that change any of your recommendations?

If you're worried about heat but want to go to Spain and France look into Picos de Europa and the Vercor or Briancon.  They will be in fine shape then. Briancon is well worth spending multiple days.

pierref · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 0

In september
- start with Chamonix, Mt blanc side if not too icy 'nead some gear) and aiguille rouge (bolted) on the valley north side (lower elevation and no glacier. (Piola guidebook)
- Switzeland; grimsel, furka, nufenen pass should be perfect (sometime bolted)- there are guidebooks in english
- Insbruck and wilder kaiser soe routes are bolted)
- Arco: (bolted)
- cuneo area (bolted)
- Briançon (Bolted - Guidebook in french only) - perfect in september
- Paris

More climbing than visiting plan but never more than a 1 day driving. For the rope, i think a single (60 m) with a tag line is OK - Only a few climbers use tag line in Europ and i do not understand why ...

For Spain, next time.

Drew R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 35

Thank you all for your responses. So as of now, taking out Spain/Portugal. Tentatively heading from Paris to southeast France, Italy, Tyrol Austria, Switzerland, France. Like the idea of several "anchors" where we'll spend 3-4 days or so. Still sound doable? Any suggestions for how much driving time I should add to Google Maps?

Cameron Kelley · · Vilseck, Germany/Johnstown, CO · Joined Feb 2018 · Points: 0

Driving here can be a little unpredictable honestly. I moved to Germany in December, and ski traffic is bananas a lot of times, so summer time will be simillar for tourist season. Summer is also construction season, so sometimes that'll be a doozy too.

I'd plan to do your traveling at night when its a lot less likely to run into as much traffic. Going down to Tirol area to ski from here is averge 3 hour drive. I made it in just over 2 hours a couple weeks ago, but then the return trip was closer to 4.5. This week, working out of town, a 10am weekday drive is 1 hour and 15 minutes, sunday evening traffic took me closer to 3 this weekend.

Henrik Overballe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2018 · Points: 0

You could consider Arco just north of the Garda Lake. It is one of the most varied sport climbing places in Europe! This is really excellent quality limestone, and there are both single pitch crags like:

Massi Di Prabi:

and very good multi-pitches too, such as:

6a, La Cengia Rossa:
6a, Primi Sogni:
5c, Moonbears:

But there are also loads of hiking trails, mountain biking, canyoning, via feratta, Aperol Spritz and of course the Garda Lake itself!

Highly recommendable

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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