Thought sport climbing was all about tiny holds on short routes? Think again. Here we've got five top European venues that are all about covering huge distances with minimal fuss, cherry-picked by locals, mountain guide regulars, and BMC ambassador Steve McClure.
FRANCE: Verdon Gorge, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
Has to top this list. Just go.
One of the world’s limestone meccas with over 1000 routes from 4 to 8b. The gorge plunges 500m down to the River Verdon: gaze down on bug-like rafts running rapids and vultures flying wingtip to wingtip. Abseiling down the cliffs and pulling the ropes is total commitment. The only way out is to climb back up!
The climbing is technical and the older classics can be run-out or add-a-grade polished. Make a conservative start to get a feel for the rock and the magnificent style of climbing, and take a mini-rack of cams and nuts to supplement protection if needed. In recent years locals have opened new routes and re-equipped some older ones with more user-friendly bolting.
Guidebook: It can be hard to locate the top of certain routes so get a good guidebook, like 50 Years and 500 Voies D'escalade au Verdon (in French). Climbing shop Le Perroquet Vert also has others.
Stay there: The village of La Palud is like stepping back in time. It’s geared around climbing and the locals are relaxed and friendly. All kinds of accommodation can easily be found online. I stay at Le Camping du Bio Sur Verdon, where Jean Marc Roman can also advise on suitable routes for your level.
Getting there on public transport: Nice and Marseilles are the two closest major stations, each a couple of hours distant. There is a bus service (research online) but it’s best to drive as the climbs are some kilometres from the village. Clear instructions how to book the trains can be found on Seat61.
John Falkiner is a mountain guide based in Switzerland: www.johnfalkiner.com
Steve McClure’s pick.
Verdon Gorge is my favourite place in the world, but Sardinia is my next choice for adventurous sport routes. The Med’s second-largest island is best-known for high quality single-pitch sport routes in a beautiful setting, but for those seeking something a little more adventurous there is plenty on offer too.
Personal favourites would be the world famous Hotel Supramonte in the massive Goroppu Gorge found inland in the mountains, and the incredible Wolfgang Gullich on the coastal cliffs. These adventures are 10+ pitches with long walk-ins, complex descents and weather to consider. The rewards are fantastic with perfect rock in incredible places, and this combined with the laidback beach lifestyle makes Sardinia a pretty unique destination.
Stay there: Cala Gonone is best place to stay. Right by the beach: great base.
Best guidebook: Arrampicare a Cala Gonone or the 4th edition of Pietra di Luna. Note: 5th edition contains only single-pitch routes.
Get there: Getting to Sardinia from the UK via train and ferry is possible. Alternatively Ryanair and Easyjet fly to Alghero and Cagliari. Hire a car.
WATCH: Steve McClure and Neil Mawson climbing at Verdon Gorge on BMC TV
FRANCE: Sinsat, Ariège
Locals pick their top Pyrenean adventure.
Sinsat is a real jewel in the crown of Ariège climbing. Its steep, majestic orange and grey walls have long been aspired to by aid and free climbers alike. The Quié de Sinsat is a mountain with a real big match feel on the longer routes. La Falaise de Sinsat hosts 117 single-pitch climbs at its base with secteur le Pubis offering pleasant pocketed climbs on grey rock up to five pitches long.
Bigger routes that are easily doable in a day can be found in Peppermint sector with lines of around 280m. Stepping up a notch again, the most impressive and longest routes are found on sectors La Poire and Mirouge, home to more serious propositions such as Desiree ED/7b+/A0 400m. Some cliffs have nesting restrictions at different times of the year and these are publicised at the main crag parking at its base.
John and Anne Arran run Chez Arran.
SPAIN: Peñón de Ifach, Costa Blanca
Few sport routes anywhere compare to this.
This 332m orange tower rising out of the sea is the most eye-catching landmark on the Costa Blanca and graces many of the region's postcards. A 20-minute walk-in reaches magnificent, atmospheric climbing. Don't underestimate these routes: they are long and can be strenuous.
The Peñón's South Face is the biggest of the two main climbing areas, with routes winding up through interesting caves, overhangs and grooves. Get up early to take on one of the popular lower-grade classics, like Valencianos and Vía UBSA, while more challenging classics include Costa Blanca, El Navegante and Nueva Dimensión.
Staying there: Sam and Rich Mayfield will give you a warm welcome at The Orange House climber's accommodation.
Best guidebook: Rockfax Costa Blanca.
Getting there: Just three changes on the train from London get you to Alicante where you can hire a car from the airport for cheap (thanks to Benidorm being nearby). Alicante is a 35-minute drive from the Orange House. The Peñón is a further 35-minute drive up the coast.
ITALY: Tognazza, the Dolomites
And now for something more esoteric.
If you're looking for a quiet spot with stunning views to get away from the hordes, and one which provides something truly different from your normal Dolomites crag, then look no further than Tognazza. On the edge of the beautiful and unknown Lagorai, it's a great venue: although there are only six sport routes, it offers something for everyone with routes between 6b and 8a+, 250m in length on superb quality igneous porphry rock.
The bolting is excellent and with a shortish, 20-minute approach it's a wonder that this crag isn't overrun. The breathtaking vista over the Pale di San Martino just adds to the character and provides an awe-inspiring backdrop.
Getting there on public transport: Just three changes on the train from London get you to the closest big cities: Venice, Treviso and Verona. From there renting a car is the easiest option to get around the mountains
Staying there: Casa Alfredino is an ideal location for climbers offering easy access to the best the Dolomites has to offer. Not just Tognazza: sport crags like Laste, Andraz, Val di Gares and Civazes are close by.
Best guidebook: There are two guidebooks for the Lagorai. The most easily available is Lagorai, Cima d'Asta by Versante Sud. The Rockfax Dolomites guide is great as an overview for other areas.
Mike Kann runs Casa Alfredino.
Getting There By Train
Seat61 has a plethora of information, ready-planned for you to make your train journeys to Europe plain sailing. We fully recommend checking out the routes available and booking in advance to get the best deals on cheaper tickets:
PLAN YOUR TRAVEL: Seat61 has great visuals of public transport routes to help you plan your low-impact travels
BMC Travel Insurance has got you covered for Covid-19
Wherever the hot rock calls, make sure that you go prepared with travel insurance cover before you head off.
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