Beyond the museums and the Brie, Europe is a wild continent packed with adventure hot spots. From Chamonix, France's alpine-sports hub, to Girona, Spain's cycling-mad town, Outside uncovers five hamlets with unstoppable spirit and Old Wold Class. PLUS: European Festivals.
"I am a philosopher," says George Stavroulakis, a 64-year-old retired Greek sea captain. We are sitting over a plate of souvlaki and watching the sun set from a seaside restaurant in Hora Sfakion, Crete. "I like telling the young people what I know. You are a nice girl. Why don't you marry a Greek man, have a family, and stay here?" After traveling the southern coast of Crete by kayak for the previous seven days, I am just about ready to drop everything and follow his advice. I haven't found a man, but I've fallen in love with Crete's dramatic coastline, delicious fresh food, hospitable people, and rich historical past.
When the American outfitter The Northwest Passage invited me on their eight-day sea-kayaking trip, I had two reservations. I had kayaked only once before, and I hadn't been on an organized trip since I was a thirteen-year-old summer camper. I imagined myself either fighting waves as I capsized a barely seaworthy vessel miles from shore or donning a yellow hat to follow a guide with a raised umbrella around a tourist-crammed site. The trip materialized, however, as the ultimate in what I never knew existed: posh adventure travel. I spent the days exhausting myself by cruising calm, turquoise-blue seas in a small red kayak, hiking rugged coastal mountains, and exploring sea caves, white sand beaches and Crete's globally unrivalled bounty of hidden ruinsRoman, Minoan, Venetian, and Turkish. I spent the nights in tiny Mediterranean villages, eating savory moussaka, souvlaki and fresh feta cheese, being treated to nightly massages, and meeting the most hospitable people I could have imagined. Why go to Crete? With its calm, clear weather, drastically beautiful landscape, and dense history, a more apt question might be: Why go anywhere else?