THE ELFSTEDENTOCHT // THE NETHERLANDS
The Elfstedentocht (meaning "11 cities tour" and pronounced however you see fit) ice-skating race covers a stupefying 124 miles over the frozen canals, lakes, and streams of the northern Dutch province of Friesland. Of course, to have a 124-mile race, you need 124 miles of icea winter-weather miracle that has happened only 15 times since 1906 (the last time in 1997). To guarantee your go at the course, forget the ice skates and try in-line instead. The race route is a clockwise loop from Leeuwarden, Friesland's capital, past flower-filled meadows, pristine lakes, and quaint villagesparticularly Hindeloopen, a conglomeration of windmills and clock towers. You'll skate mainly on perfectly paved, wide-berth bike paths, and when you do have to mix with traffic, Dutch drivers will always brake for you. Nonetheless, if your plan is to tick off all 124 miles, sign up with Amsterdam-based Skate-A-Round (011-31-20-4-681-682, www.skate-a-round.com), which offers self-guided tours of four or five days for about $123 and $237 respectively, including hotels and some meals (the five-day tour stops at more-expensive hotels and includes more meals per day). You roll solo but get the convenience of luggage transport, maps, and an information guide on what to see en route.
THE GR 20 // CORSICA
One look at Corsica's coastline, its time-forgotten villages, and its mountainous middle and you just might join the local separatist movement to boot French rule so you can keep the Mediterranean isle for yourself. Yes, politicos do get shot here, but the 26-year-old insurgence involves mainly nuisance attacks: wee-hour, low-power bombings that target government outpostsnever tourism, the island's bread and butter. The best spot for your tour of duty is the GR 20, a 125-mile Grande Randonnée (really big walk) that cuts a diagonal path from Calenzana, in the northwest, to Conca, in the southeast. This is one of the most stunningand challengingmountain hikes in Europe. It's segmented into 15 stages of six to seven hours each, loaded with dense pine forests, moonscape plateaus, glacial lakes, and flowery valleys. The route is meticulously marked and well traveled, especially in July and August, but beware: By trail's end, your total altitude gain will be nearly 35,000 feet, much of it over rocky and exposed terrain. There are bare-bones hostels and campgrounds at the end of each stage, but no provisionsand very little waterin between. For help planning your route, visit the tourism office of the Parc Naturel Régional de Corse (011-33-4-95-51-79-00, ( www. parc-naturel-corse.com) in Ajaccio, the island's capital. French travel agency Nouvelles Frontières ( www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr) offers eight- or 15-day guided trips for $700-$1,250.