Mt. Teide | Photo by Matlik via Pixabay

Mt. Teide | Photo by Matlik via Pixabay ()

You’ve visited Europe’s most impressive landmarks and conquered several of its stunning capital cities, which is exactly as it should be. Now that you’re familiar with Europe's cultural side, could it be time to explore some of the continent’s natural wonders? Today we hope to spark your travel lust with a look at where and how to visit one of the most amazing forces of nature: volcanoes.

Mt. Vesuvius: Some six miles east of Naples looms Mt. Vesuvius, a 4,203-foot sleeping giant. While the eruption that destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum back in A.D. 79 is something most everyone learns about in history class, perhaps fewer realize Vesuvius still holds deadly potential. Vesuvius has erupted more than 50 times since that famous date, with the last serious eruption dating back to 1944.

The volcano and surrounding area have been a national park since 1995. An observatory keeps a watchful eye on things, and a volcanologist leads visitors to the very edge of the crater on a tour that’s included in the cost of park admission. The 2.5-mile round-trip route passing the rim of the crater is described as fairly easy, even for those without extensive hiking experience. Many choose to combine a visit to the ruins of Pompeii with a trek up the mountain later in the day or vice-versa.

Visitors with cars can drive partway up the mountain and park in a special lot for visitors and from there, take a shuttle to a trailhead on the upper slopes, where the ticket office awaits. It’s also possible to reach this point by means of public transportation, and a direct bus service links the Pompeii Archaeological Park with the Mount Vesuvius National Park. As hikers conquer the trail, they are rewarded with views of the Bay of Naples glistening below and far-off mountain ranges.

Mt. Teide, Canary Islands: On the island of Tenerife, Mt. Teide towers 12,198 feet above sea level, making it not only the highest point in the Canary Islands but also Spain’s highest peak. When measured from the depth at which it rises from the ocean floor, Mt. Teide comes in as the world's third-tallest volcano. The most recent eruption of Mt. Teide occurred back in 1909. From its peak, views of the nearby islands of La Palma and Gran Canaria await – provided the often-cloudy skies part long enough to reveal that heady view.

Travelers can elect to conquer this unique landscape of craters and rivers of petrified lava the easy or hard way. Those not up to the strenuous five-hour hike up to its summit will find a cable car ready to whisk them up to an observation platform close to the top.

For extra-special experiences, a cable car ride in the waning afternoon hours offers spectacular sunset views, and stargazers can opt for the night tour. Mt. Teide’s distance from light-polluted urban areas makes gazing at the night sky here nothing short of phenomenal. There’s also a rustic refuge in which hikers can spend the night.

Mt. Etna, Sicily: The city of Catania on Sicily’s east coast is overlooked by Mt. Etna. With a height of 10,912 feet, Mt. Etna is Italy’s highest peak south of the Alps. Across its lower slopes, vineyards and orchards thrive in the fertile volcanic soil. One of the world's most active volcanoes in the world remains in a nearly constant state of activity. Two were killed by volcanic activity in 1980, and an eruption on March 16, 2017 left 10 injured.

Although numerous tour operators offer all-inclusive packages to visit Mt. Etna, it’s also possible to cobble together a more independent visit. Once in the morning and again in the late afternoon, a public bus runs between Catania and the Rifugio Sapienza. From there, it’s a 15-minute cable car ride to the next stage. From the Torre del Filisofo, 4X4 Jeep tours take visitors on the final stage of the journey. It’s only possible to visit the summit on some form of organized experience, which is wise given just how active the volcano can be.

Other volcanoes in Europe awaiting discovery include Stromboli, an island off the northern coast of Sicily or Timanfaya on Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. The Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, that great disruptor of European flights following an eruption back in 2010, can also be visited up close.

Those on German soil have the chance to visit dormant volcanoes. The Kaiserstuhl range of hills northwest of Freiburg in the Black Forest is volcanic in origin. Lake Laach (Laacher See), some 15 miles northwest of Koblenz, is a volcanic caldera lake. Not only is it a nice place to take a dip on a hot summer’s day; on its eastern shore, small bubbles of carbon dioxide rise up from its depths. The Eifel region, in the north of the Rhineland-Palatinate, is also volcanic in origin. The 170-mile long German Volcanoes Route leads past points of geological interest including a geyser in Andernach and a lava cellar in Mendig. Those wishing to dig deeper might profit from a visit to the Volcano Museum in Daun.

Those climbing any of the aforementioned big three volcanoes would do well to remember it’s apt to be considerably colder on top than it is below, so taking along long pants and a jacket along makes good sense. And don’t forget that sunblock!

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