6 of Europe’s Best Builds

Our favourite man made attractions

We like to spend our time wild camping, climbing mountains, cycling through forests and swimming in pools of natural water so manmade structures aren’t usually where we gravitate to. Sometimes though we come across feats of human engineering that make us say “Wow!” You’ll find a list of our favourite manmade creations, from the past year exploring Europe, below:

The Corinth Canal, southern Greece: The Corinth Canal connects the Gulf of Corinth in the Ionian Sea with the Saronic Gulf in the Agean Sea, separating the Peloponnese from mainland Greece. It is 6.4km (4 miles) long and 21.4km (70 ft) wide at the base, which unfortunately makes it impassable for most modern ships & has meant that it has been underused over the years. It was an ongoing project, initially proposed in classical times and first attempted in the 1st century AD. Construction recommenced in 1881 and finally completed in 1893.

Although it has faced continual troubles from landslides, bankruptcy and other operational difficulties it is an incredible feat of human engineering. Standing on one of the bridges at the top and looking down into the canal as large boats pass underneath you gives you a feeling of just how tiny humans are compared to the natural world. Greece is one of our favourite countries to visit & is especially great for motorhome travels, you can read more about that here. The Peloponese especially is a place we’d recommend anyone to visit. Check out our Corinth Canal video.

Corinth Canal

Trollstigen, Norway: Touted as “the most dangerous road in Norway” & opened in 1936, Trollstigen consists of 11 tight corners of winding mountain roads. During the summer tourist season about 2,500 vehicles pass through each day. It is closed during late autumn and winter due to snow and dangerous weather conditions. A thrilling road to drive with magnificent 360° views and a 320 metre high waterfall.

The view from the top over the valley is a must see. There are viewing balconies overlooking the valley and the roads. The information centre, toilets and a cafe can also be found at the top of the road. On the way back down the mountain, at the other end of the road, you pass through Geiranger and even more winding mountain roads. If you’re in Norway we highly recommend at visit, although it would be MUCH more fun on a motorbike than in our 7.5 metre motorhome! You can see our drive video here.

The view over Trollstigen

The Parthenon & Acropolis, Athens, Greece: Growing up with a love of history and tales of Greek mythology, Athens was on our list of places to see since before we started our travels. The main city of Athens itself was a little disappointing & like most capital cities (dirty, covered in graffiti & packed with people) although we did find some beautiful parks and great areas to explore. The Acropolis refers to the “citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several historic buildings” most notably the Parthenon, Old Temple of Athena and the Theatre of Dionysus.

The site was likely home to a palace in the Bronze Age with further development throughout history which culminated in the beginnings of the temple to Athena between 50-550BC and the Old Temple of Athena around 525BC. The ‘early-Parthenon’ started construction around 500BC but was sacked in 480 BC when the Persians invaded. What we know as the Parthenon now was built during the so-called ‘Golden age of Athens’ from 460-430BC. To see buildings that have had so much historical significance and are still standing are awe-inspiring.

We first reached the entrance to the Acropolis as it was closing and the sun was setting but that did mean that we saw a beautiful sun set over the city. When we returned the next day we climbed the hill to the ruins and were not disappointed. Even though it was December and not in tourist season it was packed so we had to be very patient and take strategically timed photos. The ruins have been under restoration since 1975 but due to financial issues they have basically slowed to a halt. The restorations themselves are impressive with 2,675 tons of architectural members were restored, with 686 stones reassembled from fragments of the originals, 905 patched with new marble and 186 parts made from entirely new marble. I don’t know if we’d go back again, even though we would certainly return to Greece, but it was definitely a once in a lifetime goal achieved for us.

Ta’ Pinu, Gozo, Malta: It’s full title is the ‘Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu’ and can be found on the island of Gozo, about 700 metre from the city of Gharb. It is situated in the open countryside with 360° views of the surrounding landscape. Ta’ Pinu is a Roman Catholic minor basilica. It is 49 metres (161ft) long, 37 metres (121ft) wide and 61 metres (200ft) high. Construction started in 1920 and it was consecrated in 1932.

Although we are not religious people ourselves we respect other people’s holy places and try not to see them as tourist attractions. We hadn’t even heard of Ta’ Pinu before we drove by it whilst exploring Gozo on our hired quad bikes. I can’t explain exactly what it was but the building and surrounding architecture were just mesmerising. The church itself is flanked by mosaic walls of artwork and 14 statues representing the ‘Via Crucis’ (way of the cross). It is an architectural masterpiece made from Maltese stone. Visually it is just stunning but it was also emotional for me, for some reason that I can’t explain & I was nearly brought to tears by its beauty.

I don’t want to recommend Ta’ Pinu to visit as a tourist attraction, because I feel like that’s disrespectful, but if you are ever in Gozo I highly recommend that you take the time to experience it.

Ta’ Pinu

Lærdal Tunnel, Norway: At 24.5 kilometres, the Lærdal tunnel is the world’s longest road tunnel connecting Oslo and Bergen. It just happens to exit right next to Viking Valley on the southern end, which we also recommend visiting. It was built between 1995-2000 and opened in November 2000 costing a whopping 930 million NOK (about €87.6 million), €3,500 per metre!! About 2,050 vehicles pass through it each day at approximately 80km/hr. A total of 2,500,000 cubic metres of rock was removed from the tunnel during it’s construction. The design takes into consideration the mental strain on drivers so is divided into 4 sections, separated by 3 mountain caves which are illuminated by different coloured lights to give an impression of sunrise. The caves are arranged to break the driving routine, providing a refreshing view and allowing drivers to take a short rest at the pull in areas (or, if you’re us, some awesome photos!) It takes about 20 minutes to drive from one end of the tunnel to the other & can feel quite claustrophobic at times. We drove through a lot of tunnels whilst in Norway, although I preferred the mountain roads. This was the longest & the best and deserves a mention for the sheer amount of money and work that went into constructing it.

Inside Lærdal tunnel

City of Arts & Science, Valencia, Spain: At the top of our list of impressive manmade places to visit is the City of Arts & Science in Valencia. We were so impressed with Valencia altogether but the City of Arts & Science and the park in which it sits, is one of the highlights of our whole year. It is a cultural and architectural complex in Valencia and considered to be on of the ’12 treasures of Spain’. It is situated at the southeast end of the former riverbed of the river Turia which is now a sunken park called Jardínes del turia.

It was built between 1996 & 2009 and cost €1,200 million to build, three times the original estimated €300 million budget . The project was imagined by architects Santiago Calatrava & Félix Candela. The complex includes: the L’Hemisfèric, an Imax cinema, planetarium & laserium. The Museu de les Ciències Principe Felipe, an interactive museum of science that resembles the skeleton of a whale. The L’Umbracle, an open structure enveloping an landscaped walkway with indigenous Valencian plant species. The L’Oceanogràfic, an open-air oceanographic park. The Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, an opera house and performing arts centre. The L’Àgora, a covered plaza in which concerts ans sporting events are held and 2 bridges (Assut de l’Or bridge & Montolivet Bridge).

We LOVE Valencia

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the park on our bicycles, Valencia is a very bike friendly city with cycle tracks throughout (the park makes our list of top free places to visit itself) the City of Arts & Science was the cherry on the top! It was the last part of the park that we found and just emphasised how incredible the whole area is. Built in a futuristic style of white curved buildings, natural shapes and endless ponds of crystal clear water it was like walking into a movie set. We felt like we’d been taken on a time machine to another world. Everything was so clean and bright. It was busy but everyone just seemed in awe of their surroundings.

We usually prefer natural places over cities but we have to make an exception for Valencia. Unfortunately, we only gave ourselves one day to explore Valencia, which we regret. We’ll definitely return in the not too distant future & we recommend that you visit one day too!

Is there anything we’ve missed? Where would you recommend we visit during the next few months of our travel adventures?

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