Stairways to heaven: Europe’s most adrenaline-pumping via ferrata

Blue skies seem to be reaching far above your head. The rough rock face at your cheek, and the entire world laid out hundreds of meters below you, are via ferrata not for the faint-hearted.

Some people find the images of people climbing up ladders to reach deep ravines and steps embedded in mountain sides enough to make them sweaty palms. Others feel the adrenaline rush.

Via ferrata, which is Italian for “iron path”, has spread around the globe, but the snaking paths of metal steps and wooden gangways as well as cable bridges, ladders, and cables have their roots in the First World War.

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The Alps were a key front in the conflict. To allow the troops of Italy to move through the difficult terrain quickly and safely, a series metal paths were created through the mountains.

Via ferrata is no longer the exclusive domain of thrill-seekers who are able to scale high altitudes. You’ll be attached to a sturdy metal safety cable throughout the entire experience.

They all offer spectacular views, despite their differences in length, design and skill level.

Here are the best places for you to experience via ferrata if you have the nerve.

Italy

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Over 600 “iron paths” can be found in the Dolomites alone, making it the home of original via ferrata. Some routes require only 150m of elevation gain, while others involve climbing 1,200m or more. Trek to traditional “rifugios”, small mountain huts that offer a full experience. Here you can either eat, sleep, or shower, or simply sit and enjoy the breathtaking views.

France

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Like in Italy, France’s Alps are home to the majority of the best via ferrata. Le Rocher du Saint Julien, in the Drome area, is a popular choice for both novices and experts. It’s also considered the most beautiful. It measures 1.6km in length and has a 288-meter vertical drop. This will get your heart racing. With its breathtaking views of the Mont Blanc range, Les Evettes wins the crown.

Switzerland

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Although hanging 1,800m above the Lauterbrunnen valley floor may not be everyone’s idea, the Murren viaferrata offers spectacular views from the steps of the rope bridges and ropes. You will travel 2.2km on metal staples, ladders, tightropes and suspension bridges. There is also a zipwire that crosses a ravine. It is different than most via ferrata. It is more like climbing down than up.

Slovenia

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Slovenia’s stunning mountain landscapes are one of Europe’s most treasured secrets. The Alps of France, Switzerland, and Italy are the most popular destinations for climbing, hiking, and skiing. However, the Julian Alps of Slovenia provide unspoiled beauty and a peaceful environment. The climb to Mount Triglav’s summit, at 2864m above sea level, is one of the most popular via ferratas. However, the views from the summit are worth the effort.

Austria

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The Dolomites are the original birthplace of via-ferrata. Austria, however, can claim the greatest number of trails with more than 900 to choose from for both novices and professionals. Each one is unique due to the abundance of mountains in Austria. For example, the Stuibenfall via ferrata takes you to the thundering Stuibenfall waterfall.

Romania

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Romania is late to the via-ferrata craze, but it has taken to the sport with great enthusiasm. There are many trails in central Europe, such as Rasnoava Gorge or Cheile Rasnoavei and Turda Gorge or Cheile Turzii. You can also try Sugau Gorge, (Cheile Sugaului), where you will find five tower blocks that are as high as ten stories tall.

Spain

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There are 50 via ferrata routes in Spain, most of them in Catalonia’s Pyrenees and Andalucia. Via ferrata is a great way to experience Spain. Nearly all the Spanish trails can be found on top of mountains within easy reach of major cities like Barcelona, Girona, and Malaga. They are often associated with high peaks but there is an incredible via ferrata you can try in the Tajo Gorge beneath Ronda, a famous hilltop town.