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Five adventures in the heart of Europe for less than $2,000

I used to think that a trip to Europe was an urban vacation. Nose pressed into a guidebook, I rushed from major monuments to world-class museums, checking off the famous sights as I went. Then I spent a week hiking Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry without ever setting foot in Dublin. I found that you can discover Europe in a whole new way when you’re out in the country working up a sweat.

You could write an encyclopedia about all the adventure tours available throughout the European continent today. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on five trips that offer unique experiences in a variety of destinations. From Sweden’s Arctic north and Croatia’s southern waters to Switzerland’s mountains, France’s countryside, and Ireland’s coast, you can get your adrenaline pumping while taking in beautiful scenery and tasting a little local culture.

Horseback riding along Ireland’s West Coast

Armchair travelers may speak of the beauty of Ireland’s West Coast, but adventure enthusiasts wax poetic about Ireland’s horses. The island’s equine population is known for its perfect “Irish temperament”—calm, handy, and able to adjust to a variety of weights and riding abilities. Put the two together, and an equestrian tour through the Irish countryside may be the ideal vacation on horseback.

“To participate in a trail ride, you’ll need to be able to walk, trot, and canter outside an arena with confidence,” says Karen Lancaster, president of Cross Country International, a tour company that runs equestrian vacations in Ireland and around the world. She says her two most popular tours are the Galway and Clare Inn-to-Inn Trail and the Connemara Oceanside Trail, both on Ireland’s West Coast. The weeklong tours include four to five hours of riding each day with time to explore the towns in the afternoon and evening.

Guests on the Galway tour will ride up and over the Slieve Aughty Mountains, across the sandy shores of Lough Graney, and through the Burren to views of the Atlantic Ocean and Aran Islands. The Connemara tour hugs the coast, letting riders gallop across beaches, cross moor lands and bogs, and even walk out to the island of Omey at low tide. Both tours combine a variety of riding terrain with breathtaking views of Ireland’s coastal scenery.

The best time for an equestrian tour in Ireland is May through October. Seven-night tours with Cross Country International start at $1,795 per person, and include seven nights’ B&B accommodations, six days of guided trail rides, all meals, horse, tack, guide, luggage transfers, and tax.

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