Top 10 Geological Wonders
Below we list our Top 10 natural wonders, from Asturias to the Azores, and from Tenerife to the Tyrol.
Whether they are huge volcanoes that dominate the skyline, dramatic canyons or mysterious underground caves, these Top Ten Geological Wonders add an awe-inspiring extra dimension to your explorations.
Bletterbach Canyon, südtirol
In the Südtirol’s only canyon, 20-metre-high rock walls frame the river dramatically, revealing the structure and evolution of the Dolomite range. As you walk through it, you are able to distinguish three layers of rock: porphyry (a form of quartzite), followed by a layer of sandstone, which in turn is topped by dolomite rock, a limestone. Of course, the Dolomite peaks which often frame the horizon as you walk in the Südtirol
are a geological wonder in their own right, having been eroded over the millennia into towers and steep cliffs.
norway's fabulous sognefjord
The sheer grandeur of Norway’s western fjords is awe-inspiring – and humbling. They were formed during the last Ice Age, when the weight of the vast ice sheets that covered Scandinavia pushed the existing river valleys further and further down, lower even than the ocean floor, creating vast coastal basins that filled with water as the ice retreated. Perhaps the most majestic of them all is Sognefjord
, in which the water depth is around 1,250 metres, ten times that of the Norwegian Sea.
Faial’s Badlands, the azores
Faial’s badlands are very new, relatively speaking, the stark – and very eerie – landscape of volcanic ash and large rocks having been created by a year-long eruption in 1957. So much volcanic matter spewed from the volcano that Faial increased in size by two kilometres to the west. Almost fifty years on, signs of life are appearing in the form of occasional, very hardy flowers growing amid the expanses of lava, but visitors still have the impression of walking on the moon
Garganta Divina, Asturias, Spain
The correct name is the Cares Gorge, but Garganta Divina – which translates as ‘Divine Ravine’ – better conveys the drama of the landscape. It is hard not to feel a sense of awe as you explore. Almost as astonishing as the gorge itself is the path (and water channel) that has been carved into the side of the gorge, a real feat of engineering that allows you to admire breathtaking views
of the mountains at the heart of the Picos de Europa.
the drama and beauty of southern Iceland
There’s something slightly surreal about Iceland’s scenery
, and at times it doesn’t take that much of a leap to imagine yourself in a scene from Tolkein. The waterfall of Svartifoss, in the Skaftafell National Park, is a good example of how the landscapes are far from ‘ordinary’ – there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the twenty-metre-high waterfall itself, but what sets it apart is the backdrop of very clearly pronounced hexagonal basalt columns similar to those which make up the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim.
Gouffre de Padirac, Dordogne valley
The vast, gaping sinkhole measuring 33 metres in diameter and 75 metres deep was once commonly believed to have been created by Satan. Although the creation of the caves was, of course, much more mundane, they are still just as impressive, and the guided tour is partly on foot, partly by boat so that you can discover the immense caverns
, spectacular stalactites and underground lakes
Aletsch Glacier, Valais, Switzerland
Located in the heart of the most glaciated part of the Alps, in an area that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Aletsch Glacier
is the largest and longest in western Eurasia, making it the subject of many studies into glacial history and climate change. As with so many of the other Top 10 Natural Wonders listed here, its sheer size cannot fail to impress.
the strange Earth Pyramids of Zone
These unusual rock formations, near Italy's Lake Iseo
, are not unlike those of Cappadocia in Turkey, but on a smaller scale. Geologically, they are different too: rather than being formed from volcanic matter, these rock structures originated from moraine deposited by a glacier, which has gradually eroded to create these giant pillars (some of which are 30 metres high) topped by umbrella-like boulders.
El Teide and Las Cañadas, Tenerife
Spain’s highest mountain, El Teide (3,718 metres), is in fact a stratovolcano which is surrounded by a gigantic caldera known as Las Cañadas. Geologists do not know for sure what created the caldera
(in fact two semi-calderas separated by a ridge), but whatever it was – a landslide or a volcanic explosion – created a desert-like landscape of great drama and stark beauty in which tones of yellow, red, brown and ochre dominate. Needless to say, the views from these great heights are astonishing.
strange rock formations, Cappadocia, Turkey
The rock formations of central Turkey – surely some of the strangest you will ever see – have been many millennia in the making. It all started with numerous volcanic eruptions, which covered all previously formed hills and valleys with a layer of soft tufa, forming a high plateau which also contained some rare layers of basalt. Heavy spring rains and sharp temperature changes have gradually eroded the tufa, but less so the basalt, resulting in columns, pyramids and conical formations with dark-coloured basalt caps known as peribacalari – ‘fairy chimneys’.
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