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Completing Europe

Covering Europe is key to a high WHS score: the List is definitely eurocentric, and the high density of sites combined with good infrastructure and relatively short distances make for easy pickings. I like to set myself (travel) goals, and was wondering how long it would take me to see all WHS in Europe using only (sometimes longish) weekend breaks. Earlier I have written about how I choose destinations and prepare for my longer trips. Here’s my plan for the shorter ones in Europe. All with one goal in mind: ‘completing’ Europe!

Density of WHS locations in Europe

Narrowing it down

UNESCO has divided the WHS into their own version of ‘continents’, and now has 499 sites in 'Europe and North America'. On this website I have 500 as the total number because of Jerusalem, which is attributed to Jordan on the UNESCO list while I have it linked to Israel. That’s not meant as a political statement, but a mere practicality in the database. It doesn’t matter anyway for this description of achieving my goal, as I have been to the Old City of Jerusalem WHS already. When you leave out the sites in the USA and Canada from the list of 500, there are 461 sites left in Europe.

Of these 461, I have already visited 357. Looking at the general overview, my Europe score is relatively high. It’s also clear that one needs a high score in Europe to be among the top WH visitors. This means there are 104 WHS left ‘to do’ for me. Six of these however lie in “colonies” in geographical different continents. I will deduct those as they logistically need different trips. They are: the Lagoons of New Caledonia, the Pitons of Réunion, Willemstad (Curaçao), Henderson Island, Gough and Inaccessible Islands and St. George. (Bermuda). So I have 98 left!

Hard to access: Wrangel Island (satellite view)

Making a plan

I started working on a plan to cover these final 98 sites. I created yet another spreadsheet, and divided these remaining 98 WHS into 3 categories:

  1. Weekend trips (without taking a day off from work, so Fri evening - Sun evening)
  2. Long weekend trips (3-4 days, Thur – Sun, making good use of public holidays)
  3. Short breaks (up to one week)

The smaller blocks (category 1) are actually preferred because they won’t cost me vacation days. Of course one could lump a number of the weekend destinations together into 1 or 2 week trips, but that’s not what I want (I need those for destinations further away)!

What becomes clear quickly is that the countries on the fringes of Europe (such as Russia, Turkey, Georgia and Israel) warrant full trips on their own. They do not share the same characteristics, are more challenging logistically. Two sites are even impossible to visit within one week: for Wrangel Island cruises take about 14 days for a roundtrip and Putorana Plateau costs at least 10 days if you can arrange it at all. Derbent also seems terrible to get to under your own steam, although more due to safety than remoteness.

Should be an easy one: Visby

How long will it still take me?

It would take me a daunting 65 different trips all together to ‘complete’ Europe:

  • 17 different weekends
  • 30 different long weekends
  • 16 short breaks
  • 2 specials

At my current level of some 7 weekend trips a year, it would cost me at least 10 years (assuming I can find time in my travel schedule to fit in those one week short breaks). Even without any work or money or stamina limitations, it would still take 294 days to string them all together in successive visits. But this whole excercise has made me more aware about the logistic possibilities, and I found out that there are more weekend trips still doable for me than I thought. So watch out for WHS reports of the Parforce Hunting Landscape, Burgundy and the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans in the coming weeks!

Els - 27 January 2017

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Solivagant 29 January 2017

Another aspect of the “unvisited 98” which might be worth having a bit of a discussion about is the number of “mediocre” ones included within – hardly surprising in that the European “stars” are likely to have been already picked up by Els. Unfortunately the “Top 200 List” format on the Web site doesn’t facilitate analysis by Continent - but I wonder how many of the 98 are on it? I suspect the majority are going to be those on the “periphery” of Europe!
Now of course, to a committed “WHS traveller”, the mere fact of being inscribed provides some intrinsic value and that “tick” has its own “value” but how many of them would one really go out of one’s way to see if one didn’t live only a “Short weekend” trip away from them or if one wasn’t passing by as part of a longer visit to the country?
I did a quick “personal” subjective assessment – We have already visited 59 of the 98 and, of these I would only place 14 in my “highest recommendation” category ( Mt Athos (sorry Els - you are only ever going to see it from the boat!), Meteora, Thingvellir, Surtsey, Scelig Michel, Masada, Bib Tells, W Nor Fjords, Kizhi, Baikal, Troy, Catalhoyuk, St Kilda, Orkney). Of the remaining 39 I would only place 8 among my “top unvisited” list (Vezere, Pont d’Arc (but then there is the “replica” issue which somewhat degrades the value), Svaneti, Su Nuraxi, Solovetsky, White Monuments, Kamchatka, Lena Pillars). So, as with Els, Russian WHS remain a significant gap (at least in our perception!) - but we have already visited the country itself at least 6 times across the past 50 years so it would have to be a visit mainly to see these “gaps” with a “take” on contemporary Russia as an additional driver – not a really storng dirver with other sites around the World calloing. Svaneti was “closed” when we visited Georgia - I think we are unlikely to kindle enthusiasm to revisit just for it. Which leaves Su Naraxi – I guess we need to start looking at the Ryanair/Easyjet schedules to do an “Els Weekend” there!!

Els Slots 29 January 2017

@Alexander Barabanov: Indeed Russia is a particular weakness of mine (as well as not having been to Egypt yet after almost 30 years of travelling). The sites surrounding Moscow and Kazan should be relatively easy to cover though. But I'd rather save them for a longer trip, stringing them together with a Transsiberian Railway route to Vladivostok.

@Solivagant: "And across the next 10 years Europe seems likely to add another say 8 pa average (?) = 80"
Oops - I forgot about that. Sigh.

nan 28 January 2017

I would also exclude sites that aren't geographically in Europe. Personally, I rather try to finish a country than a continent ;)

Solivagant 27 January 2017

Even across 10 years there is a fair bit of optimism there! Despite my reputation for travelling fast I am not sure I would want to combine Orkney and St Kilda as a combi in a single week-end, flying into/out of Inverness from NL. And it isn't quite clear whether the "combi" of Surtsey/Thingvellir is a "Short break" or a "Long w/e". As you have commented on posts for similar subjects "WHS" aren't the only reason to visit a country and to go all the way to Iceland and then try to do it in a "short break" (Let alone a "long week-end"!) would be a bit of a waste. The same point applies elsewhere.
And across the next 10 years Europe seems likely to add another say 8 pa average (?) = 80. With previous wide travel and good planning a fair number might be achievable without many more "week ends" but there will always be the odd one tucked away in "European" corner not otherwise being covered - e.g Gran Canary??!
Anyway - plenty to keep you going for a fair number of years to come

Alexander Barabanov 27 January 2017

So much of Russia to be covered!
As I understand, Russia usually issues single visa, which is very expensive, correct? Would be especially difficult to tick off remote Russian sites, which require multiple trips, like Lena Pillars or Sikhote-Alin..
In my management file I separate Europe and Asia and categorize everything to the right from the Ural mountains as Asia (e.g. Putorana; Lena Pillars, Baikal, etc.). That's why I only have 416 European sites..
In fact yes, it could only be faster if you only concentrate on Europe, but it's not realistic, given other interesting destinations...