Gold panning is typically associated with the bygone age of the miner 49'er, and the famous gold rushes of the 19th century in California, Canada, and Australia. Spawning images of cranky, callous fortune-seekers in denim patchwork overalls who, inspired by even the most absurd rumors, traveled from across the globe to meander for gold at the location of the latest rush. It's an activity that has survived and evolved into bizarrely enough, a sporting contest that attracts amateur and professional miners alike to toil in some of the most remote locations of Europe to labor for gold.
In 1977, the first World Gold Panning Championship was held in Finland, and the World Gold Panning Association (WGA) was founded. We assume that most of our clients aren't traveling to Europe hoping to strike it rich with a big gold discovery (Auto Europe sadly doesn't accept gold as a form of payment), but taking a brief stop in a gold panning region on your European road trip is a great way to relax by the clear mountain streams and maybe, just maybe, strike it rich.
In 2013, the 38th World Gold Panning Championship was held over the course of eight days just outside the city of Biella, located in the Italian region of Piedmont. With various events including tours of ancient Roman mines, mining-methodology seminars, and amateur night panning competitions for couples, the event attracted many experts and mining enthusiasts, but also tourists and lay-miners who were shocked to find that gold can still be extracted from placer deposits found throughout the Alps.
Succumbing to gold fever, the 2014 championships, having just concluded on August 18th in Kopparberg, Sweden, attracted nearly twice as many people as the 2013 championships and notably, a much higher percentage of amateurs who displayed interest in entering the gold game.
In contrast with the misleading title of this article, readers may be disappointed to learn that anything more than a small-fortune has yet to be discovered by amateur gold-panners in Europe for the last several decades, never mind during a sponsored competition hosted by the WGA. But there is so much more to the Gold Panning Championship and the contemporary gold panning lifestyle than just looking for gold. The comradery and diversity of the contestants/miners, the science-fairesque setup where professional miners show off their latest toys, including metal detectors, humongous magnets, specialized drills and tractors, and in this writer's opinion, the stories and experiences of professional miners and treasure seekers who are more than willing to share their expertise and tricks of the trade make any time invested in mining worthwhile.
As you head off to explore the picturesque scenery of the Italian Alps in your Italian car rental for your next vacation, make it a point to pull off at a babbling mountain brook and bust out your gold pan, even for just a moment or two, and relive the physical pains, excitement, and uncertainty of the gold fever lifestyle that has captured so many people since the genesis of competitive gold panning.