For some it is a welcome opportunity to escape the madding crowd and enjoy a few tranquil hours in the midst of nature. For others, a pleasantly invigorating option for staying fit and/or losing weight – without having to take out a gym membership. For the truly hardcore, it is a way of life, as important as having breakfast in the morning, picking up the kids from school and washing the car on the weekend.
Whatever your situation or preference, cross-country trekking, mountain hiking, organised rambling or simply having a gentle walk in the countryside is one of life’s great pleasures, and an excellent holiday option for those seeking a break away from the beach or golf course.
In Europe we are blessed with a wonderfully diverse array of options for walking holidays. Here we head out to five destinations that are sure to provide cherished memories, wonderful Instagram moments… and plenty of fresh air.
South Downs (England)
We start in England, where walking has been a popular national pastime since the 18th century and its gradual evolution from a mostly stigmatised activity (at the time) for vagrants and the poor.
The UK’s oldest national trail is the South Downs Way, which is also the only one to be located completely within the boundaries of a national park. Just an hour from London, the route extends through southern England for 100 miles (160 kilometres) from Winchester (Hampshire) to Eastbourne (on the coast in East Sussex).
Leading the way as walking holiday specialists in the area are the team from South Downs Discovery, always keen to share their passion for the South Downs Way and provide in-depth knowledge “to help you get the most out of your visit”.
They offer a variety of walking holidays, lasting from six to 10 days, as well as shorter walks of two to five days. “We’ll plan your trip down to the last detail so all you’ll need to do is lace up your best hiking boots and enjoy your holiday.”
For those only wanting to complete one-half of the South Downs Walk, they recommend the relaxed pace of a five-day itinerary from Amberley to Eastbourne. “The scenery gets more and more spectacular as you go on, culminating in the climax of the spectacular Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.”
Unless you want to catch the Northern Lights or trek through a glacier, probably best to avoid Iceland during the winter months and opt for a less thrill-seeking walk in the Icelandic wilderness in summer. The midnight sun will provide many extra hours to admire the spectacular scenery of volcano backdrops, moss-clad lava fields, plunging waterfalls and picturesque fjords.
Describing themselves as “the world’s leading operator to the Land of Fire and Ice” Discover the World offer walkers the option of exploring independently or in a small escorted group.
“Iceland is a breathtaking destination for both serious hikers and casual walkers. Our collection of walking and hiking itineraries is suited to all abilities and ranges from multi-day guided treks staying under canvas to self-drive tours linking scenic walking trails throughout the country. You can choose to have hiking as the focus of your holiday or opt for an itinerary that features an occasional day out on the trails.”
This major tourist region along Portugal’s southern coastline offers more than 30 trails recommended by Visit Algarve. The official tourist authority’s guide includes several suggested routes, divided into five areas (Vicente Coast, South Coast, Barrocal, Serra and Guadiana) and based on such aspects as their proximity to important watercourses and the presence of significant natural, scenic and cultural sites.
The landscapes range from Mediterranean scrub forest, oak woods and riverine woodlands in upland areas to karst landscapes and rainfed orchards – and cliffs, dune systems and lagoons along the coast. The region is also a richly abundant home for fauna, including the Iberian minnow, Arade chub, Schreiber’s green lizard, Spanish terrapin, Cabrera vole and Bonelli’s eagle.
The trails are based on distinctive themes, including the Trail of Aromas on the Vicentine coast (highlighted, as its name suggests, by a variety of aromatic plants) and the Trail of Chameleons at the eastern end of the Algarve (home to a species whose range is limited to the Algarve coast).
West Cork (Ireland)
The breathtaking Irish coastline is a paradise for walkers, and one of the most scenic routes is Sheep’s Head Way. Macs Adventure offer the opportunity of discovering the West Cork area’s venerable history, following trails past old burial grounds and standing stones.
“Relax as you breathe in the fresh salty air on one of your daily walks and… relish the fantastic flavours of the Sheep’s Head Way as you travel through these stunning landscapes that inspire the artisans who produce Durrus cheese, fresh wild-caught smoked fish, Clonakilty Chocolate and locally-brewed beers.”
Camino de Santiago (Spain)
Finally… one of the most famous “walks” in the world, more a spiritual pilgrimage than a holiday… an opportunity to massage the soul as well as the body.
Of course, not everyone has the time or inclination to do the whole Camino de Santiago network – that is, from their home or another starting in Europe (at the French border in the Pyrenees, for example) – to the shrine of St. James the Great in the Santiago de Compostela cathedral, but the final stage is imperative.
The Natural Adventure Company offer a seven-day itinerary including transfers, accommodation and provisions. “Walk the last 100 kilometres of the classic French Way (Camino Francés)… from Saria to Santiago de Compostela (the minimum required to earn your ‘Compostela’). This final section of the walk takes you through the region of Galicia in northern Spain to Santiago for a unique experience you’ll treasure forever.”
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