A journey of a thousand miles may begin, as the Taoist proverb goes, with a single step. But when it comes to walking holidays in Europe, that first step comes well before you set foot on a trail. Planning – deciding your destination and route, scheduling your departure, choosing your preferred kind of accommodation and level of support, packing the right kit, and many more factors besides – is key to ensuring that your hiking trip is safe, successful and enjoyable.

Though infrastructure may generally be more developed and options more varied in Europe than in the world’s wilder corners, that point remains true here: a little advance thinking will yield a richer, more rewarding walking experience.

Douro Valley Portugal

Portugal’s Douro Valley offers fine hiking during Autumn

Best times to go walking in Europe

Hikes for every season

In general, the climate in any given destination determines the optimal time to hike although the warmest, driest weather typically also coincides with peak season, so it can pay to choose dates either side of the ‘best’ time. And though the seasons are fairly consistent across the continent, at any time of year you’ll find somewhere that offers great hiking.

Snow covers most mountain trails over about 1500–2000m between late September and early to mid-June, depending on location; mountain huts/refuges tend to open only during that period, effectively defining the trekking season.

European walks in June, July & August

August is usually the busiest month, so availability of accommodation is often better and paths more peaceful in late June/early July or September. For summer, consider the Alps, the French Pyrenees, Scandinavia, the Carpathians or the mountains of the Balkans, as well as river routes such as the Moselsteig and Danausteig (Danube Trail) in Germany and Austria.

At lower levels in Mediterranean regions – much of Greece, Provence, Italy, southern Spain and Portugal, coastal Croatia and Albania – high summer is too hot for hiking. Here, spring rewards walkers with cooler conditions and wildflowers spangling meadows and trails; Spain’s Alpujarras and Mallorca are strewn with almond and orange blossom, and Catalonia is warmly enticing. Keep in mind that northern Portugal and Spain receive a lot of rain in spring and autumn; not for nothing is Galicia, through which the latter stages of the Camino de Santiago run, known as the heart of España Verde – ‘Green Spain’.

European walks in September & October

Autumn brings blazing fall foliage and, in wine-producing regions, grape-harvest festivals. The Czech Republic and Slovenia are great for hiking in September and October, while Portugal’s Douro Valley and the hills of Tuscany, both striped with vines, are treats for trekkers in autumn.

European walks in winter

For winter walking in warm sunshine, head to Madeira or the Canary Islands – the dramatic volcanic landscapes of La Gomera, La Palma and Tenerife are laced with footpaths. Alternatively, crunch through crisp snow on dedicated winter trails in Bavaria or Austria; many Alpine regions are well set-up for cold-season hiking.

Types of Europe walking holidays

Independent, guided or self-guided hikes

Broadly speaking, multi-day hikes fall into three categories: fully independent, self-guided and guided. The first is self-explanatory: you do all planning, booking and navigating yourself, carrying your luggage along the trail. Clearly, this reduces costs and can be enormously satisfying for the hardier hiker. For most European hiking destinations you’ll find an abundance of information to help both pre-trip organisation and on-the-ground efforts. However, it involves forward planning and some mastery of navigation – you’ll need to be self-reliant en route.

Guided walking holidays

A guided trip, whether joining a group of like-minded strangers or booking a package for yourself or your family, is ideal for first-time trekkers, solo travellers and those venturing to more remote or challenging destinations. Accompanied by an experienced guide, with all accommodation and transport pre-booked and, usually, luggage transferred between stops, you need worry about nothing but enjoying the walk; it’s also a great way to meet new friends. Naturally, it’s significantly more expensive.

Self-guided walking holidays

An excellent in-between option is a self-guided hike. Typically, all accommodation is pre-booked, usually including breakfasts and, sometimes, dinners (less commonly lunches); luggage is transferred between overnight stops; you’ll receive maps and detailed route notes; local telephone support may be available; and transfers from/to airports or other transport hubs may also be included.

Because there’s no guide involved, costs are much lower than for guided tours, and there’s a greater degree of flexibility in terms of pace, duration and daily distances. Self-guided trips are available for many well-known long-distance trails across Europe, or shorter sections of them, most commonly less-challenging routes. For reasons of cost, safety and enjoyment, self-guided trips are best suited to couples or small groups of friends, though solo hikers also benefit.

Hotel-to-hotel vs centre-based walking

Finally, a decision for self-guided walking holidays is your preferred format, either inn-to-inn or centre-based.

Long-distance hikes usually move from one place to another each day, staying in hotels or inns, hostels or mountain huts, or even camping. Alternatively, you may choose to base yourself in one place, taking transfers to trailheads each morning then returning to the same accommodation each night, thereby avoiding the need to repack your luggage each morning.

Some tour operators offer the option to mix these approaches, staying in each base for several nights but moving between accommodation as you progress along a trail.

Spain Camino Santiago waymarker

Camino de Santiago's instantly-recognisable waymarker

Walking holiday accommodation

From huts to luxury hotels

Camping is possible on most routes but usually unnecessary, except in particularly remote stretches of, for example, the Romanian Carpathians. Most European countries with good mountain trails have a well-developed network of simple, comfortable and cheap accommodation in dormitories with either individual beds, bunks or, in matratzenlager/dortoirs, oversized mattresses big enough to sleep several people; you’ll usually need to bring your own sleeping bag or sheet sleeper (where blankets are provided). Some offer showers and good food; others, in spots such as Bulgaria, may have no hot water and only basic squat toilets – but are usually in spectacular locations.

Private rooms may be available in such huts, particularly in France, Italy and Switzerland.

On pilgrimage trails, notably the Camino de Santiago in Spain and Portugal, basic albergues (hostels) cater exclusively to pilgrims who carry a credencial (pilgrim passport). Wherever you trek, apart from on high mountain trails (and sometimes even there), you’ll find comfortable gîtes d’étapes (walkers’ guesthouses, often in a town or village), guesthouses, B&Bs and hotels.

Prices vary enormously: a dorm bed in a refuge in Bulgaria or an albergue in Spain might cost as little as €7 or €8, though you’ll pay two or three times that much in equivalent refuges in France or mountain huts in Austria, still more in Norway and Switzerland. Half-board options are generally good value, and sometimes mandatory, in such places. B&Bs and hotels start from about three times those prices – say, £25 per double room at the cheaper end, three or four times as much in pricier destinations.

If you opt for an organised trip with a Europe walking holiday specialist, many of these details will be taken care of on your behalf. Depending on the operator and location you may have options to tailor your accommodation standard (and budget), and things like meals and baggage transfer will be arranged for you.

How much does a Europe walking holiday cost?

How to budget your trip

Prices for self-guided trips are surprisingly uniform at around £100/€110 per day – a little less for cheaper destinations such as Albania, Poland, Portugal and Spain, a little more for Switzerland, Iceland and Italy. Differences are greater between tour operators, and to an extent depend on the level of accommodation offered – obviously, dorms in mountain huts cost less, comfortable hotels more – but not as much as you might expect.

Guided tours vary more widely, because staff costs are much higher in countries such as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, and lower in Slovakia and Bulgaria, where prices for guided trips can be under £100/€110 per day.

You’ll also typically need to factor in the cost of transport to the start of the walk, local transfers, tips, insurance (covering treks to the maximum altitude on your route) and any additional food and drinks – a cold beer, glass of wine, ouzo or raki is a wonderful way to round off a day’s hiking.

How to choose a Europe walking holiday

Key questions to consider

Deciding which walking destination and route is right for you comes down to several factors. Perhaps the most important aspects to consider – though oddly ignored by many people – are your interests and preferences: do you like history, food, architecture, culture, wildlife, wine? Do you enjoy walking alongside the sea or prefer trekking high above the treeline? Would you like to sleep in a remote mountain hut amid the peaks, or bed down in a characterful inn each night? Think about these, rather than the fame of a particular route, and you’ll ensure a memorable walk.

Be honest with yourself about your level of fitness and experience. Organised trips are graded by activity level, indicating the terrain, tallies of ascent/descent and distance/hours walked each day, to help you gauge whether you’ll be comfortable tackling a particular trek. Bear in mind that though you could cover three miles/5km an hour on a good path on flat terrain at low altitude, you might manage only half that pace on rocky trails in the mountains, even less if you’re carrying a heavy pack or at high altitude.

Walking holiday packing list

Essential items for your hike

Footwear is the most important piece of gear on any walk, but doubly so if you’re planning a multi-day hike – it’s vital to don the right pair of boots or shoes, and wear them in well before setting out: a blister or bruise sustained on day one can ruin the whole trip. Mountain treks generally call for boots with ankle support and rugged soles (typically Vibram); leather, which needs more wearing in, is preferably to fabric in these conditions, though the latter is fine for lower-level or warm-weather walks, preferably with a Gore-Tex or similar breathable waterproof lining. Good socks are also essential: merino wool is best, for socks as well as T-shirt base layers, reducing odour and remaining comfortable and warm when wet.

If you’re carrying your own luggage between overnight stops, choose a hiking-specific rucksack with good hip and shoulder support; Osprey (ospreyeurope.com) is a recommended brand. If you’re on a supported trek that includes luggage transfers, take a soft-sided duffle bag and a 30–35L daypack. Whichever backpack you choose, ensure it takes a hydration bladder – on most trails you’ll drink at least 2L of water each day. A water filter or purification tablets is useful for filling bottles from mountain streams.

Lightweight, adjustable, packable walking poles are handy, particularly if you’re carrying a large pack or undertaking steep or extended descents; flick-lock extension systems tend to be more robust than twist-lock. Black Diamond and Leki are respected brands. A breathable waterproof jacket is essential in most destinations, particularly in mountain regions where weather can change rapidly, along with a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and a basic first-aid kit for treating blisters, cuts, sprains and stings.

Europe hiking safety tips

Staying safe and well on the trail

Aside from fitness, a key issue for self-guided trekkers is navigation. Waymarking, mapping and transport in destinations such as Switzerland are exceptional – you’d be hard pushed to get lost here – and on the really popular trails such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, you’ll set out each day alongside a legion of other hikers. That’s not the case in many other places, particularly the Balkans and Turkey, where accurate maps and signposts are thin on the ground. These regions are best tackled with a guide, or at least with detailed route notes; you may also need to allow more time to find your way.

Most health and safety risks you might encounter in Europe can largely be mitigated with a few simple precautions. Unlike in Africa or North America, you’d be fortunate rather than imperilled to encounter large predators – bears or wolves will almost certainly flee before you spot them. But watch for venomous snakes basking on trails; most won’t strike unless provoked or startled, but wearing gaiters or long trousers provides some protection in the extremely unlikely event of a bite. In some remote mountain regions such as North Macedonia and Albania, shepherds’ dogs can be aggressive and persistent – be aware of the location of dogs and their masters who can call them off.

Ticks, which thrive in many areas where sheep, cattle and deer graze, can transmit serious illnesses such as lyme disease. Check your body carefully at least once at the end of each day and remove any parasites with a dedicated tick-removal tool. Weather can change quickly in the mountains, with storms building on many summer afternoons, so check forecasts and be prepared to descend quickly if necessary; you don’t want to get caught on an exposed trail or via ferrata (climbing route) during a thunderstorm.

Read more

Several publishers produce excellent, detailed guidebooks for specific treks or regions, including maps and route notes:

Cicerone (cicerone.co.uk) produces the most comprehensive list of trekking and walking guides, covering many long-distance trails worldwide including most of the main European routes.

Trailblazer (trailblazer-guides.com) guides are expertly researched, with helpful hand-drawn maps, reducing confusion where waymarks are ambiguous. The list is particularly strong on British trails, but also features some international treks.

Sunflower (sunflowerbooks.co.uk) publishes collections of day-walks for a host of destinations, including much of Europe.

Numerous local and regional organisations provide advice and practical resources

The Austrian Alpine Club manages hundreds of mountain huts in Austria and has reciprocal arrangements with similar organisations in other European countries. The website of the UK branch (aacuk.org.uk) has plenty of information for hikers and mountaineers.

The European Ramblers Association (www.era-ewv-ferp.com) has details of the 12 ultra-long-distance E-Paths as well as routes classified as Leading Quality Trails, and describes the four dominant systems of waymarking across the continent.

The Confraternity of St James (www.csj.org.uk) provides information on the various caminos to Santiago plus other European pilgrimage trails.

Best places to hike in Europe

Top-rated European walking destinations

Best places to hike in Europe
By Paul Bloomfield

Europe serves up a feast for hikers – and the menu is dizzyingly extensive and varied.

Sure, there are loftier mountains, deeper canyons, more remote wildernesses to be found elsewhere. But there’s surely no other region that packs this much diversity in such a small area, and with such well-developed infrastructure. Here you can trek around 4,800m-plus peaks or amble for hundreds of kilometres alongside meandering rivers. You can explore highlands snuffled by bears, wolf-prowled woodland, and coasts past which dolphins porpoise. En route you can visit archaeological sites dating back five millennia and more, roam Roman remains, circuit medieval castle walls or trace the remnants of the Iron Curtain. And all set in landscapes ranging from volcanic craters to ancient forests, vine-striped hills to soft-sand shores lapped by the turquoise Mediterranean.

Life’s made easier for hikers here, too, thanks to long-established traditions of walking – or, to put it in local terms, of wandern, randonée, caminando, fotturer and pohodništvo. Europe is criss-crossed by an unrivalled network of trails, many of them well waymarked, and including 12 official E-paths (see below). Excellent maps are available for many countries, along with guidebooks and websites to help you plan and navigate. And in some places, including Norway, Finland, Scotland and Estonia, a longstanding ‘freedom to roam’ principle means that most uncultivated areas are fair game for walkers – you can explore at will, while respecting the land and its owners, of course.

Even in seemingly remote spots you’ll often find a tavern or café where you can refuel on an alphabet of local specialities, from ale to brie to sea bass and more. And at the end of each memorable day, you might bed down in a cheerful mountain refuge, a historic inn, a well-equipped campsite – or, in some areas, pitching your tent wild on a remote hillside, alone but for marmots and memories.

Each country, region, mountain range and season offers a different experience and challenge. Though summer (late June to September) is best for higher mountains, where snow can lie thick on passes for nine months of the year, with a little planning you’ll find somewhere to hike in pretty much every season. So while Alpine foothills are blanketed white, inviting tramps through crisp drifts, it's T-shirt and shorts walking weather in Andalucia and the Canary Islands.

Some routes, of course, are best tackled by those with mountain or wilderness experience, but in all of the regions introduced here you’ll find paths suitable for first-timers, as well as guides or tour operators on hand to help you traverse the trails in safety.

With so much to choose from, trying to pick favourites feels like a fool’s errand. But while acknowledging that no such list can possibly be exhaustive, here are a few of the very best places to hike in Europe.

Europe walking GR route waymarker

Europe's network of Grande Randonées (great hike) footpaths are waymarked with easily-recognisable red and white stripes

What's in a name?

Europe's 12 official "E-paths" are a network of trans-national long-distance paths designated by the European Ramblers Association (www.era-ewv-ferp.com). Some routes span over 10,000km; the E1, for example, stretches from the northern tip of Norway through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, ending in northern Sicily. Of these E-paths, many sections comprise shorter (but still multi-day) numbered Grande Randonées (great hikes); you’ll see the familiar white and red horizontal stripes of GR routes painted on rocks and trees, mostly in France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands but also elsewhere in Europe.

Europe’s top hiking destinations

Cirque de Gavarnie Pyrenees National Park France

The Cirque de Gavarnie, "the colosseum of nature"

The Pyrenees

The magnificent range separating France from Spain stretches over 400km from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Biscay, where it nudges the Cantabrian mountains. Though its peaks don’t scale the heights reached by the Alps – the tallest is Aneto at 3404m – the massif is a treat for walkers, with numerous waymarked long-distance routes at varying altitudes and levels of challenge, and far fewer feet tramping those trails. It's historically and linguistically diverse – expect to hear not just French and Spanish but also Basque, Catalan, Aragonese, Occitan and Aranese – and bustling with wildlife. Transhumance culture, in which shepherds herd livestock to high meadows for the summer and back down to lower pastures for winter, is alive and well in the region: visit during the migrations in June or October, and you can expect to be serenaded at all hours by clanking cowbells and the bleats of sheep and goats.

Highlights

Arguably the finest of countless spectacular views is the grand rock amphitheatre called the Cirque de Gavarnie, dubbed the “colosseum of nature” by Victor Hugo. Watch for birds of prey, including rare bearded vultures (or lammergeier), soaring above the crags – the best place to spot these striking raptors is in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park in Aragon; you might also encounter chamois and marmots. Historic highlights include the medieval Romanesque churches of the Vall de Boí in northern Catalonia.

Need to know

There’s a well-developed network of mountain refuges and, typically in towns, gîtes and small hotels, particularly on the French side. Many offer good-value half-board packages, with beds in dorms or simple rooms. Public transport to trailheads is also reasonable, with buses serving many towns and villages, again more comprehensively in France. International access points include airports at Biarritz, Bilbao at the western end, Lourdes for the central region, and Perpignan, Girona and Barcelona near the eastern terminus. Snow lingers on high trails till well into June.

Notable routes

The GR10, snaking along the French (northern) slopes of the Pyrenees, stretches 866km between Hendaye and Banyuls-sur-Mer; it's deservedly popular, with plenty of well-managed gîtes, refuges and hotels along or near the route – though it's wise to book ahead in high summer. The GR11, which follows the range on the Spanish (southern) flanks, is generally higher and tougher; the Haute Route is more challenging still. Several shorter GR and other other waymarked routes cross or run through the range.

Thethi Valley Albania

Albania's Thethi valley

The Balkans

As a result of political tumult, for extended periods in the 20th century swathes of the Balkan Peninsula were off-limits to international hikers. As a result, hiking infrastructure lagged behind most of Western Europe, in terms of waymarked trails and support – but it also meant that traditions and landscapes have been well preserved, particularly in the mountains that dominate much of the region. Today, thanks to improved political stability, economic development and easy access via low-cost airline flights, hiking is increasingly accessible and popular. Several mountain ranges offer spectacular treks, notably the Dinaric Alps stretching from Croatia to northern Albania via Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, and the Rila and Pirin ranges in Bulgaria.

Highlights

Summit the highest peak in the Balkans, 2925m Mt Musala in Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains – an achievable day-hike for most. Take a boat across Lake Koman and hike to timeless villages such as Thethi in the Albanian Alps (or Accursed Mountains), with its historic lock-in tower used to thwart violent blood feuds.

Need to know

Levels of infrastructure and hiking-related services vary widely across the region. In Croatia and Bulgaria, for example, you’ll find good local hotels and mountain refuges, with guides and tour operators on hand to support walks. Waymarked trails are being developed in many countries, though detailed maps aren’t always available. Hiking is best from late spring to autumn; snow may block high trails – such as the route to the summit of Mt Korab on the Albanian-North Macedonian border – till mid-June or later. Shepherds’ dogs can be aggressive in remote areas.

Notable routes

The Via Dinarica, an epic ‘mega-trail’ stretching nearly 2000km through the western Balkans from Slovenia to Albania and North Macedonia, has developed since 2010; now largely waymarked, it's the peninsula’s premier route, designed to showcase the region’s diverse heritage and cultures as well as the dramatic landscapes of the Dinaric Alps. The Peaks of the Balkans (www.peaksofthebalkans.com) is a recently signposted 192km circuit through Kosovo, Montenegro and northern Albania.

Douro Valley Portugal

Portugal's wine-producing Douro Valley

Portugal

Mainland Europe’s westernmost nation state is also among its oldest, and stories from its long history seep into every walk – from prehistoric remains and relics of Roman occupation, through the Moorish era and subsequent Christian conquest, maritime heritage linked to the Age of Exploration and the legacy of the Port wine trade. Unsurprisingly in a country with no really high mountains but a hefty coast-to-area ratio – the mainland shore stretches well over 900km – Portugal is best known for littoral walking, with numerous shoreline trails. Yet inland routes, notably through historic Alentejo, along the meanders of the wine-producing Douro Valley and in the wilder reaches of its national and natural parks, are less trodden and arguably more alluring still. Portugal’s Atlantic islands also offer fine hiking, along the levadas (irrigation channels) of vertiginous Madeira and around the Azores’ volcanic craters.

Highlights

Portugal’s only designated national park is Peneda-Gerês, 700 sq km of granite crags, timewarp villages, oak forests and valleys flanking the Spanish border in the far north; its wilder reaches are home to bear, boar, otter and goshawk. The southern coasts of the Algarve and Alentejo regions feature some surprisingly dramatic cliff top walking and delectable seafood – percebes (goose barnacles) are a prized speciality.

Need to know

Portugal is great value for walkers: accommodation, particularly outside Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve’s resorts, is relatively cheap, while food and drink are bargains – you’ll typically pay under a euro for a coffee, not much more for a cold beer, and meals are often huge. Conversely, hiking infrastructure is often less developed than in many other European countries; you’re unlikely to find walkers’ refuges, in part because there’s no real need. With the exception of the islands and the far north, July and August are really too hot for hiking; spring and autumn are better, though northern regions are particularly wet in April.

Notable routes

The Rota Vicentina (rotavicentina.com) comprises twin trails running north from the western Algarve through the Alentejo: the inland Historical Way and – our pick – the 226.5km coastal Fishermen’s Trail, traversing ancient cork-oak woods, wildflower-spangled cliffs and charming fishing villages. Both are blessed with good accommodation en route. Several camino paths head north towards Spain and Santiago; the inland route from Lisbon cuts through the historic Minho region, visiting Porto plus the Roman bridge and magnificent manor houses around Ponte de Lima.

Nationalpark Hohe Tauern Salzburg Austria

Austria's Hohe Tauern National Park

Austrian Tirol

The westernmost finger of Austria, sandwiched between Bavaria and northern Italy, is essentially all mountain – the Tirol (and its westerly neighbour, little Vorarlberg) is a coherent picture of classic Alpine scenery. But not all Alps are the same: the limestone massifs in the north and south provide different experiences from the glacier-clad central mountains, and locals distinguish between 20-odd mini-ranges. One thing they all have in common: they’re laced with well-maintained paths – around 24,000km in total – and feature excellent transport and accommodation, in attractive traditional villages or mountain huts, to make organising multi-day treks a breeze.

Highlights

Austria’s loftiest summit, 3798m Grossglockner, dominates the skyline in Hohe Tauern National Park in far eastern Tirol. The Kaisergebirge (‘Emperor Mountains’) on the Bavarian border northeast of Innsbruck are spectacularly beautiful, with striking rock formations, high forests and postcard-pretty villages.

Need to know

Austria has one of Europe’s most comprehensive networks of mountain huts – 1000 of them – generally very comfortable and with excellent facilities; many are run by the Österreichischer Alpenverein (Austrian Alpine Club; https://alpenverein-austria.at, in German). Innsbruck is the main international transport hub, an attractive city with rail and bus links into the mountains. In summer, ski-lifts carry hikers up to high trails – at a price: costs in Austria are relatively steep.

Notable routes

The Tirol’s flagship long-distance trail is the Adlerweg (Eagle’s Way), a challenging 300km trek between St Anton and St Johann; variant routes allow less-experienced trekkers to bypass the more technical sections. The Stubai Höhenweg is a beautiful 55km, six-day high-level hike between huts perched above the namesake valley south of Innsbruck – not easy, but not technical and accessible to most fit walkers.

Vitsa village Zagoria north western Greece

See old-world Greece in Zagori

Greece

For centuries, walking was an essential aspect of daily life in Greece, linking remote settlements in mountainous regions and islands. Today, ancient kalderimia (cobbled paths) and monopatia (shepherd's or monks' trails) form the basis of many popular trekking routes. Though not especially lofty compared with, say, the Alps – 2,917m Mt Olympus is the country’s highest peak, and a rewarding two- or three-day round hike – much of Greece is beautifully craggy, with many spectacular gorges, and of course rewards walkers with insights into one of Europe’s oldest cultures.

Highlights

The White Mountains of western Crete comprise gleaming limestone peaks and rocks; the most popular route delves through the 16km-long Samaria Gorge. The Zagori region of the Pindus Mountains is an alluring area of stone-built villages, humpback bridges, rocky valleys and lakes, centred around Vikos-Aoos National Park, and encompassing dramatic Vikos Gorge and the ancient monasteries of Meteora. Andros, northernmost of the Cyclades, has developed an excellent network of waymarked trails, winding between traditional rural landscapes and rewarding with far-reaching coastal views.

Need to know

Many old paths, no longer regularly trodden by shepherds or other walkers, are overgrown. Stick to well-used routes, though even these may not be comprehensively signposted. Avoid high summer (June-August) for hiking the islands and the Pelopponnese – it's just too hot. Spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) are more comfortable, and often cheaper than summer, while many accommodation and eating options close in winter, particularly on the islands.

Notable routes

The 220km Corfu Trail, waymarked with distinctive yellow signs, leads hikers away from the developed coastal resorts into the timeless heart of the island, through venerable olive groves, rocky gorges and karst outcrops. The Menalon Trail in the historic Peloponnese region is a recently created 75km route winding between historic stone villages, gorges (of course), aromatic pine forests and ancient remains.

Lake Misurina Italian Dolomites

Lake Misurina in the Italian Dolomites

The Italian Dolomites

In Italy’s far northeast, soaring limestone shards pierce the sky in jagged pinnacles and ridges reminiscent of the mountains of Patagonia, set ablaze by the setting sun in the characteristic enrosadira or alpenglow. The Dolomites, arguably the most beautiful section of the Alps, has a character distinct from neighbouring massifs in geological, cultural and linguistic terms. Bunkers, trenches and other military remains encountered on high-level trails such as the Kaiserjäger are reminders of clashes along the Austrian front during the First World War, and while in some valleys German rather than Italian predominates, you’ll also hear Ladin, derived from ancient Latin, spoken here and there. Throughout, well-kept trails access high meadows and passes, limpid Alpine lakes, dense pine forests and lofty villages.

Highlights

Tre Cime de Lavaredo (Three Peaks of Lavaredo) comprise possibly the most-photographed scene in the region, with ‘Queen of the Dolomites’ Marmolada a spectacular second. Food is a treat, blending Austrian and Italian influences – the Alta Badia valley in particular is awash with superb cuisine, and its mountain huts (really more or less rustic restaurants on high plateaux) devise special menus each summer to showcase top dishes at bargain prices.

Need to know

Airports at Venice, Verona, Treviso and Innsbruck provide access to the Dolomites. Trains and buses provide reliable, cheap and regular transport across the region, including up to trailheads on road passes, and mountain refuges – usually open mid-June to mid-September – offer simple but comfortable overnight stays on long-distance trails. Peak holiday season in Italy is mid-August, when accommodation is often booked out.

Notable routes

Six waymarked Alta Via (High Route) trails wind roughly north-south through the Dolomites; 120km Alta Via 1 (AV1) is the easiest and most popular, suitable for beginners to long-distance Alpine treks yet showcasing the diverse scenery of the region. At 160km, AV2 is more technical and strenuous, while the other four are more challenging, with extended sections of via ferrata (climbing routes with permanent cables and ladders).

Spain Cares Gorge

Cares Gorge in the Picos de Europa

Spain

Spanning nearly half a million square kilometres – including the volcanic peaks of the Canary Islands, home to the country’s highest mountain, 3718m Mount Teide – it's unsurprising that Spain offers a diverse range of hiking experiences. Top billing inevitably goes to the hugely popular and, at times, over busy Camino de Santiago (the Camino), the pilgrimage route that since the eighth century has led devotees of St James to his namesake city, Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Yet there’s more spectacular (and much quieter) hiking to be found elsewhere: among the gleaming, jagged summits of the Picos de Europa in the north, the almond-blossom-strewn Sierra Nevada in Andalucia, on sun-soaked Mallorca and Menorca, through the canyons of Catalonia – in short, whether you like your walking cooled by mountain winds or sea breezes, there’s a trail to suit.

Highlights

The half-day hike through the vertiginous Cares Gorge in the Picos de Europa must rank as the one of the continent’s finest short walks: spy semi-wild goats, sky-piercing crags, and griffon and bearded vultures soaring above. It's very popular, but worth sharing the trail. The Caldera de Taburiente hike on La Palma – northwesternmost of the Canaries, and reputedly the world’s steepest island – is the pick of the routes on this volcanic speck, laced with hundreds of kilometres of trails.

Need to know

Accommodation in hotels and hostals, food and transport are generally good value in Spain; on pilgrimage routes such as the Camino de Santiago, you can bed down in albergues (simple pilgrim hostels) for a few euros, though you’ll generally need a credencial (‘pilgrim passport’) to qualify. Northern Spain, particularly Galicia, is often wet; the south, notably Andalucia and the islands, tends to be drier, but too hot for hiking in high summer.

Notable routes

The Camino is actually not one path but many; best known is the Camino Frances, stretching nearly 800km west from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port across northern Spain to Santiago – long, busy, but not especially tough. Several other caminos reach the city from various points in France, Spain and Portugal, each with its own appeal. The Alpujarras, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada south of Granada, are studded with alluring villages and reminders of the Moorish era; the GR7 trail, Spain’s first marked long-distance path, traverses this region. The GR11 trail along the Pyrenees is covered in that earlier section, above.

Slovakia Placlive peak Tatras

Mt Plačlivé in the Western Tatras, Slovakia

The Carpathian Mountains

Sweeping in a 1450km-long crescent from the Czech Republic and western Slovakia, the Carpathians skirt southern Poland and curve through southwestern Ukraine and across the middle of Romania to the Serbian border. The range really comprise several fairly discrete mountain groups, each with its owns geological characteristics, highlights and challenges. The High Tatra mountains, on the Polish-Slovakian border, have become known for good-value skiing but are also blessed with well-marked hiking trails and mountain refuges, while Romania’s Făgăraș and Retezat Mountains are wilder and far less visited.

Highlights

Predators still prowl the less-inhabited reaches of the Carpathians. Watch for brown bears ambling through the high valleys of the Western Tatras in Slovakia; you’re also likely to see (and hear) chamois. Bears roam the Piatra Craiului mountains of the Transylvanian Alps in Romania, too, where you might glimpse wolves. Romania’s medieval towns, villages and fortifications, such as Brasov and Bran Castle, add historic interest to hiking.

Need to know

The High Tatras are endowed with excellent (and low-priced) facilities for hikers: ski-lifts access high trails, and comfortable mountain huts provide accommodation and food – ideal for long-distance treks. Many trails are open from mid-June to October only. Krakow is the most convenient airport on the Polish side, with good transport to the mountain hub of Zakopane. In Slovenia, Poprad has an international airport and quick transfers to the trails; Košice is also fairly close. Romania is less well set up – many routes will require forward planning and possibly camping.

Notable routes

Tatranská magistrála is the classic three-day traverse of the High Tatras, a waymarked 49.5km route from Podbanské to Skalnaté ticking the main boxes: jagged peaks, mountain lakes, waterfalls, far-reaching views – plus signposts and comfortable mountain huts. The trek along Romania’s Făgăraș Mountains is a more remote and challenging proposition: to complete the full high-level ridge hike of around 100km, you’ll probably need to camp, though there are some huts and simple refuges at lower levels.

Parc National du Mercantour France

France's Mercantour national park

French Alps

Western Europe’s highest peak, 4808m Mont Blanc, is the centrepiece of the Alps’ westernmost terminus in the Haute-Savoie department, and the focus of one of the continent’s most popular trekking circuits. But there are ample hiking trails to explore in the various national and natural parks that stud the range as it stretches south along the French-Italian border towards the Mediterranean. Throughout, walkers are treated to spectacular Alpine scenery – high meadows, glistening lakes, traditional villages – but, particularly in the southerly parks such as Mercantour, Queyras and Écrins, far fewer visitors.

Highlights

Summiting Mont Blanc involves some technical climbing, but numerous surrounding trails in France, Italy and Switzerland provide dramatic views of the massif and its glaciers and cols. Similarly, a circuit of Mont Viso, beginning in Parc Naturel Régional de Queyras, offers spectacular vistas without the need to tackle its 3841m peak. Farther north, walks in the Parc National de Vanoise, France’s oldest national park, reward with varied perspectives of the namesake glaciers and, if you’re lucky, a big-horned bouquetin (Alpine ibex).

Need to know

Chamonix is the hub for the Mont Blanc region, usually bustling with walkers, climbers and, in winter, skiers. Geneva is the usual access airport for both Chamonix (with good bus links) and Parc National de Vanoise, which can also be reached from Turin. Nice is the gateway to Mercantour. As elsewhere in France, routes are generally marked with white-and-red stripes painted on rocks, and well served with gîtes and refuges; it pays to book accommodation, particularly along the Tour du Mont Blanc, well in advance in summer (when high paths are free from snow), and allow a healthy budget – these areas are relatively expensive.

Notable routes

The 170km Tour du Mont Blanc circuit is by far the region’s most popular route – and with good reason: beginning at Les Houches near Chamonix, and looping through Italy and Switzerland, it provides both spectacular Alpine views and moderately demanding trekking, with plenty of accommodation and fine food en route. Numerous tour operators offer guided or supported trips. The tougher Walker’s Haute Route to Zermatt also begins at Chamonix. Less-tramped alternatives include the five-day, 59km tour of the Vanoise Glaciers in that national park, and the GR58 Tour du Queyras, a 120km circuit in a notably sunny region.

Germany Eisenach thuringia forest

Eisenach, in Germany's Thuringian Forest

The Black Forest

Stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Alps, and with some 200,000km of waymarked trails, ranging from easy strolls alongside rivers – long-distance routes follow both the Moselle and Rhine – to Alpine treks, Germany offers something for walkers of all levels. It has real hiking history, too: the 170km Rennsteig through the Thuringian Forest in central Germany is at least 700 years old. For a rich variety of routes and landscapes, and fewer international visitors than neighbouring Bavaria, head to the southwesternmost state, Baden-Württemberg. The Schwarzwald (Black Forest) is the dense woodland of fairytales, laced with footpaths, but you’ll also find trails around Lake Constance (known in German as Bodensee), and through the craggy karst of the Swabian Jura.

Highlights

Germany’s historic towns and cities add cultural zest to any hiking holiday. Heidelberg is popular for its Baroque 18th-century architecture and romantically ruined castle. Stuttgart, centre of the country’s car industry, is an extraordinarily green city renowned for its wine – between October and March, hopping from one Besenwirtschaft (pop-up wine tavern) to another is a treat. Freiburg, ‘capital’ of the Black Forest, has an Altstadt (Old Town) studded with medieval and baroque architecture. And Baden-Baden’s the place for a post-hike soak in one of its famous spas.

Need to know

The Black Forest in particular is extremely popular with domestic visitors – for summer visits especially, book accommodation (typically hotels, inns, campsites and B&Bs rather than hiking refuges) in advance. Spring, when wildflowers bloom, and autumn, when deciduous and mixed woodlands glow in fall finery, are good alternatives. Basel is the most convenient international hub for the Black Forest, Stuttgart for northern and central regions.

Notable routes

The Westweg, which crosses the Black Forest from Pforzheim in the north to Basel over the southern border in Switzerland, is a relatively gentle 285km trail taking in dramatic gorges, castles, lakes and the region’s highest mountain, the Feldberg. The Albschäferweg (albschaeferweg.de) is another accessible waymarked path, a 157km circuit through the Swabian Jura.

Walking holidays in Europe

Paul Bloomfield

From his base in England's West Country, award-winning writer Paul hikes his local hills in the Cotswolds and Mendips. He's trekked, cycled, run and kayaked on six continents, writing about his adventures for the likes of the Telegraph, The Times, Wanderlust, Lonely Planet, BBC Wildlife and National Geographic Traveller.

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