One of the few problems with walking in Europe is that it’s pretty hard to find anywhere that’s truly wild. But the Carpathian Mountains offer a rare and welcome glimpse of European wilderness. If you’re looking for lesser-trodden paths, this might be the walking holiday for you.

Sweeping a 1,450 km-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 actually comprises several fairly discrete mountain groups, each with its own geological characteristics, highlights and challenges.

The High Tatras 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.

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Slovakia Placlive peak Tatras

Mt Plačlivé in the Western Tatras, Slovakia

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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.

Top walking holidays

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.

About the author

Walking Holidays In The Carpathians

Paul Bloomfield

Paul is an award-winning travel journalist writing on walking and hiking in Europe and beyond for the likes of the Telegraph, The Times, Wanderlust, Lonely Planet, BBC Wildlife and National Geographic Traveller.

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