10 best walking holidays
By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel writer
What are the world’s best walking holidays in the UK, Europe and beyond? If you want to stretch your legs and enjoy some superb countryside, charming hotels and great restaurants, follow our guide.
Note: all the travel companies featured are personally recommended by our team of specialist editors.
You can enjoy an independent walking holiday in some of the most remote corners of Europe yet still travel secure in the knowledge that someone has been before and done all the preliminary legwork. They will provide first hand, step by step crib sheets and not only will have chosen the hotels for you to stay along the way but arranged for a local taxi company to transport your bags from place to place. Find details of hotel-to-hotel walking and a full choice of walking holidays in Europe with Inntravel.
Although the natives may not believe you, there’s more to walking in Italy than the nightly passegiata. Unlike Britain, where the land is privately owned and walkers have limited access, in Italy it belongs to everyone. One of my favorite regions is Tuscany where you can follow the so called ‘white roads’ which link magnificent medieval hill towns. Find more details and prices.
I would heartily recommend two very different footpaths that stick to the Mediterranean coast. The first, along the northernmost Costa Brava, links tiny coves, medieval hilltop towns and fishing villages, with plenty of opportunities for cooling swims and lazy lunches along the way. Find great walking holidays in the Costa Brava with Inntravel. The other is the Ligurian Riviera of Italy, following the ancient path high above the sea through woods, terraced vineyards and olive groves and the villages of the so-called Cinque Terre, for centuries accessible only to those coming on foot or by boat.
Trekking in Africa
There are many ways to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Africa but one of the best is on a trekking holiday with an expert local guide. You only need a few days away to enjoy the stunning scenery of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, or if you have a little more time you could explore one of the world’s most exciting and up-coming destinations, Ethiopia. Top of your bucket list should be the scenic Simien Mountains where you can see Gelada Baboons, Walia Ibex and Ethiopian Wolf. Feeling like a challenge? How about climbing Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak? Details from Tourdust.
Cultural tours of Britain
There is no shortage of wonderful walking routes on our own shores. You could join a small-group cultural tour of Britain led by a renowned expert in the field of art, music or architecture. You could join a tour of the Great Houses of England, attend a classical music festival or follow in the footsteps of Turner or Dickens. Details from Martin Randall Travel.
Whether you are travelling on your own through choice or circumstance, you can still walk in company. The most convivial of walking holidays, with a broad choice of destinations, can be enjoyed by going with a tour operator that specialises in arranging holidays for singles who share the same interests as you. Visit 101 Singles Holidays for our recommendations.
France has an amazing network of official long distance footpaths, or grandes randonnees, covering some 20,000 miles through hugely varied terrain and even very different climate zones. One of the most convenient for Channel hopping Brits is one that follows the slow meanders of the Seine, passing magnificent abbeys, royal hunting forests, sleepy riverside communities and – crucial since you’ll be working off lots of calories – great places to eat. More details on walking holidays in France with Inntravel.
Chile is a long thin country stretching down the west of South America and is incredibly diverse. The walking is particularly good in the Atacama Desert – one of the driest places on Earth – where you can explore volcanoes, salt flats and canyons, and in the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, where you can hike to glaciers and along fjords.
If you relish the physical pleasures of walking but at the same time want to tap a rich seam of culture along the way, consider an itinerary designed by, and led by, experts in their respective fields. Take a cultural walking tour with Kudu Travel and you can choose a theme to suit your interests, from archaeological sites to vineyards, wild flowers to monasteries, and acquire fresh knowledge as well as fresh air. Kudu’s newest trips include the Santa Fe Opera and Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico and the Dolomites for wild flowers.
You may also be interested in this great selection of archaeological tours with Andante Travels which includes everything from a private tour of Stonehenge to an exciting visit to Jordan or the ruins of Pompeii.
Walking holidays around the world
By Annabelle Thorpe, Editor of 101 Short Breaks
If the phrase ‘walking holiday’ conjours up images of sandal-wearing septuagenarians and Radio 4 quizzes of an evening, it’s time to think again. These days, a walking holiday can mean anything from a couple of days tootling around the Isle of Wight, to a ten day hike across the Sahara Desert, complete with Berber guides and wild camping.
You can hike up mountains or potter across marshes, carry your own kit and camp out, or have it transported by van between luxury hotels. A walking holiday is one of the most companionable ways to spend a few days with friends – and offers a uniquely-paced insight into whichever country you visit.
Walking in the UK
The UK offers endless opportunities for walking holidays, from gentle pub strolls to week-long walking trails. The Isle of Wight is one of the country’s premier walking destinations, with 500 miles of waymarked trails and a fantastic walking festival that takes place every May.
Amateur walkers will find much to love in the pleasingly-flat landscapes of East Anglia, with the Norfolk Coastal Path linking spectacular beaches, and inland walks that take in cosy, country pubs. For something more challenging, the Lake District offers steep ascents, spectacular views and beautiful lakeside walks – the Three Peaks Challenge is the ultimate hike in the region.
Or head further north to Scotland, for loch-side walks, mountain scrambles and delicious seafood suppers that are a welcome reward at the end of the day. Out of high season, the dramatic clifftops and unspoilt moorland of Cornwall make a wonderful choice for a holiday that mixes walking with other pleasures – visits to gardens, a day at the Eden project, or a cultural afternoon at the Tate Museum in St Ives.
Walking holidays in Europe
In spring or early autumn, the Mediterranean is a wonderful place to walk; sunlit olive groves, rippling hills and fabulous food to indulge in after a long day’s hike. Head to Sicily, where you can hike up through the other-worldly landscapes of Mount Etna, or walk the spectacular Pantalica Gorge, home to a UNESCO-listed necropolis.
In Cyprus, you can mix lazy beach days with hikes in the beautiful Troodos mountains, or across the wild, unspoilt landscapes of the Akamas peninsula, where there are no roads to disturb the peace. Check out this walking holiday in North Cyprus. Or head to Crete, the largest of all the Greek islands, where the spectacular White Mountains, sprawling ancient sites and long stretches of sandy beach offer a really diverse choice of walks.
One of the most relaxing ways to do a Med walking holiday is a hotel to hotel trip, where your bags are moved between accommodations, meaning each day ends at a new, charming guesthouse or B&B.
Once the snows melt, there are few more beautiful places to walk than the mountains. Head to the French Alps and you can combine lakeside walks in tranquil Annecy or Evian, or hike along high mountain passes, easily accessible by ski lifts, which still run in the summer months.
Walking for single travellers
Walking holidays are ideal for single travellers, and offer the chance for a real adventure with a group of like-minded people. Morocco offers a fantastic choice of walks for all levels and abilities, from hiking up Mount Toukbal to spending a week walking across the golden sands of the Sahara Desert.
Ramblers Holidays offers a wide range of walking breaks in the UK and further afield, with no single supplements for solo travellers on a wide selection of trips. They also host a number of women’s activity weeks at Hassness House in the Lake District.
If you’re looking for walking adventures further afield, there are plenty of choices. Borneo offers the chance to spend time trekking through tropical jungle, or up to the peak of Mount Kinabalu, with rest days on gorgeous, white sand beaches. Or discover spectacular African landscapes on foot, from Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains – home to baboons and ibex – to the breathtaking peak of Kilimanjaro.
To discover a very different side of Malaysia, strike out on foot; the East Coast offers fantastic jungle treks, or hikes up to the spectacular Chemerung Waterfalls. Or head to Canada, famous for its vast swathes of national forest and unspoilt landscapes; try Quebec, which has 200 miles of walking trails and luxury lodges to stay in.
You could also head to South America, where Chile offers everything from vineyard walks to striking out across the dramatic lunar landscapes of the Atacama desert.
Last updated: 22 November 2016