The scenery’s epic, and with these trips you can enjoy it in comfort. We pick eight of the best walking holidays of the year.
Hiking holidays have gone a bit hairy-chested of late, we’ve noted. But, frankly, where’s the fun in lugging a backpack the size of your partner around until you can no longer feel your arms as well as your legs? You’re on holiday, not on a desperate quest for survival.
We like walking trips that value accommodation and food as much as scenery, offer creature comforts as well as wildlife, and help to elevate the spirit, not break it. With that in mind, we’ve pulled together eight crackers from around the world, tailored towards pleasure rather than penance. With a bit of luck, the only thing that will get your heart racing is the view.
Unless stated, prices include flights, most meals and accommodation.
The quiet Camino
It’s a little-appreciated fact that a Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage was traditionally a journey to still the mind as much as revere relics. Good luck with that these days on the Camino Frances — the most popular of the routes to Santiago — where long stretches are paved for traffic and more than 300,000 people hike each year. And whisper it, but in places the scenery is well, a bit dull. So why not set your compass for an older, quieter pilgrimage road, the Camino Primitivo?
On Foot’s self-guided trip nudges you from the cider bars of Oviedo into the uplands of Asturias: 10 days of shapely hills and pilgrim churches in higgledy-piggledy villages, with little more than birdsong to distract you. You’re not here as a penance, so luggage is transferred ahead to family hotels or, for a modest upgrade, a rather swish parador with a fine chef. Beyond the Roman town of Lugo, you join the happy hordes on the Camino Frances into Santiago. Mind stilled, pilgrim passport stamped, job done.
A 14-day trip starts at £985pp, with departures between April and October; onfootholidays.co.uk. Fly to Oviedo and back from Santiago de Compostela with easyJet
Riviera high life
If you’re still reading, chances are you’re keen to walk this summer. You may also want to dine well and loaf on the beach with a thriller. The Côte d’Azur ticks both these boxes. You probably think you’ve done the French Riviera, but a new guided trip with KE Adventure suggests otherwise. It takes you through lemon groves to an alternative riviera caught between the pine-clad Maritime Alps and the Mediterranean; a ridge where ancient paths thread to beautiful mountain villages such as Sainte-Agnès. It also drops to the coast towards Monaco — that side order of glitz — and potters along Cap Ferrat to Nice. This is a holiday of morning strolls, long bistro lunches and perhaps a digestif before an hour’s walk to your next small family hotel. Each night, your luggage and a sundowner await. Magnifique.
A seven-day trip starts at £1,045pp, with departures in May, June, September and October; keadventure.com. Fly to Nice with BA or easyJet
Happy birthday, Canada: 150 this year, with free national-park entry for all. As few of us have the time — or, let’s face it, energy — for one of those epic month-long trail hikes, Exodus’s Canadian Rockies Wilderness Walks offer the next best thing.
Long-distance purists may sneer at the day-hike format. But while they’re trudging along tedious link sections, you’ll be experiencing the Canada that makes the soul sing — glaciers and lakes, grizzlies and moose, corkscrew peaks and seemingly endless panoramas — while enjoying lifts to the trailhead each morning. Highlights include famous bits such as Banff and Jasper national parks, which everyone visits, yet which still harbour quiet corners that your guide will winkle out, as well as under-the-radar beauties like Yoho National Park and Waterton Lakes. You’ll be camping, too, so will feel just as intrepid as the hardcore lot — only someone else will be lugging your tent to the next spot each day.
A 13-day trip starts at £2,579pp, with departures from June to September; exodus.co.uk
Soaking up Japan
Two untranslatable Japanese words to whet your appetite for Walk Japan’s Oita Hot Spring Trail: onsen, the thermal spring baths that are as distinctive a ritual as tea; and datsuzoku, a complete escape from the daily grind. This relaxed walking tour through the Oita region of Kyushu island offers both in abundance.
The journey is cultural as much as scenic. It takes in samurai paths, Buddhist temples in the foothills of the Kuju Mountains and rickety farmhouses among paddy fields, as well as a sake producer. More than anything, you visit onsen — indoor and outdoor, traditional and modern, a sulphurous one and a famous carbonated one, Lamune Onsen, all adhering to a centuries-old etiquette that’s quietly addictive. Accommodation throughout is in inns with high-quality cuisine. After six days you’ll arrive at Japan’s onsen capital, Beppu, where the streets billow with steam.
A six-day trip starts at £2,225pp, departing between May and November; walkjapan. com. Fly to Tokyo with BA; from £688
If half the point of a walking holiday is to get away from the crowds, skip the popular Dolomites for the Cottian Alps. More specifically, Valle Maira, in Piedmont. The mountains expert at Inntravel, which this year becomes the first UK operator to offer it, says the valley has the best Alpine walking he’s experienced anywhere. He’s from Switzerland.
Three bases over the week give you access to the best bits. And because it’s your holiday, you get to decide which day walk to tackle. Perhaps the ascent to the rickety hamlet of Elva? Its inhabitants once made a living harvesting human hair for aristocrats’ wigs. (There’s a museum.) Or how about a yomp over wild-flower meadows corralled by peaks, or a stiff ascent up the Gardetta pass? Each night you’ll return to a rustic agriturismo for hearty home cooking. This is a region so remote, the locals still speak Occitan. What it lacks is hikers, so do keep it quiet.
An eight-night trip starts at £995pp, with departures from May to October; inntravel.co.uk. Fly to Turin with Ryanair
Homage to Patagonia
Buenos dias, Chile: closer than ever thanks to the first direct flight to Santiago, launched this month by BA. The chances are you’ll only hike here once, so choose Patagonia. Not the Torres del Paine circuit — it’s so popular that an annual quota for peak season was imposed in October — but the new (opened in 2015) Parque Patagonia wilderness in the Aysen region: similarly ginormous landscapes, but without the resorts and, thanks to a microclimate, the lousy weather.
Pura Aventura is the only operator to run guided treks in the park, bookended by nights in El Lodge, a cocoon of old wood and stone. Hike from Jeinimeni National Reserve to Chacabuco Valley, crossing proper wilderness: huge lakes and sweeping pale grasslands, guanaco, condor, the Andes sawtoothing the horizon, and precious few visitors each year. Porters take care of the tedious carrying and camping, leaving you free to burble at the scenery over a glass of red.
A nine-day trip starts at £1,938pp, with departures from October to April; pura-aventura.com. Fly to Balmaceda via Santiago de Chile with BA/Latam Airlines; from £885
Channel Island hopping
The Channel Islands aren’t exactly the most ambitious holiday destinations, but given sterling’s slump, 2017 could be the year you rediscover their many charms. They bask in more sunshine than anywhere else in the British Isles, yet flying there takes not much longer than the average city commute. They’re great for the casual walker, the food’s good (a population of bankers has its benefits), the distances are short and the pub pit stops plentiful. Macs Adventure has a new self-guided multi-island trip. On Jersey, you’ll discover brilliant beaches and oysters at La Rocque, and salt-licked headlands with only gulls for company at Noirmont. St Peter Port trumps Jersey’s St Helier for looks, so that’s your base for a march between Guernsey’s Napoleonic-era forts, and the embarkation point for car-free, pastoral Sark. This is Croatian island-hopping meets the Famous Five. Jolly hols indeed.
A seven-day trip starts at £760pp, with departures from April to October; macsadventure.com. Fly to Jersey with Flybe and back from Guernsey with Aurigny
Along the Silk Road
OK, so we’ve sneaked a difficult one in at the end: we’re hoping that, given the magnificence of the scenery, you might not mind. If you watched the BBC’s Silk Road series last year, it’s likely that you will have been awed by the lingering shots of hundreds of miles of Central Asian nothingness. Now, Wild Frontiers is launching the first trek in the footsteps of Silk Road traders in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s greenest, most friendly, least Soviet ’stan. The goal: to head into the Tien Shan, “the Mountain of Heaven”, and the 14th-century Silk Road caravanserai of Tash-Rabat, then ascend among the gods (well, to 13,000ft) in the Fergana range, where glaciers creak and eagles soar. This is a genuine expedition. “It will assuredly not go 100% to plan,” Wild Frontiers says. The only certainties are six hours’ walking a day with horses, nomad encounters, wild camps beneath starlit skies… and that scenery.
A 16-day trip, departing on July 22, starts at £2,995pp; wildfrontierstravel.com. Fly to Bishkek via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines; from £510