Hiking in Europe is all about the exquisite views of snow-capped mountains, grassy valleys, and rugged coastlines. The scenery is as immensely diverse as the terrain, guaranteeing a route to compliment any ability and taste.
However, what usually comes with spectacular destinations are hordes of travellers who, while benefiting the local economy and connecting communities, can bring along congestion, detracting from the beauty and charm of an intimate exploration of space and solitude.
Below are five routes, off the beaten track, steeped in history, and filled with beautiful flora and fauna, and worthy of a visit when trekking through Europe.
Located in Greece on the Peloponnese Peninsula, this hike is 12.5 kilometres, starting in Stemnitsa and ending in Dimitsana. About a five hour trek, this route offers unforgettable sights of limestone cliffs, caves inhabited by hermits, maple and oak trees, predatory birds, and small mammals.
Walk through history past a water power museum, mountain villages, ruins, and monasteries dating back to the 10th, 16th, and 17th centuries. The monasteries house living communities, so be prepared with appropriate clothing and be quiet and respectful in your behaviour. Built into the side of the cliff face, the monasteries are open for tourists to admire the architecture, original paintings, and access balconies for their idyllic viewpoints.
Catalonia, Spain has one gorge that is, to this day, protected from modern infrastructures such as roads and powerlines. Mont-Rebei Gorge has several routes, but the classic GR1 is around four hours and was originally carved into the cliff in 1984. Walking this route requires a head for heights as it also allows you to enjoy the birds-eye view of the Noguera Ribagorzana River – a natural and political border between Catalonia and Aragon. Expect to traverse along rock-hewn tunnels, hanging bridges, and open ledges. It is also a natural habitat for vultures, ospreys, and eagles so remember to bring your binoculars.
Alpe-Adria Trail (Austria)
This is a 750-kilometre trail that spans Austria, Italy, and Slovenia. It is split into 43 beautiful stages, allowing the trail to be completed in sections or in one epic six-week walking holiday. The trail will take you alongside turbulent rivers, lakes, blossoming Alpine meadows, and gorges, as it traverses different cultures from three countries. The result is a charming discovery of European cuisines and historical sites.
The Austrian section covers 22 stages. Stage one is just over 13 kilometres and takes about six hours to hike. It starts at the foot of Grossglockner. the highest mountain in Austria, and leads past a gorge, dams, waterfalls, and lakes. Along the route is the St. Briccius Chapel, named after the patron saint of travellers and soldiers. The chapel houses a spring with water that is rumoured to aid eye problems. Stage one ends in Heiligenblut, the most successful gold mining village in Europe from Roman times until the 17th century.
Stage 12 of this hike is 22.6 kilometres long and takes around eight hours to walk. It will give you an unprecedented 360-degree view of the Dachestein (North), Hohe Tauern (West), the Carnic Alps and Karawanken (South), and the Nockberge Mountains (East). This area is declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The trail takes visitors through mountain villages, lush forests, beautiful lakes, and expansive fields and meadows.
Transportation and accommodation are readily available along this trail, making it a convenient and adaptable hiking option for any length of stay. There are also agencies that will transport your luggage to each stage, easing your load so you only carry the bare essentials.
There is something unforgettable about walking above the clouds. This trail connects two of the highest peaks in Madeira and offers panoramic vistas, which on a clear day at Pico Ruivo, shows a 360-degree view of the island. The seven-kilometre trail takes around four hours to complete and goes through tunnels, along stairs carved into rocks, and past caves still used by cattle and shepherds. The route also features certain flora that only grows at altitude and, if you’re lucky, you may spot endemic birds such as the Firecrest and Chaffinch.
How To Prepare For Your Hiking Trip
All the routes highlighted above can be done in one day, therefore preparation for the trip can be narrowed down to suitable clothing, food and drink, maps, and phone–all of which can be carried in a day-bag. A rucksack is normally better than a satchel for hikes as the weight is more evenly distributed to make scrambling and balancing along steep descents easier. Generally, a 20- to 30-litre rucksack with padded shoulder straps will be comfortable for an all-day hike.
Layers of clothing offer more insulation and adaption to sudden changes in weather, and quick-dry clothes are better than jeans or cotton t-shirts. A waterproof and windproof shell jacket is always useful in Europe, and a thick fleece can be worn for colder temperatures and easily shed when the sun comes out. Sturdy and waterproof walking shoes with good traction are essential for most routes. Although some trails may be forgiving to trainers, walking shoes provide the best foothold in rain, loose ground, or when the paths are wet from waterfalls. Hiking socks are designed to ensure your walk is pleasant by preventing blisters and providing extra cushioning. It is important, therefore, to get the right size and thickness depending on the weather when and where you hike.
Most smartphones have a GPS, which can be integrated with a map app, providing convenient directions. However, the lack of network coverage or power may cause problems so a backup paper map is highly recommended. Maps can normally be found in tourist offices in the towns where the routes start. Further, the trails typically have signs that indicate where you are.
Always carry sufficient water for the entire day–around 1.5 to 2 litres per person. A packed lunch and energy snacks, such as fruits, nuts, and chocolate are great for sharing with your companion and will make the walk more fun.
Hiking is a natural way to explore an area and connect to nature without harming the environment. It helps you stay fit and nurtures your adventurous spirit. It is an easy activity to get started in, and one where you are in constant control, directing your own pace and the length of the walk. Above all, completing a hike in a beautiful place provides a very empowering sense of achievement.