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Great European Hiking Holidays

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 7 Jun 2013 | comments*Discuss
Europe Walking Holiday Compostella

Britain offers plenty of wonderful hiking, but there may come a time when you get a yen for something a little more exotic, and possibly even a little warmer. You need look no further than Europe, where most countries offer splendid scenery, plenty of challenges, and some superb walking holidays.

A number of companies offer guided walking holidays, and if you want someone else looking after the details, they’re the ideal thing – a simple search online will bring several names. However, if you want a real sense of adventure, making all the plans yourself can offer much more fun. No matter where you go, there are plenty of hostels or small hotels where you can rest at night, although you’d be well advised to book well ahead, especially for summer, and do plenty of research on your route to make sure you’ll only be trying to cover comfortable distances each day, especially if you’re in hilly or mountainous terrain.

Where Should You Go?

The choice of European hiking destinations is almost limitless. What you need to decide first is what kind of terrain you want. The wine country of France is lush, beautiful, and relatively flat, as are the dense forests of Germany. For something that will test you more, how about the Alps, or the Pyrenees (how about following the old pilgrimage route of St. James of Compostella, covering some rugged terrain but ending in the beautiful old Spanish city of Compostella, and being able to wear the scallop shell as a souvenir of your journey?).

Southern Spain has a different climate altogether, much drier and warmer, which can offer its own challenges, but some stunning vistas in an area that was once part of the Islamic empire, and visits to cities like Cordoba and Granada put you in touch with a sometimes forgotten part of Europe’s history, too.

Others might choose to go north and experience the fjords, forest and mountains that cover Sweden and Norway, although these will necessarily be high summer hikes, especially if you go far North – although then you’ll have to put up with hardly any darkness, which can disrupt sleep patters. The same is true of Iceland. With its rugged, bleak volcanic landscape it might seem an unusual walking destination, but there’s plenty of beauty to be found there – again, you’d only really want to go in the middle of summer.

What Do You Need For European Hiking?

Apart from the obvious things like a valid passport and a European Health Insurance Card (which means you’ll be treated for emergencies free of charge, although that doesn’t mean you should skimp on travel insurance), plenty of planning is the order of the day.

Read everything you can about the route and the areas you’ll be visiting. Don’t plan on covering superhuman distances every day – or any day. Check the weather for the time of year, and pack clothes accordingly. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the wonders of the region. Be sure to pack a good phrase book and a small dictionary in order to communicate (please don’t assume everyone will speak English). Have your hostels and your transportation to and from the area booked well in advance.

Break any new gear in well first – you really don’t want to find yourself halfway up a foreign mountain with a pair of boots that aren’t right. Travel as light as possible, but don’t skimp on things you might need on your trip. With all that done, the only things left to do are walk and enjoy your European adventure!

Reader tip

Some information about Norway and Sweden from one of our readers:

"The season for hiking and walking in Norway extends from May to the end of October, all depending on the weather and where in the country you are, inland or coast, North or South. Autumn is sometimes the best time to go, because then the snow has had time to melt even high up in the mountains. In winter, you just put on your cross-country skis and keep going...

The Polar Day is surely nothing to worry about, quite the opposite. You walk when you feel like it, and sleep when you feel like it. Anyway, most of Norway and Sweden is below the Arctic circle. One very important thing: Norway espescially has the 'allemannsrett' meaning 'all-mans-right'. Meaning that any land that is not farmland or very close to a house is open for everyone. This means that you can walk and camp and pick mushrooms and berries virtually wherever you like."

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