A good walk will do you wonders. But when you combine it with the landscapes, food and charming villages of Europe you’ve got yourself a guaranteed way to blow out the cobwebs and rejueventate the mind, body and spirit.
1. Mont Blanc region, France
When it comes to mountain scenery, charming villages, superb food and the occasional glacier you can’t beat the Mont Blanc region. There is much to offer all types of walkers, from those just starting out and finding their feet to hikers looking for a new challenge. Choose from multi-day walks like the Tour of the Aiguilles Rouges or start with shorter day-trips from towns like Chamonix, Argentiere, Vallarcine, Cormayeur. If you’re feeling up for it why not go straight for the big one – the Tour du Mont Blanc. Easily one of the world’s most spectacular walks, it takes you on the circuit around the Mont Blanc massif, with views up to the Great Peak, Western Europe’s highest at 4,810m.
In season, you’ll get some great weather and the accommodation is simple but comfortable huts along the way. And after a long day of walking there is nothing better than settling back with some of the world’s finest rustic fare and a bottle of the local drop.
2. The Camino de Santiago, Spain
This walk is not only about rejuvenating the body, but reviving the mind and spirit. The Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, is a series of walks across Europe which all culminate at the Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Each route takes you through spectacular countryside and scenery, but one of the most popular is the Camino Frances.
Beginning in St Jean-Pied-du-Port, France you’ll pass castles, monasteries and churches housing some very significant religious artefacts. You can also immerse yourself in village life, staying in pilgrim’s accommodation and eating simple, regional fare (which often includes a bottle of the local drop). It is tradition to embrace the statue of St James once you reach the cathedral. Many will find this a deeply spiritual journey, and it is hard not to be moved as you pass along this Catholic pilgrimage route.
3. The Cinque Terre, Italy
Who would imagine passing through five tiny Italian coastal towns could be so rewarding? Each village, dug into the cliffs where the Apennine mountains meet the Mediterranean coastline, boasts its own unique pesonality and is connected by a network of trails.
Walk the High Trail, following old pilgrimage and trade paths through the hills behind each crayon-box coloured towns, or take the lower route along the coast past each one. Whether you’re strolling, dawdling or hiking there’s something to suit everyone. From a quick 20-minute walk along the coast to a two-day hike over 40km, it’s impossible not to be seduced by the rugged beauty of this part of the world.
4. Eiger Trail, Switzerland
The Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau are some of the best known mountains of the Alps. But it’s the Eiger that really stands out, thanks to its imposing North Wall. The sheer rock face is almost permanently covered with ice and snow. And if you bring your binoculars you can usually pick out the brave climbers attempting to conquer it. For those who are less inclined, you can hike the high alpine pasture and lakeland scenery of the Grindelwald, past waterfalls and get close enough that you could almost reach out and the famous North Wall.
A short, medium-level hike takes you across the Hothurli Pass (meaning “the high little door,” in German) and you can spend time in the remote and mysterious Kiental Valley, which boasts the steepest post bus route in Europe.
5. Meteora, Greece
If you’re looking for a true off the beaten track experience, this is it. Many of the walks here are overgrown and unmarked, but it just adds to the otherworldly feel. Meteora means “suspended in the air” and you’ll soon discover why. A paved road winds between the Byzantine monasteries, many of them perched above cliffs or clinging to rocky spires.
You can visit many of the 11th century monasteries for just a small fee, and you’ll see some incredible Byzantine art and examples of wood carvings. The geography along the way is pretty incredible, with the eroded sandstone towers adding to the air or mystery and wonder.
Feature image c/o raphaelvandon, Flickr