Pick up the pace with walking holidays in the open air, writes Katie McGonagle.
If ever there was a reason to remind ourselves of the joys of the great outdoors, being stuck inside for weeks on end, with only our once-a-day exercise to break up the monotony, is it. Even now, as lockdown restrictions are gradually being eased, those daily walks feel like a lifeline to the outside world in a time of turmoil.
Whether you’ve taken the chance to explore your local area on foot instead of by car, walked through woodlands or past lakes you’d never been to before, or simply dug out that old pair of trainers from the back of the wardrobe for a short stroll around the block, you can guarantee your clients will have been doing the same.
“Even before the coronavirus crisis, walking holidays had been on the rise, both in groups or self-guided, as part of a wider trend towards active breaks.”
Some might even have found they rather like this healthy new habit and want to carry on walking well after lockdown is over – which is why bumping up your knowledge of the best holidays on foot would be a wise investment of time right now.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, walking holidays had been on the rise, both in groups or self-guided, as part of a wider trend towards active breaks such as cycling and hiking. Add growing consumer sentiment in favour of outdoor breaks where holidaymakers can keep their distance from fellow travellers, and it’s fair to say a boom in walking breaks might be on the horizon.
Like the South of France?
Few places are so redolent of the good life than the south of France, where strolls through the quaint villages of the Dordogne or lavender-filled fields of Provence are rewarded with stops at cellar doors or chateaux to feast on cheese and wine, knowing you can work it off again the next day.
Why go: You don’t have to move too far along the map to get to Andorra, the tiny land-locked country set in the midst of the Pyrenees mountains between the borders of France and Spain. It’s a popular spot during the ski season, but come summer, those mountain slopes and scenic passes are transformed into lush meadows scattered with delicate wildflowers, interrupted only by the occasional farmer’s field or tiny wooden chalet.
“Among the standouts is the Unesco-listed Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley, a glacial valley reached via a fairly challenging hike, but which rewards with rare wildlife.”
Highlights: The always-photographable peaks of the Pyrenees provide a scenic backdrop to just about every walking route here, as terrain varies from unspoilt alpine slopes to glassy mountain lakes. Among the standouts is the Unesco-listed Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley, a glacial valley reached via a fairly challenging hike, but which rewards with rare wildlife and an insight into the agricultural heart of the country.
Book it: Ramblers Walking Holidays has seven or 14-night options on its Hiking in Andorra holiday, which starts from £1,029 for a week departing May 30, 2021, including BA flights to Toulouse, transfers, full-board accommodation, local transport and walking guides, with a choice of moderate or more challenging walks, depending on clients’ preferences.
Like the Jurassic Coast, England?
This is one of the jewels of the southwest – perhaps even of the entire country – combining sweeping sea views along a craggy cliff-edged coastline with rolling countryside, the remnants of Iron Age forts and ancient fossils, plus old-fashioned seaside towns and pretty English villages where tea rooms or traditional pubs are the order of the day.
Try Kerry Way, Ireland
Why go: Ireland’s west coast is well-known for the spectacular scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way, but home in on smaller sections of the route and there are some pleasant surprises in store. The Kerry Way is a well-signposted, 130-mile trail that starts and ends in Killarney, adjoining the famous Ring of Kerry road. Along the way, walkers pass billowing hills carpeted in every possible shade of green, centuries-old stony paths where they’re more likely to encounter a sheep than another human being, and along undulating coastline where every turn reveals another breathtaking view.
Highlights: Killarney National Park is worth the journey alone, home to Ireland’s highest mountain range and its only population of native red deer, plus three world-famous lakes and impressive 19th-century mansion Muckross House. It’s also worth making time for pretty towns and villages such as Sneem and Waterville, then have cameras at the ready on the final day of walking for knockout views of the Dingle Peninsula and Rossbeigh Strand.
“Ireland’s west coast is well-known for the spectacular scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way, but home in on smaller sections of the route and there are pleasant surprises.”
Book it: Headwater offers a week-long self-guided route, The Kerry Way and Killarney National Park, from £1,179 in September, including seven nights’ B&B accommodation, route maps and luggage transfers; flights not included. A four-night option is also available.
It probably isn’t the first destination that springs to mind for a walking holiday, but Australia’s diverse scenery – from rainforest to red desert, wine country to winding coast – is prime territory to explore on foot. Great Walks of Australia has a host of incredible routes, including a newly extended five-day Scenic Rim Trail, one of Queensland’s biggest-ever eco-tourism projects, as well as shorter day hikes easily incorporated into a trip Down Under.
Try New Zealand
Why go: It’s hard to imagine visiting New Zealand and not falling in love with its landscapes, whether the glacier-carved valleys and fjords of the South Island, or volcanic interior and beach-edged coasts of the North. There are nine Great Walks such as the famous Milford Track, offering interesting, multi-day itineraries through glorious scenery, but all except the most dedicated hikers will find it easier to link together a series of shorter hikes as they tour the islands.
Highlights: Choosing your favourite New Zealand landscape is like choosing a favourite child, but highlights of HF Holidays’ tour below include the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing (ethereal setting for The Lord of the Rings’ Mount Doom). Then there’s Abel Tasman National Park, a stunning coastal route with views over Tasman Bay; numerous trails offering views of Aoraki (Mount Cook); and a chance to hike a section of the Kepler Track.
“There are nine Great Walks such as the famous Milford Track, offering interesting, multi-day itineraries through glorious scenery.”
Book it: HF Holidays’ epic 23-day New Zealand Guided Walking Holiday takes in Auckland, Rotorua, Tongariro National Park, Abel Tasman, Aoraki, Te Anau, Milford Sound and Queenstown. Prices start at £6,499 for a March 6, 2021, departure, excluding flights.