20 04 2010
Discover some of the top walking spots in the world as we select five destinations famed for their breathtaking scenery and extensive network of routes that offer something for everyone from easy-going coastal trails to expedition-grade high mountain treks
Nepal has not only the loftiest mountains but also the most vibrant village culture of all the Himalayan nations, and recent political changes have ushered in an open-arms attitude to tourism. The range of hiking options is vast. Classic tea-house treks such as the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp route take up to three weeks; alternatively, go off the beaten track on the challenging Dhaulagiri Circuit with the option of climbing Dhampus’s 6,060-metre (19,882-feet) peak. Specialist Mountain Kingdoms (www.mountainkingdoms.com) offers everything from luxury lodge walks in the Annapurna foothills to expedition-grade treks featuring fixed-rope work – on Island Peak, for example. Or you can opt to arrange your own itinerary through the many trekking agents that throng Kathmandu. Lonely Planet’s guide to Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (www.lonelyplanet.com) is a good starting point.
The Matterhorn, the Eiger, the Jungfrau, the Wetterhorn… hiking in the Swiss Alps is one dazzling mountain panorama after another. Serious trekkers can take in the lot on the Alpine Pass Route, which traverses the country from Liechtenstein to Lake Geneva. Or there’s the high altitude Haute Route glacier trek – Mountain Tracks (www.mountaintracks.co.uk) is one company offering this route as a guided trek. But you don’t have to go super-high for spectacular scenery: the Bernese Oberland has fantastic day-walking through summer meadows full of cowbells and wild flowers. A good base is Kandersteg, where the tourist office offers details of lots of routes (www.kandersteg.ch): don’t miss the walk to Oeschinensee, probably Switzerland’s most dazzling alpine lake (www.oeschinensee.ch).
Kiwis love walking so much they’ve even got their own word for it – “tramping”. They also have 14 national parks, nine official long-distance trails and a world-beating network of back-country huts, all with hot showers and an “honesty box” payment system. Most importantly of all, there is one brilliant website highlighting all these options: www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks. Topping the bill are the so-called “great walks”, from the dramatic Milford Track, with its glacier-gouged valleys, to the easy-going Abel Tasman Coast Track, with lots of potential for beach time and kayaking. The stand-out day-walk is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, across the smoking summit of one of North Island’s more active volcanoes (www.thetongarirocrossing.co.nz).
Forget the staid image of seaside Madeira – the island’s hiking trails are hair-raising, high-adrenaline adventures into a landscape that’s like nothing else on earth. Great all year round, the walking can be as challenging as you choose, thanks to Madeira’s 2,000-kilometre (3,220-mile) network of levadas, irrigation channels that were hacked into the steep mountainsides 200 years ago. Their slender parapets now make eye-popping routes into the sub-tropical island interior – though you’ll need a head for heights. Don’t miss the Levada do Caldeirão Verde, which has magnificent views and the 100-metre (328-foot) “Green Cauldron” waterfall. This and 100 other routes are featured in the seminal walkers’ handbook Landscapes of Madeira from Sunflower Books (www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk).
With its rumpled blanket of vineyards, olive groves and cypresses, criss-crossed by cobbled mule tracks and “white roads”, Tuscany offers the most romantic walks in Europe. It is a place for sun-kissed springtime rambles, circling out from medieval hill-towns such as Radda, San Gimignano or Volterra, and returning to find your trattoria table waiting. Plan your own routes using the 1:50,000 Kompass maps (numbers 660 and 661, www.themapshop.co.uk), or pick up Gillian Price’s excellent Walking in Tuscany (www.cicerone.co.uk), which packs in almost 50 day-walks plus a full guide to Sentiero del Chianti, a 75-kilometre (47-mile) trek across the backbone of the Monti del Chianti from Florence to Siena.
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