Walking and walking holidays in Europe

Walking during a holiday to Austria, original image at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zlackensattel,_Mitteralpe.jpg.

A walking holiday is one of the best ways to experience the landscapes and scenery of Europe, and with almost 4 million square miles Europe offers a vast and varied area for walking and walking holidays.

Interestingly, the name Europe was initially given to Central Greece, the birthplace of Western Culture. Only later, the term was used for the lands to the north too. The geographic relief of the area changes quickly within small areas, which of course offers great walking opportunities in varied and interesting landscapes.

Europe also has a rich and ancient culture. During a walking holiday in Europe you will see intriguing remains and architecture, and experience unique regional culture and traditions, dating from antiquity to more modern times.

In this articles we will discuss the varied walking and some of the most popular areas for walking on offer in Europe. We hope it will give you ideas and inspiration for your next walking holiday!

Walking in the Great mountains of Europe

Europe's mountains offer a lot of ingredients for a perfect walking holiday. Think of great views and varied, interesting scenery. Because these areas were not so suitable for intensive agriculture they are relatively intact cultural landscapes where you find traces and trails of ancient cultures. As a result of man's low impact in mountain areas, there is also still a lot of wildlife to see such as flowery alpine grasslands and impressive birds of prey.

It is not always necessary to be a very fit walker to experience the grandeur of the mountains. There are very beautiful mountain regions in Europe that are very developed walking and hiking tourism regions. Here cable cars can take you in a short while up to a higher level, from where you can explore a wide range of amazing mountain trails or sometimes even plateau walks through alpine meadows with stunning views all around.

Other mountain areas in Europe are relatively "undeveloped" from a walking tourism point of view, and these areas are great for those looking for a holiday off the beaten track. Here you can still experience the wilderness and grandness of nature and solitude that can help you re-charge your batteries.

Matterhorn reflected in a high mountain lake in Europe.The Matterhorn area in Switzerland is one of the popular mountain trekking and walking holiday destinations in Europe.

Walking in the Alps

The southern half of Europe is more mountaineous. The most famous European mountain walking holiday destination is probably the Alps. This mountain range starts on the coast in France and then runs on to Austria via Switzerland. The Alps also stretch into Northern Italy, and a small part of the range is found in Germany, in the Bayern region.

The Alps are rightly a very popular walking holiday destination. Walking and hiking tourism has a long history in these areas. With many regions boasting cable cars that bring you quickly high up in the mountains, the Alps truly offer walking in stunning mountain scenery to everyone. The views of the highest mountains on the continent, glaciers, lakes and lush valleys with beautiful villages are ideal for walking. The region is very well set-up for outdoor tourism, with very good walking maps and well-marked trails throughout the region.

Walking in the Swiss Alps

The Swiss Alps are also known as the Central Alps, and are of course located in Switzerland. The highest mountain lies near the border with Italy, and is the Monte Rosa that is more than 4600 metres high. This part of the Alps has always been an important transit region, forming the gateway between the areas to the North and South of the natural barrier these mountains form.

Jungfrau & Eiger mountain in Switzerland, Europe.View on the Jungfrau region in Switzerland, prime trekking and walking country.

Walking and trekking holidays started very early in this region, at the beginning of the 19th century, with the ascents of the main peaks such as the Jungfrau, the Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn, mainly by British Mountain climbers accompanied by local guides. The construction of tourism facilities already begun in the mid 19th century when a network of mountain huts was established. The network of paths is impressive, with 62,000 km of well-marked hiking and walking trails, of which about a third is located in mountainous areas.

Silsersee, Graubünden region in Switzerland, Europe. The Silsersee region in Graubünden in Switzerland offers stunning views to enjoy during a walking holiday.

Walking in the Austrian Alps

The Austrian Alps are part of the Eastern Alps. Next to covering a large part of Austria, this part of the range also extends into Northern Italy, a little bit into south Germany, and a significantly into Slovenia. The Eastern Alps were drier than the Western Alps during one of the ice ages, with the contiguous ice shield ending in the region of the Niedere Tauern in Austria. This allowed many species to survive the ice age in the Eastern Alps where they could not survive elsewhere. For that reason, many species of plants are endemic to the Eastern Alps.

Rottal valley, Bernese Oberland, Austria, Europe. The Rot valley in the Bernese Oberland, a popular walking holiday destination in Austria.

The Austrian Alps also have a long history of mountaineering and walking tourism. Popular walking holiday areas include Salzburg, Salzkammergut, Tyrol (also spelled as Tirol). Not only the mountains attract walkers, the beautiful Austrian Lakes also offer more tranquil trails in mountainous areas for those looking for more relaxed walking with fewer ascents but great views.

Walking in the Dolomites

In 2009, the Dolomites have been declared a natural heritage site by UNESCO and the area is a very popular walking and hiking holiday destination. The Dolomites are located in the north-eastern part of Italy and are part of the Southern Limestone Alps. These impressive mountains have been named after after a unique pale type of rock, dolomite, that was named after a french mineralogist Mr Dolomieu. Before that, the mountain range was known as the pale mountains. Part of the area is a National Park, the Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunes. There are also many regional nature park in the mountain range, including Naturpark Schlern-Rosengarten and Naturpark Sextener Dolomiten.

Gruppo del Sassolungo da Passo Sella, Dolomites, Italy, Europe. The impressive Dolomites in Italy are ideal scenery for an active and varied walking holiday. Photo by Roberto Ferrari.

During the first world war, the Dolomites formed the border between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces. Protected paths were created in the mountains, and these now form one of the most popular walking routes in the area. They are known as Vie Ferrate or Via Ferrata, which means 'road with irons' in Italian. They are mountain routes which are equipped with fixed cables, stemples, ladders, and bridges, giving access to the high mountains to people with a wide range of climbing abilities. In some places it is possible to follow these routes without needing to use your own ropes and belays, and without the risks associated with unprotected scrambling and climbing.

Many walking holidays combine walking on mountain trails with some sections of via ferrati at high altitude. There are many mountain huts in the Dolomites, so it is also possible to stay overnight in mountain huts. It is even possible to walk large sections of the Dolomites at high altitude staying in mountain huts along the way during a week-long walking holiday.

Gruppo del Sassolungo da Passo Sella, Dolomites, Italy, Europe. Near the peaks of the Dolomites - the Torri del Vaiolet in Italy. Photo by Vincenzo Gianferrari Pini.

Next to the Via Ferrati, a large number of Alta Vie ('high paths') run across the Dolomites. These long distance footpaths require at least a week to walk and are numbered from one to eight. The most famous is the Alta Via 1. This is the classic high walking route in the Dolomites, and also the easiest, accessible between July and September, when the route should be largely free of snow.

Walking in the Pyrenees

Another classic and well know mountain range for a walking holiday is the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees have always formed a formidable natural barier between France and Spain. Three regions are discerned, the Western, the Central, and the Eastern Pyrenees. This European mountain range make a very massive and unworn impression, and this is largely because it consist of extremely resistant bedrock, granite, and has been less affected by gletsjers during the ice age compared to the Alps.

Gentau Lake, Frenche Pyrenees, original image at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gentau_Pic_du_Midi_Ossau.jpg .

Must-sees during a walking holiday to the Pyrenees are the large number of spectacular waterfalls and the very high mountain passes. The amount of rain and snow that falls in the Pyrenees is much greater in the western than in the eastern Pyrenees, because of the moist air that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the landscape changes from West to East; the lower parts of the Pyrenees in the extreme west have many forests and woodlands. Eastwards the extent of forest declines, here the Pyrenees are very wild and open with a more Mediterranean flora.

Three long distance footpaths or trails run through the Pyrenees, and many walking holidays to the Pyrenees use part of these routes in their itineraries. They are the GR10 across the Northern slopes in the French Pyrenees, and the GR11 across the southern slopes in the Spanish Pyrenees. The HRP is a real classic Pyrennean mountain trek for those who enjoy a challenge. It traverses peaks and ridges along a high altitude route. Next to these long distance routes the Pyrenees boast a dense network of marked trails and footpaths, both on the French and Spanish side of the Pyrenees, ideal to explore during a walking or trekking holiday.

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