Is not just for Christmas. Nor are huskies as, in summer, you can hike with them through their mountain and forested trails right up in the far north of the country, where the sun will hardly set. Or hike from hut to hut in remote wilderness areas, discovering the taiga, coniferous forests of the Hossa National Park, climbing up ridges with spectacular views of lakelands and river valleys, and foraging, Finnish style.
Where? Ask a French hiker and they’ll know exactly, famous for its ‘randonées’ riches at home, but less well known abroad. Think La Rochelle, Ile de Ré, Marais Poitevin and the Atlantic – et viola. Easy to reach by TGV from Paris, the Pays de Gâtine area, in particular, is exquisite escapism into ancient farmland, orchid-filled woodland, blissful Beugnon Lake or medieval villages. It’s the France of art house movies.
One of the highlights of hiking in this most underrated European country is the 350km Rota Vicentina waymarked way that stretches along the Atlantic coast. Perfect for self-guided walking vacations, where your bags are transported for you, so you just walk from one heavenly headland to the next. The coastal Alentejo uplands are also stunning or aim high and head to the Serra de Estrela mountains.
Divided into heavenly ranges, such as the Apuseni range in Romania and High Tatras in Poland and Slovakia, these are rambling revelations. Trek rural idylls, timeless and untouched by tourism, and travel with a responsible walking vacation company that links in with expert local guides and small, rural homestays and guesthouses. Snowshoeing here in winter keeps these limestone peaks accessible all year round.
Worlds apart from resort raucousness, there is exquisite hiking all year round on the voluptuously volcanic Canaries. Lanzarote has barren beauty, with blackened valleys all leading to beaches; La Palma’s GR130 long-distance coastal path explores vineyards, banana plantations and orange groves; Gran Canaria’s central mountains have their own Camino de Santiago; and El Hierro, although tiny, has grandiose landscapes.
La via è bella in Tuscany. And it’s not all rolling hills of period dramas either. There is action adventure to be had too in the Alpi Apuane and Apennine mountain ranges, with summits to strive for and cols to conquer. In Orechiella Park, walk up ancient mule paths through ancient villages to Pania di Corfino summit. Or trek high in the Alpi Apuane all the way to the imposing face of Monte Sumbra.
Seriously hot in summer, hiking here in spring, summer and winter bring the true highlights. Walk through Moorish villages such as Scopello, or along the salt plains of Nubia, to gorgeous places like the historic port of Marsala. And inland is falling down with olive and lemon groves and vineyards. And trattoria that thrive on all three. For hot and very cool, trek the Aeolian archipelago, or snowshoe on Mt. Etna.
Not only is the right to roam enshrined in Scottish law, it practically IS the law to hike when you come. Head here on the train and you’ll see that just about everyone is wearing hiking boots. Everywhere you go there are 'Walkers Welcome' signs. There are guides galore, with expertise in everything from wildlife to whisky, and mountaineering experts also, to conquer those glorious Celtic cols. Just don’t forget your hipflask.
About the weather, emergency supplies or insurance. Always check forecasts before you go out, be prepared for all seasons especially in the mountains (as well as avalanches well into the spring) and turn back if in doubt. A small emergency kit will cost you a tenner but can save your life. And insurance, in Spain, for example, you can be charged up to €20,000 to be airlifted if you break an ankle. ‘Nuff said.
Although charity climbs mean well, they do not always tread well. They can be punishing on the Three Peaks, for example, Ben Nevis is brutalised in certain seasons, and Snowdon is snowed under with charity hikers throughout the year. Go for a longer time, spend locally and seek out needy local charities to support. And check if the organiser has a responsible tourism policy. Many don’t.
You need alpine skills and experience to summit Europe’s highest peak. You can go on a specialist summiting sojourn, but you can also do some serious hiking on the Tour de Mont Blanc, which circumnavigates rather than conquering the massif. You can hike for up to two weeks through three countries to take in the massif. That is a tour de force.
It is usually pretty clear when a sign means ‘Keep Out’ whether it is in French, Italian or Turkish. Waymarked ways are carefully managed and often delicately negotiated with landowners. So, if you want to head right off the beaten path, only do so with an expert local guide. Or at least ask permission. It only takes a couple of irresponsible hikers to ruin the growth of European trails for everyone.