Tips on walking in Europe

Tips on walking in Europe


ADVICE FROM OUR EXPERT SUPPLIERS

Refuge trekking


Robert Mason, from our supplier Mountainbug: “Refuge trekking along the high Pyrenees and Alps is a great way to explore some paths that are completely wild. Between points you stay in refuges. From mid-July, you can do high-level refuge trekking trips that can last for up to 40 days and travel right the way across the mountains. That’s a perfect time to come because the snow has melted and you can access high areas without crampons, ice axes and all the specialist gear. People worry that summer is too hot to trek in, but it’s not, for every 100m you travel up, you lose a degree in heat, so August is comfortable too – say you’re in the Pyrenees at 1,300m, while it’s 30 degrees down in Toulouse, you’ll be walking in the far more temperate 20’s”.

Packing tips




Chloe Knott is Mont Blanc and all round alpine expert at Exodus, our leading walking vacations supplier: “Always read the trip notes that accompany your trip, as they will give good guidance on how fit you need to be. Wear boots with ankle support and, if you have bad knees, take walking poles. A water pouch is great, as you can top up at natural springs or at mountain huts.”

Melanie McAnaw walking vacation expert from our supplier, Headwater: “I always carry a small amount of talcum powder; it’s good for reducing friction and redness if you find yourself with blisters, chaffing or heat rash. It can also help your feet stay dry and keep your thighs from chaffing over long distances if you use a little before (and after) your walk. A small roll of adhesive bandage/plaster (and something to cut it with) can also be a lifesaver if you do feel yourself developing a blister. It can sometimes make the difference between a nice walk and a painful slog!”

Emma Garrick from our European walking vacations supplier Exodus: “Layers are the way to go as opposed to big jackets, certainly for lower altitude treks; bring a couple of lighter fleeces and long sleeved tops and layer up that way. Some people like to use walking poles and I think they’re especially useful on long days of descent as it takes the weight off your knees, though it’s generally people in their 40s upwards who use them.”

Itinerary tips


Christine Kieffer, from our Mercantour National Park walking vacations expert, Itinerance Trekking: “Stay at least one week for walking because it is the best way to discover these mountains. The ways are very well marked and it is exceptional in France. Especially our paths are easy to find because every spring, we re-mark the way, dig and repair in order to be safe and secure. It means that even an inexperienced walker can do it due to the 25/000 maps and our advice”.

Health & safety


TRAVEL SAFELY ON A WALKING HOLIDAY IN EUROPE

Health


  • Stay warm in the mountains. From the Carpathians to the Catalonian Pyrenees, Hautes Alpes to Alpes-Maritimes, the temperatures can dip very quickly, so be prepared.
  • Stay protected from the sun on all walking vacations, whether you are in the mountains or by the Med.
  • European healthcare systems vary but, no matter where you are going, always get health insurance. And carry a bank card with access to emergency funds if you can, because often services, from prescriptions to consultations have to be paid for up front.
  • Note that health insurance sometimes doesn’t include ‘high risk’ rambling, such as in high mountain territory, so do check your policy carefully.
  • Don’t ever think that your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover all medical treatment that you might need. It usually doesn’t. Also, make sure that each family member has a separate card. You can download an application form here.
  • Make sure you stay hydrated. Hydration backpacks, such as the brand Camelbak, are fantastic travel accessories.
  • Some European countries still have rabies, so don’t touch animals such as wild cats and dogs if you can avoid it. It is worth checking which countries, and regions within countries, are at risk before you travel.
  • Be wary of ticks as they carry Lyme disease. Have tweezers in your backpack to get them out easily, wear gaiters in thick undergrowth, and check your body at the end of the day.

Safety


The emergency number in Europe is 112.

When possible, go trekking or climbing with the help of a guide and, in the high mountains, an International Mountain Leader (IML).

Walking vacations are times for being unabashedly boy scout or girl guide, and be prepared with maps, compass, rain gear, pocketknife, matches and a whistle. You can buy mini emergency kits on eBay for a tenner.

Write down local emergency numbers before you set out, including mountain rescue, if relevant. And always tell someone where you are going. Make sure your mobile phone is charged too.

In high mountain areas, be wary of avalanches as late as May. You may not see snow, but it can travel swiftly from above when the heat rises.

Lightning storms are not uncommon in Europe, and often hikers are unprepared. In short, get below the treeline and stay away from summits or isolated trees. And don’t use your mobile phone.

If you are on a self-guided walking vacation, always check get a detailed weather forecast before you set out and if you are in the mountains, turn back if the weather turns bad. Or take shelter if in doubt. The World Meteorological Organisation is excellent.

It is hard to imagine, but hikers do die of heat exposure in Europe, especially in the height of summer in countries like Spain, Italy or Greece. Many hiking companies don’t run trips during July and August for this reason. If you are hiking in the height of summer, set out early, cover up and drink lots. Bring rehydration powders with you too. And don’t walk during the middle of the day.

If you are hiking in the Mont Blanc area, the Office de Haute Montagne in Chamonix is an invaluable source of information on conditions, weather, current risks and issues and generally how to stay safe in the mountains.

In France, if you see signs saying ‘chasseurs’, or chasse gardee’, turn back. It means it is a hunting area.

Vacation reviews from our travelers


Recommendations from those who HAVE WALKED IN EUROPE

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Europe walking vacation tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation.
If you want to be able to get away from it all this the place for you. The hotel owners, Derek and Ilaria speak perfect English but none of the other locals do so it would help if you have some basic Spanish or take a phrase book with you! Everyone was very friendly and helpful though and the old man in the local supermarket even used Google Translate to help us work out what we were trying to ask for! – Jackie Day on a self-guided walking vacation in Andalucía

Medium fitness required - there were some steep uphills but the days were well-paced and very enjoyable. Surprisingly few other trekkers and confusing paths in this area made a guide highly recommended. – Gina Goble on a Lycian Way walking vacation in Turkey.

If you want to learn Spanish, go on some great hikes and be truly immersed in Spanish all week (both in school and in the local community) - then book it without hesitation! If you want the city atmosphere or you are a 100% sun seeker, then keep looking! – Hazel Tyror on a hiking and learning Spanish walking vacation in the Picos de Europa

“We expected our young children to grumble about the hiking but in fact they exceeded all expectations and walked 5 steep miles per day for 3 days in a row. It's easy to under-estimate what your kids (and you) can do. The most memorable part of our vacation was our 6 year old and 4 year old leading "Leonidas" our donkey through the French Alps, sleeping in a beautiful yurt in an Alpine meadow, and feeling like we'd done something completely different to the typical "bucket and spade" type of vacation” - Alison Godfrey on our Mercantour family walking vacation
Photo credits: [Refuge trekking: Richard Allaway] [Itinerary tips: ADT 04] [helpdesk: Fresco Tours] [Review 1- Lynn Bowie: Aloa] [Review 2 - Catherine Mack: Catherine Mack]
Written by Catherine Mack
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