Known more for its coast and islands, there are extraordinary walking vacations even just an hour inland, with eight national parks to explore. There are also mountains just an hour from Zagreb, probably one of the most underrated European capital cities. And you would be mad not to walk a bit of the coast too, of course, hopping and hiking all those island idylls.
Hiking is a must when traveling in Japan, with mountains and forests covering 70% of the country. The Kumano Kodo and Nakasendo Trails are pure rapture for ramblers. The former an ancient pilgrimage route through the richly forested Kii Mountains, and the latter a 17th century historic byway from Kyoto to Edo, now Tokyo.
One of the biggest countries in the world, this is a land to walk in, wonder at and go wild in. With the Rocky Mountains at its core, you can hike through Jasper, Banff, Glacier and Yoho national parks, head with a packhorse and guide into the remote Tweedsmuir Park. Or just stay in one place and still find a different walk every day for a year.
You donít have to forgo the sun, sea and sand that Portugal is famous for when you go on a walking vacation. Not with a newly opened 350 kms Rota Vicentina waymarked way that stretches along the coast. You can also take in the flower filled coastal valleys of the Alentejo uplands or just aim high and head to the stunning Serra de Estrela mountains.
Which hiker doesnít hanker after the Himalayas? It has the highest mountains, bottomless gorges, and some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet. Everest is the leader of the pack, the breathtaking Annapurna range, a horseshoe-shaped, 210km route that wanders through traditional Hindu villages coming in second, with Manaslu, a long and challenging trek thatís higher than Annapurna the latest one to bag.
Belonging to both Chile and Argentina, Patagonia feels as if it was created especially for hikers. Because this is a land where borders donít matter. The magnificent mountains, lakes and rivers donít stop because of a line on the map, and the welcome given to hikers doesnít change either. Because this is Patagonia - the end of the world. And a pure walkersí world at that.
This has been on the expert explorersí radar for a long time, but lovers of Moroccan souks and seaside are now starting to embark on journeys up to its magnificent peaks. Hardcore hikers head for the High Atlasí Mount Toubkal but there is superb walking to be had in the lower Atlas range too, with welcoming Berber people at wonderfully remote mountain villages.
Most of Madagascar's flora and fauna isnít only endemic but also entrancing, and so when you hike here, you really do feel as if you are stepping into a lost world. Parts of the island are so remote youíll often combine walking with kayaking or rafting in order to get to the otherwise inaccessible mountains and canyons of the south, or rainforest of the north.
They are almost a business onto themselves and, although most have great intentions, the minority have responsible tourism policies, throwing thousands of hikers on the hills, trampling and littering, often with little financial benefit for local people to boot. So, choose your charity hike wisely and consider the options of raising money for a local charity. At least, extend your stay and leave some money locally too.
For every packed peak, there is nearly always another empty one nearby. Same goes for national parks. 70 per cent of Japan, for example is mountainous, yet most people only want to fawn over Fuji. Switched on hikers are heading south to explore Keralaís Western Ghats instead of the Himalayas, and worshippers of the Camino de Santiago are discovering heavenly spots along Portugalís Serra de Monchique's ancient paths.
Itís all very well being attached to the hiking boots your dad wore, and his dad before that. Or that daypack you have had for years, and stitched up again and again. But sometimes it is OK just to let them go, enshrine them if needs be, and acknowledge the benefits of high tech waterproof and breathable walking gear. With the exception of a fine old handed down hipflask of course.
The clue is in the name ĎWalkingÖ Vacationí. They are not about getting to the top first, or rounding that distant headland before everyone else. They are for people who want to step into other natural landscapes, explore culture in remote places, and pass the time of day with people they meet en route. Who needs the top? Thereíll be plenty of highs along the way.