Guided walking vacations in Europe

You’ve got to watch your step in the Valley of the Mills. Or steps – there are 3,000 of them chipped out of the rocks between Ravello and Amalfi. Waterfalls flush out the humidity in the hot summers, ruffling ferns and soaking green moss. The ruins of medieval paper mills are sunk in-between like slumbering, crumbling giants. It’s certainly not the landscape you expect from the Amalfi Coast in south-west Italy – best known for its clifftop views and death-defying roads.

This natural reserve between Ravello and Amalfi is Vania De Paoli’s favourite walk on the Amalfi Coast. She works with our adventure specialists Exodus Travels to co-lead one of our most-loved guided walking vacations in Europe, as well as walks in the Prosecco Hills and Tuscany.

“The mills are just beautiful,” says Vania. “They’re falling down but you still get to see these structures, and some of them are huge, so you get to think of how many people would’ve worked there and how busy it would’ve been centuries ago.”
As soon as you take these little roads down the side… you see another town.
Going on a guided walking vacation in Europe is like going undercover. Your guide sneaks you into towns like Amalfi at 10am, before the coach groups arrive, or through vertiginous backstreets that the locals use as shortcuts. They’ll suggest the least busy beach and footpaths worn by farmers leading their pack mules full of supplies up from town.
“Amalfi’s always crowded because you have one main road going into the town,” says Vania. “But as soon as you take these little roads down the side… you see another town. It’s a completely different place and it’s quiet.”

Lifelong locals, conservationists & geologists

The guides leading our European walking vacations come in many guises. Some, like Vania, lead walks across their home country for a living. Others aren’t career guides, but experts in their respective fields with an unmatchable knowledge of a bearded vulture conservation project or wolf tracking project that they work on.

“We have a strong philosophy of using local guides,” says Lucy Woollons from Aragon Active. She runs some of our top Spanish Pyrenees walking vacations with partner Simon (and their children Penny and Sofi, three cats and dog: “They’re part of the team!”).
They’re full of enthusiasm and fantastic local knowledge… they give you the kinds of things that you’d never find in the guidebooks.
“When we first approach locals about guiding they’re a bit nervous, because it’s not a touristy area where we are, so English doesn’t come that easily. But we tell them, ‘You can do it!’ and they get by… They’re full of enthusiasm and fantastic local knowledge – they know the plants, the wildlife, the geology, the local history. They’ve always got anecdotes to tell. They’ve got all this, and they get it across; people find it fascinating. They give you the kinds of things that you’d never find in the guidebooks.”

“It’s interesting,” says Simon, “because people think geology is a bit of a boring, yawny subject, but actually when you’re in the mountains and you’re seeing it, and you’re walking on it, it brings it all to life and you have a totally different concept of it by the time you’ve left.”

“Especially when you’re hiking about 2,000m above sea level,” adds Lucy, “and then you just bend down and pick up some fossils, and you say, ‘Look! These were under the sea before.’”

While you’re concerned with stepping over tree roots and getting used to your hiking poles, your guide is busy checking the treetops for golden eagle eyries or ready to steer you down a near-invisible path. Your guide will teach you how to look for little signs of life that you’d otherwise miss: farmers opening the gates and letting their goats flow down the mountain; bear and wolf tracks; the outline of a ghost village that tells a tale of the exodus of people from the countryside. You just need to come with an open mind, ready to absorb the experiences.
Your guide will teach you how to look for little signs of life that you’d otherwise miss.
Guides are also guardians of the places you visit and that they love. Walks often take you through delicate and scientifically significant terrain. You might hike the precious national parks squeezed between some of the most trampled towns on the Amalfi Coast, quietly follow bear tracks in the Carpathians, or pick over the delicate paths of the Picos de Europa.

Up close, your guides will show you how these fragile environments are changing thanks to the climate and human activities. They’ll teach you how to leave as small a bootprint as possible by showing you how to avoid puddles without eroding the footpath and pointing out near-invisible patches of wildflowers to step over.

Tougher walks are led by guides with more training, such as high mountain guides equipped with safety training that they can then share with you. Ana Rodriguez Garcia is the founder of Peak Me, and runs some of our Spanish language and walking vacations. Many of her guests choose to hike the little-known Picos de Europa in their spare hours between lessons. It can be challenging terrain, but accessible to most with a pep talk from a guide.

“One of the hikes you can do has one of the highest bridges,” says Ana. “It’s climbing for non-climbers; anyone can do it if you have a head for heights. Our guides are brilliant – they can get anyone across the bridge.”
He spent a long time getting this perfect route down the island… you’re seeing all the wildlife and a side of the island that no one sees.
The guides know best, so they often create the routes from scratch. Michelle Braddock, from our Canary Islands experts Lanzarote Retreats, asked a local guide to design a walk that explored the island from north to south.
“He’s from Barcelona, but he’s absolutely passionate about Lanzarote, so he’s a brilliant guide to walk with,” says Michelle. “He spent a long time getting this perfect route down the island. It’s such an achievement when we get down to the south coast… you’re seeing all the wildlife and a side of the island that no one sees. We’ve walked through villages and I’ve gone, ‘I don’t even know where that is,’ and I’ve been here for nearly 30 years and it’s a small place.”

Little black books

Your walking guide’s little black book of contacts is one of the best things about going on a guided walking vacation in Europe. Severio Serbina also leads walking vacations with our partner Exodus Travels. He describes one of his favourite moments on the Amalfi Coast: “I was walking with my group on the famous Path of the Gods and spotted a friend of mine who’s a shepherd on a lower path. I called his name, saluted him, and went on with my group. About 30 minutes later, we found my friend waiting at a junction with his old mule. He had a small lunch on the rocks ready for us: home-made salami, fresh goat cheese and fresh bread, and then he got out red wine at the end. The guests were speechless; it was really special.”
We found my friend waiting at a junction with his old mule... He had a small lunch on the rocks ready for us: home-made salami, fresh goat cheese and fresh bread.
Wildlife guides also use their contacts to enrich your walking vacation. Sally Guillaume, from our mountain adventure specialists Undiscovered Mountains, co-organises our wolf tracking vacation in France. She uses her contacts to show you all sides of the argument about introducing wolves back to Europe.

“The wolves being here is a very controversial and interesting subject,” says Sally. “We meet a farmer who explains the issues objectively, explains the government compensation scheme for farms affected by wolves, and introduces his guard dogs. We also know a naturalist photographer who has spent years tracking the wolves trying to film them.” 

What do guided walking vacations in Europe entail?

Most guided walking vacations in Europe are small group tours of 4-16 people and a tour guide that last around a week. Trips often pick a spot to stay – a converted farmhouse or family-run hotel with a sauna or pool – and stick to it, taking you out to explore the surrounding countryside on day walks. Accommodation and some meals are included, sometimes leaving you free to take your pick of restaurants for your evening meal.

Walks range from leisurely (say, Tuscany, Sweden and the Loire Valley) to challenging (mountains like the Dolomites and Spanish Pyrenees). It’s always worth doing some training beforehand so you don’t run out of puff, as walks usually cover 10-12km (4-6 hrs) of hiking a day.

Keeping up with a small group walking tour can be challenging for children, so families with kids under 16 should pick a tailor made tour or one designed for families. Tailor made tours are often best for family groups with a range of ages; walks will be personalised to your abilities… and attention spans.

Other activities cameo on walking vacations. You might wind up balancing hikes with wine tasting in the Chianti hills, learning Spanish, chasing the Northern Lights with a photography tutor in Iceland, snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the Alps, or whale watching in the Canary Islands.

Our top Europe walking Vacation

Amalfi Coast walking vacation, Italy

Amalfi Coast walking vacation, Italy

Walk in lemon groves and hillside villages

From US $1849 to US $2179 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2023: 17 Jun, 24 Jun, 1 Jul, 22 Jul, 29 Jul, 5 Aug, 12 Aug, 19 Aug, 26 Aug, 2 Sep, 9 Sep, 14 Oct, 28 Oct, 4 Nov, 11 Nov, 18 Nov, 23 Dec, 30 Dec
2024: 10 Feb, 17 Feb, 24 Feb, 2 Mar, 9 Mar, 16 Mar, 23 Mar, 30 Mar, 6 Apr, 13 Apr, 20 Apr, 27 Apr, 4 May, 11 May, 18 May, 25 May, 1 Jun, 8 Jun, 15 Jun, 22 Jun, 29 Jun, 6 Jul, 13 Jul, 20 Jul, 27 Jul, 3 Aug, 10 Aug, 17 Aug, 24 Aug, 31 Aug, 7 Sep, 14 Sep, 21 Sep, 28 Sep, 5 Oct, 12 Oct ...
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Europe walking or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Tips from our travelers

“Make sure you do some hill walking before you go otherwise your knees and calves will suffer. There are lots of uneven steps – literally thousands! The walking is either up, up, up or down, down, down – there is little walking on the flat. Be prepared for the rain – when it rains it really rains.” – Rosie Mogan on our Amalfi Coast walking vacation

“Springtime in Las Alpujarras brought us perfect hiking weather; wildflowers in abundance... If you are not particularly interested in nature and hiking, this is not the vacation for you. If you are, what a treat in store. (Also, perhaps better to abstain if you can’t live without info entertainment, media or night life.)” – Lesley O on our Las Alpujarras walking vacation
Wear comfortable footwear and bring poles if any concerns with downhills.
– Ann Whitehouse on our Carpathian Mountains vacation
“From the point of view of learning Spanish it is very important people try to ‘think’ in the language through the day, including talking to the tour guides and restaurant staff in the evenings as much as possible.” – Andrew Hawkins on our Spanish course and walking vacation, Picos de Europa

“Take some Arnica cream or gel! Walking up and down stairs all day strains legs differently than just walking up and down a hill. I have discovered muscles I did not know I had! Also, take some wet tissues in order to ‘wash’ hands before the sandwich lunch whenever it is not possible to stop at a restaurant or bar, which is definitely the case in low season. Take layers to put on, as the temperature changes quite significantly with altitude…” – Renata Korpak on our Amalfi Coast walking vacation

“Be prepared for all weathers! We went in early May and had lovely warm sunshine on some days, but also heavy snow on another day! (The snow was actually quite fun, but I did need to borrow gloves.) But the hotel may be able to lend some equipment, e.g. walking poles, if you need it. We changed money before we left home and were glad we did so, simply because we didn’t have to think about it while away.” – William Walker, on our Carpathian Mountains vacation
Be prepared for full, action-packed days!
– Anna Bond on our Spanish course and walking vacation, Picos de Europa
Photo credits: [Page banner: Aneta Ivanova] [Top box: Mentnafunangann] [Local guides (Spanish pyrenees): Akuppa John Wigham] [Lifelong locals 2: Robert Bye] [Review 1: Malte Christiansen] [Review 2: Rick McCharles]