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Hiking for the laidback: 10 great European routes for everyone

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Walking, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. There’s the sense of freedom, fresh air and forward motion; the big views and little surprises; how good a chilled post-walk pinot grigio tastes. And none of these things – none of them – require you to trek until you’re broken each day.

Soft hiking is still hiking. Covering shorter, easier routes at a gentle pace, you’ll still reap the slowly unfurled, richly inhaled, otherwise unreachable benefits that only exploring on foot can bring. In fact, arguably you reap them more fully than the hardcore trekker who blasts through the miles, no time to stop and stare. There’s an exquisite pleasure in sleeping in late, lingering over a hearty breakfast, setting off on a gentle ramble, passing through superb scenery, stopping wherever and whenever you please, knowing that a comfortable inn and a good glass of wine awaits.

No, you don’t have to thrash yourself in order to get the most out of a hike. As long as you get the basics right. And the first thing is to decide what you actually like. If you’re going to spend a concentrated amount of time exploring one area, make it an area that truly appeals. You’ve decided to do some strolling, yes, but what else gives you joy? Sea air and wild swimming? Forests full of birds? Pottering though cobbled villages? Traversing heady wine country (with plenty of open cellar doors)? Ensure you’re walking where you’re interested, so walking isn’t the only reward.



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Also, hiking doesn’t have to leave you with aching limbs. The breadth and diversity of trails – especially across Europe – is immense. So look for routes to suit: short trails, soft surfaces, rest days and trains, boats and funiculars that can help ease the effort.

Luggage? You don’t want to worry about that. If you opt for a hotel-to-hotel walking trip, choose one where your big bags are taken on ahead, allowing you to travel light – just a day-pack with the essentials: waterproof, water bottle, gourmet picnic.

Yes, gourmet – why not? Because this is your holiday after all and there’s no need to rough it. There are trips out there that combine the best of everything, on which you can spend days ambling through historic gorgeousness, snacking on fine local fare, and finishing up in former palaces or five-star spa hotels with a Michelin-starred feast. Soft walking, I love thee indeed.

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