Loving your daily exercise? Then start planning that walking holiday now!
The world outside my window has changed beyond measure since UK lockdown began in March. Bare winter branches have given way to the vibrant green of young leaves; flowerbeds are splashed with bright spring blooms; and birdsong is suddenly louder than the passing traffic. For those of us able to get out for our essential daily exercise, the natural world is proving a welcome boost not only to our physical fitness but to our mental wellbeing too.
I’ve always loved walking and regularly follow the footpaths around my home county, but I’ve also developed an addiction to walking holidays. So I’m really disappointed not to be enjoying my first walking holiday of 2020 this month – a 50,000 step challenge weekend in Dorset with Silver Travel Advisor partner HF Holidays.
But I have been thinking back to trips I’ve taken, not just with HF, but also with Silver Travel Advisor partners Ramblers Walking Holidays and Headwater. And I’ve dug out the photo albums to relive happy days on foot through England, France, and Italy; Portugal, mainland Spain and the Balearics.
So if you can’t wait to book up your next walking break, here’s some tried-and-tested inspiration. And if you’ve only recently discovered a new passion for walking during your daily dose of exercise, maybe lockdown time is the perfect opportunity to investigate the wide range of holidays on offer. Walks are graded so you’ll find itineraries to suit all abilities, including holidays that combine gentle walking with sightseeing, craft activities, or even cruising.
Launched more than a century ago in 1913, HF Holidays go to more than 80 destinations on six continents, organising both small group guided walking holidays and special interest breaks. Last year, I spent a wonderful winter sun week walking the famous levada trails and coastal paths of Madeira, with time off to explore Funchal’s lush tropical gardens and historic centre.
But HF is also renowned for its 18 country house hotels across the UK, all different in style but each one offering hearty home-cooked food, comfortable accommodation, and drying rooms for boots and outdoor clothing. HF offer a daily choice of guided routes – just make your decision for the next day at each evening briefing – but if you’re new to walking, maybe test the water on one of their Gentle Walking itineraries.
My aborted 50,000 Step Challenge would have meant a welcome return to West Lulworth House, the beautiful base for walks along the spectacular Jurassic Coast. I have explored the Lake District too from Derwent Bank near Keswick and the Peak District from HF’s walkers’ hotel in Dovedale.
HF’s country houses are closed at the time of writing, but UK breaks are guaranteed to prove popular later in the year as we hopefully start to travel again. In the meantime, take a look at HF Holidays for inspiration and some new articles which include recommendations for classic travel literature books; recipes from HF chefs; and icons of the world to explore online.
Ramblers Walking Holidays
Ramblers Walking Holidays also have decades of experience to draw on, launched in 1946 and today offering over 200 small-group walking holidays in the UK, Europe and around the world.
It’s seven years since I took my very first tentative steps on a guided walking holiday, following an ancient pilgrims’ trail through the gently undulating countryside of Wiltshire and Hampshire. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how I’d shape up, but my companions were congenial, the landscape quite lovely, and my feet still felt fine after my three-day initiation.
Stepping up to a long distance footpath, I tackled Hadrian’s Wall from east to west with another Ramblers Holidays group. This stunning blend of rolling farmland and spectacular crags is liberally dotted with unique Roman settlements and monuments, and there was plenty of time to explore them at leisure. Easily achievable over a week by anyone of average fitness, this iconic national trail gave me a real sense of personal achievement that I still treasure five years later.
For much-needed winter sunshine, a ramble along the Algarve Way from the twin centres of Tavira and Albufeira proved a winner, whilst May was the perfect time of year to explore Southern Italy. First, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Matera with its cave houses and Baroque churches, and then Alberobello with its cute conical trulli houses, where we each stayed in our own little ‘hobbit home’.
Closer to home, I’ll always have a soft spot for Hassness, Ramblers’ picturesque country house on the shores of Buttermere in England’s Western Lakes. Sign up for a Nordic walking weekend, a Navigational Skills Course, or do as I did and book the Women’s Activity Week which combines hiking with kayaking, yoga, and pilates. I even clocked up a first with a ‘wild swim’ – well, a quick dip! – in the lake. And if you like the idea of being on the water rather than in it, take a look at Ramblers’ Cruise & Walk programme in conjunction with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.
Headwater operate both walking and cycling trips, mostly self-guided but a few guided walking itineraries too. I’ve taken a number of their independent walking trips, all fully supported by a local rep who provides client transfers and also takes luggage on to the next accommodation on circular itineraries. You do need your own walking companion, but the beauty of self-guided is that you can set off whenever you like and take the route entirely at your own pace, following Headwater’s own route instructions and a local large-scale map.
I have happy memories of Headwater itineraries along Menorca’s varied coastal footpaths; Mallorca’s panoramic mountain trails; and the picturesque perched villages of Provence. Of lunches in local hostelries; picnics beside the trail; and the odd restorative glass or two at the end of a day’s walk.
Whilst most Headwater itineraries are circular, some do operate from a single centre, and my friend and I loved the friendly little hotel in the white Andalusian village of Zuheros on the ‘Hidden Valleys of Cordoba’ programme. Here we offset hikes through spectacular gorges and over craggy peaks with day trips by taxi to the stunning cities of Cordoba and Granada.
And I felt we’d stepped into a forgotten part of Italy when we went ‘Walking in the Venetian Hills’ amongst gentle volcanic peaks, all an easy train ride from Venice. Along the way we encountered a glorious villa garden; fortified heritage towns; and Petrarch’s country residence, whilst on our ‘rest days’, we took taxis to Padua and Vicenza.
So if you’re missing your extended walking fix or think this could be a new style of break for you, why not use lockdown time to find the perfect itinerary for you. Just keep up your permitted daily dose of exercise and you’ll be fit and raring to go when the time comes!
For walking holidays Silver Travel Advisor recommends HF Holidays and Ramblers Walking Holidays.