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7 European long-distance walking trails

Text: Maja Jaklič Photos: Tomo Jeseničnik, Dunja Wedam, erich Spiegelhalter, Schwarzwald Tourismus, iStock

Being out of doors is good for both body and mind – a truism that barely needs repeating. Time spent in nature, and with nature, clears the mind and drives away stress, fills us with energy and inspires us with fresh ideas. So on with the rucksack and put your best foot forward on the nearest footpath or walking trail. Europe is criss-crossed by an abundance of them, which makes it hard to choose a favourite or say which is the most beautiful – beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. We have nevertheless managed to pick seven that are definitely worth sampling, be it for a hike of just a few hours or a trek of several days.

1. Along the wire with memories of comradeship in Ljubljana

How many capital cities in the world can boast that they are surrounded by a hiking trail? Slovenia's capital can: Ljubljana is in fact encircled by a 32-kilometre trail that follows the route of the barbed wire that once ran right around the city. 

Ljubljana has grown enormously in the ensuing decades, with the result that today this well-kept trail passes through districts with busy urban streets as well as through meadows filled with the scent of flowers and elder blossom. If spring comes early this year, the first flowers will already be opening at the start of May, just in time for the 63rd March Along the Wire. Those setting off along the trail over the course of this three-day event will include runners, hikers and recreational walkers, the old and the young and everyone in between, those who want to recall history and those who simply want to enjoy a walk and a chat with friends. If you are in Ljubljana in that period, don't miss this collective march.

 

Along the wire with memories of comradeship
Along the wire with memories of comradeship

25 km from Ljubljana Airport

2. Along the Westweg through a fairy-tale forest 

The Westweg or Western Trail is, if not the most famous hiking trail in Germany, certainly among the first to come to mind to any keen hiker. At just over 280 kilometres long, it winds through the famous Black Forest (Schwarzwald), whose dark forested slopes and hidden ravines have long stirred the imagination and inspired the stories of mysterious creatures and wicked witches collected in the tales of the brothers Grimm. The trail connects Pforzheim in the German state of Baden-Württemberg to Basel in Switzerland and is part of European Long-Distance Trail E1, which runs from the North Cape (Nordkapp) in Norway all the way to Sicily.

The Westweg is very popular with hikers, who are well catered for along the way, with plenty of places to eat and sleep and even carriers to transport their luggage so that they can hit the trail with straight backs that aren't bent beneath the weight of enormous rucksacks. And if they still feel their strength waning along the way, they can get it back with a slice of the famous Black Forest gateau, which has its origin – at least so the name suggests – in these dark woods.

Westweg 980x501
Along the Westweg through a fairy-tale forest

151km from Frankfurt Airport

3. Bohinj: Around a glacial lake

One of the most popular footpaths among those who want to draw new energy from nature but who are short of time – and perhaps the requisite fitness – is the path around Lake Bohinj. Even small children and people unused to long hikes will complete this roughly 12-kilometre route around Slovenia's largest natural lake without difficulty in two or three hours. Along the way you can take a break in one of the many different picnic areas and enjoy a wonderful view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. And if that isn't enough, you can extend your hike along the easy path that leads past Ukanc to the Savica Falls – which should take around a further hour and a half.

Bohinj
Bohinj

69 km from Ljubljana Airport

4. Balkan Peaks Peace Trail 

Now let us set off on another trail that recalls turbulent times in Europe – the Peace Trail. And since more than one hiking trail on the Old Continent bears this name, let us be more precise: the Peace Trail that leads across the Balkans, in other words across the peaks of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. This circular route running for a little over 190 kilometres is one of the newer hiking trails in Europe. It was created after the war in Kosovo in 1999 as one of the ways to encourage reconciliation. One of the advantages of this trail, besides breathtaking views of one of the least known parts of Europe, is that you can join it wherever you like and either choose your own route or follow the "original". It takes experienced hikers about ten days of ascents and descents to complete the entire Balkan Peaks Trail (as it is also known), but this does not mean that individual sections are not suitable for one-day hikes or even for walks of just a few hours. A word of warning though: if you do set off on this circular trail, don't forget to get permits to cross the borders – available from any of the local hiking agencies. 

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Balkan Peaks Peace Trail

99km from Podgorica Airport

5. Skåneleden

Although hiking in Sweden is mainly at home in the north, where we find the country's most famous and most popular hiking trail – the Kungsleden or King's Trail – the province of Scania (Skåne) in the far south of the country also offers many opportunities for hikers. Here you will find the Skåneleden, a system of more than 1,000 kilometres of hiking trails criss-crossing the beautiful landscape of the province from north to south and from east to west. You can also get here from the Danish capital Copenhagen by train or car in just over half an hour via the bridge and tunnel. The trails are suitable for both experienced hikers and recreational walkers, for those who simply want to wander for a few hours and for those who enjoy exploring remote places. The diverse Scandinavian landscape will leave no one unmoved: virgin forests, megalithic monuments, yellow fields of oilseed rape or sandy beaches. Which direction will you choose?

Skåneleden
Skåneleden

90km from Copenhagen Airport

6. Wadden Sea

We have known for a long time that mud is beneficial for the skin. The Dutch, Germans and Danes, however, swear that it also has a beneficial effect on the soul, particularly if you wade through it on the so-called muddy hike in the Wadden Sea. This intertidal wetland in the south-eastern part of the North Sea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers shelter to thousands of animal and plant species. It is very popular with lovers of nature and long walks. But be careful: you should only set off along the muddy dikes of the Wadden Sea if accompanied by an experienced guide who knows where and when hikers can cross the sea bed. Although the movement of the tides is predictable, it is easy for visitors to underestimate the speed with which the water level rises, or to misjudge the distance to dry land – so planning a visit is best left to the experts. 

Wadden Sea
Wadden Sea

303km from Copenhagen Airport

7. Hadrian's Wall

Yet another European hiking trail imbued with history leads along Hadrian's Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in northern Britain. This 135-kilometre trail linking the east and west coasts of Great Britain follows the line of the famous Roman defences on the northern border of the former empire. For most of the route, the well-maintained and well-marked trail leads through the countryside and past little villages, but from time to time it passes through busy towns such as Newcastle and Carlisle. The absence of hills means that this trail is considered one of the easiest in the United Kingdom. Be that as it may, even experienced hikers will take six or seven days to complete it, especially if they are interested in the history that accompanies them every step along this trail.

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall

224 km from Manchester Airport