If you really want to discover the essence of a destination, skip the tour buses and rental cars, and spend several days exploring it by foot with a knowledgeable guide to lead you. Don’t worry—you don’t have to be in extraordinary shape. On a guided, multiday walking tour, you might stroll through great cities and charming villages…experience breathtaking landscapes inaccessible by road…and take leisurely breaks to sample the local cuisine (and perhaps a pint at a country pub or a glass of wine at a vineyard). Unlike the typical vacation, it’s an up-close-and-personal way to explore an area, and it’s great exercise—so you can enjoy sumptuous food and still fit in your clothes when you return home.
This kind of walking tour is not the typical two-hour guided “checkoff” of the best-known tourist destinations in a city…and it’s not a hiking trip. A day typically includes perhaps three or four hours of walking, usually on easy terrain, leaving lots of time to enjoy what the area has to offer. Nights usually are spent in hotels, and meals often are eaten in sit-down restaurants. Some walking tours provide shuttle buses to transport the luggage…and to transport tour members to the daily walks so that they can stroll through interesting places but skip the boring bits between. The amount and difficulty of the walking vary from tour to tour, with some being appropriate even for people whose usual idea of activity is walking around a shopping mall, and most being doable for anyone who is reasonably fit. Groups typically are six to 20 people, though some can be larger.
There are wonderful guided walking tours all over the world, though they are especially popular in Europe. To get going, here are five of the best guided tours in Europe (plus two in the US if you want to try this out close to home)…
The rugged beauty of southwestern Ireland. County Kerry and County Clare are in the most westerly part of Europe, a place of raw natural beauty where the Atlantic Ocean crashes into the continent. History is all around you here as well, with medieval castles, ancient abbeys…plus plenty of historic pubs where an appreciation of history can be supplemented with a pint or two.
Walking tour: Ireland Counties Clare & Kerry Including the Dingle Peninsula by Walking the World is an 11-day walking tour featuring daily walks of four-to-eight miles, often along paths that date to medieval times. Local guides lead tours to historic castles, villages and pubs, rolling green hills and dramatic oceanfront views—a stretch of trail along the Cliffs of Moher looms 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Details: Available in June and September. $3,895 per person double occupancy including lodging, 11 breakfasts, seven lunches and eight dinners, $600 single supplement. (Rates for 2019 not yet available.) WalkingTheWorld.com
Classic English countryside. The English often choose the Cotswolds and Cornwall for their walking vacations, but these areas are a bit off the beaten track for many foreigners—and that’s part of their charm. Bucolic Cotswolds, to the west of London, is full of rolling hills, ancient paths, thousand-year-old villages and historic cathedrals. Cornwall, in the southwest corner of England, treats you to dramatic Atlantic coastline and charming waterfront fishing villages.
Walking tour: Walking the English Countryside by Road Scholar is a 15-day tour that includes both of these regions, with daily walks led by experts in local history and culture. Walks are six miles per day or less. Road Scholar, a not-for-profit organization, caters mainly to travelers age 50 and up, though people as young as 40 are eligible (or as young as 21 if accompanying an older relative). Details: Available April through October. $4,699 to $4,799 per person double occupancy including lodging, 13 breakfasts and dinners and three lunches. $580 single supplement. RoadScholar.org
Peaceful Portuguese vineyards. The Upper Douro River Valley is the wine-making region of Portugal—picturesque vineyards are carved into the steep, sloping riversides. It’s a tranquil and tremendously lovely place for walks. (It’s less tranquil during autumn’s grape harvest—some visitors enjoy this fall energy, while others prefer the calm of the other seasons.) At the mouth of the river is Porto, one of the country’s most vibrant cities. Portugal is among the friendliest countries in Europe, and its seafood and wine are excellent.
Walking tour: Portugal—Walking & Wine by Exodus Travels is an eight-day trip featuring five days of leisurely walks—never more than six miles in a day—plus visits to age-old wine cellars and time in the city of Porto. Details: Available April through October. $1,735 to $2,165 per person double occupancy including lodging, all breakfasts, two dinners and three wine tastings. $558 to $589 single supplement. ExodusTravels.com
Northern Spain’s Pilgrim Trail. The Camino de Santiago is a network of routes culminating at the shrine of Saint James the Greater in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Christians on pilgrimages have been
walking these routes for more than 1,000 years. The full eastern route begins on the French border and covers more than 500 miles, but most modern walkers complete only the final 62 miles through the hilly, green Galicia region. Inns and restaurants in the ancient villages along this route have been catering to pilgrims for centuries. And while tourists often choose this trail for its history and beauty, many come away seeing the journey as one of great spirituality.
Walking tour: Camino de Santiago Encompassed by G Adventures is a 10-day trip featuring six days of moderately challenging walking totaling 62 miles—that’s more walking than the typical tour—plus two days in Madrid and a final day in Santiago de Compostela. Details: Available April through October. $1,317 to $1,599 per person double occupancy including lodging and breakfast but not lunch or dinner. (There’s no single supplement, but each solo traveler shares a room with a fellow tour member of the same sex.) GAdventures.com
The Mediterranean at its best. The coastline west of Amalfi, Italy, is perhaps the most dramatic and romantic on the entire Mediterranean Sea. Cliffs drop hundreds of feet into the blue water below…historic towns such as Ravello and Amalfi cling to mountainsides and sparkle after sunset. And of course, the region features wonderful Italian food and wine. This is the Europe of postcards, a place that visitors are unlikely to ever stop thinking about.
Walking tour: Walking the Amalfi Coast by Exodus Travels is an eight-day tour featuring four days of guided walks. The remaining days are spent exploring local towns, the nearby city of Naples and the grim but fascinating ruins of Pompeii. Walks are never more than seven miles a day, but some are steep. Details: Available year-round. $1,485 to $1,705 per person double occupancy including lodging, all breakfasts, four packed lunches and six dinners. $357 to $380 single supplement. ExodusTravels.com
Great California and New England Walking Tours
You may think that you know the California wine country and New England, but they take on a whole new complexion when you go on one of these guided, multiday walking tours…
Stunning fall foliage. Nature puts on a breathtaking display of color every autumn in northern New England as the leaves turn deep and fiery shades of yellow, orange and red. This explosion of color is best enjoyed while walking forest trails, not sitting in traffic in a car or tour bus.
Walking tour: Vermont—Fall Foliage by Country Walkers is a six-day tour that winds its way down forest trails, along mountain ridges and through quaint Vermont towns. Nights are spent in the kind of historic inns that bring many people to New England even when the fall foliage is not on display. Details: Available during peak leaf season, late September through mid-October. $3,048 per person double occupancy including lodging and all meals. $698 single supplement.
California vineyards and redwood forests. North of San Francisco lie Napa and Sonoma counties, home to many of America’s greatest vineyards…and some of America’s greatest restaurants. Nearby are some of the last remaining pockets of redwood forests. Redwood trees can live more than 1,000 years and grow taller than a football field is long. Walking among these ancient, awesome giants is an experience unlike any other.
Walking tour: Wine Country Active Culinary Walking and Hiking Tour by Backroads California packs a wonderful range of walks and activities into just five days. It starts and ends in San Francisco, but in between you’ll trek through vineyards and among redwoods…picnic on scenic hillsides…attend cooking classes, such as those at the highly rated Ramekins Culinary School in Sonoma…and dine at Michelin-star restaurants. Details: Available May through October. $3,298 to $3,499 per person double occupancy including lodging, all breakfasts, three lunches and four dinners. $900 to $1,030 single supplement. Backroads.com