Walking tours of Europe - villages, wine, beer, art for beginning walkers?
January 20, 2010 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Walking tours of Europe? Looking to change up our usual travel style, see smaller places, and get some exercise at the same time.

We live in London and have travelled across to various European cities several times now. Having been lucky enough to see many of the major galleries and sights in the big cities, we'd like to try a different type of travel and get some exercise to boot.

Eventually we hope to take a bike tour, but figured we'd start with walking on a weekend trip to see if this works for us. We are in our 30s and have only ever travelled independently before, so tours would be new to us too but being new in London, it might be a nice way to meet people.

Our usual travel sees us wandering cities walking up to 15-20 km per day.

Any recommendations for budget walking tours for beginners, 2-3 days? Tours that take in small villages, wine regions, abbeys (eg in Belgium) would be great. We also really like contemporary art, music, and literary stuff. We'd like to go to Portugal, Belgium, Spain, France.
posted by wingless_angel to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I had a friend who walked El Camino de Santiago. She loved it; as it's pretty long you could do just a section.

Also check out this AskMe of mine: Travel Walking Routes
posted by pintapicasso at 3:02 PM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: I just found out about the eleven long distance walking trails in Europe. Some are not finished yet.
posted by soelo at 3:22 PM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: France has a network of Grand Randonnees - here's an English page on them. They cross the country. They're really well signposted. I live in Grenoble right by GR9 now (this bit) and quite often just head off up the path - some day I'll book a b&b further along and do more of it, but it's very hard to get lost once you're on the route. They have a method of signing which involves painted marks on trees - a cross means "don't go this way" and a dash means "this is the path" and an upside-down L or backwards-upside-down L means there's a turn right or left.
posted by handee at 3:41 PM on January 20, 2010

Best answer: YES! I did the Camino de Santiago this summer. If you're looking for small villages, wine regions, and monasteries, this is definitely the ticket. You'll meet at least a dozen (and more like 30-40) of the nicest people in the world every night. It's also super fun if you know a bit of Spanish/French/German/Dutch/Italian. There are many more people near the end because if you make it to Santiago with at least 100 km walked you get a full indulgence from the Catholic church (because 2010 is a holy year) and it's a popular weekend break for Spaniards. Stick to the eastern half of the country and you'll be happier. Or, walk a France portion. Generally, most people buy a guidebook and walk independently. There are many routes to Santiago but the most popular is the Camino Frances which goes across the northern (but not coastal) bit of Spain. You can't get lost-- there's yellow arrows every few steps, it seems. Lodging is around 5 euros a night in pilgrim dormitories. You'll need to pre-order a pilgrim's passport from the Confraternity of St. James which entitles you to this lodging. To plan your trip here's a list of all the pilgrim dormitories, called albergues. I didn't really take advantage of the wine regions but you can walk through a few of them, including La Rioja, and easily take taxis to wineries in the lazy afternoons. I sent someone this memail a while ago with my recommendations for a 3-4 day portion of the camino. The first suggestion is quite green and through a wine region. The second suggestion includes a long stretch of the mind-blowingly flat meseta.
My ideal route would be: starting in the afternoon, take a train/bus to Logrono, then a bus/taxi (don't walk) to Navarette. Walk 6 kilometers through wineries to tiny (population 200) Ventosa and stay at the lovely albergue there (you can reserve a bed beforehand so you can arrive in the early evening). The next morning, walk EARLY through lovely Najera where you can watch the sun rising on the cliffs that the town is built against, then walk to Azofra and sleep in the lovely municipal albergue there. The church there is pretty cool and there's a lady who will show you everything. The next morning, walk through Santo Domingo to the tiny town of Granon where there is a wonderfully homey albergue in the church annex. Get a ham sandwich from the market (as you should in all the towns) but the albergue makes a fantastic home-cooked meal. If you have another day then you can walk to Tosantos which is again very homey and there's a cool hermitage to boot. If you like really nice people and awesome multilingual prayers (regardless of your religious fervor) this is for you. It's also possible to take a bus/train to Burgos (where there is a beautiful cathedral and gorgeous modern albergue only steps away) then walk to San Bol (hippie albergue where you bathe in an ice cold pool) or Hontanas to sleep. Then from Hontanas go to Boadilla del Camino which is a beautiful albergue with pool and yummy dinner. These plans are all 20-30 km per day. If you're just carrying a small backpack this should be absolutely no problem for you.
There's also a luggage transport service (globetrotters?) if you want that. Let me know if you have more questions.
posted by acidic at 4:10 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In the UK we have National Trails. My favourite is the Ridgeway, but there's everything from short walks to 600 mile epics on the site.
posted by jonesor at 4:11 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just thought of another tour: the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture trail in Provence sounds like a dream. There's a 5-night guided tour for €470pp mentioned near the bottom, but you could also do it alone.
posted by acidic at 6:08 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

This dude took a walk from Holland to Istanbul just before World War II, and wrote two glorious books about it. I have long wanted to retrace (part of) his route and see what it looks like now.
posted by k. at 7:01 PM on January 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all, great suggestions. I am slightly hesitant on heading to Santiago de Compostela as I have been to the town itself and seen all the walkers arriving (alas, I was bussed in on a day trip), so a plan might be to head the other way to France as acidic suggests.

More UK walks welcome too, good once the weather improves!
posted by wingless_angel at 12:38 AM on January 21, 2010

Best answer: There's excellent walking around the three peaks region in the Yorkshire Dales - you can do the peaks, or you can do any number of other walks - the countryside is stunning. On a Saturday and Sunday you'll get lots of people doing all 3 as charity walks (this involves a 6-7am start up Pen-y-Ghent, and there can be queuing) but you can usually avoid the bulk of the charity walkers if you do Whernside early morning, Ingleborough late morning/lunchtime or Pen-y-Ghent in the afternoon. On a clear day, you can see Morcambe Bay from the top of Whernside.

The Station Inn at Ribblehead does bed and breakfast (and also has basic "bunk barn" facilities for 10 quid per person per night) and is pretty much right in the middle of the three. It's one of my favourite places on the planet. To get there from London it's a train to Leeds then pick up the Settle-Carlisle line - which is in itself a treat if you like scenic train journeys.
posted by handee at 1:29 AM on January 21, 2010

Best answer: I just want to add that if you live in London, Stanford's bookstore has an entire section of books devoted to walking tours and trails not only in the UK but in Europe.
posted by vacapinta at 1:49 AM on January 21, 2010

The central section of the Offa's Dyke path in the Welsh borders is very beautiful.
posted by Dr.Pill at 4:56 AM on January 21, 2010

ARAU offers several nice walking tours of Brussels that mainly focus on architecture and city development. Brussels Walks offers several tours, including a Brussels Pub Crawl (which includes the Delirium Cafe!). Many of the breweries and Trappist abbeys are a little spread out; I'm not sure how reachable they are without a car.
posted by transporter accident amy at 7:56 AM on January 21, 2010

you can walk a part of the Pieterpad
posted by eau79 at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2010

I'm a bit late and this may be out of your area of interest, but I walked all the suggested day tours (5 in total) on the book "Budapest: A critical Guide". It was amazing.
posted by papalotl at 10:15 PM on January 21, 2010

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