Eight Hikes To Do Before You Die
If you’re in the market for some serious soul searching – then this list is a good place to start. Take a walk.
In 1938, 24 years after his death, the Scottish-American explorer Mr John Muir revealed in his previously unpublished journal John of the Mountains that, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” If this sentiment strikes a chord with you then perhaps it’s time to pull on a pair of hiking boots and start to put one foot in front of the other. Hiking, trekking, backpacking – the terms may be different but the experience is the same. A hike around Cinque Terre National Park or Machu Picchu can feed your curiosity, inspire and invigorate the spirit more than going for a walk to your local park or sitting on the sofa and watching Into the Wild can. With more than enough options in our list, why wait? Enough of the gratuitous selfies with your cat. Do your Instagram followers a favour and swap them out for a little of the great outdoors.
Three countries, 105 miles, around 10 days. The TMB offers hikers the opportunity to travel around the base of the highest mountain in Western Europe, passing through France, Italy and Switzerland on a magnificent circular journey through spectacular and varied alpine terrain. You will travel over mountain passes, through alpine meadows, lush forests and glacial valleys, covering an average of around 10 miles each day before stopping to refuel and rest at the variety of charming and cosy mountain refuges that lie along the way. Of these, the Refuge Walter-Bonatti near Courmayeur is a definite highlight – the combination of private twin rooms, hot showers and friendly Italian hospitality all served up against the spectacular backdrop of the Mont Blanc Massif make spending a night there feel like one of life’s great privileges.
**EAT & DRINK **Start your carbo loading in France with a spot of tartiflette (a local Savoie dish of potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions) washed down with a glass of génépi (a herbal alcoholic digestif made from the wormwood plant).
**POST-HIKE TREAT **After 105 miles on the trail it’s time to relax in the five-star Hotel Hameau Albert 1er in Chamonix, refuel in its Michelin-starred restaurant and restore in the eco-spa.
**BEST TIME TO GO **Anytime from July to mid-September but it’s busiest in August.
**THINKING POINT **The first circumnavigation of Mont Blanc took place in 1767 when Mr Horace Bénédict de Saussure set out from Chamonix on a scientific journey to gain further knowledge of Mont Blanc’s geographical structure. He did it in a waistcoat and cravat; you might want to take advantage of slightly more modern mountaineering gear.
WHAT TO WEAR
One of the most important Christian pilgrimages in medieval times, the journey to the shrine of St James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia offers hikers an adventure with a spiritual twist. While the full 485 miles of the most popular route – the Camino Frances – will take you around 30 days to complete, the last stretch from Sarria to Santiago is the most important and can be completed in less than a week. The journey from this point on is relatively easy underfoot and crucially will earn hikers the “Compostela” – the certificate of accomplishment awarded in Santiago to those who have walked at least the last 70 miles of the route.
EAT & DRINK Tarta de Santiago (almond pastry) and queimada (a local punch whose traditional serving involves setting local brandy alight while a spell is recited to ward off evil spirits).
BEST TIME TO GO May, June and September – warm, not hot, everything is open and the route is not too busy.
**THINKING POINT **The highest recorded number of annual pilgrims was in 2010 when 272,703 people are verified to have arrived at the cathedral in Santiago. Not all at once, obviously.
WHAT TO WEAR
Sparkling blue sea, colourful villages, warm temperatures and delicious Italian cuisine – hiking along the beautiful Ligurian coast in Cinque Terre National Park is an extra special experience. Far less frequented than the Amalfi Coast, Liguria is a jewel of a place offering hikers the opportunity to retrace the routes of locals who travelled between hillside villages to deliver their wine and grapes. The two most popular trails in the area, the Alta Via or “High Path” (22 miles from Portovenere to Levanto) and the Sentiero Azzurro or “Blue Path” (7.5 miles from Riomaggiore to Monterosso) are easy and achievable hikes offering spectacular views of the stunning rocky coastline. If this sounds like your kind of adventure, it might be worth waiting until next year as parts of the Sentiero Azzurro still remain closed following the devastating floods of 2011. A full reopening of the trail is planned for April 2015 – Prosecco at the ready.
EAT & DRINK Liguria is home to the best focaccia on earth so start the day like a local with a crusty strip of focaccia genovese dipped into a foamy cappuccino then watch the sun go down as you sip a glass of Sciacchetrà – a sweet, honeyish local dessert wine.
BEST TIME TO GO Mid-March to mid-October.
BEST COMPANY gadventures.co.uk; macsadventure.com ** THINKING POINT** The story behind the tradition of painting your house a different colour in Cinque Terre is that it helped local fishermen to identify their homes more easily from the water. The rumour is that they wanted to check that their wives were still at home and doing the housework!
WHAT TO WEAR
From the Dana Biosphere Reserve to the ancient city of Petra, this five-day trek is considered to be one of the finest in the Middle East. Trekking through a desert world that has been crossed by nomadic people for generations, the route takes you on hunters' trails through deep gorges, dry wadis, high ridges and rocky terrain. Nights are spent camping Bedouin style and hikers will experience first hand the warm and kind hospitality that Jordanians are famous for. Recently voted for inclusion among the New7Wonders of the world, Petra is the ultimate hiking destination and all your efforts on the trail will be rewarded as you explore the temples, tombs and majesty of this fascinating city. Half built, half carved into the rock, it is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, overflowing with ancient traditions, tombs and temples to explore.
**EAT & DRINK **The national dish of Jordan is known as mansaf – lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yoghurt, garnished with almonds and pine nuts and served with rice and flatbread. Eat with your hands (but not your left one as it is considered to be impolite!).
BEST TIME TO GO March to May or September to November are the best times to visit when temperatures are a pleasant 18-25°C.
THINKING POINT Fame – the climax to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed in Petra and the trek to Petra was recently ranked one of the World’s Best Hikes by National Geographic.
WHAT TO WEAR
Patagonia’s most famous trek, the “W” Circuit is a 37-mile adventure through the heart of the spectacular Cordillera del Paine in the Torres del Paine National Park. The “W” route follows the shape of the letter, stretching from Refugio Grey to Campamento Torres via the Valle de Frances and trekkers can choose to camp and/or stay in refugios (large cabins with beds, meal service and a small shop for basic food and supplies). Undeniably busy in peak season, the “W” Circuit is a beautiful trek offering hikers the opportunity to travel through varied terrain including volcanic peaks, glaciers and beautiful aquamarine lakes. It is possible to complete the circuit in just four to six days, making it an achievable goal and ideal choice for those who are only in the country for a relatively short period.
**EAT & DRINK **Patagonian lamb is right up there with the best in the world so any lamb dish is guaranteed to satisfy your post-hike appetite. Wash down with a Chilean pisco sour – a local version of the famous South American cocktail.
BEST TIME TO GO Between October and April, when longer days and warmer temperatures are the norm.
**THINKING POINT **The famous Torres del Paine towers consist of three giant granite monoliths, the remains of a great cirque sheared away by glacial ice forces.
WHAT TO WEAR
If you have five to six weeks free and an inclination for a 470-mile adventure, then it might be time to tackle Britain’s toughest and most varied backpacking challenge – the Scottish National Trail. Opened in 2012, the trail forms Scotland’s first ever end-to-end walking route from the Borders to Cape Wrath, connecting some of the finest and wildest landscapes in the country. This is a serious trek and the difficulty increases as the route heads northwards so by the time you arrive in Cape Wrath you’ll have well and truly earned yourself a large glass of Old Pulteney – the area’s local whisky. If time is not on your side, however, you can still make the journey by breaking the trail down into four rather more achievable sections – Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh (80 miles), Edinburgh to Milngavie (51 miles), Milngavie to Kingussie (125 miles) and Kingussie to Cape Wrath (220 miles).
**EAT & DRINK **If you’ve got the stomach for it, then it has to be the traditional Scottish dish of haggis, neeps and tatties. Then order yourself a glass of the local single malt whisky and enjoy.
BEST TIME TO GO Scottish weather can be a lottery but April and May tend to be the driest months.
BEST COMPANY mountain-media.co.uk
THINKING POINT Walkhighlands.co.uk has produced a series of detailed stage descriptions covering the whole route, written by on-the-ground researchers who have walked every step of the trail. Each stage is illustrated by a series of photographs and with Ordnance Survey mapping, as well as offering downloads in GPX format for use in GPS devices.
WHAT TO WEAR
The South Island’s beautiful Fiordland National Park offers such a vast array of hiking options that it can be difficult to know where to begin. The Milford Track may receive the majority of the attention in the area, but the Routeburn Track offers a similarly spectacular hiking opportunity with fewer people on the trail. Located mostly at sub-alpine level, the views on offer are spectacular as you cross New Zealand’s Southern Alps and hike alongside clear green rivers, beautiful alpine lakes and over wonderful mountain passes.
EAT & DRINK Succulent New Zealand lamb washed down with a glass of award-winning Pinot Noir from the Central Otago region.
BEST TIME TO GO Between the months of November and April which is summertime in New Zealand.
THINKING POINT You will follow in the footsteps of the ancient Tai Poutini tribe who regularly walked the Routeburn Valley to the head of Lake Wakatipu in search of pounamu, a prized stone used for tools, weapons and ornaments.
WHAT TO WEAR
The Lares Valley hike has all the legacy and natural beauty of the Inca Trail but without the busy tourist crowds. Known for its textiles, llamas and alpacas, the valley is hidden among the snow-capped peaks of the Andes and its inaccessibility means that life has changed little here for hundreds of years. Beginning in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, this 20-mile trek takes about four days to complete, passing through terraced fields and traditional villages as you climb high into the Andes. This authentic and magical hike comes to an end at Ollantaytambo from where it is easy to add on a day trip to Machu Picchu itself.
EAT & DRINK The traditional Peruvian dish of ceviche, raw fish marinated in citrus juices and spices, is absolutely delicious and best washed down with a Chilcano – a traditional and increasingly popular Peruvian cocktail.
BEST TIME TO GO From May to September when conditions are fairly dry and the weather is sunny. It can be very cold at night so make sure you have a warm four-season sleeping bag.
THINKING POINT If you’re feeling sluggish, have a cup of coca tea as it is rumoured to help prevent altitude sickness. If you’re feeling particularly perky afterwards, you might be interested to hear that the leaves of the coca plant are used as the source for cocaine base!