Five extraordinary walking holidays
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Coast and country in Cascais, Portugal
If you’re looking to pair some coastal ambulations with a jaunt to Lisbon, neighbouring Cascais offers slow-travel two- and three-day itineraries along the West Route, part of Portugal’s Great Atlantic Route. They combine sweet glamping or small-inn accommodation with unhurried (and not super-challenging) days spent exploring the rocky coastal reaches and hinterland of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
The Route comprises five stages, some of which can be navigated with e-bikes or on horseback if you prefer. You can tag along with a park ranger to fix fences and feed donkeys, stop in at organic farms and apiaries, or explore part of the forest canopy with a naturalist (via zipline, if you’re feeling alpha adventure-y). Or, just walk the whole thing on your own, finishing with a proper culture hit at Eduardo Souto de Moura’s striking Paula Rego Museum. One-night tours from €500pp, including glamping accommodation and meals, visitcascais.com
Fjords by foot in western Norway
Norway’s central-west coast, and the Sunnmøre region in particular, is dense with the kind of glaciers and waterfalls, perennial woodland and remote wood-house villages that tend to crop up in the mind’s eye when Middle-earth is invoked. The excellent Norwegian private-travel and adventure designers at 62°Nord know this terrain well, and create multi-day hikes and on-foot explorations of all levels.
The exciting news for 2022 is that they will reveal the transformation of the grand and quite glorious old Hotel Union Øye, in the village of the same name deep in the Norangsfjord – the gateway to Sunnmøre’s most spectacular trail- and mountain-based adventures. In June, they’ll re-open it after a multi-million-dollar renovation that retains all the original charms but brings the necessary mod-cons. It’s a two-hour drive from Alesund airport (though you’ll be able to arrive by speedboat, chopper, or even kayak if you want). One to mark now for the summer diary. Hotel Union Øye accepting bookings from 1 May, 62.no
In the footsteps of samurai on Honshu in Japan
Japan knows its fast travel, specifically its fast trains; it’s why you can get from Tokyo to Kyoto in under two and a half hours. If you wanted to walk from one city to the other, however – and discover some of the most spectacular, and untrammelled, landscapes on Honshu Island in the process – the specialists at InsideJapan have you covered.
A new 11-day itinerary follows in the footsteps of traders and samurai, weaving along both the famous Nakasendo trail and the less-trod Shin-etsu trail – opened in 2008 along parts of a 17th-century commerce route, and running for some 80km along the mountainous border of Niigata and Nagano prefectures, passing through wonderlands of pristine beech forest along the way. And while the Japanese may be fast commuters, “slow” hospitality was practically invented here; InsideJapan leverages the best small onsens and ryokans for your stays. Walkers spend six nights in the field, with nicely curated beginnings and endings in Tokyo and Kyoto, respectively. From $3,200 per person for 11 nights, most meal and internal connections included, insidejapantours.com
Walking safaris all’italiana
Rudston Steward is lucky enough to call an undiscovered part of Tuscany (yes, those do exist) home. When he put down roots two decades ago on the slopes of Monte Amiata, between the Val d’Orcia and Maremma, he set about learning its secret paths and forests, ruins and byways, on foot. In 2016 he was inspired to launch Maremma Safari Club, a slow-travel, super-small scale walking-tour outfit (master Italy fixer Emily FitzRoy of Bellini Travel first turned me on to Steward a couple of years ago).
Steward has refined and expanded his offering, guiding both private and small-numbers walks up and down the Italian peninsula, from the Dolomites to the Aeolian island of Salina (a personal happy place of mine – and a banger of a tramping site, with its matching volcanic peaks and clifftop vistas of Sicily). In May, the Maremma Safari Club is taking its show deep into Calabria, the still-wild toe of Italy’s boot, to explore the Aspromonte highlands. Walkers will find out-of-time villages such as Bova and Amendolea, wild oleander vales, and ancient Graecanic culture – via some adorable agriturismi, Ionian beaches and delicious kilometro zero picnics. 10-14 May, from €1,395 per person, maremmasafari.com
Pilgrim’s progress in the UK
Lately, the pilgrimage – those Celtic and early-Christian walking routes-as-rituals of yore, often evolved along ancient pagan pathways – has been experiencing a revival in popularity: slow journeys that take in wilderness, sacred sites, and monuments are reconnecting walkers to old and deep traditions. One of the leaders here is Guy Hayward, co-founder of the British Pilgrimage Trust.
Together with Dawn Champion, Hayward is currently re-establishing the Old Way, a 250 mile route from Southampton to Canterbury dating to the 13th century, which brought devout English and Europeans alike to Thomas Becket’s shrine. Hayward – a Cambridge grad with a side hustle as one half of a musical comedy duo, who is by several trusted accounts a brilliant guide – leads private pilgrims and small groups throughout the year. They range from half a day to several days, staying in historic pubs and inns along the route. In March and April, his colleagues will host a series of day-long mini-pilgrimages, including a section of the Old Way from Icklesham to Rye, and a London pilgrimage from Tower Hill to Westminster Abbey. One-day pilgrimage event from about £54; private pilgrimage itineraries, prices on request, britishpilgrimage.org