Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sun July 05 2015

High-End Hiking in Europe

Tour Operator | James Ruggia | July 05, 2015

High-End Hiking in Europe

Foot Trails approaches Stonehenge as the ancient Druids did, on foot (photo courtesy of the Foot Trails Facebook page)

For its annual survey of trends to watch, Virtuoso asked 5,800 high-end travelers to weigh in on their travel preferences. In that survey 37 percent of respondents cited adventure and nature as important elements of travel. At that ranking it came in just behind culture and history (42 percent) and cruising (40 percent), but ahead of such mainstays as beaches (31 percent), family (25 percent), plus food and wine (24 percent).

It’s significant that Virtuoso and others implicitly group adventure with nature. After all cities have their adventures too, but let’s stick to the beaten path and use the natural definition. Clearly high-end travelers want a little more communion with nature and one of the best ways to achieve that is through hiking.

The following experiential products offer strong choices for high-end clients seeking a communion with nature that has strong cultural as well as culinary ingredients.

Trail of the Druids

Approaching Stonehenge on foot and watching it rise up out of the land as you get nearer, just as its ancient pilgrims did, is a truer experience of the monument’s power than going by car or bus.

Alison Howell’s Foot Trails, a new program of guided hiking vacations in South West England includes a mystical six-night adventure called Ancient Gods, Temples & Myths. Led by two local guides, the journey begins in the UNESCO world heritage city of Bath and travels to South Wiltshire via Stonehenge using local paths instead of “crowded national trails.” The trail follows canals and rivers, goes over wooded hills and valleys, and calls at many small villages.

Designed for 10 hikers tops, the group will indulge in a wicker-hamper picnic in the landscape gardens of Stourhead. Participants will stay in two luxury lodgings: The Queensberry Hotel in Bath and The Bath Arms at Longleat. During the walk, the group will call into specially selected country pubs for top-quality food and drink.

The tour is priced from £1,769 ($2,750) per person double land only, and includes all transport during the tour, luggage transfers, B&B, lunch and afternoon tea daily, welcome supper, entrance fees and a welcome pack including postcards, guide book and Foot Trails’ signature bag of fortifying sweets.

The next departures are on July 12 and Sept. 22. More guided walking tours, in counties of South West England will be rolled out through the year.

“While our group size is small, we aim for these trips to provide a huge experience and immerse guests in the rich and long history of Britain,” said company founder Alison Howell.

Hiking Balkan Greece

The Aristi Mountain Resort & Villas in the rugged mountains of northwestern Greece doesn’t conform to most tourists’ notions of a Greek landscape — but the Balkan reaches of Greece are powerful. The rock towers of Astraka and the Drakolimni Lake exist in a realm of arched stone bridges, cobbled streets, village squares, plunging gorges, and high altitude lakes. The 200-year-old Steps of Vradeto form a cobbled path of 1,000 steps that culminate in a view of the Vikos Gorge, the deepest gorge in the world.

Zagori, where the Aristi Mountain Resort is situated, is under consideration for the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Vikos Gorge, the Towers of Astraka, and the Voidomatis River make this an enthralling area for beginning and experienced hikers alike. It’s also nice to return at day’s end for a massage at the resort. The resort has established a series of trails ranging in length from 1.5 to six hours and in difficulty from novice to challenging.

The spa at this Small Luxury Hotel of the World has a pool, a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi. The resort has three new two-story villas in addition to 24 rooms and suites. Nightly rates in a double superior room on a B&B basis are available from £115 ($179) based on two people sharing. Some rooms are available from £65 ($101) per night on a B&B basis with full access to the spa and facilities.

Along the Julian Alps

Slovenia’s Julian Alps are a little known, off-path portion of the mighty European giants (photo courtesy of Wayfarers)

In 2016, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia will also be a European Green Capital. Slovenia doesn’t get much press despite its brilliant wines and singular cuisine, along with the beauty of the Julian Alps, and the riotous wildflowers of its alpine meadows. The Wayfarers Walking Vacations will take to the trails that cut through those meadows, exploring the caves and canyons of its rivers.

“Some 60 percent of this lovely country is covered by forest and as the capital city leads the way in a shift to eco-friendly alternatives to automobile travel, it is a perfect destination for our own ‘slow travel’ ethos,” said The Wayfarers’ founder Michael West.

The Wayfarers’ next Slovenian walking program runs Sept. 12 to 19 and promises a full, intimate experience of the country’s “magnificent bridges, buildings and pathways of the capital, Ljubljana.” The trail follows well-trodden paths across a wide variety of flat and hilly terrain and does four-to-10 miles of walking per day. The seven-night all-inclusive price of $4,295 per person is for a double, land-only.

Along the way walkers will experience Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj (with its Savica waterfall), and the medieval Castle of Bled. They will explore canyons and follow an underground river into Skocjan Cave, a World Heritage Site and ride the historic Transalpina railway. They will become acquainted with cheese-makers, beekeepers, and will visit the Irina Lace School.

For more information on Greece, Slovenia, England

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