Five incredible walks around the world
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An idyllic and elemental stroll Down Under
The Cape-to-Cape Track stretches 75 miles along the coast of Western Australia, from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in the south – traversing the lovely Margaret River region and some of the whitest, prettiest beaches and best surf breaks in the country. Alternating spectacular bluffs with woodland and sand trails, the Track can be taken in sections; one, two or four days is often the way to go, to get the best of it, from vineyard visits to refreshing rockpool swims.
I did it with excellent Australian operators Walk Into Luxury, who’ve edited the experience down to its finest gourmand elements (a private tasting and chef’s-table dinner at Vasse Felix, whose cabernet sauvignons are best in Margaret River class) and its wildest natural ones (off-trailing in the Boranup Karri Forest, one of the most pristine such forests left in Oz). walkintoluxury.com, from A$3,350 (about £1,880) for four nights, including transfers to and from Perth
The high-low Highland Fling
Or, the Scottish Highlands the way lots of people feel they’re meant to be experienced: an immersion in elemental majesty, earned via serious physical effort (and the forbearance of some conventional luxuries along the way). The West Highland Way opened in 1980; its 95 or so miles run from Milngavie, not far north of Glasgow, northwest to Fort William on the shores of Loch Eil.
The various legs range from 9 to 15 miles, and vary widely in terms of the challenges: while the highest point of the Way is only 548m above sea level, there’s more than enough uphill and down dale, and some stretches connect with no shops or mod-cons between them for almost 30 miles. The cushy way to do the Way is via The Carter Company, who offer a trail starting from Loch Lomond, covering between seven and 14 miles a day, based at Cameron House, Glencoe House and Inverlochy Castle. the-carter-company.com, nine nights from £4,780
A Pilgrimage route, Portuguese-style
The Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage route is probably the most famous hiking trail in the world; it was named the Cultural Route of the Council of Europe in 1987 and is familiar to (and trod by) countless of the Christian faithful. One of its less-crowded extensions is the Camino Portuguese coastal route, which is considered to begin in Porto, then extends north along the Atlantic into Spanish Galicia. It passes through, among other charming seaside villages, Vila do Conde, with its imposing 14th-century Convent of Santa Clara, and Viana do Castelo, where the hilltop Basilica of Santa Luzia is a neat little walk of its own.
The terrain is gentle and picturesque, with numerous accommodation options for a self-planned trip that lets you set the pace and the agenda, with as much (or as little) culture, beach and gastronomy filler as suits. Portugal Green Walks is a good resource for those who prefer to have their itineraries planned, whether camping or staying in pretty boutique hotels. portugalgreenwalks.com, from €995 for a 14-night Porto to Compostela walk
In Chile, W is for walks with wow factor
Summer is coming to Chile, and the busy season for the country’s Torres del Paine W Trek – which this month opens up again to self-guided hiking – is too. It’s one of the more user-friendly trekking networks in South America, offering far less punishing altitudes than in the Andes (its highest point, the John Gardner Pass, is just 800m), staggering scenery, manageably mild temperatures and the enticing possibility of a puma encounter.
Numerous operators, and a handful of good hotels, offer tailored takes on the W Trek experience, ranging from half-day walks to four-night treks with camping. Tierra Patagonia, part of the Tierra Hotels network, combines the best of luxury (slick architecture with acres of wood, huge rooms, a full spa, gourmet food with an indigenous-produce slant) with guided full-day excursions that take in some of the Trek’s highlights, including the Grey Glacier and, of course, the Towers themselves. tierrahotels.com, from $1,300
Sri Lanka’s tea trails get an upgrade
The big news out of Sri Lanka is the opening of the 22-route, 185-mile Pekoe Trail, a network of hiking paths through the island nation’s tea country. Ten years in the making, funded jointly by the US and the EU, the Pekoe is as much a social enterprise as it is a soft-adventure proposition, conceived to increase the flow of travellers (and their tourist dollars) to some of the most remote communities in the country. It incorporates many of the trails originally used to transport tea to the factories by horses, so is suitable for most ages and fitness levels.
Though the official trailhead is in Kandy, there’s a multitude of entry and exit points in towns, villages, train stations and at interesting sites – crossing dramatic forested valleys and high country that’s steeped, if you will, in a singular colonial and spiritual history. Experience Travel Group has crafted a bespoke pan-island trip that includes three nights at Nine Skies, a stunning private bungalow near the mountain station of Ella, with half- and full-day guided walks on various sections of the Pekoe. experiencetravelgroup.com, Sri Lanka holidays from £4,000; 14-night all-inclusive journey with guided Pekoe Trail hikes, from £5,500