The Road Less Travelled : Hiking in Europe
Europe isn't just about culture, cities, and good wine (although now that you mention it...) but also about exploring what lies beyond the urban buzz. Whilst magnificent mountains like the Alps tend to get all the attention, Europe is particularly special because of its eclectic mix of countries, and it may be worth thinking about taking the road less travelled next time you book a trip.
Serbia (Mokra Gora): Tara National Park
On the border of Bosnia & Herzgovina, Tara National Park is a natural paradise, and only a 3.5 hour drive from Serbia's capital, Belgrade. With deep gorges, clear lakes, green meadows, luscious forests, bright blue rivers, and spectacular viewpoints, it has everything you could possibly want from an escape into the wild.
Tara provides for hikers of all abilities. The most popular hike is a two day long circular trail that begins and ends in Mitrovac, but if you wish to stay longer you can rent a cabin in the National Park to truly get lost in the woods. If you're short on time or only swinging by, head over to the Rača Monastery, where a 2km hiking trail follows a river that ends at the Ladevac thermal springs, then follow it up with a drive to Banjska Stena Viewpoint, which can be reached via a 1.5 hour hike (or if you're feeling hiked out you can drive pretty much all the way to the top).
Not to be missed (especially on a warm summer day) is Zaovine Lake, where you can take a dip, rent a boat, and if you're more of a water-baby than a hiker at heart, rent a place to stay in the nearby village of Zaovine so that the dips are never-ending. If you have time, check out Perućac Lake too (which can be seen from Banjska Stena) which is also well worth a visit.
Tips: Renting a car is a must to be able to get from place to place, and as most signs will be in Cyrillic, it's worth getting your hands on a tourist brochure before the trip.
Other things to see: If you stay in the tiny village of Mokra Gora, take a visit to Drvengrad, a wooden ethno-village. You can take day trips into Bosnia and Montenegro too if you wish to keep Tara as your base, as they're only a few hours drive away.
Montenegro (Žabljak): Durmitor National Park
Montenegro's mountain ranges beyond its stunning coastline are often overlooked, but if you prefer solitude and peace to bustling beaches and salty hair, heading over to Durmitor National Park might be the best idea you've had for a while.
Just a 3.5 hour drive from the Bay of Kotor, the easiest place to stay for access to the mountain range is the nearby village of Žabljak. It's worth noting that even in the height of summer this lofty part of the Montenegro can get very chilly, so it's worth packing a couple of jumpers. You can rent wooden cabins throughout the town, and as it's so small you can walk pretty much anywhere in twenty minutes.
Entrance to the Durmitor costs just €3 per day (or a 3 day ticket costs €6) and your first stop coming in from the village will be the Black Lake (3km from Žabljak), the most famous and arguably the most beautiful of the 18 glacier lakes in the region. Located beneath the Medjed Mountain and surrounded by a conifer forest, the water reflects its emerald surroundings with the LOTR-worthy clarity. A circular walk around the lake is 3.5km and takes around 1-1.5 hours, but there are a number of signposts detailing different trails of varying abilities, so whatever your level, you can choose to disappear for days, or simply enjoy a short walk to a nearby viewpoint.
Tips: At the risk of sounding patronising, if you choose to go on one of the longer hikes, make sure you're prepared. Correct footwear, clothing, water, and first aid should always be worn/carried for peace of mind.
Other things to see: For those of you who are feeling particularly adventurous, there are a number of adrenaline inducing activities in the area, from river rafting, to canyoning, to zip-lining across the Tara Canyon.
Greece (Santorini): Fira to Oia
Okay, so this isn't necessarily a hike-hikes (think: more of a long off-road walk), but it's nevertheless great to get your heart pounding, and long enough so that three scoops of ice-cream (or three cocktails) feel well-deserved at the end of it. The walk from Fira to Oia in Santorini, despite being mostly level, will blow your socks off.
This hike can begin on either end of the trail, but we recommend starting in Fira in the late afternoon. That way you will be able to see the stunning views of the sun setting across the island, and reach Oia just in time to watch the sun go down with a cocktail in hand.
The highlights of this hike include people watching & accommodation gazing, as it will take you beside some of the fanciest hotels you've ever seen. Bathe in the glory of the rich as you get to share the views that they see from the pool. Another plus? A lot of the time you don't even have to pay the eye-watering prices of the hotels to experience the same thing; many restaurants and bars overlook the cliff-side views, with wine as cheap as €2 per glass, so there's no need to feel left out.
Tips: Although this hike isn't particularly strenuous, it's very long, and you may want to consider wearing more appropriate footwear than just sandals. Oia is pretty posh, so if you do plan to sit in a nice lounge and don't want to kick back in trainers, pack your fancy shoes in a bag, so you can be smug about the 10km you just walked, the views you saw, all whilst looking fancy af.
Other things to see: Fira and Oia are worth hours of exploration in themselves, so make sure you leave ample time during your trip to wind through the beautiful alleyways of these two gorgeous island towns.
Malta (Gozo): Cliff-side Coastal Walk
If you're visiting Malta, a trip to Gozo is a must. Much quieter and laid-back than the main island, Gozo has everything you want from a coastal adventure. The entirety of the Gozo Coastal Walk is a staggering 55km, which if you're entirely mad then feel free to do this in a day, however it's extremely pleasant to break it into chunks.
If you're looking for a circular walk, then drive to Xlendi Bay, and hike along the cliffs to Sannat, where you take a turn inland and walk past gorgeous fields and traditional farms back to Xlendi. Otherwise there are a number of one-way walks to choose from, and buses across the island to take you back to where you started.
Tip: The beauty of Gozo (and why we chose to mention Xlendi Bay) is because it's less crowded than the main island, with sparkling sea that is likely bluer than any you've ever seen. Bring a packed lunch, and take a dip in the crystal clear waters both before and after the hike, or have some fresh seafood as you overlook the bay.
Other things to do: If you're already in Malta, then a trip to Comino can't be missed. Whilst this stunning island gets uncomfortably busy in peak season, making the effort to be on the first boat there is well worth it. As Comino is so small, you can loop the entire island in a few hours, but make sure to pack some sunscreen as there aren't too many places to hide from the sun.
Turkey (Göreme): Rose Valley
If Cappadocia isn't on your bucket list, you better add it now. We've already discussed the brilliance of this place in a separate article, and here we will explore in depth the walk across the Rose Valley, and why it's so bloody brilliant.
As with all hikes, and at the risk of sounding repetitive; bring (lots of) water. The Rose Valley is a stone's throw away from a desert, and there's nowhere to stop off to rest, so you better be prepared. There are probably a number of direct trails to follow, but just like Red Riding Hood, you will find veering off path too tantalising a temptation. With so many caves to be explored, hills to be climbed, and fairy chimneys to marvel at, there's no way you'll want to stay on the paths well travelled.
If you're into educating yourself abroad (no judgement if you just want to chill) you can add the Goreme Open Air museum to your route, immersing yourself in the history of the region (and topping up your water supply whilst you're at it).
Tip: Be sure to download a map, or at least have some kind of working GPS, just in case you do veer far far away from where you should be headed. The walk can take anywhere from 1 hour for a quick explore, to 3 if you choose to take yourself on a real adventure.
Other things to see: There is a very pleasant walk through Pigeon Valley from Göreme to Uchisar, and if you're in Cappadocia long enough we would highly recommend adding it to your list of local hikes (followed up with a delicious Turkish spread).