Think walking holidays are for hardened hikers? Think again. A spate of new on-foot tours include leisurely meanders with good food, fine wine and boutique hotels - is this travel’s hottest trend?

“We design walking holidays as much for leisure strollers as for hardened mountain hikers, where they can walk light as their luggage is transferred between hotels, where they can go at their own pace instead of being part of a group, and where the standard of accommodation is a delight.”

Simon Wrench, Head of Marketing at Inntravel

The rise of holidays by boot

Ditching the car and tour bus, even just for a few hours, can make any experience all the richer.

“Walking holidays give clients the chance to see a country up close – rather than from the window of a tour bus – lots of local interaction, and a great feeling of accomplishment,” says Intrepid’s Head of Sales, Andrew Turner.

And, despite the feeling of uncertainty around Brexit, it seems that when it comes to hiking the numbers are not slowing down: “We have seen bookings growing for the last four years, even with all the doom and gloom,” says Steve Berry, Managing Director of Mountain Kingdoms whose company has been offering mountain hiking trips to the Himalaya since 1987 but now sells South East Asia, Central Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.

But where are people going and why? “Japan has really taken off thanks to Joanna Lumley,” says Berry. “Uzbekistan is also a big surprise hit this year and again all thanks to Lumley’s programme on the Silk Road.”

TV Adventurer Levison Wood, who walked through the Caucasus (Georgia and Armenia) in 2017, has impacted numbers on Explore’s trip to that region, according to its Walking Programme Manager Caroline Phillips. She says its led to customers “looking outside of western Europe for more adventurous short haul destinations that are good value.” She added that “Turkey and Jordan have made big comebacks in 2019 and further afield destinations like Madagascar are also doing well.”

So, who is going on these walking trips? It may not be who you expect, according to Wild Frontiers’ Marketing Manager Michael Pullman: “Certainly with the retired demographic, who are now staying healthier and more active for longer than previous generations, walking trips are proving popular.”

But he said that at the other end of the scale an increase was apparent too. “There’s a growing number of younger travellers who are wanting to get away from the noise of cities and the all-pervasiveness of technology that modern life entails. That is what walking tours really offer – the chance to get off the beaten path into beautiful natural surroundings and forget about email, Twitter, Netflix and the like, and just enjoy the scenery.”

What makes an ideal walking holiday?

“Beautiful scenery is a must, a bit of history also helps, as does wonderful food,” says Pullman.

The UK is a great starting point with trails like the popular seven-day West Highland Way an achievable undertaking in Scotland. Europe also offers the chance to sample some great routes while a ‘sherpa’/luggage transfer service carries bags from hotel to hotel making circular routes such as the Tour de Mont Blanc – passing through Italy, Switzerland and France ¬– and the Camino de Santiago in Spain easy even for newcomers to hiking (offered by companies including Headwater, Explore and Ramblers Walking Holidays).

For those nervous about committing to a whole week (or more) spent walking, there’s the option of self-guided ‘centred’ walking trips, like those offered by Inntravel, where the accommodation is located somewhere with plenty to do and provides the base for several walks of different levels. The itinerary is flexible and self-guided, that way if days off are required or one member of the party wants to walk and one doesn’t, there’s plenty to explore from the hotel door or simply the option to do nothing at all.

Companies, such as Intrepid have noticed that “many clients want to combine walking with other activities such as kayaking or cycling on multi-activity trips”, so suggest places like India where they offer a tour in Ladakh that combines hiking, cycling and rafting in an adventure-filled 11-days.

It’s also worth considering walking as just one element to a whole holiday. Consider adding on hiking a couple of section of the Amalfi Coast on a relaxing break to Italy. Or a visit to Jordan to see Petra with a stay at a Dead Sea resort that also includes a two-day hike and overnight in Wadi Rum.

What’s new

Germany: The country has announced not one but 10 new hiking routes for 2019. Highlights include the foodie-themed 8km Rundweg Bussard in the Bavarian Forest – which takes in small and independently owned restaurants and chances to taste local produce enroute; the art-themed TalaueKunst Weg in Stuttgart, which circles the city in 4.5km alongside rivers and half-timbered historic houses; and a spiritual 25km circular Niesetalweg route which begins at Marienmuenster Abbey.

Spain: For a different take on the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, Camino Ways can work with agents to take clients on the hottest new route there is – the Sea of Arousa Camino Walk and Boat. It combines walking the dramatic coast of O Salnes with a boat trip across the Ria de Arousa and up the River Ulla to Padron where the boat carrying St James is said to have first landed in Galicia.

Portugal: The Algarve, has revealed it’s extending the popular Rota Vicentina coastal route to include 16 new circular side trails. Recommended is the Fisherman’s Trail, which currently ends at Cabo St Vicente but will now continue on to the town of Lagos to take in the rugged Southern end of the Algarve coast.

Tenerife: The fifth Walking Festival (21-25th May), enables participants to explore its volcanic scenery, ancient laurel forest and starlit skies on a series of routes aimed at families, couple and individuals.

Where to book it

Wild Frontiers; 020 8741 7390
Walking in Northern Albania: Into the Accursed Mountains is an eight-day trip following highland trails through remote mountain villages, taking in high passes, lakes and visiting one of the oldest towns in the Balkans. Prices from £845pp including accommodation, all meals, guided excursions and transfers.

Inntravel; 01653 617 001
From Cape to Castle – A Journey through Portugal’s Arrábida Natural Park is accessible from Lisbon. Vineyards, villages, coast and castles perfectly compliment cheese, quintas wine and olives on this seven-night meander. Prices from £695pp on a B&B basis with some meals, maps and luggage transfers.