There’s a reason why European summers are so widely celebrated. The idyllic landscapes, snow-covered mountains and grassy fields are only so Instagrammable and tolerable for the few months of the year, making the mid-year season one that lures avid hikers from all around the world to gather at the many diverse and still-pristine areas.
But the best hiking trails aren’t just pretty faces; they often wind deep into the essence of the place, going beyond mere footpath and into the rich culture and history that’s been steeped for decades, sometimes centuries. Along the way, you’ll also get to immerse in the charming hospitality of locals, get acquainted with native wildlife, and be inspired by views you’ll otherwise only see on Google.
But these are not without a price; be prepared to get your abs challenged and your glutes kicked — these are also some of the most demanding hiking trails you might have ever signed yourself up for.
Better known by its chocolate-cherry gateau namesake, the Black Forest makes for one of the most enchanting hikes you could experience. The dark tree-covered hills are met with carved valleys, luscious meadows and baby waterfalls, so expect every corner to look straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson book. Three main long-distance hiking trails meander through the forest, though Westweg remains the most popular as it ascends to the highest summit at the Feldberg Mountain. With the western and eastern trail spanning 279km and 283km respectively, expect to set aside more than a week at accommodations along the way.
(Image: Schwarzwald Black Forest)
As the highest mountain in the European Union, don’t expect the hike up Mont Blanc to be a walk in the park. Thankfully, a 170km Tour du Mont Blanc trail circumnavigates the 15,781-foot massif, crossing through France, Switzerland, and Italy en route and passing through unforgettable alpine villages. Magnificent valleys, glaciers and expansive meadows are only a few of the many picturesque highlights you’ll come across.
(Image: Rei Adventures)
Once an old mule path that linked all five oceanside villages (Cinque Terre) by foot, the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail) is now a 12km cliffside trail which passes through fragrant lemon groves, historic architecture and the bright blue Mediterranean sea. The ancient footpath begins in the central square of Monterosso and through vineyards, streams and farmhouses, before descending into the colourful village of Vernazza, the second of the Cinque Terre. From there, you’ll pass by medieval towers, Mediterranean scrubland and more romantic carved roads, making this one of the Italy’s most fascinating territories.
(Image: Fringe in Travel)
Set against the grandiosity of the Scottish Highlands, the West Highland Way promises some of the most refreshing and harshest views you’ll ever find. Spanning from milngavie outside Glasgow and Fort William to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, the trail covers a setting that ranges from mysterious lochs and tranquil moors to the jagged precipices of mountains. It’ll be an accomplishing feat, but at the end of the path you’ll get to ride The Jacobite Steam Train, nicknamed the Hogwarts Express after featuring in the Harry Potter movies.
(Image: Walk Highlands)
The 55km expanse of unadulterated Icelandic wilderness begins at Landmannalaugar, a prismatic valley dotted with hot springs that set the tone for the rest of the journey. The hike will take two to four days depending on your pace, where you’ll pass through jagged volcanic ranges, geothermal oases and glistening glaciers. For a longer adventure, visit the two new volcanic craters, Magni and Móði that are located on the Fimmvörðuháls trail where the Laugavegur ends. The scenic route continues with more glaciers and volcanoes, and ends at the spectacular Skógafoss waterfall.