Autumn can be the perfect time for a European walking break. Avoiding both the tourist crowds of summer and the cold clutch of winter, it’s a time of year when crystal-clear air and golden foliage – not to mention lower accommodation costs – often make themselves felt. Here are five of the best late-season hiking options.
The favourable climate of the Balearic Islands means that “summer” on Mallorca can often last well into October, and even in November and December the temperatures are pleasantly mild. Even better news is the fact that the island itself is well threaded with walking trails, most of them granting access to a side of the destination that you’d never see from a peak-season sunlounger. The island has five mountain summits of more than 1,000 metres – meaning serious hikers with itchy boots will find plenty to occupy themselves – but there are numerous options too for visitors with younger family members in tow.
The area around the Santuari de Lluc, a monastery up in the Tramuntana Mountains, roughly an hour from Palma, is an obvious starting point. A 90-minute circular hike comes with the added benefit of there being a café-bar at the monastery itself. Slightly more testing, but highly recommended, is the two-hour uphill walk to Castell d’Alaró, a short drive north of Palma – the castle itself is renowned for serving some of the best roast lamb on Mallorca, and the views from the top are spectacular. If lunch is more of a priority than legwork, the first stage of the walk can be covered by car.
Flight time from London City to Palma de Mallorca: 2 hour 25 minutes
Blessed with some of Europe’s most momentous alpine scenery, the Lake Geneva Region is accustomed to getting hikers hot under their Gore-Tex collars. There are more than 3,000 kilometres of marked trails to choose from, with some world-class multi-day options for experienced hikers and a whole array of shorter circuits for those keen to sample the Swiss Alps in autumn. Kids can enjoy themed walks like the Château-d’Oex Ant Trail, which leads past giant anthills, while easily parched visitors might prefer the 50-kilometre Wine Route, calling in at vineyards above the lake.
For those with the time and the inclination, however, it’s the longer-distance mountain trails that are the big pull. The eight-day Tour des Alpes Vaudoises begins and ends in the historic town of Aigle, less than two hours’ drive from Geneva. It takes in age-old mountain villages, traditional cheese dairies and broad views across the lakes and landscapes of the Alps. If you’ve still got the energy, meanwhile, the 370-kilometre Via Alpina arrives into Montreux having crossed no less than 14 alpine mountain passes.
Flight time from London City to Geneva: 1 hour 40 minutes
Anywhere that styles itself as the capital of the Scottish Highlands is always going to offer some memorable outdoor options, regardless of the season. Inverness Airport is a gateway to a dramatic region of lochs, glens and mountains, and while you won’t encounter much in the way of a Mediterranean climate, you’re guaranteed a munificent helping of scenic beauty. You might have to deal with the odd rain shower, but autumn in the Highlands sees leaves reddening and wildlife emerging – an appealing prospect for both hillwalkers and photographers.
In terms of where to walk, the most ambitious option is the Great Glen Way, running for 117 kilometres along a natural fault line and leading from Inverness all the way to Fort William – it’s a great way of seeing the variety of different landscapes the Highlands have to offer. If you’d rather stay closer to base, the area around nearby Loch Ness has a range of waymarked trails, whether you want to hike through forest, wander across moorland or stick to the side of the loch. At 37 kilometres long, it’s the second largest lake in Britain – so no wonder the monster remains well hidden.
Flight time from London City to Inverness: 1 hour 50 minutes
An hour away from Dresden stands one of Europe’s more unusual hiking regions. Renowned for its large, bizarre rock formations, the Elbe Sandstone Massif – often dubbed “the Saxon Switzerland” – comprises some 1,200 kilometres of walking trails, collectively showcasing the range’s array of rugged crags, dense forests and flat-summit peaks. The Elbe River snakes handsomely through the hills, and the mountains themselves actually spill across the border into the Czech Republic.
It’s a visually striking area, a fact perhaps best evidenced by its most famous walking route: Malerweg, or Painters’ Way. At just over 110 kilometres in length, and beginning and ending in the town of Pirna, it leads past the towering cliffs and rocks that have inspired artists since the early romantic era of the 18th century. It’s not obligatory to do the whole walk, of course, and if you’re pushed for time then the picturesque middle section (stages 3 to 5 of the walk’s designated eight stages) displays exactly why the region gets lauded by those in the know.
Flight time from London City to Dresden: 2 hours
Dublin doesn’t necessarily spring to mind as a hiking destination, but the area in and around the Irish capital has more walking potential than might be expected. Sitting some 15 kilometres north of the city, Howth Head is best known for featuring in James Joyce’s Ulysses, but it also offers a bracing 10-kilometre circular walk – known, not overly exotically, as the Bog of Frogs Loop – taking in cliff paths, open hilltops and park estates. South of the city, the manageable Wicklow Mountains offer rewards of their own, and they’re close enough that the part of the range closest to town is actually known as the Dublin Mountains.
You’ll find walks varying from an hour to three hours in length, including a number of family-friendly options. The Dublin Mountains Partnership has created a choice of activities for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages, ranging from basic treks and mountain-bike trails to orienteering, mountain running and bouldering. And while the mountains themselves are, in the main, as green as you’d expect from Ireland, there’s pleasure to be had from seeing their autumnal colours up close.
Flight time from London City to Dublin: 1 hour 20 minutes