Looking for an overseas break that combines the comfort of a home base with incredible day-hiking opportunities on the doorstep? We’ve rounded up a selection of Europe’s top villages, towns and resorts for mountain explorations.
Norway’s second-largest island is the country in miniature; a fantasy landscape of fjord-filled coastlines and snowy peaks roamed by reindeer and moose. The rugged west coast is hillwalking heaven, with line upon line of ridge-linked mountains rising directly out of the sea. Choose from peak-bagging day walks (the summits of Segla and Heston are both popular, for good reason) and multi-day expeditions such as the Senja på langs (Sengla north to south) route. In winter, the island is a world-class ice climbing destination and the Northern Lights often light up the sky on clear nights.
Nestled into the colossal rocky amphitheatre of the Cirque de Gavarnie, this tiny yet charming village offers easy access to the highest peaks of the Pyrenees. It’s surrounded by mountain refuges – Espuguettes, Refuge de la Brèche de Roland ou de Sarradets, Refugio de Goriz – which not only make tempting day walk destinations but also offer footholds for longer, multi-day expeditions. Cross the French-Spanish border, which is only a few hours’ uphill hike away, to explore the strange lunar landscapes surrounding the Brèche de Roland. dramatic beauty of the Ordesa Canyon and
If you can drag yourself away from this historic mountain town, with its orange groves, sleepy squares and upmarket eateries, there’s endless mountain scenery to explore. The GR221 (Mallorca’s famous ‘Dry Stone Route’) runs right through the town: follow it up the famous Pilgrim Steps into the dramatic gorge of the Barranc de Biniaraix, then on to reach the high peaks northwest of the Embassament de Cúber. In the other direction there’s Mallorca’s west coast, with its rugged headlands and cairn-marked paths. An hour’s drive north-east will bring you to Port de Pollença and the soaring delights of the Cavall Bernat ridge – surely one the Mediterranean’s most thrilling high-grade scrambles.
Sotres, Picos de Europa
The highest village in the Pics de Europa National Park, Sotres is famous for its cheese (the piquant blue Queso de Cabrales, matured to perfection in limestone caves) and its walking. The GR21 – ‘Path of the Saja Nature Reserve’ – passes through the village and there are spikily spectacular peaks on every side: the Andara Massif, the Central Massif, and the Peña Maín. Summer brings a sprinkling of tourists, but it’s generally quieter than the Pyrenees honeypots to the east.
Cortina D’Ampezzo, Dolomites
In winter it’s a famously fashionable ski resort, but Cortina D’Ampezzo transforms during the summer months into a hillwalker’s high-altitude haven. There are 400 kilometres of marked trails to explore, with a wide choice of multi-day treks through the jagged, wind-sculpted peaks of the Dolomites (the Alta Via 1 and the Cortina Dolomiti Ultra Trekking for starters) and shorter day walks past waterfalls and ethereally blue lakes. A Hiking Pass will buy you quick access to the higher peaks via Cortina’s network of cable cars and chairlifts. And if you fancy a break from walking, there are 16 cycling routes around the resort and plenty of via ferratas – including the famous ‘Strobel’ route up the west face of the Punta Flames.
If you like your Alpine walking with a side helping of culture, Innsbruck makes an excellent urban base camp. The city is encircled by five major hiking areas: Naturpark Karwendal, Patscherkofel, Kalkkogel, Sellrain-Stubai and Miemingerkette. The limestone peaks and ridges of the Karwendal are scattered with mountain huts and laced with long-distance trails (highlight: the Goetheweg Trail, accessible by cable car from Innsbruck city centre). Closer still to the city is Patscherkofel, with its 60 medium-altitude day routes and mountain restaurants. Innsbruck is also the centre of Alpine trail running – visit during the Innsbruck Alpine Trailrun Festival in May for routes and races for all levels.
It might have one of the most Instagrammed lakes in Europe, but Bled isn’t just stunning camera fodder. With the limestone tops of the Julian Alps on one side and the mountain hut-dotted Karawanaks on the other, this is the cradle of Slovenian mountaineering culture. There are plenty of peaks to aim your sights at, including the two-humped top of Stol (2236m) and Triglav, which at 2,864m is the highest peak in the Julian Alps. For something longer and more relaxed, the new Juliana Trail takes a circular 330km route through the forest-filled valleys and meadows beneath the peaks surrounding Bled.