As we have been traveling around Europe this last year we’ve seen a lot of interesting and inspiring cultural attractions. Museums, landmarks, churches, and castles have been part of our visit in every country. But my favorite outings have all been hikes.
There are a lot of ways to get to know a place, but my favorite is by getting to know its landscapes. It’s usually just Anders and I on the bigger hikes and it turns out to be a good way to get to know my older son, too. A lot of great conversations happen when you have lots of time to think and express yourself.
Here are five of my favorite hikes in Europe.
Sveti Nikola / St. Nicholas — Hvar Island, Croatia
St. Nicholas is the highest peak on the island of Hvar at 628 meters. We didn’t know we were going to the top of it, but that’s basically how our walks with Vlado worked. Our Airbnb host showed up at our door and announced that “today we are going for a walk.” The four of us shoved water and snacks into our backpacks, and off we went.
The hike to St. Nicholas started with a drive part way across the island. We walked up a dirt road, through a farm and vineyard and then to the peak. St. Nicholas, the mountain, is home to a small chapel dedicated to the island’s patron saint and topped with a cross. On the way down, Vlado asked the owner of the farm/vineyard for three glasses and a bottle of wine. A donkey amused us by nosing up to the table, eating our mandarin oranges, and sucking on Anders’ backpack straps. That’s how it is with Vlado, midway through a hike you find yourself drinking Croatian wine with a donkey.
After finishing the bottle of wine between the three of us, we walked down the opposite side of the hill from where we started to a large cave that once housed a monastery. It was a steep walk back up to our donkey friend and then downhill to the car. That hike was the first indication that when Vlado invited us for a little walk, it would be more than a stroll through the countryside. I loved every minute of it.
Predigtstuhl, Bad Reichenhall, Germany
Hiking up Predigtstuhl with Anders was so much fun…and a little thrilling. I wrote about the hike here. It was our first time in the Alps, a little snowier than we anticipated, and required a display of maturity and positive attitude. Anders was a trooper. So was I. Not only was this a lung-buster, it was a little technical. Fortunately, there was cake, beer, and hot cocoa at the top. And a gondola ride down.
Ben Ledi, Callender, Scotland
Like Predigstuhl, Ben Ledi was a mountain we could see from our rental apartment. After staring at a mountain long enough, I felt like I really need to get to the top. Anders and I had so much fun hiking in this beautiful location. You can vicariously hike along with us by watching this video.
Montagne Sainte Victoire, Aix en Provence, France
While exploring Aix en Provence, France we learned a lot about Cézanne. One of the things we learned was that he painted St. Victoire Mountain more than 40 times. Anders and I decided we needed to see this St. Victoire ourselves and get to the top of it.
We took the bus from Aix to a stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere and walked a short way to the trailhead.
The trail was rocky and exposed and by far the warmest hike of our European walking adventures thus far. I would not want to be up there in summer. It started at a turquoise reservoir and climbed a rocky, arid slope to a limestone peak. From the top, there were stunning views in every direction.
Karwald, Aschau, Austria
A very cool thing about the Tyrol (Tirol) region in Austria is that every little town has a visitor information center where free guided hikes are offered. These aren’t lazy tourist rambles around town, they are serious mountain hikes. Anders and I took advantage of three of these hikes, guided by Fritz, and the whole family went on one of them. If it hadn’t rained relentlessly while we were there, we would have done several more.
The longest, and probably our favorite hike, was in the Karwald Range of the Alps near Aschau, Austria. It was a misty, rainy day so we missed a lot of the spectacular Alp-views we normally would have seen, but it was lovely all the same. We would have liked to keep our feet dry, but we were having so much fun it didn’t matter.
Some of the trail was really just a path marked by Fritz, which I think he is the only one to use. And like all good hikes in Austria and Germany, this one ended at a mountain house where we could recharge with beer and Almdudler.
What’s your favorite hike in Europe?