Harz Witches Trail, Lower Saxony, Germany
Why? Spooky strolling amid atmospheric mountains
Distance 58 miles
Suggested number of days Five or six
As Halloween approaches, where better to hike than a land of wicked witches and creepy fairytales? The Harz Mountains have long been associated with German folklore and the region is hugely atmospheric in autumn, when smoke starts twirling from the chimneys of half-timbered houses, beech trees glow amid the evergreens, and seasonal mists seep into the ravines.
The moderate-grade Harzer-Hexen-Stieg (Harz Witches Trail) runs along forest tracks through Harz national park and can be walked throughout October, and beyond. The Brocken, the Harz’s highest point, is not too high, at 1,142 metres, and while snow may fall in late autumn, it’s largely suitable for winter hikes, too.
The route takes in forests, canyons, Germany’s largest wooden church, a 439-metre rope suspension bridge, magical Bode Gorge and medieval villages Altenbrak and Treseburg. It also follows the poet Goethe’s hiking route up the Brocken – with the option of descending by steam train. In the village of Schierke, Pension Drei Elstern (doubles from €80 B&B) offers a comfy stay. Another fine stop is Bodetaler Basecamp Lodge (doubles from €120 B&B), an outdoors-focused hotel on the Bode River.
Getting there Stations at Osterode and Thale can be reached overland from the UK via Brussels, Frankfurt and Göttingen in around 11 hours.
Planning Walks Worldwide’s seven-night self-guided Along the Harz Witches Trail trip costs from £620pp. Independent travellers should visit en.harzinfo.de for route info.
Waldstätterweg, Lucerne, Switzerland
Why? Still-accessible mountains and marvellous mists
Distance 71 miles
Suggested number of days Three to seven
Switzerland is arguably the world’s best place to hike. But in autumn? Not so much. Mountain huts close in September and snow can block trails. To hike high from October onwards, it’s best to plan day walks and head out only if the weather allows.
For a multi-day adventure, Switzerland Tourism’s Chloé Schenkel recommends the Waldstätterweg trail. “It’s one of the safest when it comes to snow conditions,” says Chloé, “and the views and the colours of the trees are breathtaking at the end of October.”
This moderate seven-stage route traces the shore of Lake Lucerne, from the village of Brunnen to the meadow at Rütli, with the dazzling blue water a constant companion. It uses historic paths, elegant promenades and trails through chestnut woods to link lakeside settlements, including Lucerne itself. And while it delivers Alpine views, the trail can be walked year-round, with the exception of the 1,100 metres Bürgenstock cliff path, which is closed November-April.
The Waldstätterweg has plentiful accommodation, such as the lakeside Hotel Nidwaldnerhof (doubles from €175 B&B) in Beckenried.
It’s also well served by public transport: ferries ply Lake Lucerne into winter and many cog railways and cablecars – including those up iconic Mount Rigi – are still operational, handy if the weather turns, or for nipping higher to look down on autumn mists hanging below like a great white sea. If it’s really chilly, it’s great to retreat to a cosy stube for warming spätzli (noodles) or seasonal venison stew.
Getting there London-Lucerne by train (via Paris and Basel) takes about 10 hours.
Planning Inntravel’s six-night self-guided Around Lake Lucerne trip, including walks to Rütli and Weggis, from £1,295pp. Independent travellers should visit schweizmobil.ch
GR141, Andalucía, Spain
Why? A newer mountain route that’s warm into winter
Distance 68 miles
Suggested number of days Six
Autumn isn’t just a good time to walk in Andalucía; it’s arguably the best. The weather stays warm long after winter starts to bite further north. It’s cheaper and less crowded, too.
The area near ravine-spanning Ronda is an especially good choice, reckons Andalucía expert Guy Hunter-Watts. In November, conditions are milder here than in the nearby Sierra Nevada, and plants such as asphodel, iris and mandrake continue to flower. And two newly created GR routes – the GR141 and GR243 – begin here: both are well marked, moderately challenging, divided into six stages and walkable in a week. Both also weave via little-known pueblos blancos (white towns) that offer good-value places to stay.
The circular GR141 runs in a loop to the south of Ronda. It hops from village to village, through magnificent mountain scenery, riverside trails and forests of chestnuts and ancient cork oaks. Along the route are dramatic El Colmenar gorge, where vultures can be seen up close, and Los Alcornocales natural park, whose canutos (deep ravines) shelter unique plants.
Ronda’s Palacio San Gabriel, a charming 18th-century townhouse, is a good place to start (from €80 [£70] B&B). Good stops en route include: Benarrabá, where cosy Hotel Banu Rabbah (doubles from €64 B&B) looks over the Genal Valley; picturesque Benalauría, where the old wine press is now an artisan collective; Benaoján, famed for its cured meats; and tiny Alpandeire, with its mazy Arabian-style streets. For rural hotels across the region, see serraniaronda.org.
Getting there UK-Ronda by train takes two days, with a night in Barcelona.
Planning Guides to GR141 and GR 243 by Guy Hunter-Watts are available via Amazon and Kindle. Hunter-Watts is also author of Cicerone’s Trekking the GR7 and The Andalucían Coast to Coast Walk, two more excellent options in the region. No UK tour operator offers the GR141 but local company Aventura Ronda can help organise walking in the area. See also gransendademalaga.es.
Menalon Trail, Peloponnese, Greece
Why? Late autumn colour and excellent quiet trails
Distance 47 miles
Suggested number of days Four to seven
The Menalon Trail is officially excellent. It was the first in Greece to be awarded “leading quality” status by the European Ramblers Association, a designation that ensures the route’s high standard and positive impact on local communities. It’s also an excellent option for autumn. Temperatures are pleasant and autumn colours are glorious well into November in the central Peloponnese, extending the window for long-distance walkers. It’s a quiet time to visit, too.
The trail curves like a question mark in the western shadow of 1,981-metre Menalon, the Arcadia region’s highest peak, and mythical home of Pan, god of the wild. It links Stemnitsa, the goldsmiths’ village, and Lagkadia, the stonemasons’ village, via a landscape of shepherds’ tracks, old stone settlements and steep-sided valleys cloaked in woods that glow come autumn. It also passes tavernas offering filling goat stews, smoked pork, galaktoboureko (custard pie), and local mantinia wine. You might even catch the Arcadian grape harvest in progress: it can extend into November.
Nights in mountain villages are a highlight. Dimitsana, teetering above the Lousios River, surrounded by pine forests and snowy peaks, is a particular gem; family-run Amanites Guesthouse (doubles from €86 B&B) is a good choice here. In Stemnitsa, there are budget-luxe rooms at the Trikolonion (doubles from €96 B&B, trikolonioncountry.gr) and a folklore museum showcasing the village’s jewellery-making heritage.
The path’s official website describes the walk in a northward direction, but On Foot Holidays’ self-guided Arcadia trip runs the opposite way, on a slightly different route. “This makes the most spectacular walk along the Lousios Gorge the grand finale, rather than the start,” says On Foot’s Heather Bamber.
Getting there It’s possible, and wonderful, to reach the Peloponnese overland in just over two days (trains London-Bari, overnight ferry to Patras, onward by taxi).
Planning On Foot Holidays’ six-night self-guided Arcadia trip costs from £590pp. For independent travellers, the best resource is menalontrail.eu, which lists accommodation and sells the official trail map.
Via Francigena, Tuscany, Italy
Why? A popular pilgrimage without crowds, but with wine
Distance 68 miles
Suggested number of days Seven
The full Via Francigena pilgrimage route is 1,056 miles from Canterbury to Rome – not a project to start in autumn. But the sublime section from Lucca to Siena is wonderful at this time. The gorgeous Tuscan hotspots along the way – such as medieval San Miniato, tower-dotted San Gimignano, walled Monteriggioni and the majestic cities at either end – are much quieter once summer’s crowds have left. But temperatures remain mild, still topping 20C. The vendemmia (grape harvest) enlivens the hills, the spent vines burn red-gold and forests begin to rustle with truffle hunters. Add in other seasonal delights – porcini mushrooms, first-pressing olive oil, along with chestnuts and wild boar – and no walker need go hungry.
The historic trail is well marked and moderate, undulating via crunchy woodland, Chianti vineyards, cypress trees and hilltop villages rendered even more romantic in low autumnal light. The official Via Francigena site lists a comprehensive range of cheap pilgrim accommodation. For instance, in San Miniato you could stay with the monks at Convento San Francesco from about €20 (email [email protected]). For a little more luxury to start off, Hotel Ilaria (doubles from €80 B&B) offers four-star rooms in the medieval centre. Prices tend to drop considerably in November.
Getting there London-Florence can be done in a day by train, with changes in Paris and Turin; buses and trains connect Florence to Lucca.
Planning Macs Adventure’s self-guided seven-night Lucca to Siena trip, covering 61 miles, costs from £860pp. The offical Via Francigena site (viefrancigene.org) has information, including accommodation listings. Cicerone’s Walking the Via Francigena Part 3: Lucca to Rome covers this section.
Rota Vicentina, southern Portugal
Why? Dramatic coast walking in balmy weather
Distance 466 miles total
Suggested number of days At least four
Weaving around the overlooked south-west Alentejo and Vicentine Coast natural park, the Rota Vicentina isn’t just a network of wonderful walking trails, it’s a community triumph, created a decade ago by local businesses seeking to attract sustainable tourism year-round. Autumn, when temperatures still hit 20C, is ideal.
The complete Rota Vicentina comprises 24 circular day hikes and two 13-stage trails: the 141-mile coastal Fishermen’s Trail and the 163-mile Historical Way, which heads into the mountains and forests. The walking is generally easy and well waymarked. The biggest challenge is choosing which section of which route to do.
With its promise of birds, sea breezes and beautiful empty beaches, the Fishermen’s Trail has the edge. It runs from surfy São Torpes, south of Lisbon, to busy Lagos on the Algarve’s south coast. In under a week, it’s possible to walk 75 miles from the fishing village of Zambujeira to craggy Cabo de São Vicente, mainland Europe’s most southwesterly point.
In autumn there are dolphins to spot offshore and thousands of birds migrating along the eastern Atlantic flyway. The walking is via dunes and herb-infused heathland, pine, eucalyptus and cork oaks, plunging ravines and cliffs. It’s a truly wild coast, with incredible beaches. But it offers human interest, too, such as the castle at Aljezur, the ruined Ribat of Arrifana (an Islamic fortress) and charming villages such as Rogil and Bordeira.
And there are plenty of characterful places to stay. In Odeceixe, Casas Do Moinho (doubles from €110 B&B) has rooms in old restored houses. In laid-back Carrapateira, Pensão das Dunas (doubles from €55 room-only, pensao-das-dunas.com) has colourful rooms and apartments.
Getting there Overland options include London-Seville by train (with an overnight stop in Barcelona), then Seville-Faro and beyond by buses.
Planning The Natural Adventure’s eight-night self-guided Algarve Coastal and Historical Trails trip costs from £580pp. For independent travellers, comprehensive planning info can be found at rotavicentina.com and in Cicerone’s Portugal’s Rota Vicentina guide.