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Europe's epic coastal walks

There’s something magical about navigating breathtaking terrain on foot, before stopping for a well-earned bite to eat and glass of local wine or two. Andrew Eames shares some of his top trails, spanning the volcanic island of La Palma to the soft green hills of Ireland

The fisherman's trail, Zambujeira Do Mar to Odeceixe Portugal

The route more formally known as the Rota Vicentina was inaugurated back in 2012. It threads through 120 kilometres of wild, virgin landscape in Europe’s emptiest corner, from Porto Covo (Alentejo) to the Cape of St Vincent in the Algarve. It’s a world without roads, but instead it has silence, sun and a skinny track always squiggling off round the next headland. Starting from Zambujeira do Mar – one of the most scenic villages – the trail heads first to the local beach and then towards the cliffs. Ahead lies more golden sand at Carvalhal, Machados and Amália. From Ponta em Branco are some of the best views of the whole trip over Odeceixe Beach, which lies tucked between the river and the ocean. Sample local delicacy percebes (goose barnacles) in Zambujeira at A Barca Tranquitanas restaurant.

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Travel Details

WALK IT Camino Ways’ six-or ten-night Rota Vicentina Fishermen’s Trail tour, from £517pp (B&B).

Cinque Terre, Vernazza to Monterosso Italy

It is one of the most dramatic and delectable stretches of European shoreline, and not just for the numerous vineyards, vegetable gardens and precipitous footpaths that weave along it. As the name suggests, Liguria’s Unesco-listed Cinque Terre comprises five distinctive villages, each with its own steep terraces and multicoloured houses that cascade down to the sea like spilt paint. These villages are connected by train and footpath, but not by car, so they have a serenity not found in many other places. Vernazza is the prettiest. It offers a choice of routes to neighbouring Monterosso, either on the coastal path through woodland and lemon groves, or up past a series of viewpoints to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Reggio before descending. Your reward on arrival is the Ligurian fish restaurant Ristorante Ciak, in the historic heart of Monterosso. Feast on the mixed platter of prawns, anchovies and calamari.

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Travel Details

WALK IT HF Holidays’ seven- or 14-night Guided Walking at Bonassola trip, from £879pp (half-board).

The route of the volcanoes, Refugio El Pilar to Fuencaliente La Palma

The most compelling of the Canary Islands for hiking has deeper ravines than Gran Canaria, more endemic Canario living than Tenerife and more recent volcanoes than Lanzarote. Shaped like a tooth, La Palma has a huge cavity at the top in the crater Caldera de Taburiente; its midriff is swathed in banana plantations, and its southern tip is smothered in the rictus sea of lava that erupted from Teneguía. The whole island is laced with well-signed walking routes but this trail follows the spine down through fragrant pine forests and hard-scrabble vineyards via some of the most recent (1971) volcanic badlands. The last section descends towards the salt works at Fuencaliente next to where the lighthouse perches like a barber’s pole. Here the El Jardín de la Sal restaurant is a fine setting in which to dine on octopus, smoked cheese, and the island’s speciality – goat stew.


Travel Details

WALK IT Exodus’ seven-night Walking the Island of La Palma, itinerary, from £1,129pp (all-inclusive).

The Cami de Cavalls, Cala Morell to Ciutadella Menorca

Back in the days of raider-danger, the only buildings on the shore of the Spanish island of Menorca were watchtowers, with a connecting pathway along which horsemen would ride. And these are still the main ingredients of Cami de Cavalls – the Path of the Horsemen – which reaches the parts of Menorca that few visitors see. Walkers on this route enter a world of pine-fringed beaches, carpets of delicate herbs, Moorish water wells, and the remains of the occasional prehistoric village. It seems that nothing has changed here for thousands of years. The section from Cala Morell to Ciutadella follows the trail along low walls and bizarrely shaped barracas (shepherd’s huts), where livestock take refuge from the wild Tramuntana wind. Fortify yourself with tapas at Cala Morell’s Troglodita’s restaurant, including local favourites such as riñones al jerez (kidneys in sherry).

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Travel Details

WALK IT Macs Adventure’s seven-night The Cami de Cavalls tour, from £715pp (B&B).

The Lycian way, Hoyran to Simena Turkey

Stitched together from village tracks, the Lycian Way covers over 500 kilometres of Turkey’s most ruggedly beautiful shoreline. It’s a place where structures from ancient dynasties are still very much part of the landscape, and where goat herders have eked out a meagre living for centuries. This section from Hoyran combines upland plains, green valleys, old agricultural lands, rocky coastline and a lot of history, starting on the ancient tomb-littered site of Hoyran itself. Thence to Kapakli, a village where the local ladies will prepare gözleme (stuffed flatbreads) for hungry walkers, and afterwards down a paved mule path that zig-zags across the fertile land with views over the coast as far as Kekova. The old stone houses of Simena, the final destination, are dotted among ancient graves, with a dreamy view over a turquoise sea. Stop at the town’s I Am Here Café, which makes its own ice cream, such as lemon and mint or carob and fig.

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Travel Details

WALK IT Inntravel’s ten- or 12-night The Lycian Way tour, from £1,145pp (half-board).

The Vrmac ridge, Kotor to Donja Lastva Montenegro

Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor is like a promised land. From the sea, there’s little suggestion of what lies through the narrows, in a land where mountains rise steeply from limpid waters. Inside, it looks like a synthesis of Italy’s lakes and Norway’s finest fjords, but with little stone harbours all along the shoreline, where calamari fishermen prepare their gear. At its furthest corner is Kotor itself, a walled mini-Dubrovnik. The Bay of Kotor is screened off from the outside world by the Vrmac Ridge, and this hiking trail, starting from Kotor, meanders up the pine-clad slopes and on across it. At the top there’s a ruined fort and panoramic views down to Kotor on one side, and Tivat on the other. The path then descends to Donja Lastva, a quiet seaside community just north of all the flashy superyachts of Porto Montenegro. Finish the day with cevapi (grilled meat) in Donja Lastva’s inviting Ponta Veranda café.

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Travel Details

WALK IT Ramblers Holidays’ nine-night Adriatic Islands trip, from £1,325pp with flights (half-board).

The sheep's head way, Kilcrohane to Durrus Ireland

The unspoilt Sheep’s Head peninsula is where Ireland waggles the last of its bony fingers in the Atlantic. It’s an elemental landscape – situated between Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay in County Cork - described by poet Seamus Heaney as ‘water and ground in their extremity’. The path lassoes the rocky outcrop, with the village of Kilcrohane – two pubs and a local shop which sells ‘everything from paintings to potatoes’ – its key anchor point. Head northwest from Kilcrohane up and over the jagged spine of the peninsula and you’re in rugged territory, in the teeth of a westerly wind. But stay on the southern Kilcrohane side heading for Durrus and you’re in a softer, greener, more sheltered setting, with lush gardens and stone circles and views across Dunmanus Bay to Mizen Head. At Ahakista (which is around half-way), there’s a chance to stop off for a bowl of home-made soup in the art-lined Heron Gallery Café, set in a quirky, sculpture-rich wildflower garden, where they also grow their own vegetables.

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Travel Details

WALK IT Contours Walking Holidays’ six-night Sheep’s Head Way trip, from £645pp (B&B).

Route GR34, Le Pouldu to Port de Merrien France

Brittany’s coastal GR34 is the equivalent of our South West Coast Path, and it even goes through its own Cornouaille. It has cliffs and coves, sailboats and fishing harbours, offshore islands and secret beaches, with its own mild microclimate and seafood at every turn. For lovers of wild swimming, this is a fine route, and a good start is Le Pouldu’s Plage de Ballangenêt. From here to Doëlan, one of the prettiest ports in the whole of southern Brittany, is easy walking, with wild flowers and soft-sand beaches galore. Doëlan’s Le Rive Gauche is ideal for a lunch stop, with local lobster or langoustines, and views of the port and its two lighthouses. Afterwards, head onwards into wilder Finistère, with its wooded rias, or creeks. Your destination, Merrien, is swathed in sun-dappled forest, a splendid spot for bird watchers, and for a dip in the cooling aquamarine waters.

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Travel Details

WALK IT Sanssacàdos’ The South Coast of Finistère trip, from £89pp per night (campsites).

Channel Island way, Petit Bot to Perelle Guernsey

Visually, Guernsey’s southern coast could be the Mediterranean, and you can see why Pierre-Auguste Renoir found these seascapes inspiring. This shoreline is a mix of high, flower-speckled sea cliffs bitten into by bays, mostly with pebble beaches inaccessible by car. At the start of the walk, where a verdant valley plunges down to the sea at Petit Bot, there’s a tearoom in a suntrap of a courtyard. Meanwhile, the path ribbons its way along the top, before coming to the reminders of Guernsey’s tricky war years, with a huge German artillery piece in a gun pit. The coast turns to head north where Les Hanois Lighthouse stands proud out of the sea, softening into a more family-friendly shore. Locals go out collecting ormers, a variety of abalone, and if you’re lucky, you may catch them on local menus.

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Travel Details

WALK IT Sherpa Expeditions’ six-night Channel Island Way, itinerary, from £590pp (B&B).

West Knoydart, Inverie to Airor Scotland

Walking between heaven and hell may sound like a strange kind of masochism, but on the remotest part of the Scottish mainland it is an exhilarating place to be. For this is the Knoydart Peninsula, isolated from the outside world to the south by Loch Nevis (Gaelic for ‘heaven’) and to the north by Loch Hourn (‘hell’). The peninsula is only reached by boat, which adds to its exclusivity. It looks out over The Minch at the Isle of Skye, and further south to Rum, Eigg and Muck islands, in serene dimples of light on the horizon. This is boggy land, but one of the most reliable walks is to set out along the track from the main settlement Inverie and make for the tiny hamlet of Airor. Follow the sign to Doune, where a handmade lodge right by the sea serves giant dinners of local prawns.

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Travel Details

WALK IT Wilderness Scotland’s seven-night Knoydart Peninsula tour, from £1,495pp (full-board).

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