Grab those boots, the ones that were made for walking, as we're taking you on a trip round the world's best hiking spots. From Estonian bogs to Ethiopian highlands, these are some of the most memorable walking trips we've ever experienced. When travel is again possible after the coronavirus crisis has passed, there'll be nothing better to blow the cobwebs away – with the added comfort of being safely outside, with often not a soul in sight.
Estonia is said by its locals to have a fifth season – the flood season. Nowhere is this truer than in Soomaa National Park (pictured above), situated in the southwest of the country between Viljandi and Pärnu. Soomaa, whose name means “land of bogs”, is a vast complex of swampy marshes and wet alluvial forests that provides a home to bears, wolves and elk as well as nests for spotted eagles and black storks. You can explore the bogs either by canoe or by wearing bog-shoes, which allow walkers to wade through the water without getting stuck.
Retezat in Romanian means “cut off”, and the hikes between the peaks of this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the southwestern corner of Transylvania are about as far from civilization as you can get. Much of the park is covered by some of Europe’s last remaining ancient forest, a wilderness where you’re more likely to see bear or wolf tracks than hear a plane fly overhead. The park’s beauty is perhaps best captured in the name the locals give it – “the land with blue eyes” – after the hundred alpine lakes that reflect the dramatic mountain scenery.
Information on the park, sample excursions and how to get there is at www.panparks.org.
After a day of trekking across stony fields worked with ox-drawn ploughs, you get the feeling that the scenery in this part of northern Ethiopia hasn’t changed for centuries. Mountains trail off into the horizon and below there’s a patchwork of fields dotted with thatched dwellings. A small troop of baboons feed among the cliffs while birds of prey soar in the thermals. Watching the pale sunset with your English-speaking local guides feels like a privileged way to experience the hospitality and beauty of the ancient Ethiopian Highlands.
Desert and drought define much of the wild areas of the Middle East, but there are nonetheless pockets of fertile, wildlife-rich areas if you know where to look. One particularly biodiverse region is the Mujib Nature Reserve in the west of Jordan, where the waters that flow from the highlands to the Dead Sea provide ideal conditions for river trekking in the wet season.
The only place to stay in the reserve is at the fifteen-room “Chalet Village” on the shores of the Dead Sea’s Madash peninsula. The chalets are a short walk to the visitor centre and the entrance to the stunning Mujib canyon, where you can hike through deep gorges of red sandstone lined with palm trees. The “Siq Trail” (2hr) follows the main gorge of the Mujib River to a waterfall where you can swim in a large pool, while the more challenging “Malaqi Trail” (6–8hr) takes you up into the surrounding mountains, where you can picnic by natural pools and then follow the river trail on an exhilarating trek down the Mujib gorge (wearing buoyancy aids and sometimes holding onto ropes), before abseiling down a 20m waterfall and returning to camp.
The Lebanon Mountain Trail was launched in 2007 as the country’s first long-distance hiking route. Running from Qbaiyat in the north to Marjaayoun in the south along the Mount Lebanon range, it makes use of ancient trade routes and rural tracks to connect national parks and nature reserves with 75 villages at altitudes of 1000–1800m. The 440km circuit is divided into 26 sections, each walkable in a day.
Intended to bring additional income to neglected mountain areas, while safeguarding Lebanon’s environmental and cultural heritage, the trail has united religious and political groups – previously in conflict during the Lebanese civil war – towards a common national project. While it was the brainchild of Lebanese-American expatriates, it was only through the co-operation of local families, community groups and Lebanese NGOs that it was able to happen.
Along the way you might stop at historic Ehden, home to some of Lebanon’s oldest churches (one dating to 749 AD) and spectacular natural springs; Hasroun, in the Qadisha Valley, which boasts lush orchards and gardens, stone houses with red-tiled roofs and traditional coffeehouses; and Niha on the peak of Niha Mountain, with a medieval fort, an important religious site for the Druze community called Nabi Ayoub Shrine, and dense forests of pine, cypress and oak.
For a map of the trail and information on transport and guides, plus accommodation, villages and facilities on the route, see www.lebanontrail.org.
The Bay of Fires Walk is eco-hiking for softies. Say goodbye to those trail boots and say hello to your trainers: this is wilderness without the wild. Sure, you’ll still have to shoulder a rucksack for two days. But that’s a small price to pay for an access-all-areas pass – only Bay of Fires Walkers get to camp in these remote areas – to the coastline of the Mount William National Park on Tasmania’s northeastern tip.
And what a coastline. The Bay of Fires has wow factor even in a nation that knows a thing or two about world-class beaches. Broken only by sculptural headlands splashed by orange lichen – evidence of the air’s exceptional purity – its quartzite sands are a dazzlingly white silky powder. The sea is an implausibly tropical turquoise. There’s even something insouciant about the way the surf crumps lazily onto the shore.
Kilometre after kilometre of pristine sandy nothingness stretches beyond the start at Boulder Point, in the north of the national park. The goal of the 23km walk is the Bay of Fires Lodge, a glass-lined solar-powered outpost of eco-chic buried into a hilltop 20km from its nearest neighbours. During nearly two days here, your reward for a hard day of swimming in private bays, dipping a paddle into the Anson River or just gazing at an ocean which seems to lap your window is a hot shower plus cuisine that would not disgrace a top Sydney restaurant. Wilderness has never been so aspirational.
The four-day Bay of Fires Walk (www.taswalkingco.com.au) runs twice a month from October to April.
Top image: Lahemaa National Park, Estonia © UrmasHaljaste/Shutterstock