With Spain’s patchwork of geography, from the high Pyrenees and snowy Sierra Nevada at the roof of the country, to the dry straights of the Tabernas Desert or the undulating wooded hills of Asturias in the very heart of northern Galicia, it’s clear why there’s such an ongoing buzz about hiking holidays in this corner of Europe.
For centuries the dramatic terrain that dominates the Iberian Peninsula has been a real attraction for travelling writers, explorers and pilgrims. Some came looking to document the unchartered lands, while others came to absolve sin or cast their prayers upward with pilgrimage to one of the country’s many renowned religious centres.
Today, Spain’s place at the fore of the rambling scene is well and truly secure. It is home to a myriad of managed hiking trails that meander their way through every section of the country’s varying regions, from the vineyards of La Rioja to the beach-fronted hills of the Costa del Sol. So, if you’re thinking about coming vacation in Spain ‘in the boots’ then consider precisely what style of walking you’re after, because variety really is the name of the game. What’s more, just so you don’t miss it, Spain is home to perhaps one of the world’s most famous hiking trails that has its roots deep in the country’s religious and cultural history: the so-called Way of St. James to Camino de Santiago.
Camino de Santiago
Many think this meandering track route that forks its way through the Pyrenees from France began as an ancient Roman trade root into the Iberian Peninsula. Whether that’s the case or not, what’s certain is that this road made its name in the high Middle Ages, as one of the most popular routes of Christian pilgrimage in all of Europe. The end destination is the magnificent cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, a veritable icon of Roman Catholicism in Spain and western Europe, and a UNESCO world heritage site that’s entirely worthy of the epithet.
The French Way
There are a number of ways to make the journey across the mountain ranges of Spain, though the most popular, and by far the most beautiful is the so-called ‘French Way’, which drops south into Spain from its starting point in Jean Pied de Port in France. Because of the route’s huge popularity among ramblers, and its place a sort of ‘rite of passage’ for walkers of all levels, this trail is hugely cultivated and maintained; expect restaurants and hostels, hotels and tour guides every step of the way.
If you’re after something a little more secluded then there’s plenty of hiking trails elsewhere in the country that can offer a little more freedom that’s away from the touristy path. That said, with seclusion comes a little bit of rough. Unlike the Belgians or French, the Spanish aren’t overly fond of hiking as a pastime and the unkempt trails can often reflect this.
Hiking in Sierra Nevada
For the most rugged of Spanish backcountry, most hopeful hikers head to the southern mountainous enclave of the Sierra Nevada. This is home to Spain’s only ski resort in the winter, and is a veritable bundle of trails during the warmer months. Choose between dramatic two-day hikes to the high peaks, or shorter walks of a few hours through the pleasant low-land countryside in places like the flower-filled Lecrín Valley, or the lush green ravines of Monachil. This is a land where white-washed pueblo towns pepper the hillsides and orange groves flower overhead.
Hiking Tours in Andalucia
The Sierra Nevada sit on the cusp of another of Spain’s much-loved hiking destinations: The huge southern region of Andalucia. Famed among walkers for its rich and varied landscape, the coastal regions here offer a unique ability for hikers to stroll the countryside from town to town. Near the city of Granada, it’s popular to explore the hilltop and valley villages of Lanjaron, Capileira, Pampaneira and Bubion all of which sit neatly in the region of Las Alpujarras. The latter three are nestled nicely together in the heat of the Poqueira valley, where it’s possible to spy the Morrocan Mountains on clear days far to the south across the Med. They make a fantastic day-walk trip too; breakfast in one town, lunch in another and dinner on the hilltop as the light begins to fade.
Walking Routes in Catalonia
Catalonia offers another great walking region that’s easily accessible and filled with beautiful trails. Famed for the delights of Spanish cuisine that can be found along the way, this region mixes some of the most magnificent aspects of rural Spanish country with the breath-taking rugged coastline of the Costa Brava, one of the top 10 beaches in Spain. In the north, the little-known Zamanzas Valley is another less-popular spot, where walkers can spy the Ebro River at its very beginnings, and enjoy the lush green picnicking spots totally alone in the wild.