A dramatic landscape in the beautiful Parc national de la Vanoise
Wherever I travel in Europe, I try to make sure there are plenty of opportunities to make my trip as active as possible. Sometimes that means taking my bike so I can park my car and explore on two wheels, sometimes it means braving the chilly Normandy sea or trying to stay on a surfboard in Biarritz. On one occasion I even took some weights on a camping holiday so I could fit in a workout while someone else got the fire started. But my favourite way to get around Europe is definitely on my own two feet - you pick your own pace and you don't miss a thing.
There are beautiful hiking trails all across the Continent, but my favourite hikes are up in the mountains. There's so much variety to be found across Europe's rocky backbones, from the snowy elegance of the Alps in winter to the beautiful wildlife that hides away in the Pyrenees. Here are just a few of the best hiking destinations I know.
Hiking in the Pyrénées
I've never walked the whole of the GR10 footpath, because the full journey is more like a pilgrimage than a holiday - even experienced hikers will find that the winding path from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Biscay takes them almost two months. However, GR10 is perfect for shorter walks too. There is somewhere to sleep at almost every point along the route, whether you prefer a hotel or a modest gîte (or, like me, a tent and a campfire!), so you can join the route where you please and enjoy a day or two traversing the French Pyrenees.
I love the walk from the ski town of Cauterets to Luz-Saint-Sauveur, a 20km hike that takes in breathtaking mountain scenery and has plenty of amenities at either end! Another unmissable section of GR10 is the Chemin de la Mâture, a 1.2km stretch that's carved into the side of the mountain. Once an important road that carried timber to the French naval shipyards, it's now a beautiful hiking spot with plenty of opportunities for rock-climbing too.
Just 20km from the Italian border, Pralognan is an ideal spot for those who prefer day hikes to extended treks. Explore the picturesque Vanoise national park, home to the Alpine ibex as well as wolves, eagles and many other rare species, or take a cable car up to one of the peaks before working your way back down on foot. The Vanoise was France's first national park, and it joins up with the Italian Gran Paradiso reserve to make the biggest protected area in the Alps - walking from Pralognan gives you a rare opportunity to escape the crowds and find some peace amongst the mountains.
Nestled in the French Prealps, Salève offers magnificent views of Lake Geneva, Mont Blanc and the dramatic landscape. A few paths like the Grande Gorge are open throughout the year and accessible for most walkers, but if you want something a little more challenging take one of the many unofficial (but still signposted) hiking routes that criss-cross the mountain. If you feel like varying your schedule with some adventure sports, you can launch yourself off the slopes in a hang-glider or delve into the mountain's secrets with a caving trip. Or for an exciting journey down Salève after the long hike up, hire a mountain bike and head back to your tent at top speed!
Aerial view on the Salève and Geneva
New initiatives like the Via Alpina and the unified Pyrenean routes have made it easy for hikers to explore these beautiful and unspoilt mountain ranges. And whether you want to bike or hike, camp or ski, there's no better way to start your holiday than with the quick and easy 35 minute Eurotunnel Le Shuttle journey to France. The first of the Prealps are less than a day's drive from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle at Calais, so you can make the most of our proximity to these beautiful hiking destinations.