Stunning Under-the-Radar Hikes in Europe

Explore Europe's natural landscapes through these lesser known hikes.

The first leg of the Alpe-Adria Trail brings hikers past Heiligenblut, a famous pilgrimage church,.
Photograph by Gerald Haenel, laif/Redux

Global tourism is on the rise. There was a six percent increase in worldwide travelers in 2017, and nearly 52 percent of Americans plan to visit Europe in the next two years, according the World Tourism Organization. While this increased travel has its benefits—growing economies, connecting communities, encouraging a greater understanding of the world—it also has its drawbacks.

Over-tourism is taxing on a destination’s infrastructure, residents, and natural landscapes. In Europe, that often means cities facing gridlocked roadways and crowded architectural wonders, but the congestion isn’t isolated to urban locales. Popular trails and hiking routes, like Italy’s Cinque Terre and France’s Tour du Mont Blanc, also receive a staggering number of annual visitors, causing heavy foot traffic through the continent’s most pristine mountainous areas.

Buffalo gather at a lake in Guilin, China.
Buffalo gather at a lake in Guilin, China.
Photograph by Prasad Ambati, National Geographic Your Shot

To avoid the crowds in Europe’s most famous natural landscapes, opt to hike the continent’s under-the-radar regions, where trails weave through idyllic coastal towns, mountain-top monasteries, and picturesque waterfalls and river gorges.

Austria, Slovenia, and Italy’s Alpe Adria Trail

Spanning 466 miles through Austria, Slovenia, and Italy, the Alpe Adria trail begins at Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria, and connects to Muggia, a coastal town in northeast Italy.

This 43-stage, long-distance trail typically takes over a month to hike. Most trekkers conquer two to five stages of the trail at a time, over a period of four days to two weeks. From Carinthia’s mountain lakes to the vertical walls and sheer cliffs of Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s portion of the Dolomite Mountains, this route has been described as a trip through the Garden of Eden. (Related: Top 10 Ski Runs & Lodges)

On a 10-day trip with Mountain Travel Sobek, hike 60 miles of the route’s most beautiful stretches, from Salzburg, Austria, to Trieste, Italy. Trek beyond mountain lakes and rivers to uncover the region’s highest summits and lush valleys, going past landmarks like Austria’s Garnet Gate and Italy’s Sanctuary of Monte Lussari. In just one day, hike through all three countries and end the trip with a morning summit of the 5,285-foot peak of Vršič, the highest mountain pass in Slovenia.

Greece’s Lousios Gorge Monasteries Hike

While visitors often flock to Greece for its historic locales—like Athens, Delphi, and Santorini—or colorful islands, there’s plenty of rugged hiking trails beyond the country’s famed cities and Mediterranean isles. While traversing the Lousios Gorge region in the Peloponnese peninsula, begin in Karytaina and continue north to Dimitsana, a route seldom traveled, where wildflowers grow in abundance near babbling streams and meadows peppered with towering cypress trees and olive groves.

During a trip with Peregrine Adventures, spend a day hiking an easy nine-mile portion of the Lousios Gorge, passing stunning mountaintop monasteries along a wild stretch of unpaved trail. Wind through the medieval village of Karitena, near the confluence of the gorge, before traveling to the terracotta-rooftop towns of Stemnitsa and Andritsena. Visit the nearby Prodromos monastery to mingle with local monks and learn how the wood and clay structure was built precariously into the rock face. End at the 10th-century Byzantine monastery of Philosophou, once the base of a monk-run secret school, known as a krifó scholió, developed during Ottoman rule to teach youth their native language and religion.

Spain’s Camino dos Faros Coastal Trail

While hikers are drawn to the Camino de Santiago to complete Spain’s most famous pilgrimage, the alternative (yet equally as compelling) Camino dos Faros coastal trail is the country’s under-the-radar gem. It weaves through the rugged, wild terrain of Costa da Morte on the Atlantic coast of Galicia, Spain.

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Also known as Lighthouse Way, Camino dos Faros was built by a cohort of local volunteers and is replete with noteworthy archaeological heritage. The trail spans nearly 125 miles through Galicia’s capes and headlands.

During a trek with On Foot Holidays, trace a challenging 10-day portion of the route, a journey of sunrise-to-sunset days on the trail covering soaring cliff-top stretches for serious trekkers. The route hugs wild coastal terrain peppered with lighthouses, quaint villages, and plenty of empty beaches, finishing at the lighthouse at Cape Finisterre, which converges with a stretch of the Camino de Santiago. This rocky peninsula proves an ideal haven for harbor-to-plate seafood, the town’s premiere industry.

Italy’s La Via Francigena Pilgrimage Route

Although La Via Francigena is one of Europe’s least known pilgrimage routes, many believe it’s one of the best. During the Middle Ages, this medieval route once connected Canterbury to Rome, passing through England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. Italy’s 587-mile portion of the route takes roughly 90 days to complete at a pace of at least 12 to 13 miles per day.

During a trip with Wilderness Travel, the first adventure travel company to offer a trek through this mostly unmarked route, hike the path of the pilgrims for 10 days, covering some of the trail’s most iconic scenery. Beginning in Siena, cross through historic towns and hamlets where cobbled Roman roads and amphitheaters and ancient Etruscan tombs are visible. Hike to Buonconvento, an iconic stop in a Tuscan landscape flush with golden wheat fields, olive groves, and dense forests home to hot springs. After trekking through the towns of Montefiascone, Viterbo, Capranica, and Sutri, the trail’s finale leads to Rome, and trekkers finish the route by walking directly into St. Peter’s Square.

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