These Routes Were Made for Walking: With Its Temperate Climate, Varied Geography and Fascinating History, Europe Is Hiking Heaven. So Make the Most of Summer by Taking to the Great Outdoors, and Let Nicholas Crane Guide You to and through Some of the Region's Top Walks

Article excerpt

Ten years ago I was walking through the beech woods of the Polish Carpathians, en route to Istanbul. The shepherds had returned to the high pastures and the last winter snows were softening in the north-facing hollows of the High Tatras. The thawed mountain soil seemed to creak with new life. I'd been walking for more than a year, from Cape Finisterre on Spain's Atlantic coast, through the Cantabrian sierras and the Pyrenees and along the Cevennes and the Alps to the great sickle curve of the Carpathians, which would--all being well--lead me to the Balkan ranges and the Black Sea. There had been days when I'd groped through blinding storms and others when I felt that I'd strayed into a paradise of such intensity that the senses struggled to keep up.

"I will clamber through the clouds and exist," wrote the poet John Keats before hefting his knapsack to tramp the Highlands of Scotland. Keats speaks for anyone who has seen the sun rise on Monte Perdido or heard Hutzul pipes above the forests of Hoverla. I walked 10,000 kilometres and wore out several boot soles, but the memories are not of blisters (one) but of a place so unlike the urban lowlands of my home that I can scarcely believe that it belongs to the same continent. …