Walk over petrified lava rivers, stay in Cappadocian caves, explore underground cities, get pulses pumping on via ferrata, or just ply your kids with Italian gelato. With summer holidays here, we look at some of Europe’s top places for family-friendly trekking.
Tenerife, Canary Islands
Kids’ minds are fantastic places, much stranger and more outlandish than the real world. It’s rare to find geographical locations that match this imaginative exuberance, but Tenerife is blessed with them. The island owes its existence to Pico del Teide, a volcano (what kid doesn’t love a volcano?) that towers more than 12,000 feet above the Atlantic. Walking to the top gives extraordinary above-the-cloud views, particularly in the early morning, when a triangular shadow is thrown for a vast distance towards the Americas. But the surrounding caldera is just as unreal, with paths winding through a Mordor-like landscape of petrified lava rivers and pyroclastic rock sculptures.
Elsewhere on the island, the descent of the Masca gorge (a challenging but fantastic natural assault course into a vast steep-sided barranco, emerging to the sea and returning via boat) or the Cueva del Viento (a huge tube carved by lava) offer day-trip adventures that kids will relish. What’s more, Tenerife’s popularity means that relatively cheap flights and affordable accomodation is usually easy to find, which is always handy for a family holiday – but the tourist crowds are largely restricted to the southern tip of the island.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
With its multicoloured vertiginous villages spilling into sapphire seas, backed by mountains of towering white limestone, Italy’s Amalfi Coast is one of those places that looks too idyllic to be true; John Steinbeck described it as “dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone”. It’s a wonder civilisation was sustained through the centuries in such a precipitous place, where it looks as if one shrug of the land could send all human works tumbling down into the Mediterranean.
Naturally, there are a few tourist honeypots with sunbed-packed beaches and bays full of swanky yachts, but threading through it all are some of the most dizzyingly spectacular coastal trails in the world, where the underlying spirit of the region shines through in sleepy villages and citrus terraces. To keep the young ‘uns happy you can mix up the walking with beaches, horse rides and boat trips. And then there’s all the kid-friendly food: mouthwatering gelato, crispy pizza and creamy pasta, and of course, all the bounty of that sparkling sea.
The Dolomites, Italy
The famous modernist architect Le Corbusier reputedly described the Dolomites as the most beautiful buildings in the world. It’s an apt way of describing these magnificent cathedrals of rock, which boggle their mind with their baroque size and complexity.
There is a huge and well-mapped network of walking trails through the Dolomites, well supported by rifugios, towns and tourist infrastructure, making it a good place for family amenities (not to mention all the Italian grub described above, with the addition of hearty South Tyrol sausage and such). And of course, there are the famous ‘Iron Ways’ of the Dolomites. Via ferrata are essentialy huge climbing frames for adults, so why wouldn’t actual kids love them too?
You are the best person to judge your child’s abilities and limits, but it goes without saying that due consideration should be given to safety before taking any child on a via ferrata – see this article for some salient safety tips. If in doubt, go with a guiding company offering family-friendly via ferrata experiences.
“We’re staying in a cave.”
What self-respecting kid – hell, what adult – couldn’t fail to be excited by these words? The otherworldly Cappadocia is guaranteed to feed the fertile imaginations of children. For centuries, the region’s soft rock has been hollowed out for living purposes, forming a vast swiss cheese of houses and habitations. The most photogenic features are the fantastical “fairy towers”, said to be so-named because travellers of old mistook the candlelight of people living in them for ghostly spirits.
Cappadocia (technically part of the Asian continent, but classed as 'European' cover in BMC insurance policy) is criss-crossed by walking trails and the area is well catered for by trekking providers, some of which include treks in the relatively nearby Taurus Mountains. There are also loads of options for extra activities to keep the kids happy. Jump into one of the many hot air balloons that float over the fairy towers every morning; descend into the vast medieval underground city of Derinkuyu, a subterranean refuge designed to shelter up to 20,000 people from passing invaders; or, of course, stay in one of the region’s cave hotels (albeit with a few more modern conveniences than the original inhabitants.)
Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains, Romania
It’s indelibly associated with all things dark, gothic and blood-sucking, which is guaranteed to grab your kid’s interest straight off the bat. Dracula-related hokum plays its rightful role in Transylvania’s tourist economy, but the kids will lap it up; think haunted houses, ghost tours and incredible Gormenghast-like fortresses like Bran Castle.
But beyond that, Transylvania, and the neighbouring Carpathian Mountains, contain some of the most naturally and culturally compelling landscapes in Europe. Parts of Transylvania have rhythms of life unchanged since medieval times, with horse-drawn carts rumbling along dusty roads and wildflower meadows being scythed by hand into huge haystacks in summer, a glimpse into the past that will either entrance or enthrall the kids, depending on their level of attachment to their electronic gizmos. But the wildlife tourism possibilities of the Carpathian Mountains should delight all but the most jaded iPad addict; one of Europe’s last wild redoubts, there are brown bears, eagles, wolves, chamois and lynx in these hills. Hides can give you a glimpse of them in their natural habitat, while places like the Libearty Bear Sanctuary allow you to see rescued bears given a lease of life in much more humane conditions. A quick Google should produce trekking itineraries which also encompass these extras.
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*Policy details: £131.56 for 12-months European Trek cover up to age 69. For 45-day multi-trip policies.