Grab your oversized pack, top up on sunscreen and head overseas to make this autumn of walking a memorable one.
You might have been feeling for weeks that autumn has arrived, but now the seasonal diagnosis is official. UK weather forecasts can only go downhill from here - luckily, though, there are places in the world where sunshine isn’t such a rare commodity. Here’s our pick of the best places to go on a trekking holiday this autumn.
Ah, the GR20. Probably the most famous multi-day trek in Europe, and consequently a staple on many walkers’ bucket lists. This 180km-long trekking pilgrimage traverses the French island of Corsica diagonally and takes around fifteen days to complete. It’s best walked in early September when most of the mountain refuges are open, the searing heat of summer has subsided into autumnal balminess and there’s no snow on the trail, but the weather often remains pleasant well into October.
If you don’t have two weeks to spare, of course, then there are dozens of almost equally spectacular shorter routes worth tackling, including the five-to-ten-day Mare e Monti and the Mare a Mare. Expect gruelling terrain, gasp-inducing scenery and epic exposure – all rounded off with some time soaking up the sun on one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches.
Anyone thinking of tackling the GR20 needs to be aware there was a deadly accident earlier this summer when a landslide happened at the Cirque de Solitude, one of the hardest parts of the trek. A variant route has now been put in place, which is described on the Cicerone website.
2. Hautes Pyrenees
It takes most of the summer for snow the blanketing the highest Pyrenean passes to melt – but by the time September rolls around, the last vestiges of the white stuff have finally cleared. Take advantage of the small window before the whole cycle begins again by nipping down to Gavarnie in the south of France for a multi-day trek that meanders around the French-Spanish border.
The scenery around here is simply out of this world and there’s wildlife to match. Keep your eyes peeled for vultures, eagles, marmots and of course sedate herds of cowbell-adorned bovines as you explore the canyonesque Cirque de Gavarnie and follow ancient pathways high up into the hills.
Cross over to Spain via the Port de Boucharo to discover the exquisite hamlet of Saint Nicholas de Bujaruelo, with its 9th-century Romanesque Bridge and campsite, then continue via medieval Torla to the eye-popping layercake of limestone strata that is the Ordesa Canyon. In the mountains above Ordesa you’ll discover a smattering of refuges including the Goriz Refuge – a good base from which to tackle the highest peaks in the Pyrenees. Then it’s a long, scenic trek via the high Breche de Roland pass back to Gavarnie.
3. Moroccan Atlas
You might want to wait for autumn to mature before making for Morocco, because even the High Atlas is hotter than the sun until mid-September. The draw here is part scenic and part cultural - with Berber villages teetering on narrow terraces across the mountains, meeting the locals is just as much a part of the experience as seeing the sights.
The four main trekking areas are Toubkal, M’goun, Sirwa and Sahro, with the best-known climb in the region being the ascent of 4,167m-high Jbel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. Guides and pack mules are cheap to hire and worth their weight in gold, particularly since trekking in the area is still in its infancy and the range of maps and guidebooks available is limited. It’s worth spending a day or two in Marrakech en-route to the Atlas to see the sites and sample the local cuisine before heading for the hills.
4. The Catskills
Every autumn, the woods from New England to the Pacific North West erupt in a dazzling display or fiery oranges and reds. The Catskill Mountains in New York are one of the best places in the world to see this famous fall phenomenon, and it just so happens that they’re pretty incredible hiking territory as well.
Covering 6,000 square miles and encompassing six major river systems as well as 35 peaks above 3,500 feet (the highest being 4,180ft Slide Mountain), these forested hills are crisscrossed with trails. Around 2,000 black bears roam the Catskills, not to mention bobcats, deer and porcupine - but you needn’t be a backcountry guru to go walking here. A liberal sprinkling of fabled B&Bs welcome weary travellers and provide a respite from the chill autumnal air.
5. Sierra Nevada
Its name means ‘snowy range’ in Spanish, but by autumn the Sierra Nevada has yet to acquire its wintery covering. This lofty Andalucian mountain range has an impressive selection of 3,000metres-plus summits, most of which can be shoehorned into less than a week of trekking. For those of you whose interests encompass climbing as well as walking, it’s also an easy drive from some of the best sport climbing in Europe and close to the charms of Granada and the sunny beaches of the Costa Blanca as well.
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