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Walking in Spain

One of the best ways to discover the “real Spain” is to do it on foot. The country is a walkers' paradise offering something for everyone. From hardened hikers and budget backpackers to those who prefer a relaxing ramble through the vineyards with a spot of wine tasting thrown in for good measure.

Ever since Laurie Lee's memoir of his walk from one end of Spain to the other was published in 1969, tour operators have been luring walkers from all over the world with every kind of Spanish hiking holiday imaginable.

The famous English poet and novelist set out on foot from the north west corner of Spain to Granada in the south at the outbreak of the Spanish civil war (1936-39). He financed his journey by playing his fiddle in the streets and recorded his adventures along the way in his highly acclaimed As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.

Spain: a vast array of wonderful walking trails

As Laurie Lee and countless hordes of other walkers have discovered, the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish islands offer a vast array of wonderful walking trails from the perilous Pyrenean paths in the north to the gorgeous green hills of Andalucia in the south.

Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe (after France) and the second most mountainous (after Switzerland). The sheer diversity of Spain's geography means the country has something to offer hikers of all ages, abilities and tastes.

The Spanish Pyrenees

In the north of Spain, the Spanish Pyrenees are a magnet for walkers, rock climbers, mountaineers and adventure sports enthusiasts. The main walking season is between April and September as the harsh weather in the winter months makes many of the mountain trails treacherous and often impassable. Even in the height of the summer, sudden hail storms can strike so all weather gear is essential.

One of the most popular walking spots in northern Spain is the awesomely beautiful Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) – a series of dramatic mountain peaks, canyons, gorges and fertile valleys dividing Asturias and Cantabria. It's a land where wild boar and wolves roam, where the mountains are home to chamois and the forests harbour exotic fauna such as fire salamanders and brown bears.

The country's most famous walk is the Camino de Santiago (Santiago Way) which has been trodden by pilgrims for more than 1,000 years. There are a number of different starting points for the journey to the shrine of St James (Santiago) in the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela in the North West corner of the country. The one favoured by hardened hikers is the traditional 730-kilometre pilgrimage from the Roncesvalles pass in the Pyrenees through Aragon, Navarra, Rioja and Castilla Leon.

The mountainous hinterland of the Costa Blanca is a favourite walking destination in springtime when the weather is comfortably warm, the mountains are carpeted with orchids and other wild flowers and the air is filled with the pungent scent of rosemary and thyme.

Andalucia is favoured by winter walkers as the temperature seldom drops below 14C in the winter months. Some of the most dramatic walking country in Andalucia is to be found in the Alpujarras, on the southern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It's a magical place where enchanting medieval villages cling impossibly to the sides of majestic mountains which were the last stronghold of the Moorish invaders before their expulsion by the Christian armies at the end of the 15th century.

But during July and August, when the sizzling summer sun can push temperatures above 40C, Andalucia is generally out of bounds for all but the most hardy (or foolhardy!) of walkers / hikers.

Don't forget to take your suncream!

It's a fact that despite the presence of snakes, wolves, wild boar and various other ferocious fauna in Spain's favourite hiking haunts, it's the weather which causes more problems for walkers than any wildlife they may encounter along the way. Sunstroke, sun burn and dehydration are among the most common hazards so it's important to arm yourself with essentials including a sun hat, sun cream, protective clothing and plenty of water.