Friday, 29 December 2017

Shorter hikes: Iberian Peninsula

Over the years I have not only been doing long tours but in between shorter hiking trips as well. All of these can be done with a normal working person's holiday - and therefore I hope to give you some inspiration for trips of your own:

One of my favourite destinations for shorter - and off-season - trips is the Iberian peninsula. Because Spain and Portugal are such popular holiday destinations you can get cheap flights and the touristic infrastructure is great. Plus Spain has invested a lot of EU money in the development of new trails like my first favourite:

Gran Senda de Malaga or GR 249

When I first came across the trail during my Southern European Traverse I was immediately fascinated. Back then in 2014 the trail was just being finished. Therefore everything was brand new, waymarking excellent and the multilingual website fanastic. There you can find everything you need for a "thruhike" - no need to buy maps or guidebooks. You can even download the whole English topoguide including maps for this trail from the website!

This loop trail basically circles around Malaga with several easy entry or exit points. So in winter 2015/16 I booked a flight for me and a friend to Malaga and off we set on a week-long trip along the trail. Another great advantage of the Gran Senda is its diversity: You traverse so many different landscapes from the coastal region through the mountains and the vast "sea of olives" that is so typical for Andalucia. I chose the sections from Nerja to Fuente de Piedra for our hike because they were easily accesible and would bring us through all three landscape types.

I was not disappointed! The weather in December was still great and during the day I was still hiking in a T-shirt and shorts. Wild camping was easily doable and the trail as diverse and interesting as I had expected. But best of all was that we were basically alone! Despite its fabulous website and lots of marketing activities from the tourist board of Malaga this trail is still relatively unknown. Maybe because Malaga has the reputation of a cheap holiday package destination?

Anyways, from myself this trail gets a very high recommendation for an easily accesible and very diverse off-season destination. I have hiked around 200 kilometres of the total 660 kilometres on this occasion.

Rota Vicentina Historical Trail

In February 2016 I embarked on my first Portuguese hiking trip along the Rota Vicentina. Again I was lured onto the trail through a fantastic website - and the trail's "fame" in the hiking community. Flights were very cheap to Lisbon in off-season, too. The Rota Vicentina has two alternatives: the Historical Way that is completely inland and the Fisherman's Way which follows the coastline.

Unfortunately I chose the inland alternative because I thought that wild camping would be easier here in the forests. But although I sometimes hiked through old oak forest that is harvested for cork most of the time the trail led me through endless eucalyptus plantations. Not only was free camping difficult in this dense forest but it was an eye sore, too. Ugly clear cuts and totally destroyed trails made hiking not so nice ...

I was so disappointed that I changed onto the coastal alternative where things got a lot better. Weather was good in February and despite the wind hiking was a pleasure here. And whereas I had not met anyone on the Historical Way I met several hikers on the Fisherman's Way. I also want to mention that the trail leads you through several pretty villages which makes resupply easy.

But to sum it up: I hiked the entire 230 kilometres of the Historical Way and a short stretch of the Fisherman's Trail - and was not much impressed with the earlier. If you want to hike the Rota Vicentina definitely choose the coastal option which is much shorter with 120 kilometres. The Rota Vicentina has become a "Leading Trail of Europe", but honestly I cannot see why. Although quite nice for the most part I find that there is much better hiking elsewhere in Europe. So if you want to specifically hike in Portugal, the Rota Vicentina is an option but don't expect too much ...

GR 221 or Dry Stone Route on Mallorca

I am not a big fan of Christmas and therefore I decided in December 2017 to spend the holidays hiking - preferably in a warmer climate. Because flights were cheap and the trail incredible popular I decided to try the famous GR 221 on Mallorca. It is also called Dry Stone Route because ist uses the old historical trails through the Serra de Tramuntana on the island. These dry stone walls are a Cultural UNESCO World Heritage - rightly so because even I was more than impressed!

Not only the trails were made with the dry stone technique but also
endless terraces that were once used for agriculture - and now they are perfect for wild camping (although I want to mention that wild camping is legally forbidden on Mallorca ...) The trail takes you through pittoresque villages, passes old characoal and lime kilns and offers breathtaking views over the Serra Tramuntana!

I only have to mention two negative things: Spain in general is a very cheap country for hiking but unfortunately this does not apply to Mallorca! Everything is expensive here: hotels, restaurants and even supermarkets. Luckily you can stay in several refugios along the way if you do not want to illegally free camp - although most refuges were closed in December ...

Secondly the waymarking is really bad considering that this is such a popular trail! I would definitely bring a GPS to avoid frustration especially in fog or rain! But these are all my complaints - and do not worry about mass tourism: In winter not much is going on here and in six days I only met two other "thruhikers" but many day hikers. The masses of tourists are in summer on the beach - and not in the mountains!

From me this trail gets a very high recommendation! Mallorca is easy to reach, public transport is great, the trail is walkable year round. But what is best is that within only 145 kilometres you see one spectacular view after the other. Both landscape and culture are great - this is hiking at its best and ideal for a short week-long break-away!

No comments: