Independent Families: 'We'd like to get our walking boots on'


Q. My wife and I once went on a hiking tour of southern Italy, which we both really enjoyed. Since having children we haven't been able to pursue this kind of holiday; however, now our offspring are a little older, we were wondering if there are any walking tours for families? They are aged six and nine and are pretty energetic and affable so group trips aren't out of the question. We would be interested in any European destinations that aren't overly hot during summer. Can you help?

D Glover, via e-mail

A. The hiking needn't stop now that you are a family of four - it's time to put your walking boots back on. Many travel companies that specialise in walking holidays are now opening up to families and putting together programmes suitable for both adults and children as well as hardened hikers.

The point-to-point formula (where turning back is not an option) is not recommended unless you have a couple of budding Sherpas for children. For families with younger children, a less demanding option is a centre-based holiday, where you are stationed at a base from which to do out-and-back walks. However, if your children are energetic, a trip that combines both types of walk might be the best option. Often backup, in the form of the four-legged variety (donkeys), or vehicles, is included.

One organisation is Walks Worldwide (01524 242000; www.walksworldwide.com), which offers just this sort of holiday. It operates a 14-day guided group trip in Bulgaria called The Legend of Orpheus. Eurydice's Orpheus is supposed to have come from the Rhodope Mountains, although the Greeks dispute his origins. Myths aside, Bulgaria has much to offer families. A moderate climate, friendly locals and an off-the-beaten-track itinerary make for a good, old-fashioned family holiday that combines culture and the outdoors. Spaces are still available for the 15 August departure, with a maximum group size of 20.

The company aims for a relaxed approach, with late starts, transfers to the starting point and leisurely lunch breaks. The average day's walking totals three-to-four hours and is combined with activities such as swimming and cave visits on the way.

The first port of call on the Bulgaria trip is the village of Ezerovo, located at 1,500m in the lower slopes of the Rhodope Mountains. This village provides a base for two days of gentle out-and-back walks designed to gauge the walking capabilities of the group.

By day four, you set out on the trek proper. With a group whose ages range from two years upwards, walks continue at a meandering pace. The group makes its way south towards the Greek border, climbing to a maximum height of 2,100m.

Along the way, you ride on chairlifts in the ski resort of Pamporovo, visit the Singing Orpheus Rocks, the Trigrad Gorge and the underground Devil's Throat waterfall, dip into hot mineral pools in Devin and and hike above the World Heritage Site of Bansko for some spectacular views. The route then loops north to the more rugged Pirin Mountains before returning back to Sofia. The tour concludes with a visit to this interesting capital city, still relatively free of tourists. Possibly in a throwback to the days of state socialism, there is also an opportunity for you to sample cheese at a local factory.

This holiday, very much off the beaten track, takes hikers into an unspoilt corner of Europe. There is no risk of baking under the summer sun: you can expect fine but temperate weather. And because of the altitude, the freshness and quality of the air, and the light, are a real tonic.

Prices are £895 for adults and £580 for children aged two-11. Infants travel free. This includes return flights from Heathrow to Sofia with British Airways, transfers, thirteen nights' accommodation, most meals and a local guide.

If you prefer not to walk with a group, Upland Escapes (01367 851111; www.uplandescapes.com) offers independent walking holidays. For reasonable temperatures and fresh mountain air, its package to the Julian Alps in Slovenia is ideal. Families can travel whenever they like. You can fly to Ljubljana on easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) from Stansted, on Wizz Air (00 48 223 519 499; www.wizzair.com) four times a week from Luton and from Birmingham, Manchester and Gatwick on Adria Airways (00 386 1 369 1010; www.adria-airways.com).

Upland Escapes provides a hire car from the airport so you can make your way to your hotel in the traditional village of Kosec on the edge of the Triglav National Park; it is approximately a two-hour drive away. This little-known corner of the Julian Alps is where Italy and Austria meet Slovenia, combining spectacular mountain scenery, history and gastronomy from each country. Waiting for you on site is a handbook of walks and suggestions of other activities to do in the area from fishing, white-water rafting, canyoning, canoeing and swimming in the stunning ice-water Soca river to local farmers' markets.

An Upland Escapes manager based in the village will help plan your stay and is on call 24 hours a day. Three escorted walks are included in the price; with more than 20 to choose from, there is something to suit all ages and interests. These include a one-hour walk down to the town of Tolmin, crossing ravines on suspension bridges and visiting the cave that supposedly inspired Dante's vision of hell.

For a full day out, leave the car behind and take a train through the mountains to Lake Bohinj, Slovenia's largest lake, fringed by the Julian Alps. Once there you can take a boat trip across the lake or cool off in the water before returning to the village. With children in mind, Upland Escapes has devised a treasure hunt for young walkers enabling them to find out about the local community in and around the hamlet of Kosec, including such questions as which fruit and vegetables they grow, the language they speak, and so on. All the ingredients are certainly there for a healthy and stimulating family holiday.

A week's holiday for a family of four travelling in July costs £2,152 (children pay 75 per cent of the standard price of £615 per person). This includes car hire, B&B accommodation, three escorted walks, packed lunches and the services of the Upland's manager, but not flights.

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk

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