Travel | 20 great lake and mountain holidays…

Summer holidays don’t have to mean sea and sand. In fact, we’ve had some amazing holidays in the
mountains and lakes of Italy in recent years. So, if you are looking for somewhere a little different and
away from the beach loving crowds, we have picked twenty great breaks amid mountains and by tranquil lakes to suit lovers of long hikes, high-energy activity – or just those who wish to enjoy those
mountain views.

Basque Highlands in Spain

Suits: Active foodies
The Basque countryside is a great place to hike, taking in the stupendous mountain scenery with great food and wine on your doorstep, in particular local idiazabal sheep’s cheese. Starting in the mountain village of Aránzazu, hikes can take in the Urbia valley, San Adrian pass and Aralar natural park, with ancient ruins, lakes, forests and shepherds’ huts. Time in San Sebastián, 40 minutes away by train, can be tagged on.

Nordic pilgrimage, Sweden/Norway

Suits: Seasoned hikers
The St Olav’s Way walking trail opened in 2013, winding through mountainous country with churches, forests and lakes. The whole thing would be a mammoth undertaking, but it breaks down into doable sections. One five-day trip goes from the Swedish ski resort of Åre over the border to Stiklestad, with hikers covering up to 40km a day. Swedish firm Nordic Pilgrim arranges packages with accommodation and optional guide and luggage transfers.

Stubai Valley, Austria

Suits: Outdoors lovers
Walking holidays in Austria with Inntravel will have you exploring Austria’s Stubai Valley. Clanging cowbells, the faint aroma of wildflower meadows, carried along by a gentle alpine breeze; and the sight of pine-forested slopes backed by an amphitheatre of 3,000-metre peaks.  This gentle walking holiday is the definition of a slow holiday, it’s about delighting the senses. With no luggage to weigh you down, and, with no group, it’s up to you who sets the pace and decide when to pause.  Stay in a classic Alpine chalet, and with the option to upgrade and day trips to add on.

Georgia

Suits: Seasoned hikers
Hiking from village to village in the breathtaking Svaneti region of the Caucasus is definitely a new destination to try. The food is delicious and cheap, the people incredibly welcoming, and the ice-topped peaks tower above many in the Alps, exceeding 4,000 metres.

Canoe Camping in Montenegro

Suits: Adventurous historian types
Straddling the border with Albania, Lake Skadar is a peaceful 370 sq km wilderness ringed by mountains, where travellers are unlikely to meet anyone but the odd fisherman in a wooden boat. A fantastic holiday with a difference is a wilderness canoeing and camping adventure swimming from freshwater beaches. History can be found in the Ottoman fortresses and 14th-century island monasteries.

Annecy, France

Suits: Water enthusiasts
In summer, Annecy is a charming lakeside city of canals, with swimming and water sports on one of Europe’s cleanest lakes. For the adventurous why not try wake surfing it’s like wake-boarding but on a bigger board, and you let go of the rope. Piscine des Marquisats south of the centre has an Olympic-size pool and slides, and across the lake.  When you’ve had enough of messing about on the water, head to Chateau de Menthon, a medieval fairytale castle with turrets atop a 200-metre rock.

Albania

Suits: Seasoned hikers
With some of Europe’s most pristine scenery, ancient pastoral traditions little-altered by modern life, and a title to capture the imagination, Albania’s Accursed mountains make for a wild holiday with an element of time travel. These peaks, which span the borders of Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro, have been easier to explore since 2012, when a hiking route, Peaks of the Balkans, opened to tempt walkers. Meeting mountain folk to learn about their well-preserved culture on visits to isolated villages is a major selling point, and accommodation is in old stone farmhouses where home-cooked meals include bean soup, spinach pie and roast lamb, with oregano tea, sheep’s milk, Turkish coffee or plum raki, depending on the mood.

French Alps

Suits: Adventurous friends
In Oz en Oisans, near Alpe d’Huez, famed for its killer cycle climbs.  Hire a bike, try paddleboarding or windsurfing on Lac du Verney. The French Alps will always be a pull for those seeking the thrill of the mountains.

Tirol, Austria

Suits: Active foodies
The Wildschonau region of the Austrian Tirol has 300km of walking routes, and so many quaint mountain hut cafes – almhütten – that walkers never risk running out of energy. Each alm hut has its specific charms: the Gressenstein’s water trough is full of cold beverages; Möslalm, above Niederau ski resort, has homemade cakes and a mountainbiker fanbase; Mittermoosen is in a sculpture park; and Achental is famous for its Wednesday doughnuts. Hiking and food in one place.

Switzerland

Suits: Romantics
The Weisshorn, opened in 1883, is one of the great original Alpine hotels, 2,337 metres up on the shoulder of the Val d’Anniviers, in a wonderful area for hiking. The hotel is only accessible on foot. Rooms are as pine-clad as a sauna, with shared showers and loos,with views of the Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Dent Blanche, Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.

La Palma, The Canaries

Suits: Laid-back romantics
If you’ve enjoyed the wilder side of the Canary Islands among the green mountains of La Gomera, you may also love La Palma, one of the archipelago’s hilliest and least-developed islands. Dramatic peaks, volcanic craters, deserts and forests hold more appeal than its small, gritty black sand beaches, and make for excellent walking. Olio La Palma in the hillside village of El Paso is right in the middle, with hikes from the doorstep, a tropical garden pool, and three doubles with four-posters and tiled floors.

Umbria, Italy

Suits: Romantics
A lesser-known alternative to the northern lakes region is Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, between Perugia and Assisi. There are three islands in the lake, two – Polvese and Maggiore – with churches and other buildings. On the south-eastern shore, La Valle nature reserve is a haven for migratory birds, with footpaths, binoculars to borrow and visitor centre. On the opposite shore, the former Aeroporto Eleutieri has been turned in to a green area with cycling trails.

Estonia

Suits: Adventurous friends
The delicious sensation of dashing from a steaming sauna into a cool lake should be experienced at least once. A traditional log cabin in the forest near the northern shore of Lake Peipus is a lovely place to try it. The Kauksi Holiday House would be great fun for a group of mates; as well as the sauna, it has a garden with a tepee, swimming and fishing in the lake, and foraging tours run by the hosts (who live nearby). And if you must do more, the university city of Tartu is 42km away.

Valia, Switzerland

Suits: Seasoned hikers
Stand at the foot of the mind-boggling Dixence dam and you’ll feel like you’re in Game of Thrones. At the top, accessed via a cable car, lies the milky-blue Grand Dixence reservoir Lake ringed by rocky peaks, with a path along one side that runs through long tunnels, emerging to meadows where marmots scamper and wild flowers wave in the wind. It’s the starting point for hikes to Cabane des Dix, a 1930s mountain hut at 2,928 metres, with 120 beds, then over to Arolla, to stay in Hotel Kurhaus, a charmingly old-fashioned 1800s hotel with mesmerising views of Mount Collon.

Portugal

Suits: Fun-loving families
The chance to swim from river beaches, babbling brooks and clear mountain lakes, and walk to waterfalls and glacial valleys draws summer adventurers to the area around Portugal’s highest peak, the Serra da Estrela.

Alpujarras, Spain

Suits: Active foodies
For a relaxing, sunny holiday with fresh mountain air, it’s hard to beat the High Alpujarras, south of Granada. The area’s 50-odd villages are full of fine food, beautiful architecture and little craft shops. The mule tracks of the Sierra Nevada are there for the taking but less restless souls can potter around typically Arabic Cáñar, try the famous jamón in Trevelez’s many bars, or siesta by day to be fresh for the evening events in Bubion’s square.

Cork, Ireland

Suits: Adventurous friends
Paddling across the water of Lough Hyne, a thrilling way to experience this famous saltwater lake in west Cork. Take a kayak tour at night to stargaze and spot bioluminescence and the silhouettes of birds. A new monthly experience, Starlight Serenade, also includes music and food. Nearby Skibbereen is a charming town with the obligatory cheery pub, and handy for trout fishing at Shepperton Lakes or Lough Bofinna near Bantry.

Thermal pools, Low Tatras, Slovakia

Suits: Sporty families
In Low Tatras, Slovakia you will find a good base for outdoor pursuits. As well as rafting, walking and cycling, families can visit caves including one called the Cave of Dead Bats, ride a chairlift up 2,024-metre Chopok mountain, tackle 2,043-metre Dumbier mountain, swim in natural thermal pools in Liptovsky Jan, and explore folksy villages and historic sites.

Budget train trip, Chamonix, France

Suits: Active families
Skiroc is one of France’s last independent outdoor centres. In winter it caters for French school groups but in summer it rents out its basic rooms to independent travellers. The centre itself could do with some TLC but its location, in the unspoilt hamlet of Le Buet, at the end of the Chamonix valley near the Swiss border, makes it the perfect base. There are hikes into the mountains straight from the door, and activities including canyoning, climbing, guided mountain biking, via ferrata and white water adventures are available through the outdoor centre in neighbouring Vallorcine. Chamonix adventure park is great for younger kids.

Trail running, Dolomites, Italy

Suits: Hardened runners
Not for the feint hearted, this running holiday in the Dolomites will have scrambling through scenery of limestone  so beautiful it would be easy to take a tumble. Dolomite Mountains’ range of hut-to-hut itineraries may be challenging, but the overnights at rifugi with scrumptiously rich food, comfy beds and drinks in the bars are just reward. The five-day Alta Via 1 covers 77km, starting in Cortina d’Ampezzo.


I fancy Annecy or Austria – have you booked your summer holiday yet?

Collaboration Note: This post was sponsored by InnTravel who specialise in Slow Travel, encouraging us to take the lesser-known path. Find that hidden corner. Take ourselves somewhere we’ve always wanted to go. Immerse ourselves into the rhythm and patterns of local life as we walk, cycle, ski, or journey through wonderful landscapes.  Thank you for supporting the posts that make this blog possible.