The middle of a Maine winter is a good time to start planning your next big hiking adventure. A solid week on the trail somewhere, maybe two. It takes some doing to put a trip together, so it’s best to get the process going now.

The big question always is where to go. There are lots of great trails in the U.S., from our Appalachian Mountains to the Rockies to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, and lots in between. All good, but have you considered looking across the Atlantic Ocean for your next major hiking vacation?

Western Europe, an area of the world I’m pretty familiar with, has thousands of miles of excellent walking trails, from the British Isles to the Alps to the Pyrenees and much more. If you haven’t yet experienced trekking on the far side of the big pond, well, you’re in for a real treat.

Journeying on foot has been part of the European culture for a very long time. As such, there exists an amazing network of waymarked paths that travel hither and yon, connecting picturesque villages by way of high mountain passes and spectacular scenery.

One of the true benefits of trekking the trails of Europe is the ability to do so carrying only a light rucksack filled with lunch, clothes, water, maps, a few sundries and not much more. While camping is sometimes an option, most continental trekkers eschew the weight of a tent, sleeping bag, stove and cook gear, and opt to spend overnights in huts and refuges while in the mountains, and inns and B&Bs while in the valleys.

In these cozy respites, walkers are treated to a warm bunk complete with blankets and pillow, hot showers, and a hearty dinner and breakfast. As if that isn’t enough comfort, there’s often beer and wine available. Plus, you’ll enjoy lots of pleasant international company as you relax and share stories with fellow travelers. I’ve made lifelong friends this way, and learned of many trekking destinations to add to my growing list.

My most recent European foray was last September when my wife and I trekked the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 170-kilometer circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc Massif through Alpine terrain so beautiful it literally made our head spin. First France, then Italy, then Switzerland, then back to Chamonix, France. En route we tackled a dozen high mountain passes and cumulatively gained nearly 33,000 feet of elevation.

The TMB, as it is known, is the most popular long trek in Europe, no doubt because of its scenery. It’s a good introduction to European trekking because there are excellent guidebooks and maps, the path is well-marked and graded, there’s a fine string of good accommodations, and there’s just enough people for company. And you get to experience three countries.

If you’re intimidated by the thought of a European hike, don’t be. You can make it happen with more ease than you imagine, believe me.

Sure, you can opt for a guided package that does all the prep work for you and puts a human guide on the ground to show you the way each day. But it’s really expensive and takes away the pleasure of planning and executing a big trip on your own.

With the ability to search the Internet, a language phrase book, a good guidebook and maps, and some patience, you’ll do just fine. And you’ll save lots of money, extra cash you can use to treat yourself to a well-earned pint of beer on the deck of some incredible mountaintop hut.

Feel free to contact me for ideas and assistance. Meantime, get on Google and begin turning dreams into reality. A good place to start is with Cicerone, the premier publisher of guidebooks to the most popular treks in Europe and beyond, at www.cicerone.co.uk.

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid international trekker and freelance writer. Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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