To explore a place on foot is to know it -- really know it -- in a way that visitors confined to rental cars and tour buses miss entirely. By slowing down, walkers experience beautiful nuances of the landscape and culture in between all the typical tourist spots.
Exploring "a pied" also lets travelers interact with locals and better understand a region's traditions. What's more, being in constant motion is supremely healthy -- which means you can indulge in all the local delicacies practically guilt-free. Whether you're looking for an Icelandic adventure or an exploration of ancient cultural sites, you're bound to find a walking trip to suit your gait.
Last year, Vermont-based Country Walkers expanded its portfolio by launching Women's Adventures. These eight ladies-only itineraries bring women together to bond and burn calories, while exploring regions from Arizona to the Czech Republic. Among the most popular is the weeklong journey through Italy's Tuscany and Umbria regions. Beginning in Siena, the trip winds through farmland, vineyards, and medieval hilltop towns, covering five to 11 miles a day.
And since it is Italy, after all, there's plenty of eating and drinking -- pecorino cheese sampling in the town of Pienza, wine tasting at a sixteenth-century villa. Feel-good perk: For each participant, Country Walkers makes a donation to a local nonprofit organization such as La Tenda, an association in Umbria that creates new homes for in-need single mothers.
Local chefs teach you how to create a healthy Italian feast during a hands-on cooking class.
Learn more at countrywalkers.com.
California's Yosemite easily outshines any amusement park when it comes to jaw-dropping wonders -- exactly why Backroads chose this national park for its latest family adventure. For six days, parents and their kids (3 and older) will walk to the top of granite domes, through giant sequoia groves, and around tourist-free glacial lakes. Planned hikes range from a 2-mile walk ending at Wapama Falls to a 10-mile route that kicks off at Glacier Point, which also has the best view of the Half Dome, immortalized by Ansel Adams' photographs.
In addition to time on foot, kids can stay entertained by horseback riding, biking, and whitewater rafting. When the sun goes down and the stars come out, families convene around a campfire for catered meals of roasted chicken and fresh vegetables before retreating to spacious domed tents.
Brave kids have the chance to scale a granite wall during the rock-climbing class -- a feat they'll brag to their friends about for months.
Learn more at backroads.com.
For Outdoor Adventurers
Walking trips might move at a slower pace, but they can still provide quite a rush for adventure addicts. Case in point: Mountain Travel Sobek's nine-day trek to the mountains and fjords of Iceland. It begins with an adrenaline-inducing flight in a small plane from Reykjavik to Egilsstadir, soaring over the country's desolate highlands, including Iceland's most active volcano and the largest glacier in Europe.
Upon landing, the action starts almost immediately with a nine-mile hike to an uninhabited fjord for a night of camping. From there, you'll hike five to eight strenuous hours each day, traversing narrow passes between cliff faces and navigating around icebergs along glacial rivers. In this part of the country, wildlife is more prevalent than human life, so you can count on seeing rare migratory birds and thousands of playful puffins.
Chum up with the native seals on Breidavik's black sand, where you'll camp for a night.
Learn more at mtsobek.com.
For Culture Buffs
The ancient Incan fortress city of Machu Picchu has long been considered one of the world's must-do cultural and archaeological experiences. Yet Butterfield & Robinson has managed to create a trip that delves even deeper into the authenticity of the region.
Over the course of eight days, you'll not only hike the steep five-hour final ascent of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but also poke around less-traveled ruins, visit a Peruvian school partially funded by proceeds from this trip, and wander the Pisac Market, where local artisans sell their wares.
The highlight of the trip, though, is spending the night in Machu Picchu at the plush Sanctuary Lodge. You'll explore the ruins at sunrise and sunset -- when the site is not open to the public. And since this trip tends to the luxurious, the more you exert yourself, the more you'll relish in the pampering massages and candlelit drawn baths at the end of the day.
Butterfield & Robinson arranges an afternoon ceremony with a skilled local shaman who predicts the future using coca leaves in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Learn more at butterfield.com.
Text by Christie Matheson