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      October 2012 > Walking the king’s highway

Walking the king’s highway

While discussing the true nature of chambres d’hôtes in a recent blog, it got me thinking about different types of trackways that you may come across on your travels - during a cycling holiday in Italy perhaps, or while walking in the Canary Islands. We’re all probably familiar with term the ‘Queen’s Highway’ which relates to any public road or right of way here in the UK, but what about those that meander through some foreign field?

Walking holidays in the Canary IslandsIn many parts of Spain, you will come across caminos reales, literally translated as ‘royal paths’ (sing. camino real) though not necessarily trod by kings. These were main routes of communication on which travellers, predominantly merchants, could expect a bit of protection from soldiers in return for a toll. You will find them on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, where they were built shortly after the conquest by the Spanish and were funded by the Spanish court to control such newly conquered territories. These trails were wide enough for farmers to pass with a cart or donkey laden with produce on their way to and from market. Some served as pilgrimage routes, too, and were also used for funeral processions, carrying the dead to distant burial grounds. Many of Gran Canaria’s caminos reales have been restored over recent years allowing easier walking access to the scented slopes and mountain lakes of the island’s dramatic interior.

Walking holidays in ItalyIn Italy, the network of rural strade bianche, or ‘white roads’, provides an ideal means of exploring rural Tuscany either on foot or by bike. Their name [sing. strada bianca] comes from the white limestone gravel and dust of these unpaved tracks which is particularly noticeable on long, hot summer days. Leave the ramparts of the historic town of Volterra behind and walk along strade bianche through vineyards and olive groves towards the famed towers of hill-top San Gimignano; or cycle along more strade bianche from the wooded hills of the Sienese Plain to reach magical Siena, discovering quintessential Tuscan landscapes en route. It wasn’t long ago that many of these lanes were being paved in an attempt to ‘modernise’ rural areas, but their appeal to walkers, cyclists and locals alike – they are generally traffic-free, apart from the occasional tractor ­– has seen those that remain being preserved for future visitors to enjoy.

Walking holidays in GreeceWalk in Greece and you will no doubt find yourself following ancient tracks that wind through olive groves and down into deep valleys, before winding back up the far side in a series of steps and hairpins. These are the kalderímia, cobbled tracks that were built to allow people and donkeys to travel between villages, to church, and to market their produce in the towns, no matter how rugged the terrain. Their name kalderími [sing.] comes from the Turkish word for ‘pavement’ and their paved construction has often included some remarkable feats of engineering. In the Taÿgetos Mountains on the Peloponnese, kalderímia will lead you high into secluded valleys to discover deserted villages and cave chapels; while on Corfu, more cobbled mule trails clamber up through terraced olive groves to reach high vantage points which offer far-reaching views along the island’s west coast.

Cycling holidays in SpainFar more modern are the vías verdes (‘green-ways’) that use former railway lines. With the tracks lifted, it seemed an obvious decision to use them for walkers and cyclists and so many have been resurfaced and signposted to create a fabulous network of connecting tracks in many areas. Today, there are 1,800 kilometres of vías verdes [sing. vía verde] throughout Spain, which include long sweeping bends, impressive bridges and viaducts over rivers and valleys, and – best of all – they are flat! For great cycling in Catalonia, follow the vía verde from the wooded volcanic hills of the Garrotxa region, all the way to the seaside town of S’Agaro on the Costa Brava; or discover the wonderful Ebro Valley, following the traffic-free vía verde from the old railway station at Pinell de Bray as it crosses a series of viaducts and passes through a number of tunnels on a spectacular mountain section before reaching the historic town of Tortosa. (In France, these former railway lines are called voies vertes.)

Cycling holidays in FranceGo cycling in certain areas of France and the chances are you will come across one of many chemins de halage, quite simply, canal or river towpaths. As with those in the UK, canal towpaths allowed passage for horses pulling canal barges along the waterways in the years before mechanisation. A prime example is that which runs along the remarkable Canal du Midi in Languedoc-Roussillon. Join the canal at Homps to enjoy a fabulous cycle ride into the magical city of Carcassonne, a real highlight of any visit to this region. The canal was built to serve as a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, avoiding the long sea voyage around Spain. Initially, it was used by sailing barges hauled by gangs of men, though by the middle of the 18th century, horse towing had largely taken over. Today, the canal’s chemin de halage witnesses more leisurely pursuits, as does the one which you can follow through the rolling vineyards of Burgundy beside the Canal du Centre on your way to the wonderful wine-producing town of Puligny Montrachet.

As for the UK, we, too, have our own special trackways, though you can read more about them in an fascinating book simply entitled ‘Pathways’, written by Nicholas Rudd-Jones and David Stewart of

Posted: 22/10/2012 16:35:55 by | with 1 comments
Filed under: cycling, France, Greece, islands, Italy, Spain, walking

Robert Lockwood
Inntravel certainly know a good trail or two! Fortunately none like the cliff-hanging path to the Inca Bridge behind Machu Picchu - that is definitely the most incredible but terrifying path I have ever walked on...
25/10/2012 16:30:34

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