More Than a Holiday: 10 Self-Guided Trails For the Inquisitive Traveller

Hike, drink and bike on these spirited adventures.  
Featuring the popular television series, "Game Of Thrones
Ireland's Dark Hedges featured as "Kingsroad" in the popular television series, "Game Of Thrones". Photo: horslips5/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Drive: Game Of Thrones Trail, Ireland

Fans of the gripping Game Of Thrones series will love this self-drive trail (137km unless you include Marble Arch Caves, 157km from Downhill Strand) that runs through the Seven Kingdoms. The trail begins at Tollymore Forest Park (The Haunted Forest in the show), the snow-covered woodlands north of The Wall where the Night Watchmen fled from the White Walkers, and ends at the picturesque beach of Downhill Strand (Dragonstone where the seven idols of Westeros were burned). Camp at the forest or spend the night at one of the hotels nearby before moving onwards to Inch Abbey (The Red Fork) where Catelyn Stark heard of her husband’s beheading, and from there to Castle Ward (Winterfell). Then there’s Shillanavogy Valley, the Dark Hedges (an avenue of 200 beech trees), Cushendun Caves and Ballintoy Harbour (Iron Islands).

Duration: 4 days

DIY: www.discovernorthernireland.com for tours and www.ireland.com/en-us/itineraries/ for maps.

Best time: February to August.

Bike: Emmental Cheese Route, Switzerland

Rent an electronic bike in the medieval market town of Burgdorf and start pedalling for the Emmen Valley, where the delicious Emmental cheese comes from. This trail is entirely app-based and begins with a visit to the Affoltern cheese dairy where you’ll learn about historic cheese routes and cheese storage production (nibble while you listen). Along the way, stop at heritage buildings, the cheese museum at Langnau, and see how cattle are bred in the Alps in Moosegg (the town is as quaint as its name). And yes, do the touristy stuff and buy a cow bell.

Duration: Biking trail: 1 day/ 35km or 2 day/ 78km.

DIY: www.myswitzerland.com. To download the app: www.kaeseroute.ch/en

Best time: May to September

Drink: Bierschmecker (Beer Tasting) Trail, Germany

Bamberg has the highest density of breweries in the world. Photo: George Groutas/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Bamberg has the highest density of breweries in the world. Photo: George Groutas/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Bamberg is to beer what the North Pole is to Santa Claus: Home. This postcard-pretty town in north Bavaria is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has nine family-run breweries brewing 50 kinds of beer. You traipse from brewery to brewery, listening to stories of its beer, watching it being made, sipping and supping (a beer-infused menu). The first recorded mention of beer in Bamberg was made in 1039 A.D. when a priest, Ouldaricus, decreed free beer for all on the day of his death.

Sign up for a beer trail at the Bamberg tourist office and you can count on a few gratis beers and pointers to the 65 must-do beer spots on the trail, including the historic smoked beer brewery of Schlenkerla.

Duration: 3 days

DIY: www.en.bamberg.info

Best time: All year, but the brewery museum is only open from April to October.

Drive: The Gold Rush Trail, Australia

This is a 2,000km outback adventure that follows in the footsteps of gold prospectors with stopovers at open-cast gold mines, gold museums, eerie ghost towns, and one of the most stunning outdoor galleries on Earth at Lake Ballard. The self-drive trail begins at Perth, on to Kalgoorlie (birthplace of the 1892 gold rush), to Menzies (gold mining town) and Lake Ballard (Antony Gormley statues), to Kookynie, Leonora and Gwalia (lovingly restored wooden shacks and grand hotels). Then on to Laverton (nickel mines) and back to Perth via Kalgoorlie. It’s a journey with 25 stopovers that tells the story of the feverish rush for gold and where even today 9,00,000 ounces of it is produced each year.

Duration: 6 days. Hire a 4-wheel drive.

DIY: www.goldenquesttrail.com/explore-the-trail

Best time: September to November (for one of the biggest displays of wildflowers on Earth)

Dive: The Great Lakes Seaway Trail, U.S.A.

Lake Ontario's cold, fresh waters help preserve old wooden shipwrecks. Photo: Joe deSousa/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Lake Ontario’s cold, fresh waters help preserve old wooden shipwrecks. Photo: Joe deSousa/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

This 730km divers’ trail through New York State runs along the east coast and is the crucible of Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Rivers Niagara and St. Lawrence. For over 300 years, this area has been a major shipping thoroughfare and therefore, the final resting place of hundreds of shipwrecks. Dive down to the Great Lakes cargo vessel, the wreck of St. Peter, a schooner that has remained largely intact in Lake Ontario, and the wreck of the Islander, a mail steamer, among many others. Get up close with the subterranean riverscape and the ecological diversity of the region for an unparalleled experience.

Duration: Minimum 3 days

DIY: www.seawaytrail.com/interests/scuba-diving/

Best time: Diving season is from May to mid-October.

Walk: The Inca Trail, Peru

Machu Picchu, located in the Peruvian Andes, covers 32,592 hectares of mountain slopes, peaks and valleys. Photo: Pablo Silveira de Noronha Ribeiro/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Machu Picchu, located in the Peruvian Andes, covers 32,592 hectares of mountain slopes, peaks and valleys. Photo: Pablo Silveira de Noronha Ribeiro/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Backpack through lush subtropical forests, past breathtaking mountains with misted snow-capped peaks in this 43km trek that begins at Cusco and ends at Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. Dotted with Inca ruins, these treks are rated among the top five in the world.

Cusco is located 3,400m above sea level, so factor in a night or two to acclimatise. Though tour operators generally carry a kitchen tent and a communal dining tent on group tours, you’ll need to carry your own sleeping bag. Nights can see sub-zero temperatures; day temperatures range between 20-22°C. This is classic Indiana Jones country and yes, a treasure trove of discoveries await.

Duration: 2-, 4-, 5- or 7-day treks with varying degrees of difficulty.

DIY: www.incatrailperu.com/

Best time to visit: May to September

Drink: Malt Whisky Trail, Scotland

At the Glenlivet distillery, visitors can fill their own bottle of whisky straight from the cask, then cork, cap and label it. Photo: Kkonstan/WikimediaCommons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa

At the Glenlivet distillery, visitors can fill their own bottle of whisky straight from the cask, then cork, cap and label it. Photo: Kkonstan/WikimediaCommons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Yes, you do get a taste of the Uisce Beatha or the “water of life” along this trail that works its way through seven distilleries, including Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenmoray, and Cardhu (the only malt whisky distillery pioneered by a woman). The trail begins at Benromach and ends at Strathisla, the oldest distillery, operating since 1786 and home of Chivas Regal.

If you can tear your eyes away from that dram, take in the stunning highland country, try a plate of haggis and shots of wild heather liquor. The scenic route is dotted with B&B and 4-star hotels that should leave you in high spirits.

Duration: 3 days by car or a 6-day trek.

DIY: www.maltwhiskytrail.com

Best time: May. But brave the September chill and you’ll be rewarded with free drams and special nosing sessions in villages—perks of the season’s whisky festivals.

Walk: Holy Family Trail, Egypt

Walk in the footsteps of the baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Joseph the carpenter on this trail that retraces their journey of three-and-half years in Egypt. Begin at Tel Basta, 80km north-east of Cairo, where Jesus is believed to have made a spring of water appear; go through Mostorod and Belbeis, where the family sought refuge, and move on to the town of Sakha. Don’t miss what is believed to be Jesus’ footprint on a rock.

Visit the valley of Wadi Al Natroun, the city of Matariyah and the districts of Ain Shams and Zeitoun in Cairo where the holy family rested. En route to Minya you’ll see a tree called “The Worshipper” which is believed to have bowed before Jesus.

Duration: 6 to 9 days

DIY: www.en.egypt.travel/attraction/index/holy-family-journey and www.orthodoxwiki.org/images for maps.

Best time: October to February.

Bike: The Olive Oil Greenway, Spain

Spanish olive oil is among the most prized in the world. Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Spanish olive oil is among the most prized in the world. Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

This 55km cycling or hiking trail runs alongside the old tracks of Tren del Aceite or the Oil Train that would transport olive oil between Cordoba and the port of Malaga in the 1800s. It begins at the Fuentezuelas Sports Centre in the west of the city of Jaen, easily accessed from Granada, Cordoba, Madrid or Barcelona, by public transport. The route is dotted with 19th-century viaducts and takes you past rolling farmland with traditional Andalusian houses and a sea of olive groves. It passes through the towns of Torredelcampo, Torredonjimeno, Martos and Alcaudete and makes for a trail that is steeped in the history of that redolent fruit.

Duration: 1 day

DIY: www.viasverdes.com/en/itineraries

Best time: May to November.

Walk: Idiazábal Cheese Trail, Spain

This is a trek that will make your spirits soar and leave your stomach sated. It begins at the historic town of Segura by the River Oria and takes you through three valleys of the Gipuzkoa (the Basque word for highlands, much like those in Scotland) province. Hike (or bike) past vast, undulating slopes speckled with wildflowers and dotted with flocks of shaggy-haired Latxa sheep. Watch the transformation of unpasteurized sheep milk into pressed Idiazabal cheese and vote whether it tastes smoky, woodsy or nutty (You would be right on all counts). The 100km trek covers artisanal cheese factories, cider-makers, cheese museums, and nature parks.

Duration: 6 days

DIY: www.rutadelquesoidiazabal.com/es/ for accommodation and guided tours.

Best time: From February to May

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    Anjana is a freelance journalist and an author of children's books. Passionate about world cultures and cuisines, she also enjoys hiking and diving with her daughters.

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