Some folks don’t like to walk, or hike, ‘UP’ … so we bring you 5 ‘DOWN’ options which require little physical effort on your part to start at the top.
These DOWN ventures can be just as trying for some as UP are for others. Knees and toes may struggle going down steep grades, so wear proper footwear and consider hiking/skiing poles to take pressure off the joints. Remember water and a camera … views are just as spectacular going DOWN as they are going UP.
1. The Northface Trail – Switzerland
It was good enough for James Bond so you might want to put the revolving restaurant atop Shilthorn 2970m (9,740ft) on your Switzerland itinerary. If so, consider this stunningly beautiful downhill walk. From the summit take the gondola down to Birg, elevation 2677m (8783ft), which sits on a pinnacle of rock. You can start your walk from here (weather permitting), or make your way by gondola and funicular to Allmendhubel 1912m (6273ft) and begin your walk on the Northface Trail. It’s about two hours between Allmendhubel and Murren for any walker with good footwear. Only the scenery will leave you breathless; which just might inspire you to dance in the fields to your own rendition of ‘The Sound of Music’. Winding over streams, through pastures, past herdsmen’s huts and farm homes (some set up to provide refreshments to hikers) you reach traffic free Murren 1638m (5347ft). Here you will find accommodations, restaurants, shops and a grocery store. Stay, take the gondola or continue walking downhill for another 25 minutes to Gimmelwald 1363m (4472ft) where you will find B&B accommodations, good eats, friendly greetings and gondolas back to where you began this exhilarating Swiss experience.
2. Samaria Gorge – Greece
The most ambitious downhill hike on our list is one of Crete’s most popular visitor destinations; the 16km Samaria Gorge hike (13km within Samaria National Park and 3km from Park exit to boat at Agia Roumeli). The gorge is home to the rare kri-kri (Cretan goat) and hosts a fragile ecosystem of numerous plant species which, by law, may not be picked. As well, hikers will see evidence of prehistoric times, ancient artifacts and Byzantine churches. The trail head atop Omalos Plateau 1227m (4100 ft), is reached by vehicle (public buses leave daily from Chania). The pathways are well maintained but uneven and stony. The steepest section, at the beginning, switchbacks through a fragrant pine and cypress forest. Near bottom it levels off, undulating but continuing to drop towards sea-level. Fresh water springs, to replenish water bottles, and WCs are available along the route. The deserted settlement of Samaria makes a good place for a picnic lunch. The most photographed point on the trail is known as ‘The Gates’. Here the gorge narrows to 3 meters while its vertical height reaches 300 meters. The hike normally takes 5 to 7 hours and is doable by a reasonably fit person. To avoid crowds and heat, plan for the shoulder seasons (check for season opening and closing dates).
3. Santorini – Greece
Count them … 589! As the ferry slips past Fira (Santorini’s maintown perched on the rim of the caldera like white frosting on a bundt cake) and Old Port at water’s edge, those onboard can see the 589 step staircase zig-zagging the cliff face. They are not normal steps as you would find on a home staircase. Between many of these steps are slanted stone-filled paths, so 589 steps is highly understated … especially for those making their way up. Twenty minutes to walk down is a good estimation including time needed for standing aside to allow passing mules and upward-bound red-faced panting tourists whose perspiration-blurred eyes look enviously at those riding mules. Coming back up can be accomplished in two ways (besides walking): one by cable-car and the other by mule. Mules have played a vital role since the beginning of this Greek island’s economic development; transporting goods, supplies and people up and down the almost vertical slope. While a road has been built elsewhere to transport goods more efficiently, today’s mule drivers continue their traditions from Old Port providing visitors with a unique experience. Should a mule ride back up to town not appeal to you, confirm if the frequently-out-of-service cable car is running before starting down.
4. Old Peak Road – Hong Kong
There are buses to Hong Kong’s highest point, Victoria Peak, however, riding up on the ‘Peak Tram’ (a funicular railway) is quick and an attraction in itself. Once you have taken in the spectacular vistas of city and harbors, one way down is to walk the Old Peak Road. Starting near the base of Peak Tower, this paved, traffic-free (other than the bottom 500 meters or so) decline twists and turns through a shady subtropical forest with peek-a-boo glimpses of changing city views. It’s a steep but pleasant 30-40 minute walk becoming very steep on some of the switchback corners; appropriate footwear is needed. A number of options await at the bottom of the pedestrian-only section. One of the world’s oldest zoological and botanical gardens is found by continuing another ten minutes down Old Peak Road or you may prefer just meandering downward through the main business district of Central. In all directions Hong Kong is a most fascinating city to walk.
5. Bergen – Switzerland
Begin your adventure 150m from Bergen’s waterfront fish market
and Information Centre. The Floibanen funicular, opened in 1918, is one of Norway’s most visited attractions. In about seven minutes it takes you to a height of 320m (1050ft) affording commanding views of Bergen and beyond to the fjord mountains. Atop Mount Fløyen, should you wish a little ‘UP’, hiking trails lead into the mountains with well-marked paths and quiet picnic spots. There are a few ways down but don’t worry about getting lost; so long as you are going down and towards the sea you will end up in a good spot. Try ‘Track 4’ from the summit. It will take approximately 40 minutes of walking as the trail drops through forest and past tiny waterfalls, then residential areas (steep in some parts). If you don’t have the time nor inclination to walk from the top, consider taking the funicular down to a lower station from where you can still have the pleasure of walking through the residential areas back into town.