Taking a walk is, inevitably, about getting from one point to another. But that journey may be as metaphysical as it is literal. That is to say, a little pressure on the soles can relieve a lot of stress on the soul, particularly in the high-anxiety 21st century.
Hollywood has explored spiritual expeditions in poignant films like “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon, and “The Way,” with Martin Sheen. Having reached a crossroads in life, both characters seek to fill an emotional void by embarking on a challenging new path.
While few of us can devote months to trekking hundreds of miles in search of enlightenment, Europe offers a wealth of bite-sized hikes that will restore a spring to your step without requiring a huge chunk of your vacation time. Intrigued? Lace up your boots and check out these cinematically inspiring routes.
Sleepy Gozo, part of the Mediterranean archipelago of Malta, recently experienced its own 15 minutes of silver screen fame. This bucolic 26-square-mile isle proved to be a scene-stealing co-star in “By the Sea,” featuring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, which hit theaters late last year.
Much of the movie is set in and around Mgarr ix-Xini Bay, a cozy harbor that happens to be one of the stops along the 31-mile Gozo Coastal Walk encircling the island. You’ll traverse the chalky white Ta’ Seguna cliffs, pass the sandy golden crescent of Ramla Bay, and perhaps pause for a dip in a crystalline cove as clear as a swimming pool.
This undulating walk also takes in placid seaside salt pans, 17th century watchtowers built by the Knights of Malta, and the Azure Window, a 92-foot high natural stone arch which served as a theatrical backdrop for the “Game of Thrones” nuptials of dragon-taming queen Daenerys Targaryen and Drogo, a pony-tailed tribal king resembling a hipster Elvis impersonator.
Stay: The Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz presides over 7 acres of semi-tropical gardens, a five-minute drive from the Azure Window. The five-star hotel encompasses 83 rooms and 37 suites, three outdoor pools, a spa, one of the largest Ayurveda centers in the Mediterranean, four dining options and free Wi-Fi. kempinski.com/en/gozo/hotel-san-lawrenz. Doubles from $132.
More information: visitmalta.com, visitgozo.com, visitgozo.com/uploads/ckeditor/files/gozocoastwalk.pdf.
St. Tropez, France
You might think that the only form of exercise available in St. Tropez is shopping ‘til you drop. In fact, this chic village on the French Riviera is the perfect place to commence Le Sentier du Littoral, which hugs the coastline for more than 17 miles between St. Tropez and Plage de Gigaro.
If you only have one day to devote to your trek, consider the approximately 8-mile stretch from the port of St. Tropez to the Plage de Pampelonne. Leaving St. Tropez’ glamorous yachts and chichi boutiques behind, you’ll trade bling for natural beauty.
One of the first stops is the Cimetiere Marin, where polished white gravestones are silhouetted against the sapphire sea. Amid this hushed peace lies Roger Vadim, the director of “And God Created Woman,” the 1956 film that catapulted St. Tropez — and his then-wife, Brigitte Bardot — onto the world’s stage.
Continuing on, you’ll discover secluded beaches, shady pine forests and rocky scrambles along windy bluffs requiring careful steps and a head for heights. Depending on the tide, you may encounter one particularly tricky stretch near an old stone watchtower, requiring you to inch your backside across a narrow ledge to avoid a short but decidedly wet-looking drop into the sea.
Stop for a drink at the sand-between-your toes beach bar on Plage des Salins or at Club 55 — which served as the film crew canteen for “And God Created Woman” — at Plage de Pampelonne. Bring your bathing suit, as the Technicolor blue-green waters will lure you like a siren’s song.
Stay: Hotel Byblos is just steps from Place des Lices in the heart of St. Tropez. Centered around an outdoor swimming pool and terrace, the hotel is filled with Middle Eastern antiques and features a Sisley spa, the renowned nightclub Les Caves du Roy and two restaurants: B, beside the pool, and Alain Ducasse’s superb Rivea at Byblos. byblos.com/en. Doubles from $494.
More information: uk.sainttropeztourisme.com, us.france.fr.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
With homes carved high into hills that plummet towards the sea, Italy’s Amalfi Coast seems better suited for billy goats than human beings. But if you’ve got the gumption to explore its elevated trails, your efforts will be rewarded with heart-stopping views.
The Sentiero Degli Dei (the Path of the Gods) is a 5-mile path tracing the mountain ridge between the villages of Bomerano and Nocelle. Threading in and out of lush forests, the trail will suddenly open, as coyly as a fan dancer parting her feathers, to reveal postcard panoramas of the undulating coastline in all its glory.
For an even greater challenge, head to Amalfi, a maze of ancient ochre buildings embracing an ornate ninth century cathedral. From here, you can hike up to the village of Ravello, past an enchanting tumble of homes in Atrani, beneath colorful laundry lines waving in the breeze and through terraced lemon groves.
When you finally arrive in Ravello, having ascended nearly the height of the Empire State Building, wander through its charming tangle of stone streets to the tranquil gardens of Villa Rufolo for views of the green valley and azure sea below. For an easier version of this walk, take the bus from Amalfi to Ravello and walk down, rather than up.
Stay: When you bunk at Rifugio degli Dei, the hike isn’t over until you reach your accommodations, situated approximately 360 steps above the road to Positano. The good news is that the B&B, comprised of three apartments in a farmhouse, is on the way to Nocelle, so you’ll have a jumpstart on the Sentiero Degli Dei. The views towards Positano are spectacular, and the friendly family that runs the place provides a sumptuous breakfast every morning. rifugiodeglidei.it/index_eng.html. From $44 per person.
More information: italia.it/en/home.html.