Crane craze: Halastó Nature Trail, Hungary
Hortobágy is Europe’s largest-remaining semi-natural grassland steppe and is one of the continent’s most important stopover sites for many migrating birds, too, most famously the common cranes, which gather here in autumn in thousands-strong chattering flocks. A 3.4-mile out-and-back trail from the Halastó car park near Hortobágy village ushers you out between fishponds to a viewing tower gazing out over Kondás Lake, from where many of the area’s 300-odd bird species can be observed. Hortobágy village is 2.5 hours’ drive east of Budapest.
Bibic Nature Lodge overlooks Hortobágy National Park and serves home-cooked meals, doubles from £104, bibiclodge.com
Fall-time fortress: Castell Coch and Fforest Fawr, Wales
A huge, hilly tract of woodland north of Cardiff, Fforest Fawr makes for sublime autumn strolling on the merits of its trees alone. Yet the flamboyant Castell Coch elevates the place into the realms of an autumn fantasyland. The Gothic Revival castle seems suspended within its surrounding foliage when viewed from a distance. Plump for the 2.5-mile Sir Henry’s Trail or the intersecting Scultpture Trail, a 1.2-mile trail that children will love for its wacky wood carvings.
New House Country Hotel is around half-an-hour’s drive from Cardiff, doubles from £135, townandcountrycollective.co.uk
Rum’s rut: Kinloch to Kilmory, Scotland
Rugged Isle of Rum, in the Inner Hebrides, has one of Scotland’s mightiest red deer herds roaming its moors, and hosts the world’s longest-running study into these majestic creatures. Autumn is when the beasts rut. The spectacle of the males bellowing and clashing antlers to win control of harems of females lights up this 12.4-mile out-and-back walk from Kinloch to Kilmory, where one of the UK’s most dashing sandy beaches awaits.
Ferries run between Mallaig and the Isle of Rum. Rum Bunkhouse has dorm rooms from £25pp, rumbunkhouse.com
Jewel in the Ring: Derrycunnihy Church to Lord Brandon’s Cottage, Ireland
Killarney National Park on the Ring of Kerry sparkles brightest in autumn. The flaming forest shades, grafted on to a mountainous backdrop and edged by Upper Lake Killarney, are tough to upstage. This 2.5-mile ramble through enchanting oak woodlands to the lakeshore at Lord Brandon’s Cottage showcases the park’s best autumn colours. Do the walk one-way, catching the boat back to Ross Castle (book in advance, €25pp/£21.60). Kerry airport is around 30 minutes’ drive from the accommodation.
Muckross Park Hotel & Spa is within the national park, close to Muckross Abbey, doubles from £172, muckrosspark.com
Tectonic terrain: Almannagjá Gorge Trail, Iceland
Þingvellir National Park is where the Icelandic nation began, as the meeting place of the annual Alþingi or parliament from 930AD to 1800, but the topography is as spectacular as the history: particularly this gorge carving the divide between the North American and European tectonic plates. Explore along the gorge bottom on a 1.2-mile round walk, while the autumn hues of scrub and foliage smoulder on the gorge sides and top. There are many other trails in the national park walkers can add on, such as the 2.8-mile part-circular trail to gushing Öxarárfoss waterfall. Almannagjá is around one hour, 15 minutes’ drive from Keflavík International Airport.
Héraðsskólinn Historic Guesthouse is 18 miles east of Þingvellir National Park visitor centre, doubles with shared bathroom from £77, heradsskolinn.is
Changing colours: Monastère de la Grande Chartreuse, France
Ever heard of a shade of gold-green called chartreuse? It is a colour that embodies the change between the summer’s greens and the fierier hues of autumn. And it heralds from the monastery at this walk’s beginning. The word chartreuse describes the colour of the herbal liquor the monks produce. However, it could stand in for the on-the-turn tints of the forest carpeting the lower slopes of the Chartreuse massif, part of the French Prealps, through which this 3.7-mile circuit weaves. You can make it into a full day’s loop to take in the summit of 2,026m Le Grand Som. Monastère de la Grande Chartreuse is around two hours’ drive from Geneva airport. Alternatively, fly to Lyon, take a train from Leon to Grenoble, then catch a bus to Saint-Pierre-de-Chatreuse, 2.8 miles below the monastery.
Prettily located Les Ateliers du Cucheron is 4.9 miles from Monastère de la Grande Chartreuse, near Le Planolet; doubles from £83, lesateliersducucheron.com
Feast for the senses: Neive, Barbaresco and Alba, Italy
This 8.8-mile romp through the Unesco-listed wine country and truffle-growing hotspot of Piedmont will heighten your sense of taste and smell. First, saunter between the medieval hilltop settlements of Neive, one of Italy’s comeliest villages, and Barbaresco, then continue via tumbling vineyards and woods to regional capital Alba.
Alba’s International White Truffle Festival, held at weekends from October to December, is a focus for gourmet events, including Europe’s biggest white truffle market and meetings with the region’s chefs. Neive and Alba are both less than 90 minutes’ drive from Turin airport.
Hotel Castelbourg is a refurbished 17th-century hotel in the heart of Neive, doubles from £78, castelbourg.com
Migratory pilgrimage: Ludo Trail, Portugal
Many associate the Algarve with sunny beach breaks and, at this time of year, balmy temperatures remain a draw for visitors to affluent beachside golf resort Quinta do Lago. But the nearby shallow lagoons of the Ria Formosa also bait myriad migrating birds in autumn, and the 4.3-mile Ludo Trail loop gets you into the thick of the avian action, where the flocks of flamingoes are the stars of the show. Ria Formosa is 20 minutes’ drive from Faro airport. Four-hour birdwatching trip from £173pp with Algarve Nature Tours, algarvenaturetours.com.
Hotel Faro has doubles from £115 and is a 10-minute drive from Ria Formosa park, hotelfaro.pt
Vienna vineyards: Neustift am Walde to Nussdorf, Austria
Vienna is one of the world’s only capitals with spreads of appellation-designated vineyards within its city limits and, from late September, the year’s wine is ready for sampling. Four different routes make up the main Vienna wine-hiking trail, and this stage is rich in heurige (taverns). Winding in and out of the woodsy wine country, and offering superb city views, the walk is 6.2 miles one-way. Neustift am Waldes is 45 minutes’ drive from Vienna airport.
Landhaus Fuhrgassl-Huber is in the heart of Neustift am Walde, doubles from £138, landhaus-fuhrgassl-huber.at
October hangover cure: Krün to Barmsee, Germany
In Germany, an antidote to the beery festivities of Munich’s Oktoberfest is an alpine walk. France, Austria and Switzerland may have more dramatic summits, yet, nuzzled against Upper Bavaria’s mountainous border with Austria, 62 miles from Munich, Krün’s magic is in the scenic charms below the peaks. This 4.5-mile loop features forests hemming the shores of beguiling Barmsee lake that save their most show-stopping loveliness for autumn, and on paths that are suited to most abilities. It is around 50 minutes’ drive from Innsbruck airport to Krün.
Hotel Barmsee abuts Barmsee lakeshore, offering rustic rooms and a restaurant, doubles from £60, barmsee.de
Towers in the trees: Sigulda, Krimulda and Turaida, Latvia
More than 50 per cent of bucolic Latvia is covered in forest, with much of this area a sea of reds and golds in autumn. But, in a rather flat land, it is challenging to get good perspectives overlooking the colour change. On this 7.5-mile walk, you’ll encounter no such issues. It circles the three castles of Sigulda, Krimulda and Turaida through Gauja National Park either side of the Gauja valley. Ruined Krimulda Castle has perhaps the best forest views of the lot. Sigulda is around one hour, 15 minutes’ drive from Riga airport.
In Sigulda, 19th-century Hotel Sigulda has a restaurant and spa, doubles from £62, hotelsigulda.lv
Mountain magic: Vršič to Slemenova Špica, Slovenia
Like daggers of fire, the larch trees turning vivid yellow in autumn lick at the sides of the jagged Julian Alps on this stunner of a hike from the highest mountain pass in Slovenia, Vršič, near Kranjska Gora. This 3.6-mile, mostly circular, route clambers to the summit of Slemenova Špica, from where views of the surrounding mountains and nearly all of the nation’s major summits are magnificent. Ljubljana airport is around one hour, 10 minutes’ drive from Erjavčeva Hut.
Erjavčeva Hut provides pleasant-but-basic rooms with shared bathrooms on Vršič pass, doubles from £70, erjavčeva.com
Ancient autumnal trees: Knightwood Oak Trail, England
The New Forest National Park’s melange of ancient mixed woodlands and lowland heaths is Europe’s largest such area to have remained unsullied by modern farming methods. It has been a wildlife bastion since William the Conqueror declared it a royal hunting ground in the 11th century, but modern-day visitors mostly delight in the splendid trees. The trail to one of the forest’s largest, oldest arboreal specimens, the gnarly Knightwood Oak, is just under a third of a mile out-and-back through trees ablaze with russet and gold. You can extend your walk on the other side of the A35 along Rhinefield Ornamental Drive to take in the 1.9-mile circuit around Blackwater Arboretum.
Rhinefield House Hotel, a seven-minute drive south of Knightwood Oak, has doubles from £250, handpickedhotels.co.uk
Simply gorge-ous: Agiofarago Gorge, Greece
Autumn is a fine time for hiking in Crete. The crowds have dispersed, the weather remains warm, with seawater temperatures still averaging over 20°C in October. Agiofarago Gorge is a theatrical prelude to reaching one of southern Crete’s most beautiful unspoilt beaches. It is a 3.4-mile one-way trail down a dry riverbed ramparted by rock walls and dotted with caves and ancient chapels. Begin at Moni Odigitria monastery.
G Adventures runs hiking trips around Crete, a seven-day trip is priced from £829pp, excluding flights, but including accommodation
Harvest hike: Skogsby to Mörbylånga, Sweden
Öland is a long, skinny island off Sweden’s south-east coast. It hosts a harvest festival, which finishes on 1 October, but the autumnal fun needn’t end there. This is a great time of year to walk a stage of the long-distance Mörbylångaleden trail. There are fall colours aplenty in the woods, and the light is spectacular. Try stage two, which trundles 7.4 miles through Öland’s flat but fetching farmland, its peaceful coastal woods and along the seashore. The island is a 3.5-hour drive northeast of Malmö.
Stora Frögården offers apartments and cabins overlooking the Kalmar Strait, doubles from £85
Springwatch – Great British Walks by Luke Waterson is out now (BBC Books, £18.99)