Spain, Scotland, Istria: These disused rail routes have been turned into scenic walking trails

Spain, Scotland, Istria: These disused rail routes have been turned into scenic walking trails

Cutting through the countryside for kilometres on end, disused railway lines make the perfect walking and cycling routes.

There are hundreds of railway trails in the UK alone and dozens more in countries throughout Europe.

Promoting slow travel and encouraging the exploration of natural attractions and rural zones, these greenways have proved an important ecotourism initiative.

From a planted walkway in the heart of Paris to a cross-border odyssey, here are our top picks for rail trails in Europe.

Venture into nature reserves along Spain’s Via Verde de la Sierra

Spain is crisscrossed by thousands of kilometres of Vías Verdes, which translate as ‘green ways’. A rail trail highlight is the Via Verde de la Sierra (or the Sierra Greenway) - 38 kilometres of track carved through the mountainous landscape of southern Spain.

The route joins the villages of Puerto Serrano and Olvera along the unused Jerez-Almargen railway, with dreamy views of the Cádiz Mountains and the Guadalete River.

En route, you pass through the nature reserve of Peñón de Zaframagón - where there is a large colony of griffon vultures - and over vertiginous viaducts.

The once-abandoned train stations of Puerto Serrano, Coripe and Olvera have been renovated and are now being run as restaurants and tourist accommodation.

Discover Paris’s secret green belt along the Coulée verte René-Dumont

One of Europe’s most unexpected rail trails slices right through the heart of Paris. The Coulée verte René-Dumont (planted walkway) was created in 1993 by a visionary duo - landscape designer Jacques Vergely and architect Philippe Mathieux.

The 4.7-kilometre long green belt follows an obsolete railway line that ran from the city centre to a fortress in the suburbs at Vincennes.

Near the trail’s west end, the parkway rises 10 metres above the surrounding area and passes over an elevated viaduct. In the arches beneath, you’ll find a row of shops selling the work of specialised artisans.

Free-wheel from the town centre to the sea along Edinburgh’s Innocent Railway

You can join Innocent Railway at the base of one of Edinburgh's seven hills. Just below Arthur’s Seat - itself a bracing climb with breathtaking views of the city - the disused route starts with a 518-metre downhill tunnel.

The tree-lined trail then passes through Holyrood Park and the Bawsinch Nature Reserve carrying on all the way out to the coast, generally on a pleasant downward slope.

Have an ice cream or cup of tea at one of the smart cafès along the beach promenade at Portobello before tackling the uphill journey home.

Pass through three countries on the Parenzana Rail Trail

Travellers looking for a longer adventure can walk or cycle between Italy and Croatia on the Parenzana Rail Trail. The route starts in the northeastern Italian city of Trieste, passes through Slovenia and ends in Porec in Croatia.

It was once a narrow-gauge railway transporting wine, olive oil, salt and passengers and linking 33 towns between 1902 and 1935. You can learn about this history through the signage posted along the route.

The roughly 60-kilometre route now takes travellers past historic stations, a multimedia museum, taverns with traditional Istrian food and picturesque rest stations. Along the trail, you’ll cross cobalt-coloured icy streams, dive into dense pine forests and cross a monumental viaduct.

Follow a hide-and-seek river through England’s Peak District

The 13-kilometre Manifold Way is a footpath and cycleway in Staffordshire in England’s nature-rich Peak District. After the railway closed in 1934, it was one of the first in the UK to be transformed into a walking path opening in 1937.

The gentle route hops over the Manifold and Hamps rivers in a series of 27 little bridges.

In summer, the Manifold disappears mysteriously underground at Whetton Mill - also an essential stop for a traditional cream tea.

You can explore Thor’s Cave en route, a natural cavern deep in a limestone crag and look out for flora and fauna at the bottom of the valley.