IT SOUNDS IDYLLIC: strolling the streets and byways of Europe, across cobblestones, up castle steps, along riverbanks. Touring by foot will give you an intimate perspective of a place and (if you're not careful) blisters, cuts and Achilles' tendinitis, too.
"Everyone wants to look good when they travel," said Sofia Bartlett, a director for the tour company Tauck. "I would be only too happy to die in my Prada or Gucci pumps, but, alas, that's not an option when traveling," Ms. Bartlett (who wears Skechers) wrote in an e-mail. "Not only can you injure yourself with an awkward step, but your whole day (or even your entire trip) will be ruined if your shoes start hurting your feet."
Even as a frequent traveler and long-distance walker, I can't bring myself to wear toe-separating sports shoes like Vibram FiveFingers that call to mind gecko feet. I admit, however, that for extreme walks I wear Injinji's toesocks, which define each toe, helping align them and prevent blisters.
Everyone's feet are different, though. So how to recommend the best walking shoes?
I culled advice from dozens of tour guides throughout Europe: men and women for whom power walking is a job requirement. They sent e-mails -- from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Hungary -- about the shoes that allow them to traverse slippery cobblestones, climb mountains and chase after buses. Here's what keeps them walking tall.
"For me, comfort is No. 1, but I refuse to compromise on style," said Susan Rose, who leads tours for Tauck in Spain, Portugal and Italy. "I almost cried when I bought my first pair of orthopedics at 30, but since I've found Fly London, my boring orthopedic loafers are in the closet."
Fly London is available online from the company's Web site for residents of Britain and Germany, and in the United States at Web sites like Planetshoes.com. "They are all soft leather sandals and boots with mostly rubber soles and a stylish, funky, sometimes playful design," said Ms. Rose, who owns a pair of the brand's black leather boots and some lace-up leather sandals with a platform heel that she says "are as comfortable as tennis shoes but always get compliments." The sturdy soles provide a lift "for us ladies that prefer to wear heels but can't because we spend all day walking on cobblestones," she said. "They are the best quality I have found without having to pay a fortune for designer brands."
Many tour guides avoid sandals, but Tina del Campo, a Tauck guide in Italy, said her favorite walking shoes are Privo by Clarks Fissure, sandals that provide support yet look good with both skirts and pants. "I've got a bad back," Ms. del Campo said, "and they've saved my life the last few years."
Robbi Battey leads Tauck tours in France and England, yet her style is "classic American." To achieve it, she has a pair of brown Hush Puppies loafers and, for dressier days, SAS black patent-leather loafers. "I must have shoes that can go from urban Paris to countryside pétanque courts and wine cellars to riding a bike in Hyde Park," she said.
Dale Spurrell, a Tauck guide in Britain, Spain, France and Iceland, likes Campers because some styles "have a small heel so they look a little dressy but you can just walk and walk in them, they are so comfortable." Often, she wears red loafers by the French brand Mephisto. "From the first time you put them on, they fit like a glove," she said.
For more-rugged terrain, Candice Criscione, a trip development coordinator in Italy for Backroads, said she always buys over-the-ankle boots for proper support to avoid sprained ankles. Her latest purchase: Breeze 2.0 GTX hiking boots by Vasque. "Excellent boots are key and totally worth the investment," she said. "I've seen many guests come with running shoes or trail shoes. The support isn't good enough for the miles in the mountains."
Sarah Walker, who also leads European tours for Backroads, wears hiking or trekking shoes from Quechua, an affordable brand that she said can be found at Decathlon stores across Europe. She also wears Scarpa hiking shoes, which she described as more elegant and of higher quality (and price). "In the Dolomites I see many European day hikers wearing these lighter Scarpas," she said. (When she's not hiking, yet doing a lot of walking, she wears sandals by Chaco).
Helena Novak, a guide with General Tours World Traveler, said her must-have hiking shoes are Salomon Contagrip Ortholite 3Dfit Gore-Tex. She's worn them on cobblestone streets and on snowy hikes, during which they stayed warm and dry. "It feels like walking on air," she said.
There isn't room for all of the guides' advice, but other brands they wear include Ecco, Pikolinos, Stonefly, Arche, Rieker, Salamander, Munro, Dansko, Merrell, Biviel, Vialis, Keen and Cole Haan with Nike Air technology.
"I swear by the Cooper Square Wingtips from Cole Haan, which are incredibly comfortable with their Nike sockliner," said Jonathan Holburn, who leads tours for Trafalgar in France. "I got them in brown, and they can be dressed up with navy blue trousers for work or a pair of cream linen pants in summer, but they're also casual enough to go with jeans and a sweater."
Sandor Nagy, who for years has been giving tours of Budapest to General Tours World Traveler guests including President Jimmy Carter, rotates among eight pair of walking shoes. His top choices? Nike's Studio Low II leather and Reebok Classic leather sneakers. "I never feel pain or tiredness, thanks to those shoes," he said.
Konrad Wolkowinski, a guide for Cox & Kings in Britain, buys leather shoes at Jones Bootmaker in London because they look smart and have a comfortable leather sole. "I find my feet can breathe that way," he noted.
Rockport is the shoe of choice for Bill Serues, a Tauck guide in England, Scotland, Wales, France and Ireland, because he thinks they look good and cushion feet from cobblestones. "Us marathoners know a lot about shoes," he said. Another Tauck guide in Europe, Tom Bougers, says Nike Free sneakers are his "most comfortable footwear ever" because they are light, flexible and durable.
Many guides, like Michael Furillo of Tauck, prefer Timberland. (Geox, Mephisto and Clarks are also popular.)
Paul Wormsbaecher, who leads tours for Trafalgar in Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, said his favorite Clarks style is the Aston Mind loafer because it's light and has a no-slip rubber base.
Whatever shoes you don, consider the advice of Ladislas Ciechanowski, who leads tours of Croatia for Abercrombie & Kent and relies on what he says is an old British Army trick: turn a pair of socks inside out and rub them with a dry bar of plain soap, paying special attention to the areas where your feet are likely to rub. Then turn the socks right side out again and put them on. The soap should help prevent chafing (and perhaps keep your socks smelling nice, too).travel
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.