195km (127 miles) NW of London; 55km (34 miles) SW of Birmingham

Once part of the ancient and formidable kingdom of Mercia, the beautiful and historic Malvern Hills lie just west of Worcester, rising suddenly from the Severn Valley and stretching for 14km (9 miles). This tranquil area offers 13km (8 miles) of hiking trails. The towns are especially famous for their healing waters, refreshing air, and country vistas.

Six townships cling to the Malvern Hills, making this an outstanding place to strike out for easy day hikes while in Worcester or Hereford. You can wander through Great Malvern, Malvern Link, West Malvern, Weldon, Malvern Wells, Little Malvern, and several other hamlets in a day's stroll. Great Malvern is resplendent with Victorian grandeur, much of which was gained from its importance as a 19th-century spa resort. The town has the largest priory church in the area, dating from the 15th century and boasting some fine stained-glass windows, as well as a great Gothic tower. The monks' stalls have superb misericords and medieval titles. The greatest and most beloved singer of the 19th century -- the wildly talented "Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind -- as well as that century's greatest English composer, Sir Edward Elgar, called this area home.

The Malvern Hills provide a breathtaking backdrop for hiking and biking. You can take in immense views, eastward to the Cotswolds and westward to the Wye Valley and the Welsh mountains, while exploring the most beautiful countryside in England. The Malverns Tourist Information Centre can provide you with detailed maps and route descriptions.

Our favorite walk in the Malvern Hills begins directly to the south of Great Malvern. As you leave town, you can see the ruins of an Iron Age fort high on a ridge. If you head here, you'll enjoy a magnificent vista of the countryside, with the Black Mountains looming to the west. A hike along this ridge, starting at Chase End Hill, with a return trip, takes about 4 1/2 hours. But you will have experienced some of the best scenery the Malverns have to offer. The trail is well maintained.

St. Wulstan's Church, 3km (2 miles) west of Great Malvern on the Ledbury Road, is where the composer Sir Edward Elgar is buried with his wife and daughter. You'll find a bronze bust of the composer in Priory Park, and he lived at Craeglea on the Malvern Wells Road and at Forli in Alexandra Road, where he composed the Enigma Variations, Sea Pictures, and the Dreams of Gerontius.