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Inspiration and advice on walking and cycling holidays in the UK..
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On a walking holiday you like to pack as lightweight as possible. But with unpredictable weather, or when walking at different altitudes this isn’t an easy job. That’s why guide John looks at walking clothes for colder weather this month!
Autumn, winter sun, and spring breaks at lower altitudes require walking clothes that are lightweight and easily to pack as you will hopefully rarely use them, but they are always there in your bag if things get a little chilly. Long gone are the days of heavy furry fleeces and waterproofs that are the weight and consistency of wet cardboard. Although maybe less durable than the heavy duty stuff, modern lightweight walking clothes are so compact that they can be folded up and carried almost unnoticed until the time it is needed. All this has been spurred on by revolutions in lightweight mountaineering and mountain running.
Starting with shells, have a look at the ranges by the likes of Montane, Salomon, Berghaus, Mountain Equipment and Rab etc. They all manufacture super-lightweight jackets that are great clothing to wear when walking. Check out test reviews online or in magazines for the best models and look out for sale items. Haglofs for example do an ultralight trekking jacket called the L.I.M, which has minimal seams and pockets for waterproofness.
The classic puffa jacket may be a bit of an overkill for this sort of walking, however you see some Europeans in them sometimes in the summer! - well at least the fashion versions. The lightest, most compact walking clothes of this type are not cheap, but if you feel the cold they are great to wear and look great too. Look at the Montane 'Featherlite' or the Rab 'Microlight' jackets, they are goose/duck down, pack to nothing and have nice features. They do become a bit of a wet tea bag in the rain, hence you should wear a shell with them in such conditions. If socialising in them, beware of smokers or open fires: cigarette ash and wood sparks will immediately make your walking clothes somewhat less water resistant.
Talking about walking clothes for cold weather, baselayers must of course be mentioned. Merino wool tops are nice, they may not be ultra-quick drying, but they are very warming for their weight and you can wear them a few more times compared to polyester. Look at makes such as Ayacucho or Icebreaker. Although Merino is relatively expensive, there are nearly always deals during the winter clothing sales at your local gear stores (see Cotswolds Outdoor in the UK for example or Paddy Pallin in Australia). Merino baselayers come in different weights but the lightest ones are really fine for walking, although if sitting at a bar on the trail, it looks as if you are wearing your underwear, so the next step is to wear a fleece jacket.
Fleece jackets are as numerous as the stars and come in as many different weights and qualities. Take a look around the outdoor shops for this type of walking clothing and see what fits you well and folds into a small space. Berghaus, Northface and Haglofs do a good range of cold-weather walking gear, some being technical with hoods and handwarmer pockets and/or thumbloops on sleeves which extend over your hands if you don't want to carry gloves.
Enjoy the cooler seasons in great style and comfort!
If you like to find out what walking holidays you can book with us in the autumn and winter months, have a look at these tips to beat the winter!
With the rugged limestone mountain range of Sierra de Tramontana, Majorca has one of the most spectacular coastlines of the Mediterranean. This is where you’ll find rocky and arid mountain tops, thickly forested slopes, ancient olive, orange and almond groves, and small coastal villages. There’s even an opportunity to overnight in an actual monastery! Get to know more about walking in Majorca via this image impression of the Spanish island.
A walk around Puig Roig is a popular classic for walking in Majorca. The views of the rugged coastline are fine and you can see Majorca’s highest peak Puig Mayor: a fantastic introduction to the island of Majorca.
The beach at the small coastal inlet of Cala Tuent is the starting point for your walk on the fourth day of our Majorca walking trip. It’ll prove to be an amazing day following a scenic coastal footpath that then takes you inland through olive groves.
During a fine day of walking, enjoy a fantastic lunch or dinner of some fine Spanish paella. It’s one of those dishes not to be missed on a Majorca walking holiday!
On your free morning in Soller, there are plenty of activities to undertake. Enjoy the village’s terraces and church while you wait for the afternoon bus, or take a boat trip to the beach of Sa Calobra, take a scenic train ride, or visit Soller’s fossil museum and botanical garden – one of the best you’ll come across while walking in Majorca.
Mountain villages, such as Valldemossa, Soller, Deia, Biniaraix and Fornalutx are particularly attractive, with yellow stonewalls and flower-bedecked balconies.
Our carefully compiled route guides you along the 19th century "Archduke's trail" above Valldemossa. It’s named after Austrian archduke Ludwig Salvador who purchased an estate here in the late 1800s. Much of the path you’ll follow was constructed during his time.
Valldemossa is famous for its Carthusian monastery and for its associations with Chopin and the Austrian Archduke Ludwig. It is one of the three centres that our walking trip is based on.
Has this inspired you to go on a walking holiday in Majorca yourself as well? Or do you have any questions based on our pictures? Have a look at our 8-day walking holiday in Majorca: Sierras and Monasteries (on which you’ll stay in an actual monastery!) or get in touch with our team of travel experts in our London offices.
Along Madeira's Levadas
Madeira’s 1,350-mile network of watercourses (known locally as levadas) offer fantastic opportunities for walking holidays. Join us on an historical journey along Madeira’s levadas and learn more about the different routes.
In the early 1400s, Madeira was discovered by three navigators from Portugal. They found several high peaks, stunning nature and a beautiful coastline on an island that was wet in the northwest, but dry in the southeast. Several years later, the process of building the so-called levadas (aqueducts or watercourses) that are unique to Madeira had started, so that water could be carried to the agricultural regions in the south of the island.
A Network of Levadas
Many of the levadas had to be cut into the sides of the mountains and even tunnels were necessary to complete the network. Today, most of the levadas – and tunnels – that were built between 1461 and 1966 still remain. What’s more, made out of stone or concrete, they still function, although not to distribute water, but to provide hydro-electric power to the island.
Another advantage of the 1,350 miles-long network is the ability for hikers to follow them on foot. Via, at times, easy walks through the countryside and mountain ranges and at other points challenging narrow paths, you can discover the beautiful island of Madeira on a walking holiday.
Levada Walking in Madeira
Partly thanks to Madeira’s levadas, the island owes its nickname of ‘Ilha Jardim’ (Garden Island). On our walking holiday, you can explore several trails along the levadas in Madeira on foot:
Levada do Furado
The walk along this levada is the most dramatic and challenging of all on our 8-day walking holiday in Madeira. It follows narrow paths and uneven going underfoot. You will walk up into the wild, forested hills of the Madeira National Park and be rewarded with magnificent views at a number of points.
Levada dos Tornos
Located around Monte, known for the Tropical Gardens and wickerwork sleds, are the trails of the Levada dos Tornos. Along the way you will be able to enjoy the colourful flora and fauna and views over Funchal Bay. On our day’s walk, we only cover a section of this levada in Madeira.
Levada da Serra
This levada shows you a wonderful part of the island that is fit for walkers year-round. It contours – at a slightly higher level (750m) than the other routes on our walking trip – around the head of the impressive ‘Valley of Paradise’. It is a leisurely walk along a flower-lined levada.
Levada do Canical
Built in relatively recent times (developments finished in the 1960s), the Levada do Canical is easy to follow. The trail is about seven miles towards its source near Ribeira de Machico. We cover a section of this levada that goes through the Canical Tunnel. This Madeira levada is known as the ‘mimosa levada’ as there are many mimosa trees found along the course of the route.
On a short flight from Europe and about 4 hours from London, discover these levadas on our Madeira walking holidays.
For more information and booking details, please have a look at our 8-day self guided Madeira walking holiday, or get in touch with our team of travel experts.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month we’re highlighting some fantastic island destinations and to tie in with that John looks at hiking sandals – because ‘sandals and island holidays just go together’.
Sandals and island holidays just go together. Even if you are not anticipating doing any swimming and plan to go walking, it is good to get out of the old walking boots or joggers and slip on the sandals, get some air around your toes and hike along a beach, promenade or coastal path. Firstly definitions; sandals and their lighter counterparts, flip-flops, are also known as thongs, jandals or slippers. They are defined as light shoes that involve one or several straps that are attached to the sole and in that way can be slipped on to the foot.
A whole range of sandal styles are available of course, but the revolution of hiking sandal design came in 1984 when a young Grand Canyon rafting guide developed an amphibian type sandal. The new type of sandal had a wedge cushioned sole with Velcro straps, which hold the foot in place and are now known as the ‘Teva Original Universal’. These fastenings replaced the old style leather straps, which tended to blister the feet unless you wore socks with them which is, let’s face it, totally taboo today in western culture.
Suddenly everybody had Teva-like sandals, even for trekking and jogging! There were soon many makes who specialise in this kind of footwear including companies such as Merrell or Berghaus. Gone were the days of the strap between the toes popping out of the sole as you flipped and flopped along the promenade - ice cream in hand, which was promptly plopped onto the pavement when you suddenly tripped up. However, the Velcro straps can become embedded with sand and assorted debris and literally stop sticking without some attention. Nylon straps and rubber soles can take a while to dry out and, inevitably, smell a bit after prolonged contact with sea water.
Recently there has been a resurgence of the old style lightweight flip-flop sandal but frankly you couldn’t walk that far in those, whereas a Teva-like hiking sandal could make an emergency replacement walking shoe albeit with little ankle support watching out for prickly vegetation!
The new kid on the beach as it were, is the Croc-style air blown rubber clog, comfortable for beach walking, easy to slip on and off, offering some toe protection, hardly any rubbing, quicker drying and even lighter than the hiking sandals. They are however not so secure on the feet and, when entering a river, lake or the sea, will tend to swim one way while you swim the other!
So on your next summer trip pack some light breezy footwear to take along and use those hiking sandals for walking the island.
For more information on walking gear, hiking sandals or other outdoor gear to bring on your active holiday, have a look at John’s other gear blog posts or get in touch directly.
For more information on our active holidays to the European islands, please contact our team of travel experts for a personal consultation.
Our resident guide John was on the Haute Route in Switzerland last month and gave us a page of his diary and some stunning pictures to share with you. There are so many things to do in Switzerland, but for us, a Haute Route walking holiday is definitely one of the best!
Learn more about what a walking day on the Haute Route can look like by reading the below page of guide John's diary.
“The Haute Route is a blazing 28 degrees C in the valleys and crystal clear views of the big mountains: Mt Collon, the Weisshorn, Dent Blanche, and Aiguille Rouge de Arolla are just some of them.
Our ascent to Col de Torrent was spectacular, including the picnic stop at Lac des Autanes.
Today we have been on a rest day, which involved an ascent up the Roc Orxival and a journey on the brand new cable car up from Grimentz to Sorebois. We were lucky with great views over the Barage de Moiry. The cable car trips are free here if you hold a regional hotel card.
While I’m writing this, I sit at the Sherpa Expeditions hotel in Grimentz and watch a spectacular aloe glow across the valley.
Tomorrow we will move to the Weisshorn, well the Hotel Weisshorn to be exact.”
If a walking holiday on the Haute Route is one of the things you like to do in Switzerland, we have several options available for you to choose from. Whether you are interested in guided or self-guided walking holidays and depending on the number of days you like to travel, here is a complete overview of walks in Switzerland for you.
“We have been enthusiastic expeditioners for more than 30 years” say Australians Kerry Mather and Lachlan McCaw. Last summer they embarked on our Fjordland walking holiday in Norway with their daughter Darcie. In recent years they undertook a wide variety of walking throughout Australia including mountains, coastal areas and the remote arid interior of Western Australia. Living in the south-west of Western Australia they regularly take the opportunity to explore sections of the Bibbulmun Track. They didn’t stick to Australia: “Our overseas walking exploits have included an extended trek from Kashmir into Ladakh, the Milford Track in the South Island of New Zealand, and multi-day walks in the Pyrenees and Dinaric Alps of central Bosnia,” says Lachlan. Their 20-year-old daughter accompanied them on the Norway walking holiday and really enjoyed the experience of a tour like this as well.
Why did you choose to walk in the Fjordlands in Norway?
Our travel plans included visiting friends in Denmark, exploring southern Norway and Sweden, and spending time in Finland for a professional conference. Past experience has confirmed that including a challenging outdoor activity in our travel schedule adds greatly to the enjoyment and understanding of the country that we are visiting. Western Norway is renowned for stunning scenery of mountains and fjords, and the opportunity to stand on the summit of a sub-arctic mountain and gaze across glaciers and icefields was a strong drawcard. The Sherpa Expeditions Fjordland self-guided walking holiday offered a variety of walking experiences with interesting accommodation venues linked conveniently by public transport.
“The long mid-summer days in the Norwegian mountains were a special treat.”
How did you prepare for this Norway walking holiday?
The travel pack provided by Sherpa Expeditions was informative and a useful guide as to what to expect during the walk and the level of fitness required. The walk is graded as moderate to challenging and we found this to be an accurate description of the terrain, track conditions and weather. Our daily life activity program includes regular swimming, walking and moderate cycling and this ensured we had a good level of fitness to enjoy the walk. The trip did include some relatively long days on mountain tracks.
What was your favourite destination in the Fjordland?
There were so many beautiful places on our Norway walking holiday that it’s hard to pick a favourite. We relished the challenge of walking from Finse up to the summit of St Paul’s peak (1700 m) across deep hard-packed snow. The view from the summit was spectacular, made all the more atmospheric by an icy arctic wind and snow flurries. Our reward at the end of this (summer) day was hot chocolate and dinner in the warm and comfortable hotel at Finse! We loved the cosy library overseen by a solemn reindeer head mounted on the wall. The following day we walked 21 km from Myrdal to Flam down the beautiful Flam valley, basking in warm sunshine. The steep and rugged Aurland valley provided a stunning setting for the final day of walking. Our visit to the isolated stone Sinjarheim farmlet perched high above the river made this last day even more interesting.
“The award for the most innovative dish would go to…”
What about the food and drinks in Norway?
All the hotels offered an excellent buffet breakfast which prepared us well for active days in the mountains. Evening meals provided at the hotels were of a uniformly high standard, well presented and tasty. Wine is expensive in Norway, but beer, cider and lunch supplies can be purchased at reasonable cost from small supermarkets in most of the villages used for overnight stays. The award for the most innovative dish would go to the chefs at the Vestlia Resort in Geilo who prepared a luscious dessert of pannacotta, fresh berries and cream served on a traditional slate roof tile!
What was your biggest surprise on this walking holiday?
While at Aurland we took a shuttle bus up to the Stegastein lookout. It’s located high up on the side of the valley and offers stunning views of the fjord and town below. It’s well worth the visit. The long mid summer days in the Norwegian mountains were a special treat.
What aspect of walking in Norway did you find most challenging?
Heavy spring snowfalls in 2015 resulted in one of deepest snow packs for several decades. This meant that the higher elevation walks were across continuous snow cover. Routes were generally well marked and easy to follow, but boots and snow gaiters were essential to keep our feet dry and comfortable.
The track from Osterbo to Vassbygdi traverses rugged gorge country and is steep and challenging in places, but well within the capabilities of fit and well-prepared walkers.
In several places we encountered small waterfalls and had to zip up our waterproof jackets and run the gauntlet through a shower of icy water on this walking holiday in Norway.
“The travel pack provided by Sherpa Expeditions was informative and a useful guide as to what to expect during the walk and the level of fitness required.”
Our walking holiday to Norway’s Fjordland departs on any day you like during the European summer months from July until September. To learn more about the walk that the Mather-McCaw family took, have a look at the full description of The Fjordland Walk here, or as always, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or write an email to our team of travel experts in the London office.
The appeal of a Mediterranean holiday is timeless. The three islands off the western coast of Italy – Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica – offer a diversity of iconic landscapes and memorable festivals.
Either with your family, your partner or a group of friends, the gastronomy and landscapes of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica will almost certainly appeal to your fellow travellers. Whether you want to get up close to Europe’s tallest active volcano in Sicily, swim in Sardinia’s emerald waters or explore Corsica, the most mountainous Mediterranean island, there are several trips to the islands departing in August, September and October. And to help you make a choice, below we’ve listed some of the best events and festivals to the islands for you!
Right in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia is famous for its natural beauty. The island is a cyclist’s paradise with a network of quiet roads hugging a rugged coastline. People visit Sardinia for its hospitable people, exceptional cuisine and a unique culture that includes its own dialect.
Why go to Sardinia in August?
1st Sunday in August: Vermentino Wine Festival | In the centuries old wine village of Monti.
7 August: The Archers Tournament | 24 archers dressed in medieval outfits join the tournament in Iglesias.
8-16 August: Time In Jazz | The island’s annual international jazz festival takes place in Berchidda.
14 August: Fireworks and Fried Fish | A firework display in Alghero that is followed by eating fried fish.
August: XXVI Summer Music | Daily live music concerts in the Chiostro di San Francesco that celebrate Sardinia’s classical music in Alghero.
Why go to Sardinia in September?
6-7 September: Corsa degli Scalzi | A commemoration of the 16th century rescue of a holy statue in the lagoon town of Cabras, it’s an 8km run with the statue from the beach back into town.
17-25 September: Round Sardinia Race | A sailing race that starts and finishes in the port of Cagliari and makes a circle around the island.
29 September: Festa Sant Miquel | The villagers of Alghero celebrate their patron saint with fireworks and parades.
September until early December: Autunno in Barbagia | A celebration of local food, handicraft and cultural traditions of the towns and villages in the mountainous Barbagia region.
Why visit Sardinia in October?
30 October: Sagra della Castagne | Head to Aritzo to join the village’s annual chestnut fair.
In Sardinia, enjoy gentle walks and explore secluded bays by bicycle. Discover lighthouses and ancient watchtowers on long sandy beaches, taste the clear spring water of the Montiferru Mountains, swim through rock arches and watch the sunset turn the limestone cliffs yellow and pink…
Go walking in Sardinia with Sherpa Expeditions or find out about our cycling in Sardinia holiday.
Sicily has two impressive volcanoes: Stromboli and Etna. Their presence has shaped island life and travellers can bathe in therapeutic hot mud, relax on the black beaches and take in panoramic views across the Mediterranean Sea.
Why visit Sicily in August?
1 July – 4 September: Calatafimi Segesta Festival | Lots of theatre performances, and concerts of jazz and classical music in and around the Greek theatre of Segesta.
12-14 August: Norman Palio | A festival held on Palermo’s Piazza Armerina to commemorate the moment Sicily was liberated from the Sarecens by Roger de Hauteville in 1071.
13-15 August: Renaissance Music Festival | A music festival in the village of Erice set on the top of a mountain when top renaissance and medieval music is performed.
17 August: Festival of Saint Agatha | Catania city’s most important religious festival related to the city’s patron saint Agatha of Sicily.
24 August: Festa di St Bartolomeo | Lipari, one of the Aeolian islands just off the shore of Sicily, celebrates their patron saint Bartolomeo with stunning fireworks.
Why go to Sicily in September?
13-27 September: Festa della Vendemmia | A festival in Piedimonte Etneo that is devoted to the grape harvest. There are wine tastings, wine-making demonstrations, and of course lots of food.
16-25 September: CousCous Fest | This festival in San Vito Lo Capo attracts international chefs who join a competition in preparing couscous, of course accompanied by live music, dancing, and a very positive vibe.
29 September – 2 October: Sherbet Festival | Held in Palermo, this is a festival that dedicates four days to sorbets and ice creams.
Why go to Sicily in October?
1-10 October: Sagra del Miele | The famous ‘honey of Hyblea’ was much loved by the Romans and Greeks in their days. The locals of Sortino (next to Pantalica National Park) honour the miele (honey) in October each year.
Take your chance to get close to the island’s impressive volcanoes on a walking holiday to Sicily.
Dense maquis mountain ridges and granite peaks soar to 2,700m to create a rugged terrain. This is Corsica.
Why visit Corsica in August?
2-5 August: Porto Latino | In St Florent, join this Latin-American music festival in the village’s citadel.
5-7 August: Foire de l’Amandier | This annual festival marks the almond harvest with cooking demonstrations of Corsican dishes, tastings and painting exhibitions – it takes place in Aregno.
5-7 August: Musica Classica | A classical music festival in Santa Reparata di Balagna in an open-air setting.
15 August: Assumption de Marie | This is an important festival that is celebrated all over Corsica to mark the passage of Virgin Mary into heaven.
16-17 August: Fiera di U Nuciola | If the almond has its own festival, the hazelnut should have too! The festival takes place in the square of Cervione.
Why travel to Corsica in September?
3-11 September: Festival du Tango | Add some days to join the tango festival in Bonifacio’s old Citadel with guitarists, dancers, street performers and lots of food.
9-13 September: U Mele in Festa | If you like to take part in one of Corsica’s oldest celebrations, join this festival of honey in Murzu to honour Virgin Mary.
13-17 September: Rencontres de Chants Polyphoniques de Calvi | International polyphonic singers take to the stage in Calvi’s citadel.
14 September: Festa di u Ficu | In the village of Peri, join this festival celebrating the harvest of figs. It’s in the north east of Ajaccio.
Why visit Corsica in October?
29 September – 2 October: Tour de Corse | A FIA world rally that starts in Bastia this year and finishes in Porto-Vecchio. There are many laps that go through the island’s narrow villages so you’re sure to enjoy superb views.
On Sherpa’s Corsica walking holiday, start in Corte’s old town in the heart of the mountains and cross the north-south watershed onwards to the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the iconic rock formations of Les Calanches.
For more information on these festivals or our cycling and walking holidays in Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia, have a look at the specific trip notes or contact our team of travel experts in London.
It’s easy to think of advantages for centre based walking holidays: only unpack once, really get to know your hosts, and a chance to explore every corner of the region you’re in.
On Sherpa Expeditions’ centre based walking holidays you get a pack of day walks, sometimes circular and sometimes with a short train or bus ride, from which you can pick and select one each day. Let the weather, your mood or physical conditions decide which walk to go for that day and have the freedom to explore an area exactly the way you like.
Here are four of our centre-based walking holidays with departure dates throughout the year.
Meiringen: Panoramas of the Swiss Alps
Situated at the convergence of three of Switzerland’s major passes, Meiringen is famous for the Reichenbach Falls, a spectacular cascade that was the setting for the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes. A place for anyone who wants to see the real Switzerland: in summer the meadows are full of flowers and in autumn the landscape is painted with a riot of colour. Walks here encompass all grades from gentle strolls to high ridges, while a superb integrated network of cable cars, postbuses and trams takes you in all directions quickly and easily.
>> 8 Day self guided walking holiday, departs daily from mid-May to the end of October
Yorkshire Dales Mini Break
Escape to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales staying at the Old Brewery: a tastefully decorated house that retains its old world charm, yet offers every modern comfort. The accommodation is a stone’s throw from the River Swale and at the foot of the castle hill. From the base of your hotel it’s just a short walk to the cobbled market place. The day walks we provided for you make sure you are surrounded by peaceful trails, quiet country lanes and sleepy villages of the Yorkshire Dales.
>> 4 Days self guided walking holiday, departs daily year round
Cinque Terre Villages
The coastline of the Cinque Terre in north-western Italy is as stunning as Amalfi and even more colourful. For centuries, artists and poets have praised the tiny aquamarine inlets that serve as fishing harbours and the ancient terraces rising steeply out of the coastal crags in words and pictures. It is the Italian Riviera at its best and you can explore the region on your own pace on the various day trips on this centre based walking holiday.
>> 6 Days self guided walking holiday, departs daily between March and October
The beautiful fortified village of Monteriggoni forms the perfect base for the series of walks we provide you with on this trip. Right on the Via Francigena, the village is surrounded by Chianti vineyards, museums and the beautiful hills of Tuscany. The way we’ve set up this centre based walking holiday allows you to do a combination of walks, relax in the village, visit Siena or San Gimignano, and use the bus connections. Of course wine tasting is always an option and we can easily book extra nights for you should you wish so.
>> 6 Days self guided walking holiday, departs daily between April and November
Do you feel that such a centre based walking holiday is something that could suit you? Browse each trip's page to find the trip notes for more details or contact our team of travel experts in our London offices to discuss your options.
In recent years, hiking has played a very enjoyable part of Canadians Derek and Hirae Neale’s varied travel experiences. They set off on walking holidays to experience the heart and richness of other cultures and landscapes, with little or no contact with tourist throngs.
Derek and Hirae have enjoyed rugged wilderness adventures on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail and Cape Scott, the rural charms of Offa’s Dyke National Trail on the English Welsh border, and took in the spectacular views from the Amalfi Coast’s Footpath of the Gods in Italy. Last May they went walking in Alsace and added Sherpa Expeditions’ Alsace Vineyard Trails to this list.
“Our recent hike with Sherpa Expeditions on the Alsace Wine Trails exceeded all our expectations."
Why did you choose to walk the Alsace Vineyard Trails?
Hirae and I were intrigued to discover this unique region of France sandwiched between the Vosges Mountains and the River Rhine. We were curious to see its distinguished and colourful half-timbered medieval architecture, hilltop castles, regional food, picturesque villages and its distinctive range of white wines what the Alsace region is known for. The moderate hike promised to offer a range of trails through the villages of the lower vineyards to the higher elevations of the Vosges with ancient castles.
How did you prepare for your Alsace walking holiday?
When travelling to Europe from Vancouver, BC, we normally like to spend a few days acclimatising and adjusting to the local time before setting out on a hike. After a couple of days in Munich (Germany) we took trains to Colmar at the southern end of Alsace where we spent a couple more days before the start of our walking holiday. Colmar is a wonderful town for an introduction to Alsace and is full of colourful shops, regional architecture and waterfront restaurants in “Little Venice”. A short taxi ride took us to our first Sherpa hotel, the Hotel de Deux Clefs in Turckheim, a 15th century historic monument richly furnished with antiques and adornments in a way that only the French can pull off. The Deux Clefs (the keys to the past and future) seemed an appropriate starting point for an Alsace walking holiday, the very friendly lady in reception was unaware of any other hikers having checked in though. Our curious stares at the other guests’ footwear served only as introductions to people from far and wide.
Your favourite destination in the Alsace?
A tough choice. The towns, villages and historic sites such as Haut Koenigsbourg and Mont Saint-Odile on these trails in Alsace are all immensely appealing and interesting in their own right. With the vast majority of the villages untouched by modernism we often felt we were walking back through time. We were intrigued by the many pairs of storks that occupied huge nests perched precariously on metal rings attached to high-slanted rooftops in most of the villages. We learned that the storks we entrenched in Alsatian folklore with their fidelity and fertility symbolism.
We particularly enjoyed Turckheim, Riquewihr, Ribeauville and Andlau, but if we have to choose, our favourite stop while walking in Alsace goes to Kayserberg contained within its medieval ramparts. The River Weiss flows through the village and disappears through buildings in remarkable ways. We wandered the narrow twisting streets and stopped at a sidewalk café for beer and a few slices of tarte flambée before re-entering the trail that ascended to the Kayserberg Castle-Fort with its commanding views over the village.
Best food or drink?
Hirae always reminds me that I should pay more attention to detail, so you can imagine my surprise when checking into our hotel in Riquewihr after the first day walking. Our very friendly host announced that our dinner that evening would be at 7:30pm at the Relais Des Moines in the centre of town (I should read the Sherpa inclusions more carefully). From then on, at 7:30pm each evening, we were treated to a fine and varied array of regional cuisine.
Dinner in the Relais Des Moines consisted of roast pork knuckle with Munster cheese, spaetzle, sauerkraut and salad accompanied by a local Riesling, the selection of which liberated with the knowledge that the food was pre-paid. And it got better. On our second evening, after relaxing with a beer on the terrace overlooking a fertile valley we were treated to a sumptuous meal at the 5-star Auberge La Meuniere in Thannenkirck, by far the best food experience of our trip. We were walking during the first week in May, and to our delight the large white asparagus were in full harvest. These were served with a variety of sauces often as an accompaniment to cheese and onion laden traditional tarte-flambée.
Biggest surprise while walking in Alsace?
The first part of our hike took us through the gentle rolling vineyards of the lower slopes, and the steeper wooded walks to the higher vantage points of the Vosges. On Day 5 from Chatenois to Andlau, we encountered the middle ground – the beautiful and varied rural landscape and vistas to the south of Bernardville. In the centre of this were the buildings of the Fermes De Vignerons Boemstein where, with the generous hospitality of the vintner, Hirae and I stopped to taste wine with a group of jovial Germans. Who, after several glasses of fine Reisling, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer were in a serious buying mood – Oh, the hardships of wilderness hiking!
This, by way of introduction was not our biggest surprise. As we approached the village of Bernardville in Alsace we met a friendly lady hiker coming towards us on the trail. When I asked her where she was from we were surprised to hear that she had started in Cologne and was walking to Rome, for which she had allowed around 130 days. From the large shell on her backpack I suddenly realised the significance of all the shells on the maps supplied by Sherpa (which incidentally are excellent) – we were on part of the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route from northern Europe to Rome, adding even more significance to the host of churches, religious buildings and brass shells set into monuments along way. As we bid farewell to our friendly pilgrim and gazed out over the idyllic view, our spirits seemed to have lifted even higher.
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
Day 6: the long climb from Andlau at 224m to Mont Saint-Odile at 790m. It was not the altitude gain, but the sheer distances involved that made this the most challenging day on our Alsace walking holiday. I’m sure we walked way further than necessary after a few wrong turns from the confusing signs on the myriad of trails crossing the mountain. Hirae, who is 58 and does 1 ½ hours of hot yoga four times per week, had plenty of rest time waiting for me: 67, overworked and overweight to catch up. After one wrong turn, a group of young mountain bikers clad in their colourful gear and helmets were kind enough to send us back down the trail to the correct turn, saving us a couple of kilometres of energy.
We encountered few hikers to join on the trails in Alsace. A group of youngsters flew past us at such a rate I was unable to utilize my schoolboy French. Halfway up the mountain we met a wonderful old gentleman who was a serious and seasoned hiker. His hat was adorned with colourful badges and insignia attesting to his many exploits and he carried a programmed GPS device on his jacket. Next time, Hirae assures me, I will pay more attention to the details. The emblematic Catholic monastery and pilgrimage site of Mont Sainte-O’Dile was well worth the climb and after touring the buildings we enjoyed a lunch from the cafeteria in the central courtyard. As we descended through the forest towards our final destination of Obernai on our Alsace walking holiday, I resisted the temptation to tell hikers coming up in the other direction that it was “not far to go”…
Did Derek and Hirae's story activate your travelbuds? You can go for Alsace walking hoiidays from May till October and with the flexibility to depart within a week, you can still book your summer walking holiday for this year! To do so, or to find out more on our walking and cycling holidays, get in touch with our team of travel experts.
As the summer progresses, this month guide John looks at fluid intake: but (unfortunately) not wine or beer consumption!
Some people on walking or cycling holidays could have a better experience by drinking more. Dehydration is quite an insidious process, we may not sense that we are going over the line. Especially when you are exerting yourself more than normal or if it is really warm. The latter is what most of us tend to experience on cycling and walking holidays - an environment that we are not really used to on a day to day basis.
Dehydration leads not just to the loss of body fluids but also mineral salts, which can cause coordination and general performance problems as well as thickening of blood plasma. In warm conditions this can ultimately lead to heat exhaustion leading in the worst cases to heatstroke. However, some people find it physically hard drinking enough water, others do not want to carry it as it is heavy - a litre of liquid weighs a kilogram. Others leave their drinks bottle in their rucksack and forget about it until they make a stop.
Until recently rehydration during walking and cycling was at best just finding water, tea, fruit juice or fizzy drinks or at worse consuming rather unpalatable rehydration salts from the local chemists. Today though there are huge advancements that have been spurred on by the progress of science in relation to running and cycling to make things easier.
The bottom line is that your speed of rehydration will be determined by the relative concentration of water, carbohydrate and electrolytes in your drink, as this effects the speed the liquid leaves your stomach and is absorbed into the wall of the small intestine and into the bloodstream. Generally, drinks with more carbohydrate such as fruit juices take longer to absorb than water, but water alone passes through the body too quickly to effect recovery. Because the sugar concentration of most sports drinks is higher than that of most body fluids, they are not readily absorbed into the bloodstream and are not optimal for hydration. So it is probably best to use a mixture of water and either diluted sweet drinks or use electrolyte tablets to provide the best combination of electrolyte replacement and absorption. Likewise, electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium, reduce urine output and the rate at which fluids empty the stomach, promote absorption from the small intestine, and encourage fluid retention.
How to Prevent Dehydration
Luckily there are great products on the market enabling you to keep the balance right on your cycling or walking holiday. Hydration packs in backpack pockets with hoses connected to a mouthpiece mean that you can drink on the go. CamelBak and Platypus come to mind, but there are loads of brands suitable both for walking and cycling. You can also get smaller bottles to clip onto rucksack belts for a few lightweight swigs. It is perhaps worth carrying a tube of electrolyte replacement tablets that you add to 700ml of water. They are much more palatable than diarolyte (rehydration salts) and are readily available at outdoor and cycling shops. Then you can get sachets of post exercise powders usually containing a mixture of carbohydrate and protein to speed the recovery process. This aims to stop people drinking too much water after an activity, resulting in an increased blood plasma and all the salts going into imbalance again!
So don't overdo it, the old adage of 'clear and copious urine output' may not always apply! There have been a few cases of people actually dying of drinking too much water leading to the reverse osmosis in the kidneys. Hopefully your body will tell you when or when not you are needing to drink, perhaps only experience will allow you to recognise the line that you cross to dehydration. The famous UK distance runner Brendan Foster recovered with a nice post-run shandy (beer and lemonade), it never did him any harm…
For more information on the exact needs for your walking or cycling holiday, please get in touch with our team of travel experts in London.