UK & European Holiday News
The latest travel news, interviews, traveller reviews, inspiration & advice on cycling and walking holidays in the UK and Europe..
Return to Blog Home >>
Some people are a bit squeamish about feet. Others think they’re the most beautiful parts of the human body. But whatever your view, there’s no denying that your feet are one (or more precisely two) of the most important bits of kit on a walking holiday.
Problems with your feet can really curtail your enjoyment of a walking trip, so it pays to do everything you can to prepare them in advance of your trip, and look after them once you’re hiking, trekking or walking.
Here are a few tips to ensure your carefully laid holiday plans aren’t trampled upon by problem feet.
1. WEAR THE RIGHT WALKING BOOTS
We won’t go in to too much detail here – you can read our guide to choosing walking boots that we published last year. The important thing, if you’re buying new boots for your trip, is to spend enough time researching and trying on boots, and to allow enough time to wear them in before you start your holiday. If you buy some new boots a couple of days before you’re due to start, and you wear them for the first time on your first day’s hiking, you’re asking for trouble!
There’s a huge amount of choice out there these days – gone are the days when all walking boots were made of stiff, heavy leather. Waterproof materials like Gore-Tex have meant that modern walking boots can be flexible and lightweight, and more closely resemble sturdy trainers. But it’s important that your boots still give you the support you’ll need for the type of walking you’re doing. A good outdoor shop will have staff that will spend time talking to you about your needs and will help you choose the right boots. You can even get custom-moulded footbeds to go into the bottom of your boots to give you more support and comfort – any skiers out there will certainly be able to tell you about the benefits of these!
Sherpa Expeditions travellers receive a discount at Cotswold Outdoor, one of the biggest outdoor chains in the UK, with knowledgeable staff and an excellent choice of boots.
2. WEAR THE RIGHT SOCKS
Socks and technology aren’t often two words that go together – but as with boots, there have been great strides (no pun intended) in the technology used to make socks especially designed for walkers. Obviously your choice of socks will be influenced by the weather – an October walk in the Scottish Highlands and a walk on the Amalfi Coast in August will clearly not require the same type of socks! But the main thing to bear in mind is that friction and moisture are your two worst enemies when it comes to blister prevention. Merino wool is particularly good for keeping feet warm without being too thick, and is great for drawing moisture away from the skin. It also has natural anti-bacterial properties.
Some keen walkers swear by wearing a thin pair of socks next to the skin, and a thicker pair on top for warmth, which can help to reduce friction.
As with your boots, the important thing is to find the best option for you, as there is a huge amount of choice out there. Once again, the staff at a good outdoor shop will be able to give you some good advice and talk you through the options.
Finally, if you’re on a trip where your luggage is being transferred for you, as with all Sherpa Expeditions holidays, it’s worth taking a clean pair of socks for each day’s walking. If this isn’t possible, then try to ensure that your socks get properly dried out each night.
3. USE TAPE ON PRESSURE POINTS
There are many types of blister tapes out there, but the best ones these days are made from the same material you sometimes see sports stars wearing on various parts of their body to help protect and stretch muscles. The trick is that this type of tape is moisture (i.e. sweat) resistant, so the tape won’t come away from your skin if your feet get a bit damp. Leukotape is a well-known brand, but there are plenty of others available.
You can use the tape as prevention for blisters on the areas of the feet that receive the most pressure – the ball, the heel, the bottom of the big toe. But really, as everyone’s feet are different, you can put tape on any parts of your feet that you know are susceptible to rubbing against the inside of your boots.
4. CLIP YOUR TOENAILS
This is a simple one – keep your toenails short! If they’re too long they’ll rub against the front of your boots and this will cause damage and pain to your toes. It’s amazing how quickly your toenails can grow as well – so if your trip is a week or more long, it’s worth packing some nail clippers so you can keep them trimmed throughout your walk. Experts recommend cutting straight across the top of the nail rather than a rounded shape, as this stops the corners of the nails digging into your toes, and reduces the risk of ingrowing toenails. Filing your toenails also helps to ensure you don’t have any rough or sharp edges that can do damage to your toes.
It’s a really good idea to keep your feet moisturised to stop skin drying out ,which in turn causes friction and makes blisters more likely. You can use a standard skin moisturiser or specialist foot cream – rub it all over your feet, and especially in between your toes before you go to bed each night, and again before putting your socks and boots on in the morning. Some people like to use petroleum-based products such as Vaseline if their skin is particularly dry, but many experts say that this traps in moisturiser and makes you more prone to developing athlete’s foot.
There are also some really good foot balms on the market that you can use after a day’s walking, that use natural ingredients to soothe your feet and can even help to strengthen the skin, which protects against blisters.
6. TREAT BLISTERS BEFORE THEY GET TOO BAD
This cannot be stressed to much. People often start to feel pain when out walking, but decide to carry on until the end of the day – sometimes because they don’t want to feel like they’re holding up their fellow walkers. But blisters can develop very quickly, and a few minutes treating the early signs of a blister, or ‘hot-spot’ can save a hug amount of time, and pain, in the long run.
If you feel a hot-spot start to develop, take off your boots and socks and try and dry your feet as much as you can. Apply some foot cream and blister tape to the affected area. If you’re carrying a spare pair of clean, dry socks in your bag, now is the time to use them – if not, try and dry your socks out as much as possible in the time you have available before you put them back on. We can’t guarantee that this will stop a full-blown blister developing, but it’ll give you the best chance of getting through to the point when you can give your feet a proper clean and rest.
7. REST YOUR FEET WHEN YOU CAN
We’re guessing that most walkers won’t need too much persuasion with this one after a long day’s walking! But it’s worth mentioning because of its importance. If you’re walking somewhere dry and warm, take your boots and socks off when you stop for lunch or a break – even just a few minutes in the fresh air will be enough to dry away any moisture. Try to wash, dry and moisturise your feet as soon as you can after you’ve finished your day’s walking. If you’re heading back out, hopefully to a nice pub for some dinner and a well-earned drink, put clean socks on and some fresh shoes if you’ve packed them (and if you’re using Sherpa Expeditions’ luggage transfer, why wouldn’t you?!). But as soon as you’re back in your hotel room or tent, let those feet breathe and repair themselves ready for the next day.
Follow these tips and you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance of keeping your feet happy. And happy feet make happy walkers!
There's a reason that so many people choose to do a walking holiday in the UK - in fact there are many reasons! The benefits of a UK walking holiday are both physical and spiritual - here are a few of the best...
An obvious one to start off with. Everyone knows that best way to get fit and stay fit is to find something active that they enjoy. For some that might be running on a treadmill in the gym – but can you really think of a better way to get your body working hard and your heart pumping than climbing to the top of a steep hill or mountain and drinking in a beautiful view? Do that every day for a whole week, or longer, and just imagine how good you’ll feel. Of course, not all walking holidays have to be hard work – some of the UK’s best walking tours are gently rambles through largely flat landscapes, but the exercise is still an important part of the experience.
This lot are working hard - just imagine how fit they'll be at the end of their trip!
It isn’t just your physical fitness that benefits from a walking holiday. It’s long been proved that exercise, fresh air, connection with nature and exposure to glorious views and wide open spaces are good for both the body and the soul. And at the end of the trip, the sense of achievement you get from having completed the challenge is something that will stay with you for a very long time. Sure, a week lying on a beach is all well and good (for some), but how long do those memories last compared to the ever changing landscapes of a walking holiday?
These two look pretty happy, don't they?
Wide open spaces and magnificent views - good for the soul!
The UK countryside isn’t just about glorious views – there’s some fascinating history to delve into on many of the popular routes. There’s Offa’s Dyke, built in the 8th century by Offa, the King of Mercia, to keep out the Welsh marauders. Or Hadrian’s Wall, started by the Roman Emperor in 122 AD to separate the Roman Empire from the ‘barbarians’ to the North. Then there’s the smuggling history all round the Cornish Coast, Queen Victoria’s connection with the Isle of Wight, and so much more. Wherever you decide to walk, there are stories to learn, and famous footsteps to walk in.
Osborne House, Queen Victoria's retreat on the Isle of Wight
Food and Drink
Traditional British food has taken a bit of a knock in years gone by, compared to our European neighbours. But not anymore – people have woken up to the choice and quality of traditional dishes served up in regions across the UK, and now the food is one of the highlights of any walking holiday in Britain. Throw in some of the finest beer and ale to be brewed anywhere in the world, and you have a recipe for a delicious meal at the end of each day’s walking.
Here are just a few of our favourite regional specialities to be found in the UK:
Cornwall - Stargazy Pie: A classic fish pie, made with pilchards or sardines, eggs and potatoes, covered in a pastry crust. Whilst recipes vary, the one common feature is fish heads protruding from the crust, as though their gazing at the stars, which is where the pie gets its name from.
The Lake District – Cumberland Sausage: Why have individual sausages when you could have one long sausage, coiled into a ring so it retains all of its juices and peppery flavour. Often served on top of a bed of creamy mashed potato and covered with rich gravy.
Yorkshire – Parkin: A moist, spicy, sticky, gingery cake. Perfect with a good cup of Yorkshire tea!
West Highland Way – Seafood: Scotland offers some of the best seafood in the world – and on the West Highland Way you’ll be savour some of the tastiest. Oysters, crab, lobster, razor shell clams – fresh from the sea.
This is just a start – there are so many classic dishes around the UK, you’ll have to keep coming back to make sure you try them all!
A typical Scottish seafood platter
Nature and Wildlife
Wherever you walk in the UK, you’re quite likely to encounter some fantastic wildlife – birds of prey, red deer, grey seals and shaggy feral goats are just some of the animals you might come across. And if fossils are more your thing, then the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and the Isle of Wight offer some great opportunities for fossil hunting on your route. As for flora and natural phenomena, there are waterfalls, rivers, spectacular rock formations (such as the famous Durdle Door in Dorset), flowers, grasslands, hedgerows and pretty much every other type of natural landscape you can imagine. For a pretty small country, the UK certainly packs a lot in!
Puffins on St Cuthberts Way
A grey seal
The Dorset Coast with Durdle Door in the background
If this has inspired you to book a walking holiday in the UK, you can browse our full programme here.
Sherpa HQ team member Nathalie headed to the Dordogne with her mum in September for some autumn sunshine, and to savour the delights of this beautiful region of France. Here she gives us her top 5 reasons to try this self-guided walking trip for yourself.
GET AWAY FROM THE HUSTLE & BUSTLE
Now I see why the trip is called Hidden Treasures of the Dordogne. It was certainly reflected in the number of walkers mum & I saw, which were only a couple every few days. For me this made it feel like much more of a special & immersive experience, and also encouraged me to practice my rusty French more!
A typical sleepy hamlet - Greze.
Lush forests provide welcome shade from the hot sun.
The walnut groves got more and more plentiful as the walk goes on. Thanks to mum I can now identify chestnuts, figs etc. It was like having my own guide!
GAZE OVER THE VISTAS
As I normally tend to gravitate towards mountains, I wasn’t sure if the landscape in rural France would entertain me for the week - but I needn’t have worried. Each day offered beautiful, varied landscapes that came with their own highlights. Country fields, walnut orchards, gorges, forests and rivers - there was always something beautiful to absorb.
Kayakers at Beaulieu-Sur-Dorogne.
Glimpsing Curemont as we descend after our picnic – don’t forget to visit the Lou Pé de Grill farm shop as you enter the village!
The climbs are worth it when you get rewarding views like this.
EXPLORE MEDIEVAL VILLAGES & CAVES
The league table for French villages is the exclusive 143 top villages in the country, and you visit several just in this trip. I actually felt like I had stepped back in time or into a fairy tale. If, like me, you enjoy photography and finding local produce, you’ll be in your element.
Carennac on the morning of the last day. Not only do you visit lovely villages, you get to stay in them too.
The impressive Chateau de Castelnaud.
The Padirac Caves were a wonderous, cooling detour at only 13 degrees Celsius, when it’s 27 above ground. More than 100m below ground, I loved floating on an underground river and seeing all the weird and wonderful formations which we named “the jellyfish” and “the cauliflower” - although like cloud shapes, we all see different things!
Padirac Caves – after the short boat ride you get a chance to explore the caves on foot.
SAMPLE THE LOCAL CUISINE
It’s funny how quickly you get used to three-course dinners, and in the Dordogne Valley you certainly get spoilt. I’m not sure if my calories burned cancelled out the calories consumed, but it was worth it. In my mind it was guilt-free after the hikes anyway! Starting off the week at the Bonne Famille, which has been in the same family for some 97 years now, we could feel the love in the service and the food. As an area famed for confit why wouldn’t you indulge in duck or cassoulet? And the food highs just kept coming.
The Bonne Famille served tasty duck home-cooked meals.
Hostellerie Fenelon’s Lamb two ways was packed with flavour.
INDULGE YOURSELF WITH WINE & CHEESE – YOU’VE EARNED IT!
When a cheese board with a selection of more than 10 cheeses is set in front you, you can’t not smile. It’s even better after you’ve been enjoying a bottle of the local red from Glanes, which can only be bought locally, and if you have the right contacts. Luckily the proprietor of the Hostellerie Fenelon has friends in the right places!
Look out for this wine on the menus – the traditional blend is perfect as it compliments many dishes.
Save room for the local goat’s cheese if you can!
My conclusion – this was a wonderful trip that certainly convinced me that you don’t have to be in the mountains to enjoy nature. This is a beautiful region of France, with friendly people, delicious food and fantastic wine. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get a proper taste of French countryside and culture.
2019 dates for Hidden Treasures of the Dordogne are now available to book - with the option of either an 8-day or 10-day itinerary .
The Summer was a busy time for our resident guide, John, who tried out a couple of new walks that we will be operating in 2019. In fact, the first one was not a new walk at all, but the oldest National Trail in Britain - the famous Pennine Way.
Walking by Hadrian's Wall on the Pennine Way
Blessed with great sunshine, and with only 1.5 hours of rain during the duration of the walk over some 20 days, the 260 mile walk was completed in ‘redneck’ style! The trek follows the high trails, packhorse routes and Roman roads from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yethom in Scotland, along the Pennine chain of hills, aptly named by the Romans after their own Appenines running along the spine of Italy. There are some amazing views and features on this walk, particularly the waterfalls of the Tees Valley, the limestone scenery around Malham and the most attractive part of Hadrian’s Wall. Hopefully you’ll get the views from several big peaks such as Kinder Scout, Blackhill, Cross Fell and The Cheviot. Very few people walk the Pennine Way compared to the Coast to Coast -some areas have limited accommodation, but those who do tend to revel in the experience of visiting attractive villages that they would not normally have heard of, such as Edale, Bellingham, Dufton and Alston - mixed with more famous places such as Malham, Horton and Keld. There are also some very idiosyncratic places such as Tan Hill and Byrness. It’s a tough old walk but the challenge is made worth it not by a medal at the end, but by a certificate and the free half-pint of beer given to you at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yethom. Mind you, by that time you’ll have probably already drunk at least 30 pints of the finest beer in Christendom!
Cross Fell from Dun Fell
Descending towards the Schill from Cheviot
The second new trip is one to join those that we already offer in the Canary Islands - this time to La Palma, a gorgeous dormant volcanic island whose rich soils have spawned a profundity of the special Laurisilva vegetation, that at times creates its own clouds on the eastern side of the mountain.
La Palma - the Caldera de Taburiente
The island of La Palma is essentially one huge caldera that tapers to the south to more recent volcanoes - the last eruption was in 1971. On a two centre based stay in the towns of Santa Cruz and Los Llanos, John ventured out on walks that threaded through the forests to view points, and others that took him to the highest points of the island on peaks, down gorges and to the coast. La Palma is quite old fashioned, offering a good selection of restaurants and a nice family atmosphere in the villages and towns. As expected there is a lot of great seafood including tuna, squid and octopus. There are avocados, apples and a large banana cultivation, which is the island’s main economy. There are certainly things to do on a day off from walking, including boat trips to whale watch and a visit to dramatic sea caves. La Palma is also a world centre in astronomy. Visiting the island has certainly been made easier by the introduction of Easyjet flights from London Gatwick from autumn through to spring.
La Palma - Coastal Scenery
Near the caldera
Both of these trips will be available to book soon – so watch this space. To register your interest, email [email protected] and we’ll contact you when booking opens.
In the southwest of England, you can find the longest and, perhaps, the finest trail of the country: the 630-mile long South West Coastal Path. Almost half of which covers the stunning county of Cornwall. Made famous through the Doc Martin TV series and the Poldark books & TV series, there is a plethora of interesting places to visit in Cornwall.
White sandy beaches, turquoise waters, rugged cliffs and even palm trees dot the long coastline that also has kept enough space for cute fishing villages to try a famous Cornish pasty. With a mild climate (that is classed as oceanic according to the Köppen classification), Cornwall is a holiday region that comes with many things to do for the active visitor.
If you are searching for holiday inspiration, we believe that the below ten places to visit in Cornwall will certainly trigger your interest.
Bustling with people aspiring for St Michael's Mount, Marazion has some claim to be the oldest town in Britain. At least it was mentioned by Siculus in the 1st Century BC as the port from which tin was shipped to Brittany in France. The monastery sits on the civil parish of St Michael’s Mount and can only be reached via man-made causeway during low tide. It was probably built sometime between the 8th-11th Centuries under the rule of Edward the Confessor. Not surprisingly, it was a dependence of Mont St Michel in France that you can visit on one of UTracks’ cycling trips in Brittany.
Porthleven is a pleasant harbour town that mainly developed during the last century. Today it is still a working port and one of the great places to visit in Cornwall. It houses a fascinating three-section harbour that gets closed off with wooden baubles in stormy weather, usually out of season. Loe Bar, Loe Pool and Penrose Estate are all worth to explore on foot if you arrive early.
If you are looking for some charming places to go on your visit to Cornwall, may we suggest to consider Gunwalloe to the west of Lizard peninsula? It is here that the first transatlantic radio signals were transmitted by Marconi, the inventor of the radio. Visit Poldhu Point Monument and the Marconi Centre for more information on this achievement.
The Church Cove right between Gunwalloe and Poldhu is where the Church of St Winwalloe squats beside the beach. The church has a separate bell tower, which is dug into the cliff wall and also well worth a visit.
Portloe: Step Back in Time
A very popular place is Portloe, which, thankfully, due to the lack of horizontal space has changed little over the years. It is said that only one new house has been built since the Second World War, leaving the layout and feel of the town virtually as it was over 200 years ago. This harbour of an inlet sits in a 'cramped and dramatic situation' where smuggling, fishing and drinking used to go hand in hand. You can almost still smell the rum when you navigate its picturesque old streets.
Relax in Falmouth
Falmouth is a leading resort on the south west coast and allegedly the third largest natural harbour in the world. The Cornish town has many things to do and you can for example wander its bustling waterfront, relax at one of its four bathing beaches, or visit for example Pendennis Castle, constructed by Henry VIII. Other things to do in Falmouth are sailing, golfing on the golf course, visiting a former post office packet station, gardens, or the maritime museum to learn more about the strong maritime tradition of the town.
Well worth visiting in Veryan are its round houses: 19th Century circular buildings with thatched roofs and a cross. Besides that, there are an interesting church, an art gallery and a tumulus at Carne, which is the supposed burial mound of King Geraint. Nearby Caerhays Castle is designed by John Nash and has famous gardens which are open between mid-February and June.
Learn about Porthallow & Porthoustock
The secluded coves on the east of Lizard Peninsula between Porthallow and Porthoustock are notable for angling. Closeby St Keverne is a pleasant village that you may like to make a detour for. It has a pleasant village square and is known for its remarkable churchyard in which 400 shipwreck victims of the nearby Manacle Reef are buried. Check out the beaches at Porthallow, Porthoustock, Housel Bay and Kennack Sands.
Still very much a fishing port, Mevagissey is the largest city in St Austell Bay. Cob cottages spill down to the harbour walls from the steep sided valley and you can visit the beaches at Portmellon and Gorran Haven. Mevagissey also houses an interesting model railway exhibition.
Travel to St Mawes
If you are keen about sailing, one of the places to visit in Cornwall is St Mawes. It is a popular sailing centre on Roseland and overlooks Falmouth. The port is quite sheltered and is relatively remote. Spend some time at the small beach and fine cloverleaf St Mawes Castle that dates back to 1542 and is open year-round.
The picture postcard village on Helford River is not to be missed on your walking holiday in Cornwall. It is a yachtsman’s haven full of activity and you can take it all in during a lunch at the pub near Frenchman’s Creek made famous by author Daphne du Maurier.
On the Cornwall Coastal Path you can really escape the crowds, dipping in and out of coves and harbours and ascending beside dramatic cliffs, up to high viewpoints, along promontories and back down to expansive beaches.
Experience Cornwall for yourself on any of the below trips:
- Cornish Coastal Path (North): Padstow to St. Ives - 8 days
A beautiful part of the South West Coastal Path, this northern section undulates along the coast between the popular resorts of Padstow and St. Ives, visiting the surfer’s paradise of Newquay.
- Cornish Coastal Path (West): St. Ives to Penzance - 8 days
This section of the Cornwall Coast path contains generally shorter days than either our Cornwall North and South tours, allowing you more time to spend in coves, on beaches, or up on the cliff moorlands.
- Cornish Coastal Path (South): Marazion to Mevagissey - 8 days
Explore the most scenic and varied part of the Cornish coast, on either side of Lizard Head, the southern-most tip of mainland Britain.
- Cornish Coastal Path: Padstow to Penzance - 13 days
Enjoy a stunning 106 miles/170 km walk along the Cornish Coastal Path. Dip in and out of coves and harbours, ascend beside dramatic cliffs to panoramic viewpoints, idle along promontories and explore the expansive beaches, which out of the high season, can be all but deserted.
- Cornish Coastal Path: St Ives to Mevagissey - 14 days
This section of the South West Coast Path encompasses a vast array of coastal landscapes from the dramatic cliffs of Lands End, the impressive coves of Mullion and Kynance, famous resort towns such as St Ives & Penzance and smaller fishing villages.
Visit Portugal’s Douro Valley and walk in the amazing wine terraces and Quinta wine estates high above the Douro River. Read on to find out about 5 reasons for spending your active holiday in Douro Valley.
The Douro Wine Estates
Walking in the Douro Valley should be regarded as a ‘Quinta-essential’ walk: it takes you deep into the working wine estates of golden terraces laced with vines and wires to support them. The local people will be busy picking the grapes in September/October while at other times in the year, there are activities taking place such as pruning, training, spraying or weeding. Some times of the year, you will hardly see a soul about. Most of the Quintas, estates or inns in the Portuguese countryside, produce their own wine. The area is of UNESCO World Heritage interest, and there are some amazing Escher-type perspective views of the vine terraces from across the hills in certain lights, dissected in places by roads and paths.
Discover the two famous ironwork bridges when you’re visiting the Douro Valley. They both date back to the late 1800s. Walk across the Gustav Eiffel Bridge that connects both sides of River Pinhão and that is also a main landmark in the charming village of the same name. The bridge was designed by, surprise-surprise, Gustav Eiffel who was also involved with the ‘Luis I Bridge’ in Porto. Nowadays, the bridge is considered as a national masterpiece.
When you visit Douro Valley, you can also walk high above the magnificent Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge. This is Porto’s most recognisable landmark over the river Douro. The iron bridge was designed by Seyrig, one of Gustav Eiffel's co-workers, in 1886.
Cruise along the Douro River
Relax and take a replica Barco Rabelo, wine boat for a little cruise along the Douro River while passing numerous wine estates that advertise themselves via large riverside boards. You can slouch in a bean bag quaffing a tawny port, watching riverside birds. To break your walking days, you could hire a boat to visit the village of ‘Tua’. There are a couple of restaurants there, which are excellent to have some lunch at before catching the train back to either Pinhão or Oporto.
Porto, O Pretty Porto
Get lost in Oporto (Porto)! This is a must on your Douro Valley holiday. Having survived through periods of European war, Porto has a maze of ancient streets and old buildings focussed on the River Douro. It is a proud and friendly city bursting with cafes, bars, restaurants and some unusual stores selling things like Portuguese guitars.
Check out some of Porto’s ornate churches that are decorated with blue and white azulejos tiles such as the Igreja de Sto Ildefonso church. The railway station, Estação de São Bento, is also internally decorated with a mass of these tiles illustrating Portuguese landscapes and train travel.
There are lovely squares, and terraced vistas. Always you will find good restaurants (ask around for tascas) where you can taste famous national dishes such as bacalhau, dried and salted cod, in its varying preparations.
The Port Lodges
Visit a couple of Port Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. This town is a separate entity to Porto (just across from the river and easily accessible); most importantly, this is where all the traditional factories of the wine estates exist. Here, the port is made by adding spirit to stop the wine fermentation process and the finished product is then aged, usually in oak barrels. A visit to a couple of the estates is recommended, they often have the most beautiful premises and outlooks. There is a small entry charge that includes tasting a few ports or wines. There are so many lodges to choose from including Dutch and German brands. For Anglophiles perhaps the most famous are Sandeman, Grahams, Croft, Churchills, Ferreira, Taylors, Offley and Cockburns. Some also do food, which is just as well before you wobble back to your hotel!
The best times to visit Douro Valley for an active holiday are spring, between mid-March until June, and autumn (fall) from around September until mid-October and when also the annual grape harvest takes place.
“Beautiful scenery, well selected hikes, expertly handled logistics. It was so hard to leave Funchal!” - E & K Pavlik from Canada
Madeira, the Portuguese island, is famed for its excellent walking temperatures – year-round! But there are many more reasons for the island to be popular, besides its good weather. If you are interested in the rich Portuguese history, a varied landscape that ranges from rugged coastline to pine forests and a wealth of flowers then read on and find out what Madeira walks can look like.
Escape to excellent walking temperatures. Madeira, just over 3.5 hours away from London, less than 2 hrs from Lisbon, and 7 & 8 hours from Toronto & Miami respectively, is one of your best options in Europe. The island enjoys an impressive year-round flowering season thanks to its subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil. For example, October and November still see well over 10 hours of sunshine daily and temperatures in the low-20oC. In comparison, the average temperature for England is half of that.
When thinking of exploring Madeira, walks are a good option and below you can find 5 reasons to go.
“Enjoyed the great views, the way the tours were laid up so we had very different walks each day.” - J Brandstrom from Sweden
Rising steeply from the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Europe and Africa, Madeira offers both a mild year-round climate and a 1,350-mile network of ‘levadas’ to discover on foot. Follow ‘levadas’ through a peaceful pastoral countryside or traverse terraced hillsides; dating back to the 16th century, these irrigation channels or aqueducts are specific to Madeira, originally built to carry water to the agricultural regions. Read more about the levadas of Madeira.
Volcanic in origin, Madeira’s rugged interior rises abruptly to over 1,800 metres (approx. 6,000 feet) with forests of pine and laurel flanking its jagged peaks. The island is home to a myriad of colourful flowers and trees, such as jasmine, begonias, freesias, magnolia and camellias.
#3 Pico Ruivo
Walk up to Pico Ruivo, Madeira’s highest peak, from where there is an exceptional ridge walk following the backbone of the island. The views to either side over the island and ocean are very rewarding.
Loose count of how many orchids you can see in the dedicated Orchid Garden – there are more than 7,500 species! Madeira’s subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil make for perfect growing conditions and orchids here enjoy an impressive year-round flowering season. A dedicated weeklong Flower Festival takes place every spring.
Spend time in the bustling little capital of Funchal: visit a Madeira wine lodge, explore colourful food and flower markets and enjoy superb fish restaurants to finish off a week of impressive Madeira walks.
Intrigued? With Sherpa Expeditions you can visit the Portuguese island on an 8-day trip called Madeira Island Walking. Learn more about it by downloading the trip notes here or contact one of our travel experts in the UK office.
For Charles Hawes, walking is his main recreational fun. “For me a decent walk is around 10 miles, though it very much depends on how much climbing hills is involved!” he tells us. One of the things he likes to do most, is to walk for several days at a time, travelling through the countryside and absorbing the atmosphere of a place. Last year, Charles travelled with his friend on the Sherpa trip in the Tarn & Averyron region of France for a five day walk and that was brilliant. In Spring 2018, he set off on yet another adventure: hiking in Alsace, France. Read on for his experiences on this holiday (Alsace Vineyard Trails).
Why did you choose to go hiking in Alsace?
I love France and have visited many times but the Alsace region was unknown to me. I had an uncle (Nigel Buxton) who was a travel writer and he wrote a book called Walking in Wine Country and the Alsace was one of the regions he had covered, so I wanted to walk in his footsteps and light a few candles in his memory.
How did you prepare for this walking trip in France?
Ahead of the trip, I wanted to improve my French so I used an app called Duolingo to practice for 20 minutes each day for several months. It helped a bit, but I still found lots of gaps. Other than that, I do walk most days for about 30 minutes just to maintain basic fitness (I’m 62). I plotted each day’s walk onto a large scale map in my phone – I find it very easy to take the wrong path and the GPS location facility makes getting lost quite difficult.
Your favourite destination on our Alsace Vineyard Trails?
I love hills and views and we had plenty of those on this trip. The hilltop chateaux were on or very close to the trail and had some had good information boards and were well worth the visit. What I loved best though were the hours we spent walking through the woods on the lower slopes of the Vosges. They were of such varied character and with different plants favouring different species of trees. I have never seen Lily of the Valley growing so abundantly.
What was the best food & drink in Alsace?
We soon found that the Alsace Riesling was nothing like the semi-sweet wines that we had had in our youth – these were on the medium side of dry but had such wonderful flavour. We also liked the red Pinot Noir served chilled. I still think that there are fewer things nicer for breakfast than fresh French pastries.
Auberge de la Meuniere at Thannenkirch was a fabulous place. A really lovely hotel with great character, friendly staff and a lovely terrace for evening drinks. Great food here!
What was your biggest surprise on this walking trip?
When I had got to the departure gate in Basel airport on the way home, I realised that I no longer had my wallet. I thought that I might have dropped it at check-in, so went all the way back and then to the information/lost property desk, but it had not been handed in. I thought maybe I had put it in my suitcase so they retrieved that for me but it wasn’t there. So I was feeling rather low after going through all this. I phoned the lost property desk again just in case it had been found. It had! I had dropped the wallet in the bus on the way to the airport and the driver had taken the trouble to bring it into the desk. The guy on the desk then brought it to me 10 minutes before I boarded the plane. There was quite a bit of cash in it and nothing was missing. Such kindness and good service.
On another note, Haut Koenigsbourg is a must to see and very popular. It was definitely worth the queue for tickets.
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
There were several quite long climbs on the last two days which took it out of us. It might have had something to do with the fact that it was in the low 80s; we were grateful for the several benches that we came across and for the shade of the trees. Choosing wines was a challenge.
Do you have any other advice for travellers thinking about travelling on this trip?
Make sure that you carry enough water.
More information on the Alsace Vineyard Trails can be found on the trip page and by downloading the trip notes there. For any specific questions or booking requests you may contact one of our travel experts.
>> View Trip
Trace the trails of Peter Rabbit in Beatrix Potter’s Lake District
Lake District walks have gotten an extra dimension now that the film Peter Rabbit has gone out in theatres across the globe. The live-action/computer-animated film of Peter Rabbit was part shot in the English Lake District in places like Windermere (on our Dales Way walking holidays).
Let the big screen inspire you to explore the timeless landscapes of Beatrix Potter’s Lake District – and her beloved character!
The story was originally introduced to the public in 1902 in ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and has captivated the imagination of readers of all ages for more than a hundred years. The new feature adaptation was partly filmed in the Lake District. This is a true ode to the character’s creator as Beatrix Potter had spent many holidays in the area, most likely she would have done the same Lake District walks as we take today. Potter is also widely credited with preserving much of the land that now comprises the Lake District National Park.
For those who like to get a first-hand experience of Beatrix Potter’s Lake District, the highlights below of the Cumbria Way walk may convince you to take a walking holiday to the region.
The Cumbria Way: 8 Days
Follow in the footsteps of Peter Rabbit on a classic walking introduction to the charms of the world famous ‘Lakeland’, England’s largest and most visited national park. Highlights include:
· A celebrated landscape, hailed over the years not only by Beatrix Potter but also poets, authors and painters such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Ramson and Wainwright.
· The first national park in the UK to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, inscribed to protect a landscape that has been “greatly appreciated from the 18th century onwards”.
· Follow the shores of quintessentially English lakes and find out why larger bodies of water are generally named as ‘mere’ or ‘water’, whilst smaller ones are denoted by ‘tarn’.
· Walk through sensational woodlands and forests that provide habitat for native English wildlife, including the red squirrel, one of the UK’s best-loved species.
· Cross typical stiles and ‘kissing gates’ along the footpaths on your way to tiny, centuries-old hamlets and traditional lively market towns, such as Ulverston and Keswick.
· Visit the traditional fell village of Caldbeck, where many of its old mill buildings, a testament to its glorious industrial past, are still in use.
· Stop at Hoad Monument – this concrete structure, built in 1850, commemorates statesman and local resident Sir John Barrow, and offers scenic views across Morecambe Bay.
· Fairly short distances covered each day, allowing for time to pause and admire the scenery; the route avoids upland areas, where navigation may become a problem in poor weather.
· Cosy handpicked accommodation throughout, including traditional pubs, rural family-owned guesthouses, as well as a Georgian townhouse
Or consider the Dales Way walking trail if the new film inspires you to explore the timeless landscapes of Peter Rabbit.
For more details and booking requests to explore Beatrix Potter’s Lake District, please contact our team of travel experts today.
We love Scotland and clearly we are not the only ones, as the country was represented with 12 entries in ITV’s Top 100 Britain’s Favourite Walks – a survey taken by more than 8,000 people. Out of these 12 places we have composed our own personal top 6 of the best hikes in Scotland.
Whether you are interested in short hikes to undertake in one or a couple of days, or for those who are after some of Scotland’s best long-distance walks, we hope that the list appeals to each and every one of you.
#1 Ben Nevis
Britains’ highest peak, Ben Nevis can be readily ascended in a day and is rightfully so leading our list of best hikes in Scotland. Much loved by not just the Scots but most of the population in the British Isles, Ben Nevis stands at 1,345m and its summit is actually the collapsed dome of a very ancient volcano. Different hikes lead to the top of the mountain of which the Pony Track is by far the most popular route. If you don’t succeed in your first attempt, perhaps you can get some inspiration from the 19th century poem written in the visitor’s book of the Ben Nevis hotel.
Want to know what the word ‘ben’ means? Read about it in this very handy list of hiking terminology.
>> Take a little detour when you are walking the West Highland Way or Great Glen Way and include a hike to the top of Ben Nevis.
#2 Great Glen Way
The Great Glen Way takes walkers to explore the heart of Scotland on foot. The route follows a fault line that was created 380 million years ago (read more about this here) and stretches for 73 miles (117 km) through the Scottish Highlands. In eight days, we take you to explore Fort William, the shores of the famous Loch Ness, paths along canal towpaths, forests and eventually to discover the ‘capital of the highlands’: Inverness.
>> Follow the Great Glen Way with Sherpa Expeditions between April – October.
#3 Falkirk Wheel
One of the 10 highlights on the John Muir Way is Falkirk Wheel, a unique structure as it’s the world’s only rotating boatlift. The lift only opened in 2002 and allows boats to efficiently connect between the Union Canal and Canal of Froth & Clyde. In the past this took up almost an entire day when boats had to negotiate through a flight of 11 lochs. The design of wheel has been described as “a form of contemporary sculpture” by the Royal Fine Arts Commission for Scotland and by modeller Kettle as “a beautiful, organic flowing thing, like the spine of a fish.”
If you book in advance you can go up on a boat in the wheel, ask our team for details.
>> Find the Falkirk Wheel on Scotland’s Coast to Coast walk, in itself a fantastic route that we think should actually have been included in the list of Britain’s Favourite Walks.
The Memorial Park in the pretty Victorian spa town of Pitlochry is the end of the Rob Roy Way. There are various walks to and around town and with Sherpa Expeditions you will follow an old railway line embankment through forest and including a steep descent. Once in Pitlochry, you will understand why this is such a popular town amongst visitors. It became popular as a tourist resort from the mid-1800s when Queen Victoria started to visit and a railway line was opened. The town has a population of below 3000 and much of its old-world charm is still visible today through many stone Victorian buildings and a shelter made out of cast iron on one side of the high street.
>> Hike the spectacular Rob Roy Way and finish in the pretty Victorian spa town of Pitlochry.
#5 West Highland Way
From the south of Loch Lomond to Fort William and Ben Nevis, this famous footpath connects Britain’s largest lake with its highest mountain. The route is a step back into history: many stages follow military roads that date back to the 1700s and used to link the Highlands to the Lowlands, as well as hotels that originated from droving inns that operated for centuries. All in all, it proves to be one of the best hikes in Scotland.
>> Learn much more about the West Highland Way, from the best time to visit, culinary highlights and some of our favourite viewpoints.
#6 Arthur’s Seat
From Arthur’s Seat, a volcanic hill near Edinburgh, you have fantastic views over the city. Besides this, you’ll even be able to look over the port of Leith, part of the Firth of Forth Rail Bridge and the waters of Firth of Forth fjord. Arthur’s Seat today is basically surrounded by Edinburgh so it makes for an easy-to-arrange hike, for example as an add-on to your walk or when you spend extra days in the Scottish capital. After an initial climb, you can easily do a loop around the hill. If you do this anti-clockwise up the steps for the steeper section and then follow the slope down from the summit, you can then wind down on the easier track to return to your start point. On a leisurely pace and including time to take in the views, this should take you no more than two hours.
>> Do a diversion on day 9 of the John Muir Way and walk up Athur’s Seat for fantastic views.
We have some suggestions for further reading for those that are interested to know more about the best hikes in Scotland or ITV’s Britain’s Favourite Walks. Or if you have any queries, please do contact our team of travel experts.