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Walking South of Siena with Julia and Gordon Blackwell

Walking South of Siena Header

 

Sherpa Expeditions travellers Julia and Gordon Blackwell share their experience in Tuscany on our Walking South of Siena holiday.

 

What is your travelling/walking history?

At the ages of 65 and 71 we had some initial reservations as to whether we were up to this tour, even though our previous walking experience has included treks in Switzerland, Austria, Nepal, Iceland, and Canada. Our customary afternoon stroll usually covers about 7 km, and we also go 'fast walking' for an hour each week with friends. I would therefore describe ourselves as reasonably fit and experienced, but with some age related restrictions. In the event, the 'Walking South of Siena' tour turned out to be totally do-able – some days quite strenuous, but we were never seriously overstretched. Above all, it was totally enjoyable.

 

Views of Siena

 

Why did you choose to walk where you did?

 

We had wanted to visit Siena for a long time, and also wanted to spend some time in the surrounding countryside exploring the villages and tasting the local food and wines. The self-guided tour 'Walking South of Siena' seemed to be an ideal way to combine these wishes, walking from one village to another at our own pace and without stress – accommodation and luggage transport being taken care of by Sherpa.

 

Old Square in Bagno Vignoni

 

How did you prepare?

A few weeks before the tour we checked our fitness by walking increasingly long distances every few days, up to the maximum length of a day on the tour. In addition we studied the directions and the maps so that we knew what possible problems to expect, and what we might especially want to see on the way. We also looked at alternative maps, and as a backup entered the routes into a GPS navigator. Although the instructions provided by Sherpa were generally good, the Italian maps were sometimes difficult to read or unclear and the GPS proved its worth more than once in helping us to keep on the track – or to deliberately deviate from it when we chose to. Although most hotel staff spoke English, the few key Italian phrases we learnt proved to be useful in shops and cafés.

 

Your favourite destination?

Our favourite destination is difficult to decide on, as we would willingly go back to any of them. Perhaps for pure charm of both the village and the B&B we stayed in, the overall winner has to be Bagno Vignoni. Two days here would not too long for us, especially after the long walk to get there. 

 

The old bath in Bagno Vignoni

 

Best food and drink?

This is another difficult question, as almost all the food and drink we had was excellent, and by no means expensive. A bottle of top wine for under 10€ can't be bad, and we especially enjoyed the wine from Montalcino. For beer drinkers, the Birra Moretti La Rossa can be unreservedly recommended - a wonderful red-brown coloured beer which I would go a long way to have again.

 

Biggest surprise of the trip?

I don't know why we were surprised, but the openness and friendliness of everyone we met was remarkable. One particular experience that sticks in our memory was the bus journey from Siena to Taverne d'Arbia, when almost everyone on the bus, including the driver, joined in to wish us luck and ensure that we got off at the right stop. Also unexpected was the consideration shown by drivers of the occasional cars which passed us on the sometimes dusty “white roads” or gravel tracks. Most slowed down to walking pace as they approached and passed. This minimised the dust, and we were often greeted with a friendly wave too. 

 

Enjoying a glass of wine and a beer Morreti La Rossa in Montepulciano

 

What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?

The most challenging day was undoubtedly the walk from Montalcino to Bagno Vignoni, purely because of the distance and height ascent which had to be covered – by our GPS 27 km and 850 height meters including deviations and on-route sightseeing.

 

Other days brought different challenges such as a closed section of track, a closed bridge, misleading sign posts, and difficult to find (sometimes apparently non existent) tracks across fields. However these were all relatively easily overcome with careful reading of the instructions – and use of the GPS navigator.

 

Intended deviation

 

Do you have any other advice for travellers thinking about travelling on this trip?

Some of the days on this trek were, for us 66 and 71 year old youngsters, quite tough. We walked at a fairly constant pace of 4.0 - 4.5 km/h (excluding pauses), and most walks took us a bit longer than suggested - but after all we were on holiday and who wants to rush? In this regard, the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore between Asciano and Buonconvento is well worth a visit, and in order to arrive in time for a leisurely look around (it is closed from 12:00 to 15:00) we opted to go there by taxi from Asciano rather than walk. This also gave time for lunch in the nearby village and a relaxed walk on to Buonconvento. 

 

Although perhaps not to everyone's liking, our GPS navigator was sometimes a godsend and saved us several times from missed turnings and long diversions – just make sure you have spare charged batteries in your day pack, and a charger in your luggage! If like us you decide to ignore some of the directions on the route to Bagno Vignoni and opt to ford a stream rather than walk along a railway track to a bridge, then rubber sandals would be useful but not essential. Lastly, remember that most electrical sockets in Italy are of the Italian design (type L socket) and you will need an adaptor for either UK or European plugs.

 

Have you ever been on a Sherpa Expeditions walking or cycling holiday?  If yes, send us your story and get £50 off your next trip... 

 

Check out  more Travellers' Tales >>


Mosaics

Best Pubs in the UK for Walkers

Best Pubs in the UK for Walkers

 

Best Pubs in the UK for Walkers

The UK is famous for its historic inns and pubs, and no matter what your choice of refreshment, relaxing in one at the end of a day’s walk is an essential part of a walking holiday in the UK. We’ve asked around the office and here is a list of our favourite pubs that you can visit on one of our UK walking holidays.


CUMBRIA WAY

Image credit: http://www.odg.co.uk/

Old Dungeon Ghyll, Langsdale
Located in the Lake District, the Old Dungeon Ghyll is a famous climber’s bar that has offered accommodation and sustenance to weary fellwalkers and climbers in the midst of some of the highest mountains in England, for over 300 years. 

 

Why we like it: Stunning location and a great place to rest up with other exhausted walkers and listen to their epic tales.

 

Visit the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and more on our Cumbria Way walking holiday >>

 


 

DORSET AND WESSEX TRAILS 

Image credit: http://smugglersinnosmingtonmills.co.uk/

Smugglers Inn, Osmington Mills
This lovely old pub dates back to the 13th century and was once the home of the leader of the most notorious gang of smugglers in the area during the 18th and 19th centuries (Emmanuel Charles).

 

Why we like it: Cosy inn near the sea has some good ales and its location makes you feel miles from the real world.

 

Visit the Smugglers Inn and more on our Dorset and Wessex Trails walking holiday >>

 


 

DALES WAY

Image credit: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g1096359-d245465-Reviews-Red_Lion_Hotel-Burnsall_North_Yorkshire_England.html

Red Lion, Burnsall
The Red Lion in North Yorkshire was originally a Ferryman’s Inn from the 16th century and on top of some delicious real ales the pub also serves up a tasty selection of local game and produce. Image from Tip Advisor

 

Why we like it: Good old-fashioned pub with great food, nestled right by the old bridge. 


 

Visit the Red Lion pub on our Dales Way walking holiday >>


 

GREAT GLEN WAY

Image credit: http://www.visitscotland.com/info/accommodation/glenmoriston-arms-hotel-p187761

Glenmoriston Arms, Glenmoriston
Another pub that was originally a Drover’s inn, the original hotel built on the site dates back to 1740, six years before the battle of Culloden.

Why we like it: Great old bar with over 100 varieties of single malt Whisky, including some from extinct distilleries.

 

 

 

 

Image credit: http://www.fiddledrum.co.uk/

Fiddler’s, Drumnadrochit
This renowned whisky bar has a huge range of single malts to choose from and friendly bartenders who can talk you through the tasting of Scotland’s national drink.

 

Why we like it: Great food and whiskey (obviously) and a relaxing place for a meal after a visit to Urquart Castle.

 

Visit the Glenmoriston Arms, Fiddlers and more on our Great Glen Way walking holiday >>

 


 

WEST HIGHLAND WAY

Image credit: http://www.kingshousehotel.co.uk/

Kings House Hotel, Glencoe
The Kings House hotel is one of the oldest (and most remote!) licenced inns in Scotland and offers an extensive bar with magnificent views of the hills. It even has a sneaky climber’s bar round the back.

 

Why we like it: Location, Location! This pub has one of the most famous backdrops in Scotland (Buchaille Etive Mor).

 

Visit the Kings House Hotel and more on our Great Glen Way walking holiday >>


 

COAST TO COAST

Image credit: http://www.buckhotel.co.uk/

Buck Hotel, Reeth
Originally a coaching Inn dating back to around 1760, the Buck in has been refreshing weary travellers for centuries. Inside you’ll find a cost bar with many of the original features still in tact.

 

Why we like it:  Good range of well-kept beers/ales on draught and great zippy food. 

 

 

 

 

Image credit: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g1071702-d1567236-Reviews-Black_Bull_Hotel-Reeth_Yorkshire_Dales_National_Park_North_Yorkshire_England.html

Black Bull, Reeth
Older still than the Buck Hotel, the Black Bull dates back to 1680 and offers a wide selection of hand-pulled ales and good hearty food. 

 

Why we like it: The Black Bull’s position on the village green makes for a great spot to rest in the sun (if you’re lucky!) and the pub is also amusingly famous for its ‘Old Peculiar on draught’; two pints of which apparently and you are anyone's! 

 

 

Image credit: http://www.lionblakey.co.uk/visitorsphotos.htm

The Lion, Blakey
The Lion Inn on remote Blakey Ridge is a 16th Century freehouse. Located at the highest point of the North York Moors National Park, it offers breathtaking views over the valleys of Rosedale and Farndale.

 

Why we like it: This cavernous old pub in the middle of nowhere has a great feel to it inside with open fires and low beams, and outside in the beer garden you have some great views over the dales. 

 

 

 

Image credit: http://www.egtonbridgehotel.co.uk

Horseshoe Hotel, Egton Bridge
 The 18th century Horseshoe Hotel sits on some stunning grounds on the bank of the River Esk, in the quaint English village of Egton Bridge. Catering to walkers it is a great place to relax and replenish your energy. 

 

Why we like it: You always hit this old fashioned pub right about when you feel like a drink! It’s beautiful beer garden is a great place to rest your weary feet before you contemplate crossing the Esk on stepping stones!

 

Visit these pubs and more on one of our Coast to Coast walking holidays >>


 

HADRIAN’S WALL

Image credit: http://www.theboathousewylam.com

Boathouse, Wylam
The Boathouse is a traditional pub, with low-beamed ceilings, stone floor and a dark wood bar decorated with tankards, pump-clips, and paintings. 

Why we like it: Extraordinary range of 12 varieties of real ale or cider on hand-pulls and great home-cooked meals.

 

 

 

 

 

Image credit: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g1068896-d2259351-i100156555-The_Twice_Brewed_Inn-Bardon_Mill_Hexham_Northumberland_England.html

Twice Brewed Inn, Once Brewed

 

Overlooked by Steel Rigg, one of the best stretches of Hadrian’s Wall, the Twice Brewed Inn’s setting in rural Northumberland is quite unique. There are many theory’s surrounding it’s unique name that you can learn more about on your visit.

 

Why we like it: Once a brewery, this pub lives up to its name with a range of tasty ales. 

 

Visit the Boathouse and Twice Brewed Inn on our Hadrian’s Wall walking holiday >>


Image credits: Some images used in this article were sourced from the pub's website, Trip Advisor or Visit Scotland.

In Search of Cornish Cider

In Search of Cornish Cider

 

Cornish cider is famous the world over and a trip to Cornwall isn't complete without sampling some of the county's finest ciders and scrumpy (matured cider with a higher alcohol level). Here are a few of our recommendations for a visit either during your walking/cycling holiday in Cornwall or just while you are in the West Country. Find out more about our walking and cycling holidays in Cornwall >>

 

Image from: http://thecornishcyderfarm.co.uk/

Healys Cornish Cyder Farm,Penhallow

One of the biggest producers in the region, Healys is most famous for its ‘Rattler’ and offers a big visitor centre and museum where you can find all about the history of the cider production in the region, learn about the process of making cider and of course sample the local brew. 

 

Find out more >>




Image from http://www.haywoodfarmcider.co.uk/

Haywood Farm,St. Mabyn

A family run orchard and press in the beautiful Allen Valley, near the village of St. Mabyn, approximately 4 miles from Wadebridge. The farms cider press has been producing the Westcountry's favourite drink for centuries. The Bray family who run the farm offer orchard tours and cider tastings. 

 

Find out more >>

 

 


Image from https://www.polgoon.com/tours-and-tastings

Polgoon Cider Orchard and Vineyard, Penzance

Polgoon offers a modern twist on the traditional art of making Cornish cider. Originally starting up as a winery Polgoon turned their focus to cider making and is renowned for its artisanal sparkling ciders. Polgoon offer tours of their orchard and vineyard over summer and it makes for a delightful way to spend an afternoon in Penzance. 

 

Find out more >>

 


Image from http://www.cornishciderfestival.co.uk/

CornishCider Festival, Lostwithiel

For the true cider aficionado or indeed anyone who likes all things cider, the Cornish cider festival in Lostwithiel offers a change to taste a huge range of ciders and juices from around the region and is well worth a visit if you are in the region around the third week of September. 

 

Find out more >>



Dramming on the Rob Roy Way

Dramming on the Rob Roy Way Walk

 

Dramming on the Rob Roy Way

After a recent trip to Scotland resident guide Jon Millen shares tips on enjoying a wee dram on the Rob Roy Way. Find out more about our Rob Roy Way walking holidays >>

 

The Clachan Inn

On the Rob Roy Way, there are a few connections with alcoholic beverages, at  the start of the  walk in Drymen sits the Clachan Inn,  the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland. Clachan means “a building of stone”, a more permanent construction of its time when many buildings were made of turf and timber. In 1734, it was the first of its kind to have its own still to distil and sell its own whisky. The first licensee of The Clachan was Mistress Gow, one of Rob Roy’s sisters! Find out more >>

 

Clachan Inn on the Rob Roy Way

 

Aberfeldy Distillery

Later on in the walk, leaving Aberfeldy, one passes the Aberfeldy Distillery: the only distillery built by the Dewar family. Steeped in history and craftsmanship, since 1898 the stills have produced a beautifully balanced single malt whisky. Distillery tours take place throughout the day and include access to their atmospheric warehouse and heritage centre. You can browse the distillery shop for limited editions or even ‘fill your own’ bottle of exclusive Aberfeldy Single Malt whisky.  Find out more >>

 

Dewars Aberfeldy Distillery

 

Eradour Distillery

On the last day in Pitlochry there are a beautiful couple of optional walks that you can do. One takes you past the Black Spout Waterfall and up to the Edradour Distillery, renowned as the smallest traditional distillery in Scotland and arguably the most unique. Dating back to 1825, it stands alone as the last stronghold of handmade single malt whisky from a farm distillery still in production today. Despite this small scale production, Edradour uniquely boasts over 25 distinctive expressions of Highland single malt Scotch whisky with their wonderful characters and flavours. Find out more >>

Edradour Distillery

Blair Atholl Distillery

Also in Pitlochry along the road you can visit the Blair Atholl Distillery which commenced in 1798. The rich, nutty 12 year old signature malt is distilled here then added to the popular blend known as Bells, the most popular blended whisky in the UK. Find out more >>


Rob Roy Blair Athol Distillery


The Moulin Inn & Brewery 

If you need a break from whiskey (not likely, but it could happen!) we recommend an extra day in Pitlochry to make the most of extra walks. You can ascend a peak called Ben y Vracki. On the way down you pass an old hotel called The Moulin Inn, which has its own brewery started in the 1990s, which supplies beer to this and another hotel. The beers are of excellent quality and include the quaffable ‘Brave Heart Ale’. You can visit the tiny brew house behind the hotel and even by a pack of the different beers. Find out more >>

Moulin Inn Pitlochry


Vineyard Trails of France

Vineyard Trails of France

Vineyard Trails of France

France’s wines and vineyards are equally renowned for their beauty and elegance. Discover the best vineyard trails France has to offer on one of these great walking or cycling holidays.

 

Alsace

Attractive mediaeval walled villages await, as you walk through the vineyards and rolling hills of Alsace, with their ornate houses- coloured by flower filled wooden balconies, old fortifications and lots of charming landscapes and sites of historic interest. Sample the region’s Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc in caves along the route. 

 

Alsace Vineyard Trails

 

Burgundy Vineyard Trails - 8 DAYS

The reputation of Burgundy's cuisine has travelled the world and the very word Burgundy is synonymous with the finest wines. The local cuisine offers memorable gastronomic experiences and the charming timeless villages are rich in tradition. A great trip for food and wine buffs, the walking is gentle to start with and progressing to moderate grade as the week unfolds. Find out more >>


Vineyard Trails of Burgundy

 

Biking through Burgundy - 8 DAYS

Enjoy on this cycling holiday through the heart of Burgundy exploring the Canal de Bourgogne. Along the way you will have ample opportunities to visit chateaux, historic sites and of course the best-known Bourgogne vineyards. These are found on the great southeast-facing escarpment known as the Cote d'Or or 'Golden Hillside', which overlooks the historic towns of Beaune, Nuits-St-Georges and Meursault. Find out more >>

 

Cycling through Burgundy

 

Vineyard Trails of the Loire

The Loire is France's valley of the kings, where you will find much of its history and see the great palaces and castles. Discover the great chateaux at Amboise, Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau, Villandry and Chinon with the wonderful vineyards of Vouvray, Chinon, Saumur, and Anjou. Find out more >>

 

Walking through Loire Valley Vineyards

 

Vineyards of Bordeaux

Mention Bordeaux and you will spark thoughts all around the world of good wine. As you travel through the vineyards by bike on carefully chosen routes you will experience this and much more. This is an easy-going, hotel-based on-road cycle tour exploring the delights of the Gironde region. Find out more >>


Bordeaux Vineyards Walking Holiday

 


For more information and booking requests, please contact our team of travel experts

Walking Bavaria's King Ludwig Way

Walking Bavaria's King Ludwig Way

Walking Bavaria's King Ludwig Way

Join us as Sherpa Expeditions guide and adventurer, Will Copestake takes a journey into the forests and hills of Bavaria on the King Ludwig Way. This extensive account of his journey gives a great insight into the wonders you can expect on this approachable walking into the heart of Bavaria. Find out more about Will and his exciting adventures or learn more about our Bavaria: King Ludwig's Way walking holiday.

 

DAY ONE

The enticing smell of freshly baked pretzels floated through warm rays of an early morning sun which crept through the ornate lace curtains of my hotel bedroom. Down an extravagant staircase ornately decorated with portraits of King Ludwig I could hear the clatter of cutlery and morning chatter. 

I had arrived to the Beyrisher Hof hotel long after dark the night before, a delayed flight leading to a delayed start. Outside the glistening waters of the Starnberger See (Lake Starnberg) rippled behind the town to which the lake is named; I was eager to get going, to get out and start the 107 km ribbon of culture and landscape that makes up the King Ludwig Way. 


Stuffed to bursting point on a feast of cold meats, cheese and pastries I began the hike at more of a waddle than a walk. Leaving the hotels wonderful hospitality I set off to find the docks; my journey would begin by boat. 

All aboard and underway I sat atop the open deck of the boat; with ornate decorations and an onboard bar filled with sweet pastries the ferry resembled more a luxury cruise liner than public transport; the journey had begun in style. 

Starnberg-Docks

 

At the second stop I hopped onto the docks and into a small village named Leoni and set about searching for the official start to the way. Most hikers choose to take the 11 km journey to Starnberg on the day of arrival, I had oped to combine it with ‘day 2’ to make a lengthy 31 km day. I had to make sure I made the ferry at the end of the walk by 5 pm in order to reach my room for the night. 

Quiet winding roads soon lead uphill before detouring into a spectacular beech forest, here the trees grew far taller than I was used to in wind battered Scotland. The air was filled with a delightful smell of earthy undergrowth and rang with birdcall from the canopies above; stepping from the road into such a world of green seemed so sudden; it was almost as if I had entered Narnia.

Starting the walk from Leoni

A small white sign with the bearded silhouette of King Ludwig pointed toward a church somewhere ahead between the trees; ‘The Votivkapelle.’ A romantic idealist King Ludwig was instated as king of Bavaria in 1864 at just 19 years old, he became renowned for his spectacular building projects; his castles still able to strike awe and wonder to those who visit, but alas it was at their tremendous cost that eventually lead to his downfall. Two days after being removed from the throne Ludwig and his personal doctor were discovered washed ashore on the Starnberger See; a mysterious end to the romantic eccentric. 

 

It it this very spot where the king’s body was found that the memorial Votivkapelle church now stands; the impressive and ornately carved building to reflect his visions of grandeur dwarfs the modest cross upon the shore. For me this cross marked more than the passing of a king, it was the official beginning to the way. 

Starting the walk from Leoni


Leaving the church for a wide track I continued through the woods toward Starnberg. Narrow roads and lakeside trails lead to and fro from town to water’s edge; the already hot morning air tempting a dip in the cool water.  Before long a series of tall wooden bridges spanning two canals lead my track back toward the centre of Starnberg, I had returned to the docks to which I had set forth earlier in the day. I was officially onto the route of ‘Day 2’ toward Diessen. 


Followed by loud booms of impending thunder I set out from town under the guidance of small blue ‘K’ symbols, the way markers to the route would become my companion for days to come. Tall wooden beamed houses soon faded into fields chirping with crickets. I was aiming toward the gentle Maising gorge which ran along the path of what once had been a glacier into the distant woods. Passing a small white chapel of St. Mary I left sight of the town behind. 

Heading into the woods from Starnberg.

Once again the crickets faded into birdsong as I crept into the tall beech woods. A small brook gurgled at my side as I meandered through the forest. Light dabbled upon the side of the path and often I would catch a glimpse of rainbow trout lazily drifting through the calm waters. Passing below a tall road bridge the trail wound uphill, the stream now falling in trickling waterfalls from nearby Maising village. 

Maising town itself was a quiet and attractive collection of red roofed houses and barns, the bright tiles still crackled with the heat after the passing thunder storm. At the side of a small pub at the top of the road I set off into the open fields. Behind the golden swathes of wheat another tremendous boom-clap echoed across the plains, time to find shelter! 

Walking through wheat fields near Maising

Taking refuge inside the Maisinger Seehof Gastaette (Inn) I watched the rain pass by in a quick yet intense curtain, sipping a lunchtime weissbier (wheat beer) I waited for the sun to return. As it passed to leave the ground smelling with the earth scent of petrichor I stopped to watch herons and waders dabble between reeds in a mirror calm lake to my side, above in the woods I caught to my delight a fleeting glimpse of a greater spotted woodpecker. 

Mirror clear waters of Maisinger See

Passing into the town of Aschering I stopped to admire the first of many churches to come. A tall white and red testament to Bavarian architecture it was a beautiful sight before the dark clouds behind. Nearby a tall blue and white striped maypole towered over the houses, adorned with the traditional signs shaped to mimic the professions of the local residents; a fish, an anvil, a tractor, a plough, an axe all gave an insight into how the locals made their living. 

Maypole in Aschering

As the tractor and plough on the maypole might have suggested I soon found myself wandering uphill through large maize fields and shortly into a dense pine wood. This time the coniferous forest laid a colourful array of various mushrooms to admire like jewels aside the trail. Before long a tall spire appeared beyond the trees, I was eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of the famous Andechs monastery yet this was not it, the remains of a monastery were now the annex to Andechs prison … possibly the most scenic place to loose ones freedom I have ever seen. Beyond the tall barbed fences lay open fields and distant townships which rolled into the afternoon haze. 

Mushrooms in the forest on the way to Andechs Monastery

Passing the white walls of the Andechs Monastery I peered in to glimpse a small chapel, despite being built in 1455 only to be confiscated by the state in 1803 the monastery had retained much of is original grandeur, however the most impressive sight lay ahead. Beyond the gently snaking path, beyond the 14 small white shrines to represent the stations of the cross, beyond the fields and trees a tower stood. The tall pointed spire of the Andechs church rose like a needle from the top of a steep hill, it dominated the skyline all around it to display its colourful salmon pink walls and copper bulbous top. 

Following cobbled roads and a bustling crowd of others who had gathered to admire the spectacular church I climbed uphill to the base of the spire. The tall walls dwarfed the other buildings of the small township, inns and cafes lined the streets to fill the air with a delicious scent of warm baked bread. Munching on a pretzel lunch I passed the church under flocks of crows which soared above, somewhere in the valley ahead lay Herrsching and my ferry. 

Walking towards the Andechs Monastery

 

Descending into a steep sided gorge I followed the last boundary of the church walls, back in woodland I enjoyed the shelter of the thick beech canopy as the heavens opened once more. Intense rain clattered through the branches to scatter across the track ahead, I made a dash toward town. 

With just 10 minutes to spare before the ferry arrived at the dock I arrived at the shore. The bustling town of Herrsching was the largest I had passed since Starnberg. Lines of cafes and inns stretched from the pier up the main high street, the occasional small church seemed lost amongst the bustle of life rumbling up and down the narrow roads. The rain had passed leaving colourful reflections in puddles to enjoy as I waited to board. 

Ferry from Herrsching to Diessen on the smooth waters of the Starnberger See.

Sat inside next to a warm heater and holding a cool Weissbier I enjoyed watching thick curtains of rain cast across the lake at a comfortable distance, the smooth water seeming to swallow the dark clouds into a soft hue. In the distance I watched as the tall bulbed church tower amidst the town of Diessen drew closer.

Passing a scenic dock covered in fishing nets and cork floats I wound into Diessen in search of the Seefelder Hof Hotel. Hidden between the colourful array of narrow streets the large traditional hotel came into view. Greeted with the friendliest of welcomes I was delighted to be ushered into a cosy room and to be announced that they served the best food in town. 

 

With a dinner of pork medallions cooked to absolute perfection on a bed of local wild mushrooms and spatzle (a traditional pasta) the owner was right; without a doubt the best meal I have had in a long time. I enjoyed the night in the fine company of a group of Australians; fellow hikers who would follow the same route as I for the upcoming days. 

Seefelder Hof Hotel in Diessen.

Watching the sun set into an orange haze over the silhouette of the church I set in to bed with the promise of good weather and an eagerness to continue. 

Watching the sun set over the silhouette of a church in Diessen.

 

DAY TWO 

An early yet relaxed start saw the day begin with another waddle, so far each day the spread of meats, cheeses and pastries had grown increasingly extravagant; needless to say I had devoured far more calories than I would surely burn. 

I set off with the hope to enjoy a gentle walk toward the next townships with the hope of stopping to admire the many churches along the way. The narrow streets wound uphill toward a church which stood between colourful houses. Adorned with crosses or ornately carved balconies many of the houses sported spectacularly ornate frescoes upon the walls painted with a little extra gold in the morning sun. 

 

The Marienmuenster Church was the first church of the day. Beneath its towering walls and tall steeple was a small wooden door; to my delight with a gentle push and loud creak it swung open. I stepped inside to the echo of my own footprints across the stone walls. 

Wandering the streets of Diessen-towards the Marienmuenster Church.

An incredible fresco was adorned across the roof yet somehow seemed lost in the veritable feast for the eyes that was the rest of the decoration. Golden pillars, vines and ornate carvings covered every shelf, wall and windowsill. Pinks and reds, golds and yellow; every surface held something to look at be it an angel, a cross or a gigantic baroque alter. To describe it as a jewel would be understating the colours and spectacle. I had intended to visit but for a few minutes but to take in every angle took well over half an hour; by the time I stepped back outside I had to squint to adjust back to the dazzling sun. 

Marienmuenster Church in Diessen.

Leaving Diessen behind I ventured from houses into rolling fields, hoping to glance a first view of the Alps I was slightly disappointed to see the 98% humidity clouding the view into a dull haze, on the positive I could just make out the Andechs monastery which I had passed the day before. Beyond more farm houses and barns I wandered into a new stretch of thick beech forest. 

I was now following a children's nature trail, instead of blue K signs I was guided by yellow footprints sprayed on the trees and track. A chance sighting with a deer, a fleeting glance of a jay and a long stare at a luminously orange slug kept the natural theme alive as I went. 

Once in a while a small shrine would appear lurking between the branches, each would have an ornately carved cross or virgin Mary within and often held a still flickering candle devotedly lit. With open doors and wooden pews I took their advantage to stop and enjoy a quick rest between tramping along the wide forest track. 

Shrine to the Virgin Mary

It was almost a surprise as I emerged so quickly from wood back into field, the transition so swift it enhanced the views. Open prairies led ahead with a ribbon of tarmac road to follow, lonely barns stood between occasional tall oak trees between the wheat. Occasionally I would pass fields of curious cattle, their bells chiming musically as they flocked to have a look at their strange new visitor. Their bells were soon lost to the rustle of leaves in the wind as I returned to the woods. 
 
Back on wide forestry trails I descended to discover a deep gully and a ford to cross a small stream. The water was a refreshing spot to enjoy a quick snack and listen to nearby wrens warbling from the banks. Ahead I was in search of the town of Wessobrun. 

Walking through the fields of Bavaria.

Leaving the forest to hop around a large black snake which was baking in the hot morning breeze I set off perhaps a little more cautiously toward the distant red roofs of town. A tall church steeple promised the chance to explore another ornately decorated wonder. 

As I arrived at the monastic buildings I was set to enter and explore; suddenly out of nowhere an elderly man approached. In good English he announced ‘I am the local watch maker, I must check the bells…would you like to have a look?’ gesturing to follow he lead ahead toward the locked doors of a nearby bell tower. 

I had no idea what to expect, this was not the usual guided tour as was offered in the church but a chance to explore ‘behind the scenes.’ With clunking turn of a heavy iron key and a loud creak of heavy hinges I was led inside. The room was small with a narrow dusty staircase leading into the floors above. 

Wessobrun Monastery.

The silence seemed to be dampened with each step reverberating into the wooden beams and cobwebs above, I climbed and ducked through a hatch into the next room. Here a large glass box stood in the centre of the wooden floor, inside was an beautifully engineered clock; the glass allowed the chance to gaze upon all its inner workings with delightful ease. 

The man explained how he had to check the timings were right every day, he expressed the importance that the bells rung exactly at the hour. Hanging above our heads were a series of tremendous weights which swung gently as he wound them high into the rafters, somewhere above the wires led to the bells. 

Inner workings of the clock in the Wessobrun Monastery

As he tightened some cogs and wound some dials the watchmaker glanced at the time; we have a few minutes, he exclaimed with a wry smile, come on, lets go up to the bells..I followed through increasingly narrow staircases to reach the very top of the tower. 

Four heavy brass bells hung in a row silently awaiting the heavy blow of the hammer in the imminent minute. The watchmaker put his fingers in his ears….any second now. A clunk from below, a whir of cogs and a whizz of wires; the hammer struck! A deafening ring of the four bells exploded from the strike, the room seemed to reverberate, the dust shook on the stone windowsills and a flurry of startled pigeons burst from the rafters. In 10 short seconds the deafening sound rang out. 

Beaming from ear to ear (both of which were now ringing) I retraced back down the ladders and stairs to emerge into the warm sun once again, as quickly as he arrived the watchmaker shook my hand, nodded and left. 

Church bells at Wessobrun Monastery

Left with the excitement of the bells I wandered inside to explore the impressive rococo decorations of the main monastery. Here there was no dust nor cobwebs but an extravagant array of gold leaf, marbled paintings and incredible frescoes on the walls, the display was too much to take in in a single glance and enticed the urge to linger. Extraordinary!

Wessobrun Monastery

With a sweet pastry in hand from the local gasthof I headed toward a gorge, following a trail marked with a large cow painted like the German flag I descended into another fine woodland. 

Before long I was back on the open country roads and heading fast toward the small farming hamlet Metzgengasse. Ahead on the trail I could see the Australians also walking the trail. Passing tall maize fields we walked together into the township, ahead another tall bulbous spire of the St. Leonhard church promised the chance to admire more rococo decorations. In similar fashion to the Wessobrun monastery the interior was a feast for the eyes, detailed paintings, gold leaf and marbled walls were overlooked with a spectacular ceiling depicting another heavenly scene. 

Winding path on the walk to Rigialm.

 

I chose to linger to enjoy the church a little longer and left the Australians to push on ahead. Alone again on the quiet country roads I set my sights on the distant rise of the Hohenpeissenberg Hill - the final push for the day before descending into Rigialm for dinner. 

The road soon jointed onto a seemingly endless straight forest trail, to each side tall pines and occasional beech trees rung with crickets and evening bird song. Over the tops of the trees the sight of the church atop the hill and the impending rumble of thunder over haze hidden alps helped to spur me onward.

At the edge of the forest I emerged onto a busy road at the base of the Hohenpeissenberg Hill, a short yet steep 200 m climb to reach the summit loomed ahead, a tiring stretch after a lengthy hike. Passing farmyards onto a narrow root covered trail I found myself in the Australian party’s company yet again. In the beautiful forest I enjoyed the occasional shrine erected to provide an excellent excuse to rest against the incline, the curses from those beside were soon muted with the promise of a cafe at the summit. 

Shrine on the forest path.

At the summit the Gasthof Bayerischer Rigi provided shelter from a torrential thunderstorm downpour; with a well-deserved coffee we dried out and enjoyed discussing the events of our day. As the storm abated I set out to explore the interior of the hilltop church which was built in 1619. Yet more beautiful carvings, paintings and gold greeted my arrival, a small painting near the alter purportedly had miracle healing powers; I joked with the Australians that they should get their blisters healed. 

The promise of a spectacular view across to the alps was dampened in the clouds, however below the hillside the town of Hohenpeibenberg greeted our arrival and the promise to rest for the days ahead. Despite the rain the spectacle of wispy cloud hovering atop the pine woods below was a fine view indeed; in all the greenery it was strange to think that at over 900 m I was standing in the region of the highest hills of Scotland. 

Wood carvings on top of Hohenpeissenberg Hill.

Leaving the hill behind we descended together through thick woodland. The path zigzagged upon itself in steep switchbacks to arrive into fields and then town. A final few kilometres along the road soon brought us to the Rigi Alm hotel. A quick change of clothes later and we were whisked back up to the Gasthof Bayerischer Rigi on the top of the hill, it was the only place open on a Tuesday for dinner. 

 

A tremendous plate of cheesy spatzl, beef and mushrooms ensured any energy spent through the day was soon recouped, after coffees and a weissbier we returned back to the hotel to get ready for the morning. 

Rigi Alk Hotel in Hohenpeissenberg.

 

DAY THREE

The rain had passed through the night to leave a thick fog and cold morning dew on the grass outside. As I devoured another tremendous plate of salami, cheese and pates on freshly baked bread I watched a hummingbird moth dart across the flows beside the dining room window; its colour seemed exaggerated in the dull grey mist. 

I set off at a fast pace to try and warm up in the brisk air, soon meeting with two of the Australians we set off together toward a gorge; the locals had prepared us with the announcement it was ‘Bavaria’s Grand canyon’ we three were eager to discover it for ourselves. 

Meeting the locals.

Although the mist shrouded any hope of a view it did seem to bring out the colours in the bright mosses and mushrooms along the woodland floor. Following a narrow wooded track we soon stumbled upon an elderly man picking mushrooms for his dinner; he eagerly showed us his bag of ‘Stone Mushrooms’ which closely resembled British ceps, they looked very tasty! For the rest of the woodland wander I found my eye focused upon the various fungi with the question ‘can I eat it’ echoing in the back of my mind. . . I  always assumed probably not.  

Soon giving in to a steep slow we switch backed to and fro toward the Ammer river which could be heard rumbling somewhere below behind a wall of trees. I was eager to be at the water’s edge in anticipation of a potentially vertigo enduring route ahead. Through muddy trails and thick brash we found our way onto a revealingly wide forestry track; to our side the milky blue water of the river gurgled down the valley. 

Walking along Bavaria's Grand Canyon

My attention still focused on looking for mushrooms quickly became enthralled in a whole different natural wonder. As we walked along the water’s edge I started to notice an increasing number of fallen trees at the side of the path, there seemed to be little method in their felling; it was then that I realised who, or should I say what had done it! 

The base of each tree had not been cut by saw but by tooth. It was the hallmarks of the Eurasian Beaver! With excitement and delight we spent a keen half hour sneaking around the flooded reeds and trees in search of a sighting; alas they proved characteristically illusive. The bonus of seeing a native black squirrel however made the explore worthwhile. 

Delighted to have seen my first ever signs of beaver activity I took extra spring in each step as I walked toward the steepening sides of the gorge upstream. We soon arrived at a scenic roofed bridge which spanned the Ammer. This was our turning point uphill, away from the waters’ edge and onward onto boardwalk and narrow bridges, the chance to catch a higher vantage beckoned. 

Telling signs of the elusive Eurasian Beaver.

Investigating an intriguing natural limestone terrace which was covered in thick moss and colourful fallen leaved I enjoyed the chance to break from the steep steps. The path had climbed short but fast high into the woods. A little way ahead the steps gave way to iron boardwalks which clung to steep sided slopes. We soon reached a small picnic bench and the chance for a mid-morning picnic. 

Limestone terrace covered in moss.

As we continued the path wound between the tall bare trunks of beech trees, the undergrowth was thick with ferns and mosses. In the flat light the greens seemed vibrant and the cool blue of the river seemed strangely inviting. Our path began to wind steeper and steeper; the trail grew muddy and narrow. 
Boardwalks and bridges became more common, the narrow trail seeming to simply drop away toward the river below. 

 

I found amusement that the old bridges now replaced lay ominously below as if to remind the hiker how far the drop would plummet. Between the branches rocky outcrops jutted out over the undergrowth. We had entered a world so different to the rolling fields of the last two days which seemed so much more beautiful as result. 

Boardwalks through the forest.

The path twisted, dropped and rose between the trees. Occasionally steeper descents/ascents were gifted with a knotted rope to cling upon, others had steep often slippery steps to clamber down. After a while we returned to follow the side of the river, from here we knew that the end of the canyon was arriving, It almost felt a shame to leave the beauty of the woods and return back to the open fields; the promise of more churches to explore spurred us onward. 

Moss covered logs

One of the shortest days on the route it came almost as surprise to find ourselves arriving toward Rottenbuch and the end of our journey early in the afternoon. A dark ominous blue cloud rumbled in the background and hastened our pace to reach shelter in time. 

With seconds to spare I dashed inside the large church at the edge of town, no sooner had I entered the door than the rain began in tremendous curtains outside; from the shelter of the spectacular room I sat in a pew to wait and listen to the soothing clatter on the roof high above beyond another beautiful painted ceiling. 

In a gap in the rain I made a dash for the Cafe Am Tor where I was booked in for the night. Splashing through puddles on the cobbled streets I passed under a tall white arch which spanned the road from the town centre to arrive at the cafe on the other side. The homely cafe was full of character, with beautiful paintings adorning the walls and quirky lampshades made from cutlery and colanders. In the corner the owner’s two week old baby slept quiet as a mouse in a hammock. 

A tremendous selection of sweet cakes and pastries tempted a rest after changing into dry clothes. With the afternoon to spare and the rain beating hard outside we settled in to enjoy each other’s company in the warm comfort of the cafe. As evening arrived we set out to sample the local Italian restaurant. 
We soon enjoyed food was as fantastic and extravagant as the owners' hairstyle! 

Owners of Cafe Am Tor in Rottenbuch.


DAY FOUR

The weather had again closed in overnight, when I woke to the now familiar smell of pretzels and salami I could hear the clatter of rain on the windowsill. Thankfully rain didn’t really matter as the highlight to look ahead to was one of Bavaria’s most celebrated historic churches; the church as Wies. 

From Rottenbuch I left the church behind, drawn into a curtain of rain and set off on narrow farm tracks and single trail roads. A quick play on a random musical instrument constructed from cow bells later and I was making fast progress toward Wildsteig. 

Playing a tune on some cowbells.

Passing over farmland and small forestry plantations I soon arrived at the edge of Wildsteig, to my side the Schwaigsee lake swam in and out of the mist. Following a tractor down the narrow streets to pass a small bakery I squelched onto a steep climb to another large church overlooking the town. A small stone grotto beneath its walls sheltered a small virgin Mary statue, following the track I briefly took refuge inside to change my map. 

Schwaigsee Lake swimming in the mist.

Returning shortly after to leave Wildsteig and head back to the fields I pushed on toward Wies. Following the familiar blue K marks I descended past farmyards and cattle fields before rising into woodland. After a half hour wandering between woodland trails and narrow roads I emerged into view of the famous Weis church.

Standing atop a low rise the church was larger than any I had seen since Andechs monastery, its size was held in comfortable modesty only by the dwarfing height of the alps which drifted in and out of view through the mist behind. Built between 1746 and 1754 by Dominikus Zimmerman the building represents some of the finest examples of Bavarian Baroque architecture, the church remains as a place of pilgrimage for those seeking to cure their ailments, however is far more frequented by the busloads of tourists who flock to gaze upon its stunning decorations. As suggested by my guidebook I paused at the entrance to seek out an MP3 player to play Johann Sebastian Bach for the ‘full’ baroque experience. 

Approaching Weis Church

Inside the colossal size of the main room is visually awe inspiring. The roof sports the most intricate and colourful painting I had yet seen and each wall was uniquely adorned in golden decorative crosses, angels or vine leaves. 

Inside Weis Church. 

Before heading onward to Trauchgau I lingered for lunch in one of the nearby shops, to my delight inside I met my fellow hikers to eat in company. With a delicious plate of goulash & dumplings I was set walk the final few kilometres to complete the day. Over lunch we debated the pros and cons of taking the longer route or the shorter; with the cloud low and obscuring the alps I set upon taking the latter with hope to catch the evening light in the town itself. 

From the church I followed along a narrow road into a forestry plantation, the trees reflecting in the mirror still puddles along the way. Occasional sightings of black squirrels or Jays hopping on the track ahead compensated for a lack of alpine views in the cloud above. Passing into the small town of Schober I caught a promising glimpse to the valleys ahead, the cloud seemed to be parting at last. Each field rung out with the musical clatters of cow bells, the sound seemed to be as much a part of the landscape as the native birdcalls. 

Walking into Trauchgau. 

As I arrived upon the edge of Trauchgau the clouds around the mountains started to disperse. I was just a few minutes’ walk from the Hotel Sonnenbichl where I would be staying for the evening so lingered to enjoy the view appear behind the red spire of the local church. It was a fantastic way to end a day’s walk. 

The Sonnenbichl hotel was one of the larger hotels so far, with everything from a bar & restaurant to a swimming pool and Sauna it was the perfect place to end and dry out. The owner was also a Scotsman and gave a wonderfully hospitable welcome. Re-joining the Australians I settled in for a few weissbiers and a huge steak & spatzl dish as recommended by the barman. 

Walking the streets of Trauchgau.

 

DAY FIVE

With a short walk in Trauchgau to start the day I lingered in the narrow streets to enjoy the local architecture; here the buildings were large, even for Bavarian standards and each had their own characteristic hanging baskets, painted shutters or even ornate painting on the wall. It was still raining yet there was promise of an improved forecast in the afternoon; I hoped it would arrive just as I would at the castles just visible far on the distant hillside. 

Following single trail roads to join a wide river I soon left Trauchgau and not long after found myself wandering into the quiet streets of Buching. Here another small white church was accompanied by a similar counterpart atop a hill nearby, to ease the road ahead I decided to stop and sample a local sweet pastry before pressing on into the fields ahead, I was eager to reach the castles. 

Walking through misty green Bavarian countryside.

Heading toward the Hegratsrieder See; a small lake in the distance I followed over rolling hills along narrow tarmac roads, the rain gently pattered on the grass leaving it dewy and sparkling on the verges. Arriving into the small farming hamlet of Greith I wandered into a large courtyard with decorative fountain in the middle, an attractive chapel stood behind; it seemed every village no matter what size had to have its own church. 
As the road led to the shores of the Hegratsrieder See I enjoyed the slate grey reflections in the crystal water; not a breath of wind seemed to stir the surface. Ahead the mountains started to drift out of the mist, at last the cloud was rising. 

To my delight a burst of sun crept across the fields, the warmth of the day suddenly saturating the air; ahead the romantic Neuschwanstein castle with its fairytale spires and precarious placement was lit golden against dark blue mountainsides; this was why I had come, the spectacle was awe inspiring. 

Detouring from the route I ventured to toward a church in the open field ahead, I wanted to investigate a mysterious pile of pumpkins which lay by the roadside. Sat in the sun beside the mound of vegetables I watched the mist swirl around the castles ahead, it made the mornings damp hiking worth every second. Somewhere between the castles and I was the Pollatschlucht or Pollat gorge, a hidden wonder between them mountains and the finish line. 

First glimpse of Neuschwanstein castle

Passing a small abandoned sawmill I caught glimpses of the Hohenschwangau castle to my side, like the Neuschwanstein castle which was now almost above my head it was shrouded in mist with the dark moody blues of the mountains behind; ahead a wide river roared from the gorge. 

The track went from gravel trail to iron bridge, literally bolted onto the cliff side above tumbling waterfalls it was a place to question ones sense of trust in the construction and ability to withstand vertigo; thankfully the beauty of light inter-playing between the cascading waters and thick pine trees which clung to the river’s edge was more than enough to distract. 

cascades below Neuschwanstein castle

Passing a towering waterfall to a deafening roar I caught another glimpse of spires above my head. Looking forward a tiny bridge spanned the highest point of the gorge I could make out crowds of eager onlookers peering over the drop toward where I stood. Beneath the bridge was the most impressive of all the falls, the grand finale before climbing back to the path and joining the masses. 

Climb out of the gorge below Neuschwanstein castle.

Panting from a steep climb out of the gorge and onto the hillside I arrived onto a wide tarmac track. The sound of the river was lost to the bustle of people, after so long on the quiet road and trails from Starnberg it felt as if arriving into a city. Following the general flow uphill I wound my way toward the bridge I had so recently stood beneath; as I climbed the view stretched out to Fussen and the castles below, spectacular lakes and alpine vistas spread out into the horizon. Jostling for position on the bridge I caught sight at last at the Neuschwanstein castle from perhaps its most impressive angle; here the true spectacle of King Ludwig’s creative genius could truly be admired. 

Hohenschwangau Castle

After lingering at the gorge and around the castle it was late in the evening before I set off toward Fussen to finish the day. Deciding to take the longer yet more scenic route back I descended into the valley where restaurants and shots appeared in their plenty. Crossing the roads toward the quiet waters of a nearby lake I rose into woodland and into silence once more. 

The path rose at a gentle contour before dropping into the next valley in steep switchbacks, here I met the Schwansee lake which in the evening still was like a perfect mirror to the mountains and castles behind. Lingering I watched as the light started to grow golden on the summits above; I was excited to get a view from the last hill before dinner. 

Neuschwanstein Castle

There was no better way to end a fantastic long distance trail like the King Ludwig Way than to sit atop a small hill and gaze back upon the mountains, castles and lakes in the setting sun. Beneath a series of three crosses I sat on the top of a small chapel, in total silence the spectacle seemed to swim out and grab at every sense; to one side was the mountains to my other the colourful houses of Fussen and home, separated by only a small descent and some hidden chapels it was tantalisingly close. 

Mountains near Fussen

Arriving in the last golden light Fussen seemed all the more beautiful, the wide river at the edge of town was an inviting yet surely cold azure blue which contested perfectly with the red roofs and yellow walls that most of the buildings displayed. Children dressed in full lederhosen ran ahead in the narrow streets and the sound of a nearby band echoed through the bustle of triumphant walkers, meeting my fellow hikers I and the Australians finished together into the extravagant Hotel Sonne; perhaps the most luxurious of all the hotels so far. To celebrate finishing the hike we settled down to a superb three course meal and with what better than a weissbeer named ‘Konig Ludwig.’ 

Locals in Fussen


DAY SIX

The King Ludwig Way was complete but I had one extra day to explore and enjoy the wanders of Fussen particularly those of the castles I had briefly passed the evening before. I had planned early in the hike that I would set off at the crack of dawn to attempt an alpine peak, my hope was to catch a view back down from the summit. However a broad bank of cloud was fast approaching from the open fields with the likelihood of capturing the view into mist upon the tops. Instead I decided to venture back to Neuschwanstein castle and plan further from there. 

Like a Disneyland castle Neuschwanstein perches upon the very top of the most unlikely steep hill. Flanked on three of the four sides by the towering cliff sides of the Bavarian alps and separated only by a deep gorge it is a romantic yet impenetrable fortress. Today the castle is overrun only by hoards of tourists to which a local industry booms. 

From the bustling bus stop I joined a steady flow in the crowd to wind uphill toward the castle grounds. Passing countless gift shops, cafes and the occasional horse drawn cart I soon found myself enjoying the high vantage of the hillside. Looking back to the comparatively modest yellow walls of Hohenschwangau castle I peered out across the stunning lakes and alpine vistas; so far the cloud was staying high. 

 

Tourists getting a lift up to Neuschwanstein castle

Gazing up to the Tegelberg chairlift in the distance I aimed to cross the gorge on the impressive bridge before climbing uphill to meet the lift station at the top. If the weather improved I would aim for the summit, if it did not I would return to explore the lower castles; it seemed like the best way to experience the best of everything the area had to offer. 

Jostling for position I took a quick peer over the bridge back to the extravagant spires of the Neuschwanstein castle. Leaving the crowds behind I was soon following a narrow trail up into alpine pine forest, the immediate sense of wilderness spurred the urge to pursue the mountain above, to keep hiking and keep climbing up. Occasional glimpses back to the valley below were brought by vertigo inducing drops to the side of the narrow route. 

Above Neuschwanstein castle

Before long I had risen into a mist; gently swirling around between the trees it created an eerie stillness to the air. Joining a group of young locals I climbed in company toward the sounds of a cable car somewhere ahead. The trail often wound in precarious switchbacks or narrow contours around slopes; sometimes following through forest the route would open up into exposed steps shrouded into a sense of safety by the cloud. 

 

It was mid-day when we arrived under the cables of the Tegelberg chairlift, leaving the woodland we wound onto a wide concrete track to soon discover a cafe and sudden bustle of activity on the top. We sat together for a celebratory lunch of sweet pastries and salami kindly shared amongst the group. 

 

Thick mist below the Tegelberg chairlift

 

Now in thick mist continuing to the mountaintop less worthwhile, instead I jumped aboard the chairlift to return to Fussen via the castles one last time. 
By the time I had wandered back into Fussen the light was again growing low over the hills and yet again the local band had appeared to play life into the evening streets. It was a sad feeling to be leaving Germany in the morning yet a triumphant ending to a long journey, in just one week I had hiked through open fields, impressive woodlands and into the mountains; most importantly I had walked through a ribbon of culture, where churches, history and local foods had made the King Ludwig Way more than a walk, it was a perfect way to get a taste of Germany. 

 

Local band in Fussen

 

MORE INFORMATION

For more information on walking the King Ludwig Way visit our Walking Holidays in Bavaria page for more details on what you can experience on a walking holiday in the region.

 

'K' signs mark Bavaria's King Ludwig Way.

Top Five Self-Guided Holidays for Beginners

Top Self-Guided Walking and Cycling Holidays for Beginners

 

Top Five Self-Guided Walking or Cycling Holidays for Beginners

Considering an active self guided trip for the first time? We've prepared some information for you on how our self-guided holidays work that should help answer many of your questions. If you have never done one before or are looking to renew your interest, here are our top five self-guided walking and cycling holidays for beginners.

 

Cinque Terre Villages - 6 Days

This centre-based walking holiday is ideal for first time self-guided walkers. Being centrally located you can choose the walks you do each day from the suggested walking routes and maps we provide.  You can walk as little or as much as you like.  If you prefer not to walk on any day and explore you can do that too. Find out more >>

 

Self-Guided Walking in the Cinque Terre

 

Exploring the Cotswolds - 5 Days

This trip will give you a taste of quintessential English countryside walking. A lovely introduction to walking in England that can lead to taking on one of our most popular self- guided walks, the 18 Day Coast to Coast. Find out more >>


Self-Guided Walking in the Cotswolds

 

Meiringen: Panoramas of the Swiss Alps – 5 or 8 days

Interested but a little daunted about walking the Alps?  This centre based walk in the lovely town of Meiringen is a popular choice to experience the Swiss Alps. This is a great choice for families, couples and individuals to experience a range of walks from Introductory to Challenging. Find out more >>

 

Self-Guided Walking in Switzerland

 

Lochs and Bens - 8 Days

For keen cyclists this trip is a great introduction to self-guided bike tours. With clear directions and travelling on low traffic side roads, you can enjoy the wonderful countryside and local Scottish hospitality.  Just be careful of enjoying too many whiskeys before getting back in the saddle! Find out more >>

 

Self-Guided Cycling in Scotland

 

The Way of St. James - 12 Days

This is an iconic walking route across Europe.  The section we offer in France is popular, well signposted and graded moderate to challenging as you change landscapes over 200km. The 12 day Way of St James will allow you to get your boots dirty on a long distance linear walk that will have you wanting more! Find out more >>

 

Self-Guided Walking on the Way of St. James

Walking in Las Alpujarras

Walking Holidays in Las Alpujarras

 

Walking in Las Alpujarras

The rocky sun-baked region of Andalucia on Spain’s southern coast often conjures up images of much of what the world thinks of as Spanish: flamenco, tapas, matadors and bullfights. Head into the heart of this region to the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada though and you will discover a whole different world of unspoilt villages and countryside of Las Alpujarras. We chat with David Illsley one of our Andalucia experts on his tips for travelling to this remote and lesser travelled region of Spain.


Favourite time to walk in Las Alpujarras

My favourite times to walk are in the spring and the autumn.  In springtime the fields and terraces are awash with flowers and blossoms of all kinds; it's heartbreakingly beautiful to see so many together, all natural rather than planted in park-like straight lines, and framed by the snows on the Sierra Nevada. Meanwhile the autumn colours are all classic golds and yellows as the chestnuts and poplars light up the valleys, whilst the hedgerows and paths are lined with figs, mulberries, walnuts and pomegranates so that it's an utter joy to walk out picnic-free and forage for your lunch and never go hungry. 

Walking in Las Alpujarras - Donkey

TOP EXPERIENCES IN LAS ALPUJARRAS

When walking in Las Alpujarras I like the simple pleasure of arriving tired and thirsty at a village in the certain knowledge that somewhere there'll be a mineral water spring burbling away by the Church or main square.  Many are naturally carbonated too, and each has its mythical reputation for curing rheumatism, keeping you young looking, or even - in Berchules - for making you fall in love. 


favourite food & drink IN LAS ALPUJARRAS

The wines here are very much unknown, but over the last 10 years or so there has been an astonishing improvement in quality, to the extent that many of them can keep company with the best of the Riojas and Dueros. The cheeses likewise. Little rainfall means little pasture, therefore few cattle, but there are huge numbers of goat and sheep whose milk makes for the most wonderful cheeses.

The amazing olive oil of Spain is well known, but it's always worth trying out the artisanal mills in the smaller villages, which are often sensational. The press in Mairena, for example, is one of the very few remaining which uses traditional techniques and whose oils are as unique as they are fabulous.  A couple of well-known London restaurants use it as their special oil; and if you buy it in say, Covent Garden it will cost you around £40($70) a litre - or direct in Mairena,  about £3($5)!

Walking in Las Alpujarras - Village  

 

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

While you are walking in Las Alpujarras there are some other great towns that are worth exploring. Jerez de la Frontera, Tarifa or Ubeda, say, can be seen in a day or two and will give you a proper flavour of the country.  Almeria is well off the tourist track but has a magnificent Casbah overlooking the port. It's almost as big as the Alhambra, but you'll be sharing it with dozens of other people, rather than the thousands crowding the streets of Granada or Cordoba. Almeria also has one of the best fish markets you'll see anywhere, lots of great little tapas bars who don't rip you off, and easy access to some of Spain's best beaches on the National Park at Cabo de Gata. It's also a great winter destination, with more days of sunshine than the Canaries. Not for nothing was Lawrence of Arabia filmed nearby and in fact film buffs will enjoy Mini Hollywood, venue of the Spaghetti Westerns and countless other major films.

 

MORE INFORMATION

For more information on visiting Andalucia visit our Walking Holidays in Andalucia page for more details on what you can experience on a walking holiday in the region.

 

Walking Holiday Alpujarras Horses


Independent Travel vs. Self-Guided Holidays

Self-Guided Walking Holidays UK Hadrians Wall.

 

Independent Travel vs. Self-Guided Holidays

As we mentioned in the earlier article ‘Guided vs. Self-Guided Waking Holidays – Which is Best for Me?’ self-guided walking and cycling holidays are constantly growing in popularity and in this article we will look at one of the most common questions we get about our self-guided holidays … ‘Why should I choose to do a self-guided holiday when I could just do everything myself?

 

To answer that question here are a few reasons that our clients choose a self-guided holiday over going it alone.

  1. Research – You save A LOT of screen time not scouring the internet researching ideas and reading reviews. Our routes and accommodation have been refined through decades to make sure our clients experience the true character of each destination.
  2. Competitive pricing – Travel companies can get a better price than an online aggregator ever will thanks to their volume. Full stop.
  3. Connections – Our self-guided holidays are designed to make sure that your journey flows seamlessly and fits in with the timings of local transport connections and other elements that can leave you waiting around wasting the precious time that you have in each destination. 
  4. Luggage transfers – Having your luggage transferred for you each day literally takes the burden off your back and gives you more energy to enjoy your walk or ride. 
  5. Booking accommodations – Ever tried to book a B&B in a small town on the internet? This can be quite a hassle if English is not the hotel manager’s first language and you need to search for alternatives
  6. Up-to-date and well thought out route notes and maps – These get updated more often than a guide book does and they always benefit from local insights and knowledge.
  7. Emergency Support - If something goes wrong on your trip when travelling by yourself, who are you going to call? Self-guided trips offer 24 hour emergency contacts, which can be the difference between you getting back on the trail in a matter of hours or aborting the trip completely.
  8. Stress - Then there’s that ‘survival mode’ feeling that hangs over your head when you’re going solo. Rather than thinking and worrying about trip logistics all day, isn't it worth treating yourself to a trip where someone else takes on this thankless task, so you can focus on all the amazing reasons you came to the destination in the first place?!

Self-Guided Walking Holidays Italy

 

We don’t doubt that independent travel has a place and we hope that anyone looking to travel independently finds this site a useful resource, but when seeking out the paths less travelled in more popular parts of the world a self-guided holiday offers the flexibility and freedom of independent travel and benefits of an organised tour.

 

Our Most Popular Self-Guided Walking and Cycling Holidays

  • Coast to Coast Walk - 18 Days
    The Coast to Coast walk is one of the most popular walks in the UK and offer quintessential English hill walking covering the Lake District, North York Moors and Pennines.

  • Bavaria – King Ludwig’s Way
    Trace the footsteps of King Ludwig across Bavaria's beautiful countryside and visit Neuschwanstein Castle.

  • Exploring La Gomera – 8 Days
    Escape to the Canary Island of La Gomera with a diverse landscape of volcanic rock and secluded beaches.

  • Catalonia Cycling - 9 Days
    Enjoy a self-guided hotel-based road and track cycling holiday, exploring the interior of Catalonia (Catalunya) in the North Eastern reaches of Spain.

  • Turku Archipelago Finland Cycling - 7 Days 
    Explore the Turku Archipelago, one of Finland’s most stunning natural phenomena at handlebar level.
Self-Guided Walking Holidays Bavaria Germany

Guided vs. Self-Guided Walking & Cycling Holidays – Which is Best for Me?

Self-Guided Cycling in Cornwall

Guided vs. Self-Guided Walking & Cycling Holidays - Which is Best for Me?

Many of our clients enjoy travelling on a guided small group holiday, but a growing number of people are looking to travel on their own or with a small group of family and friends without a guide. With this growing trend Sherpa Expeditions has become a leader in self-guided walking and cycling holidays throughout the UK and Europe. But what’s all the fuss about? In this article we will look at the differences between guided small group holidays and self-guided holidays and hopefully help you choose which style is best for you.

 

The main differences between guided small group holidays and self-guided holidays can be summarised in terms of the guide (obviously), group, flexibility and support.

 

Guided Walking Holidays - Guides

 

GuideS

It’s no secret that the more you know about a destination, the more you will appreciate the experience of travelling there and the more knowledge/insight you will come away with. On a guided small group holiday your guide is able to share their passion for their job and the destinations you are travelling through to bring to life the flora, fauna and history. 

 

So integral to the experience is this knowledge that on a self-guided holiday we have tried our best to bottle the knowledge of our most experienced guides into our detailed Route Notes so that you can learn about the destinations in your own time, be it in some downtime before you embark on your holiday or over a glass of wine after a day’s walk or cycle. Either way the onus is on you to read up on the carefully collated information we have on the region.

 

Guided Walking Scotland Pub

 

Group

Depending on the trip you choose, on our guided small group holidays you will be sharing your experience with between 4 to 14 other like-minded individuals. It’s a great way to explore Europe’s untrodden treasures in the safety and camaraderie of a small group.

 

While most of our guided small group holidays have a great mix of single travellers, couples and friends, we find that they work particularly well for single travellers as they find it more comfortable travelling in the company of others and it can actually work out a bit cheaper as you are able to share your accommodation costs.

 

Self-guided holidays on the other hand allow you to enjoy a walking or cycling holiday in the company of your own friends or family. Many of our self-guided holidays can also be enjoyed if you are on your own, although there are some exceptions where the routes are more difficult or remote routes where we consider it potentially unsafe to walk alone. Many self-guided holidays will also require a Solo Traveller Supplement if you are travelling on your own as you will not be able to share the accommodations or luggage transfer costs with anyone. See our FAQs for more information.

 

Self-Guided Walking Tuscany

 

FlexibIlITy

While your guide on a guided small group holiday will always do their best to accommodate the different interests of the group, there will always need to be a compromise between an individual’s interest and that of the group. The pace/route of the walk can also be subject to change to cater for the weakest walkers/cyclists in the group. From an organisation point of view too we are limited in the amount of variation we can offer to the itinerary/inclusions of a guided small group holiday. 

 

Self-guided holidays on the other hand offer complete freedom and independence to tailor your holiday to your interest and travel style. From the amount of activity each day, where you stop, and for how long or the hotels along your route, most aspects of our self-guided holidays can be tailored in some way. This flexibility also makes them an ideal choice for family holidays.

 

Self-Guided Walking Switzerland

Support

Things don’t always go to plan and on a guided small group holiday your experienced guide is trained in dealing with any issues or incidents that may come up along the way (including first aid). They will work together with our local operators and head office to make sure your holiday is a seemless as possible.

On our self-guided walking and cycling holidays 24-hour emergency support is only a phone call away. Emergency contact details are provided in each trip’s Route Notes and with the assistance of our very helpful accommodation and transport partners, we will do our best to keep any interruptions to your holiday to a minimum.

 

So what’s the same?

No matter which style of holiday you choose we still include the following elements, which we think are critical to any walking or cycling holiday:

  • Comfortable accommodation with character.
  • Luggage transfers
  • Emergency support

Self-Guided Walking Scotland

 

Top Picks for your first Self-Guided Walking or Cycling Holiday

  • Cinque Terre Villages - 6 Days
    This centre-based walking holiday is ideal for first time self-guided walkers. Being centrally located you can choose the walks you do each day from the suggested walking routes and maps we provide.  You can walk as little or as much as you like.  If you prefer not to walk on any day and explore you can do that too.
  • Exploring the Cotswolds - 5 Days
    This trip will give you a taste of quintessential English countryside walking. A lovely introduction to walking in England that can lead to taking on one our most popular self- guided walks, the 18 Day Coast to Coast.
  • Meiringen: Panoramas of the Swiss Alps – 5 or 8 days
    Interested but a little daunted about walking the Alps?  This centre based walk in the lovely town of Meiringen is a popular choice to experience the Alps.  This is a great choice for families, couples and individuals to experience a range of walks from Introductory to Challenging. 
  • Lochs and Bens
    For keen cyclists this trip is a great introduction to self-guided bike tours. With clear directions and travelling on low traffic side roads, you can enjoy the wonderful countryside and local Scottish hospitality.  Just be carefully of enjoying too many whiskeys before getting back in the saddle!
  • The Way of St. James
    This is an iconic walking route across Europe.  The section we walk in France is popular, well signposted and graded moderate to challenging as you change landscapes over 200km. The 12 day Way of St James will allow you to get your boots dirty on a long distance linear walk that will have you wanting more!
Self-Guided Cycling Scotland