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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
Walking in the Dordogne
France’s rural Dordogne region is an ideal setting for a walking holiday, offering lush and green countryside with rolling hills and some of the most beautiful villages in the country. The sights and attractions in the region are equally varied in their appeal, with amazing produce and cuisine, loads of history from pre-historic man to raging battles in Roman times/middle ages, along with many chateaux and outstanding gardens to visit.
Best time of year to walk in Dordogne
We recommend walking in the Dordogne from mid-April through to mid-October although it can get hot during the afternoons in late July and early August.
In April & May there are lots of spring flowers, an abundance of butterflies and the waterfall in Autoire is also in its full glory. The markets and town are busy, bustling and larger during the summer months in Meyssac and Beaulieau sur Dordogne and the afternoons can get quite warm. September and October offer cooler temperatures, less crowds and the added charm of the annual grape harvest.
Our Favourite Villages in the Dordogne
We love climbing to the top of Cesar's Tower in Turenne where you can see magnificent views over four departments and looking down over the ramparts and rooftops of the ancient village below.
Another hidden gem is the 'red' village of Collonges la Rouge with its unique red sandstone buildings featuring turrets and towers atop and twisting lanes in between. This is a great place to stop, enjoy a drink and watch the world go by.
One of our favourite panoramas can be found when approaching Curemonte (see below) from the hilltop. You have a wonderful view of the old village straddled along a ridge with its two chateaux. Absolutely spectacular.
Food and Drink in the Dordogne
First and foremost the Dordogne is the home of the truffle! Black truffles are the local delicacy and are often served in omelettes and pastries as well as alongside pate de foie gras. The local sweet 'Vin Paille' wine is excellent served as an aperitif, with foie gras or cheese and dessert.
Other specialities of the Dordogne are duck and goose in its many forms; from magret and foie gras served with spiced bread and sweet preserved figs, to confit of duck served on a bed of white beans and garlic. The most delicious walnut oil can be purchased on route direct from small local producers, and it is a great addition to your picnic lunch. Simply dip in chunks of baguette in the oil and enjoy with local charcuterie (cold meats, salami and saucison).
Getting There and Away
Brive la Gaillarde is the closest airport to get you to our walking holidays in the Dordogne and offers regular flights to/from London Stansted. Most of our clients however find it easiest to fly into Toulouse and take the train to Brive (2.5 hours) or Quatre Routes (3 hours) and get a taxi to their starting hotel from there. From Paris it’s around a 4.5 hour direct train down to Brive la Gaillarde or 5 hours to Quatre Routes, with a change in Brive. Getting away is simply a reverse of this with a taxi from your last hotel to Brive or Quatre Routes and the train to Toulouse.
Our Walking Holidays in the Dordogne
Sherpa Expeditions offer an 8 or 10-day self-guided walking holiday in the Dordogne, along with an 8-day self-guided cycling holiday. Visit the Walking and Cycling Holidays in the Dordogne page to find out more about our range of trips that will help you get the most out of your time there.
Walking in the Ardeche
Walking in the Ardeche you will experience true rural France with a delightfully slow pace of life. If you’re looking to get well off the beaten track in France, the Ardeche is a remote and rugged region, where the scenery is absolutely stunning with fantastic, far reaching views.
To the north the Parc du Pilat is a region of high pine forests; there is cross country skiing in winter here and on the high plateau to the west, overlooked by the hills of Mont Mezenc and Gerbier de Jonc, the source of the Loire. Eastwards lie a series of steep wooded ridges with small towns in the valleys and glimpses of the snow covered Alps across the Rhone valley. South is the wild rocky gorge of the Eyrieux and between them all lies a land of deep valleys and tumbling streams with scattered farmhouses and terraced hillsides of massive old chestnut trees.
Best time of year to walk in the Ardeche
We recommend walking in the Ardeche between May and September. May-June is still quite cool and April rains tend to have dried up leaving clear days and a stunning multitude of wildflowers, butterflies and bird life. August brings very warm weather and more local tourists. Later in the season September brings cooler days and the added interest of grape and other harvest activity.
Our Highlights of Walking in the Ardeche
Lamastre and St. Agreve are great little towns with bustling pavement cafes and bars for you to enjoy some local produce and cuisine. St. Bonnet le Froid is a pretty village ideally placed to enjoy some refreshment at the end of your walk.
From St. Bonnet le Froid to St. Agreve the walk around Lake Devesset is calm and cool with the possibility of a lake swim. The Hotel des Cevennes in St. Agreve is a real treasure of traditional France. The hotelier and his wife are so hospitable and the food is local, fresh and plentiful.
The walk then from St. Agreve to St. Martin de Valamas takes you across meadows, through forests and down the donkey track with magnificent views to the ruined Chateau Rochebonne, an incredible castle, perched on a high clifftop, built approx 1000 years ago (see below).
Food and Drink in the Ardeche
Charcuterie is a big deal in the Ardeche where pork was always plentiful and lends itself to preserving in a variety of ways, pates, terrines, sausages and hams. Caillettes (minced meat mixed with cabbage or chard and cooked in a cloth) is a regional delicacy and found on most menus. Chestnuts are a prominent local crop and feature in many local products including chestnut flour, puree, candied chestnuts and liqueur. You can also enjoy a popular local aperitif made from chestnut liqueur blended with white wine from the region. Don’t forget to sample the local wines from the south western Rhone vineyards while you are in the region. You may not have heard of them but many easily compare with the famous Crozes Hermitage.
As much of the walking in this region is quite rural and remote, we recommend organising a packed/picnic lunch each day to enjoy along the way.
Getting to/from the Ardeche
We’ve found Lyon is the best transport hub for getting to/from the Ardeche. Lyon is well connected with Paris and other UK and European centres by both air an rail. Starting in May this year Eurostar will be offering a direct service to Lyon from London St. Pancras (under 5 hours). From Paris there is a regular TGV service (just over just over 2 hours). From Lyon it is an hour long train to Tain l’Hermitage, and then either a bus or taxi to Le Crestet.
Our Walking Holidays in the Ardeche
Sherpa Expeditions offer an 8 or 10-day self-guided walking holiday in the Ardeche. Visit the Walking Holidays in the Ardeche page to find out more about each of these trips that will help you get the most out of your time there.
With the recent announcement that as of next month, Provence aficionados can look forward to a seamless rail journey to the south of France with Eurostar’s new year-round route. From London’s St. Pancras station to Lyon, through Avignon and on to Marseille, the new direct service will operate up to five times a week, depending on the time of year.
This is great news for anyone looking to go on our In Van Gogh’s Footsteps, Secret France: The Ardeche or Rambling in the Luberon trips, but it also got us thinking more about the best ways to get to and from our walking and cycling holidays in France. Here is a little map we came up with that shows all of the starting and finishing points of our trips in France, along with the relevant Eurostar terminals and airports that our clients tend to use.
Walking in Tuscany
To speak of Tuscany conjures up images of art, culture, rolling vineyards, cypress trees and ancient hill villages. It is a region well suited to a gentle pace of walking and where you will enjoy a varied countryside of rolling hillsides, vineyards, olive groves and forests alive with colour. Here are also some of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe with their Romanesque and gothic churches and buildings. A walking holiday in Tuscany offers many gastronomic delights: pecorino cheese, wild boar and porcini mushrooms to name but a few. It is also Chianti wine country with a plethora of wine tasting opportunities.
Best Time to walk in Tuscany
Spring in Tuscany usually starts in the second half of March when the vegetation starts to come back to life, making April and May the two months when the colours of the flowers are at their most vibrant. If you are planning to visit over this period, we’d recommend avoiding the days around Easter and the first of May, as these times tend to be quite crowded.
Walking the countryside of Tuscany is often quiet and peaceful, even in the high season (between June and September), but in the towns it can be quite busy. After the hot summer days the air again becomes pleasantly fresh in September and October and the walking is fine, but it is in the second half of October or early November that you are most likely to experience the picturesque morning fog that the region is famous for.
Our Favourite Villages and Towns in Tuscany
Most of the towns and villages on our routes in Tuscany, have something special and unique to offer travellers on our walking holidays, but here are just a few of the personal favourites from our team.
Perched on a hill with its towers thrown into sharp relief by the deep green mountains behind it, San Gimignano looks like a town plucked from a fairy tale and set into the Tuscan countryside. It has not always been the sleepy little town it is today (at least when the tourists aren't there): in the late middle ages it was one of Central Tuscany’s most important trading centres, strategically perched astride the intersection between the main highway from Rome to the Alpine passes, and the road connecting the Tuscan heartland to the maritime republic of Pisa and the coast.
San Gimignano is renowned for its white stone towers thrusting up into the sky, which were built as homes/mini fortresses by wealthy citizens that could afford it. They were built in this manner as space was at a premium in the village and the Council had decreed that buildings were to be no more than 17 yards wide and 24 deep, so the only way to grow was up. The more powerful the family, the taller the tower.
Montepulciano, located in the Val di Chiana of Tuscany, Italy, within easy reach of the Val d'Orcia, is one of the most attractive hill towns in Tuscany. Easily explored on foot the town is a major producer of food and drink. Renowned for its pork, cheese, "pici" (thick local pasta, like a fat spaghetti), lentils, and honey, it is known world-wide for its wine. Connoisseurs consider its Il vino Nobile di Montepulciano, one of the best in Italy.
Volterra is home to more than 3000 years of history, which is evident in the spectacular town-walls and gates, a roman amphitheatre and a unique Etruscan museum, the first "Palazzo Pubblico" in Italy. Unlike many of the tourist towns and villages in the region that can lose their character, Volterra is a refreshing exception. Every afternoon in Volterra visitors can join the locals as they enjoy an aperitivo with a spritz, chatting with their friends, admiring amazing sunsets from the lonely hill looking towards the seaside.
The ancient village of Bagno Vignoni is well known for its hot springs and makes for a relaxing pitstop on a walking or cycling holiday in Tuscany. The water of Bagno Vignoni (Vignoni Baths) bursts out of the ground from a depth of some 3.540 feet (1,080m.) at a temperature of 125,6°F (52°C). Nothing is more relaxing than a bath in the thermal pool, with a gorgeous view facing the Orcia canyon with the Rocca di Tentennano, after a long ride or walk. Enjoying a glass of wine with some pecorino cheese and honey, while sitting in this charming villages is something that will relax even the most frenetic character.
If you’ve already enjoyed exploring the better known towns and regions of Tuscany and are looking for some undiscovered gems, then head into the backwoods of northern Tuscany and visit the sleepy towns and hamlets of the Apuane Alps, including Eremo di Calomini and Fornovolasco, which are set in the mountains and rarely see international visitors.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Tuscany is served by a number of airlines (low cost and otherwise), trains and buses from a multitude of European and international destinations. Depending on the region you are going to, we recommend heading to Siena, Pisa or Florence, where you will find onward local connections.
Our Walking & Cycling Holidays in Tuscany
Visit the Walking and Cycling Holidays in Tuscany page to find out more about our range of trips that will help you get the most out of your time there.
Walking in the Cotswolds
With the launch of our new Exploring the Cotswolds Guided Walk, we thought it was time to re-visit this region of fine walks and quintessential English countryside. Along with an introduction to walking in the Cotswolds, this article contains some great tips from our resident guide, Jon Millen, to help you get the most out of your visit.
Introduction to the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds conjure up a vision of honey coloured stone walls, green rolling fields and pretty villages, and yet the human component of the landscape is largely derived from the Enclosure Acts 1700-1840 which partitioned the fields here with the famed dry stone walls. The name ‘Cotswolds’ comes from the word for the stone sheep shelters or ‘cots’ and ‘wolds’ mean hills. Most of the towns precede the regions namesake enclosures and are charming places to visit. Highlights on our walks in the Cotswolds include places with extraordinary names and old world features; such as Chipping Campden, Bourton on the Water, Lower Slaughter, Moreton in the Marsh, Stow on the Wold and Stratford upon Avon. The lovely stone that is characteristic of the Cotswolds was held in such high regard that it was sent far afield to build St. Paul's in London, many of the Oxford colleges and even the Melbourne Cathedral in Australia.
The Cotswold Way
The Cotswold Way is a 100 mile route from Bath, along the Cotswolds escarpment, to the market town of Chipping Campden. Our Cotswold walking holidays do not walk the official Cotswold Way but cross over it on some of the days. Our trips instead have been designed to follow more localised paths to take in the more interesting villages in the Cotswolds itself, such as Bourton on the Water, which the Cotswold Way does not visit. Our route also gives clients the opportunity to visit places such as Hidcote Manor & Gardens.
Our Favourite Towns in the Cotswolds
Here are the highlights of a few of our favourite towns and villages that you can visit on a walking holiday in the Cotswolds.
Famous for its High Street filled with beautiful honey-coloured stone buildings, it’s often described as the most perfect High Street in England. Anyone searching for the heritage of the Middle Ages, will find it here, as in the space of a hundred metres or so you’ll find excellent examples of Elizabethan, Georgian, Jacobean, Regency and Victorian architecture.
Attractions include the church of St James, a landmark for miles around, to the north of the town. It is a magnificent example of an early perpendicular wool church (churches built on the proceeds of the wool trade, which was prospering at the time), rebuilt in the 15th century. Next to the church are the lodges and the gateway to the old Campden House, built by Sir Baptist Hicks in the 17th century and burnt down during the Civil War. The long, broad and curved terraced Chipping Campden High Street contains many superb Cotswold stone buildings built by wealthy merchants between the 14th and 17th centuries.
This is often referred to as the ‘Jewel of the Cotswolds’ and the ‘Show Village of England’ because of its sheer beauty. The ‘broad way’ leads from the foot of the western Cotswold escarpment with a wide grass-fringed street lined with honey coloured limestone buildings dating back to the 16th century. The village became a busy staging post on the route from Worcester to London as coaches had to harness extra horses for the long pull up Fish Hill. Back then as many as 40 inns existed within the village to service the many travellers passing through.
This village is run by a self-administering self-help housing trust that has preserved the village in its beautiful present state because it has restricted building and also been instrumental in keeping people born in the area in rented housing. These are ancient manorial lands and archaeologists assume that there are the remains of a Roman Villa under the manor house foundations. The church of St. Michael's has a well preserved Norman doorway with an hourglass motif. In the field next to the church you can see the mound of a Bronze age burial, as well as the foundations and alter of the original Saxon church, which you could perhaps get 12 people in.
During the 18th century when the wool industry was in decline Blockley turned to silk production. By 1884 six silk mills powered by the fast-flowing Blockley brook provided work for about 600 people preparing silk for ribbon-making factories in Coventry. The village is a unique collection of buildings reflecting its past glory of mills and silk production and is quite different in, character to other north Cotswold villages.
Stow on the Wold
A pretty market town and has a memorial Stone to the Battle of Stow 1646 during the English Civil War. Stow stands exposed on a 700 feet high hill at a junction of seven major roads, including the Roman Fosse Way. At the height of the Cotswold wool industry the town was famous for its huge annual fairs where as many as 20,000 sheep were sold at one time. Around the village’s vast market square the visitor is faced with an elegant array of Cotswold townhouses.
The name of this quaint village stems from the old English name for a wet land or ‘slough’ upon which it lies beside the little Eye stream and is known for its unspoilt limestone cottages in the traditional Cotswold style. The stream running through the village is crossed by two small bridges and the local attraction is a converted mill with original water wheel selling craft type products. There is the Low Scarp Manor that has a bar and does afternoon teas and of course the inn.
Some call this (optimistically perhaps) the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds,’ but it is one of the showplaces of the region, attracting visitors again and again with its special charm with its expanded river, tiny bridges and glassy waters The oldest town houses date back to the 17th century. But if its cottages are of no great antiquity, the village can trace its story from pre-Roman times, when there was a military camp here at Salmonsbury. A number of ancient trackways converged on Bourton. The most important of these was - and still is - the Roman Fosse Way, which starts from the mouth of the Humber and ends in Devon.
Our Tips for Walking in the Cotswolds
We asked our resident walking guide, Jon Millen to give us his top tips for walking in the Cotswolds:
- A plastic cleaning brush for your boots can be useful as after the rain the trails in places become sticky clay.
- The Cotswolds can be surprisingly cold , always carry warm clothes even in good weather.
- Make full use of the wonderful pubs for reasonably priced evening meals etc.
- National Trust members bring your membership cards to visit some of the attractive gardens such as Hidcote.
- In Stratford Upon Avon (worth an extra day) you can get multiple entry tickets to visit places such as Anne Hathaway’s cottage.
- Binoculars are always handy, bird varieties seem to be improving especially the Red Kite which is now quite a common sight.
- Drop into some of the gorgeous churches, St. Edwards in Stow on the Wold is one of my favourites and is famous for its hobbit style door between two yew trees.
- Climb the Broadway tower in good weather for the views and a cup of tea in the café on the top.
Our Walking and Cycling Holidays in the Cotswolds
We talk to our resident guide Jon Millen on why he’s looking forward to a busy season of walking in Switzerland.
What I like about walking in Switzerland is that the environment remains so pristine at so many levels. The agriculture in the mountains, surrounding villages and towns is essentially conservative and labour intensive with people still hand raking and hand scything grass, often necessitated by small fields and steep slopes. This maintains the parcel patchwork of fields and forest areas, which form an apron to direct the eye to the chains of snowy peaks high above. Without human intervention scrub forest would surely take root in no time at all. Switzerland is almost all set up so that the walker can appreciate the landscape to its best effect. Trails are well maintained and clearly marked (perhaps the best waymarked in the world) often with signs naming destinations, alternatives and giving approximate times. With a number of different regions offer a vast breadth of trails, catering to all levels of experience.
Highlights of the great Swiss walks would have to include the views from the great passes which often bend perspective, like from the rocky portal of the Bundechrinde Pass, looking back to the great expanse of the Oeschinensee compressed into a hanging valley. The ice dripping peaks of Blumlisalp above them and yet somehow poking out beyond them, the great triptych of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Then there are those late afternoons, drinking a well-earned ‘Weissenbiere’ out on the hotel terrace above the Gental Valley. The clouds roll away to reveal the bulk of the Wetterhorn gold then pink in Alpenglow, mist dissolving around its frozen flanks, and yet even beyond that the Gspaltenhorn sits in a glowing haze.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
As you would expect, Switzerland is served by a number of airlines (low cost and otherwise), trains and buses from a multitude of European and international destinations. Depending on the region you are going to, we recommend heading to Geneva, Basil or Zurich, where you will find onward local connections.
GETTING AROUND IN SWITZERLAND
Switzerland has one of the most comprehensive (albeit expensive) and scenic public transport systems in the world, making it an ideal place for a walking holiday. While transport is fairly pricey and there are a number of discount cards for getting half price deals on Swiss rail, post buses and cable cars. However even these passes (the most useful being the Swiss Card) are quite an investment and you should take care to make sure whether you will not be out of pocket using them. This is particularly the case if you are a purist walker and don’t intend to use much public transport.
If buying a Swiss Card we would recommend buying them at the Swiss Travel Centres at the railway stations of the airports such as Zurich and Geneva when you arrive, so that you can discuss your needs in detail. The range of options is extensive and you want to make sure you get the right one to suit your specific travel plans.
WEATHER AND SEASONS IN SWITZERLAND
June is just about the best time of year for flowers, but a lot of the higher routes are often still closed by snow, however good stands of natural flowers can be found up to late July. By late July/August most of the flowers have gone to seed, died back or been scythed down for hay at least twice! There are some exceptions of course at different altitudes and with different species.
The early rule: Although walking departure times are more or less set by when your hotel starts breakfast, in normal stable weather conditions the earlier you start, the better will be your day, as convectional clouds and perhaps instability bubbles up usually from midday.
On a clear day attractions like the Jungfraujoch railway are said to be a must, and of course attract a premium price and a premium crowd. Always go early, the Swiss Card will always give you half price travel. However don’t go just because you feel you ought to if the weather is bad and you have little time. Fortunately these days, weather forecasting is particularly sophisticated and usually a hotelier will be able to tell you what the weather will be like.
There is a TV station on in most hotels (especially in the Bernese Oberland region) that will show you what it is like up all the popular lifts in real time. If there is nothing to see, it is not worth going unless you know from a forecast that it is just passing through.
On that note remember that Swiss weather has a variety of influences and may do anything over a couple of days, storms for example can be very localised between valleys etc.
FOOD AND DRINK IN SWITZERLAND
Food is very expensive in Switzerland, but apart from at a few basic hotels and mountain huts; most of the hotels do terrific buffet breakfasts with fantastic ‘Bircher Mueslis’ where the oats, nuts and fruits are soaked overnight in yoghurt. There are nearly always a selection of cheeses, pastries, breads and cured meats. So go early to breakfast, eat your fill, have a little rest and then start walking. You probably won’t want much or anything for lunch and this can save a load of money.
Conversely avoid trying to take breakfast materials for a packed lunch, it is the hallmark of bad manners as one person (not me I may add) was reprimanded by the landlady as she had costed the bread rolls between the guests to the nearest Franc! Remember that the ubiquitous nature of the breakfast may not be quite so ubiquitous when others reach the table.
Also, unlike in Britain and some other places, most Swiss hotels do not have kettles in the bedrooms. If you like your post walk cuppa and do not want to pay four francs for a cup, just bring a small container with your favourite teas and purchase a travel kettle or an element kettle with obviously an un-meltable cup e.g. the ‘Design Go Travel Cup Boiler 240 Volts’.
POPULAR WALKING ROUTES IN SWITZERLAND
Alpine Pass Route
The complete Alpine Pass Route extends east-west from the Liechtenstein border to Lake Geneva and is part of the classic trail the Via Alpina, which starts in Monaco and finishes in Trieste, describing a great arc through the Alps. The Alpine Pass Route takes you over some of the most beautiful passes in Switzerland with some seriously outstanding views. It is a challenging route with some long segments quite often on steep rocky paths and one day with 1400 metres of ascent and a similar descent. Great rewards though for the walker as you pass the great mountains of the Bernese Oberland including the Titlus, Wetterhorn, Shreckhorn, Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau, Blumisalpenhorn and Wildstrubel. For our Alpine Pass Route walking holidays we have selected the most spectacular central section between Engelberg above Lake Luzern and Lauenen above Gstaad. The Start at Engelburg is reached by train from Zurich/Basil/Geneva Via Lucerne. You can depart at the end from the train station in Saanen, near Gstaad.
Walker's Haute Route
The Haute Route (High Route) from Chamonix to Zermatt is steeped in mountaineering legend, a route first taken by British climbers at the end of the 19th century and is one of the best known winter ski tours in the world. Sherpa Expeditions offers a section of the walkers' version of the Haute Route located in the scenic Swiss canton of Valais and visits some of the most beautiful valleys, villages and mountains in Switzerland between Arolla and Zermatt.
This is a nine-day segment of the classic Haute route from Chamonix to Zermatt and is designed to avoid glacier sections and also extended backpacking, to make it easier for self-guided people. Another challenging walk with a pass even higher than anything on our Alpine Pass Route, the Col de Torrent 2918m, but not harder! Lots of rocky trails throughout beautiful meadows and apart from Zermatt, quiet villages. The start is in the small alpine village of Arolla accessed from Geneva by train and bus .The tour ends in Zermatt, travel to Geneva or Zurich by train.
The Wildstrubel Circuit is an eight-day loop around the Wildstrubel massif, where the trails apart from around the resort town of Kandersteg, are generally a lot quieter than most our alpine walks. This hike embraces the cantons of Bernese Oberland and Valais, dropping between German and French speaking villages. There is great scenic variety from high ice capped mountains to vast views across Valais Crans Montana. This is a moderate to challenging route, with some long days and once again big passes, sometimes following a high level irrigation canal path called ‘Bisse du Rou’. The climax of the week is the Rawyl Pass (2429m) under the Mittaghorn (2685m), which is the highpoint of the trek. Transport to and from Kandersteg via hourly train service to Zurich/Geneva changing en route in Bern.
The German speaking Bernese Oberland is magical region of classic Alpine landscapes, 3000-4000m high peaks, thundering rivers and waterfalls, hanging valleys and the longest glacier in Europe. It's location in the heart of Switzerland makes an ideal location for centre-based walking and Sherpa Expeditions offer a number of self-guided walking holidays here to help you get the most out of your time in the region. There are walks to suit all people as there is so much public transport that they can often be shortened using post buses or trains. Harder walks also exist, such as the ‘Eiger Trail’ or the ‘Schynige Platte’. It is an area of famous peaks with famous climbing histories, such as the Wetterhorn, Jungfrau and of course the notorious Eiger whose North wall - the ‘Nordwand’ - still exerts a huge pull and challenge to the best climbers in the World. Make sure you allow time to take the Jungfraujoch train up high onto the Monch and Jungfrau and walk under the ‘Nordwand’ of the Eiger as well as have a beer and pizza in Grindelwald watching the Alpenglow on the Shreckhorn. Meiringen is the hub of the Bernese Oberland and is easily accessed from Zurich or Basel, although Geneva is also a possibility.
This sits at the head of the Mattertal Valley in the canton of Valais. The Matta Vispa river running from the town is one of the tributaries of the River Rhone. It is right on the Swiss / Italian border, but separated by a huge wall of glaciers and mountains including the Briethorn, Matterhorn and Monte Rosa. Conditions tend to be a bit drier than the Bernese Oberland and the flora is slightly different. The town is hugely developed for tourism and just keeps growing. A whole range of trails radiate out from the high street and suburbs leading high into the mountains where you will find Mountain Ibex and the occasional Chamois. Arriving and departing from Zermatt is done by a picturesque train ride via Geneva/Zurich/Basel etc. via Visp or Brig. Our Bernese Oberland and Reichenbach Falls guided/self-guided walking holidays combine the Bernese Oberland with walks in Zermatt.
OUR WALKING HOLIDAYS IN SWITZERLAND
Sherpa Expeditions offers a range of guided and self guided walking holidays in Switzerland to suit all experience levels and interests. For more information on these trips visit our Switzerland Walking Holidays page.
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Travellers’ Tales are a great way for other travellers to learn more about specific trips, helping them decide which holiday would best suit their interests - we try to publish as many as we can. If you'd like to share your story, simply email us with a selection of your prettiest images and the answers (can be as short or as long as you like) to the following questions.
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- What is your travelling/walking/cycling history?
We’d love to know what kinds of holidays you have taken in the past and the level of walking/cycling you do regularly. Please be as general as you would like. It is good to just paint a picture for other travellers to help them relate their experiences to yours.
- Why did you choose to walk/cycle where you did?
- How did you prepare?
What physical preparation did you do to make sure you would enjoy the trip? If this was nothing different from your normal routine, then please just mention what this involves. We’d also like to hear of any other preparation (or lack of it!) that you thought helpful.
- Your favourite destination?
Did you have a favourite village or area on your trip?
- Best food and drink?
What was the best food/drink that you had on the trip and where did you have it?
- Biggest surprise?
Did you have any nice surprises or serendipitous experiences?
- What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
(i.e. a specific hill or the overall distance .. or coming back to the real world!)
Do you have any other advice for travellers thinking about travelling on this trip?
Sherpa Expeditions traveller Chris Weiss shares his experiences in Norway, with his son Evan, on our Fjordland walking tour.
Why did you choose your trip?
My son has some Norwegian ancestry and lives in a part of the U.S. that is heavily populated by Norwegian immigrants (ya!). We've talked about traveling to Norway for a long time, but the logistic hurdles always seemed too overwhelming until we found Sherpa. We were looking for a rugged adventure in a cool climate where we would not have to carry all the equipment required to backpack. The Fjordland tour offered by Sherpa seemed ideal for us.
How did you prepare?
Sherpa was very helpful. The detailed logistical reference book that Sherpa provided prior to our trip answered almost every one of our questions. It included topographic maps, step-by-step hiking directions and provided the flexibility to choose a variety of hikes at each location. Although the maps provided by Sherpa were very adequate, we ended up buying the original Norwegian maps in Geilo which gave us a broader perspective of the tour.
Before the trip we watched the weather closely using internet resources and packed our clothing in anticipation of a wide range of predicted conditions. We're used to hiking in the Rocky Mountains and understand the need for lightweight, breathable clothing that can be layered for both summer and near-winter conditions on the same day hike. On our day hikes, we each carried 4-5 light weight upper layers and 3 lower layers that included a rain proof shell (and we used them all on more than one occasion). We've been stranded by weather in the outback before and always carry enough water, food, shelter and fire starters to make such an event tolerable if not comfortable. The trick is getting all this along with a hearty lunch all in a very small day pack!
What was the best part of your trip?
We loved so many parts of the trip, especially Finse and the Flam Valley. We chose to depart from the plan a bit and rented bicycles rather than walk the road through the Flam Gorge. I would recommend adding this option for anyone who enjoys the Fjordland adventure. The biking was beautiful and provided lots of time for stopping and enjoying lunch and the amazing views along the way, including the opportunity for several side trips. We also loved Aurland! The hike from Ostebo to Vassbygdi (out of Aurland) was a huge highlight. The next day, we added a kayak rental in Aurland from a very relaxed operation along the shore in town. The weather was so marvellous that we kayaked to the other side of the fjord and went cliff diving into the deep cool waters there.
...and the most challenging part?
The hike from Ostebo to Vassbygdi was marked as "challenging" in your logistic notes and it certainly was! At the same time, it was a huge highlight of our trip.
Your favourite destination?
Finse was stark and wonderful. The hikes to the north of the lodge are like nothing we've ever experienced. The contrast between the rock and the colourful mosses and lichens made the place seem unworldly. Our bike ride through the Flam Gorge was breathtaking. We plan to return there next March to ice climb the waterfalls and frozen seeps along the valley walls. Aurland was very sleepy and relaxing but the hikes from there were the best, so rugged and beautiful. We especially loved kayaking along the fjord opposite Aurland's shore, diving and swimming in the frigid waters at the base of 1000ft waterfalls there. We also chose to take the Express Ferry from Aurland to Bergen rather than return to Oslo through Flam and Myrdal. Doing so, we saw the entire length of the beautiful Sognefjord as a fitting end to our journey.
Best food and drink?
The food was great. The best were the wonderful roadside markets and the buffets in Geilo and Finse. The beer and wine was a bit too expensive for us and we were hiking too hard to partake in anything but a small taste of the local brew. The clear water that spills everywhere along the trails was clean and wonderful to taste (after we zapped it with a bit of UV light, just in case). Now, I should say that I was able to obtain an extremely rare bottle of Larsen's Arctic XO cognac in Oslo, the report for which must wait for this winter's holiday season.
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Sherpa Expeditions traveller Laurie Berg Sapp travelled to Scotland with her husband and combined our Great Glen Way and West Highland Way trips with an ascent of Ben Nevis.
Why did you choose your trip?
We chose the walk because I had never been to Scotland and was intrigued by the history, the incredible number of famous writers in the country and the rugged beauty. We also liked the idea of combining the 2 hikes, attempting to climb the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, and going with Jon (Millen) – he is a great guide and a lot of fun.
How did you prepare?
We prepared by taking long hikes in our home state, Arizona, some as long as 12 miles. We traveled to Flagstaff, Arizona, which has an altitude of 7,000 to train in elevation to get our lungs ready. I hike 2 or 3 times a week love to enjoy the great outdoors!
What was the best part of your trip?
The best part of the trip was feeling like you were in another world – so isolated, so wild and beautiful, away from all that’s familiar. It’s very different from where we live! The people on the trip were fun, and the people in Scotland could not have been any nicer.
...and the most challenging part?
The most challenging was definitely trying to climb Ben Nevis. We set out to make it to the top, but when it started to rain and blow 50 mile an hour winds, Jon took us on a loop to circle back down the mountain. I was almost blown over! We were wet, tired, and then we had to cross a river before we finally found some shelter. Typical Scotland – as we were climbing back down the sun came out!
Your favourite destination?
I loved Drumnadrochit (on the northern shore of Loch Ness) where we stayed in the little church bed and breakfast. It was a lovely place and the food that night was the yummiest!
Best food and drink?
Neeps and tatties! I still dream about those turnips and potatoes. My husband loved all the different beer and enjoyed drinking his way through the Scottish pubs.
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...
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