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Norway's Fjordland with Chris Weiss

Chris and his son Evan on Fjordland walking holiday in Norway

 

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.

 

The Fjordland walking holiday in Norway

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.

Riding the Flam Valley on Fjordland holiday in Norway

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!

Kayaking near Aurland on Fjordland holiday in Norway

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.

Evan on the way to Vassbygdi on Fjordland walking holiday in Norway

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.

 

Norwegian Rasberries near Flam on Fjordland walking holiday in Norway

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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Moss above the Hardanger Glacier on Fjordland walking holiday in Norway

Scotland with Laurie Berg Sapp

Sherpa Expeditions traveller Laurie Berg Sapp

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!

 

Great Glen Way and West Highland Way Scotland

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!

 

Our Group on Great Glen Way and West Highland Way Scotland

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.


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Alpine Pass Route Guided Walk with Sara Cockrell

Sara Cockrell on Sherpa Expeditions The Alpine Pass Route


Sherpa Expeditions traveller Sara Cockrell shares here experience in Switzerland on our Alpine Pass Route Guided Walk.

 

Why did you choose your trip?
I had trekked the Swiss Walker’s Haute Route (self-guided) from Chamonix to Zermatt in August, 2010, and enjoyed the stunning scenery, mountain cabanes, alpine villages & ease of Swiss transport so much that I wanted to return on a less-crowded route.

Our Group on the Alpine Pass Route with Sherpa

How did you prepare?
Since I am retired, I road bike, canoe, hike or xc ski for 3 hours, 5-6 days each week, when I am home in Michigan, so I have a good fitness base. Before I go on a trek, I like to hike L-O-N-G in the Rocky Mountains, with a lot of elevation, so I hiked 56.4 miles with 11,400 ft gain and loss in 4 days at the end of June in Grand Teton National Park in Jackson, Wyoming USA. But, my “real” training was trekking 3 weeks in the French Pyrenees, followed by a 2-week trek on the GR20 in Corsica, before I arrived in Switzerland.

Mountain Refuge on the Alpine Pass Route with Sherpa

What was the best part of your trip?
The camaraderie of the group, our outstanding guide, Jon Millen, and of course, the scenery, an unbeatable combination!

 

...and the most challenging part?
The most physical challenge is hiking from one valley over a pass to the next valley everyday, so there is a lot of elevation change, climbing all morning, then descending all afternoon. The most mental challenge was the steps down from Sefinenfurke, and the steps up to Hohturli for Casey and me since we both had a little fear of falling.

Steep climb on the Alpine Pass Route with Sherpa

Your favourite destination?
Taking the Jungfraubahn to the “Top of Europe” was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, such an amazing engineering feat! But, my passion is snow-covered mountain vistas, so my 2 favorites were The Eiger, Monch & Jungfrau on the way down from Kleine Scheidegg to Lauterbrunnen, and from above Murren, and the views of Blumlisalp Massif and Oeschinensee on the way down from Hohturli to Kandersteg, and again, as we ascended to Bundechrinde Pass the next day. Perfect picture postcards, oh-la-la!

Mountain vistas on the Alpine Pass Route with Sherpa

Best food and drink?
The rest of the group were doing a “Pub Crawl”, so I cannot attest to the best drinks on the trip. But, the hotels where we stayed served delicious gourmet dinners & hearty breakfasts each day, especially exceptional in Engelberg, Lauterbrunnen, Golderli, Kandersteg, and Adelboden.

 

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Friendly locals on the Alpine Pass Route

Guided Coast to Coast Walk with Jac Lofts

Guided Coast to Coast Walk with Jac Lofts


Sherpa Expeditions traveller Jac Lofts share hers experience on our Coast to Coast - Guided (15 days) trip.

 

Why did you choose your trip?
I wanted to get out and experience the English countryside with some fellow walkers.

Walking on Guided Coast to Coast Walk

How did you prepare?
I did lots of full day walks at home (Sydney, Australia) and I’m really glad I did. The coast to coast throws a bit of everything at you – rain and mud and bog. The walks are quite long so particularly for the full end to end walk, it’s a real test of one's endurance.

 

Accommodation on Guided Coast to Coast Walk

 

 

What was the best part of your trip?

I loved the mix of accommodation – the B&Bs & pubs etc. Also the bonding over a beer each evening to compare stories, photos and our various aches and pains!

 

Food and drink on Guided Coast to Coast Walk

 

Your favourite destination?

I really liked Patterdale, just a tiny little town but the 400 year old pub we stayed in has a lovely setting surrounded by hills and pastures , a nice river, plus great food - and, if you’re lucky like we were, some local musicians for entertainment.

 

Scenery on Guided Coast to Coast Walk

 

Best food and drink?

Fish & chips featured on most menus so most of our group had this at least once. My fish & chips at the Red Lion in Grasmere was excellent – best hand cut chunky chips ever. Trying the various local ales at each stop was an enjoyable daily ritual.

 

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Views of  on Guided Coast to Coast Walk

Cornish Coastal Path with Mary & Joe Richardson

Cornish Coastal Path with Mary & Joe Richardson

 

Sherpa Expeditions travellers Mary & Joe Richardson talk to us about their journey to England and their experiences on our Cornish Coastal Path - Marazion to Mevagissey trip.

 

Why did you choose your trip?

I have wanted to walk the coast of Cornwall ever since reading Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier as a young teenager. Later, a more mature interest in history enforced my fascination with the area.

However, we had another reason for taking this particular trip – my husband I have somehow become senior citizens, and we were looking for a walk that would be a bit easy on our old bodies yet still be fascinating and beautiful. My husband has a brand new stainless steel knee, and I have a condition which affects balance. So, he was pokey climbing up hills and stairs, and I was cautious coming down - walking together we were slow as mud. We looked at each day and found ways to shorten the walk to accommodate our disabilities – and we still had a great time.

 



How did you prepare?
We live near the Louisiana coast in the United States. The elevation is 13 feet above sea level and there's not a real hill in the whole state, so we relied on the gym for training almost every day. None of the machines are a good substitute for walking real hills on uneven terrain, but it was the best we could do.

What was the best part of your trip?

Before talking about the scenery, I have to admit that one of the reasons I love Sherpa walking tours is the accommodations. Each night I could count on a room that not only had a hot shower, but also a hair dryer and good smelling shampoo. Moreover, each place is always lovely and has personality. The inns' owners are enviably helpful and give loads of information about where to go, where to eat, and what to make sure we don't miss (special thanks to the wonderful people at Gallentreath in Porthallow and at Bacchus B&B in Mevagissey).

 



Then there was the scenery. We experienced cliffs in a variety of ways, each with charm. There was only one bright-blue-sky day, which was of course gorgeous. One day we walked in deep fog. We could hear the surf crashing below us, but we couldn't see it. We were cocooned in a white mist that made every flower stand out in sharp relief and every bird call sound like it was just out of reach. Then, every once in a while, the fog would part and we got a glimpse of grey blue sea and shoreline before it closed in again. That day was lovely.

Another day, the wind was blowing at gale force and the red warning balls were up. I felt secure because the wind was blowing us toward the land, not over the cliffs. It gave us a sense of the power of nature in Cornwall. The many stories of shipwrecks on the reefs below seemed very real.

 



A personal highlight was going into all the Anglican churches along the path and in the villages. One not to be missed is the Little Church of St. Winwalloe (Day 3). It dates mainly from the 15th century and older, and is still being used. It is tucked right into a cliff near the beach. The stained glass windows in the Church of England in St. Mawes are outstanding and well worth a climb up the hill.



We happened to be in the village of Portloe on a Sunday and I attended a Church of England service (hiking clothes are considered church-appropriate). The people were exceptionally welcoming, and I got to see the preparations for a wedding between two families who had lived in the area for centuries. Attending Sunday service in this historic Anglican/Methodist church was my most intensely moving moment of our trip.

 



The single most beautiful place for me was the tiny beach at Mullion Cove. We were pleasantly tired from the descent, and we joined several other hikers on a little wooden bench facing the sea. The sun broke out and hikers started peeling jackets, loosening hiking boots, and breaking out granola bars in companionable silence. The combination of warm sun, blue water, fresh breeze, rocky cliffs, and old stone houses made me realize why people are passionate about Cornwall. I just wish there had been time for a nap.

 



...and the most challenging part?
The most challenging part was figuring out how we could see as much as possible with our physical limitations. We knew that if a walk was listed as “six hours” in the Sherpa guidebooks, it might take us 12. And in most places we couldn't get a really early start because breakfast wasn't served until around 8 am; each breakfast was so good that skipping wasn't an option.



We shortened each day, usually by substituting walks along country roads for the worst of the ascents/descents from cliff to beach. We augmented the maps supplied by Sherpa with local road maps, and these were very helpful. We also caught rides part way on two occasions. We were always afraid of missing something spectacular, and I'm sure we did. However, each shortcut brought its own special experiences and encounters with people, their dogs, and in one case, a blueberry picker who offered us a ride.

 



Your favourite destination?
We were so fascinated with the town of Mevagissey that we were glad we came to it at the end of the hike and could stay a couple extra days. Many of the original stone 17th century buildings have been repurposed into restaurants and stores (including the best Cornish ice cream stand of the whole walk), but it is still a working fishing village. You can buy raw, fresh-caught fish on the dock. The tide, as everywhere in Cornwall, is a force to behold. In the inner harbour, fishing boats would be perched on dry harbour-bottom, then, 12 or so hours later, they would be floating almost even with the sidewalks. There is a quirky museum filled with local artefacts, and a charming little aquarium housed in an old lifeboat station. I liked the aquarium because it displayed the fish that people actually catch in the area; I could see what the filets I had been eating looked like when they were still swimming.

 



Best food and drink?
Pub food is fantastic! We learned early on to avoid the cheaper fish and chip places, and head to the pubs. Although the fish and chips at the 15th century Fountain Inn in Mevagissey were the best of our entire stay in England. The overall best pub was The Five Pilchards Inn in Porthallow. The menu includes all manner of seafood including king prawns and mussels, not to mention what I ordered – Fillet of Hake with crushed new potatoes and mange tout, served with a Crab, White Wine & Saffron Sauce. That was followed by a made-just-for-me (honest!) Summer Berry Pavlova with Clotted Cream. 
I had not known that pubs were family affairs. Small children and dogs were plentiful, and very welcome. Fish and eggs are both fresh in Cornwall. A sign in The Ship Inn in Portloe said, “Tomorrow's menu is still in the sea” and I believe it was. At breakfast, the eggs were almost always free range.

 



MARY'S TOP TIPS

  • Look at the shirts the bartenders in the pubs are wearing. Often they will have an insignia for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which is a volunteer organization that saves lives at sea. These young men are involved in the welfare of their fishing communities.
  • A very important note about ferries: An “on demand” ferry means that you are supposed to turn a sign on a billboard to let the ferry operator know you want to go across. We were at the ferry at Helford (Day 5) for a long time. I didn't mind because it was near the location of “Frenchman's Creek” and I wanted to look around. But when the ferry finally came, the operator told us we hadn't flipped the sign – if someone on the other side hadn't wanted to cross, he would never have come.
  • Buy hiking pants that zip off at the knee. Most of the dirt, mud, and sheep dung will be on the lower parts of your pants, so you can unzip them and wash just the most dirty parts in the sink. It works beautifully.
  • If you are from the United States, don't mention the Doc Martin TV show, no matter how much you like it. People in Cornwall think it's stupid. One told me it makes Cornwall residents look “dense.” I'm looking at that show differently now.

 

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Walking in Madeira

Walking in Madeira

Madeira
is place of great dramaticWalking in Madeira 1 walks with Atlantic views, of mysterious coastal and highland mists, of intricate water canals and the innate friendliness of the Madeiran / Portuguese people themselves. The jagged peaks flanked by forests of pine and laurel, rise up to over 1800 metres and betray their volcanic origins. Through these peaks thread the 2000 km of levada channels bringing water down to the coastal settlements. During spring and autumn a myriad of colourful flowers and trees are in bloom: Jasmines, Begonias, Freesias, Magnolias and Camellias form just part of the spectacular flora. Walking routes in Madeira follow paths and levadas through the peaceful pastoral countryside and traversing the terraced hillsides. More challenging trails traverse the coastline and climb up to the rugged peaks of the interior including Pico Ruivo 1860m - the highest summit. Highlights of a trip here include having look around some of the interesting villages and towns including Funchal and a wicker sled ride down from Monte to the capital, which is an interesting experience, as is a visit to a Madeira wine lodge or the food and flower markets bursting with colour.
 

When to walk in Madeira

Anytime is an ideal time to go walking on the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira. Surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, 400km north of Tenerife, it's warmed by the Gulf Stream and enjoys a pleasant sub-tropical climate all year round. During spring and autumn especially, there is more chance of the unstable weather associated with Atlantic fronts than during the summer, although they may only last an hour or so and then there may be a complete reverse back to glorious sunshine. So although it is generally bright and warm in this region each year, you should be prepared for rain, cold weather, high winds, and a particular Madeiran speciality: mountain and coastal mists.

 

A little on the history of Madeira

Madeira was discovered by sailors in the service of the Infante Prince Henry of Portugal (soon to become known as Henry the Navigator) in 1419, settled in 1420. The name Ilha da Madeira (English: Madeira Island) literally means 'Island of wood' in reference to the dense forest of laurisilva trees that covered the island. Interesting historical facts about Madeira:
  • Madeira is famous for it's unique fortified Madeira Wine.Madeira WineOriginally created by accident, its unique charactistic comes from the introduction of grape spirits (added to prevent the wine from spoiling) and the excessive heat and movement that the wine was exposed to as it made its way across the seas in ships headed for the New World or East Indies.
  • The UNESCO-listed Laurisilva Forest of Madeira dates back to the Ice Age and is the largest surviving laurel forest in the world. It's also home to a very unique ecosystem of flora and fauna including the native Madeira Long-Toed Pigeon which lays only a single white egg.
  • In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte stopped off to buy Madeira wine in Funchal en route his final destination and exile on the island of St. Helena. Winston Churchill came here on holiday to paint and write his WWII memoirs in 1950, and former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and husband Dennis spent
  • their honeymoon in Madeira 1951, returning 50 years later to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary.
  • Madeira Cake doesn't actually come from Madeira. It was named after Madeira wine which was popular in England during the 19th century and was often served with a slice of golden-yellow 'Madeira' sponge cake.

Getting to/from Madeira

Madeira is around a 4 hour flight from the U.K. and is served by numerous airlines from most major airports across Britain. Madeira's main airport 'Funchal Airport' itself is quite an engineering feat and consists of an elevated platform partly over the Atlantic ocean. The historic town of Machico is the starting point for our Madeira walking holidays and is around 15 minutes drive from Funchal Airport.

 

 

Walking Holidays in Madeira

Sherpa Expeditions offers guided and self-guided itineraries to help you get the most out of your walking holiday in Madeira:


La Gomera Walking

Walking in La Gomera

 

If you have been walking on the Spanish mainland, or have been to The Canaries before and you come to La Gomera, you will probably notice that this, the second smallest island of the Canaries is something special, altogether quite different. Some people liken it to Spain in the 1970s, but if you have travelled to countries of Central or South America, there are certainly Latin American elements that you will recognize in the villages and landscapes.


Sunset over Chipude on a La Gomera walking holiday

 Due to the fact that most Spanish tourism has been beach focused and that Gomera has little flat land and only a few small beaches with deep water and sometimes strong currents, it has survived from the frenzy of development seen elsewhere in the Spanish territories. As a result the island has an old world rural feel to it with homesteads, small vineyards, layers of terraces and large rocky peaks set in an amazing crown of Laurisilva - a laurel cloud forest. A remnant of the last Ice Age and Tertiary period, the Laurisilva is kept alive by trade wind rains and the sound conservation by the Garajonay National Park (which enjoys UNESCO recognition),where other islands have been largely deforested. The upper reaches of this densely wooded region are often shrouded in cloud and swirling mist, which has maintained this lush and diverse vegetation. In ancient times the local population (Guanches) used to collect the water dripping from the trees into jars and fill their reservoirs with it. Even today the tap water on the island comes from the ground water aquifers and although it is treated, it is drinkable – you don't need to keep buying bottled water. 

 

Landscapes of La Gomera

La Gomera is of volcanic origin and the mountainous Gomeran slopes are criss-crossed by paths, presenting varying levels of challenge to walkers and stunning views to reward the energetic. The island is roughly circular, about 22 km (15 miles) in diameter and rising to 1487 m (nearly 5000 feet) at the central peak of Garajonay. It is shaped rather like half of a peeled orange from which the segments have been parted, leaving deep ravines or barrancos which are coated with laurisilva. Between the extremes of the high cool vegetation and the warmer sun-baked cliffs near sea level, the Gomerans have for centuries farmed the lower levels, channelling water for the irrigation of their vines, fruits and vegetables, such as bananas. Because of the narrow barrancos, Gomerans have a unique way of communicating across the valleys by an amazing kind of whistled speech called Silbo. Silbo Gomero is an indigenous language, whose existence was known since Roman times. Invented by the original inhabitants of the island, the Guanches, Silbo was adopted by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century and survived after the extinction of the Guanches. When this was about to die out early in the 21st century, the local government required all children to learn it in school.

 

Eating your way around La Gomera

Landscapes of La Gomera Walking HolidayCanarian cooking is Mediterranean in style but with its own unique character. There is a distinct preference for traditional farm produce and meats, with low reliance on fatty foods. Gofio, a traditional staple of the Islands, has its roots in Spanish Canarian culture. Made from ground and toasted maize or wheat, gofio is highly nutritious and can be eaten as a dough mix, with savoury foods such as fish, or as a drink in milk. There are also a number of excellent cheeses made on the island, the best are those white cheeses from goats. There are a lot of pigs kept and pork is a common ingredient of succulent stews and hearty soups. Fish is probably the most common Canarian staple, be it fresh or salted and usually accompanied by one of a large selection of ‘Mojo’ sauces which range in flavour and strength, from the extremely hot and spicy to medium or very mild. ’Sancocho’ is one of the traditional fish stews made from salted sea bream, stone bass or wreck fish (this species has no English equivalent) which should be tried. Potatoes are another common ingredient and come in a variety of ways. Outstanding are the potato stews orthe ubiquitous and aptly named ‘Papas arrugadas’ (wrinkled potatoes), which are boiled in extremely salty water and eaten with hot ‘Mojo’ sauce. To round out your taste experience, there are shellfish and a variety of tropical fruits. Atypical product of La Gomera is ‘Guarapo’, the sap taken from the countless palm trees dotted around the Island which is cooked to make ‘palm honey' The local wine is 'distinctive', and complements a tapa (snack) of Gomerian cheese, roasted pork or goat meat. The better ones are the whites such as 'Asocado'. Brands to look for include 'Garajonay' and 'Roque Cano.' 

 

Self-Guided Walking Holidays in La Gomera

La Gomera Walking

Sherpa Expeditions offers three different trips designed to help you get the most out of your self-guided walking holiday in La Gomera.

 

 

Getting to/from La Gomera

 Looking over San Sebastian in La Gomera

The easiest way to get to La Gomera is to fly to Tenerife (not Tenerife North Airport – further out of the way) and then get the ferry or catermaran to San Sebastian. If you are pushed for time you can take a taxi from the airport to the "Ferry Los Cristianos" (25 Euros approx) which is the port at Playa de Las Américas, for onward ferry to La Gomera taking 40 minutes approx. If however, you are not pushed for time, there is a bus service that leaves from directly outside the terminal to Los Christianos interchange building, 2 Euros each way (approx) you need to check times locally. There are two main ferry operators between Los Cristianos and San Sebastion, with a number of daily departures.

Most Beautiful Villages in France

France Villages

 

From their food to their villages, the French love to rate things. The Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, or Most Beautiful Villages in France, consists of 156 villages spread over 21 regions  - and given there are over 32,000 villages in France this list might help you narrow down your dream French itinerary! Many of these villages feature in our range of walking and cycling tours – here’s a few of our favourites.


Castelnau-de-Montmiral

Villages of France - Castelnau-de-Montmiral

This “bastide” or fortified village near Albi overlooks the Vère valley and lies in the heart of the Gaillac vineyards. It was founded by Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse, and its church is home to the reliquary cross of the Counts of Armagnac, adorned with 310 precious stones.

 

Explore Castelnau-de-Montmiral and other historic sites of the Cathars on our Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron journey.

 


Conques

Villages of France - Conques

Nestled in lush green surroundings, the tiny village of Conques is a must-see highlight on the French Way of St James. A visit here will see you encounter the classic half-timbered house architecture as well as the main attraction, a golden statue covered in gold and precious stones in the Romanesque UNESCO World Heritage listed abbey of Sainte Foy.

 

Discover Conques on one of our walks along the Way of St James.

 

 


Hunawihr

Villages of France - Hunawihr

Located on the Wine Route, right in the middle of the vineyards, this flower-decked village of Alsace conceals a wealth of treasures and unusual sights: its 16C houses, its fortified church and cemetery, which make Hunawihr one of the few examples of defensive religious architecture, and for a romantic touch, its Butterfly Garden.

 

 

 

 

 


Les Baux-de-Provence

Villages of France - Les Baux-de-Provence

Set in the heart of the Alpilles, the region that captivated the Dutch impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, Les Baux-de-Provence is perched like an eagle’s nest boasting views across the Camargue. The town was owned by the Grimaldi family until 1790 and Prince Albert of Monaco still retains the honorary title of Marquess of Les Baux.

 

Get there on our In Van Gogh’s Footsteps

 

 

 


Mittelbergheim

Villages of France - Mittelbergheim

At the foot of Mount Saint Odile, surrounded by vineyards, this village is the preserve of the Zotzenberg grand cru and bears a definite stamp of its winegrowing culture: from the architecture of its houses opening onto large courtyards flanked by buildings for winemaking to the "Weinschlag", a precious compendium containing a wealth of information about vineyards and wine since 1510 that can be seen in the charming Renaissance town hall.

 

 

 

 


Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

Villages of France - Moustiers

Moustiers has established its houses and bustling streets in the indentation of a rock, right beside the Lac de Sainte-Croix and the Gorges du Verdon. It is famous for producing pottery (faïence) and the village still has some twenty workshops devoted to that craft today.

 

Get there on our In Van Gogh’s Footsteps

 

 

 

 


Puycelci

Villages of France - Puycelci

The fortified village of Puycelci watches over Grésigne Forest from the top of a rocky plateau overlooking the Vère valley. 14C and 15C houses made of stone, wood and brick are revealed behind more than 800 m of ramparts and the rampart walk offers wonderful views of the surrounding scenery.

 

Explore Puycelci and other historic sites of the Cathars on our Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron.

 

 


Riquewihr

Villages of France - Riquewihr 

Riquewihr is one of Alsace’s gems and its excellent wines match the excellence of its architecture. A medieval museum of a town with fortifications dating back to the 13th century. Many of the old buildings have dovecots and are built round central courtyards.

 


Walking in the Dolomites

Walking in the Dolomites

 

Walking in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are famed for their soaring limestone towers, consisting largely of a very bright Limestone mineral called Dolomite (calcium sulphite). The scenery is dramatic and a complete contrast to the alps, being generally lower and with only one real glacier around the Marmolada massif. There are several massifs, which significantly change colour throughout the day, separated with bright green alpine meadows flecked with flowers and there are both conifer and mixed forests. 


The region is famed for being on a cultural divide, Italian, but perhaps also Austrian, but not quite, as Austria pulled back in the First World War. Now it is partially a semi-autonomous region of the Tirol, known as the Alto Adige. There are also 40,000 Ladins, an ethnic group, speaking an older cruder latin language, and with their own steeped traditions and woodlore. Although Cortina has an Italian feel, other towns are a bit different, and in more Ladino towns you will find buildings with painted facias and complicated carved wood working: towns such as Campitello fit into this category. 

 

 

When to visit the Dolomites

September is a lovely month with not so many tourists. Late June is also a possibility, but with the chance of being hampered by residual snow. High summer is a busy period often punctuated by dramatic storms; humid air having drifted up from the coast near Venice.


What to expect in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are revered for their ‘Via Ferratas’, climbing cable ways which take people into some remarkable positions. Then there are to famous hard hut walks The Alto Via 1&2, which utilise a bit of the via ferrata network. The Sherpa walks do not involve any via Ferratas, but give a good account of the variety of terrain and the general scenery. 

 

Where to base yourself

Cortina is a popular base in the Dolomites because it is accessible by public transport and many towns in the Dolomites do not have good connectivity. Bolzano is also a popular base for walkers, further to the north.

 

Planning advice

Prepare for some spectacular but also steep walks and plan your travel well around your flights as it can take a long time to get from point to point.

 

Sherpa's Trips in Italy's Dolomites

 

More Information

For more information and inspiration on travelling in the Dolomites, visit the region's website.

Coast to Coast Walk: Shap to Kirkby Stephen

Coast to Coast Walking - Shap


Shap to Kirkby Stephen - Will Copestake - Coast to Coast. Day 7


Described with a hint of optimism in the guide books as a ‘Recovery Day’ the journey between Shap and Kirkby Stephen stretches 33km across the moors. It was my longest day on my trek but not necessarily the hardest, with the mountains behind more benign Howgill fells awaited. For the seventh day in a row I begun with a full English fry up, porridge and fruit before waddling out the door to start the day. Navigating to the start of the trail couldn't have been easier, it was directly opposite the door.


The crossing the railway line I left town to wind along farmyard walls into an open field. The roar of cars on the M6 motorway nearby rivalled the stiff wind in the trees. A small bridge spanned the busy traffic leading back into the countryside beyond.

The noise of the motorways was soon muted behind the hills to be replaced with the swish of wind across the open moors. The steaming chimneys from the nearby quarry tailed upward above Shap.

 

Hopping over a stile at Hardendale quarry I was blown along the dusty track toward the small community of Oddendale. Skirting the low walls at the edge of town I wandered along a large limestone pavement jutting from the grass. Somewhere nearby two concentric stone circles stood illusively hidden, they were the first of many interesting archeological sites I would pass during the day.

 

 

Heading onto the moors


Despite the onset of curtained rain which hammered against my side in the wind I chose to linger and explore the deep fissures in the rock known as grikes. They form fascinating micro habitats with each crack filled with a unique array of ferns.

 

Limestone Grikes on Coast to Coast Walk

Limestone Grikes


As the limestone pavements petered out I returned to following a wide and well marked trail across a long heather moorland, there was a certain deja-vu to the Scottish Rannoch Moor about the stretch. Focused on my feet to keep the rain from my face I found many a frog relishing the abundance of puddles.

 

The lone boulder on the Moor on Coast to Coast Walk

The lone boulder on the Moor


Hidden in a cleft a small cairn announced my arrival at 'Robin Hoods Grave.' Although almost certainly not the resting place of the man who's namesake is held to the walk the hollow did provide a well needed shelter to sit down for a morning lunch.

 

The grave of Robin Hood on Coast to Coast Walk

The grave of Robin Hood


Another stretch of open peat hunched  against driving rain brought me to a small lime kiln above Broadfell farm. Below I could make out the little community of Orton which as an optional extra to the Coast to Coast is described as one of the few 'lost' villages en-route. Sheltering inside the lime kiln I decided upon a quick check of the map to move onward toward Sunbiggin tarn instead.

 

Above Orton on Coast to Coast Walk

Above Orton

 

Sheltering in the Lime Kiln on Coast to Coast Walk

Sheltering in the Lime Kiln


The trail took upon a new character entirely, the open moors suddenly replaced with walled fields and numerous stiles to cross. It was a welcome respite to shelter behind the wall stone walls as I marched with a squelch down the farm roads and through flocks of sheep hunched in the fields. Occasional points of interest kept the track interesting such as an old abandoned barn to clamber through and explore in the company of the local Barn owl. Yet another stone circle also appeared in a nearby field which prompted a very muddy detour.


Views in the rain on Coast to Coast Walk

Views in the rain


Farm on Coast to Coast Walk   Farm


Following the farm tracks on Coast to Coast Walk

Following the farm tracks


Leaving the fields back to the moors I ventured onto Sunbiggin tarn. An important bird sanctuary it was clearly signposted to stay on the tracks. Aside from a few intrepid curlews which soared past it seemed all the birds were hunkered down to shelter from the wind. Far in the distance I caught a glimpse of two familiar walkers on the horizon, I pushed the pace a little faster to re-join some friends on the road.

 

Sunbiggin Tarn on Coast to Coast Walk

Sunbiggin Tarn


Locals past the tarn on Coast to Coast Walk

Locals past the tarn


Following from moor to walls again on Coast to Coast Walk

Following from moor to walls again. Can you spot the people in the distance?


A tempting detour on Coast to Coast Walk

A tempting detour


Catching up Stephen and Suzanne at Severals Village Settlement we cheered in greeting before exploring the important archeological site. Although there is little but a few furrows and grassy walls to be seen by the untrained eye it is supposedly one of the most important historical sites in Britain.

For us however it was the turning point to cross a large stone bridge and our final uphill before descending to Kirkby Stephen.

 

Caught up at last with friends on Coast to Coast Walk

Caught up at last


Packhorse Bridge on Coast to Coast Walk

Packhorse Bridge


Rising upon the far side of the hill the effort was lost to conversation while we chatted about our day so far. The end of the valley was dominated by Smardale Gill viaduct, in the foreground an interest feature known as 'The Giants Graves' tempted us to wander upon their true formation, it is thought the long mounds were prehistoric rabbit enclosures.

 

Looking up to the viaduct on Coast to Coast Walk

Looking up to the viaduct


As if in an instant the rain stopped, the clouds parted and a warm wave of sunshine washed over the hillside. A whole new day appeared to have begun, in the distance the brooding blue of the distant rain hung with wonderful contrast against the Pennines.

 

Waving goodbye to the storm on Coast to Coast Walk

Waving goodbye to the storm


Following the walls on Smardale Fell on Coast to Coast Walk

Following the walls on Smardale Fell


We soon found ourselves re-united with the Australians. As a small troop of friends we descended in the sunshine along the long limestone walls into Kirkby Stephen in the valley below. The sun started to dance across the fields with a warmth pouring through my damp jacket. Finding beauty in the small details I was fascinated to discover the entire all to which we strode was comprised of beautiful fossilised pipe worms, a reminder to limestones coastal origin.

Re-united with other walkers on Coast to Coast Walk

Re-united on the way down


Looking towards Kirkby Stephen on Coast to Coast Walk

Looking down toward Kirkby Stephen


We swapped maps and booklets to navigate mostly on group consensus. Although for the others their approach to Kirkby Stephen marked the heart of the coast to coast and the (almost) half way mark, it was the end of the journey for me. It felt fitting to have started alone but descend with new found friends.

 

Other walkers on Coast to Coast Walk

Friends from the road


Final fields on Coast to Coast Walk

 

Heading down a small road via a quick detour to pet a few friendly horses we aimed toward the distant church spires that marked the town. A small tunnel in the railway ahead marked the final kilometre before reaching town itself.

 

Old rail bridge on Coast to Coast Walk

 

Crossing the final fields on Coast to Coast Walk

Crossing the final fields.


A gentle amble through the final few fields brought us into town. I dropped my packs at the friendly Jolly Farmers guest house before running along the street to catch up with the others.

 

Farmland on Coast to Coast Walk

Final Fields


Farmland on Coast to Coast Walk

Welcomed by the locals


The Jolly Farmers Guesthouse at Kirkby Stephen on Coast to Coast Walk

The Jolly Farmers


Kirkby Stephen on Coast to Coast Walk

Kirkby Stephen


After a quick explore of Kirkby Stephen we all settled into the Kings Arms pub for a final farewell pint. Reflecting over a cool ale I thought back to where I had come. It had been only seven days but so crammed with adventure felt like months, I had wandered atop tall cliffs above the sea, meandered through fields and pasture, scrambled across narrow ridge lines and even made a few friends along the way. As we rose our drinks in cheers there was just one thing to be sure, I would definitely be back for more. . .

 

A pint at the end of the the day on the Coast to Coast Walk

At the end of the journey.