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Eileen Allen (in the middle at the above picture) from the USA realised that she had a need to prove to herself that she could still handle a significant challenge during the year she turned 60. So after many years of hiking in the USA in places like California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Grand Canyon National Park, she embarked on a guided hiking trip in the legendary Swiss Alps.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
“The Alpine Pass Route’s varied terrain, wonderful scenery, and welcome food for hikers, met all of my expectations, and then some more. I found the Swiss culture, including eating in cafes and huts, riding the various forms of public transportation, and routine activities such as shopping in the local grocery stores, very interesting as well."
How did you prepare?
“I like to hike on weekends in California’s Coast Range mountains and the Sierras. In 2014 I worked in Sacramento which is very flat and close to sea level elevation. I usually walked each weekday morning for about 1,5km from the Sacramento train station to my job near the State Capitol, and then retraced that walk in the afternoon. After I committed to the Alpine Pass Route trip, I added a lunch-time stair climbing routine on one or two days each week at a 16-storey building across the street from my job. The stairs were tedious, but listening to music helped, and the conditioning was invaluable in preparation for the elevation gain and loss in the Swiss Alps.”
Which was your favourite destination?
“The Hohturli Pass. The views from the pass on a clear morning were absolutely extraordinary, with the green Kiental/Golderli region from which we ascended on one side, and the intensely blue, large Oeschinsee Lake far below us on the other side. The second half of the Hohturli ascent was quite steep and somewhat arduous, so a bench near the top of the pass provided a very welcome spot for a brief rest.”
“The first surprise was that our hiking group consisted of seven strong, adventurous women from throughout the world. To my delight we had great camaraderie.”
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
“The Bernese Oberland has very changeable summer weather, so we put on and took off raingear and clothing layers frequently. This was a minor inconvenience, which was easily offset by the scenery.”
What was the biggest surprise?
“The first surprise was that our hiking group consisted of seven strong, adventurous women from throughout the world. Our guide, John Millen, handled this group very well! To my delight we had great camaraderie. It was also a pleasant surprise to have humorous encounters over several days with a group of Dutch hikers whom we first met at the Rostockhutte on the way to the Sefinenfurke Pass.”
Best food and drink?
“My favourite meal was a lunch at the Bluemlis Alphutte just above the Hohturli Pass. I was somewhat depleted after the ascent to the pass, so the hut’s hot, tasty soup to which I added sausage slices, was wonderfully rejuvenating. I also loved the fruit kuchen, which we had during breaks from hiking at Rosenlaui and at the Rostockhutte. The restaurant at the Silberhorn Hotel in Lauterbrunnen stood out for great breakfast buffets, dinner salad bar, and delicious dinner specials. ”
Do you have any recommendations for other travellers considering this trip?
“Our guide, John Millen, and the Sherpa office staff were excellent. For fitness preparation, lots of walking combined with frequent stair climbing will get you ready for the ups and downs of the Alpine passes even if you can’t hike in the mountains often. Bring good rain-gear and make sure to test that while carrying a daypack.”
Find a detailed itinerary, departure dates and more information on the Alpine Pass Route walking holiday in Switzerland here. Also have a look at this full list of other Sherpa Expeditions walking tours in Switzerland.
To mark the centenary of the beloved James Herriot’s birth, in 2016 we launch a new trip in the Yorkshire Dales: a six-day version of the James Herriot Way. This walking route is considered by many as ‘the best short long-distance walk in the UK’.
The 50-mile circular walk is designed to take in some of the countryside that James Alfred Wight, the vet who wrote about his experiences in the Yorkshire Dales under pseudonym James Herriot, was so fond of. Born in Sunderland in 1916, his books featured stories about animals and their owners and became extremely popular in the 1970s-80s. Even spawning a film adaptation and a long-running television series, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’*.
James Herriot Way NEW FOR 2016
6 days, daily self-guided departures from April to October
This active holiday is an introduction to long-distance walking in Britain. You walk through the Yorkshire Dales, which have often been coined as ‘God’s Own Country’. Here are some reasons why we believe this trail makes for such a special walking holiday:
- A beautiful 50-mile circular walk threading its way around the emerald valleys of Wensleydale, Swaledale and Apedale and over the mountains and moorlands in between
- A bountiful landscape, encompassing sleepy rivers punctuated by jolly cascades and limestone escarpments, fields stocked with sheep and cows
- Take in classic English countryside, with high moors that bristle with heather, sedge, bracken and bilberry
- Discover attractive local villages (small but not sleepy!), bustling with farm and estate workers, tradesmen and walkers
- Stop at the green edged village of Reeth, whose tea shops and pubs reflect the times when lead mining was the key economic drive to the area
- Easily followed paths, often along parts of the longer ‘Pennine Way’ and ‘Coast to Coast’ trails
- Cosy accommodation throughout, including B&Bs, traditional inns, rural guesthouses and small hotels
View the new James Herriot Way trip here for more information and the exact travel period.
*The TV series All Creatures Great and Small is said to be getting a remake by HBO.
Photo of James Herriot, copyright by his son Jim Wight via The Telegraph.
Oscar-winning director Ron Howard’s latest film ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ (released in the UK on 26 December) is expected to put the quaint Canary Island of La Gomera in the spotlight.
Based on the true story of the Essex whaleship, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ was filmed extensively on location, including the remote Tapahuga beach and the town of Playa de Santiago, with many scenes at sea shot off the island’s south coast.
Easily accessible from Tenerife (the boat trip takes just over an hour), yet largely off the beaten track and unlike its famous neighbour, La Gomera is not moonscape-like but surprisingly lush green. Its deep ‘barrancos’ (gorges) are densely wooded at the top, covered by mountain rainforest and shrouded in cloud and mist.
If you are looking for a relaxed walking itinerary on this beautiful, largely untouched by mass tourism island, European activity holiday specialist Sherpa Expeditions offers a number of trips to La Gomera:
Southern Trails of La Gomera
A trip that concentrates on the southern – and sunnier – part of the island, with nights spent in traditional family-run pensions and small hotels. Highlights include: climb along coastal cliffs to reach the picturesque quaint bay at Playa de la Guanches; take one of the original mule tracks that cross the island, the breathtaking route from Chipude to Valle Gran Rey; follow the short rocky steps (dotted with small cascades along the way!) for spectacular views of the Arure waterfall; and discover a series of beautiful hamlets poised below the Matterhorn-like pyramid of Roque Agando. Find out more.
Exploring La Gomera
From high rocky mountains to misty cloud forests and even exotic banana plantations – if you want the feeling of walking alone with nature then this is the place to be. Relaxed and unsophisticated, La Gomera was Columbus’ last port of call before crossing the Atlantic in 1492. You can walk around the historical centre of capital San Sebastian, go in search of awe-inspiring volcanic chimney stacks of basalt or head towards the highest peak of Alto de Garajonay (1,450m) – from here you can see four other islands on a clear day! Find out more.
We also offer a 15-day itinerary that combines the island of La Gomera with Tenerife. Let yourself be surprised by the natural treasures of the island in the winter months. On our Walking in the Canaries self guided holiday you will explore the third talles volcano in the world, an ancient (UNESCO protected) university town, black sandy beaches and cactus strewn valleys. Find out more.
Image of Ron Howard around the Canary Islands, copyright of ©Jonathan Prime/Warner Bros. Pictures
The festive season has started with plenty of different celebrations around Europe. Here are five festivals you can join this December or January in Slovenia, Rome, Germany, Tyrol, and Andalucía.
1. Three Kings Parade | Andalucia, Spain
Cabalgata Los Reyes Magos is the Three Kings Parade celebrated across Spain on the 6th January. In Andalucia, towns and cities welcome the Three Kings when the evening falls on the Iberian Peninsula on the 5th January. It's a colourful parade where the kings toss out sweets for the children waiting along the streets for the parade to pass by.
Thousands of spectators come to witness the arrival the three wise Kings Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar dressed in traditional costumes.
When: 6 January 2016
2. Nativity Scene | Postojna Cave, Slovenia
The Live Nativity Scene in the Postojna Cave in Slovenia, about 1 hour drive from Trieste, is a unique performance. The caves are an attraction on its own already, but when the biblical scenes come to life they're even more rewarding. Fantasy stalactite forms, the inventive play of light, harmonious music and singing in a very acoustic environment together create an almost surreal Christmas atmosphere. At the cave's entrance a Christmas market takes place. If you want to experience the nativity scene, it's best to make a booking in advance. Shows run every half hour from 1-3pm.
When: 25-30 December 2015
3. Krampustag | Eastern Tyrol, Salzburg & Bavaria, Austria
Perhaps less suitable for younger children, in Austria on the 5th of December the Krampustag is celebrated. Young men dress like demons: wearing fearsome masks made out of wood, fur robes, tails and use branches as weapons to chase away bad spirits. The processions organised are known as Perchtenläufe and are truly spectacular to watch. The Perchtenläufe originally take place only four nights a year, on December 21 and 24 and New Year's Eve and January 5. Good places to observe this festival are Gastein, Altenmarkt, St. Johann and Bischofshofen in Salzburg, Henndorf and other places in Eastern Tyrol and Bavaria.
When: 21 December 2015 - 5 January 2016
Sherpa Expeditions self guided walking holidays in Tyrol & Bavaria
4. Christmas market | Stuttgart, Germany
One of the best places to go for a typical German Christmas market is Stuttgart. It is said to have one of the most beautiful markets in Europe and has a very nostalgic feel to it. The market is set up in and around the Old Palace on the Renaissance inner courtyard. There are over 280 wooden Christmas stalls, which sell a range of Christmas items and gifts. Obviously there's also plenty of German snacks and drinks available, try for example roasted chestnuts, gingerbread, Swabian specialities and mulled wine (gluewhein).
When: 28 November - 23 December 2015
Sherpa Expeditions trips in Germany
5. Fireworks | Rome, Italy
For those of you who are in Rome over the holiday period, make sure to be part of the New Year's Eve celebrations in town. Prepare for lots of fireworks after the midnight countdown. It's especially spectacular with the backdrop of some of the world's most impressive monuments like the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, and San Marco square. Prepare for lots of noise as well; people throw old pots, pans and furniture out of their windows to 'let go of unhappiness and prepare Rome for a happier future'.
When: 31 December 2015
Sherpa Expeditions trips in Italy
Image of Three Kings in Spain, copyright of ©Europe Video Productions | Image of Postojna Cave, copyright of ©Shadowgate Postojna Cave | Image of Perchtenlauf, copyright of ©riegersburg.com | Image of fireworks in Rome, copyright of ©neigesdantan
Christmas traditions across Europe are as varied as the villages, mountains and countryside in which they take place. To give you an idea what traditional Christmas celebrations look like in Italy, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, France, Iceland, Slovenia and Germany, we did a little research among our friends and came to the below typical traditions.
ICELAND - GLEÐILEG JÓL!
Because the days are so short and dark the Christmas lights are put up early in Iceland. Icelanders celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December. On Christmas day the traditional meal that most Icelanders enjoy is smoked lamb (hangikjöt) served with leaf bread (Laufabrauð). The leaf bread is a hard, deep fried, thin bread that families get together to bake, cutting decorative patterns in the dough.
Baking holds a special place at Christmas time as it provides an opportunity for families and friends to do something together while the kids dance around the Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols.
There are 13 Santas, or Yule lads, in Iceland with each providing children a small present in their shoe for each of the 13 nights before Christmas. If the kids are naughty they get an old potato. This tradition has helped to ensure good behaviour for the second part of December!
ITALY - Buon Natale!
On Christmas Eve, children across the country leave out a glass of wine and cake for Babbo Natale (Father Christmas). In some cities, like Trieste, San Nicolò (Santa Claus) brings presents on December 6, while in Verona the tradition of Santa Lucia sees the whole city celebrate with Christmas markets and children receiving presents on December 13.
The traditional cakes eaten through the season include pandoro
, originally from Verona, and panettone
, from Milan, both sweet breads with raisins and candied fruit included in the panettone. On Christmas Day the hero dish is roasted capon (cockerel).
CZECH REPUBLIC - Ježíšku panáčku!
Advent, the period of fasting that begins four weeks before Christmas holidays, is the most eagerly awaited time of year for many Czechs as it means the preparations for Christmas can begin.
On Christmas Eve, fairy-tales are told and houses are decorated with mistletoe and of course a Christmas tree. Traditions include an all-day fast (it is said that whoever lasts until the evening will see a golden pig) or the throwing of a slipper (if it lands with the toes pointing at the door, it means that the girl in the house will marry within a year). Meatless dishes are served for lunch – peas, barley, or a mushroom casserole.
Other unique Czech Christmas traditions include; placing a candle in a nutshell and put it in the water. If the candle doesn’t sink, it means a prosperous year ahead.
SLOVENIA - Vesel božič!
Around 60% of Slovenians are Christians and typically only this part of the Slovenian population celebrates Christmas. For many other non-Christian Slovenians New Year’s Eve is celebrated, instead of Christmas, however the family gets together on January 2 for the celebratory meal.
Children in Slovenia can receive gifts from St. Nicholas, Baby Jesus, Santa Claus, or Grandfather Frost. St. Nicholas visits on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. Santa Claus or Baby Jesus visits on Christmas while Grandfather, or Father, Frost may appear on New Year.
THE NETHERLANDS - Gelukkig Kerstfeest!
Most organisations in the Netherlands share in the festive spirit by rewarding their employees with a kerstpakket
(Christmas box). Traditionally this contains groceries like lobster soup, bread sticks, ragout & patties, candles, crisps and maybe even a bottle of mulled wine.
The main Christmas meal is embraced by everyone, usually even two days in a row on the 25th and 26th (second Christmas Day) of December. These dinners in the Netherlands typically include either a roulade with trimmings or a raclette dinner.
GERMANY - Frohe Weihnachten!
For most Germans the one colourful tradition is the Christmas market. Beginning mostly in late November in almost every German city, town or village, Christmas markets will pop up on the local square and often in several other locations with beautifully decorated stalls, entertainment and all kinds of delicious foods like Glühwein (mulled wine) and roasted chestnuts.
Heiligabend (Christmas Eve) is the main day where presents are exchanged. Traditionally a small meal like potato salad with small sausages (Frankfurter/Wiener Würstchen) or carp are served before the opening of gifts.
FRANCE - Joyeux Noël!
As you would expect in France, the Christmas meal is something to behold with a Christmas turkey served with pommes dauphine
(crisp potato puffs made by mixing mashed potatoes with savory choux pastry), green beans rolled in bacon, and some chestnuts. And it wouldn’t be a French Christmas without some good red wine of course!
Several days before Christmas the towns and villages of France take on a festive air. Town hall facades are decorated, huge trees are erected in the major squares and the main streets begin to dazzle with a wonderful array of Christmas lights.
Image of reindeer in Iceland, copyright of ©Dokiai Aikido
| Image of panettone in Italy, copyright of ©tristanf
| Image of square in Slovenia, copyright of ©Nicola since 1972
| Image of Christmas market in France, copyright of ©sarahstierch
The Iberian Peninsula remains a firm favourite for many holidaymakers and not just during the summer months. Actually the coming months of December to February are an exceptionally good time to travel to Spanish and Portuguese destinations like Madeira, La Gomera, Andalucia, and the Sierra de Aracena. With pleasant temperatures around 20 degrees C, sunny days, and a landscape that ranges from subtropical greenery, to pine forests, and barren flatlands you have all the ingredients for a welcoming winter holiday. Ah, and the flights to Tenerife, Santa Cruz, and Seville have competitive rates for the winter months as well. So if you want to beat the tourists and enjoy a crowd-free break here are some tips for things to do in Spain and Portugal.
Canary Islands: Southern Trails of La Gomera
Despite being easily accessible from Tenerife (the boat trip takes just an hour), La Gomera remains largely untouched by mass tourism. The southern part of the island is also the sunnier part. The landscape is surprisingly lush green, with deep gorges densely wooded at the top, covered by mountain rainforest. Columbus’ last port of call before crossing the Atlantic in 1492, La Gomera is home to many friendly and small resorts. What you can do on the island is taking coastal walks, enjoy a view of Tenerife from Mt Garajonay, visit waterfalls, or take a historical walk of San Sebastian town.
Madeira Island Walking
Rising steeply from the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Europe and Africa, Madeira offers both a mild climate and a 1,350-mile network of levadas through which you can discover the island on foot. Madeira island enjoys an impressive year-round flowering season thanks to its subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil – you can even find a dedicated Orchid Garden with more than 7,500 species here! Another thing to do is take a guided tour of a Madeira wine lodge - and try some local libations...
Hiking in Hidden Andalucia
There's a part of Andalucia that is a bit more off the beaten path: the unspoilt sector of the Alpujarras east of Trevelez. A visit in the winter months of December, January or February is great for walks on sunny days. There can also be snowfall and it can get a bit chilly, but the landscape is rewarding these months. Walking the southern fringes of the Sierra Nevada, following the Camino Real (Royal Trail), and staying at charming villages of Berchules, Yegen an Mairena make for a fantastic winter break, even when the sun doesn't show its face.
Over the last few months we've had quite a few of you asking for a guided version of what is widely considered as the most classic of all UK long distance trails: the iconic Coast to Coast. As a response we're very proud to now be able to offer you the longest ever guided version of this British walking trail.
The new 18-day option, which is four days longer than the established, two-week route, is ideal for those hikers among you who prefer shorter walking days with more time to take in the surroundings and enjoy overnight stays at the traditional English villages.
This longer version of the idyllic Coast to Coast trail allows for a more ‘relaxed’ pace, featuring six days of less walking compared to the ‘standard’ 14-day walking trip that we already had. In addition, you can enjoy a number of new overnight stays at traditional B&Bs and cosy inns at the villages of Bampton, Orton, Danby Wiske, Clay Bank Top and Chop Gate.
Described by Alfred Wainwright as “one of the world’s great walks”, the Coast to Coast starts on the Irish Sea coast of Cumbria and crosses three National Parks before reaching the rocky coastline of the North York Moors. Tradition has it that, before starting the walk, you should dip your boots in the Irish Sea and take a pebble to deposit in the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay, when you have completed the trail.
You can get more information on guided or self-guided walking and cycling holidays in the Lake District here. For more details on this new UK walking trip you can give us a call at 0800 008 7741 or read more on the 18-Day Coast to Coast Guided Walk.
Do you expect me to talk?
No, Mr Bond we expect you to walk (or cycle)! I’m sure many of you will have seen the new James Bond movie ‘Spectre’, with its spectacular scenery and beautiful locations.
So, now you’ve seen the film, it’s time to visit sites that have featured in some of the movies over the last 50 years.
For your eyes only – Corfu, Greece
The backdrop for the opening sequence of the 1981 movie “For your eyes only” was set on the beautiful Greek island of Corfu. With beautiful diving and swimming opportunities, your visit to the UNESCO World Heritage listed old town of Corfu will be a travel memory to treasure forever.
You can follow in Bond’s footsteps by island hopping in Greece, travelling from Corfu your journey will lead you to some of the least visited regions.
Soak up the authentic Greek hospitality with your family on our adventure trip. For more information, please click here.
Quantum of Solace – Siena, Italy
As a direct sequel to the 2006 Casino Royale film, you’ll remember the famous closing scenes where Daniel Craig utters for the first time the famous line "The name's Bond, James Bond" with its stunning backdrop of Lake Como, Italy. Thankfully Quantum of Solace continued with the Italian theme, this time featuring the historic city of Siena in Tuscany.
Our self-guided Cycling South of Siena tour enables you to explore the medieval but bustling city before pedalling off into a photogenic Tuscan landscape of gentle hills. Along the way you’ll discover fantastic hot springs, wine and breathtaking views.
Up for the challenge? Discover Italy by cycling through Tuscany, read more.
Diamonds are forever – Amsterdam, Netherlands
One of the most famous films in the franchise, Diamonds Are Forever will forever remain a classic. In the movie, Bond travels to Amsterdam where he discovers diamond smugglers. Thankfully on our Bike & Barge journey through The Netherlands and Belgium, you’re more likely to discover Gouda cheese and incredible Belgian chocolate.
This unique cycling tour is graded as “Introductory”, enabling a fairly relaxed pace perfect for you to take in all attractions with time to stop and take photos or visit the interesting places along the route.
Casino Royale – Lake Como, Italy
In 2006 the producers decided to start from the beginning with "Casino Royale". The final scenes of the movie included stunning panoramic views of Lake Como in Italy. You can also encounter the beautiful contrast between the gorgeous blue water and rugged mountains, carved during the last ice age by powerful glaciers.
Our 8 day self-guided walking tour provides you with the opportunity to see Italy’s chic and charming side.
Goldfinger – Alps, Switzerland
Let’s face it; you can’t go wrong with Switzerland as a back-drop for a movie. The incredible natural beauty of the Swiss Alps was used during the third Bond installment "Goldfinger".
Our 8 day self-guided walking holiday is based in the Alpine town of Meiringen, the perfect place to be situated as you can fill a week with excellent day walks at any time of the year. Although Switzerland is visited by millions of tourists each year, Meiringen has none of the trappings of mass tourism and thankfully remains unspoiled.
See the real Switzerland on our “Panorama’s of the Swiss Alps” tour where you’ll experience Lakes, Gorges, Glaciers and Dramatic Alpine Scenery.
Traveller's Tale: Alto Aragon, Spanish Pyrenees
Sherpa Expeditions travellers Tony Powell and Glenys Hughes share their experiences on their Alto Aragon: The Spanish Pyrenees holiday.
Why did you choose to walk in Alto Aragon in the Spanish Pyrenees?
We chose Alto Aragon after talking to Jon from the Sherpa Expeditions team. Having previously walked on the French side of the Pyrenees we had heard that the Spanish side was completely different – and it was! In comparison it is surprisingly green and forested.
I also wanted to prove to myself that I can still do a challenging walk. The rest of our walking group thought that we were completely nuts, Glenys admits to being 50-something and I am a fit 79 years old!
How did you prepare?
We walk most weekends in the hills and mountains of South Wales, close to where we live. We expect to walk for 5 hours at least, it is good cardio-vascular exercise. In preparation for this trip, I had attempted Fan Brycheiniog, the highest peak in the Black Mountain region of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the week before. It was an incredibly wet day and blowing a gale but I struggled on. Glenys hadn't walked for a fortnight but she had been scuba diving, not much help but thankfully she is a strong walker anyway.
Which was your favourite destination?
We kicked off with a 1,200m climb from Bielsa, a small town on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees that was heavily bombed in the Spanish Civil War, to a major pass called Portillo de Tella. This walk was breathtaking in more ways than one, no sooner had we arrived when a couple of eagles soared close overhead followed by several griffin vultures. In the distance we could see at least 60 chamois (mountain antelopes) proving to both of us that this region is filled with fascinating nature at every turn.
After staying a while to enjoy the views we then started the 1,500m descent into a hamlet called Hospital de Tella, you might think we needed a hospital but there is only a simple guesthouse and a few holiday houses. In fact, this was our favourite stop, we couldn't wait to get into the river to cool off, thankfully for us this was located directly below the accommodation.
We had two nights there and the food was simple country fare; no menu, no pretensions. We had what they offered and enjoyed it, not least the free bottle of wine with our meal (this turned out to be standard practice)!
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
We saw hardly any other walkers, perhaps because they know how hot it gets in August! We could feel the weather getting hotter with each day that passed and sometimes at the end of the day we really struggled.
Although the hotels were very comfortable and the views were amazing, often the first beer wouldn't touch the sides.
What was the biggest surprise?
Our stop on the fifth day was Lafortunada, a rather strange village that supports a hydroelectric station. We thankfully arrived early just in time for a well-deserved siesta. However in the evening we decided to walk up to the 16th century church at Badain, this gave us a good view over the valley and village below. During the evening the whole village came out to celebrate their fiesta; the villagers brought food in hampers and they all sat down to eat and share their food together, the music and dancing seemed to go on for most of the night.
Do you have any recommendations for anyone considering this trip?
The organisation has been quite exemplary from start to finish. The maps provided by Sherpa Expeditions were very good but the way-marking and the route notes were so comprehensive that you could easily follow the route without any maps. We had absolutely no problems with route finding.
There is a lot of flexibility built in so that if the weather is bad or someone just needs an easy day there are opt-outs. In the worst case, you could just travel with the baggage transfer from one hotel to the next. We thoroughly enjoyed this trip and we already look forward to our next holiday with Sherpa Expeditions!
For more information about our Alto Aragon tour please visit our website for details on how to book. For a full list of our tours in Spain visit our Self-Guided Walking Holidays in Spain page for other recommendations.
Walking in Portugal: Douro Valley
Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful corners of Portugal and this month we are excited to be launching a brand new walking trip. Our resident guide Jon Millen explains why it should be on your radar.
The Douro area is a wonderful walking area of hillsides dissected by pretty river valleys draining into the Douro River. Generally too cold in winter and too hot in summer for comfortable walking; spring and autumn (fall) are the best times to visit the region, especially in the spring when everything is quiet and the vines are awakening. In contrast September / early October is when the pace of life whisks into a bustle harvesting. In late October and November the vines turn a gorgeous colour whilst the air is spiced by the fires from the on-going pruning operation.
The connection with Britain is almost as old as the hills. In 1678, a Liverpool wine merchant sent two new representatives to Oporto to learn the wine trade. While on a vacation in the Douro, the two gentlemen visited the Abbot of Lamego, who treated them to a "very agreeable, sweetish and extremely smooth "wine," which had been fortified with a distilled spirit’’. They were so pleased with the product that they purchased the Abbot's entire lot and shipped it home. This was the start of Britain's love affair with Port, named of course after Oporto; the city where it was stored and shipped from. These days the city is now known as Porto and is the second-largest city in Portugal.
Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, this enabled merchants to import for a low duty. During the century several wars occurred meaning that English wine drinkers were often deprived of French wine. British importers could be credited for recognizing that a smooth, already fortified wine that would appeal to English palates, would coincidentally survive the voyage to London. Almost in anticipation of this demand, The Douro Wine Region, created in 1756 by the government of the Marquis of Pombal, was the first (oldest) demarcated and regulated wine region in the world. In 2001, UNESCO classified 24 600 hectares of the Alto Douro Wine Region as a World Heritage site.
Our walk stays 3 nights in the village of Vilarinho de Sao Romão, high above the river in a restored manor house; each room carefully thought through in terms of décor and period furnishings. There is a beautiful Wisteria engulfed veranda where you could sit all day with a glass of wine, a book or some paints if you weren’t walking, it is so peaceful. There's also the opportunity to cool down in the small pool before enjoying filling dinners that are prepared using local ingredients and traditional recipes.
From here there are four walks threading through the wine estates and up and down the hills, through various villages and hamlets. The last of these drops down to Pinhão, a small port on the Douro where you have a night in a luxury hotel and can spend a couple of hours cruising the river passing the golden terraces of the various wine estates.
From here the tiny narrow gauge train takes you to the relative bustle of Porto and its sister town on the south bank, Villa Nova di Gaia. Hardly affected by the ravages of war during the last couple of centuries, the city is an architectural jewel, defined by the winding river and the Gustav Eiffel inspired Luis I bridge.
There is plenty of time to explore, for a few Euros each you can visit any number of the famed Port lodges and taste their wares. They are nearly all concentrated here including Taylors, Cockburns, Churchills, Sandeman, Croft etc. There is a kind of old fashioned decency and politeness of the locals in the area, however very few people know English so it would be a good idea to know a few Portuguese words such as ‘obrigado’ (thank you) and just as importantly ‘Saude’ (cheers).
For further information about our Douro Valley tour please visit our website for details on how to book. For a full list of our tours in Portugal visit our Self-Guided Walking Holidays in Portugal page for other recommendations.