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The latest travel news, interviews, traveller reviews, inspiration & advice on cycling and walking holidays in the UK and Europe..
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New: Longest Ever Guided Version of 'Coast to Coast' Trail

New: longest ever version of Coast to Coast Trail-around Orton

 

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.

 

New: longest ever version of Coast to Coast Trail-Bed and Breakfast in village

 

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.

 

New: longest ever version of Coast to Coast Trail-walking on moors Orton Scar

 

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?

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. 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

Traveller's Tale: Alto Aragon - Walking

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!

 

More information

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

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).

 

More Information

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.

 

Walking on the Isle of Wight

 

Walking on the Isle of Wight

With the launch of our new walking and cycling holidays on the Isle of Wight our resident guide Jon Millen explains what makes this part of the British Isles so special. Find out more about our new Isle of Wight walking and cycling holidays >>

   
The Isle of Wight is a great place for experienced and beginner walkers alike, with a generally mild climate, bracing hilly downs, sections of woodland and great sea views across 525 km of footpaths on an island of 381 square km. It is also home to the ‘Caulkers’: named after the people who used to proof the boards and hulls of the ubiquitous boats that plied between the island and the mainland or went fishing in its waters, it is used today to describe the indigenous people of the island whilst projecting the image of the separateness of the place. Despite being geographically close to the cities of Portsmouth, Southampton and even Greater London, it is still surprisingly detached. Although there is talk of building a new road bridge, economic benefits are debated and speculated, as a lot of the local people still want the isolation and the quasi-independence that the rising waters of the Channel and the flooding of the River Solent gave to the island 8,000 years or so ago.

 

 

WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE ISLE OF WIGHT?

I remember back in the 1970s and ’80s people were joking that resorts on the Isle of Wight were just like how the British seaside used to be in the 1950s. On my most recent visit in 2015, people were still comparing it to, well, British resorts in the 1950s – however that may be a little harsh! Although much of its modern tourism is based upon its original Victorian and Edwardian infrastructure and of course sailing, the Isle of Wight has pioneered outdoor, farm-based rock festivals since 1968, attracting upwards of 150,000 people – you will even find a statue of Jimi Hendrix at Freshwater Bay!

Nowadays many of the seaside towns have modernised their image so you will find some great pubs and restaurants with very appealing fayre. Ventnor has reinvented itself as a health spa town and Cowes is fashionable for shopping as well as a yachter’s cornucopia. But other areas trade much more upon their historical past. Freshwater Bay reflects its links with Alfred Lord Tennyson, Blackgang Chine reminds us that it is the oldest theme park in Britain (dating from the 1840s!) and who can forget Queen Victoria’s beloved Italianate Osborne House… Why go to the Italian Riviera when you can stand overlooking the Solent with a bag of fish and chips from the ‘Cod Father’ takeaway?

You may even stay in a pub which was built from the timbers of a ship wreck – dozens occurred around the island and was one of the sporadic ‘benefits’ of living here!

 

 

WHAT ABOUT WALKING IN PARTICULAR?

The island is perfect for leisure walking. The single most important thing to remember is that the island is conservative and the countryside is very well preserved, with more than half of the island designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But much of the rest is similarly very attractive, even down to some of the old brick-built seafront villages, such as Seaview, or the beautiful micro-fishing village of Steephill Cove, which is hidden away in a coastal crenulation with some thatched cottages and a great fish restaurant.  

There is also a lovely Coastal Path, threading its way between the wonders of the island. Coastal erosion means that, for safety reasons, there are some diversions in place that take you inland around the areas of collapsing clay cliffs and boggy slumps.

FAVOURITE TIME TO WALK ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT

I would recommend April to late June, before the schools break up, and September and October. The spring and early summer often has low rainfall and beautiful spring flowers within the woodlands with bright emerald leaves on the trees, while the autumn period has a more rustic golden charm. Of course sea fogs can be notorious and can roll in at any time!

It is best to avoid the heaving summer ‘bucket and spade’ season and the August Cowes weeks – although the trails can be quiet, resorts and towns are very busy. There are several music, walking and cycling festivals taking place in May, so similarly that month can vary in terms of busyness.

 

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF A WALKING HOLIDAY ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT

Any given day along the Coastal Path will take you through some wonderful areas. Osborne House is quite a sight, especially the ‘Durbar Room’ and the beautiful paintings of some of Queen Victoria’s ‘Indian subjects’. You can walk down to her private beach for a peek of her original ‘swimming machine’, which has been recently restored or visit the nearby Quarr Abbey, an astonishing brick-built abbey.  

There is also an interesting chain ferry that takes you from East to West Cowes across the River Medina. There has been great resistance to building a bridge, as tradition is very important.

Three hours walking from Cowes you arrive at a village called Newtown. Today this is merely a street of houses, an attractive church and a town hall owned by the National Trust but it used to be the biggest town and busiest port on the island – that is until 1377, when the French sacked the place! However it is best known as a ‘Rotten Borough’: despite only a few families living here, until the 1832 Reform Act it could elect 2 MPs into the English parliament, the same as cities such as Birmingham.

Further on is Yarmouth, a town with some mediaeval features and noted for a swashbuckling past. Privateering, or more commonly known as pirating, was very prevalent. One of the Governors of Yarmouth sailed out and captured a French ship carrying a marvellous marble statue of Louis XIV, which was to be presented in Paris to the Sun King. Instead, the Governor had its face knocked into his own image and installed it within the local church!

The trail winds past a fortress with a construction of a huge nuzzle loaded canon. These ‘Palmerston Forts’, named after the warmongering minister, are also dotted around the coast and point to a time as late as the 1850s and ’60s, when  Britain still feared attack from France. There are great views over the Portland and the huge defensive complex, where once Charles I was held prisoner during the English Civil War.

 

 

The walk undulates over cliffs and downs to pass through The Needles Park, where the chalk backbone of the island dives into the sea like a dragon’s tail with chalky sea-stack scales. If you decide to continue further downlands you will find Victorian memorials, a thatched church, as well as gun placements from World War ll.

The Isle of Wight is also home to the only surviving mediaeval lighthouse in Britain, which can be found at the St Catherine’s Oratory. The steep walk up is definitely worth it. Coming here at sunset is a beautiful experience as you can follow the coastline all the way back to The Needles!

 

FAVOURITE FOOD AND DRINK ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT

The Isle of Wight is known for its fresh seafood, which these days translates at crustaceans more than anything else! Any self-respecting pub or restaurant on the island will make the best of its seafood menu, with the Crab and Lobster Inn in Bembridge probably being the most famous of all. For more of an authentic marine experience, just before a causeway crosses Bembridge Harbour on the east of the Isle, there is the floating seafood The Best Dressed Crab restaurant at Fishermans Wharf, where you can taste fresh lobster or have a crab and prawn sandwich washed down with a zingy tasting beer.  You can also try the seafront Boat House Restaurant in gorgeous Steephill Cove and there are of course great takeaways such as the aforementioned ‘Cod Father’ in Ryde.    

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

Bring your binoculars with you, as you will need them for coastal observations and also looking at bird life. If you belong to the National Trust don’t forget your membership card for the Old Battery on The Needles and if you are a member of English Heritage use your card for entry to Osborne House and Yarmouth Castle. Take a boot brush with you – wet conditions are not uncommon on the island, often resulting in plenty of muddy clays. On the contrary, if you expect hot weather, pack your swimming costume, water shoes and maybe even bring a kite, in case you decide to spend the day on the beach!

MORE INFORMATION

For more information on visiting the Isle of Wight visit our Walking & Cycling Holidays on the Isle of Wight page.

 

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

 

Check out  more Travellers' Tales >>

Beat the European Winter

Beat the European Winter!

Are you looking for an active break combined with some winter sun? Here are some of our top European destinations that enjoy a much milder climate and warmer temperatures in the winter, ideal conditions for walkers. Add to that the quieter trails and the cosy accommodations to retreat to after your rewarding days out and grab your opportunity to travel now. 


SOUTHERN TRAILS OF LA GOMERA

La Gomera is a year-round breathtaking destination. The variety of the landscapes that you will see in such a small area is amazing and Gomeran hospitality is truly memorable. This trip covers the south – and sunnier! – side of the island and the shorter walking days will give you the opportunity to do other activities such as relax by the sea, snorkelling, kayaking or whale watching. La Gomera has a good infrastructure of roads, amenities and services, including good restaurants and small, family-run hotels. Find out more >>

 

 

 

 

MADEIRA ISLAND WALKING

The Portuguese island of Madeira lies well out in the Atlantic, where the Gulf Stream affords it a mild and equable year-round climate. Volcanic in origin, the rugged interior rises abruptly to over 1,800 metres/6000 feet. A characteristic feature of the island is the elaborate system of ‘levadas’ (irrigation channels), which over the centuries has extended to more than 2,000km of channels and 40km of tunnels. Many of the levadas can be followed on foot and these together with a network of local trails make even the most remote parts of the island accessible. Find out more >>

 

 

 

 

GRANADA & THE ALPUJARRAS

An exhilarating mountain walk in Spain through white-washed Moorish villages and with the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. Visit the spectacular Alhambra (which this year will see substantially fewer visitors) before moving up into the Alpujarras, where all sorts of crops thrive in the temperate climate, from lemon groves to olive orchards, and enjoy dramatic views, walking among terraced fields and along centuries old irrigation channels. Find out more >>
 

 

WINTER WALKING IN CYPRUS

Cyprus is an island of natural beauty in a region with an abundance of ancient and modern civilisations and cultures. Winter in Cyprus is generally mild, especially the western part where our walks are concentrated. In late winter and early spring, from February onwards, peaking in March, the Akamas blooms with a profusion of wild flowers. Away from the cosmopolitan towns and beach resorts you will find large areas of natural, unspoilt countryside. Rugged, conifer-clad mountains, woodland and gentle orchards and vineyards are interspersed with tranquil, timeless villages. The people extend a warm and friendly welcome and their hospitality will add greatly to the enjoyment of your tour. Find out more >>

 

 

LA PALMA ISLAND WALKING

The rugged beauty and dramatic landscapes of less-known La Palma, the north-westernmost island of the Canary Islands, make it ideal for a weeklong walking holiday. Its highest mountain, Roque de los Muchachos, is the second highest peak in the archipelago, the north of the island is dominated by the giant Caldera de Taburiente, while at Cumbre Vieja you will find about 120 volcanic vents. Described by UNESCO as a “miniature continent”, the whole island is protected as a World Biosphere Reserve. A portfolio of walks is designed to make the most of the wonderful natural features of the island based from the two main towns, Santa Cruz and Los llanos de Ariadne. Find out more >>
 

 

 

LYCIAN WAY COASTAL WALK

Between Fethiye and Antalya along Southern Turkey's Tekke Peninsula, or Lycia as it is historically known, is one of the country's first waymarked trails: the 509km Lycian Way. This mountainous route encompasses spectacular coastal views, archaeological treasures dating back to the 8th Century BCE and interesting villages with their unique Lycian flavour. Experience genuine cultural exchange with the local people and travel in winter to find quiet trails. Find out more >>

 

 

 

Would you like to discuss your travel options during the current climate and our relaxed booking conditions? Or are you unsure about your level of fitness or have other queries? Our team of travel experts are available for you and can be contacted by phone or email. 

Active Mediterranean

Active Mediterranean

 If you are after an activity break with a dose of some salty sea air, the great islands of the Mediterranean offer from windswept cliff-top bicycle rides to more leisurely seaside strolls. Here are three of our favourite trips.


MAJORCA: SIERRAS AND MONASTERIES

The Sierra de Tramontana is a rugged limestone mountain range, which runs parallel to the northwestern coast of the Majorca island, forming one of the most spectacular coastlines of the Mediterranean. Mountain tops are bare, lower slopes are thickly forested, while in the settled valleys there are ancient terraces of olive, orange and almond groves. Our tour is based on three centres, the Santuari of Lluc, the cathedral town of Soller and Valldemossa, famous for its Carthusian monastery. Find out more >>

 

CYCLING IN SARDINIA

Plunge into the wild yet romantic beauty of southwestern Sardinia and cycle beside empty beaches and sand dunes in total freedom and at your own pace. The terrain is rugged in parts, with high cliffs ascending from the coast, interspersed with long sandy beaches, grass covered dunes and breathtaking views. The ride commences through the fascinating Sinis wetlands, home to colonies of pink flamingos, and concludes along the beautiful Costa del Sud, with its gleaming white beaches and a visit to an ancient Phoenician settlement. Find out more >>

 

VOLCANOES OF SICILY - GUIDED

To the north of Sicily is the beautiful Aeolian Archipelago, made up of 7 diverse islands. Its active volcanic cone dominates the horizon but you will also find dramatic cliffs and winding coastline, black beaches and thermal hot springs, a deep blue sea and charming port towns. Four days have been set aside to explore these islands on foot, including a guided ascent of Stromboli, while back on the mainland of Sicily the focus shifts to the famous volcano of Mount Etna, where the 2002/03 eruption opened a line of gaping craters. Find out more >>

 

Walking in Tarn & Aveyron with Eric Martin and Julie Gardinier

 

Walking in Tarn & Aveyron with Eric Martin and Julie Gardinier

Sherpa Expeditions travellers Eric Martin and Julie Gardinier share their experience on our Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron holiday.

 

What is your travelling/walking history?

We love to both bike and hike and most of our travelling adventures involve one of these activities, plus some amount of time spent visiting museums or historical sites. We like to combine physical activities with learning experiences of other countries and cultures when we are on holiday and we have travelled in most of Asia, Africa, South America, Western and Eastern Europe. We have been on many wonderful Sherpa Expeditions trips before so we knew that the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron walking trip would be great.

 

                                                                

Why did you choose to walk where you did?

We decided to go on the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron walking trip because we have never been to that area of France with beautiful Medieval villages, fields, forests and farms, and we are very interested in the history of the region concerning the Cathars and the bastide villages. We also wanted to improve our speaking and understanding French. The descriptions of the villages and the accommodations really appealed to us, as did the variety of walks and terrain. Walking through very old villages with homes made of stone and shopping at the local ‘alimentation generale’ for our pain, fromage and saucisson for our picnic lunches was great fun and so delicious. We were definitely not disappointed and actually loved every minute of the trip.

 

 

How did you prepare for this trip?

In preparation for this trip, we increased our walking distance and made sure that we walked up and down hills as steep as we could find. We also made sure that we walked 7 miles at least once or twice a week. The most important thing was to make sure that our hiking shoes were in good shape and very comfortable. Socks are very important too, especially wool socks, as they keep feet dry and cushioned. Other than these things, we followed our usual walking and biking routines. We usually do not walk with a backpack, but for a couple of days we added weight to our backpacks and walked with them on to make sure they fit well and were comfortable.

 

Which was your favourite destination?

So many experiences and places stand out in our mind… I think all of the villages and areas of the Tarn were so amazing and interesting that we really don't have a favourite.

 

 

Where did you have the best food and drink on your trip?

Most of the food that we had was delicious and some meals were outstanding and quite different from our usual fare. The food in Vaour was all homemade and wonderful (bread baked in their own oven, duck confit, lasagne, boudin noir, pork rillette, apple tart) and the dinner in Bruniquel was outstanding. The owner prepared ‘loup de mer’ (Mediterranean seabass) in a mild curry sauce with shallots, oranges and cream. Delicious! We also had very interesting local wines with the home dinners.

 

 

What was the biggest surprise on your trip?

The biggest and most wonderful surprise was that instead of just serving us dinner at these two places (Vaour and Bruniquel) the family actually sat and ate with us. Of course they only spoke limited English – so we could practice our French! – but they were so helpful and we learned so much. Plus they were truly interesting people and we so enjoyed being with them and learning about them and their lives.

 

 

What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?

This was quite a challenging trip for us because it was exactly one year ago that I had fractured my femur and broke my collarbone on a bicycle accident – but after a year of physical therapy, daily exercises and a regimen of walking to build up miles, we were very excited to take this trip! The first day of 13 miles was a challenge just because of the distance (I was still having some difficulty walking) and on two days we did shorten the distance by hiring a taxi with a very nice man who accommodated our schedule. There were rocks, stones and tree trunks to negotiate going from Bruniquel to Puycelci but it was a beautiful walk and I am glad that we walked the entire length. I do think the hikes are not difficult. On one day, we walked on a very small local road as the regular walk was too steep and muddy (it had rained the night before) but we were fortunate not to have any rainy days.

 

 

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

I would also add that an extension to Albi for two days was really a great thing to do. Katia from Sherpa Expeditions helped us with the arrangements and her recommendation of the small 2-star hotel in the centre of Albi was just perfect. We also added a rest day in Puycelci, which was a wonderful village to wander around. We went inside the beautiful church across from our hotel, visited a local potter, walked around the fortifications and shopped in a local ‘epicerie-boulangerie’. I would definitely recommend this trip. It was truly exceptional and will always be remembered.

Cycling around Finland's Turku Archipelago

Cycling around the Turku Archipelago - Header

 

Cycling Around Finland's Turku Archipelago

Cycling holidays in Finland's Turku Archipelago are becoming more and more popular. We chat with our Finnish specialist Heidi about what she loves about the region and what travellers can expect on a cycling holiday there.

 

Turku in the South-western corner of Finland is the oldest city and the first capital of the whole country. The Turku Archipelago is certainly one of the most prolific in the world: a total of some 20,000 islands and skerries, most in their pristine natural state, are scattered from Turku all the way out to the Åland Islands. Much of the Turku Archipelago is encompassed in the Archipelago National Park, ensuring that the region retains it’s natural beauty. Inhabited islands in the Turku Archipelago can be reached by inter-island ferries making many islands accessible by bicycle and meaning there is little traffic to contend with.

 

I personally am really fond of history, and that’s why the region really speaks to me. The Ice Age has left it’s marks to the archipelago: the land is rising 50cm in a century, which is changing the landscape and coast-line continuously. There are also lots of archaeological discoveries such as ship wrecks to prove that Vikings and Hanseatic merchants had made their way through the archipelago in centuries past.

 

Aurajoki in the Turku Archipelago

 

Best Time of Year for Cycling around the Turku Archipelago

The summer season is the best time to visit the archipelago, since the weather is warm and nature is blossoming. Long daylight hours also help you explore the outdoors. It is definitely worth booking early if you would like travel here as unfortunately this season is quite short (between June-August) and accommodation often books out.

 

TOP EXPERIENCES IN THE TURKU ARCHIPELAGO

Are there any villages, specific spots or experience that you really enjoy in the region. We are particularly interested in anything that you think travellers would not normally experience if they didn’t have inside knowledge.

 

The whole route is filled with amazing sights, but perhaps the most impressive of them is the intriguing island of Seili. Seili was the island where the mentally ill and those with leprosy were sent in the 17th century. Grimly, anyone who was banished there was required to take their own coffin boards since most of them never returned!

 

The old town of Naantali is also one of my favourites. Its buildings are from the 18th century and the atmosphere is astonishing. For those interested in architecture the place is a heaven. You can find many kinds of unique and typical features of Finnish architecture and design in Naantali. The Old Town on the harbor is well worth a visit and there is a viewing tower there where you can look out over many beautiful villas.

 

The islands of Iniö too are naturally beautiful and are home to a lot more to a lot of sights, including Sofia Wilhelmiina’s church, old, idyllic village sceneries and Åselholm’s saw and windmills.

 

Ferry in the Turku Archipelago

 

Favourite Food & Drink in The Turku Archipelago

You have to taste the archipelago bread (a unique type of black rye bread), it is not only good but also healthy. The Turku Archipelago is also famous for its seafood, which you can find fresh in most of the harbour towns. Restaurants Stallbacken and L´escale, both in Nagu are two of my favourite restaurants in the archipelago and are both well worth a visit if you can.


Houses in the Turku Archipelago

Further Advice for Cycling in the Turku Archipelago

The Turku Archipelago is ideally suited to cycling  and while you should be in at least average shape, the terrain is gentle (though more hills than you would expect) and you can travel at your own pace. Remember it can get quite warm in summer and so keeping hydrated is essential.

 

Along the route, for much of the time, there are separate cycling paths, specifically for bikes. These are marked with a white bicycle symbol on a blue sign, and sometimes painted on the road in white. These cycle-only roads keep you and your bike separate from the cars, and can be located on the right or left side of the road (sometimes crossing over from one side to the other). On occasions, the cycle path veers away from the car road for a short period before returning again. Sometimes the cycle road is split with a pedestrian pavement. They are clearly indicated - take care to ride along the correct one.

 

MORE INFORMATION

For more information on cycling around the Turku Archipelago visit our Cycling Holidays in Finland page. You can also check out the video from Visit Finland below, which looks at the destination from a slightly different perspective. 

 

Most Popular Cycling Holidays in 2015

Popular Cycling Holidays for 2015

Inspired by the Tour de France? Here are the details of our five most popular cycling holidays for 2015:

 

Cyclist's Coast to Coast - 8 Days

Wainwright’s “Coast to Coast” walk has long been a classic, and it was perhaps inevitable that cyclists would also look at interesting ways of crossing beautiful, scenic northern England. The original ‘C2C’ stretches from the lighthouse at Whitehaven on the Irish Sea to the lighthouse at Sunderland on the shores of the North Sea. Our Coast to Coast cycling holiday is a 144 mile itinerary combining the Cumbria Cycle Way Route and the popular C2C cycle route, offers a superb week's cycling amidst great scenery.  Find out more >>

 

 

Cycling the Turku Archipelago - 7 Days

Our self-guided cycling holiday in Finland makes the most of the favourable conditions, gentle terrain and frequent ferry services to provide a unique trip across the Turku Archipelago. The Turku Archipelago is one of Finland’s most stunning natural phenomena - 20,000 islands stretching out into the sea from the city of Turku in the southwest part of the country. Cycling a circular route around the main islands is made easy, and exciting by a system of local and free ferry services, most of them constantly going back and forth, acting like bridges.  Find out more >>


Turku Archipelago

 

Cotswolds by Bike - 8 Days

This holiday is intended to appeal to those who want a gentle introduction to cycling in the English countryside, as the Cotswold’s are hilly rather than mountainous. A week of marvelous rides will take you through one of the most beautiful and historic parts of England. Honey coloured stone villages, open wolds, wooded valleys and Roman roads are the background to pretty villages, “wool” churches, famous gardens, a Roman villa and welcoming inns.
Find out more >>

 

Cotswolds by Bike

 

Cycling in Sardinia - 8 Days

Plunge into the wild yet romantic beauty of south-western Sardinia and cycle beside empty beaches and sandunes in total freedom and at your own pace. The terrain is rugged in parts, with high cliffs ascending from the coast, interspersed with long sandy beaches, grass covered dunes and breathtaking views. 
Find out more >>

 

Cycling in Sardinia

 

Vineyards of Bordeaux

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


Bordeaux Vineyards Walking Holiday