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Sherpa HQ team member Nathalie headed to the Dordogne with her mum in September for some autumn sunshine, and to savour the delights of this beautiful region of France. Here she gives us her top 5 reasons to try this self-guided walking trip for yourself.
GET AWAY FROM THE HUSTLE & BUSTLE
Now I see why the trip is called Hidden Treasures of the Dordogne. It was certainly reflected in the number of walkers mum & I saw, which were only a couple every few days. For me this made it feel like much more of a special & immersive experience, and also encouraged me to practice my rusty French more!
A typical sleepy hamlet - Greze.
Lush forests provide welcome shade from the hot sun.
The walnut groves got more and more plentiful as the walk goes on. Thanks to mum I can now identify chestnuts, figs etc. It was like having my own guide!
GAZE OVER THE VISTAS
As I normally tend to gravitate towards mountains, I wasn’t sure if the landscape in rural France would entertain me for the week - but I needn’t have worried. Each day offered beautiful, varied landscapes that came with their own highlights. Country fields, walnut orchards, gorges, forests and rivers - there was always something beautiful to absorb.
Kayakers at Beaulieu-Sur-Dorogne.
Glimpsing Curemont as we descend after our picnic – don’t forget to visit the Lou Pé de Grill farm shop as you enter the village!
The climbs are worth it when you get rewarding views like this.
EXPLORE MEDIEVAL VILLAGES & CAVES
The league table for French villages is the exclusive 143 top villages in the country, and you visit several just in this trip. I actually felt like I had stepped back in time or into a fairy tale. If, like me, you enjoy photography and finding local produce, you’ll be in your element.
Carennac on the morning of the last day. Not only do you visit lovely villages, you get to stay in them too.
The impressive Chateau de Castelnaud.
The Padirac Caves were a wonderous, cooling detour at only 13 degrees Celsius, when it’s 27 above ground. More than 100m below ground, I loved floating on an underground river and seeing all the weird and wonderful formations which we named “the jellyfish” and “the cauliflower” - although like cloud shapes, we all see different things!
Padirac Caves – after the short boat ride you get a chance to explore the caves on foot.
SAMPLE THE LOCAL CUISINE
It’s funny how quickly you get used to three-course dinners, and in the Dordogne Valley you certainly get spoilt. I’m not sure if my calories burned cancelled out the calories consumed, but it was worth it. In my mind it was guilt-free after the hikes anyway! Starting off the week at the Bonne Famille, which has been in the same family for some 97 years now, we could feel the love in the service and the food. As an area famed for confit why wouldn’t you indulge in duck or cassoulet? And the food highs just kept coming.
The Bonne Famille served tasty duck home-cooked meals.
Hostellerie Fenelon’s Lamb two ways was packed with flavour.
INDULGE YOURSELF WITH WINE & CHEESE – YOU’VE EARNED IT!
When a cheese board with a selection of more than 10 cheeses is set in front you, you can’t not smile. It’s even better after you’ve been enjoying a bottle of the local red from Glanes, which can only be bought locally, and if you have the right contacts. Luckily the proprietor of the Hostellerie Fenelon has friends in the right places!
Look out for this wine on the menus – the traditional blend is perfect as it compliments many dishes.
Save room for the local goat’s cheese if you can!
My conclusion – this was a wonderful trip that certainly convinced me that you don’t have to be in the mountains to enjoy nature. This is a beautiful region of France, with friendly people, delicious food and fantastic wine. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get a proper taste of French countryside and culture.
2019 dates for Hidden Treasures of the Dordogne are now available to book - with the option of either an 8-day or 10-day itinerary .
For this month’s photo gallery, we’re delighted to have teamed up with photographer Andy Cox, whose website
cornwallwithacamera.com features some of the most stunning shots we’ve ever seen of this truly beautiful part of the UK. Andy has lived there for nearly all of his life – few people know the magic and charm of Cornwall’s breath-taking landscapes better than him. All of the photos you can see in this gallery, plus many more, can be purchased as prints and photo gifts from his website, and you can also find him on Facebook and Instagram. Andy has also taken many photos of other parts of the UK, most notably the Isles of Scilly, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands.
Most importantly, every location featured in this gallery is visited on one or more of our Cornwall walking or cycling holidays – so you can enjoy the magnificence of these places in the flesh. Booking for 2019 is now open, so what are you waiting for?
Cheesering at sunset
Godrevy Lighthouse at sunset
Godrevy Lighthouse in a storm
Bodmin Moor in golden light
High tide sunset at St Michael's Mount
Poly Joke, Pentire
Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes
The Summer was a busy time for our resident guide, John, who tried out a couple of new walks that we will be operating in 2019. In fact, the first one was not a new walk at all, but the oldest National Trail in Britain - the famous Pennine Way.
Walking by Hadrian's Wall on the Pennine Way
Blessed with great sunshine, and with only 1.5 hours of rain during the duration of the walk over some 20 days, the 260 mile walk was completed in ‘redneck’ style! The trek follows the high trails, packhorse routes and Roman roads from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yethom in Scotland, along the Pennine chain of hills, aptly named by the Romans after their own Appenines running along the spine of Italy. There are some amazing views and features on this walk, particularly the waterfalls of the Tees Valley, the limestone scenery around Malham and the most attractive part of Hadrian’s Wall. Hopefully you’ll get the views from several big peaks such as Kinder Scout, Blackhill, Cross Fell and The Cheviot. Very few people walk the Pennine Way compared to the Coast to Coast -some areas have limited accommodation, but those who do tend to revel in the experience of visiting attractive villages that they would not normally have heard of, such as Edale, Bellingham, Dufton and Alston - mixed with more famous places such as Malham, Horton and Keld. There are also some very idiosyncratic places such as Tan Hill and Byrness. It’s a tough old walk but the challenge is made worth it not by a medal at the end, but by a certificate and the free half-pint of beer given to you at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yethom. Mind you, by that time you’ll have probably already drunk at least 30 pints of the finest beer in Christendom!
Cross Fell from Dun Fell
Descending towards the Schill from Cheviot
The second new trip is one to join those that we already offer in the Canary Islands - this time to La Palma, a gorgeous dormant volcanic island whose rich soils have spawned a profundity of the special Laurisilva vegetation, that at times creates its own clouds on the eastern side of the mountain.
La Palma - the Caldera de Taburiente
The island of La Palma is essentially one huge caldera that tapers to the south to more recent volcanoes - the last eruption was in 1971. On a two centre based stay in the towns of Santa Cruz and Los Llanos, John ventured out on walks that threaded through the forests to view points, and others that took him to the highest points of the island on peaks, down gorges and to the coast. La Palma is quite old fashioned, offering a good selection of restaurants and a nice family atmosphere in the villages and towns. As expected there is a lot of great seafood including tuna, squid and octopus. There are avocados, apples and a large banana cultivation, which is the island’s main economy. There are certainly things to do on a day off from walking, including boat trips to whale watch and a visit to dramatic sea caves. La Palma is also a world centre in astronomy. Visiting the island has certainly been made easier by the introduction of Easyjet flights from London Gatwick from autumn through to spring.
La Palma - Coastal Scenery
Near the caldera
Both of these trips will be available to book soon – so watch this space. To register your interest, email [email protected] and we’ll contact you when booking opens.
Our 2019 dates have been announced for the Tour du Mont Blanc – so now is the time to secure your place on one of the classic alpine walking tours. Here are just some of the reasons why we think you should book this spectacular trip…
1. EIGHT fixed departure days for summer 2019
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a self guided walking holiday – but due to the logistics of baggage transfer, the trip departs on fixed dates throughout the summer season. Our 8 departure dates, spanning the entire summer, give you plenty of options for when to do the trip.
2. Support from our friendly, knowledgeable team in London
Our London office is staffed by people with plenty of walking experience, and an in-depth knowledge of our holidays. They can provide you with all the information you need and answer all of your questions, providing support both before and during your trip.
3. Walk independently, but at the same time as other Sherpa travellers
Although the Tour du Mont Blanc is a self guided holiday, the fact that the trip departs on fixed dates means there will always be a small number of other Sherpa walkers doing the tour at the same time. So you can be as sociable or independent as you like – it’s the best of both worlds!
4. Enjoy the benefits of support from our team members who live in the area
Our friendly local staff who take care of your baggage transfers also act as your contacts in case of any problems, or simply to offer advice and information.
5. Our route notes are second to none
When you book with Sherpa you’ll receive a pack including detailed route notes, maps and information on local points of interest and attractions. The notes have been prepared by experts with intimate knowledge of the area, and also include details of alternative routes for certain parts of the tour.
6. Enjoy a meet & greet on your first night
The evening before you set off from Les Houches for your first day’s walking, our ground support staff will hold a briefing to give you all the information you need and to ask any questions you might have. It also gives you the opportunity to meet the other Sherpa travellers who’ll be doing the walk at the same time as you.
7. Solo travellers can avoid paying a single supplement
If you’re a solo traveller and are happy to share a room with another traveller (of the same gender), you won’t have to pay a single supplement - as long as we can pair you up. (NB: there are no single rooms available in Les Chapieux, on the 3rd night of the tour, and if not paired up single travellers will have to stay in a small dormitory at Refuge Les Mottets, which is 7km further up on the route).
8. First-timer on a self guided walk? No problem!
Although the Tour du Mont Blanc provides views of breath-taking alpine scenery, the walk itself is graded as ‘moderate to challenging’ and requires no mountaineering experience. This means that anyone with the level of fitness required to walk for 6 to 7 hours a day on uneven ground should find it within their capabilities. Some of the walks can be shortened by the use of cable cars or local bus services.
9. Enjoy the culture of 3 different countries
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Tour du Mont Blanc is that you’ll pass through France, Italy and Switzerland, each with its own culture, customers and delicious food and wine. A true European adventure awaits you.
10. Rest days, or extra walking days - the choice is yours
The itinerary includes 3 ‘rest’ days when you can take it easy – but there’s certainly no need to rest if you’re feeling energetic! There’s plenty to explore in all of the areas (the route notes will provide information), or you can choose to do some extra walking if you prefer.
Find more details, dates and book online, for the Tour du Mont Blanc Self Guided Walk.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month he takes a look at an essential yet often overlooked area - your toiletries and wash kit, and how to save weight and space in your luggage.
In the world of travel and back-packing, where it’s important to keep weight down, one of the least obvious places to start is your wash kit. It’s amazing how much a bag of soaps, gels, pastes and brushes add up. So many people bring full size containers of everything from toothpaste to shampoo, big cans of deodorant and heavy towels. Of course a distinction could be made between tours, where basic soaps and shampoos may be provided by hotels and B&Bs, and camping trips where more items may be required, but sometimes even in a hotel you may not find basic items such as soap or a plug.
Perhaps don't pack anything toiletry wise, until you get to the airport! If you are flying from UK airports, most have a chemist such as Boots air-side. Boots have tried hard to develop useful and very travel-friendly items: small deodorants, hand gels, shampoos, and folding toothbrushes which fold into their own handle. On a normal one or two week trip you won't need a large volume of tooth paste for instance.
Another way of doing it is filling your own bottles with your favourite brand of shampoo etc. If you can make the effort to decant these at home you could buy something like the LifeVenture Silicone Air Travel Bottles Set. These fulfil carry-on liquid volume requirements and are reusable, as the silicone does not perish or crack like conventional plastic containers.
The lightest way forward here are Soap Leaves (from LifeVenture) which come in a plastic container and you just add to water depending on what needs to be cleaned. Although light, these are hard to get on with because they just seem too weak to work, and the temptation is to just keep pulling more out of the container - and once your hand is wet, the whole container of them gets wet. Much better is a simple block of soap, maybe cut in half as it can be used for scrubbing clothes, and will dry very quickly and can be wrapped into a towel. You could also consider taking a shampoo bar rather than a traditional bottle of liquid shampoo. These are concentrated blocks of shampoo that can outlast two to three bottles of the liquid stuff - one manufacturer claims that one bar will last up to 80 washes!
Plug or Washbowl
I used to carry a travel sink plug for budget hotels and hostels so that you knew you were going to be able to wash clothes each night. I’m quite surprised these days how many hotels either don’t have plugs, have lost them, or have ill-fitting ones. This may be because some basins don't have an overflow and they are worried about flooding. However a travel plug can be a good investment (Boots, Lifeventure). They come in different sizes so that you aren’t caught out with a non-standard size, and some are just silicone circles that fit over the plug hole and are held in place and seal with water pressure. For camping trips, a great luxury, but very useful, is a lightweight collapsible travel bowl (Ortlieb, Lifeventure). They are great because you can decant water from springs and streams and wash in your tent or under a tree without contaminating water sources. I have always carried one in Morocco and on the World Expeditions Simien Mountains and Rinjani trips. Even in hotels they can be useful, because you can soak clothes separately and still use your sink.
After washing you need a towel! Lightweight towels are quite hard to get used to - they can feel like large panels of blotting paper. They dry quickly, but they also saturate quickly. Most of them claim to be anti-bacterial which means they should not smell too much after prolonged use. They often have drying hooks. The hardest thing is folding them up to fit into the sachets they come in after use, especially with wet and cold fingers.
After rinsing and wringing out clothes, you can roll them up in a large travel towel to dry them. Then with the risk of turning your hotel room into a laundry, many outdoor shops and even Boots sell travel washing lines that do not weigh a bean, but can take up a number of items.
Obviously you will want all of your toiletries conveniently stored in one place so that you can find items easily enough. The neatest way forward in this respect will be a lightweight roll-up wash bag (Osprey and Lifeventure do some nice ones). But quite frankly you could just use a strong poly bag with a few holes in it, to save even more weight!
Jan Clarke, from Western Australia, booked on to the Guided Coast to Coast walk in order to reconnect with her UK roots, and to feed her passion for walking. Here, she shares her experience, and her tips for looking after your most important piece of kit - your feet!
What is your walking history?
I have enjoyed walking ever since I was a little girl growing up in Tasmania, Australia. I spent a lot of weekends in my primary school years free-ranging over the foothills of Mount Wellington and the National Parks in Tassie. As a family we hiked in to say farewell to the original Lake Pedder before it was dammed and flooded to feed the hydro-electric scheme. It was a local pilgrimage. I think dad used to like the freedom and fresh air of wide open space, and my brothers and I had lots of energy to get rid of. I guess it just got into my bones. I still work full time at 60, but in the last decade I’ve found time to hike in the Colorado and Canadian Rockies, the Italian Cinque Terre, Table Mountain in South Africa, the calderas of volcanoes in Bali and Hawaii, the summit of Cradle Mountain and Freycinet Peninsula, the Blue Mountains, Central Australia, the gorges in The Kimberley and Pilbara and parts of the Bibbulmun Track and the Cape to Cape in Western Australia. I have never walked 13 consecutive days before, though! I am more used to hiking in very hot, dry conditions than boggy, cold and rainy.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
This walk was for my dad. He was a “10 Pound Pom” who emigrated to Australia in the 50s. He gave me my love of hiking. I believe you have to “walk a country to know a country” and I wanted to feel my family roots and feel connected to my heritage. I love visiting National Parks and this walk had three in a row! I like a physical challenge so I chose something that would make me sweat. I figured the Coast to Coast would tick all those boxes – and it did. I gave myself the walk as my 60th birthday present and was happy to fly to the UK by myself to prove I could meet the challenge. My dad certainly came with me… in spirit, anyway.
How did you prepare?
Preparation for mountains was a bit difficult where I live. I can walk forever on flat ground because there is a LOT of that in Perth and I have always enjoyed long walks. The most we have close by is a scarp, the Perth Hills, so I spent every weekend for 4-5 hours at a time hiking fast up and down stony, gravelly tracks just to make sure my leg muscles, reflexes and concentration were honed. Actually, I think it was an advantage to have practised on harsh stones because there are a lot of those on the Coast to Coast. Another advantage was being used to hiking in hot weather with hot feet. I think that saved me from getting blisters. I think some mental preparation is a good thing too. I have spent my life being stubborn. I don’t like to let things beat me!
Your favourite destination?
This was definitely St Sunday Crag! Everything about that day was perfect – the scenery, the weather, the vibe. It was a challenging, strenuous, heat-pounding walk but there was just something about standing on those rocks at the top that made me feel WOW! I love standing on top of any mountain, but that one was a real winner for me. That’s my mountain!
Best food and drink?
To be honest, everything was amazing and a real taste of so many things “English”. I did not expect little places to have such excellent meals. Truly. Part of my concept of “knowing a country” is also to try local foods and drink, so I did. A memorable one was bacon chop with black pudding and stilton cream sauce at the pub at Ennerdale Bridge. Absolutely delicious – and something I would NEVER have tried at home. Rachael’s fresh berries and rhubarb yoghurt at Gillercombe B&B in Rosthwaite – oh YUM! The beef and ale pie at The White Lion in Patterdale was outstanding. The Wainwright beer and rhubarb gin were winners everywhere. Oh, and the blueberry and cream ice-cream at the PO in Patterdale and the scones, jam and cream everywhere, but especially at the little café with the penny-farthing bikes in Gunnerside. Thumbs up, too, to the publican at The Station Tavern in Grosmont who made extra space for ten of us for dinner, served up a cracking meal at a cracking pace, and then gave four of us a lift home. Above and beyond the call!
I probably shouldn’t admit to this. The thing that surprised me the most was that I managed to fully recover every morning and be ready to go again! I know that should be a given expectation when you sign up for a long hike. Seriously – by the end of every day the balls of my feet were so sore I thought I would never walk again, but every morning they were perfectly fine and raring to go again. So I think my nanna body pleasantly surprised me the most. As for the knees - so pleased I was a hockey player and swimmer and not a netballer or tennis player in my youth!
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
I think the 2 very long days towards the end of the walk were pretty challenging, mentally and physically. Every single day had its little challenges, but that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want an easy wander. I wanted to have to work at it. Having the sole of my hiking boot detach unexpectedly at the top of Kidsty Pike in a sleet storm was a little north of “interesting”. However, my husband calls me “Mrs MacGyver” because I enjoy the satisfaction of creatively solving problems. John also had duct tape and clever ideas in his emergency box of tricks, so between us we worked it out and the group never skipped a beat. Gotta love a good challenge. Keeps you young on the inside. Like All Bran for the soul.
Do you have any other advice for travellers thinking about travelling on this trip?
My best tip sounds like the most obvious. Look after your feet! They need to be your friends. If they’re not used to walking for two weeks solid, then tape them up with Fixomull (or slap on the Compede) BEFORE you start. Any investment in being kind to your feet will pay off ten-fold. If you feel hot-spots developing then stop and patch them immediately. Don’t be shy! Poles were also really useful. There are plenty of places where the pressure they take off downhill hiking or help with stability on uneven ground is really useful. I also had magic butterscotch lollies. Pop one at the beginning of a hill and it’s amazing how a little sugar buzz powers you up a hill (unless you are one of the good souls who have sworn off the evil of sugar, of course). Take every kind of clothing in your day-pack as the weather can change in an instant. Oh - and take a spare pair of hiking boots. Your faves might give in well before you ever do!
>> Find out more about Sherpa Expeditions' Coast to Coast walking and cycling holidays.