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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 brings you the latest outdoor gear news and talks about hiking gear essentials, drones, packing, and trendy camping gear.
A new year dawns, and with it no doubt some of you are thinking about some bright and shiny new gear that you can spoil yourself with. So, let’s look at some of the newer trends rather than the obvious fleeces and waterproofs of yore.
Boots & Soles
What more innovation could a humble walking boot have after all of the material and waterproofing revolutions of the last few years? Well,
Vibram, the famous sole manufacturer, has come up with the Arctic Grip Sole. The rubber of the sole is embedded with gritty-type materials that increase friction on slick surfaces. It is not designed to replace the crampon, but may give better security at times when you may have to cross an occasional short snow section like on a Tour du Mont Blanc trip, Haute Route, Alpine Pass or Norwegian Fjordland tour.
Trendy Camping Gear
There are new makes of tents that double as a hammock, for instance ‘
The Crua' is an all-in-one sleep system. It can be set up on the ground as a tent or hung as a hammock. It has a built-in insulated air mattress and detachable sleeping bag. It is made from ripstop nylon, with bug mesh with an aluminium frame so that the total weight is only about 3kg.
Different companies are offering “inflatable hammocks,” which can be used on the ground like a sofa. To inflate, no foot pump is necessary; you just swipe the bag through the air. Once the bag is filled, it closes like a drybag with a fastex buckle. The original one is made by Dutch manufacturer
Lamzac, but there are others such as Windpouch. Besides serving as a perfect hiking gear essential, they also work on the beach or at an outdoors concert. Some have attachments so they can be used as a hammock as well and pack to about the size of a small sleeping bag.
Hot Weather Wear
Polartec has launched a fabric called
Delta, advertised to “cool you down in the hottest conditions”. the fibres hold water yet let the fabric breathe and no chemical treatments are used. The fibres in the weave disperse moisture, increasing airflow, reducing friction against the skin when you move. There was no mention of how smelly this fabric may get after a couple of wears however.
Measure Your Meters
Power meters were developed primarily for cyclists to show their power output in Watts in order to train, but new technology is bringing power meters to walkers and runners. Although costly, during 2017 we will start to see models like
Stryd and RPM2 enter the mainstream at a price. The RPM2 uses pressure pad sensing insoles and the Stryd is a device that just attaches to your shoe.
Packing Gear Essentials
If you like trekking from inn to inn, you can now get segmented roll packs. These are meant to keep your pack or luggage organised. You feed pockets with rolled up shirts, underwear, socks, toiletries and miscellaneous items. When you get to the hotel, pull the roll out, hang it up and easily find your things. These are made by Hang and Roll and if you like more information you can have a look at
Pretty soon any activity you do you could have your personal drone following and filming you. One example of this, the
Staaker (perhaps should be called The Stalker), is touted as “artificially intelligent” enough to auto-follow (and film) anyone at up to 50mph. GoPro have brought out a (non-intelligent) model recently. Whether people will soon get fed up with being buzzed by these all the time and start waving their walking poles at them is another matter.
Next month I test the power metres while being chased by a drone....or perhaps not!
If you have specific questions on your hiking gear, cycling equipment or other outdoor items, why not get in touch with John and the Sherpa team directly. For more Gear Matters blog articles, have a look at this overview of the latest posts.
Planning a trip to Italy and looking for holiday ideas that you can undertake fairly soon? We have created an overview of the first trips travelling to Italy this year. You can be packing your bags and hitting the Italian trails in spring undertaking one of these pleasant walking holidays in the land of pizza and the Romans.
The itineraries travel across the country and from the first of March, be among the firsts this year to enjoy the Italian walking paths, sip from your cappuccino on a quiet terrace in the first beams of sun in spring, visit ancient Roman sites without the crowds, and follow the trails of the Cilento Coast, Lake Como, Amalfi, Sardinia and Cinque Terre.
The great lakes of northern Italy have been a popular holiday destination since Roman times, evidenced by the array of lavish villas and sumptuous gardens which line their shores. When you visit Italy in March, April or May, you can enjoy full flexibility on this itinerary that uses the old Roman tracks. They cross the mountains on the west side of
Lake Como, exploring forested valleys, mountaintops and traditional villages. Still in use today by the locals, they have been transformed into a series of way marked trails offering breath-taking views.
>> Learn more about the 8-days Lake Como Rambling holiday
A brand-new trip in Italy to the less known side of Amalfi was launched in March 2017. Most visitors to Italy’s world famous coastal strip do not continue beyond Vietri sul Mare, the Amalfi’s easternmost point. Go a few miles further south though, and you will find Cilento: the country’s largest National Park. Richly scented pinewoods, mediaeval farm houses and traditional water mills remain largely ‘undisturbed’ by the 21st century.
>> Learn more about the 5-days Cilento Coast and Mountain walking holiday
Few trips in Italy take in such a diverse combination of iconic highlights and stunning seascapes, making it impossible to escape the hordes of crowds that head to ‘Nastro Azzurro’ (Blue Ribbon) in the summer months. But, travel between March and May and you will have the Amalfi Coast virtually entirely to yourself.
, or check out the >> Learn more about the 11-days Classic Amalfi Coast walking holiday or the 6-days options Classic Amalfi Coast - 8 Days
The Cinque Terre ( Five Lands) is Italian Riviera at its best. The coastline of the Cinque Terre in north-western Italy is as stunning as Amalfi, yet somehow even more colourful! For centuries artists and poets have praised the tiny aquamarine inlets that serve as fishing harbours and the ancient terraces rising steeply out of the coastal crags in words and pictures. You can opt for the gentle coastal strolls or strenuous hikes into the surroundings hills. Visit churches and viewpoints, walk through cliff-side vineyards and pine forests, while reserving ample time to feast on the rich Italian cuisine.
>> Learn more about the 6-days Cinque Terre Villages walking holiday
he weather in Sardinia in March and April is often already relatively warm and pleasant for undertaking outdoor activities. When you visit the Italian island in early spring, stay around the coast to enjoy gentle walks and explore secluded bays and ancient watchtowers. Taste the clear spring water, spot birds like Grey Herons and Pink Flamingos, and watch the sunset turn the cliffs to shades of yellow and pink.
>> Learn more about the 8-days self guided walking holiday A Saunter in Sardinia
For more information on your options for visiting Italy in March, April and May and for booking details, you can download the trip notes on each trip’s page or
contact our team of travel experts by phone or email.
For anyone wanting to experience what is beyond Italy’s most popular stretch of coastline, from 2017 you can explore a new part of Italy’s south: the Cilento National Park. A
new walking holiday takes you to the lesser-known Cilento Coast, on the Gulf of Salerno’s southern shore, the natural extension of the famous Amalfi Coast.
There is more to the Amalfi Coast than Positano, Ravello, endless sips of limoncello and crowded walking paths.
Concentrating on Cilento, Italy’s largest national park, the new self guided trip is a short walking break designed to appeal to anyone who wants to experience ‘the other side of Amalfi’. A place which in many ways exists in its own time warp, little visited Cilento remains largely undisturbed by the 21st century.
In Roman Times, Cilento was known as Campania Felix – or ‘happy land’!
The walk takes you along rocky ridges, richly scented pinewoods and centuries-old olive trees and intersperses with quaint fishing villages, medieval farm houses and traditional water mills. Stay in an ancient convent and enjoy quiet and remote walking in a stunning, yet less known, pocket of Italy. Highlights include:
Take in the wild beauty of the Cilento Coast, with rocky ridges set between small picturesque inlets and richly scented pinewoods backing onto wide sandy beaches and serene Italian fishing villages
Witness the traditional way of life as you visit medieval borghi (fortified hilltop villages), rural chapels and ancient farm houses in Cilento National Park
Enjoy sumptuous, drenched-in-olive-oil banquets – homemade pasta, locally sourced ingredients and wines from the somewhat unusual (but very amenable) aglianico grape
Follow the old mule track to the ‘Valley of the Mills’, named after the many medieval watermills that once dotted the course of the stream
Cross the ‘Alta Via’ along the Monte Stella ridge, past the Chapel of Monte Stella and through chestnut woods to the abandoned, pre-Roman fortress of Castelluccio
Admire panoramic views of the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri – on a clear day you may even catch a glimpse of Sicily if you look south!
Visit the archaeological site Paestum – famous for its Doric-order temples, the museum in Italy preserves a unique Diver’s Tomb, a prime example of Greek funerary painting.
Take the new
Cilento Coast and Mountain trip in Italy either as a standalone short break or as an extension to our 8 and 11-day Amalfi itineraries.
For more information on Cilento National Park and to speak with one of our travel consultants, there are
various ways to contact us.
New Trip in 2017: Walking in Guernsey, Channel Islands
In 2017 you have an increased choice of travel opportunities in the UK as we launch a new trip on the John Muir Way and a walking holiday to Guernsey, Channel Islands.
In the Channel Islands, you can already step on your bicycle with us for a three-centre cycling itinerary and in the new year we will complement this offering with a weeklong self guided walking option on the islands of Guernsey, Herm, Sark and Alderney.
Follow in the footsteps of Victor Hugo, Renoir & Queen Victoria
Guernsey and the Channel Islands (geographically closer to France, yet a Crown dependency) brim with character and are a walker’s paradise. On your walks, expect long sandy beaches and beautiful undulating cliff paths leading to tiny coves with sparkling rock pools. Walk past forts of various sizes, some dating back to the 1600s while others, more recent, were created by the Nazis during their occupation of the islands in World War II.
The weeklong walking holiday around the islands of Guernsey is the longer half of the Channel Island Way. You can embark on seven days of Guernsey walks from April until October on the new Guernsey Islands – Channel Island Way trip , with your first travel option on 1 April 2017 (no fooling!).
For more information and bookings, download the trip notes here or contact our team of travel experts by phone or email.
We sat down with Alpujarras resident, hiker, guesthouse owner and author Emma Illsley to talk about walking in Andalucia , her recently launched cookbook, that she wrote with husband David, and of course asked her about the best Andalusian dish.
Can You Tell A Bit About Yourself?
We are David and Emma, we moved to the Alpujarra Mountains and Mairena village in 1998. Nearly a decade before that we were living in different parts of Spain and Portugal. We both worked for the British Council and were in Galicia, Oporto and then in the Canary Islands where we indulged in our love of windsurfing.
We initially came to the Alpujarra mountains as a sabbatical year on which we wanted time to think and plan where we would like to live and work. We fell in love with the Alpujarras. Both with the astonishing Spanish landscape and with the way of life. The small villages of Andalusia consist of families and of subsistence farmers still producing food and farming the land as they have done for generations. We both love hiking as well as cycling so we decided to set up as a small guesthouse in the middle of the Alpujarra mountains.
What Inspired You to Write the Andalusia Cookbook 'Las Chimeneas'?
We both write in our spare time and I had written another book Bee-eaters and other Migrants . In this, I chronicle what it is like to live in a small remote mountain community, focussing on the changes in the seasons and the local traditions. We were looking for another project like this. As our small restaurant was already getting fantastic reviews and many of our guests kept asking us why we didn't put together a book of recipes, the idea came about. From here the project emerged as a book that informs about the food we cook at our restaurant combined with content about local food production and traditions, as well as interviews with our neighbours. That is how “Las Chimeneas – Recipes and Stories from An Alpujarran Village” developed. The fact that we were put in touch with two very talented people, Anna Norman - a writer and editor who structured the book and gave us much needed deadlines, along with Suzy Bennett - a very experienced travel and food photographer, meant the project grew from a small idea into something much bigger.
What Is a Typical Dish for People to Try When Hiking in Andalucia?
Our dish pollo en asado or chicken with sundried tomatoes & peppers is very traditional. It uses the sundried produce that is famous in the Alpujarra Mountains. If you travel in September, you will see drying peppers hanging from the balconies and tomatoes on the rooftops.
Even just one generation ago people produced everything they ate. All our dishes are also made from ingredients that are grown on the terraces around us. To prepare the food, we work with Sole and Conchi who are from our village. Another traditional dish we like is carne en ajillo - a pork dish with an almond sauce. It is the dish that people used to make for special occasions such as birthdays or communions. As we are surrounded by almond terraces, there are plenty of nuts for this dish at hand!
Both dishes are delicious and guests give rave reviews and compliments to the chef regularly. The Alpujarra mountain range is also very famous for the air-dried jamon serrano which is delicious cut thinly as a tapas - or added to our broad bean dish in spring along with sundried tomatoes and the zest of an orange.
What Season Do You Like Best for Walking in Andalucia?
I love walking in September and October because there is so much produce in the fields such as wild grapes, figs and almonds. But every month has its delights. November has the autumn colours. Winter walking is fantastic in December and January with clear skies and views across to Africa with snow on the high peaks. The amazing almond blossom comes in February and then we move into spring from March onwards with an incredible range of birds and flowers. June in Andalusia can be warm for walking, but it is a very dry heat so more than manageable if you wear a hat and carry plenty of water - and then it is lovely to come back to sit out in the warm evenings. The only months that are too hot for walking in Andalusia are July and August.
When Is the Annual Harvest Of The Alpujarra Mountains?
We have several harvests in the Alpujarra mountains surrounding us. The olive harvest is in January and February and as many of the walks go through the olive terraces, it is quite common to walk alongside families in the fields. You will see them busy with their nets and long sticks, which they use to hit the olives off the high branches.
The other important harvest is the almond harvest in September. This is another interesting time to come walking in Andalucia as it often coincides with fiesta season. Every weekend sees a different village celebrating the day of their own Patron Saint. Our village fiesta of Santo Cristo de la Luz is the nearest weekend to 18th September. We love for walkers to be involved in these harvests, it’s a great experience and opportunity to spend time with the local Andalusians.
What Is Your Favourite Place In Andalusia?
It is completely biased to say it of course, but I love our own village of Mairena where Sherpa’s hikers spend their first night and their last two nights. It is partly because I have been here so long and know everyone in the village, but it is also because our village really hasn't changed much over the years. Pretty much the only tourists we see in the village are our guests! It is still mainly a village made up of farmers. Mairena has one friendly bar and a shop and the houses all have the traditional flat rooves based on the Moorish architecture of North Africa. Above our village, the ancient threshing circles have been turned into a lookout point and our olive mill is one of two in the whole province of Granada which is still a traditional press. The village locals are friendly and will always give a big grinned ‘Hola!’ as anyone walks by.
What Can Walkers Make from The Fruits They Can Pick Up on Their Hike?
We are always happy to give people the recipe for our delicious ajo blanco or white almond gazpacho. For most of the year it is possible to gather almonds in their shells, which does mean you then have to shell them but that's part of the pleasure. I have a quote from the local best-selling author Chris Stewart who is a regular diner at our restaurant. He once happened to be dining with a trumpeter who agreed to serenade the restaurant that evening!
"The trumpeter’s willowy wife offered me a spoon of her ajo blanco. This miraculous combination of garlic, almonds, olive oil, and the water of a clear mountain spring, was as good as it gets. It’s easy to louse this simple dish up – too thin or too thick; too garlicky or too oily… but Sole, who runs the show here from the kitchen, has the trick of getting it just right." – Chris Stewart
What Is the Best Thing About Walking in Andalucia?
David always says that coming to the Alpujarras is probably one of the shortest flights from Northern Europe that brings you to immerse yourself in something truly different and culturally exciting. Although it is a cliché, walking in Andalucia makes you experience a way of life that in much of the world has been lost. You will have challenging, varied walks with incredible views down to the Mediterranean and up to some of the highest peaks in mainland Spain. The norm is to hardly see another hiker for hours. Each night you will stay in lovely traditional villages and get to see a way of life little changed. People here for example still think that one of life’s pleasures is the privilege of being able to fill their jugs with spring water from the village source. Andalusians continue to grow their own food wherever possible, simply because they know, rightly, that it tastes so much better.
I believe that walking in Andalucia gives hikers a very rounded experience; get to feel fit, enjoy raw nature, and experience something life enhancing. On top of that, hiking in Andalucia is the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life.
If you are interested in the cookbook Las Chimeneas – Recipes and Stories From An Alpujarran Village, please let us know and we can bring you in touch with David and Emma. If you are interested in walking in Andalucia and staying at David & Emma's guesthouse, have a look at our 8-day Hiking in Hidden Andalucia self guided walking holiday .
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 looks at the best ways to make your walking shoes winter ready as he gives you 7 tips on how to clean hiking boots. Whether you have new shoes or have been using them for years, whether you wear synthetic or leather hiking boots, John knows what to do.
Walking in winter time puts some of our frontline gear – hiking boots particularly – to the test. Especially after hiking in muddy, wet environments you may want to know about the best way to clean your shoes. For best results to keep your walking gear in tip – top condition for their next use, a degree of care is needed.
Cleaning hiking boots or shoes can be a reflective and therapeutic exercise, but it is one many walkers have been neglecting for too long, so see below tips on how to clean hiking boots and start today.
1. Cleaning Mud Off Your Shoes
Peaty soils in particular contain acids that can attack stitching and caked mud can affect leather or fabric. After a muddy walk, the best way to clean shoes is to wipe your boots with a wet cloth or sponge and use a soft nylon brush to remove stubborn soils. A hard brush can damage stitching so is not advised. Your walking boots might already be soaked; in that case, it is a good idea to rinse your boots briefly under a tap. I don’t think it is advisable to soak them until they are supersaturated as that will take some time to dry out.
2. Remove Oily Dirt from Your Shoes
To remove oil-based dirt from your hiking boots, for example excess wax and stubborn grime that will not be cleaned by plain water, use something like Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel and a nylon brush. Be sure to clean the linings of your boots with a warm damp cloth after each use as well. Salt from perspiration can pass into the lining rapidly destroying the leather of your shoes and making it dry and cracked.
3. Drying Your Hiking Boots
Once the boots have been cleaned to the best of your ability let them dry out naturally – in an airing cupboard, or a bedroom. Take insoles out, remove the shoe laces etc. Whatever you do, don’t force-dry your footwear with localised heat, such as an open fire, because that can cause the leather to dry and crack.
4. Walking Shoes Maintenance
If your walking boots or shoes are quite worn, now is a good time to do some shoe maintenance. Check whether the soles of your shoes need gluing. If rands are peeling, use shoe glue or superglue to seal them. Deep cracks in leather or damaged stitching can also be strengthened with a conservative use of superglue.
5. Maintaining Synthetic Shoes
If your footwear is synthetic, I have other tips on how to clean your hiking boots. You can now apply various products, usually sprays which embed the fabrics of your shoes with waterproofing chemicals which help to bead water droplets. Often these can be applied on wet shoes so that the chemicals are drawn into the fabric or suede leather. I like to use for example Nikwax Spray ‑ on Waterproofing for Nubuck and Suede which is available in the UK via Cotswold Outdoor.
6. Maintaining Leather Boots
With leather boots if you have worn areas, it might be an idea to use polish to restore the colour. Otherwise now is the time to start to apply the shoe creams and pastes rubbing into the leather to make it suppler and apply water resistance. Grangers and Nikwax make different grades of product for this cleaning purpose. Especially massage into leather that is creasing (usually on the sides or around the ‘hardware’ like the lace eyelets etc.) as the creases can dry out into cracks.
7. Making Your Hiking Boots Waterproof
Once you have applied lighter creams and pastes to your walking boots and left to dry a bit, it is time to smear on the heavier-duty waterproofing, once referred to as dubbing. This part of the cleaning process you can build up in layers and there is no need to try to remove it the next time you clean the boots. In fact, with several layers the boots become easier to clean at least to a point, when soil and grit becomes ingrained. Pastes and waxes will change the colour appearance of your boot.
Now that you know how to clean hiking boots and of course are done with your own shoes, you can forget about them until your next active adventure holiday!
Like to get more tips on walking and cycling gear from John? Read about all his tips and advice on active adventure holidays in his Gear Matters blog series. If you feel that with your clean hiking boots, you’re ready for a new adventure, have a look at these walking holidays in the UK and Europe for inspiration.
On a walking holiday you like to pack as lightweight as possible. But with unpredictable weather, or when walking at different altitudes this isn’t an easy job. That’s why guide John looks at walking clothes for colder weather this month!
Autumn, winter sun, and spring breaks at lower altitudes require walking clothes that are lightweight and easily to pack as you will hopefully rarely use them, but they are always there in your bag if things get a little chilly. Long gone are the days of heavy furry fleeces and waterproofs that are the weight and consistency of wet cardboard. Although maybe less durable than the heavy duty stuff, modern lightweight walking clothes are so compact that they can be folded up and carried almost unnoticed until the time it is needed. All this has been spurred on by revolutions in lightweight mountaineering and mountain running.
Starting with shells, have a look at the ranges by the likes of Montane, Salomon, Berghaus, Mountain Equipment and Rab etc. They all manufacture super-lightweight jackets that are great clothing to wear when walking. Check out test reviews online or in magazines for the best models and look out for sale items. Haglofs for example do an ultralight trekking jacket called the L.I.M, which has minimal seams and pockets for waterproofness.
The classic puffa jacket may be a bit of an overkill for this sort of walking, however you see some Europeans in them sometimes in the summer! - well at least the fashion versions. The lightest, most compact walking clothes of this type are not cheap, but if you feel the cold they are great to wear and look great too. Look at the Montane 'Featherlite' or the Rab 'Microlight' jackets, they are goose/duck down, pack to nothing and have nice features. They do become a bit of a wet tea bag in the rain, hence you should wear a shell with them in such conditions. If socialising in them, beware of smokers or open fires: cigarette ash and wood sparks will immediately make your walking clothes somewhat less water resistant.
Talking about walking clothes for cold weather, baselayers must of course be mentioned. Merino wool tops are nice, they may not be ultra-quick drying, but they are very warming for their weight and you can wear them a few more times compared to polyester. Look at makes such as Ayacucho or Icebreaker. Although Merino is relatively expensive, there are nearly always deals during the winter clothing sales at your local gear stores (see
Cotswolds Outdoor in the UK for example or Paddy Pallin in Australia). Merino baselayers come in different weights but the lightest ones are really fine for walking, although if sitting at a bar on the trail, it looks as if you are wearing your underwear, so the next step is to wear a fleece jacket.
Fleece jackets are as numerous as the stars and come in as many different weights and qualities. Take a look around the outdoor shops for this type of walking clothing and see what fits you well and folds into a small space. Berghaus, Northface and Haglofs do a good range of cold-weather walking gear, some being technical with hoods and handwarmer pockets and/or thumbloops on sleeves which extend over your hands if you don't want to carry gloves.
Enjoy the cooler seasons in great style and comfort!
If you like to find out what walking holidays you can book with us in the autumn and winter months, have a look at these tips to beat the winter!
In recent years, hiking has played a very enjoyable part of Canadians Derek and Hirae Neale’s varied travel experiences. They set off on walking holidays to experience the heart and richness of other cultures and landscapes, with little or no contact with tourist throngs.
Derek and Hirae have enjoyed rugged wilderness adventures on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail and Cape Scott, the rural charms of Offa’s Dyke National Trail on the English Welsh border, and took in the spectacular views from the Amalfi Coast’s Footpath of the Gods in Italy. Last May they went walking in Alsace.
“Our recent hike with Sherpa Expeditions on the Alsace Wine Trails exceeded all our expectations."
Why did you choose to walk the Alsace Vineyard Trails?
Hirae and I were intrigued to discover this unique region of France sandwiched between the Vosges Mountains and the River Rhine. We were curious to see its distinguished and colourful half-timbered medieval architecture, hilltop castles, regional food, picturesque villages and its distinctive range of white wines what the Alsace region is known for. The moderate hike promised to offer a range of trails through the villages of the lower vineyards to the higher elevations of the Vosges with ancient castles.
How did you prepare for your Alsace walking holiday?
When travelling to Europe from Vancouver, BC, we normally like to spend a few days acclimatising and adjusting to the local time before setting out on a hike. After a couple of days in Munich (Germany) we took trains to Colmar at the southern end of Alsace where we spent a couple more days before the start of our walking holiday. Colmar is a wonderful town for an introduction to Alsace and is full of colourful shops, regional architecture and waterfront restaurants in “Little Venice”. A short taxi ride took us to our first Sherpa hotel, the Hotel de Deux Clefs in Turckheim, a 15th century historic monument richly furnished with antiques and adornments in a way that only the French can pull off. The Deux Clefs (the keys to the past and future) seemed an appropriate starting point for an Alsace walking holiday, the very friendly lady in reception was unaware of any other hikers having checked in though. Our curious stares at the other guests’ footwear served only as introductions to people from far and wide.
Your favourite destination in the Alsace?
A tough choice. The towns, villages and historic sites such as Haut Koenigsbourg and Mont Saint-Odile on these trails in Alsace are all immensely appealing and interesting in their own right. With the vast majority of the villages untouched by modernism we often felt we were walking back through time. We were intrigued by the many pairs of storks that occupied huge nests perched precariously on metal rings attached to high-slanted rooftops in most of the villages. We learned that the storks we entrenched in Alsatian folklore with their fidelity and fertility symbolism.
We particularly enjoyed Turckheim, Riquewihr, Ribeauville and Andlau, but if we have to choose, our favourite stop while walking in Alsace goes to Kayserberg contained within its medieval ramparts. The River Weiss flows through the village and disappears through buildings in remarkable ways. We wandered the narrow twisting streets and stopped at a sidewalk café for beer and a few slices of tarte flambée before re-entering the trail that ascended to the Kayserberg Castle-Fort with its commanding views over the village.
Best food or drink?
Hirae always reminds me that I should pay more attention to detail, so you can imagine my surprise when checking into our hotel in Riquewihr after the first day walking. Our very friendly host announced that our dinner that evening would be at 7:30pm at the Relais Des Moines in the centre of town (I should read the Sherpa inclusions more carefully). From then on, at 7:30pm each evening, we were treated to a fine and varied array of regional cuisine.
Dinner in the Relais Des Moines consisted of roast pork knuckle with Munster cheese, spaetzle, sauerkraut and salad accompanied by a local Riesling, the selection of which liberated with the knowledge that the food was pre-paid. And it got better. On our second evening, after relaxing with a beer on the terrace overlooking a fertile valley we were treated to a sumptuous meal at the 5-star Auberge La Meuniere in Thannenkirck, by far the best food experience of our trip. We were walking during the first week in May, and to our delight the large white asparagus were in full harvest. These were served with a variety of sauces often as an accompaniment to cheese and onion laden traditional tarte-flambée.
Biggest surprise while walking in Alsace?
The first part of our hike took us through the gentle rolling vineyards of the lower slopes, and the steeper wooded walks to the higher vantage points of the Vosges. On Day 5 from Chatenois to Andlau, we encountered the middle ground – the beautiful and varied rural landscape and vistas to the south of Bernardville. In the centre of this were the buildings of the Fermes De Vignerons Boemstein where, with the generous hospitality of the vintner, Hirae and I stopped to taste wine with a group of jovial Germans. Who, after several glasses of fine Reisling, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer were in a serious buying mood – Oh, the hardships of wilderness hiking!
This, by way of introduction was not our biggest surprise. As we approached the village of Bernardville in Alsace we met a friendly lady hiker coming towards us on the trail. When I asked her where she was from we were surprised to hear that she had started in Cologne and was walking to Rome, for which she had allowed around 130 days. From the large shell on her backpack I suddenly realised the significance of all the shells on the maps supplied by Sherpa (which incidentally are excellent) – we were on part of the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route from northern Europe to Rome, adding even more significance to the host of churches, religious buildings and brass shells set into monuments along way. As we bid farewell to our friendly pilgrim and gazed out over the idyllic view, our spirits seemed to have lifted even higher.
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
Day 6: the long climb from Andlau at 224m to Mont Saint-Odile at 790m. It was not the altitude gain, but the sheer distances involved that made this the most challenging day on our Alsace walking holiday. I’m sure we walked way further than necessary after a few wrong turns from the confusing signs on the myriad of trails crossing the mountain. Hirae, who is 58 and does 1 ½ hours of hot yoga four times per week, had plenty of rest time waiting for me: 67, overworked and overweight to catch up. After one wrong turn, a group of young mountain bikers clad in their colourful gear and helmets were kind enough to send us back down the trail to the correct turn, saving us a couple of kilometres of energy.
We encountered few hikers to join on the trails in Alsace. A group of youngsters flew past us at such a rate I was unable to utilize my schoolboy French. Halfway up the mountain we met a wonderful old gentleman who was a serious and seasoned hiker. His hat was adorned with colourful badges and insignia attesting to his many exploits and he carried a programmed GPS device on his jacket. Next time, Hirae assures me, I will pay more attention to the details. The emblematic Catholic monastery and pilgrimage site of Mont Sainte-O’Dile was well worth the climb and after touring the buildings we enjoyed a lunch from the cafeteria in the central courtyard. As we descended through the forest towards our final destination of Obernai on our Alsace walking holiday, I resisted the temptation to tell hikers coming up in the other direction that it was “not far to go”…
Did Derek and Hirae's story activate your travelbuds? You can go for Alsace walking holidays from May till October and with the flexibility to depart within a week, you can still book your summer walking holiday for this year! To do so, or to find out more on our walking and cycling holidays, get in touch with our team of travel experts.
Walkers like you and us have the pleasure of walking the South West Coast Path partly because of the efforts of charity organisations like the South West Coast Path Association. We spoke to Director of The South West Coast Path Association, Esther Pearson, on the work that they do and October’s charity event The Challenge, during which they aim to set a world record while fundraising to preserve the Path.
When was the South West Coast Path Association established?
The Association was formed at a public meeting in 1973 and registered as a charity in 1974 and we were mainly engaged in campaigning for a complete Coast Path in the early years. Our mantra was to ‘have one foot in the sea at all times’ but was really about getting the South West Coast Path all connected and as close to those great sea views as possible. Today we still campaign for further funding for essential repair and improvement projects and continue with our main aim of protecting and promoting the South West Coast Path.
The Path stretches 630 miles and is the longest in England, what else makes it special?
The South West Coast Path is unique as a trail in so many ways, it passes through such varied scenery, taking in four beautiful and very different counties. It was originally created by coastguards, patrolling the peninsula looking out for smugglers, and there is so much history to discover along the route. 70% of the Path travels through protected landscapes which helps to ensure the beautiful landscape is kept safe from excessive development.
If people have just 3 days to walk, which part of the path should they choose?
I am biased because I love where I live at South Milton and often walk the stunning sections of the Path around there in South Devon. But a great three-day walk can be found starting from Falmouth to Par, taking in the lush Roseland Peninsula and a series of picturesque fishing ports. You start your walk by taking a seasonal ferry from the lovely St Mawes to Place, then continue with a mix of strenuous climbs and easy strolls to the popular and historic harbour town of Mevagissey, finishing at the beautiful beach at Par. I am really looking to revisiting this section during the Challenge month when we will be walking with
© Thomas Tolkien
We heard there can be heavy winds on the path?
We do advise to try to plan your walk to take place in good weather, however it is wise to check the forecast before setting out on the Coast Path and always be careful. The wild and untamed nature of the Coast is one of the reasons why around 8.7 million people visit the Coast Path every year. You can find useful tips about staying safe on the
website of the South West Coast Path Association.
In October this year, you are organising The Challenge. Why should people join?
The South West Coast Path Challenge is a great way to experience the Path, it is easy to take part, simply walk or run on the Path during October and register your miles!
It costs £10 per person to register and walkers will receive a registration pack and Challenge 2016 t-shirt. You can head out on your own, on a Sherpa Expeditions holiday or join the association on an organised Challenge event. You can sign up either on the South West Coast Path website or when booking one of the Sherpa Expeditions' trips departing in October.
We hope to beat last year’s record of clocking up enough miles to go around the Path 14 times! People should take part to help to raise funds for the Coast Path just by simply enjoying a fun day out by the sea.
What achievement of the association are you proudest of?
Launching the charity’s first ever public appeal led to achieving the Coastal Communities Funding and being able to complete long awaited projects to improve and repair the Path. This has been a real highlight of the last few years. I am also proud to have been involved with opening the section of the Path at Strete in Devon. It was a culmination of over forty years of campaigning and lobbying to take the route off a busy road and to reveal never before seen views of some of Devon’s finest coastline.
And what is next on the association’s list regarding preservation?
There are projects funded by the Coastal Communities Fund planned for Summer 2017, including 40 replacement Fingerposts across Cornwall, Kissing Gates at Nare Head, a replacement footbridge at Kynance Cove and an important replacement bridge at Silvermine Bridge. You can
see some of the projects we have completed. Our Area and Path Representatives report on their sections of the South West Coast Path and identify where new projects are needed to keep the Path in great condition for all walkers and cyclists to enjoy.
Finally, have you walked the complete path from Poole to Minehead yourself?
I’ve walked lots of sections over the years but not all of it yet. Although I have the intention of one day having walked every section of the South West Coast Path in order! I have managed to walk in some beautiful locations and during The Challenge last October I walked from Durlston Country Park to the finish point of the Path at South Haven Point and can thoroughly recommend that others join us for the spectacular views of Old Harry Rocks this year!
This year for the first time, Sherpa Expeditions supports the South West Coast Path in order to preserve and restore the Path for future generations to enjoy. If you book a trip that includes the South West Coast Path departing in the month of October 2016, you get a 10% discount, which you could use to donate directly to Path preservation.
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Every year in September you can see the
Douro Valley change from its summer greens to a blanket of gold and eventually red. This is the time to enjoy late summer days in Portugal.
If you visit Portugal in September, you will find fewer crowds on the trails, weather has pleasant temperatures of around 20 degrees C and with almost no rainfall, it is a great time to visit. September is that time of year when the tourism season begins quieting down and the local people start preparing for their annual grape harvest.
A celebratory ceremony, the grape harvest is where workers and villagers gather in a festive spirit (see the video below). Some of the vineyards allow travellers to take part in the ceremonies, such as the accommodation you stay in on our
Douro Rambler walking holiday. It was built during the 17 th century and located a little further up in the hills, offering magnificent views of the valley and Douro River. It owns a small vineyard that sells their grapes to a cooperative. Walkers who would like to join the harvesting activities in Douro Valley can help with picking grapes or indulge in wine and port tasting sessions. If you want to see the first steps in the wine making process, especially of the world famous port, you should visit Douro Valley this September.
You can participate in September’s grape harvest in other regions of Europe too: consider a trip to
Tuscany where the harvesting period runs until October or places in France where the harvesting time varies depending on which area you visit.
For more information on the grape harvesting period on our active European holidays or walking holidays in Portugal’s
, please get in touch with our team of travel experts in the London offices. Douro Valley