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We were lucky enough to receive some great stories from our travellers during 2018. Finding out exactly what happens when our customers head out on their travels really helps us to ensure that we’re offering the best holidays and service that we can. It also paints a great picture of what you can expect from a particular trip.
Here are a few highlights from the tales we received over the past year.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
Randy and Diane – Bernese Oberland Guided Walk
We went guided to get together with a long-time Sherpa guide named John Millen, whom I had trekked with before (Haute Route in 2012) – John did his usual outstanding job and was extremely knowledgeable about all things Swiss, in addition to setting a wonderfully positive tone to the group.
Marie-Claire – Hidden Treasures of the Dordogne
Never having been to the Dordogne I jumped at the chance to discover the area. It was also great to be able to spend some time with my daughter. Once your children have left home it’s not that often you get to spend a whole week with them!
Jan – UK Coast to Coast
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.
Charles – Alsace Vineyard Trails
I had an uncle who was a travel writer and he wrote a book called Walking in Wine Country - the Alsace was one of the regions he had covered, so I wanted to walk in his footsteps and light a few candles in his memory.
How did you prepare for your trip?
Randy and Diane: Diane and I started doing some uphill hiking over the 2-3 months prior to the trip, and increased our vertical gain (over 1-2 hours) to around 1,000 to 2,000 ft. This preparation was more than enough for the Bernese Oberland.
Marie-Claire: My usual routine is a walk around the Monikie Park (in Dundee) 3 times a week (3 miles) and an 8-10 mile walk at the weekend. I think more challenging walks before going would have been a good idea!
Jan: 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.
Charles: Ahead of the trip, I wanted to improve my French so I used an app called Duolingo to practice for 20 minutes each day for several months.
What was your favourite destination on the trip?
Randy and Diane: We spent 2 nights each in Zermatt and Grindelwald and loved both towns. I had not been to Lauterbrunnen before and was enchanted by this mountain town and the views surrounding the town.
Marie-Claire: Collonges la Rouge, which is aptly named as the whole town is built of red sandstones. It reminded me of Arbroath where I used to work, as a lot of the older houses are built with the same stone. We were in Collonges on a sunny Sunday in the late afternoon and the light on the buildings was amazing.
Jan: 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!
Charles: What I loved best were the hours we spent walking through the woods on the lower slopes of the Vosges. They were of such varied character and with different plants favouring different species of trees.
What was the best food and drink on the trip?
Randy and Diane: The included breakfasts at each hotel on the trek were excellent – such a wide variety of items offered and the coffee was to die for!
Marie-Claire: The first evening meal in Sarrazac was excellent: salade de magrets de canard, duck confit and an amazing cheeseboard! There were 9 choices on the dessert menu, all home-made and Nathalie had ‘flognarde de poires’, a speciality from the area similar to a clafoutis.
Jan: 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.
Charles: We soon found that the Alsace Riesling was nothing like the semi-sweet wines that we had had in our youth – these were on the medium side of dry but had such wonderful flavour. I still think that there are fewer things nicer for breakfast than fresh French pastries.
Did you have any nice surprises?
Randy and Diane: Diane had never been on the Jungfraujoch before – the day we chose was perfect, with not a cloud in the sky. It was such an incredible experience to stand out on the col between the Monch and the Jungfrau and be at 3,466m in the Swiss Alps.
Marie-Claire: On the way to Loubressac, we walked through a vineyard: Côteaux de Glanes. Eight wine growers work together and produce a ‘vin de pays’ which is absolutely delicious. It regularly wins medals and appears to be snapped up by restaurant owners in the region.
Jan: 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.
Charles: The Haut Koenigsbourg Castle is a must to see and very popular. It was definitely worth the queue for tickets.
What aspect of the trip did you find the most challenging?
Randy and Diane: The hike on the first day (from Meiringen to Grindelwald) was long and the final push (to Grosse Scheidegg) was a challenge for the whole group.
Marie-Claire: The heat made the trip challenging. Although we were in the area at the end of September, we had daily temperatures of 26-27 degrees. A week after coming back I was walking near Dunkeld and it was 2 degrees!
Jan: 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.
Charles: Choosing wines was a challenge!
If you have a tale from your travels with Sherpa Expeditions that you’d like to share with us, email us. You’ll get a £50 discount on your next trip with us!
For Charles Hawes, walking is his main recreational fun. “For me a decent walk is around 10 miles, though it very much depends on how much climbing hills is involved!” he tells us. One of the things he likes to do most, is to walk for several days at a time, travelling through the countryside and absorbing the atmosphere of a place. Last year, Charles travelled with his friend on the Sherpa trip in the Tarn & Averyron region of France for a five day walk and that was brilliant. In Spring 2018, he set off on yet another adventure: hiking in Alsace, France. Read on for his experiences on this holiday (Alsace Vineyard Trails).
Why did you choose to go hiking in Alsace?
I love France and have visited many times but the Alsace region was unknown to me. I had an uncle (Nigel Buxton) who was a travel writer and he wrote a book called Walking in Wine Country and the Alsace was one of the regions he had covered, so I wanted to walk in his footsteps and light a few candles in his memory.
How did you prepare for this walking trip in France?
Ahead of the trip, I wanted to improve my French so I used an app called Duolingo to practice for 20 minutes each day for several months. It helped a bit, but I still found lots of gaps. Other than that, I do walk most days for about 30 minutes just to maintain basic fitness (I’m 62). I plotted each day’s walk onto a large scale map in my phone – I find it very easy to take the wrong path and the GPS location facility makes getting lost quite difficult.
Your favourite destination on our Alsace Vineyard Trails?
I love hills and views and we had plenty of those on this trip. The hilltop chateaux were on or very close to the trail and had some had good information boards and were well worth the visit. What I loved best though were the hours we spent walking through the woods on the lower slopes of the Vosges. They were of such varied character and with different plants favouring different species of trees. I have never seen Lily of the Valley growing so abundantly.
What was the best food & drink in Alsace?
We soon found that the Alsace Riesling was nothing like the semi-sweet wines that we had had in our youth – these were on the medium side of dry but had such wonderful flavour. We also liked the red Pinot Noir served chilled. I still think that there are fewer things nicer for breakfast than fresh French pastries.
Auberge de la Meuniere at Thannenkirch was a fabulous place. A really lovely hotel with great character, friendly staff and a lovely terrace for evening drinks. Great food here!
What was your biggest surprise on this walking trip?
When I had got to the departure gate in Basel airport on the way home, I realised that I no longer had my wallet. I thought that I might have dropped it at check-in, so went all the way back and then to the information/lost property desk, but it had not been handed in. I thought maybe I had put it in my suitcase so they retrieved that for me but it wasn’t there. So I was feeling rather low after going through all this. I phoned the lost property desk again just in case it had been found. It had! I had dropped the wallet in the bus on the way to the airport and the driver had taken the trouble to bring it into the desk. The guy on the desk then brought it to me 10 minutes before I boarded the plane. There was quite a bit of cash in it and nothing was missing. Such kindness and good service.
On another note, Haut Koenigsbourg is a must to see and very popular. It was definitely worth the queue for tickets.
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
There were several quite long climbs on the last two days which took it out of us. It might have had something to do with the fact that it was in the low 80s; we were grateful for the several benches that we came across and for the shade of the trees. Choosing wines was a challenge.
Do you have any other advice for travellers thinking about travelling on this trip?
Make sure that you carry enough water.
More information on the Alsace Vineyard Trails can be found on the trip page and by downloading the trip notes there. For any specific questions or booking requests you may contact one of our travel experts.
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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.
Vineyard Trails of France
France’s wines and vineyards are equally renowned for their beauty and elegance. Discover the best vineyard trails France has to offer on one of these great walking or cycling holidays.
Attractive mediaeval walled villages await, as you walk through the vineyards and rolling hills of Alsace, with their ornate houses- coloured by flower filled wooden balconies, old fortifications and lots of charming landscapes and sites of historic interest. Sample the region’s Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc in caves along the route.
The reputation of Burgundy's cuisine has travelled the world and the very word Burgundy is synonymous with the finest wines. The local cuisine offers memorable gastronomic experiences and the charming timeless villages are rich in tradition. A great trip for food and wine buffs, the walking is gentle to start with and progressing to moderate grade as the week unfolds. Find out more >>
Enjoy on this cycling holiday through the heart of Burgundy exploring the Canal de Bourgogne. Along the way you will have ample opportunities to visit chateaux, historic sites and of course the best-known Bourgogne vineyards. These are found on the great southeast-facing escarpment known as the Cote d'Or or 'Golden Hillside', which overlooks the historic towns of Beaune, Nuits-St-Georges and Meursault. Find out more >>
The Loire is France's valley of the kings, where you will find much of its history and see the great palaces and castles. Discover the great chateaux at Amboise, Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau, Villandry and Chinon with the wonderful vineyards of Vouvray, Chinon, Saumur, and Anjou. Find out more >>
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 >>
For more information and booking requests, please contact our team of travel experts.