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In Stevenson’s Footsteps: The Cevennes Part I

This article is the first in a series of 5 and is written by Andrew Hudson from the UK. It narrates his experiences of walking the Stevenson’s Trail in the Cevennes together with his friend John*.

 

Walking the GR70 in Cevennes - Sherpa Expeditions


In 1878 Robert Louis Stevenson walked from Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille in the Haute Loire to Saint-Jean-du-Gard in the Gard region of France. His main reason was to collect material for his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, which was published in the following year. Several years ago, my friend John and I followed in his footsteps on the GR70 (Grande Randonnee). There obviously are differences between Stevenson’s journey and ours. His trip was certainly ground-breaking at the time and by comparison, our walking holiday was actually rather easy.

 

Stevenson was by no means new to travel or walking. He had completed many walks in Scotland and England and had made a Grand Tour of Europe by train and stage-coach with his family in 1863 at the age of twelve. He chose to make his Cevennes journey in October of 1878. Stevenson suffered from (what is now thought to be) tuberculosis for most of his life and from which he eventually died, making his exploits all the more heroic.

 

Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by RL Stevenson - Sherpa Expeditions

Stevenson states the philosophy behind his Cevennes journey:

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more clearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting who can annoy himself about the future.” – R.L. Stevenson in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes

 

 

My attitude to our walk was to have a small adventure, sample the local French wines and delicacies, while staying firmly on the feather-bed of civilization.

 

In 1878, in rural France, few people had any idea why someone would want to make this journey without good reason. Some pointed out to him that only a century before, a wolf known as “La Bête du Gévaudan,” had killed over one hundred people, many of them children, by ripping their throats out, in an area he would be passing through. Although, during the Romantic Era, writers and poets had sung the praises of the Great Outdoors, anyone actually making this type of journey, was still looked upon as an eccentric, if not stark raving bonkers.

 

pass a tunnel when walking in the Cevennes with Sherpa Expeditions


a butterfly on the GR70 Stevenson's Trail in Cevennes _ Sherpa Expeditions


Now with lightweight clothing and boots, and a company like Sherpa Expeditions that transports luggage from one overnight stop to the next, with specialist maps and navigational aids, it is more of a relaxed saunter than a trek. Chemin du Stevenson is now a known destination in France and travellers of all types are catered for. Even so, this walking holiday in the Cevennes is still around 220 kilometres of hilly, sometimes mountainous, countryside and should not be taken too lightly.

 

Stevenson had no maps of a scale suitable for walking in the area he planned to walk. He did take a compass but his primary source of navigation seems to be by asking others the way.

 

I should say at this point that my hiking trip in the Cevennes was with my friend and we were both reasonably experienced walkers. John, my son’s father-in-law and also a friend, was a lovely man. He was a railway buff and so when I suggested this walk to him, I also asked him if he would like us to go by train leaving from England. He jumped at the chance and as he knew the railways much better than I did we agreed that he would arrange the trip for us. My part in the groundwork tended to concentrate on the wines of the regions which we would pass through.


French countryside of the Cevennes - Sherpa Expeditions walking holidays

 

John booked our hotels and luggage transfers through Sherpa Expeditions which simplified the arrangement as they offered maps and route notes for the itinerary we wanted to walk. He booked the trains separately and must have made a good job of it because both the outward and return journeys went like clockwork.

 

Walk the GR70 in France

 

*The author’s friend John was a big man in every way who loved life but is now sadly no longer with us. He was one of those people that enjoyed the planning as much as the holiday itself and the author had a memorable walking trip on the Stevenson’s Trail in France with him.


Traveller’s Tales – The Alsace Vineyard Trails by Charles Hawes

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). 

 

hiking in Alsace_Sherpa Expeditions

 

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.

 

hiking in Alsace with Sherpa Expeditions

 

Alsace holidays with Sherpa Expeditions

 

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.

 

Chateaux on Alsace tours with Sherpa Expeditions

 

Walking in Alsace with Sherpa Expeditions

 

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.

 

>> View Trip

 

 

What Others Say: Coast to Coast Reviews

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast is one of the UK’s most popular long-distance walks and crosses northern England from west to east. With so many others, both walkers and cyclists, having completed the route before you, we wanted to share with you a selection of Coast to Coast reviews. This may help you get an idea of what to expect of this famous walk between the Irish Sea and North Sea.

 

Coast to Coast reviews - Sherpa Expeditions

 

 

Coast to Coast Reviews

 

"Thoroughly enjoyed the trip, we found every day brought new and interesting sights and experiences. The days of walking just flew by. Great B&B's and pubs all with friendly staff."P. & H. Jackson, Kidman Park, SA

>> Learn more about the 15 day Coast to Coast walk

>> Learn more about the 15 Day guided walk along Wainwright's Coast to Coast

 

"Highlights getting to the top of the mountains and seeing the sights. John the guide was the best, very helpful, way beyond duty. Thanks for a great trip." - B. Gibbons, London, UK, 04 Jul 2016

coast to coast reviews walking holidays Sherpa Expeditions

 

guided coast to coast walk review - Sherpa Expeditions

 

"Just wanted to let you know the trip was awesome. Pete found the maps excellent, very detailed and the extra route choices and information very helpful. All of our accommodation was amazing, the food they provided was fantastic and they went out of their way to help. The length (we had two rest days ie 20 in all) was perfect for us, and made many 'faster' folk jealous. Everything went like clockwork, thanks again for your help." - R & P Clark, Australia, 02 Aug 2017  

"Overall this was a lovely walk and we would recommend to others. England is a lovely country for walking. Enjoyed the scenery, going through 3 national parks. The old English pubs we stayed in and the people we met along the way." - R & R Doyle, Nelson, New Zealand, 05 Jun 2017

"High points were the challenge, the people we met, sense of achievement and hospitality. Keep up the good work, it was a pleasure dealing with Trina." - F. O'Sullivan, Paynesville, VIC, Australia, 18 Sep 2016

"We were glad we added in the extra days so we could enjoy the Lakes District more and not have the 37km day followed by the 34 km day later on. We could enjoy the hike and not just have a forced march. I would suggest this to other people." - A. Lonsdale, Balnarring, VIC. Australia, 18 Jul 2016

Coast to Coast reviews for Sherpa Expeditions

 

>> Learn more about the 17 day Coast to Coast walk

>> Learn more about the 18 day Coast to Coast walk

 

"For two seventy-year-olds it was a challenging but a doable experience. Accommodations were great. Breakfast was one of the highlights of the day. Seeing the North Sea from the Yorkshire Moors was another highlight. The Sherpa Van was a reliable addition to the trip. Communication with Trina ensured our satisfaction with Sherpa." - B. Parslow, Vancouver, Canada, 28 Jun 2017

"… It was a full catalogue of enriching moments that allowed for two fine, gentle warm days at the start then 5 days of torrential rain whilst walking through Lakeland. That gave added edge to the challenges of scaling the high peaks and the experience of wading or leaping across swollen becks. Bogland is a wonderful word that really doesn't describe the glutinous, slimy, boot grabbing mud with its own special odour. Then with weather improving it was through the changing scenes of moorland towards the ultimate destination arrived at on a glorious sunny day. … " - B. Fowler, Claybrooke, UK, 22 Jun 2017

"Wonderful weather - 16 days of full sunshine - was this really England? Great people met along the way. Hospitality of the b&b owners and people in the pubs. They made us feel welcome. A great holiday overall - and a sense of accomplishment for walking across England!" - D. Goldfischer, Pennsylvania, USA, 20 Jun 2016

The classic Coast to Coast walking route was originated and described by A. Wainwright, author of a well-known series of mountain-walking guide books on the Lake District. The walk starts on the Irish Sea coast of Cumbria near the huge red sandstone cliffs of St. Bees Head. You cross three National Parks before reaching the North Sea at the pretty fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay on the rocky coastline of the North York Moors.

 

>> Get an overview of all the options you have to complete the Coast to Coast in England. 

 

 

Picture This! Carol's Coast to Coast Walk

Wainwright's Coast to Coast is an all-time popular walking path in the English Lake District. Travellers Carol and Mona set off on foot to explore the coastal paths, moors and country towns of northern England in May this year. Their photos give a fantastic image of what walking the Coast to Coast Path looks like and we are enthusiastic and were thankful of them for sharing their English Lake District pictures with us.

 

If you’re curious to understand a little more what walking in the English Lake District and following Wainwright's Coast to Coast looks like, check out the images below.

 

Signboards on Wainwrights Coast to Coast

start of wainwright's coast to coast - Sherpa Expeditions pictures

 

walking the coast to coast - Sherpa Expeditions

 

pictures of walkers in lake district - Sherpa Expeditions

 

Fat Betty on the Coast to Coast - Sherpa Expeditions

 

complete the Coast to Coast Walk - Sherpa Expeditions

An image of Lake District Fauna

English lake district pictures_Osmotherley_Sherpa Expeditions

 

Lake District pictures pheasant - Sherpa Expeditions

 

English Lake District sheep - Sherpa Expeditions walking holidays

 

Geese & goslings on Coast to Coast walk with Sherpa Expeditions

 

rabbit crossing - lake district pictures - Sherpa Expeditions

 

Accommodation on the Coast to Coast Walk

walking into Grasmere - Sherpa Expeditions

 

Lion Inn - English Lake District pictures - Sherpa Expeditions

 

Black Lion Hotel Richmond - walk coast to coast - Sherpa Expeditions

 

Mosscrag guest house on Coast to Coast walk - Sherpa Expeditions

 

The Buck in Reeth - lake district - Sherpa Expeditions walking holidays

 

Lake District Paths in Pictures

english lake district pictures - sherpa Expeditions

 

High route to Grasmere - Sherpa Expeditions

 

photos of coast to coast walk - sherpa expeditions

 

walk to Robin Hood's bay - Sherpa Expeditions

 

image of sheep in lake district - Sherpa Expeditions

 

walking near Kirkby Stephen - Sherpa Expeditions

 

english lake district picture perfect - Sherpa Expeditions

 

english town on coast to coast path - Sherpa Expeditions

 

 

Carol and Mona did the self guided Coast to Coast Walk in 16 days and walked in the spring of 2017, from 3-18 May. 

 

For more information on the English Lake District, have a look at all blog articles related to Wainwright's Coast to Coast >>

For more impressions of Sherpa Expeditions' walking holidays, check out the Picture This! series >>


 

Travellers’ Tale: Walking in Norway, The Fjordland

Norway Walking Holidays - Traveller Review - Sherpa


“We have been enthusiastic expeditioners for more than 30 years” say Australians Kerry Mather and Lachlan McCaw. Last summer they embarked on our Fjordland walking holiday in Norway with their daughter Darcie. In recent years they undertook a wide variety of walking throughout Australia including mountains, coastal areas and the remote arid interior of Western Australia. Living in the south-west of Western Australia they regularly take the opportunity to explore sections of the Bibbulmun Track. They didn’t stick to Australia: “Our overseas walking exploits have included an extended trek from Kashmir into Ladakh, the Milford Track in the South Island of New Zealand, and multi-day walks in the Pyrenees and Dinaric Alps of central Bosnia,” says Lachlan. Their 20-year-old daughter accompanied them on the Norway walking holiday and really enjoyed the experience of a tour like this as well.

 

Why did you choose to walk in the Fjordlands in Norway?

Our travel plans included visiting friends in Denmark, exploring southern Norway and Sweden, and spending time in Finland for a professional conference. Past experience has confirmed that including a challenging outdoor activity in our travel schedule adds greatly to the enjoyment and understanding of the country that we are visiting. Western Norway is renowned for stunning scenery of mountains and fjords, and the opportunity to stand on the summit of a sub-arctic mountain and gaze across glaciers and icefields was a strong drawcard. The Sherpa Expeditions Fjordland self-guided walking holiday offered a variety of walking experiences with interesting accommodation venues linked conveniently by public transport.

“The long mid-summer days in the Norwegian mountains were a special treat.”

Descending into Flam Valley - Norway walking holidays - Sherpa Expeditions

 

Varying weather on summer walking holidays in Norway - Sherpa Expeditions

 

How did you prepare for this Norway walking holiday?

The travel pack provided by Sherpa Expeditions was informative and a useful guide as to what to expect during the walk and the level of fitness required. The walk is graded as moderate to challenging and we found this to be an accurate description of the terrain, track conditions and weather. Our daily life activity program includes regular swimming, walking and moderate cycling and this ensured we had a good level of fitness to enjoy the walk. The trip did include some relatively long days on mountain tracks.

 

What was your favourite destination in the Fjordland?

There were so many beautiful places on our Norway walking holiday that it’s hard to pick a favourite. We relished the challenge of walking from Finse up to the summit of St Paul’s peak (1700 m) across deep hard-packed snow. The view from the summit was spectacular, made all the more atmospheric by an icy arctic wind and snow flurries. Our reward at the end of this (summer) day was hot chocolate and dinner in the warm and comfortable hotel at Finse! We loved the cosy library overseen by a solemn reindeer head mounted on the wall. The following day we walked 21 km from Myrdal to Flam down the beautiful Flam valley, basking in warm sunshine. The steep and rugged Aurland valley provided a stunning setting for the final day of walking. Our visit to the isolated stone Sinjarheim farmlet perched high above the river made this last day even more interesting. 

“The award for the most innovative dish would go to…”

What about the food and drinks in Norway?

All the hotels offered an excellent buffet breakfast which prepared us well for active days in the mountains. Evening meals provided at the hotels were of a uniformly high standard, well presented and tasty. Wine is expensive in Norway, but beer, cider and lunch supplies can be purchased at reasonable cost from small supermarkets in most of the villages used for overnight stays. The award for the most innovative dish would go to the chefs at the Vestlia Resort in Geilo who prepared a luscious dessert of pannacotta, fresh berries and cream served on a traditional slate roof tile!


Finse, Fjordland, Norway - Sherpa Expeditions


Walking holidays in Norway - Fjordland, Sherpa Walking Holidays

 

What was your biggest surprise on this walking holiday?

While at Aurland we took a shuttle bus up to the Stegastein lookout. It’s located high up on the side of the valley and offers stunning views of the fjord and town below. It’s well worth the visit. The long mid summer days in the Norwegian mountains were a special treat. 

 

What aspect of walking in Norway did you find most challenging?

Heavy spring snowfalls in 2015 resulted in one of deepest snow packs for several decades. This meant that the higher elevation walks were across continuous snow cover. Routes were generally well marked and easy to follow, but boots and snow gaiters were essential to keep our feet dry and comfortable.
The track from
Osterbo to Vassbygdi traverses rugged gorge country and is steep and challenging in places, but well within the capabilities of fit and well-prepared walkers.
In several places we encountered small waterfalls and had to zip up our waterproof jackets and run the gauntlet through a shower of icy water on this walking holiday in Norway.

“The travel pack provided by Sherpa Expeditions was informative and a useful guide as to what to expect during the walk and the level of fitness required.”

Our walking holiday to Norway’s Fjordland departs on any day you like during the European summer months from July until September. To learn more about the walk that the Mather-McCaw family took, have a look at the full description of The Fjordland Walk here, or as always, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or write an email to our team of travel experts in the London office

 

Travellers’ Tale: The Alsace Vineyard Trails

Travellers Derek & Hirae giving a review on the Alsace Wine Trail walking holiday, France

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.

 


Views over Riquewihr in the Alsace - Sherpa Expeditions


On the Camino Trail, Alsace France, Sherpa walking holidays

 

“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.

 Aux-Trois-Rois-Ribeauville, Alsace - Sherpa Expeditions


Wine tasting in Alsace, France - Sherpa Expeditions


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.


Food in France: tarte flambee and asparagus - walking holidays Alsace

 

Walking the Camino de Santiago in Alsace, France


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.


Storks in Alsace, Sherpa Expeditions walking holidays


Vineyards in France, Alsace - Sherpa Expeditions walking holidays

 

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.  

Traveller's Tale: Cycle The Coast to Coast

Travellers cycling the Coast to Coast in the UK - Sherpa Expeditions


Septuagenarians Arnold and Margaret Horner each year embark on a walking or cycling holiday. After having walked among others Hadrian’s Wall, covered parts of Offa’s Dyke on foot, cycled from Passau to Vienna along the Danube and completed the Stevenson Trail in France, this year they decided to cycle the famous Coast to Coast route.

 

We chose to cycle the Coast-2-Coast route because it seemed to give us an interesting set of landscapes, a defined target and the possibility of completing the route at our own pace.”

Why did you choose to cycle where you did?

We chose the C2C route in the UK as offered by Sherpa Expeditions because it seemed to give us an interesting set of landscapes, a defined target (going coast to coast) and the possibility of completing the route at our own pace in fairly easy stages.

How did you prepare? 

We periodically do a bit of casual cycling in a part of County Kerry where there can be quite steep hills (some of which we just walk up). Otherwise we did no very particular physical preparation. What we did do however, was to look carefully at the gradients along the whole route. We decided that, at least in reasonable weather, we could manage most of the stages but that it might be prudent to break the longest day, the 36 miles and five big hills between Langwathby and Rookhope, into two stages. Trina at the Sherpa Expeditions office in London organised for us to stop off at Alston, and this worked very well for us.


Heading for Thirlmere while on a cycle holiday on the C2C, UK - Sherpa Expeditions


Old Vicarege at Rookhope, cycle the Coast to Coast route, UK - Sherpa Expeditions cycling holidays

 

What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?

Some of the hills were pretty steep. For example, it was a long haul up to Hartside summit. For us Crawleyside Bank on the way from Stanhope to Parkhead was, at a 17% gradient, daunting. We walked up anything steep. Other challenges might have been posed had we had either poor or really warm weather, or problems with tyres and chains. But the bicycles we were given at the beginning of the trip in Ulverston were good and we had no significant problems.


Which was your favourite destination along the Coast to Coast route?

The various stopover points were varied enough in their features, and each had its pluses. Keswick offered us a very active place that was both a strong local town and a tourist centre. We stayed at Beckside Guesthouse which had just reopened after the floods of December 2015. Owners Andrew and Tracey were very welcoming. So too were Colin and Pauline at the Old Vicarage in Rookhope, a small village high in the north Pennine moors.

Cycling holidays in the UK with World Expeditions

Old mine near Rookhope on the Coast to Coast route, UK - Sherpa cycling holidays

“From the restaurant we visited on our last night we could look out across the river mouth, knowing that we had successfully finished the C2C.”

Best food and drink?

Most places along the route offered good food, but the place we will probably most remember was the Marina Vista at Roker, Sunderland, which we visited on our last night. We could look out across the river mouth, knowing that we had successfully finished cycling the C2C.


Waskerly Way on the Coast to Coast route, UK - Sherpa Expeditions - cycling holidays

 

What surprised you most on your C2C cycling holiday?

The biggest surprise was probably that we did complete the whole route, which we saw as something of a challenge given that we are aged around 70 and that we are very definitely only casual cyclists.


If you like to share your travel stories on our website as well, you can let us know by filling out our contact form. If the story of Arnold and Margaret inspired you to set off on a similar cycling holiday, please have a look at our cycling holidays or get in touch with our team of travel experts in our London offices. 


All images are copyright of ©Arnold Horner

Traveller’s Tale: Isle of Wight, England, UK

Author Jane Cable on her Sherpa Expeditions Isle of Wight walking holiday


British author Jane Cable and her husband Jim met Texans Marsha Smith and Mike Doan on a walking holiday almost twenty years ago. When Marsha mentioned she and Mike were considering Sherpa Expeditions’ Isle of Wight Coastal Walking holiday, Jane and Jim jumped at the chance to join them.

 

Why did you choose to walk on the Isle of Wight?

Jim and I have lived on the south coast of England all our married life – in fact we have distant views of Bembridge Down on the Island from our bedroom window – but we’ve never taken a holiday there. Plus it was a great opportunity to spend time with Mike and Marsha on one of their rare trips back to the UK.

How did you prepare?

I think the answer is quite poorly! Although Jim and I tried to take some lengthy hikes in the weeks and months running up to the holiday, the weather was awful and we didn’t get as much mileage into our legs as we’d hoped. Mike and Marsha amused their friends in Texas by taking six mile walks to the Whole Foods organic store but their problem was that where they live is very flat. And the Isle of Wight isn’t.

 

"My favourite walking day was from Yarmouth to Freshwater because it was so varied."

Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight Coastal Walking holiday

 

Beach huts, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight - Sherpa Expeditions

 

Which was your favourite destination on the island?

My favourite walking day was from Yarmouth to Freshwater because it was so varied. We started off with a really pretty woodland walk with some fun sculptures at Fort Victoria Country Park then followed the promenade along part of Colwell Bay and Totland Bay with stunning views across the Solent to Hurst Castle. Then there was a short but steep climb up to Headon Warren – an amazing ancient chalk downland – which we crossed to reach Alum Bay for a much needed coffee and loo stop.

After our break, we carried on to The Needles. Jim and Marsha aren’t too keen on heights so they sat by the Coastguard Cottages while Mike and I ventured to the viewpoint at the New Battery. We also varied our walk to Freshwater by taking the path at the back of Tennyson Down which again took us through some lovely woodland, ending up at Freshwater right next to the thatched church.

The day finished really well too because we stayed at Seahorses, an oasis of calm with beautiful rooms, wonderful gardens, an art studio and the warmest welcome we could have wished for.

What aspect of this walking trip did you find most challenging?

Before we left we thought it might be the cliffs, but it was actually really easy to find alternative routes further inland with great countryside and stunning views. On the ground, the worst thing was the mud. We travelled in April after a very wet winter and on the route between Cowes and Yarmouth it was everywhere, with some parts of the path practically impassable. It didn’t help that it was the longest walking day at 15 miles and we were footsore, filthy and exhausted by the time we reached our destination.

 

The Needles, Isle of Wight - Sherpa Expeditions walking holiday

 

Beautiful sunset on the Isle of Wight Coastal Walking holiday - Sherpa Expeditions UK

What was the biggest surprise?

The genuine welcome we received from hoteliers, bartenders and restaurateurs – for most of them, nothing was too much trouble. There was a party at the hotel in Cowes (we stayed at the lovely Holmwood Hotel on the seafront at Egypt Point), so they gave us earplugs. Marsha left her stick at Chale Bay Farm but the owner’s wife delivered it to Ryde when she did her school run. And eating at Bellamy’s Bistro in Sandown felt more like dining with friends.

 

Best food and drink?

Without a doubt The Three Buoys on Appley Beach in Ryde. We ate there on the first night – it’s a short walk from the town centre but well worth it for the views, excellent service and local seafood presented in a way you’d only expect at a Michelin starred restaurant. And, at the time of writing, all for gastro pub prices.

 

Do you have any recommendations for other travellers taking this trip?

Take an extra day or two to chill or to see the sights. Although there was plenty of time to look around Osborne House on the first day it would have been good to visit some places not directly on the route, such as Carisbrooke Castle and the roman villa at Brading. Freshwater would be a good place as it’s close to Newport which is the Island’s transport hub and about half way in terms of the walk.

 

More information

You can find out more about Jane Cable’s novels, which are inspired by the British countryside, on her website www.janecable.com and for more details on Sherpa Expeditions’ Isle of Wight Coastal Walking holiday, you can have a look at the Isle of Wight walking trip details or get in touch with our team of travel experts in the London office

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.

Walking South of Siena with Julia and Gordon Blackwell

Walking South of Siena Header

 

Sherpa Expeditions travellers Julia and Gordon Blackwell share their experience in Tuscany on our Walking South of Siena holiday.

 

What is your travelling/walking history?

At the ages of 65 and 71 we had some initial reservations as to whether we were up to this tour, even though our previous walking experience has included treks in Switzerland, Austria, Nepal, Iceland, and Canada. Our customary afternoon stroll usually covers about 7 km, and we also go 'fast walking' for an hour each week with friends. I would therefore describe ourselves as reasonably fit and experienced, but with some age related restrictions. In the event, the 'Walking South of Siena' tour turned out to be totally do-able – some days quite strenuous, but we were never seriously overstretched. Above all, it was totally enjoyable.

 

Views of Siena

 

Why did you choose to walk where you did?

 

We had wanted to visit Siena for a long time, and also wanted to spend some time in the surrounding countryside exploring the villages and tasting the local food and wines. The self-guided tour 'Walking South of Siena' seemed to be an ideal way to combine these wishes, walking from one village to another at our own pace and without stress – accommodation and luggage transport being taken care of by Sherpa.

 

Old Square in Bagno Vignoni

 

How did you prepare?

A few weeks before the tour we checked our fitness by walking increasingly long distances every few days, up to the maximum length of a day on the tour. In addition we studied the directions and the maps so that we knew what possible problems to expect, and what we might especially want to see on the way. We also looked at alternative maps, and as a backup entered the routes into a GPS navigator. Although the instructions provided by Sherpa were generally good, the Italian maps were sometimes difficult to read or unclear and the GPS proved its worth more than once in helping us to keep on the track – or to deliberately deviate from it when we chose to. Although most hotel staff spoke English, the few key Italian phrases we learnt proved to be useful in shops and cafés.

 

Your favourite destination?

Our favourite destination is difficult to decide on, as we would willingly go back to any of them. Perhaps for pure charm of both the village and the B&B we stayed in, the overall winner has to be Bagno Vignoni. Two days here would not too long for us, especially after the long walk to get there. 

 

The old bath in Bagno Vignoni

 

Best food and drink?

This is another difficult question, as almost all the food and drink we had was excellent, and by no means expensive. A bottle of top wine for under 10€ can't be bad, and we especially enjoyed the wine from Montalcino. For beer drinkers, the Birra Moretti La Rossa can be unreservedly recommended - a wonderful red-brown coloured beer which I would go a long way to have again.

 

Biggest surprise of the trip?

I don't know why we were surprised, but the openness and friendliness of everyone we met was remarkable. One particular experience that sticks in our memory was the bus journey from Siena to Taverne d'Arbia, when almost everyone on the bus, including the driver, joined in to wish us luck and ensure that we got off at the right stop. Also unexpected was the consideration shown by drivers of the occasional cars which passed us on the sometimes dusty “white roads” or gravel tracks. Most slowed down to walking pace as they approached and passed. This minimised the dust, and we were often greeted with a friendly wave too. 

 

Enjoying a glass of wine and a beer Morreti La Rossa in Montepulciano

 

What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?

The most challenging day was undoubtedly the walk from Montalcino to Bagno Vignoni, purely because of the distance and height ascent which had to be covered – by our GPS 27 km and 850 height meters including deviations and on-route sightseeing.

 

Other days brought different challenges such as a closed section of track, a closed bridge, misleading sign posts, and difficult to find (sometimes apparently non existent) tracks across fields. However these were all relatively easily overcome with careful reading of the instructions – and use of the GPS navigator.

 

Intended deviation

 

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

Some of the days on this trek were, for us 66 and 71 year old youngsters, quite tough. We walked at a fairly constant pace of 4.0 - 4.5 km/h (excluding pauses), and most walks took us a bit longer than suggested - but after all we were on holiday and who wants to rush? In this regard, the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore between Asciano and Buonconvento is well worth a visit, and in order to arrive in time for a leisurely look around (it is closed from 12:00 to 15:00) we opted to go there by taxi from Asciano rather than walk. This also gave time for lunch in the nearby village and a relaxed walk on to Buonconvento. 

 

Although perhaps not to everyone's liking, our GPS navigator was sometimes a godsend and saved us several times from missed turnings and long diversions – just make sure you have spare charged batteries in your day pack, and a charger in your luggage! If like us you decide to ignore some of the directions on the route to Bagno Vignoni and opt to ford a stream rather than walk along a railway track to a bridge, then rubber sandals would be useful but not essential. Lastly, remember that most electrical sockets in Italy are of the Italian design (type L socket) and you will need an adaptor for either UK or European plugs.

 

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