UK & European Holiday News
The latest travel news, interviews, traveller reviews, inspiration & advice on cycling and walking holidays in the UK and Europe..
Return to Blog Home >>
Traveller's Tale: Alto Aragon, Spanish Pyrenees
Sherpa Expeditions travellers Tony Powell and Glenys Hughes share their experiences on their Alto Aragon: The Spanish Pyrenees holiday.
Why did you choose to walk in Alto Aragon in the Spanish Pyrenees?
We chose Alto Aragon after talking to Jon from the Sherpa Expeditions team. Having previously walked on the French side of the Pyrenees we had heard that the Spanish side was completely different – and it was! In comparison it is surprisingly green and forested.
I also wanted to prove to myself that I can still do a challenging walk. The rest of our walking group thought that we were completely nuts, Glenys admits to being 50-something and I am a fit 79 years old!
How did you prepare?
We walk most weekends in the hills and mountains of South Wales, close to where we live. We expect to walk for 5 hours at least, it is good cardio-vascular exercise. In preparation for this trip, I had attempted Fan Brycheiniog, the highest peak in the Black Mountain region of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the week before. It was an incredibly wet day and blowing a gale but I struggled on. Glenys hadn't walked for a fortnight but she had been scuba diving, not much help but thankfully she is a strong walker anyway.
Which was your favourite destination?
We kicked off with a 1,200m climb from Bielsa, a small town on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees that was heavily bombed in the Spanish Civil War, to a major pass called Portillo de Tella. This walk was breathtaking in more ways than one, no sooner had we arrived when a couple of eagles soared close overhead followed by several griffin vultures. In the distance we could see at least 60 chamois (mountain antelopes) proving to both of us that this region is filled with fascinating nature at every turn.
After staying a while to enjoy the views we then started the 1,500m descent into a hamlet called Hospital de Tella, you might think we needed a hospital but there is only a simple guesthouse and a few holiday houses. In fact, this was our favourite stop, we couldn't wait to get into the river to cool off, thankfully for us this was located directly below the accommodation.
We had two nights there and the food was simple country fare; no menu, no pretensions. We had what they offered and enjoyed it, not least the free bottle of wine with our meal (this turned out to be standard practice)!
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
We saw hardly any other walkers, perhaps because they know how hot it gets in August! We could feel the weather getting hotter with each day that passed and sometimes at the end of the day we really struggled.
Although the hotels were very comfortable and the views were amazing, often the first beer wouldn't touch the sides.
What was the biggest surprise?
Our stop on the fifth day was Lafortunada, a rather strange village that supports a hydroelectric station. We thankfully arrived early just in time for a well-deserved siesta. However in the evening we decided to walk up to the 16th century church at Badain, this gave us a good view over the valley and village below. During the evening the whole village came out to celebrate their fiesta; the villagers brought food in hampers and they all sat down to eat and share their food together, the music and dancing seemed to go on for most of the night.
Do you have any recommendations for anyone considering this trip?
The organisation has been quite exemplary from start to finish. The maps provided by Sherpa Expeditions were very good but the way-marking and the route notes were so comprehensive that you could easily follow the route without any maps. We had absolutely no problems with route finding.
There is a lot of flexibility built in so that if the weather is bad or someone just needs an easy day there are opt-outs. In the worst case, you could just travel with the baggage transfer from one hotel to the next. We thoroughly enjoyed this trip and we already look forward to our next holiday with Sherpa Expeditions!
For more information about our Alto Aragon tour please visit our website for details on how to book. For a full list of our tours in Spain visit our Self-Guided Walking Holidays in Spain page for other recommendations.
Walking in Portugal: Douro Valley
Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful corners of Portugal and this month we are excited to be launching a brand new walking trip. Our resident guide Jon Millen explains why it should be on your radar.
The Douro area is a wonderful walking area of hillsides dissected by pretty river valleys draining into the Douro River. Generally too cold in winter and too hot in summer for comfortable walking; spring and autumn (fall) are the best times to visit the region, especially in the spring when everything is quiet and the vines are awakening. In contrast September / early October is when the pace of life whisks into a bustle harvesting. In late October and November the vines turn a gorgeous colour whilst the air is spiced by the fires from the on-going pruning operation.
The connection with Britain is almost as old as the hills. In 1678, a Liverpool wine merchant sent two new representatives to Oporto to learn the wine trade. While on a vacation in the Douro, the two gentlemen visited the Abbot of Lamego, who treated them to a "very agreeable, sweetish and extremely smooth "wine," which had been fortified with a distilled spirit’’. They were so pleased with the product that they purchased the Abbot's entire lot and shipped it home. This was the start of Britain's love affair with Port, named of course after Oporto; the city where it was stored and shipped from. These days the city is now known as Porto and is the second-largest city in Portugal.
Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, this enabled merchants to import for a low duty. During the century several wars occurred meaning that English wine drinkers were often deprived of French wine. British importers could be credited for recognizing that a smooth, already fortified wine that would appeal to English palates, would coincidentally survive the voyage to London. Almost in anticipation of this demand, The Douro Wine Region, created in 1756 by the government of the Marquis of Pombal, was the first (oldest) demarcated and regulated wine region in the world. In 2001, UNESCO classified 24 600 hectares of the Alto Douro Wine Region as a World Heritage site.
Our walk stays 3 nights in the village of Vilarinho de Sao Romão, high above the river in a restored manor house; each room carefully thought through in terms of décor and period furnishings. There is a beautiful Wisteria engulfed veranda where you could sit all day with a glass of wine, a book or some paints if you weren’t walking, it is so peaceful. There's also the opportunity to cool down in the small pool before enjoying filling dinners that are prepared using local ingredients and traditional recipes.
From here there are four walks threading through the wine estates and up and down the hills, through various villages and hamlets. The last of these drops down to Pinhão, a small port on the Douro where you have a night in a luxury hotel and can spend a couple of hours cruising the river passing the golden terraces of the various wine estates.
From here the tiny narrow gauge train takes you to the relative bustle of Porto and its sister town on the south bank, Villa Nova di Gaia. Hardly affected by the ravages of war during the last couple of centuries, the city is an architectural jewel, defined by the winding river and the Gustav Eiffel inspired Luis I bridge.
There is plenty of time to explore, for a few Euros each you can visit any number of the famed Port lodges and taste their wares. They are nearly all concentrated here including Taylors, Cockburns, Churchills, Sandeman, Croft etc. There is a kind of old fashioned decency and politeness of the locals in the area, however very few people know English so it would be a good idea to know a few Portuguese words such as ‘obrigado’ (thank you) and just as importantly ‘Saude’ (cheers).
For further information about our Douro Valley tour please visit our website for details on how to book. For a full list of our tours in Portugal visit our Self-Guided Walking Holidays in Portugal page for other recommendations.
Walking in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are famed for their soaring limestone towers, consisting largely of a very bright Limestone mineral called Dolomite (calcium sulphite). The scenery is dramatic and a complete contrast to the alps, being generally lower and with only one real glacier around the Marmolada massif. There are several massifs, which significantly change colour throughout the day, separated with bright green alpine meadows flecked with flowers and there are both conifer and mixed forests.
The region is famed for being on a cultural divide, Italian, but perhaps also Austrian, but not quite, as Austria pulled back in the First World War. Now it is partially a semi-autonomous region of the Tirol, known as the Alto Adige. There are also 40,000 Ladins, an ethnic group, speaking an older cruder latin language, and with their own steeped traditions and woodlore. Although Cortina has an Italian feel, other towns are a bit different, and in more Ladino towns you will find buildings with painted facias and complicated carved wood working: towns such as Campitello fit into this category.
When to visit the Dolomites
September is a lovely month with not so many tourists. Late June is also a possibility, but with the chance of being hampered by residual snow. High summer is a busy period often punctuated by dramatic storms; humid air having drifted up from the coast near Venice.
What to expect in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are revered for their ‘Via Ferratas’, climbing cable ways which take people into some remarkable positions. Then there are to famous hard hut walks The Alto Via 1&2, which utilise a bit of the via ferrata network. The Sherpa walks do not involve any via Ferratas, but give a good account of the variety of terrain and the general scenery.
Where to base yourself
Cortina is a popular base in the Dolomites because it is accessible by public transport and many towns in the Dolomites do not have good connectivity. Bolzano is also a popular base for walkers, further to the north.
Prepare for some spectacular but also steep walks and plan your travel well around your flights as it can take a long time to get from point to point.
Sherpa's Trips in Italy's Dolomites
For more information and inspiration on travelling in the Dolomites, visit the region's website.