Discovering Peru

We have just returned from an amazing trip to Peru and feel compelled to share this wonderful  experience!

Day 1: Our holiday booked with HF Holidays, began at Lima airport where we met Efrain, our Peruvian guide, who would be with us for the next 15 days.

image001
Efrain is the one on the left!

Day 2: After a brief overnight stop, and a short flight to Arequipa, we enjoyed a delicious lunch on the roof top of a local restaurant, and our first tasting of ‘Chicha Morada’ – a refreshing Peruvian fruit juice made from purple corn.

Rejuvenated, we walked around the wonderful marble Plaza de Armas, visited Juanita at the Ice Maiden Museum and then headed to the Santa Catalina Monastery – a photographers dream.

(Rooftop restaurant, Santa Catalina Monastery, Plaza de Armas, Santa Catalina Monastery, shopping arcade, evening sun at Santa Catalina Monastery)

Day Three – After a good night’s sleep our journey by comfortable mini bus, continued towards the Colca canyon. Regular stops along the route allowed us to ‘soak up’ and view the amazing scenery. A ‘boxed’  (packed) lunch  – huge, deliciously fresh and tasty, meant we could stop at the less touristy parking stops.  At one of these stops we had our first introduction to coca tea, considered effective in reducing the effects of altitude sickness (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3001837/ ). We spent two nights at the delightful Colca Lodge.

(Amazing scenery, delicious coca tea – a bargain at 8 sols (£1.92), and Peruvian flamingos!)

Day Four  – An early start began with a 7.30am school dancing demonstration  from the pupils of the local school in Chivay.  They perform for the tourists in order to raise funds for their school – Peruvians are very entrepreneurial!

image021

(School children dancing to raise funds for their school)

Arriving at Condor Cross, we found ourselves sharing the place with many other tour groups. Everyone wants to see a Condor in the flesh! After half an hour, I began to think our luck was down, and noticed that many tour buses began to leave. However our guide Efrain assured us that we would see Condors – we just needed to be patient. Almost as soon as the last tour bus left, a Condor appeared circling on the warm air currents. Just for a moment or two, we were all speechless! In total we witnessed the flying of eight of these magnificent birds.

(First sighting of a Condor, Condor Cross, Cacti and the ridiculous but vital sun hats)

Each morning we were reminded by our guides to wear hats (Yes, I know they look awful, but no one wants sunstroke!). In our day- packs we carried at least one litre of water, insect repellent, sun bloc and a fleece. It cools down as quickly as it warms up in this part of the world!

Our visit continued with a two hour walk along the rim of this dramatic gorge, where we saw more Condors before returning to Colca Lodge for a delicious bbq.  We then had a choice, a walk to see Inca ruins or indulging ourselves in the hot springs or for those feeling energetic, the opportunity to do both!

Day Five – Another early start was soon forgotten as the journey provided new vistas and experiences along the way culminating with the burial chambers at Sillustani. Although partly destroyed now, the remains provide an insight into how the Pukara culture prepared their elite for the ‘next life’. The stone work is believed to have influenced the Inca stone masons.

(A myriad of colours;our local guide Mauricio modelling a knitted beret; a local ‘pop up’ market, and the burial site at Sillustani)

Day Six – We had high expectations of Lake Titicaca, and were not disappointed. We were given an excellent demonstration on how the ‘floating islands’ are constructed, and how life is lived. Four of us were shown inside a reed house and then given the opportunity to wear the local costume!

A boat journey took us to the pretty island of Taquile. All boys and men on the island learn to knit using five needles at one time. They can knit at the sametime as walking.  After some serious walking exercise we reached our lunch time destination with an amazing view across the lake to Bolivia!

(Giving pencils to a local child; Knitting with 5 needles; fabulous views and fresh fish for lunch)

Day Seven– Described in the HF holidays  brochure as the classic ‘Orient Express’, the 10 hour train journey from Puno to Cusco did not disappoint.  As the train took us through various towns where markets were being held, stalls straddled the track, and the people waved. A moment of quite fell upon us a number of us watching the stall holders eek out an existence while we were travelling on. However, our visit was helping to sustain the tourist industry.

(The journey took us high up into the Andes reaching 4000m. By nightfall we had returned to Cusco)

Day 8 – took us up into the surrounding hills of Cusco and the stunning Inca sights of Tambo Machay and Sacsayhuaman (also known as’ sexywoman’). Unknown to us, the tables and canopy for our lunch were safely stored on the roof of or vehicle. The first we knew of this was when the guides used a step ladder to remove the items while we waited inside! We walked and explored finally returning to the drop off point to find the most delicious freshly cooked lunch awaiting!

(Inca sites in the Sacred Valley, and another of our fabulous lunches en route, and cooked to order)

Day 9 – At Pisac our group chose to explore the Inca ruins in preference to visiting the market. The views quality of stonework achieved by the Incas is remarkable.

(Beautiful scenery, wonderful textiles, learning about cochineal, and a ‘Happy Anniversary’ to our guide’s wife!)

Day 10 – our walking took us across the vast agricultural expanses that support this region. Efrain our guide stopped a farming family and requested that our group be given a demonstration of pulling a plough with Oxen. However, Efrain went a step further, and soon I was witnessing my husband trying to control the plough and two oxen whilst trying to achieve straight furrows! I had not laughed so much in years!

(Inca sights seen along our country walk, plus a stop for a bit of ploughing!)

After a lunch freshly prepared for us, the mini bus took us to the Salt pans. From a distance, one can be mistaken for thinking you are looking at cube shaped houses! However, on closer inspection this was only a visual anomaly. Providing a living for approximately 100 families, the pans are quite remarkable. The tourist walking around them requires careful navigation!

(The Maras-Moray walk and the salt pans)

Day 11 – The day I had mixed feelings about had finally arrived! I had been chewing leaves and drinking coca tea, increasing my fluid intake to almost three litres per day, but I was still concerned that I would not be able to reach the Sun Gate as the sun would be very hot. On several occasions I had already battled with the effects of the sun. The walk along the ‘Purification path of Inca royalty’, otherwise known as the ‘the Inca Trail’ was carefully paced, thanks to the knowledge and skill of our guides.

(Early morning start and the beginning of the Inca trail)

It took seven hours along an undulating footpath punctuated with regular stops for food and drink, plus a few steep flights of Inc a steps, all walked at a steady pace. However, the experience of reaching the Sun Gate, and looking down on Machu Picchu for the very first time, will remain with us forever.

Day 12 – This morning we returned to Machu Picchu for an extensive view of the ruins. We noticed that other people and their guides were listening to our guide Efrain. His knowledge and passion for his culture is without question. For us he made the ruins ‘come alive’ in our minds.  After three and a half hours which flew by, a guide from a competitor came up to us and asked if we were part of Efrain’s party.  He told us that our guide was not only the ‘best in Peru’, but in his view ’the world’ – we would totally agree. We congratulate HF on having such an outstanding guide.

Day 13 – for some of our group it was farewell as they headed back to the UK. However we had chosen the Amazon rainforest extension. We took a short flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonaldo, and after a short transfer began our journey on a motorised canoe along the river. We ate our lunch on the journey!

(Lunch on board motorised canoe – leaves encasing rice with roasted vegetables, water and a banana – perfect!)

The next stage of the journey involved a 45 minute walk through the rainforest listening to the sound of Howler monkeys, and Macaws. On reaching our paddle canoe, all of us were joking about David Attenborough appearing from the under growth. None of us were prepared for the noisy display from the giant Otters just as the sun was setting!

Day 14 – After a good night’s sleep, a 5.30 am start to view the wildlife on the lake was a must! We were not disappointed seeing Squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and kaymen to name just a few. After a good breakfast some of us headed on foot into the forest to look at flora and fauna.

After so much activity, it was time to chill in the hummock! First come first served! As darkness began to fall we went Tarantula and snake hunting. Fortunately for most of us we did not find the elusive snake but we did find Mother Tarantula with her brood! I don’t think any of us suffered from nightmares! Anyway we were too busy sharing the highlights of our wonderful trip with our amazing guides. At every step of the holiday they were professional, gave encouragement, educated us, and ensured our safety on our second amazing and memorable Worldwide holiday with HF.

Day 15 – But all is not quite over – we had a return canoe journey this time with two guides paddling. Followed by our 45 minute walk through the rain forest and humming ‘I’m going on a bear hunt’ and being amazed by the ant troops that were out carrying leaves from one side of the path to the other! Our motor launch was waiting to whisk us back along the river to our mini bus.  Our journey back to Gatwick was about to begin but not before we witnessed a public demonstration by the farmers against a lack of support from the government!

This holiday was everything we had hoped for and more. Action packed and an assault for the senses, witnessing spectacular achievements by the Incas, savouring mouth-watering fresh food, wonderful colours, meeting so many happy, friendly faces, making new friends,  and all made the more enjoyable by our outstanding tour guides!

image159

All that remains now is to decide where our next Worldwide HF holiday will be!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Our team are out in #Cyprus supporting #

Our team are out in #Cyprus supporting #ChildrenInNeed whilst on a familiarisation visit! BBC Children in Need #CIN2016 http://ow.ly/i/p7iAE

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Exotic #gardens that will banish the #wi

Exotic #gardens that will banish the #winter blues our tour to #Maderia is listed number 6 by @TelegraphTravel http://ow.ly/r37g305Ymeo http://ow.ly/i/oMi3O

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Need #Inspiration for your next #family

Need #Inspiration for your next #family #adventure? Order #hfholidays #new #family brochure and see what waits in #2017! http://ow.ly/jU6Q305QxmO http://ow.ly/i/oEqia

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Dales Way HF Trail

Submitted by Maggie Barthorpe

It all started in a pub with a pint in my hand after a day’s walking with my local group ………long distant treks being talked about and I said….’think I will have to get one of these under my belt ‘.

A week later my 2 so called friends suggested that we did the Dales Way based at the Malham house in September . About 80 miles in 6 days .

Eek. I was not sure if I could walk 6 consecutive days .

Having raised money for Macmillan nurses before I decided to ask friends to sponser me so I would have to finish everyday no matter what the weather threw at us and it did . 16 of us set off from Ilkley in sunshine and six days later we finished in Windermere in a hail storm.

I am very happy to say I raised £525 so it was all well worth it.

I think we all did enjoy the experience even all that rain and low cloud. Great food of course helped and good leader in David . Thank you all . Maggie

Posted in UK Tales | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Scotland, and my challenge of the year!

Day 1 – and we’re off!

arriving-at-airportWell I have arrived in sunny Glasgow……. the weather is absolutely glorious and I’m basking in it as Glen Coe has a four day forecast of cloudy wet weather! From the plane, the first thing is getting my rucksuck out of my easy jet sized cabin
baggage and depositing my ski jacket in it, which is stuffed to the gills with all the excess I could not cram into my case (oops).

So now the difficult decision to combat my motion sickness going up mountain roads. See pics. Only kidding need to be able to type! The Vodka wins every time as the tablets make me fall asleep!

It was not easy to find where the short stay coach stop was as there were no signs for it or indeed Bute Road. I snapped a few pics as I walked through to help fellow future travellers to locate. Basically turn right as you come out from the baggage collection gate and follow the signs all the way down to the International Arrivals. I stopped on the way so the lovely lady from Easy Jet, who assured me I was on the right track, could take my pic!

I parked my self at bay B6 and waited for the transport, whilst other fellow travellers enquired if I was waiting for the HF bus and were they in the right place?  Think the hiking boots gave it away!!!!

Oh well the travel sickness tablets have kicked in and I’m going to stretch out at the back of the bus, chill and enjoy the amazing scenery that is Scotland……….ok so I slept!!!!!

On arrival at our hotel, the wonderful Alltshellach in Glen Coe, I am in a compact and bijou room but to be fair I’m not planning to stay in there much. The room has everything I need, including a nice comfy bed for the end of the tough days ahead!

img_7645We came downstairs for dinner and being my first HF holiday….and being tired I really felt like a fish out of water. I found Sarah and Clare and actually sat with them for dinner. I picked all the wrong things to eat as was just so tired from the journey and in fact in the briefing meeting which was after dinner, my eyes were closing and I was struggling to keep my concentration. I was going to opt for the easy walk as all my confidence was gone and especially when we were told that a hard walk at other houses is a medium walk here.
Tom and Andy (leaders) said actually I would find the easier walk too easy so I opted for the medium with a bit of trepidation.

 

Up to bed, hit that pillow and the next minute Little Mix and the air siren are going off – my alarm on my phone!!!!!

********************************************************
Day 2 – Wow… not as fit as I thought I was…

What a difference a night’s sleep makes – had no doubt I would be fine on the medium walk.

Breakfast was a struggle for a girl who doesn’t eat much before ten. How amazing was the spread though. I had scrambled egg followed by mueseli and yoghurt, conscious of the fact I would need to have fuel in order to tackle this walk.

Collecting my sandwich that I ordered the night before from an extensive list of fillings, I was greeted with a plethora of snacks…… I took 6 snack bars and a banana as we were told better to take and not eat than not take and get hungry. Oh……and a small baggy of walnuts and chopped dates (yum!)

I walked down the stairs ready to embark on my walk and a lovely couple on the Discovery Tour asked me if I was going on the guided walk as I certainly looked the part………..as I said to them ……I have all the gear but no idea!

We went across on the ferry and at this point I have to say that you can never take enough clothes. I treated my self to a new 18ltr rucksack in which I had water proof trousers and top, micro fleece, ski jacket, neck warmer, gloves (which I lost on the way back) and a ski ear/headband……oh and walking poles which I have to say up here at Glen Coe are an absolute must. I really thought I would never wear it all ……..how wrong was I!!!!!! I never thought I would eat all those snacks…..how wrong was I!!!!! I never thought I would drink 1.5lts of water en route…!!

img_3252When we stopped for lunch I had on 7 layers on the top, which I was so thankful for as I was on the medium walk and it was very windy and rainy up top where we ate. Our descent down was a slow and unfortunately painful affair for one of our fellow walkers John whose knees just could not take it after our arduous ascent. I came to the rescue… Out came the Ibuprofen and duly administered. We took it very slow on the way back, a true team, his wife was so upset, but we were all supportive and Tom our guide kept walking on ahead to reckie the least steep descent to aid his pain. We did over 18,500 steps today according to my moves app which is pretty good going.

I was so wet through by the time we got back, we just headed straight for the boot drying room. Peeling off the layers and hanging them up, washing and then stuffing my boots with newspaper…….ooh did I mention the mud/bogs, rain, gorse, sheep poo and cowpats…….and I nearly forget Sarah pirouetted on a rock crossing the stream and went in feet first!!!! I stopped from streaking back from the boot room as thought that would just not be the done thing………imagine our surprise when sitting waiting for the evening entertainment to start, whilst sitting in the reception area, a young European couple came in and he was just wearing his pants and a fleece! We all laughed…..he did assure us they were clean.

Us girls sat in the Jacuzzi which was a godsend after the walk. Glencoe has a swimming pool which is a lot smaller than I thought…..still a good size but I’m used to a 25m pool so would have felt like being in a washing machine turning in it!

Came down for tomorrow’s walk briefing at 7.15 and decided that I would like to experience an easier walk as Tuesday I am aiming for the harder slog going up Ben Nevis. Going into dinner, which we chose the night before, hungry and knowing I had made all the right choices I had the deep fried brie with redcurrant jam, roast beef with Yorkshire pud, roast potatoes and beans finishing off with sticky toffee pudding and ice cream………not the first time the thought of that dinner kept me motivated to finish that walk.
First pic I am sending over is the lovely Ann that I had the pleasure to chat with on the phone on Friday as she was coming up on the train and was concerned with the derailment at Watford. She was worried there might be a knock on effect so wanted the number of the coach company in case her train did not get in in time to make the transfer. I told her I would be there and she came over and introduced her self to me, she is here by herself doing the Discovery Tour.

img_7736My fellow dinner guest Ahassan who was here with his wife after completing the West Highland Way became my new bff…….hope that’s the right terminology……..in the spirit of HF we totally embraced the ethos of the company……we shared our puds……the lemon tart with the sticky toffee pudding was amazing. What was really nice was that all groups joined in with Andy’s guess what the item was and try to date it. So much so they had to open the double doors so the overflow could be seated comfortably and be in teams.

 

*******************************************************

Day 3 – Who knew I had muscles there…

So I got up this morning and walked down the stairs very much looking forward to my Easier walk, after all I am on a familiarisation holiday so feel it is important to try out all the levels………who am I kidding, the only way I made it down the stairs this morning was sliding down the banisters ! I have muscles that ache where I did not even realise I had muscles. The relief of knowing I am not doing any arduous ascents and descents today is what actually made me roll out of bed this morning. Hats off to those today that have embarked on the harder and medium walks.

foodI just wanted to show you all the goodies that you can choose from to put in your lunch bag. They encourage you to stock up as to walk you need food to boost your energy.
My ‘easier’ fellow walkers today were comprised of Gillian who has been on many HF holidays over the years, Paul from Denver USA who had just finished the West Highland Way walk with his son, Andy our Guided Walking Leader and Maureen who is from Edinburgh, and like men was taking her first ever HF Holiday. I must stress at this point an easier walk is no stroll in the park. Our Coastal walk, whilst at a more leisurely pace, still had to negotiate very boggy conditions, clambering over rocks, the odd fence and slippery seaweed. I have never been more grateful of walking poles, especially when testing where to tread!

Dinner this evening was very special as our starter was all local produce, Andrew the House Manager gave a very entertaining talk before we all partook in the many delicacies, too numerous to mention! Except to say I have a new favourite drink……a rusty nail…..whisky and drambuie… oh so good!

Have to say that the wifi at Glen Coe is really good, even in the rooms which is a real bonus.

I’m going to sleep with the knowledge that tomorrow is the big walk. Ben Nevis, I hope my dreams are kind……………………………………

********************************************************

Day 4 – what have I got myself into???!!!

Actually forgot to mention that yesterday, Paul my fellow walker from the day before, managed to activate the hot tub that us girls had sat in for 30 minutes the previous day with no bubbles!!!! We never thought to look at the base of the spa where quite clearly there were three huge buttons! Needless to say my aching limbs were pummeled away and surprisingly when I arose ready for today’s challenge I was feeling match fit……….unfortunately my tummy was doing somersaults. I was relieved to find others were feeling just as nervous as me.

I was pleased to see Andy, our guide from the easier walk sitting next to me at breakfast. The highlight of yesterdays walk was finding Chanterelle mushrooms…..not something a city girl knows about, but thankfully a knowledgeable guide does. So with bag in hand, donated by Gillian, he collected a feast. Duly sauted and served on his plate with scrambled egg, he offered me first tasting. Not sure if these weren’t magic mushrooms…………….

Lunch collected, and heeding warnings regarding snacks to keep up energy levels on the climb, I took 8 cereal bars, 2 flapjacks, 2 kitkats, 2 milky ways, 1 cheese, 1 banana, bag of walnuts and chopped dates. Added to all the layers of clothing in my rucksack I felt like a pack mule stacked up with food in every conceivable zipper pocket and with my 750ml water bottles on either side, which I had to remember to drink from evenly so as not to affect the delicate balancing act.

I had been feeling optimistic about the weather, and when Ruth said she was coming on the walk, I knew that we would have a clear day! The reason being is that Ruth, living in Scotland, is near enough to come back to do this walk anytime.

So here I am now ready to embark on this climb with a group of people who in 3 days have become friends. This picture was taken just before we set off. From left to right – Sarah (HF), Andy (Guide), Christine, Claire (HF), Gillian, Linette, Alec, Tom (Guide), Jane, Mark and Ruth. Tom wanted to lead the medium walk that day but got outvoted as the majority img_7651of us were up for the challenge.
Early into the walk I became seriously over heated and ended up having to take layers off as the climbing over the boulders took their toll.

img_3257Not sure if the helicopter going over our head at this point is delivering caviar and champagne on ice to the summit for us, or if words gotten round to the fact there is some mad woman walking up the mountain as though it was 30 degrees and they just had to fly by to take a look… Then again they could have been dropping off the boulders in the white bags we passed that the pathway fund supports, with volunteers repairing parts of the track that have been damaged/washed away.
The higher we climbed the more layers went on. I found that by taking a bit from a cereal bar whilst walking and sips from my water bottles kept me in good stead. No body on the climb dare asked the question…are we nearly there yet! There were a few people who were coming down as we were going up, most said hello but gave nothing away.

img_7677To condense a 4.5 hour climb into a few words – when we did eventually reach the summit we were euphoric. As a group we were so proud of our achievement and the moral support we had all given to each other on the way. I had to share the moment, so I rang my daughter only to get her answering machine. She rang me back literally straight away, whispering she was in a meeting! Amazing mobile reception you get at the top of Ben Nevis! I had to remind Sarah to do her trade mark jump at the top as in her excitement at getting there she had forgotten. My celebration snack on the summit was a banana and chocolate.

img_3275img_7739img_3281

I certainly have had the most amazing experience for my first HF holiday. I could not have chosen a bigger challenge! What started off 2 months earlier as a passing comment by a colleague, whilst helping out in marketing, had finally come to fruition. I am the eternal optimist. I just knew I would be going on this holiday and I just knew I would be climbing to the top of Ben Nevis.

 

img_7710

There wasn’t a room for me at the house until literally 2 weeks before the start date of the walking holiday. The weather forecast to the run up to the walk was dismal. Yet here I was on top of the highest point in Scotland. Did I mention that we had to climb down as well……………..

When we arrived back it was straight to the Boot Room. All with our room numbers so you know where to put your boots, ample hangers to hang your wet clothes which I took advantage of after our first days walk.

Stuart arrived and I told him I had a present for him and to hold out his hands……..I gave him back 4 cereal bars, a flap jack, a kitkat and a milky way. At this point I must say I will never eat a cereal bar again…until the next walk on an HF holiday! He did laugh but said it’s good to come back with snacks rather than not have enough when you are up there. Ok, so I may have gone a bit OTT and on reflection I really did not have to carry my body weight in food!

Getting back and standing in a hot shower was bliss and reflecting on the day was quite unbelievable. My bridge couple from breakfast in the morning, on seeing me in the dining room were keen to call me over to find out if we had completed our endeavour. I laughingly said that I thought the mushrooms indeed had been magic as I was feeling on such a high as indeed all our team were.

It was so lovely that everyone on that table was genuinely interested and pleased for us all at achieving our goal. So that evening our entertainment person cancelled so the 3 guided walking leaders did Call My Bluff. Very entertaining and everyone again joined in. By the end of the day I looked at my Moves app to see I had done 30,500 odd steps…….telling me I had hit an all time record, that’s going to take some beating.

********************************************************

Having gone to bed late and waking up really early, I set about packing my little case ready for the off. Breakfast was quite a sad affair saying goodbye to everyone.

vodkaI took advantage of my time, before walking up to the bus stop at the end of the road, by strolling down to the end of the garden to look out over Loch Leven. It really is a beautiful setting. Of course I didn’t have Vodka at breakfast, just the motion sickness tablets, which meant yet again I missed all the lovely scenery on the journey back. I really am so exciting to travel with. Indeed I think from being so high I really had hit the wall…I managed to stay awake to get on the plane and promptly slept the whole way back. On landing I dived into M&S to grab a bottle of water and a bag of sweets as I desperately needed the sugar! Roof down, sunglasses on, walking boots off and pumps on I drove back from Stanstead feeling truly elated. Can’t wait now to choose where to go on my next guided walking holiday.

********************************************************

I’m now planning on visiting more of the HF Hotels and pushing myself for more challenges – and I’ll carry on blogging as I go. I’m so pleased I’ve been able to write more than the three words….I went walking!!!!! Hope you have a laugh and read looking at pics I have sent, I can’t wait to share more adventures with you, and look forward to reading yours too!

Posted in UK Tales | Leave a comment

Lace up! Trails and Island Hopping

As Product Manager for some very exiting holidays I hope to keep you up to date with what we’re doing in the world of Trails and Island Hopping at HF holidays. I hope you’ll enjoy reading Lace Up!  and  getting involved in our current holidays.

We’ve been busy over the summer not only operating our 2016 holidays which have booked really well this year, but also preparing and putting together some new ideas. This month I am featuring some new holidays for 2017 in Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man as well as a real favourite: The Coast to Coast.

annie-coutts

Back by popular demand: Coast to Coast

To quote one of the greatest Walkers, Alfred Wainwright, “A walk without an objective is aimless”. His 14 day, 192 mile Coast to Coast trail is one of the best journeys for anyone to embark upon and offers a clear goal to enhance a walking experience. Crossing three UK National Parks, The Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors you form new friendships with time to reflect. The contrast of coastal views, upland panoramas and farmland creates variety that typifies walking in the UK in one journey. Truly something unique to consider if you have a passion for the outdoors andC2C pic.png well worth the effort!
This picture was taken at the end of our recent Coast to Coast journey led by Ian Coward. The group celebrated with some fizz and despite some ups and downs all seemed to enjoy their great shared experiences. We share some of the guest’s feedback on Ian’s holiday and hope it inspires you to take on the challenge!

feedback-2

Harris & Lewis in the Outer Hebrides

turqoise-sea-and-beachThink of stunning white beaches and turquoise waters, awesome coastline, dramatic glens and rugged mountains, ancient paths and fascinating history, Harris Tweed and whisky distilleries, Blackhouses and peat cutting and you’re conjuring up some of the things you will experience on our island hopping adventure on Harris & Lewis.

dun-carloway-broch

Starting and finishing in Stornoway the holiday stays at two lovely hotels; the Doune Braes and Harris Hotel where you’ll be warmly welcomed and looked after. Nicola Howarth, our leader who lives on Skye and has a real special love of Scotland, has researched some great walks and will be leading our first holiday to this wonderful location.
View more on the holiday

Ceredigion Coast Path on the Welsh coast

mwnt-ceredigion-coast-pathThe Welsh coast is spectacular and if you’ve walked The Pembrokeshire Path you’ll really enjoy this stunning section of rollercoaster trail, from the official start by the otter statue in Cardigan to the headland of sand dunes at Ynyslas. There are amazing wildlife opportunities to spot dolphins, whales, seals and birds, cliff scrambles and shoreline strolls, isolated sandy beaches and pretty fishing villages. Some of the terrain can be challenging but it is well worth getting fit and joining this great trail in 2017. We stay at the stunningly located Cliff Hotel and Spa overlooking Cardigan Bay and the lovely Conrah Hotel nested in extensive grounds yet only 4 miles from Aberystyth. Our very own Welsh leader Dai Rowlands will be leading our first holiday here and is thrilled we have added this holiday to our trails portfolio. View more on this holiday

Best of the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man is easily accessible by air or by ferry and our holiday is a centre based holiday at the Ascot Hotel in the Island’s capital, Douglas. From our base we’ll walk some of the best sections of the Rad ny Foillan or Way of the Gull.  My favourite section is from Port St Mary to Port Erin with some breathtaking coastline and epic sheer cliffs along the way. Other highlights are the opportunity to climb Snaefell  by train or by foot and there are hidden gems on each day from the electric train ride on the first day and celtic crosses in Maughold Church to the pretty thatched cottage at Niarbyl Bay or the Memory Lane sweetshop in Castletown. The Isle of man is a very special place if you take time to visit. View more on this holiday

European Trails

European Trails  are now included in the Europe and Worlwide Holiday brochure which came out in June. The Camino de Santiago; Cathar Crossing and Tour du Mont Blanc  our just some of our favourites and are always extremely popular. A new trail to conquer for 2017 is Eiger to the Matterorn featuring a walk amongst the breathtaking scenery of the Bernese Oberland and Zermatt in the shadow of two of the world’s most iconic mountains.

What have been your favourite trails? We’d love to hear back so comment below!

Posted in UK Tales | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Portugal’s Eastern Algarve on Foot With HF Holidays

Submitted by Lindsay Salt

Tavira in the Portugal’s Eastern Algarve is ideally situated for a week-long “hub and spoke” guided walking holiday.  There was a harder and an easier walk offered on each of five days with a free day mid-week.  Each day’s walk gave us a glimpse into daily life in the Algarve and an insight into some of the culture and history that shaped this oldest country in Europe.

View over Tavira

View over Tavira

On our first evening, Andrew, one of our Group Leaders, took our party of 15 or so walkers on an orientation of Tavira.  Now a charming fishing village, it was once the most densely populated settlement in the Algarve.  Over the course of the centuries the region has suffered highlights and lowlights.  In the 4th century, it was governed by the Romans.  Then for over 500 years, it was ruled by the Moors.  In 1242 it came under Christian rule.  In the 16th century, it was the area’s principal commercial port during the reign of King Manuel 1.  A devastating earthquake flattened much of the Eastern Algarve in November 1755.  Tavira was then rebuilt under the guidance of the Marquis of Pombal.  Both the ornate Manueline and the anti-seismic Pombaline styles of architecture were named after these influential people.

As we wandered the streets of Tavira, Andrew pointed out various features which characterized each period.  The black and white patterned cobblestone designs on many sidewalks, known as calçada portuguesa, can perhaps be attributed to the Romans.  The decorative designs and historical images found on the azulejo or Portuguese glazed ceramic tiles are believed to be Moorish in origin.  On our stroll, we passed some beautifully restored Islamic houses.  Their latticed timber doors provided an early form of air-conditioning.  We passed examples of buildings which reflected ornate Manueline architecture.  Our visit to the Igreja de Misericordia presented us with an outstanding example of 16th century architecture.

Church, Estoi

Church, Estoi

In 1760, an interior wall of the Church was adorned with 18 decorative panels of blue and white tiles dedicated to the Sisters of Mercy.  Climbing ever higher up the narrow streets, we finally reached Castelo de Tavira, a partially ruined fortress.  It is believed that a defensive fort has existed on this site since the 8th century.  We walked along its ancient walls and then carefully descended some steep uneven steps.  Below in the Castle’s gardens was a charming display of brightly coloured flowers.  From here we were rewarded with a panoramic view of whitewashed buildings, rust-coloured roofs, the Rio Gilão which divides the town, and its three bridges, ancient and modern, which span the river.

Anchor Graveyard, Barril Beach

Anchor Graveyard, Barril Beach

One day we took a short bus ride to Pedras d’el Rei, Stones of the King.  Disembarking, we crossed a footbridge over the mud flats and marshlands of the Ria Formosa Estuary and then followed a narrow pathway beside a quaint miniature open-air railway.  Soon, we arrived at Praia do Barril, Barril Beach.  Nearby is an unusual graveyard.  The gravestones, huge rusting bowel anchors, stand in orderly rows, half-buried in the sand.  Our guide explained that they weighed up to one ton and that it took a strong contingent of muscular men to lift just one anchor.  These anchors were formerly used to secure enormous fishing nets as the bluefin tuna were funneled into a small area.  In the early 20th century, catching tuna was a dangerous and complex operation which required tremendous organization.  Once a thriving industry, sadly the tuna were overfished.  In 1972, the last year of operation, only one tuna was caught.

Sifting for shell fish

Sifting for shell fish

Continuing onwards we strolled along several miles of golden sandy beach.  It was low-tide.  We watched one of the local townspeople wade into the Atlantic to search for cockles and barnacles.  He scooped an assortment of sand and shellfish into a meshed container before carefully sifting the contents.  To return to Tavira, we took a water taxi across the estuary.  Back on dry land again, we wended our way along an unpaved bike track lined with fig, pepper and carob trees, orange groves and ricin bushes which bear a poisonous red burr-like fruit.  The last leg of our journey brought us past the centuries-old saltpans where the finest salt in Portugal has been extracted in the traditional ways since the 9th century.  Sea Salt Flower is a white crystalline salt of unique characteristics.  It is collected through a natural process of crystallization and is harvested by hand by scraping off only the top layer of salt.  It is then dried in the sun for a minimum of five days before being packaged.  These age-old saltpans are a favourite nesting ground for white flamingos, long-legged spoonbills and other wading birds.

Later that evening, our group visited Fado com Historia in Tavira where we watched a short film about the history of fado.  More than anything this genre of music is a symbol of the country’s cultural identity.  The soulful strains of the fadista, fado singer, captivated us.   She was accompanied by two guitarists, one playing the Portuguese guitar and the other a classical guitar.  Fado, fate, invokes the sadness of missed love and the disillusionment of dreams.  We found it to be intensely emotional.

Mileu Roman Ruins

Mileu Roman Ruins

Another day’s hike started with a visit to the Milreu Roman ruins, a national monument.  Here, we explored the remains of a luxurious villa built in the 3rd century.  It featured heated baths and floors covered in marine motif mosaics.  A semi-circular wall of the ancient temple, dedicated to the veneration of water, still stands.  Also on the grounds was a traditional 16th century farmhouse.  On this bright sunny day, we ventured inside.  Its thick walls kept the interior pleasantly cool.  The building had very few windows, rounded towers at the corners and a small minaret on the roof.  Soon it was time to commence a steady climb up into the surrounding hills.  At lunchtime we rested briefly on a dry stone wall and replenished our flagging energies.  Much refreshed, we continued downhill to the small sleepy community of Estoi.  Our hiking done for the day, we relaxed in the main square facing the town’s imposing church.  As a well-earned reward, some hikers ordered beer; others ice-cream.

We particularly enjoyed the hike to Vila Real de Santo Antonio close to the Spanish border.  On this day, we were joined by Barbara, a bi-lingual local interest guide.  First of all, we stopped at Cacela Velha, a small unspoiled Moorish village perched on a low cliff overlooking a coastal lagoon.  In the sunshine, its collection of typically stark white homes trimmed in bright blue and topped with decorative chimneys, a church and a ruined Muslim fort made for wonderful photo ops.  The village once helped to defend the coastline against invasion.  Nowadays, harvesting figs and almonds as well as fishing for clams and oysters are the principal occupations.  Our day’s walk commenced in the quiet seaside town of Altura.  With the coastal dunes to our east, we meandered along the wide sandy beach passing few tourists.  Flocks of tiny sanderlings, little terns and sandwich terns ran all over the beach.  Barbara told us that the clumps of marram grass, sea rocket, white brush broom and umbrella pines all help to stabilize the dunes.  Next, our group headed toward Monte Gordo where we stopped at a beachside café for a delicious meal of fresh fish … red mullet, sole and bacalhau, dried salt cod.  On the beach, there were a number of wooden huts containing fishing gear.  There were typical fishing boats or saveiro, their ownership identified by flags in differing colour combinations.  There were empty traps for octopi, oysters and crabs stacked beside some boats.  There were fishermen patiently mending their nets.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill

After lunch, our destination was Dunas Litorias National Park.  A number of years ago, this woodland was planted with stone and maritime pine trees to prevent the dunes from invading the town.  We kept our eyes peeled but were not lucky enough to espy a chameleon, the symbol of the Park.  Recently reeds have been planted around a fresh water habitat which has attracted more and more birds.  We spotted several coots and one shy little bittern hiding in the foliage.  There were plants to admire … yellow snapdragons, curry plants, rabbit’s tail.  There was birdsong to entertain us … finches, nuthatches, tits and woodpeckers.  Eventually we came to Vila Real on the banks of the Guadiana River.  In 1774, by order of Joseph I of Portugal, this “royal city” designed in the Pombaline grid pattern was built in less than six months as a centre for tuna fishing and processing.  Originally the two most important streets faced the river.  They provided storage areas and a customs house.  Today, Vila Real remains a thriving community with tourism being the major attraction.  The city’s streets are lined with craft-filled stores.  Townhouses and tranquil cafes surround the Praça Marquês de Pombal, the large central square, which is bordered by orange trees.  We sat at one of the many tables, ordered um galão (a café latté), relaxed and watched the afternoon activities.  The patterned cobblestones in the praça intrigued us.  The black and white design flows outward from a towering obelisk at its centre.  This was surely the work of truly skilled artisans.

Young Dancers

Young Dancers

 

That evening we were entertained by a group of folk dancers who performed the corridnho, a traditional dance in the Algarve.  There were couples young and old attired in multi-coloured costumes.  We were especially impressed by the youngest pair.  They were probably not more than six and eight years old.  Even so, they had both mastered all the steps and spins of this energetic dance quite perfectly.

 

In just seven days, footstep by footstep, we uncovered some of the hidden gems in Portugal’s Eastern Algarve.  On gentle walks capably guided by our Group Leaders we observed the rhythm of daily life in this fascinating part of the world.  However, I’m sure it will be the expressive renditions of the fado musicians that will forever haunt our dreams.

Posted in European Tales | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Discover Namibia

445 webOur Worldwide Product Manager has just spent 2 weeks travelling round Namibia following the itinerary on our new Discover Namibia holiday.

“I love Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. I think my love came from watching the film Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep, based on the life of Karen Blixen, set in colonial Kenya. I have also spent time doing independent holidays to Kenya and Tanzania. A few weeks ago, I set off on my British Airways flight to Johannesburg and on to Windhoek, Namibia, with a high level of excitement.

“There are two immediate plus points – Namibia is on the same time zone as the UK, or at least it was in June, it may vary one or two hours depending on when you go, so there is no jet lag. Secondly, for British, US, Canadian and Australian citizens, you don’t need a visa.

Professional guide
063 web“After my overnight flight I was met at Windhoek airport by my driver and guide, Jaco du Plooy. He turned out to be my trusted, considerate, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, bushtracking companion for the duration of my tour. I’m very happy that he will be leading all our 2017 Namibian tours.  Once a professional hunting guide, now turned professional tour guide and part of the anti-poaching unit, what he doesn’t know about his native country, with all its history, natural wonders and wildlife, isn’t worth knowing. A local Namibian, whose first language was Afrikaans, he learnt to speak English on a working visit to England when he was 19. He also speaks fluent German, Dutch and gets by in a couple of the local tribal languages, Himba and Herero. As an aside, he told me that he likes catching snakes, and he feels most at home when he’s camping and enjoying a braii (BBQ).

“Our Discover Namibia programme starts in Windhoek, with a night at the Safari Court hotel, a nice 4 star hotel. The first evening meal is at Joe’s Beerhouse, which gets you into the spirit of things to come. I recommend the Bush kebab, a skewer full of pieces of meat, such as zebra, ostrich, springbok, oryx, kudu, crocodile. The diet for the rest of the trip is very meat orientated.

“After bumping into the Angolan football team at the breakfast buffet, I met up with Jaco for a city tour of Windhoek. The history of the city is fascinating, and there is much evidence of the German colonial period. It sits at an altitude of 1660m above sea level and has a population of around 350000. After the city tour we set off for the Namib desert, a vast stretch of land, and the world’s oldest desert. It is one of the most spectacular and richest deserts, which slopes away to the Atlantic Ocean.

Namib desert
“The country has officially been in drought since 2013 but the desert had recently had a few mm of rainfall, and things were starting to green up quite nicely. June is their midwinter, but after sunrise at around 6am, temperatures rose to an average of 28-30 degrees celsius each day. It’s a dry heat, so not oppressive at all. I hardly saw a cloud for nearly 2 weeks.

064 web“After settling in to the Namib Desert Lodge I was keen to explore and it wasn’t long before we went out on our sundowner drive. This is an included trip, and one of the many highlights of the holiday. Open sided vehicles take guests on a 3 hour drive through the petrified dunes, where you’ll see plenty of Oryx, an animal which I later took to be the symbol of the Namib. At sunset, gin & tonics and other drinks, and nibbles were brought out 040 weband we watched the first of many breathtaking sunsets.  I was also taken up to the Dune Star Camp – our guests will stay here for one night. Wooden cabins situated high on the petrified dunes with a view that literally took my breath away.

The world’s highest sand dunes
“After an early start, and a chance to see the wonderful colours of the sun rising above the horizon in the Namib, we spent the next day in Sossusvlei, an area within the Namib Naukluft park, and home to some of the world’s highest sand dunes. We attempted to walk up Big Daddy (has an ascent of 300m), but gave up after reaching the first ridge. The impression of being a tiny dot in a vast landscape really strikes home as you look around at the incredible wind and time created ochre dunes.

102 web“We also walked into the Dali-esque Deadvlei, a clay pan, home to several ancient camelthorn trees, supposedly 500-600 years old. After a drive back out through the park, it was time to do our short walk in the Sesriem Canyon, a geologist’s paradise with its alternating layers of gravel, sand and pebbles dating back through 15 million years.

155 web“As a guest, you’ll spend the next night at Dune Star Camp, and in the morning you’ll walk with guide Jaco from the camp back down to the Namib Desert Lodge for breakfast, a distance of approx 6-7km. As it was, we had to move on to our next accommodation, the Rostock Ritz lodge, a series of unique semi-subterranean rock ‘igloos’ with far-reaching views over the desert. Here enjoy another sundowner drive, or relax by the pool and watch the sun go down.

“The next morning found us enjoying the ‘Plain’ walk from the lodge, this took us through wonderful marble and granite rock formations down to the plains below the lodge, which we shared with the grazing oryx. En route to Swakopmund, the drive took us via Welwitschia plains, famous for the living fossil plant, which only grows in 100km wide coastal belt in the Namib desert, said to be around 2500 years old.

“Once at Swakopmund there’ll be a night dune walk where you can look for scorpions and other nocturnal creatures that make the dunes their habitat, and time at Walvis Bay with a morning cruise in search of marine mammals.

Small miners
197 web“After time to recharge the batteries, we headed northeast to the Erongo mountains where we stay at the luxurious Hohenstein lodge, at the foot of the highest mountain in the Erongo chain. A walk takes us up through the Boulder Forest to see where small miners live and work, so-called because they do not use any heavy machinery. They mine for black tourmaline and sell them, to support their families. The following morning after breakfast, Jaco and I explore the local area, and set off on the circular Kudu walk, one of several walks leading from the lodge. At just over 8 km, it gives a really good overview of the local area, and we were constantly on the look out for giraffe, springbok, rock hyrax, and a variety of birds including the Black Faced Snake Eagle.

265 web“We then drove to Etemba wilderness camp, run by the same management as our previous night’s accommodation. This camp is located at 1100m above sea level, and is a ‘glamping’ type of camp site, with twin beds in each tent (proper beds with duvet), power sockets (although no phone service or wifi signal here) and each tent has a private outdoor flush toilet and shower (cold). There is a separate facilities block with hot showers, sinks and toilets. After our afternoon coffee and cake we walk with our camp guide to look for the rock paintings, and bizarre rock formations. After my cold shower – I decided to fully embrace the experience – we got our drinks and found a suitable place for sundowners, whilst our camp guide prepared the food for the braii. After some great food and lovely conversation and bushfire tv, it was time for an early night in my tent. Unfortunately the wind whipped up during the night, so I didn’t have the best night’s sleep, but it was a great experience, in a wonderful location.

“A long drive followed,(450km) but it was interspersed with visits and short walks to view the rock art at Twyfelfontein, Damara Living Museum and the Petrified Forest. The welcoming atmosphere of Huab Lodge quickly made us feel at home, even more so when the owners, managers and staff of the lodge ate with all the guests at the long table that evening. It was really interesting to learn more about the lodge, and how the area had been transformed over the years.

The start of another day
080 web“Another early rise the next morning had me doing a pre-sunrise walk with the lodge owner who explained in detail about the history of the area, the impact of wild animals on the land and how tribal wars had played out in the region. We stood on a rocky outcrop and watched the sky change colour as the sun came up to the start of another beautiful day in Namibia. Guests could either choose after breakfast to do another walk from the lodge with Jaco, relax by the pool or enjoy the atmosphere of the lodge. Later that day it was time to go in search of the desert-adapted elephant, most likely to be found in the dry Huab riverbed.

360 web387 web
373 web366 web

“I was conscious that my days in this beautiful country were coming to an end, but we still had lots to see and do, not least the game drives in Etosha National Park. We were lucky and saw elephant, rhino, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, kudu, steinbok, dikdik, jackal, wildebeest, Hartebeest, ostrich and an endless amount of birdlife. Poaching is a problem in Namibia, as in other African countries, but we did see a Rhino being darted, about to have its horn removed, in the hope that its life would be prolonged. Although saddened to witness this, I understood the reasons behind this conservation method. Similarly with the cheetah conversation centre which we visited, I was sad to see these beautiful animals in captivity, but there is an ongoing problem with cheetah and the local farmers, who consider them as a threat to their livestock. The conservation centre educate the farmers, whilst providing a safe place for the cheetah who otherwise may not survive in the wild.

Time to say goodbye
457 web“All too soon, it was my final afternoon, and Jaco and I did a walk from our last lodge, Otjiwa lodge, around the dam, where we saw heron, stork, fish eagle, and he was still trying to teach me how to identify animal tracks and spoor (dung). I don’t think I’ll give up my day job just yet. By now of course, the gin and tonics were compulsory, we sat on our terraces overlooking the waterhole, and watched my last Namibian sunset.  I debated whether to sleep in the next morning until 7, but I was awake at 5.30, so I got up, and watched the final sunrise. It was so beautiful, I had a tear in my eye.

“There’s a lot of driving on this trip, approx 1650 miles over the entire holiday, much of this on gravelled roads, so it can be bumpy, but for me, that was part of the Namibian experience. An added bonus was the wildlife that, even on the transfer from the airport to Windhoek, were to be seen from the vehicle window.

“All the accommodations, or more specifically lodges, are in stunning situations, with the most incredible views. Sundowner drives are included at some of them, optional at others. Gin and tonics to celebrate the daily sunset became an anticipated part of the itinerary.

“All food is included, so once there, you will have very little financial outlay, unless you opt to do an extra game drive or sundowner drive from one of the lodges. Drinks are not included, except on the integral sundowner drives where your drink of choice is taken in a cool box. Water is provided in the vehicle for walks

“The walks are mostly done from  the lodges, and whilst they don’t really cover huge distances, time is spent looking for wildlife, and Jaco imparts his knowledge in a really enthusiastic way, and he will be showing you all the animal tracks, and explain how animals survive and adapt to living in this harsh environment. He’ll even show you the difference in animal dung.

“The trip did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded all my expectations. I would struggle to single out one individual highlight of the trip, but my lasting memories will be of the beautiful sunrises and sunsets (almost always guaranteed), the wonderful wildlife opportunities, the knowledge of local guide Jaco,  the stunning scenery that changes every day, the fabulous accommodation, and the sounds in the bush that to me sum up Africa. But, don’t just take my word for it – go and experience it for real”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Get Crafty with Christine

Christine Green-web sizeChristine Green has a unique creative profile; BBC graphic designer, Head of Film and Animation at Kingston University, author of ‘Contemporary Needlepoint’ and Kodak’s former Young Photographer of the year, self taught paper cutter and quilt maker. Christine takes a holistic approach to creativity, has infectious enthusiasm and is passionate about inspiring others to venture off-piste and develop their own creative interests.

In her own words…
Me at Festival of Quilts“I have been designing and making things for as long as I can remember, clothes for my teddy, illustrated books, project ideas for ‘Blue Peter’, and I have never really stopped! A graphic designer by training with a love of all things typographic.

Blue cushion sample

 

 

 

 

I made my first patchwork quilt when I was about 9, for my doll’s bed and have made many since. Patchworking makes me so happy, playing with fabrics and shapes, stitching and making, and creating potentially a family heir loom; something practical that will be treasured for years to come. I teach a very relaxed technique, not worrying about mitred corners and precise edges and joins – I prefer to look at to the origins of patch working, using up scraps of fabric, enjoying making something from leftovers or recycling garments, and my students seem to appreciate this approach and find it fun and rewarding.

Purple happy birthday (slightly blurred)Similarly my paper cut designs are quirky and witty. Of course you will master the basics of successful paper cutting at my workshops but you will also learn about all manner of cut outs, metal, wood, Polish, Haitian and leave curious to find out more.”  

You can meet Christine and enjoy Creative Patchwork at our Country Houses on the South Downs and Shropshire Hills. Or join Christine’s papercutting sessions at our Craft Taster Weekend at Malhamdale on 15 April and Christmas Craft Weekend at Dovedale on 25 November.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment