Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Vegetarians on Foot

Our clients come from a range of backgrounds and one of the most common questions we get here is about suitable destinations for vegetarian hikers. With a certain degree of flexibility we can cater for all dietary needs, but there are some destinations that clearly stand out as vegetarian havens!

One of our clients recently returned as a very happy customer from the Accursed Mountains of Albania, commenting on the simple guest-house accommodation: “Expect lots of home-made bread, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs etc, plus delicious soups, beans, roast vegetables - and the odd cold chip and mayonnaise butty!”

But if you’re looking further afield then look no further than Kerala. Whilst not suitable for those who don’t enjoy Indian food, our adventurous 16 day Spice Trails of Kerala trip takes in a part of the world renowned for its vegetarian cuisine. A vast array of exotic and unknown vegetables await you in a not to be missed Keralan Sadya – a 20-course vegetarian feast! Vegetarian dishes are made with fresh spices that are liquefied and crushed to a paste that dampens rice and guarantees flavour!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ethiopia - a unique country in an incredible continent

Adam Hickman, Walks Worldwide enthusiast shares his experience about trekking in Ethiopia, a country steeped in ancient history and with unique geology and wildlife.

Ethiopia and the Simien Mountains is the ideal destination for the adventurous traveller looking for the alternative Africa. It is a world away from the luxury game lodges of the Serengeti, however for most people that is the charm of visiting this less explored corner of Africa.

Trekking in the Simien Mountains is suitable for any keen walkers. The distances are moderate however the increasing altitude means you will need to take your time to ensure proper acclimatisation. Distances each day are relatively relaxed to ensure there is plenty of time to take in the stunning views from the top of the escarpment across the Simien Mountains.

Troops of Gelada baboons (sometimes in the hundreds) seem oblivious to passing trekkers as they sit grooming each other whilst infants play.  It is clear from day one of the trek why the Simien Mountains are known as the ‘roof of Africa’, the views are some of the most breath taking in Africa if not the World.
Accommodation in Ethiopia is basic! The country is still relatively untouched by mass tourism and Debark (the start point for Simien Mountain Treks) has something of a frontier town feel about it. The locals are friendly and the local markets are well worth exploring.

Trekking through ancient villages with communities living as they have for hundreds of years. Trekkers are often invited in to homes for a traditional Ethiopian Coffee ceremony, be warned though the coffee is very strong and you will be expected to drink at least three cups.

Ethiopia is a country with a fascinating history, the castles of Gondar and the island monasteries of Lake Tana are completely unique to this area. It is also often referred to as the ‘cradle of mankind’ with some of the oldest human remains ever discovered found in Ethiopia.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to prepare for desert trekking

So you’ve booked a desert hiking adventure and now it’s time to start thinking about packing. But aside from the basics, just what do you pack for a walk in the desert?

On any of our trips packing light is always advised and in the outdoor community the ability to pack light is often seen as a tell-tale sign of the veteran walker. It is unfortunate that most travellers end up packing too much - we’ve all been there, lugging our 20kg backpack around airports and hotels only to never to never use half of what you have. In the end it’s your enjoyment that’s at stake, pack too little and you go without, pack too much and you (or the Sherpa) have to carry it!

One little tip is to pack twice. I often lay out my items on the floor and then put them into my bag knowing full well that I’ll be unpacking some of the items again once I’ve zipped it up and felt the weight. However, the only tried and tested tip is to pack only what you really need. Here are a few suggestions.

Hot or Cold?

The dangerous thing about deserts is the heat, or rather people’s understanding of the heat. Of course we want to pack cool clothing that covers you up from all the sand and protects you from the sun. However, it’s the less obvious things that catch us out and the heat is frequently the last of people’s problems. It can get very cold in the desert at night and packing for desert walking is not just about long sleeved shirts and synthetic trousers.

I tend to pack two sets of clothes on any walking trip, one to get dirty and one to keep clean. For the ‘dirty’ outfit it’s important to pack layers so that you have the ability to strip down or warm up on the move. Naturally these want to be as lightweight as possible so you can carry what you need in your day pack. I’ll start out the walk in lightweight walking trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, but always carrying something warm in my daypack.

These days the lightweight fleece is a walker’s best friend and I’ve owned the same North Face Expedition Shirt (which is a fleece!) for about 10 years and it’s been with me everywhere. It’s warm, loose fitting, durable and fits easily into a small day sack. Despite the levels of abuse it’s suffered over the years it’s still the first thing I pack when I need a warm lightweight layer I can trust. If you’re staying out overnight you’ll want a down jacket and woolly hat – you may never use it, but you’ll certainly miss it if you do!

Footprints in the Sand

It’s a constant problem for the jet-setting walker, look around any airport and you’ll see travellers wearing big clumpy boots onto a flight only because it doesn’t fit conveniently into their luggage. When it comes to packing for deserts, one thing you don’t have to worry about is the rain and this opens up a whole new world to the ever soggy British walker.

Trekking in a desert means even the chunky orthodox walking boot can be left at home in favour of a lighter more supple option. This is when I pick up my Rogue Boots – hand made in South Africa with the desert and savannah in mind, these are the most comfortable walking shoes I’ve ever owned. They do a suede desert boot, which is incredibly lightweight and easy to pack and I find wearing these without socks is fine in hot weather. You can even screw these up into a ball and pack at the bottom of your bag.  For more strenuous or diverse treks their RB2 light trail boot replaces suede with leather and offers more protection.

Rocking the Kasbah

Looking at the locals is another reliable way of learning how to pack. The Shemargh is a popular Middle Eastern headdress popularly adapted by members of the British Army (and later skinny jean-wearing Indie rockers of the late 2000’s). It’s as useful at home as it is overseas. Traditionally used as a headdress to protect against heat and sunburn, this is only one of the uses and it can be utilised in a variety of ways. I’ve dowsed mine in water to cool down, covered my face in sandstorm, used it as a pillow in my tent, substituted it as a towel and even on one occasion improvised a sling for a damaged arm!

Keep hydrated

Last but certainly not least… water. It’s no secret that water is a valuable commodity to any walker, especially in the desert. When looking for a day-pack try to get one with a hydration system built in, or at least one with a space for a bladder. You should be drinking around 1 litre an hour in the desert, and it’s really only doable if you can drink on the move. Hydration salts are also a good thing to keep to hand - they taste awful, but it’s a quick and easy way to replace lost salts and get hydrated again.

By Nathan Whittaker, Walking and Trekking Specialist

Call us on 01962 737565 to discuss desert treks - our trekking experts will be happy to advise you. See all of our desert trekking holidays here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Six Reasons Why You Should Go To Albania

Often unfairly overlooked in favour of its western neighbours, Albania is a must for all trekkers looking for a refreshingly different trekking destination closer to home. We present to you six reasons why you should go to Albania. 

1. It's stunning

Whether you're visiting the wild north or the mysterious south, Albania is filled with enough scenery to put your wanderlust into overdrive. From the stunning national parks of Thethi and Llogara to the the glistening turquoise waters of the Adriatic, Albania provides a permanent wow factor for those looking for a jaw-dropping view. 

2. It's relatively tourist-free

Although touted as one of the emerging countries in the tourism industry, Albania is yet to be spoiled by the flow of travellers. This makes it a traveller's dream. Many parts of Albania's countryside remain untouched apart from the footprints of the friendly highlanders that call it home.

3. It's gaining some head-turning comparisons 

The mountains of northern Albania are spectacular and virtually impenetrable apart from a series of passes that connect a few farmsteads. It's hard to believe that you are still in Europe, with landscapes that resemble more far-flung destinations like the Himalayas. 

4. A fascinating history

From the 13th century castle that stands in Berat, to the UNESCO world heritage site of Butrint, Albania boasts a proud and colourful history. And from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire to the rise of communism, Albania has experienced a lot since the first Albanian state was founded in 1912. As you walk, keep a look-out for gjakmarrjas, or 'blood feud towers', previous safe-havens for men that had become involved in a blood feud. 

5. It's close to home

Tirana, Albania's capital city, is only a 3 hour flight away from London, making it perfect for a short summer escape. With flights departing across the UK it provides an excellent alternative to more travelled, western, European locations.

6. Have we mentioned it's stunning...? 

Interested in visiting? Click here to find out more about what we offer in Albania. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Walking with Bears

Walks Worldwide's Mark Wright recently visited Slovakia on our Walking with Bears adventure. He's keen to share his thoughts and experiences on what makes this trip such a breath of fresh air. 

I’d wanted to walk in the High Tatras for many years. A taste of Alpine trekking placed in a very culturally interesting part of Eastern Europe with lakes, waterfalls and unique plants and wildlife; all of it sounded like a breath of fresh air. The mountains have a number of well-marked tourist trails, but as I found out, it’s the days spent off the trail which are the highlights of any visit to this amazing location.

 When I was given the opportunity to  see bears in the wild I had assumed that i'd have to spend long hours sitting in a hide all day hoping one might come along. I was very wrong. This is no ordinary bear zoo! Our aim during the trek was to actively locate and observe bears (from a safe distance of course) in their natural habitat.

This trip is is a unique collaboration between Walks Worldwide, the national park rangers and a local bear-conservation project. Accompanied by our park ranger, Peter, we were taken ‘off piste’ to walk amongst the mountain areas where other travellers are usually forbidden from entering. This allowed us to enter a secret world and to reach places and see things rarely seen by outsiders. Not only the bears themselves, but also sensational mountain landscapes and many ungulates and other wildlife.

Starting in cracking Krakow in Poland, we made our way into Slovakia, as to walk through jaw-dropping gorges of the Slovak National Park. We then began our adventure in the Tatras, following trails well-used by bears and wolves. Making our way into the isolated Silent Valley, we were able to scout for bears out of the way of the regular tourists. Staying off the tourist trails we made our way through the deep forests of the area to the bear rich area of Liptovske Kopy. We also visited the wonderfully preserved village of Spisska Sobota, which was our base for the remainder of our trip. A free day at the end of the trek was a welcomed chance to relax after some hard walking in the previous days. Although given the option to visit the historic Spis Castle or Poprad, I chose to stay in the village and explore its traditional  medieval streets past painted houses and shops.

To those that are interested in walking and wildlife this trip ticks all the boxes. Any apprehensions you may have will instantly disappear once you see the bears roaming freely in their natural habitat, they are far more afraid of us than we are of them! 

Inspired? Click here to find out more about our Walking with Bears adventure.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Walking in the High Tatras

Alan Dixon, a client of Walks Worldwide, headed on a walking adventure in the High Tatras Mountains in summer 2014. They combined Rysy and the High Tatras with Tatras and the Polish Highlands for a 15-day walking tour. As it’s the perfect time to book for summer 2015, we asked him to share his experiences of walking in this mountainous region...

" In July and August 2014, Ray, Glenys and I did some walking in the High Tatras, in northern Slovakia and southern Poland.  We also did some short walks in the Pieniny and Beskidy Ranges.

The High Tatras are the highest part of the long Carpathian Range, with peaks up to 2,650m.  There are generally coniferous forests up to the tree line, with alpine vegetation above it, then rocky peaks. 

Also, there are quite a few beautiful alpine lakes.  Basically, the Tatras are like the European Alps, but are not as high.  They are protected by national parks on both the Slovak and Polish sides of the border.

There is an excellent well-signposted system of walking tracks, and there are plenty of hostels where you can spend the night, and where dinner and breakfast are served.

On the tracks there were plenty of other people – walking in Europe is not a wilderness experience.  We met hardly any people from English-speaking countries, and most of the other walkers were Slovaks, Poles and Czechs.  Of course these people live near the Tatras, but I think that they probably prefer them to the Alps because, in the Alps, they would have to pay Western European prices from Eastern European salaries.

I did not attempt to organise our accommodation myself, because there could easily have been mis-understandings with managers who did not speak English very well, and because it would not have been worth the effort anyway.  Instead, I got Walks Worldwide, an English company, to organise our trip.  They organised our accommodation and any transport needed within the trip.  They also gave us maps with the routes of our walks marked on them.  They also gave us route notes, but warned us that these notes might be a bit unreliable because they had been written by Slovaks and Poles, and then translated into English by people who did not speak the language very well.  Actually the notes were reasonably good, if somewhat quirky at times, and the maps were so good and the tracks were so well sign-posted that navigation was easy.  Also, the accommodation and transport arranged by the company were excellent.

Before the trip I learned a few expressions, such as “good day”, “please” and “thank you” in Slovak and Polish.  I also learned how to pronounce place names to some extent – this is reasonably easy in Slovak but more difficult in Polish.

Getting about was not difficult, as you can generally find someone who can speak English, although not as easily as in Western Europe.  Young people have been leaning it in school since the end of Russian domination in 1989, and now have varying amounts of ability.  Middle-aged and old people generally speak just enough to do their job, such as take your order in a restaurant or sell you a train ticket, but they often speak none at all.  Of course a few people of all ages speak it fluently."

Alan has described their journey day-by-day:

31st July

We started at our pension in Tatranska Lomnica, at the foot of the range in Slovakia.  By the way, I have left the accents off the Slovak and Polish names in this article, which means that I have actually mis-spelt any names with accents.  Also, you can understand this entire article without remembering any names except for Tatranska Lomnica (which we used to refer to as ‘TL’) and Zakopane.

In the lowlands the coniferous forest had been devastated, over a large area, by a windstorm in 2004.  It was recovering slowly, both naturally and by means of replanting.

We walked up to a sign that said “Processing insect calamity!” in English, and probably something better in Slovak and Polish.  At this place, and at a few other places, we would see small areas of trees that had been cut down to combat an insect infestation.

We were on the Magistrala Track, which we were to follow for a few days. We followed it at about the level of the tree line to the Chata (hostel) pri (beside) Zelenom Pleso (lake). As in all of the hostels that we would stay in, there were separate bunks, never one long bunk where people slept side-by-side, and dinner and breakfast were served. There was a terrace where you could sit with a beer and admire the lake.

1st August

We followed the track up to a saddle below Svistovka.  It was a good track but there were chains on the steepest parts.  Ray and I did the short climb up Svistovka Stit (peak), mainly in fog.
We then bought our lunch in a building which was at the top of a gondola lift from the lowlands, and at the bottom of a lift to Lomnicky Stit (peak).  We then followed the track to Zamkovskeho Chata (hostel), arriving in a thunderstorm.

2nd August

We walked along the track to the top station of a mountain railway at Hrebienok.  On the way we passed several young men who were carrying kegs of beer to the hostel, probably as part of some traditional event.  The kegs were obviously very heavy, and each young man was accompanied by several helpers in case he lost balance.

At Hrebienok some sort of event was going on, with music, stalls selling ice-creams, story-tellers for the children etc. After spending some time there, we walked to Chata (hostel) Sliezsky Dom and had lunch nearby.  As this day’s walk was to prove very long, it would have been good to stop here and add a day to the walk, but of course we had an itinerary to follow.

We continued on, generally just above the tree-line, with good views of the lowlands and the Low Tatras on the left (south) and the top of the range to our right.

We finally descended a long way to the hostel at Popradske Pleso (lake).  People could drive to this place, so I would normally regard it a hotel rather that a mountain hostel, but the internal staircase ended on the floor below ours, and there was a ladder to our floor, so maybe ‘hotel’ is the wrong word.  Apart from this eccentric feature, it was a good place to stay.

3rd August

Ray and I started on the track to the top of Rysy.  One part was fairly steep, with chains.  Then we came to the Chata (hostel) pod (below) Rysy, and had morning tea there.  We continued to the top, crossing a snowfield on the way.

There were a lot of people on the second-highest peak, which is on the Slovak-Polish border.  At 2,500m it is the highest point in Poland.  The highest peak of Rysy is about twenty metres away and a few metres higher, but hardly anyone goes up it because it is entirely in Slovakia and is not the highest peak in that country.

Whichever peak you are on, the view is breathtaking. You can look down into Czarny Staw (lake) pod (below) Rysami in Poland, or across at the highest peak in Slovakia, which is Gerlachovsky Stit at 2,650m, and other high peaks.

We descended to the hostel, and then continued to our hotel, with rain developing on the way.  On our trip in the Tatras there was often rain in the afternoon – sometimes we managed to get to our accommodation before it started, sometimes not.

4th August 

Ray, Glenys and I did a day walk up to the Velke (high) Hincovo Pleso (lake).  This was a beautiful alpine lake. We got back to our hotel before a thunderstorm, with hail, started.

5th August

We walked down to the village of Strbske Pleso, and then caught the train to the pension where we had started in Tatranska Lomnica.

The railway is a narrow-gauge electric one, and it connects a string of villages along the base of the range.  If anyone wanted to do day walks in this area, it would be convenient to stay in one of these villages and use the train to get to tracks which start in other villages.

6th August

A driver for the company picked us up and drove us to Zakopane in Poland.  Because Slovakia and Poland are both in the Schengen Area, there were no formalities in crossing the border – we simply drove past an abandoned border post. The plan was to go on a walk that afternoon, but the weather was too cold and wet.

7th August

We took a local bus to the start of our track at Kuznice, then walked up to Hali Kondratowej (a hostel), where Glenys got us coffee for morning tea (walking in Europe has a few advantages).
We continued to the top of the range, and the Slovak border, and went up Kopa Kondracka (a peak), generally in fog.

We descended, in fog and rain, to Kuznice and caught a bus back to near our hotel. It would have been good to stay in Zakopane for several days and do day walks, and in fact the company had advised us to do so.

8th August

A driver from the company dropped us off in the village of Lapszanka, in the Pieniny Range.
We spent the day entirely on roads, except when we had lunch on a gravel creek-bed.  The country was entirely rural, but the walking was still reasonably interesting.

We crossed into Slovakia, then back into Poland, going past an abandoned border post.  We finished in the town of Niedzica.

9th August

We were driven to Sromowce Nizne and walked across a bridge over the Dunajec River into Slovakia.

We then followed a wide, and somewhat crowded, track down the Dunajec Gorge, beside the river, on which there were a lot of rafts.  Some of the rafts were old-fashioned wooden ones, each one being steered by two local men, called ‘Highlanders’.  The passengers did not have life-jackets, and only had to sit there.  There were also modern inflatable rafts, in which the passengers were wearing life-jackets and were using paddles.  Some of the rafts were Polish and some were Slovak.

After lunch in a restaurant, Glenys pointed out that we were only a couple of kilometres from our destination, so we had plenty of time to catch a bus back to the beginning and come down in one of the old-fashioned wooden rafts.  This was a brilliant idea, and we greatly enjoyed the raft trip.  The commentary was in Polish, but we could see everything that we wanted to know about.  If anyone goes to that part of the world, I would strongly recommend the raft trip.  If you were booked in by the staff at your hotel in Slovakia or Poland, I am sure that you would get a commentary in English.
We then walked to our hotel in Szczawnica.

10th August

We caught a local bus to Jaworki, and then walked up to a hostel near the top of Przehyba in the Beskidy Range.  This was a good walk, except that part of it was in a state forest, where the wide track had been churned up by forestry vehicles and was very muddy.
We arrived in rain, after a long day.

11th August

We walked down to the track head near Rytro, where a driver picked us up and drove us to Krakow.
That night we went to a restaurant.  They followed the usual rule that we experienced in Polish restaurants, which was, “Whatever cut of meat the customer orders, give him a schnitzel”, although Ray got around this by ordering pork spareribs.  Fortunately, I like schnitzels.

12th August

I had been to Krakow before, so I just did a do-it-yourself city tour around this beautiful old city, which had suffered very little damage during World War II, partly because the German commander liked the place. Ray and Glenys spent a few days here, going to the world-heritage Wieliczka Salt Mine, and to Auschwitz.

13th August

I started the long flight home to Sydney, after greatly enjoying the Tatras.

If Alan's experiences have inspired you to travel to this beautiful destination, call one of our experts on 01962 737565 or visit the website to read more about the Rysy and the High Tatras or Tatras and the Polish Highlands. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Traveller's Cuisine

What's the best dish you've had on holiday? Some of the team at Walks Worldwide have been reminiscing about their favourite holiday treats...

Jon Barber - Braai - South Africa 

"Braai is a traditional South African barbecue, with an amazing amount of game meat on selection. With the likes of kudo, buffalo, ostrich and crocodile on selection, it's a true feast for any meat lover. I was lucky enough to have it back in 2008, and it remains the best dish I've ever had while I've been on holiday."

You can try this dish with Adventure Worldwide's Rainbow Route & Drakensberg trip in South Africa.

Matt Bennett - Steak - Argentina 

"All of the food in Argentina is definitely something to write home about, but the steak is the highlight of any Argentinian culinary adventure. The beef is cooked for longer, with more of an emphasis on smoking the meat than sealing the flavour, resulting in a steak that is far superior to any I've had back home. When paired with an Argentinian red wine, there is no dish on this earth that is better."

You can try this dish on our Ultimate Patagonia Adventure.

Sophie Hawkes - Fresh Fish - Turkey 

"Providing a different take on the classic 'fish and chips', sitting on the Turkish coast, staring out to sea with a crisp white, there is no comparison to back home. The fish is freshly caught and fried; creating a crispy skin while leaving it juicy inside."

You can try this dish when you visit the Best of the Lycian Way.

Vicky Sampson - Aubergine Curry - Sri Lanka

" A perfect vegetarian option, there's only one word to describe this dish and that is delicious. The healthy ingredients in this Sri Lankan dish mixed with the warming chilli create a meal that will allowing you to not feel guilty about that third or fourth bowl".

You can try this dish on a trip to Sri Lanka with Chameleon Worldwide.

Jack Turner - Pizza - Italy 

"Cliche, I know, but no one does it better than the Italians. I only had a short stop over in an Italian airport but it's still, to this day, the best pizza I've ever eaten. Melt in your mouth cheese soaking in a warm sea of tomato, bellissimo."

Try this dish as you tour Italy on our Vesuvius, Capri and the Amalfi Coast trip.

Dan Painter - Lomo Saltado - Peru 

"One of my favourite meals I've ever had is from my recent trip to Peru called Lorno Saltado. It is basically stir fried beef with onions and tomatoes in soy sauce, served with rice and potato slices. It's really high in carbs and is a great meal to have after a day's trekking."

You can try this dish when you walk the Lares Inca Trail in Peru.

Rhian Purches - Seafood Ravioli - Portugal 

"A perfect summer treat, light and fluffy pasta mixed with a variety of local seafood created a dish which was one of the highlights of my holiday. Perfectly complimented by the warm Summer sun and good company, this dish is a must for anyone who visits Portugal."

Try this dish when you walk through Undiscovered Portugal.

The world is full of exciting and interesting dishes - so what do you fancy for your next meal? If you've had a great holiday eating experience - let us know in the comments, tweet us or post on our Facebook wall