Friday, August 22, 2014

Alsace - A visit to a poignant memorial of WW1's bloody battles

Flower bedecked towns and villages, peaceful vineyards and mountain scenery are part of what makes Alsace such a lovely region of France.

And its unique mix of French and German culture provides delicious cuisine and unusual regional specialties.

But this year, as we mark 100 years since the beginning of the First World War, this beautiful area still shows its battle scars.

Perched right on the border of France and Germany, in 1914 the region was occupied by Germany.

It was always going to be a flashpoint as over centuries Alsace was passed back and forth between the two countries.

But the struggle for Le Linge, a ridge along the Vosges Mountains turned out to be one of the bloodiest battles of the Great War.

Gas and flame-throwers were used and some 17,000 soldiers on both sides lost their lives in some of the closest and most intense trench warfare of the conflict.

Barbed wire still curls across the high, rocky site and trenches cut through the land.

But it is the stark black and white crosses dotted across the landscape with its magnificent view, that tell their own story.

A visit to the museum, its displays strewn with the evidence of soldiers’ lives, puts this extraordinary place into context – how men lived and died here in the midst of brutal warfare.

Le Linge is just one element of our fascinating Walk in the Alsace which takes in the elegant city of Strasbourg and Ribeauvillé, one of the most beautiful villages in France. 

Join us there this fall and find more information on our new website.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Spring sneak preview - our new 2015 early season brochure now online!

It’s guaranteed to put a spring in your step! Our new Spring Preview brochure is now available.

Featuring three completely new Walks and all our favorites, our online brochure offers an early opportunity to browse our 2015 schedule.

The new Walks are in the UK’s wild and lovely Northumbria, Italy’s stunning Puglia region and ‘A Pilgrim’s Journey’ on the ancient Via Francigena in Tuscany.

Other fully all-inclusive Walks, escorted as ever by The Wayfarers’ renowned friendly and knowledgeable Walk Leaders and Managers, range from Argentinian Patagonia to New Zealand, USA, the British Isles and across Europe.

This first Spring Preview has been prompted by Wayfarers who tell us they want to be able to plan next year’s spring and early summer vacations now.

And it’s a glorious season to be hiking – flowers and trees coming in to bloom and blossom; with fresher days and cooler nights before summer’s baking heat.

From the sublime English countryside in early summer, with the scent of roses and crisp green colors, to sparkling Norwegian fjords or even lush rainforests ‘down under’ in New Zealand there’s sure to be a Walk to suit everyone’s taste.

The new Walks are certain to be sure-fire hits and from Utah to Sicily and Cornwall, all our best-loved trips are there again.

They include our popular back-to-back walks in Europe too, where two itineraries meet in the middle for a double Wayfarers experience!

See our Spring Preview brochure here and take the opportunity to arrange a truly memorable spring vacation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Block Island - the perfect spot for a Wayfarers' day out!

Anywhere that's on the list of 'The Last Great Places' has to be a magnet for The Wayfarers.

So no surprises that beautiful Block Island, just across the Sound from Newport, Rhode Island, was the destination for a special Wayfarers reunion and taster day.

The team from our Rhode Island base joined old friends and new for a day that started with a tour of the Seaman's Church Institute in Newport.

Then it was on the ferry to the island, which is protected by The Nature Conservancy. Almost half is a nature preserve, sheltering endangered fauna and flora.

The morning saw a hike accompanied by birdsong to Rodman's Hollow on the south of the island through fields and woods.

At lunch at the Spring House Hotel a volunteer from the Nature Conservancy gave a talk about the ongoing work to preserve the habitat and beauty of Block Island for future generations.

In the afternoon the trail led to the Clay Head Preserve, a haven for bird life.

It ended on the glorious beach - with the chance to remove the hiking boots and cool off!

The Wayfarers made donations to the Seaman's Church Institute and Block Island Nature Conservancy. 

To keep up to date with The Wayfarers' news, like The Wayfarers Walking Vacations on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @wayfarers or @wayfarerswalks on Instagram or of course, check out the website

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Austria and Bavaria - a mountain range apart and so very different

The old kingdom of Bavaria touches its neighbor Austria in the beautiful Bavarian Alps.

They share a landscape, but travel slowly through the alpine meadows or visit the towns and cities and the character of each land shines through.

Bavaria, before it joined the German empire, used to be a territory of kings and castles.

The kings are no more, but the castles, often fairytale, always lovely to look at are still there including the string of fantasy palaces built for the 'Dream King' Ludwig II.

Think of Bavaria and think of festivals in honor of local beers, lederhosen and dirndls and wurst for dinner.

Stereotypes they may be, but Bavarians are justly proud of their heritage and traditions and aren't afraid to show them off.

The Austrian Tyrol, like Bavaria a federal state, holds true to its culture.

Medieval Kitzbühel, released from its winter blanket of snow and throngs of skiers, rejoices in tradition.

After a day absorbing the spectacular lake and mountain scenery of the Schwarzsee, there's no better place to spend an evening being entertained in typical Tyrolean fashion.

Innsbruck maintains its role as state capital with a charming old town quarter dwarfed by the majestic mountain backdrop.

And of course, if it's mountains and it's Austria, it's also The Sound of Music, so staying in the former hunting lodge of the Von Trapp family is a must-do!

Our next Walk in Austria departs on 14 September and we set off in Bavaria on 21 September. Why not join us in one of these wonderful countries?

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Pays Basque - three cultures and chocolate galore!

A perfect marriage of the Gallic and the Spanish, that's the Pays Basque.

And in lively, cosmopolitan St Jean de Luz it was exactly that which put this ancient fishing and whaling town on the map 350 years ago.

After nail-biting months of a deal being brokered, France and Spain held their breath as the Sun King Louis XIV wed Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain, in 1660. See the blocked doorway of the fine Basque church of St John the Baptist, slammed shut after the newly-weds left - never to be opened again.

Walk around St Jean de Luz and get a real flavour of this small corner of France. A royal heritage, maritime trade - and a profitable line in piracy - as well as enturies of fiery Basque culture make it irresistible.

The Atlantic ocean beach just off the main street is vast and stunning - and the mountains behind suggest the mystique of this ancient land straddling two major countries of Europe, with an identity all its own.

The origins of the Basques remain shrouded in mystery but the songs, festivals, local sport, distinctive regional cuisine and folklore reveal the unique history and culture of fiercely proud people who speak the oldest living language in Europe.

Situated in the south west of France and north west of Spain, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, the Basque country ranges across a superb and dramatic natural environment.

From the elegant and smart surfers' paradise of Biarritz, just along the coast from St Jean de Luz, to the traditional villages dotted through the hilly Basque countryside, hiking in the Pays Basque guarantees something different every hour.

Fortified by the local favourite sweet treat - crazy-colored almond macaroons - stroll through a walled Spanish city, follow a pilgrimage trail, eat a seafood lunch in an old fishing harbour and even take in a salty thalassotherapy spa experience! And that's just one day's hike!

Step on to a boat in France and after a short ride, step off in Spain. You can live like a medieval lord for a night in the marvellous Parador El Emperador, a 10th century bastion, home in the 16th century to Spain's founding emperor, Carlos V.

Of course the Pays Basque is the chocolate capital of France and you can't leave without a visit to a 'maître chocolatier', who can usually be persuaded to part with a few delectable samples.

Find out more about our Pays Basque Walk here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Patagonia - There's no rush to reach the ends of the earth

He who rushes, wastes time, goes the old Patagonian proverb.

And there is no rushing Patagonia.

A remote paradise at the ends of the earth, this vast region is one of the world's most stunning areas of unspoiled wilderness.

Hiking in the Argentinian borderlands along the spine of the Andes offers an unbeatable opportunity to absorb the stunning views of lakes, mountains and glaciers.

The silence of the steppes and the sheer, magical emptiness is the perfect place to hike with an expert local guide and Walk manager who specialise in taking guests off the beaten track on foot, giving them a rich cultural experience of the region, including its people, food and traditions.

Walk in the footsteps of the early settlers and meet the gauchos who still work the land on remote ranches.

In the midst of the Los Glaciares National Park cruise to almost touching distance of the great Perito Moreno glacier where great ice boulders break away with a crack and a roar.

Watch out for guanacos and hares, condors and flamingoes, maybe even a puma.

Spend a day close to nature at the Peninsula de las Colonias, wildlife trekking and helping prepare a campfire lunch.

And talking of lunch, Patagonia offers regional specialties that are hard to match anywhere else in the world.

The region is most known for its tender lamb (cordero), roasted slowly over an open flame - of the asado, or barbecue.

Another local delicacy is wild boar (jabalí), which, while not native to Patagonia, is today one of its most important meats. And, of course, diners will want to enjoy venison (ciervo) as well as Patagonia's fresh seafood options, including trout, king crab and salmon.

And whatever you do, don't forget the Lemon Pie at La Leona, an isolated inn once the refuge of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!

And if you are heading to the ends of the earth, don't miss the opportunity to  to extend the trip and stay in vibrant Buenos Aires, enjoy a relaxing stay at a traditional estancia or hike in the Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia.

Find out more about this once in a lifetime vacation on our website

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Camino de Santiago - where the spirit is in the walking

Breathe deeply, stride out, follow the scallop shells - and be prepared for a life-changing experience.

To hike the Camino de Santiago is to join in one of the great walking experiences anywhere in the world.

From kings to paupers, for more than 1,000 years, countless pilgrims have followed this route across the 'top' of Spain.

The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain owes its origin to the discovery, in what is now Galicia, of the tomb of the Apostle James the Great sometime early in the 9th century.

Whatever the reasons for undertaking this special journey to the 'field of stars', the spirit is in the walking - and in the walkers stepping out alongside, each taking it at his or her own pace.

The medieval villages, soaring Romanesque cathedrals, intimate chapels and sanctuaries and peaceful hills and valleys make friends out of strangers, united for mile upon mile or for a few hours or days by their shared goal.

Set off from Burgos, the ancient capital of Castile, dominated by one of Europe's great Gothic cathedrals.

On the way, visit Leon, founded by the Romans and later cross the longest pilgrim bridge in Spain to Astorga with its medieval cathedral and Gaudi's extraordinary Bishop's Palace.

Pass the night in a high mountain village and travel on to Cruz de Hierro, adding a stone to the mountain left by passing pilgrims ove generations.

A lonely track leads to Ponferrada, with its 12th-century Templar Castle built to defend the pilgrims from the Moors. 

From there walk beside mountain streams to the perfectly preserved hilltop village of O'Cebreiro, with its pallozas, oval stone huts with conical straw roofs.

The first glimpse of the towers of Santiago still has the power to thrill even a modern-day pilgrim.

The huge Praza de Obradoiro frames the magnificent cathedral in the heart of the old Baroque city.

Attend the pilgrims' mass there and, before leaving, make sure a scallop shell is tucked in to a bag or pocket, just like the pilgrims of yesteryear.

Our 2015 Walk along highlights of the Camino departs on 23 May. Find out more here