Day pack hiking tours

By: Nancy And Ed Norberg
This item appears on page 38 of the September 2017 issue.

Kip Sturdevan of Encinitas, California, wrote, “Several of our friends have taken walking tours on which the organizing companies had arranged accommodations and made sure the luggage would be moved every day to the next night’s lodging, thus allowing the walkers to carry only day packs. Each day’s hike tended to vary from 7 to 14 miles.

My granddaughter, Cora, and a friend walking on the Isle of Wight in 2015. Photo by Dee Poujade

“I am 70 and my wife, 60, and I can’t get her to do anything too extreme, but hiking tours where you carry only day packs and spend the evening in comfort sound attractive. We would like to hear from anyone who has done this sort of trip. What firm do you recommend? What tips do you have for making sure an advertised trip is one that will fulfill its promise?”

We printed a few responses in last month’s issue. More appear below, and others will be shared next month.


I was in much the same position as Kip Sturdevan when I was looking for my first walking holiday in England in 2009. I wanted to stay in one location and do day hikes or, alternatively, have my bags transported so I only had to carry a day pack. 

Serendipitously, I discovered HF Holidays (Catalyst House, 720 Centennial Ct., Centennial Park, Elstree, Hertfordshire, England, WD6 3SY, U.K.; phone +44 20 8732 1220, www.hfholidays.co.uk). I had such a great time that I’ve spent at least a week with them every year since!

Walking on the Dorset coast. Photo by Dee Poujade

HF owns or leases “country house hotels” across the UK, offering comfortable accommodations, excellent food and the camaraderie of fellow walkers, mostly from the UK but from many other countries as well. 

The holidays last from three to seven days, and all HF programs include lodging, meals (full English breakfast, a packed lunch and a selection of dinner choices daily), experienced walk leaders (no having to decipher those Ordnance Survey maps!) and a cadre of new friends at each house. The current price of an HF holiday in the UK is £819 (near $1,075) for a week.

HF also offers “family” holidays (my 7-year-old granddaughter, Cora, loved the one we did together on the Isle of Wight) and holidays in a number of European locations (which I’ve not done).

Dee Poujade, Portland, OR

 

As head of the Georgia Overseas Hiking Club, I have had wonderful experiences using two outstanding companies for the eight holidays I have arranged for club members. These two companies are both English: HF Holidays (Hertfordshire, England; www.hfholidays.co.uk) and Ramblers Holidays, aka Ramblers Worldwide Holidays and Ramblers Walking Holidays (Lemsford Mill, Lemsford Village, Welwyn Garden City, England, AL8 7TR, U.K.; phone 01707 818393, ramblersholidays.co.uk). (In fact, I learned of HF Holidays from an ITN article circa 2000.)

Including trips with the club or just my wife, I experienced seven HF trips and five Ramblers trips between 2002 and 2017. Both companies offer dozens of programs, which can be categorized as United Kingdom, rest of Europe and rest of the world. Whether in the UK or the rest of Europe, our club has had great experiences with both companies.

For UK hiking, HF Holidays is hard to beat. They own or lease 18 country house hotels in the most scenic areas. This means they have full control to organize their properties to cater to the needs of hikers. 

Their bread-and-butter scheme is guided walking holidays booked for three, four or seven nights, but there are other options too numerous to describe. For a 7-night holiday during peak season, the 2017 price runs about £800 (near $1,060).

Here is what one gets with guided walking: all meals (full English cooked breakfast, amazing packed lunches and delicious 3-course dinners), your choice from three led walks each day (easier, medium and harder), transportation to/from the trails and an evening social activity. 

The hotel locations are often unbeatable, such as a property on a cliff overlooking Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight, a historic mansion in the heart of charming Bourton-on-the-Water (Cotswolds) or a garden-studded beauty on the banks of Derwentwater in the Lake District.

Our club members have hiked with HF in Cornwall, the Cotswolds, Dartmoor, Isle of Wight, South Downs and the Lake District. 

HF’s trips in Europe are half board and each have two walks leaders rather than three. 

An HF Holidays gem that we experienced in 2011 was the 7-night “Magical Zillertal Alps” (the 2017 cost is £839), based at the 4-star Hotel Waldheim in Mayerhofen, Austria

This focused more on hiking to enjoy the stunning Alpine scenery. We could choose from easier walks of 5 to 8 miles and harder walks of 6 to 10 miles. Fortunately, Mayerhofen is well served with cable cars to get you up high for the good views with less effort. 

Après hike, we refueled at the hotel with strudel and other goodies, topping off the day with a 4-course meal at the hotel. On our free-time day, most of our grou took a narrow-gauge train to Innsbruck for a day of sightseeing.

The club members have been so pleased with HF in the UK that there has been no opportunity for them to try Ramblers’ UK offerings. That does not mean that those should be ignored. In fact, Ramblers offers a wide array of UK venues and hiking experiences. 

For example, there is a 5-night “Best of the Peak District” holiday, with accommodations at a historic castle hotel and including breakfasts, dinners, a hiking leader and walks transportation. 

Since there is only one hike daily, Ramblers provides a numerical rating of the hikes so you can match the hiking to your abilities. In the Peak District holiday, the hikes are up to six hours and have a mid-range rating. The 2017 cost is £459 ($608).

Consider Ramblers’ “Loire Châteaux and Vineyards” holiday that our club enjoyed in France in 2014. During this 7-night holiday, we visited such châteaux/gardens as Villandry, Azay-le-Rideau and Ussé. Other sites included the Royal Fortress in Chinon and Fontevraud Abbey. 

We even got off the beaten hiking path for some quirky visits to a troglodyte mushroom farm, a pear museum and a wicker museum, of course stopping at a wine cave for tasting, and we still had time to work in some 4- to 6-mile hikes. 

Our hotel was a delightful 15th-century mansion, Hotel Diderot, in the quaint town of Chinon, with dinners at very nice restaurants.

Sicily was the setting for another Rambers adventure for our club in 2013.

What if you want to hike on your own in the UK but want the support of hiking maps and route information plus a place to stay and transportation for luggage as needed? There are options with each of the two companies. 

With HF, there is self-guided walking from their hotels that includes full board and evening activities and generally costs £699 for seven nights in peak season. 

Ramblers has a dedicated “Load Off Your Back” (loadoffyourback.co.uk) hiking line that is based on staying at several B&Bs while hiking on a particular long-distance trail. An 8-night “Hadrian’s Wall Path” holiday is listed from £560.

I hope these descriptions pique the interest of ITN subscribers who want to see the world at a slower pace. 

Three final comments — (1) I have looked for American companies that offer the same great UK/Europe values as these two companies to no avail; (2) both companies offer enticing holidays to other countries outside Europe, but our club has never considered those offerings as having comparable value, and (3) I would love to see these companies advertise in ITN, as I believe there is great potential to fill a void in the US marketplace.

Bob Loveland, Gainesville, GA

 

My husband and I took a self-guided tour in the Swiss Alps in early September 2015. After investigating a number of companies offering both guided and self-guided tours, I called Alpinehikers (Prescott, AZ; 928/778-0345, alpinehikers.com) and spoke with the owner/guide, Troy Haines. 

I believe it is very important to speak directly to the owner of a firm, telling him/her specifically about your needs, physical condition, hiking experience and expectations. I explained that we were both in our early 70s and in reasonably good shape and that we knew approximately where we wanted to go. Troy designed the perfect trip for us.

Alpinehikers had a number of options available for people wanting to hike in the Bernese Oberland. We preferred to hike alone but wanted the services included in the Alpinehikers’ package (accommodations, luggage transfer, detailed maps and descriptions of routes, etc.). 

The package we received prior to our trip contained detailed maps and day-by-day descriptions of the routes we were to take, complete with altitude gain and loss and hiking difficulty. It also had information on alternative routes, should it rain or prove too difficult, plus information about mountain passes, rail schedules, etc. 

Also included were luggage tags to be attached to our bags at each hotel so they could be transferred to the next accommodation. All of our lodgings were 4- or 5-star and included breakfast. 

A representative of one of the companies I spoke to before calling Alpinehikers told me where we SHOULD go instead of listening to where I WANTED to go. We couldn’t have been more pleased with Alpinehikers, and we recommend them. 

Carol Peterson, Placida, FL

 

My second trip to Europe started with a 5-night day pack hiking tour in the Black Forest of Germany. This was maybe 20 years ago, when REI (www.rei.com) first started to offer tours. I was an avid hiker who was hiking at least 12 miles, with 3,500 feet of gain, every Saturday. I have been a volunteer hike and trip leader for the Sierra Club since 1990. 

The Black Forest trip included full board, with the inn providing a daily packed lunch. The hiking was from 8 to 12 miles each day, with each night at a different inn. 

The trip had been sold as a self-guided trip. My husband, Scott, and I arrived at the first hotel and found that REI had “packaged” 12 people to start on the same day. REI had given the trip as a prize to announce that they were now selling tours. We ate dinner and breakfast with the other 10 participants the length of the trip, with no leader.

Scott Graham on a hike out of Keswick, England. Photo by Sandy Graham

Eight of the people had won the trip and were NOT hikers. By day two, most were taking the local bus between towns.

The documents provided by the inn were a topo map of the area, a line drawing showing the route and a written translation from a German hiking book that described the route. The first day’s description started with “… above the Wasser fall, cross the road and find the entrance to the trail…” We wandered around trying to find the start for about an hour. The inn held dinner for us that first day, as we were late. 

The second day, I took the time to analyze the three documents and drew the hiking route on the topo map. I can navigate with a map and compass, so this made the rest of the trip go without a hitch. (Yes, I had my compass.)

After that trip, I changed my method when traveling in Europe. Why spend your day worried about being able to find the next inn, and why have two 12-mile hikes back to back? I am on a holiday, after all. 

I now start with the index of a Rick Steves guidebook for the country I want to visit. I look at the hiking recommended and I plan my trip. I make a reservation in ONE place and hike the area and then move on by train to the next. 

If you go to REI’s trips page (www.rei.com/adventures/trips/hiking), you will find many trips. We’ve been to most of the places but have been doing it “with Rick.” 

Something else you might want to consider is a biking trip. When we want to cover more ground, we take biking trips. There are many websites we have used over the years, but BikeTours.com (Chattanooga, TN; 877/462-2423 or 423/756-8907) is the one we use most. 

They are a consolidator and offer both guided and self-guided trips each at the same price charged by the company that runs the trip. I love their website because it has a difficulty-rating system on each trip plus lots of information. 

Scott and Sandy Graham and grandsons Joe and Jake at the stone circle during a hike in Keswick, England. Tripod photo by Scott Graham

We have biked “Holland’s Southern Relaxed Route,” “Mosel River Germany,” “Dolomites to Venice in Italy,” “Le Lot River in France,” “Danube from Passau to Budapest” and “Provence in France.” 

With “Rick,” we have hiked the Dolomites and the Cinque Terre (twice) in Italy, the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, both the Cotswolds and the Lake District in England and both Zermatt and the Bern Oberland in Switzerland

Here is how we hiked the Lake District of England in June 2015. Using Rick Steves’ “England” guide, I booked a B&B in Keswick, then we traveled by train and bus, as advised in the Steves guide, and stopped in the Tourism Information office to pick up maps of the hikes in the area and see where to buy a bus pass. 

Each day, we had a wonderful English breakfast and headed out for our hike. We took the bus to a trailhead, hiked, then caught the bus back to our B&B. We either picked up picnic items at the market or planned on stopping someplace for lunch. 

After each hike, we cleaned up and had a wonderful dinner in town, then purchased tickets for a live performance on one of the two stages at the Keswick Theatre. Now, that’s what I call a holiday!

Sandy Graham, Orange, CA