January 1, 2017 by Heather Cowper
Filed under United Kingdom, Europe, World, featured, Aruba, Austria, Balearics, Bavaria, Bristol and Bath, Caribbean, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, St Kitts, Tirol, Wales
As we start a new year I’m enjoying the memories of last year’s travels, like flicking through a photo album in my head. I visited new places, returned to old favourites and had a great mix of travels with family, friends and the occasional solo trip. This year is wide open to new travel possibilities, but before we move on let’s take a moment to revisit some of the places I travelled in 2016.
February – a weekend of culture in the Lake District
My weekend in the Lake District brought back memories of family holidays as a child, when we stayed in an old stone cottage in the Easter holidays. This time I was there with my blogging friends and Travelator Media colleagues, Zoe and Kathryn, to enjoy a cottage stay with the Good Life Cottage Company. Despite the rain we had a great time discovering the cultural side of the Lakes, at Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm and Wordworth’s Dove Cottage, getting out for a blustery walk on Elterwater when the rain finally stopped.
February – a spring break in Athens
Later in February I visited Athens with my parents and sister who lives in Greece, gathering for the weekend at the classic and elegant Electra Palace Hotel. The warm and sunny weather gave us the opportunity to visit the Acropolis without the scorching heat and crowds that descend on Athens in summer. We loved the fresh spring days, wandering around all the ancient sites and relaxing in a pavement cafes of Plaka to watch the world go by.
March – A Caribbean adventure in St Kitts
March took me to St Kitts, my first ever taste of the Caribbean, where I explored this island that is one half of the island federation of St Kitts and Nevis. I found a laid back and slightly scruffy charm, with lush fields that once grew sugar cane, plantation house hotels and a growing list of stylish new bars and hotels. I tried lobster on the beach and rum cocktails at Salt Plage, learned about the local medicinal plants on a rainforest walk and saw the batik being made at Romney Manor. The visit gave me a desire to visit more Caribbean islands, which despite being small in size are surprisingly diverse, each with its own character.
Read More: A stylish traveller’s guide to St Kitts
March – Cliff walks on the Gower in Wales
I’ve visited the Gower Peninsula in South Wales a few times now, since my son was at university there and in March we made a return visit to the lovely Promenade View in Mumbles. With husband Guy, my son and his friends we explored the coastal paths and gorgeous beaches of the Gower, breezing along the cliff paths of Pennard Cliffs and Three Cliffs Bay. We even clambered along the peninsula of Worms Head, just making it back before the tide turned and covered the jagged rocks with the sea again.
April – A farmhouse stay in Costa Brava
After Easter it was off to Costa Brava, for a family break in a large and luxurious farmhouse (read my review) through Charming Villas. The fields around the house were bright yellow with rapeseed and from the bedrooms we had views over the olive trees to the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance. We spent a day in Girona, with pretty pastel houses lining the river, visited the Salvador Dali museum at Figueres and had a tapas lunch in the sunshine at Cadaques, before walking over the headland to Dali’s fishermens cottages in Port Lligat.
Read More: A driving tour of Costa Brava
April – Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast
On Northern Ireland’s scenic Causeway Coast I found windswept golden beaches, ruined castles and of course what most visitors come to see, the Giant’s Causeway. Along with the stunning landscape of the Causeway, I braved the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and visited the photogenic Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff-top, staying at the fabulous Bushmills Inn where a welcoming peat fire always burns. I also dipped into the thriving artizan food culture, with fabulous seafood and outstanding quality meat, all served up in huge portions with a healthy dollop of friendly Irish charm.
May – Visiting laid back Menorca
May took me to Menorca, the smallest and calmest of the Balearic islands, a place that doesn’t like to boast too much about its charms, but is full of history, fashion and great food. I spent a day exploring Mahón, the elegant capital of the island, walked to unspoiled beaches along the Cami de Cavalls and visited some of the island’s fascinating Talayotic monuments. Menorca has all the ingredients for a delightful break with mellow old buildings in Cuitadella, stylish shopping and lazy seafood lunches by the port.
Read More: How to spend a perfect day in Mahon, Menorca
June – A Uniworld Cruise through Burgundy and Provence
With husband Guy I took a Uniworld river cruise with Titan Travel through the South of France, from Lyon in the heart of Burgundy, to the medieval walled city of Avignon in Provence. The week flew by with rich insights into local culture and history, as we uncovered the secret passages of Lyon, visited the Papal Palace at Avignon and dipped into the world of Van Gough at Arles. Along the way there were plenty of opportunities to discover the delicious food and wine of Burgundy in vineyards, cookery classes and on board Uniworld’s extremely luxurious SS Catherine.
July – A road trip across Canada by RV
As a child our family were great campers, and in July I rediscovered the great outdoors in a road trip driving a motorhome (or RV as it’s known in Canada) from Toronto to Montreal. With husband Guy, I mastered how to navigate and park up our home-on-wheels and enjoyed a range of outdoor activities like cycling, hiking and kayaking in Canada’s National Parks. We also found that with a bit of planning it’s perfectly possible to visit Canada’s vibrant cities on an RV road trip. InToronto, Ottawa and Montreal we dipped into cultural highlights from totem poles to street art and new tastes from Poutine to Maple beer.
August – Cycling in Dorset
With the end of the summer in sight I went cycling with my daughter in Dorset, one of England’s prettiest counties. We set off from Dorchester, stopping for tea in Moreton and lunch overlooking Lulworth cove, passing Lulworth castle before finishing our ride in Wareham. We loved the quiet lanes, rolling countryside and sea views, not to mention all those impossibly picturesque thatched cottages, reminding me just how pretty England can be.
Read More: Cycling in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast
August – An active river cruise on the Danube
In August I took a short cruise with Avalon, starting with the cultural jewel of Vienna and passing through Austria’s scenic Wachau Valley until we reached Melk Abbey and disembarked at Linz. In Vienna we learned how to bake bread Austrian style, enjoyed the coffee culture and got to know the famous Lippizanner stallions in the Spanish Riding School. I also had the chance to try out many of the active excursions on offer, cycling past orchards heavy with plums and canoing down river with views of well kept vines in neat rows along the hillside.
Read More: Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley
Summer in Bristol
This year I’ve tried to enjoy more of my home town of Bristol, especially in the summer when there are so many festivals and things going on. I’ve discovered so much more of what’s on my own doorstep with levels of creativity and cool that had previously passed me by. In 2017 I hope to connect even more with all the fabulous things going on in Bristol so if you are thinking of paying a visit do let me know and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations.
September – Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol
Every year my friend Julia and I set off for a mountain hiking holiday, and this year we chose the South Tyrol in Northern Italy for our girl’s own adventure. Setting off from the luxurious Hotel Cyprianerhof, we made a circular route around the Rosengarten or Catinaccio range, staying in the mountain huts of the Dolomites. The trip gave us the challenge of climbing over high mountain passes and huts with limited facilities (what no shower?) but rewarded us with amazing views and a sense of achievement when we returned to Cyrianerhof for a well earned aperitif admiring the peaks we had climbed over.
October – a sunshine break in Aruba
October took me for some much needed sunshine to Aruba in the Dutch Antilles. I found a warm welcome at Amsterdam Manor Resort, indeed everywhere on Aruba which describes itself as “One Happy Island”. I found an island of contrasts – on one side a well developed tourist strip with white sand beaches, on the other a wild northern shore with waves breaking onto the jagged rocks and little in the way of development. There’s a sophisticated and cosmopolitan food scene and I loved the street art murals in San Nicholas, showing an unexpected side of the Caribbean.
Read More: My 10 favourite things about Aruba
November – 48 Hours in Florence
With the summer over and Christmas in sight, I nipped off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. Of course I saw the best known sights, like the Duomo and the David but also took some time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. I loved the bustle and great food in the Mercado Centrale where I found a local tripe festival in full swing, dipped into the Salvador Ferragamo shoe museum and wandered through the Boboli gardens behind the Pitti Palace with views over the teracotta roofs of Florence.
Read More: How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence
December – Finding the Christmas spirit in Coburg, Germany
My final trip of 2016 took me to Coburg in Germany, where early in December we caught the first weekend of the Christmas Markets to soak up some seasonal spirit. This pretty town, with medieval buildings clustered around the town square, was also the birthplace of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria who visited Coburg several times. As well as enjoying the mulled wine and Coburger Bratwurst cooked over a smoky wood fire, we visited the elegant palaces of Ehrenberg, Rosenhau and the Veste fortress overlooking the town where Martin Luther stayed and worked for a few months.
What’s next for 2017?
At the moment the New Year is wide open for travel plans with just a few things pencilled in and lots of possibilities. So far I’ll be off to:
Dublin in January – my son has just started university at Trinity College, Dublin so I hope to pay him a visit with my parents. You can read about our last trip – 10 fun things we did on a weekend in Dublin
Seefeld, Austria in February – as a travel blogger I often come across places on blog trips that I want to return to with the family and Seefeld was one of them. I was there in September 2015 on a walking holiday and fell in love with the pretty resort of Seefeld which is also a popular winter-snow destination. I’ll be returning there in February to try out some of the outdoor snow activities like cross-country ski, snow-shoe and winter hiking with my husband and friends. I’ll be trying to have a proper holiday (believe it or not blog trips do involve quite a lot of work!) but I’ll still be posting some photos on my social media channels.
Otherwise I have on my wish list to see more of the Caribbean, Canada and generally explore some new destinations further afield as well as enjoying all the great stuff in Bristol where I live.
Whatever your plans for 2017, I hope that health, peace and happiness follow you, wherever you travel this year.
We’d done the whole Tour de Mont Blanc together, sharing the views from the high mountain passes, sheltering from the odd summer shower. We’d walked the dry stone route in Mallorca although admittedly most of the time was spent at the bottom of my rucksack. But now, after years of hiking adventures together, my waterproof jacket was looking a bit tired. All good things come to an end and as my old jacket headed off with my daughter on her travels, it was time to find a new lightweight rain jacket for my next hiking trip to Austria.
With all outdoor clothing, I like to have a good look around a specialist store like my local Ellis Brigham in Bristol, where I can try on plenty of different styles and pick the brains of the knowledgeable staff. Over the years I’ve learned there are a few things to consider when choosing the best waterproof jacket for your hiking holiday. When you’re caught up the mountain in a downpour, you’ll be glad you took the time to make the right choice so here are a few things to consider;
How does the jacket fit?
Call me vain but I do appreciate a jacket that fits well, for both comfort and good looks. It’s worth trying on a few different womens waterproof jackets in the store as different companies may fit you better than others and since I’m no longer a stick insect I’m always looking for a flattering fit. If you anticipate the extremes of heat and cold that you get when hiking at altitude, you’ll want to allow room to layer t-shirts and fleece under your jacket. On the other hand a jacket that is oversized or flaps around is not a great look. I also like a jacket that is not too short and falls around my hips, so I won’t be revealing any flesh when I bend over to lace up my boots. I’ve noticed that the better quality (and therefore more expensive) jackets may offer a more tapered fit that is more flattering.
Those little design features
Look out for additional features in your jacket that might be worth paying a little more for. For example most quality hiking jackets will have zips under the arms that you can open for ventilation, if you get a hot and sweaty, without having to take off the jacket. You may also notice a breast or sleeve pocket which could be useful for storing small items such as your phone, tissues or lipsalve. The hoods on a more expensive jacket may have extra features like a visor or adjustable elastic drawstrings to keep the rain from dripping onto your face. Other useful features to look out for are a hood that zips away into the collar and 2 way zips that open from the bottom and the top.
How light is your jacket?
Depending on the time of year that you plan to do most of your walking, you should consider the best weight for your waterproof jacket. My annual hiking trips with my friend Julia have mostly been in August and September when the weather is sunny and warm. This means that my jacket needs to pack up small, since most of the time it stays in my rucksack, only coming out on chilly mornings, at higher altitudes or during the occasional shower. I know I can always layer my lightweight waterproof jacket with a long sleeved t-shirt or fleece for extra warmth if the weather closes in.
If you are hiking in Europe in the spring and autumn however, you’ll probably be wearing your jacket most of the time, at least at the beginning and end of the day, until the sunshine and walking warms you up. In this case I might look for a jacket that has a bit more substance, or perhaps one that has a removable lining for extra versatility.
The waterproof fabric
The fabric that’s used in your jacket is a big factor in the price you pay and depending on your hiking requirement you may need a higher technical performance. At the entry level you often find cheaper waterproof fabrics that are combined with a mesh lining. These jackets are perfectly waterproof but they may not be as breathable as the higher priced technical fabrics. The inside layer may feel clammy against the skin once you get walking and work up a sweat, so these are better for situations where you’ll be wearing another layer under the jacket.
As you move up the price scale you’ll see branded fabrics, the best known of which is GORE-TEX. These fabrics offer much greater breathability, so you don’t get that clammy, sweaty feeling as you heat up or cool down. The standard GORE-TEX jackets are durable, waterproof and windproof for everyday wear. They also offer an Active range designed for higher intensity sport offering a lighter fabric with greater breathability, and a Pro range which is more durable for skiers and mountaineers. Some manufacturers have their own proprietary breathable, waterproof fabrics that do a similar job to GORE-TEX – there’s a useful guide on the Ellis Brigham website. Because there are a wide range of different options in terms of weight and breathability, and the technical performance comes at a price, it’s worth calling on the expertise of the shop staff to explain these options to you.
My choice of waterproof jacket
So what did I choose? After trying on plenty of different jackets I settled on the Patagonia Torrentshell from Ellis Brigham which cost £109. Surprise Surprise it’s practically the same as my old jacket!
Although I tried on a lot of brightly coloured jackets I concluded that neutral white would work with more of my wardrobe and so I’d be able to wear the jacket around Bristol as well as on my hiking trips. I was also impressed by the Ellis Brigham Service, since they were able to order a few different jackets from their catalogue so that I could try them in my local store at no extra charge.
My new waterproof jacket is very light and packs up small. Although it’s not the most expensive of the range in terms of fabric, it was perfect for my walking holiday in Austria where I wore it occasionally on the cool mornings or when we got to a highpoint like Seefelder Spitz which was cooler and a little windy.
Have fun choosing your waterproof jacket and even more fun on your next hiking trip!
Thanks to Ellis Brigham who provided me with my Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket for the purposes of this article. Heather travelled to Austria with Headwater Holidays – you can read about her adventures here.
More hiking gear info:
10 Things to Pack for a Walking Holiday
What equipment do you need for hiking in Europe?
How my Leki Micro Vario walking poles saved my legs on the Tour de Mont Blanc
How to choose the perfect hiking boots for the Tour de Mont Blanc (and other mountain trails)
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What do you do when you twist an ankle on the first day of your walking holiday in Austria? Despite my bad luck the day before, when I missed my footing in the Gaistal Valley, I was determined not to let my sore ankle spoil our hiking with Headwater Holidays. The more strenuous walks over the high passes might be out of the question, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t scale the mountain tops. Consulting the ‘1 boot’ walks in the Headwater walking notes we realised that with the cable car we could get up to Seefelder Spitze at 2221M with just a moderate amount of walking at the top. All the views with half the effort!
The bus from Hotel Xander to Seefeld took us in 15 minutes to this pretty town which was an important on the trading route between Innsbruck and Mittenwald and is a now a popular base for both winter ski and summer hiking. From the main square with its elegant church, radiated pedestrian streets with plenty of pavement cafes and shopping to entice visitors enjoying the late summer sunshine.
From the town centre we walked up the hill to the funicular which took us halfway up the mountain to the Rossehutter station and from there took the cute red cable car right up to the top at Seefeld Joch.
The cable car left us at one end of the saddle with views down towards Seefeld and we had fun trying to spot the speck of Hotel Xander in the valley beyond. On the other side of the saddle we could look down into a much wilder valley clothed in green forest streaked with brown shale where the rocks had fallen down the mountainside.
Seefeld now looked like a toy-town in the valley below, set in the bowl of the mountains. With ski lifts going up in all directions, it was obvious why this was such a popular winter ski resort.
We followed the gravel path along a ridge as it climbed towards a rocky point where I gingerly climbed over using the metal handrails. The way broadened out again along the ridge until we finally reached the the peak of Seefelder Spitze at 2221 metres, with views of the shadowy shapes of mountains layered one behind the other in the misty distance.
From the cross we could clearly see the path that the more challenging ‘2 boot’ walk suggested by Headwater would take. It ribboned across a precariously steep slope of shale with no vegetation, and nothing to stop the unwary from falling down the slope, should they lose their footing. No wonder walking poles were highly recommended for this stretch! With my sore ankle there was no way I could attempt it, and even if I’d been fully fit I might have thought twice.
Instead we took the path back down the way we had come and returned by the cable car to the Rossehutte station. We sat on the balcony of the cafe with a beer watching the people sunning themselves on deckchairs and the children bouncing on trampolines. These mountain stations are surprisingly busy and popular spots for families to come up the mountain for a bit of weekend fun.
Once we’d finished our beers we decided to try another cable car to Harmelekopf-bergstation, a stop used mainly as a jumping off point by hang-gliders. Unfortunately we misjudged the timing and took the last cable car up, giving us only 10 minutes to look around before it was time to take the last one back. We shared the cable car with two hang gliders who came in with big rucksacks and since they did not come back down with us we assumed they had hang-glided away over the valley.
From there it was straight down on the funicular and back into Seefeld where we explored some of the side streets with pretty painted buildings in the late afternoon sunshine. We joined the many people relaxing in the pavement cafes trying a delicious wild berry ice-cream in a very cute cafe before catching the bus back to Hotel Xander.
Nice as it is to have an evening meal provided as part of your package, sometimes you want to try something different, and we decided to celebrate our day conquering the mountain in a traditional Austrian restaurant called Dorfstadl that was a short walk away in Weidach. Although tucked in the grounds of the modern leisure centre, the restaurant was like an overgrown wooden cabin of the kind you’d expect to find halfway up the mountain.
We both ordered the local ‘Hugo’ aperitif of elderflower with white wine spritz and stuck to the recommendation we’d been given of venison stew with dumpling for Julia and an excellent steak with wild mushrooms for me. It felt as if the restaurant was easing into the autumn season since all the dishes on the ‘special’ menu were made with wild mushrooms. Although we were pretty stuffed, we managed to share an apple strudel, purely for the purposes of comparison with all the other apple strudels that are served in every Austrian restaurant. We were definitely on a quest to find the perfect apple strudel!
At the other end of the restaurant there was a wedding party in full swing with all the ladies in their dindls, including a white wedding dirndl for the bride. We got the full benefit of the band singing all the yodelodel songs which even Julia who speaks good German couldn’t understand since they were half in dialect.
It was fun to join in the wedding celebrations and I was pleased that my ankle hadn’t spoiled our walk. Despite it we’d scaled the mountain peaks and would have plenty more walks to explore and things to see in the Leutasch Valley.
More of our walking holiday in Austria
Day 1 – A high mountain walk (and a tumble) in the Gaistal Valley of Austria in which we set out from our hotel hoping to sample the local food served in the mountain huts of the valley but changed our plans when I took a tumble and had to hobble down the mountain.
Day 3 – Hiking in Austria – a Rifleman’s Parade and Mental Power Walk at Seefeld in which we joined a traditional parade with local regiments in colourful uniforms, then walked back to our hotel along a forest walking trail with relaxation stations on the theme of mental wellbeing.
Day 4 – Hiking in Austria – the wild Leutasch Gorge and picturesque Mittenwald in which we explored the wild, rocky landscapes of the Leutasch Gorge and the picturesque painted houses of Mittenwald, before a final lakeside walk through glorious mountain scenery.
Want to go walking in Austria’s Leutasch Valley?
Heather’s walking holiday in Austria’s Leutasch Valley was provided by Headwater Holidays – find out more about this holiday here. This 7 night walking holiday is based in Kirchplaztl at the 4 star Hotel Xander with over 450km of walking trails accessible direct from the hotel or via local bus, taxi and lifts. The holiday includes a full programme of self-guided day walks of 1 boot or 2 boot levels, depending on whether you prefer the gentle valley walks or the more challenging high altitude trails which are sometimes accessed via chair lifts and cable cars. The holiday includes detailed walking guides and maps, breakfast and dinner at the hotel, a packed lunch on walking days and flights/ transfers via Innsbruck. Prices from £669 per person.
Headwater Holidays are a leading UK specialist in self-guided walking, cycling and relaxed activity holidays that allow you to travel at your own pace and get closer to the places you visit. For more information check their Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Youtube | Pinterest | Instagram
More things to do in the Tirol region of Austria
For more information on things to do in the Tirol region of Austria visit the Tirol tourism website and follow their social media channels: Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest. More information about things to do in Austria on the Visit Austria Website and information on the Seefeld Region on the Seefeld Olympia Region Website
How to get to Leutasch Valley, Austria
Heather flew from Bristol to Munich with BMI Regional who fly 12 times each week on this route, so you often have a choice of 2 flights per day. The ticket includes 20kg checked baggage and full at-seat in-flight bar and snack service at no extra charge.
Transfers from Innsbruck airport are less than 1 hour’s drive to Leutach and included in your Headwater Holidays package. If, like us you fly into Munich Airport, the transfer to Leutasch Valley takes around 2 hours and can be arranged through your hotel or holiday provider.
Stay at Sporthotel Xander in Leutasch
Heather stayed at Sporthotel Xander in Leutasch as part of the walking holiday booked through Headwater Holidays. The hotel is a very comfortable 4 star hotel offering rooms, suites and apartments that are ideal for summer walkers or winter cross-country skiers. The other guests when we stayed at the end of August were mainly couples and a few families enjoying a late summer walking break. The hotel is used by several walking companies including Headwater Holidays.
We stayed on a full board basis, with breakfast, packed lunch and evening meal and found the food to be of a very high standard with a 4 course meal every night and a 5 course gala meal on one of the nights we were there. The hotel has an indoor pool and spa although we did not use them since we were out all day walking and making the most of the fine weather. The hamlet of Kirchplatzl where the hotel is situated is mainly residential and the nearest shops are a 15 minute walk away in Weidach. The bus to Seefeld which runs several times a day stops right by the hotel.
We think Hotel Xander is a comfortable, traditional hotel that will suit keen walkers who want a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. If you are looking for a lively atmosphere, shopping or evening entertainment then Seefeld would be a good alternative base. Check prices and book your stay here.
Read more articles about how to prepare for a hiking trip here:
Thanks to Headwater Holidays who hosted Heather’s walking holiday, to the Seefeld Tourism board who provided some of the experiences mentioned and to BMI regional who provided Heather’s flight to Munich.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey