January is traditionally the month when we make resolutions that involve health and fitness – you know the ones. “This year I’ll lose that extra 5 kg that crept on over the last few years” or “This year I’ll train for a marathon to shake off the couch-potato that I’ve become”. The trouble is that such dramatic resolutions rarely last more than a few weeks while it’s the small actions that we take each and every day that have a lasting impact on health and fitness.
Hiking for health in 2015
While I’m always trying to shake off those extra pounds I find it more effective to incorporate walking and hiking into my everyday life, rather than make resolutions to go to the gym that I don’t have time to keep. I walk 30+ minutes to and from work, enjoy walks in the country when I’m away for the weekend with the family and incorporate walking and hiking into my holidays too. A major trek like the Tour de Mont Blanc can sometimes be just the challenge you need sometimes but equally a walk along Canal Saint Martin and the Promenade Plantee helped me see a side of Paris that was a little off the tourist trail.
I’m giving away a £200 Blacks voucher
To help you to include walking and hiking into your daily life and your travels, I’ve teamed up with Blacks, the outdoor clothing store, with a giveaway of a £200 voucher that can be spent on the outdoor clothing or equipment from the Blacks website. Check out the interview the Blacks did with me on their blog here. You’ll find information about how to enter the Blacks £200 voucher giveaway at the end of this article.
The clothing you need for hiking
To give you some ideas, here’s my pick from the Blacks range of some things that I’d love to have in my wardrobe for walking and hiking. Cosy down jackets are great for everyday walking, whether it’s a walk in the country or a walk to work, while fleeces and t-shirts made of the latest technical fabrics will keep you at just the right temperature while wicking away moisture. For hiking, I recommend trousers made of quick-dry fabric, especially those where the leg zips off to make shorts or capris.
The links for the items featured here are for your convenience but since many items are in the sale these may soon be replaced by other new season items: Patagonia woman’s down hooded jacket in red £155 (sale) | The North Face Masonic Polartex Fleece Hoody in orange£35 (sale) | Adidas superNova Tee in purple £19 | Berghaus lowscale zip-off walking trousers in grey £40 (sale) |Royal Robbins discovery Capri trousers in black £25 (sale) | Ronhill Aspiration contour capris £34
The boots you need for hiking
For footwear there’s no substitute for a comfortable pair of walking boots with proper support for those long-distance trails such as the Tour de Mont Blanc, but if you are doing some warm weather hiking as I did in Mallorca last September you may prefer one of the hybrid walking shoes that are cut lower on the ankle and are cooler to wear. For active trail running or more sporty use you might consider some of the trail shoes that have well supported soles with lightweight upper. On all types of walking boot or shoe, look out for those that have breatheable but waterproof uppers such as those made of Gore-tex. Read my tips on how to choose the perfect pair of walking boots.
Walking boots and shoes are not something I would recommend buying online unless you have first tried them in-store, since you may need to try on many different brands and styles to find the most comfortable for your feet but you will find these styles or similar in the Blacks stores: Merrell Daria mid GORE-TEX Boot £110 | Salomon Ellipse Gre-tex hiking shoe £100 | Merrell All-out Rush Trail Running Shoe
Of course the choice on how to spend your £200 Black’s voucher is yours, but I hope that you’ll be inspired to do some walking and hiking in 2015 on your travels. All the styles featured are available on the Blacks website at the time of publication although many are in the sale and other new season items will be available soon. Now to give you a bit of inspiration to get hiking in 2015, here are some ideas from the treks that I’ve done in the past few years;
The Tour de Mont Blanc
This circular trail around the Mont Blanc Massif takes you through France, Switzerland and Italy over 170km and is normally completed over 12 days. Be prepared for arduous ascents and descents of up to 2600M, long 8 hour days walking and staying in mountain refuges that can be quite basic. You will be rewarded, however with stunning Alpine views and an amazing sense of achievement. This is an arduous trek but one which can be broken up into more manageable chucks – I walked it with a friend in stages over 4 years, or you can look for a company like Macs Adventure that offer a cut down version. Read about my walk on the Tour de Mont Blanc here.
The Dry Stone route in Mallorca
Although better known as a beach holiday destination, the island of Mallorca has some outstanding walking and I was there in September walking the Dry Stone Route along the western coast of the island. From the artist’s village at Deia we walked within sight of the sea and at the coastal resort of Soller started our climb into the Tramuntana mountains, following the old pilgrim’s trail to the monastery of Lluc and on to Pollenca on the northern coast. Combined with some time in Palma this is an ideal trail for those who are looking for moderate walking with some cultural interest. Read about my walk on the dry stone route in Mallorca here.
Walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path in Wales
Last spring I walked a section of the Pembrokeshire Coastal path in Wales with Macs Adventure ending up at St David’s, the UK’s smallest city. This part of the Welsh coast is rugged and wild with stunning clifftop views and hidden coves that you can only reach from the coastal path. If you can plan your visit from May to July I’d recommend the walks on Skomer Island during the Puffin nesting season when you can get very close to these colourful sea-birds as they hatch their chicks in burrows. Read about my walk on the Pembrokeshire coastal path here.
Walking and climbing in the Dolomites
Last September, I visited South Tyrol in Italy and was thrilled to climb my first Via Ferrata. These climbing routes (literally iron routes) have fixed cables that you are clipped to making it easy for anyone with the right equipment to climb them, although if you are a beginner I’d recommend hiring a guide. This part of the Dolomites is ideal for walking and hiking with many day hikes and long-distance trails and you’ll be pleased to know that this northern corner of Italy is also known for its gastronomy with no less than 19 Michelin star restaurants and numerous vineyards where you can taste the local wines! Read about climbing my First Via Ferrata here.
Blacks recently featured a Q & A with me on their blog about how I started blogging and some of my favourite travel and hiking destinations. Read the interview here.
How to Enter the Giveaway
To enter the Giveaway for a £200 Blacks voucher please use the Rafflecopter widget below;
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Terms and Conditions
- This giveaway is a prize draw/sweepstake
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The first part of our hike on the Dry Stone Route in Mallorca had taken us from the pretty artist’s village of Deia to the busy resort of Port de Soller and up into the Tramuntana mountain range. Read about Part 1 of the walk here. Reaching the Cuber reservoir we took the bus to the monastery at Lluc, since the Refugi de Tossals Verds where we’d hoped to stay was closed for rennovation. After a night in the simple monastery guest accommodation overlooking the front of the church, we decided to attend Sunday mass at 11 o’clock to hear the famous Blauet choir sing, since we would be spending two nights at the monastery and didn’t have to walk on anywhere that day.
Mass with El Blauets
The children of the choir school filed out to a packed church, wearing the bright blue robes that give the choir its name. As mass began a painted screen slid back to reveal the small statue of the Madonna known as La Moreneta or little one above the altar, wearing her crown. When mass was finished the screen closed and the statue turned around to face the opposite direction where she could be seen in the prayer chapel which is reached by the stairs running up beside the altar.
It was a lovely service with beautiful singing, only marred by those tourists who could not resist taking constant flash photography and a woman who even walked up and down the central aisle to video everything on her phone. One of the young girls from the choir appeared to be making her confirmation and had not one but two photographers taking photos constantly from every angle, even walking right up behind the altar to take close-ups of the choir. Being a Catholic I was quite horrified by the disrespectful attitude of some visitors who seemed to view the mass like a visit to the zoo and could not believe how patient and good humoured the priest was about it all!
After mass we set off along the GR221 to follow it in the opposite direction, the path that we would have come down had we stayed at the Refugi Tossal Verdes rather than skipping part of the route by bus. Not far from the monastery gates we picked up the familiar cobbled stone path from which the Dry Stone Route gets its name. There was a water collection point nearby fed by a spring from the mountains, where people were bringing huge plastic containers to fill up for their week’s drinking water.
Sitges and Ice pits in the woods
Passing through the holm oaks we passed a number of Sitges or circular, stone charcoal burning hearths. Until the 1920s the charcoal burners would live all summer in the woods in simple stone huts with branches and leaves for a roof and we passed quite a few on the walk. Another feature of the landscape were the deep snow pits lined with stones, which in the days before refrigeration, were filled with blocks of ice from the mountains packed down and covered with leaves to keep them from melting.
Views from the Puig d’en Galileu
We emerged from the woodland onto the side of the Puig d’en Galileu on a cobbled stone path with dry stone retaining walls which ziz zagged at a relatively gentle gradient up to the top of the mountain where there was a plateau just below a rocky crest. From here there were wonderful views across the valley, down towards the monastery at Lluc and across towards the coast and the cleft of the Torrent de Parais, a popular walking route along the gorge.
We stopped at the crest and sat on a boulder for a picnic lunch but soon the views were hidden by the cloud cover swirling in and covering the rocky peaks where the path would take us up over the pass. We decided that rather than climb further into the cloud, with the risk of losing our way, we would retrace our steps down into the valley again and returned by the way we had come.
The Museum at Lluc Monastery
We arrived back at Lluc monastery around 4pm, just in time to take a look around the interesting museum with old archaeological artefacts, some beautiful Mallorcan costumes and traditional furniture like the carved and canopied bedstead. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of paintings depicting scenes from Mallorcan life by the impressionistic artist Josep Coll Bardolet, a Spanish painter whose adoptive home was Valdemossa.
After breakfast the next day we took the opportunity to walk the path with the stations of the rosary within the monastery grounds, which took us up to a rocky pinacle with a huge iron cross overlooking the monastery. The pilgrim’s road took us out of the gates of Lluc monastery, through the fields and up to the Refuge of Son Amer, which like many of the Refugi along the Dry Stone Route, had been recently restored to encourage rural and walking tourism.
The path wound up through pine forest on the slopes of the Puig Ferner and despite the overcast weather this was the best part of the day as we walked amid the pines and past lime kilns and old stone enclosures. The bright green moss made cushions of the rocks and the path was soft with a covering of pine needles which gave off their scent when trodden underfoot. The air was quiet apart from the trill of birdsong and the distant whirr of traffic from the road down below.
Through the woods to Pollença
The way followed the Cami Vel de Lluc, the old pilgrim’s way which turned for a while into small tarmac road between fields with occasional houses. As we descended towards Pollença, the rain became steady and we entered a thick pine forest which sheltered us from the worst of it. The heavy woodland cover would have been refreshingly cool on a hot summer’s day but felt damp and eerie in the rain. It seemed as if we had entered a scene from the Hobbit, where the trees might come alive and turn on us at any moment.
The final stretch was along a river and then a busy road heading into Pollença, where we missed the smaller paths a few times and ended up walking beside the traffic which was both dangerous and unpleasant. Finally arriving in the central Placa of Pollença, we took shelter in a cafe with the tourists from the nearby beach resort, their sunshine holiday being rather spoiled by the rain.
Staying at Port de Pollença
In the cafe we received stone-faced glances from the staff and concluded that our boots and dripping rucksacks were not welcome, so after a coffee we took the bus into Port de Pollença where a much warmer welcome awaited us at the seafront hotel of Sis Pins. This was clearly a haven for the mid-life Brit abroad with plenty of older couples, a cheerful English receptionist and kettles in every room.
We spent the evening exploring the busy resort of Port de Pollença finding a pleasant Italian restaurant for dinner in the main square. Thankfully the sunshine had returned by the next morning and we took the bus back to Palma, leaving our rucksacks in the lockers at the Placa Espanya above the underground coach station.
Sightseeing in Palma
Since our flight was not until the evening, we wandered around the old quarter, looked in the shoe shops and came across an art museum, the Museo Fundacion Juan March. Housed in an elegant 18th century mansion along one of the main shopping street this was a real find, since it was not only free but housed a world class exhibition of modern painting and sculpture that included Picasso, Dali and Miro.
Next stop was La Seu, the cathedral of Santa Maria in Palma, which dominates the view from the sea and is the number one tourist hotspot. Of course we couldn’t miss it but before going in we walked all around the terrace overlooking the lake and seafront, noticing the horse-drawn carriages ready to take you around the town.
The cathedral is a huge and inspiring structure, which although medieval in origin has gorgeous Modernista influences that were added by Antonio Gaudi in the 19th century. I especially loved the more recent side chapel by contemporary Spanish artist, Miquel Barceló where the ceramic surface was covered with fish and other wriggling, writhing creatures.
After visiting that cathedral we wandered around the old streets near the cathedral, eating ice cream, photographing the two well-known Modernista houses of Can Rei and L’Aquilla and finally stopping for a drink in a leafy square.
Before long our short sightseeing tour of Palma was up and it was time to return to the Placa Espanya to pick up our bags and return to the airport. Our walking break had taken us from quiet mountain villages to busy coastal resorts, from the views of the Tramuntana mountains to the buzzing town squares packed with bars and restaurants and finally to the sophisticated island capital of Palma. Next time I’d love to go back with for a driving holiday to explore even more of the hidden charms of Mallorca away from the coast. For me those mountain paths and quiet villages feel like the real Mallorca.
If you’d like to walk the Dry Stone Route
If you plan to walk the GR221 Dry Stone Route I recommend the guide book that we used Trekking through Mallorca – GR221 The Dry Stone Route by Paddy Dillon published by Cicerone.
To get to Palma airport from the centre of Palma we took the airport bus No 1 which runs every 15 minutes from Placa d’Espana where the train and bus station are located. Cost around €3 one way.
Information on routes, timetables and costs of the excellent regular bus service throughout Mallorca, visit the www.tib.org Mallorca Transport website. We used the bus to get from Palma to Deia, from Cuber to Lluc and from Pollenca to Palma.
You can buy the rather uncomplimentary account of Mallorca “A Winter in Mallorca” written by George Sand about the winter she spent there with her lover, the composer Frederick Chopin.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
As we see out the old year and bring in the new, there’s something of a tradition in blogging circles to review the places you visited, share photos from the year just gone and generally reminisce about those days of sunshine and happy memories – doesn’t everything seem more rosy in retrospect?
Looking back over my travelling year, I’m amazed at how many places in the UK and Europe I managed to fit in, considering that I have a full-time job and family (although only one of my little birds left in the nest). Perhaps that’s why my preferred travel style is the short break, to pack in the maximum fun from a limited amount of holiday. My most regular travel companion is my husband Guy who by his own admission is as expert in ‘loafing’ as I am at scribbling, photographing, video-ing, although he regularly gets roped in as assistant cameraman and videographer. Whenever I get the chance, I also love travelling with friends and family, especially when the (nearly-grown-up) kids do us the honour of coming along.
So here is a taste of my travelling year in 2014 in anticipation of many more happy travels in 2015.
January: Still recovering from Paris in December
January was something of a catch-up month, so I’m cheating a little bit here by including the pre-Christmas trip to Paris from December 2013. We found that Paris at Christmas is surprisingly un-Christmassy as the French are pretty low key about their celebrations and decorations. On this trip we stayed clear of the regular tourist traps (although we couldn’t quite escape Notre Dame) and enjoyed exploring the more local haunts, with a gourmet walking tour of Marche D’Aligre, a local dining experience with a Frenche Creole flavour and a walk along the pretty Canal Saint Martin in Bastille.
February: A winter break in Copenhagen for the Wondercool festival
In February we were back in Copenhagen, a favourite of mine, to see what the city has to offer in winter and check out the Copenhagen Cooking festival. The gastronomic highlight was a gastro-cruise around the harbour during which we stopped at no less than six of the top restaurants in Copenhagen, each of which had prepared a different dish of mussels. I hadn’t quite realised that the focus would be entirely on one ingredient so was quite thankful that both Guy and I love seafood! We stayed at the fabulous and colourful Anderson boutique hotel and managed to combine more gourmet food tasting at the Torverhallerne food market with culture at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and Rosenborg Slot.
Read More: In Photos: Our weekend break in Copenhagen
March: Heather is featured in Woman and Home Magazine
Although this is not actually a place I travelled but I have to mention how thrilled I was at being featured in Woman and Home magazine, with two other bloggers in a feature about “Blogging for fame and fortune”. I had such a fun day at the photography shoot, being made up and dressed up in impossibly high heels with tons of make-up, and a suitcase that would never have made it past the Ryanair police. All great fantasy and left me floating on air when friends kept telling me they had seen me in the magazine.
March: A weekend in Marrakech in search of Josephine Baker
March took me off to Marrakech to get my fix of spring sunshine and we stayed in the magical Riad Star which was once the home of French cabaret artist and superstar of the 1920s, Josephine Baker. The Riad has been beautifully renovated in a Jazz Age theme, with a relaxing roof terrace, inner courtyard where we enjoyed breakfast and even had its own dressing up box. We spent the weekend trying to not get too lost in the Souk, perfecting our haggling skills, and visiting a fair number of beautifully decorated mosques, palaces and gardens. Of course there was the obligatory snake charmer photo opportunity in Jemaa el Fnaa.
April: A spring break in North Devon
April is when spring is truly upon us with the daffodils and primroses blooming in North Devon. We spent a weekend with friends in the lush, green wilds of the Devon countryside at Penhaven Country Cottages, booked through Premier Cottages. There was plenty of pub grub, coastal walks and a visit to Clovelly, the picturesque cliffside village that is now a major tourist attraction and could easily play a starring role in any costume drama about smugglers and pirates.
May: Walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path and the puffins on Skomer island
In May we went walking in Wales along the Pembrokeshire coastal path with Macs Adventure on a taster version of their Best of Pembrokeshire itinerary. We had chosen the perfect time of year to visit Skomer island, a short boat ride off the coast, since it was the beginning of the Puffin breeding season and we were able to get really close to the cute looking Puffins as they arrived back at their burrows. Our walk along the Pembrokeshire coastal path continued from Broadhaven, past the lovely harbour at Solva, ending at St David’s where we had a look around the famous cathedral, art galleries and craftshops in the “Smallest City in Great Britain”, which is really an overgrown village.
May: A Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruises
Later in May we were off again on a Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises. We embarked at Barcelona and had a fun week as the ship cruised around the Med visiting Marseille, Genoa, Naples, Messina and Tunis, before returning to Barcelona. The ship was very glamorous with a lively atmosphere and plenty of families on board, and at each port we visited I wished we could have stayed just a little longer!
June: Discovering Dylan Thomas in Swansea and Laugharne
One of my favourite UK trips this year was to South Wales to discover more about the poet, Dylan Thomas in his centenary year. Swansea, where Dylan grew up, is not the prettiest of cities but provided a fascinating gateway to his childhood and early years. We followed his life through the dramatised walk we took around the streets from the Dylan Thomas Centre and our visit to the Dylan Thomas Birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. Our Dylan Thomas discovery continued at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, where we stayed at Dylan’s favourite drinking haunt of Brown’s Hotel and visited The Boat House where he lived and worked, overlooking the beautiful Taf estuary. With views like these who wouldn’t be inspired?
June: Walking the beaches of the Gower in South Wales
In June, I was back in Wales with another cottage stay at the fabulous luxury cottage, Promenade View in Mumbles through Home from Home Cottages. The cottage was perfectly situated on the promenade of this traditional holiday resort which is also the gateway to the fabulous beaches of the Gower Peninsula. We took full advantage, with a long walk from our front door along the coastal path, past the fabulous beaches of Bracelet Bay, Langland, Caswell, along the clifftop to Pennard, where we caught the bus back to Mumbles. The next day we had a morning in the sand-dunes and flat beach of Llangenith, a favourite beach for surfers which left us feeling refreshed and miles from our busy life in Bristol.
July: Back to Copenhagen for a family holiday
Two visits to the same place in one year must mean that I really like a place and we took the family back to Copenhagen in late July for a family break, staying in a large apartment near the harbour side. The weather was hot and sunny and we cycled everywhere, swam in the harbour, ate great street-food and took ferries across the harbour. Like Copenhageners of all ages, we enjoyed a day at Tivoli, although after the adrenalin rush of the roller-coaster with my kids I was happy to sit and admire the rose garden from a shady spot on the lawn.
August: Zakynthos Greece for a beach holiday with my daughter
Since my sister lives on the Greek island of Zakynthos, I try to visit her each year and in August I was there with my 19 year old daughter and English niece. Since my Greek niece was also there with four of her friends, I got to hang out with the beach-babes in the most trendy beach bars, check out all the unspoiled beaches and generally live the life of a 19 year old on holiday. When not sipping on my chilled frappe coffee or swimming in the clear water to cool off, I was able to observe Greek beach style and etiquette which I wrote about in the article below.
September: A foodie adventure in South Tyrol, Italy
September took me to South Tyrol in Italy, an area that is close to the Austrian and Swiss borders with stunning mountain scenery in the Dolomites. I spent a few days there, combining outdoor activities with gastronomic pleasures, cycling around Lake Kaltern on the South Tyrol wine road, visiting some of the local designers and the climbing a Via Ferrata. These ‘iron routes’ are rock climbing routes of varying difficulty where you are secured to a cable that snakes up the rock-face, enabling relative novices like me to reach the top (although best with a guide) in a scary but exhilarating experience.
September: Hiking the Dry Stone route in Mallorca
Later in September I was off for another walking holiday with my friend Julia, to Mallorca. Having completed the Tour de Mont Blanc together in previous years, we fancied something that combined views of the sea with mountainous walking and decided to walk a section of the Dry Stone Route, a long-distance path that skirts the west coast of Mallorca into the Tramuntana mountain range. We passed through several of the coastal resorts of Mallorca but my favourite time was walking the higher rocky sections of the Traamuntana from Soller to Lluc monastery.
October: Athens for TBEX Blogger’s Conference
In October I was in Athens, a city I haven’t really explored, despite visiting the Greek islands every year to see my sister. The city has been through a tough time with the recent ecenomic crisis but we found a new spirit of optimism and purpose as the worst seems to be over. The city was hosting the TBEX blogger’s conference and as part of this I spent a day in Athens on a gastronomic walking tour as well as a visit to the Parthenon. I was pleasantly surprised the warmth and spirit of Athens and it’s one place I’d love to get back to see more of in 2015.
November: A weekend at the Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon
In November I was back down to Devon for a weekend on the edge of Dartmoor at the Moorland Garden Hotel. This is a part of the world that I have visited quite a few times and we visited the market town of Tavistock, on the edge of the moor and visited The Garden House and National Trust property of Buckland Abbey nearby. There were all too many opportunities to try those yummy Devon cream teas.
December: A pre-Christmas weekend in Dublin
To bring the year to a close I spent a weekend in Dublin with my husband and 17 year old son in early December. The purpose of our trip was the Trinity College open day, since my son is looking at university choices for next year, but we managed to pack in an awful lot else, with shopping on Grafton Street, the Little Museum of Dublin and plenty of great meals, not to mention the odd pint of Guinness.
So the year comes to a close but I know there will be plenty more travel adventures in 2015. In January I will be back down to Devon to stay in another lovely cottage that’s close to the Jurassic coast, as well as a visit to India at the end of the month to visit the charity project that I support in Andhra Pradesh. I hope that you’ll join me through the blog on these and other trips and follow my photos on social media too.
Wishing you many happy travel adventures of your own in 2015.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey