South Tyrol – our final days hiking in the Dolomites

It’s become a tradition for my friend Julia and I to spend a few days walking each year, and last September we were testing ourself in the Rosengarten range, part of the Dolomites of South Tyrol. I’ve already written about Day 1 in which we scaled the gentler slopes and Day 2 in which we scrambled over a high pass to walk through a rocky lunar landscape. Now you’ll hear about Day 3 and 4 of our walk to the final mountain refuge along a grassy plateau and our precipitous descent to the valley again for a welcome return to the lovely Hotel Cyprianerhof, where we had started our walk.

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

We set off from Rifugio Bergamo

After breakfast at Rifugio Bergamo (also known as Grasleitenhütte) we were packed and ready to leave, just as the sun was creeping up to the terrace. We had very much enjoyed our stay at this wood panelled mountain lodge, which had been originally built as a base for mountaineers and was full of nostalgic books and old photographs. We took some departure photos with the owner Hans, a strongly built and bearded man of the mountains, who showed us photos of the festival he runs at the hut when everyone dresses up for that bygone era when the hut was built.

Heather and Julia at Kolnerhutte

Heather and Julia at Kolnerhutte

Descending the hill we looked back at the rifugio still in shade, perched in a cleft between two rockfaces. It was amazing to consider how it could be built in such a remote spot. All we could hear was the rushing of the mountain river that cascaded down behind the rifugio and looking up could see the white streaks of airplane jets making criss-cross patterns in the sky.

Hiking from Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Hiking from Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

The sun warmed us as we skirted the mountain side on a balcony path, with views of the valleys ahead and pine forests below. The path descended to cross another mountain river where we hopped over boulders and then continued upwards on the other side of the gully.

Leaving Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Leaving Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

A difficult climb to Rifugio Alpe di Tires

After crossing a few more pebble filled mountain streams the path became steeper and steeper, winding up through the rocky landscape. Now we were scrambling and climbing rather than hiking, with metal cables and ropes to help us in the most exposed places. With rocks sliding under my feet and no karabiner to clip me on safely, I must admit I was quite scared at this point. After my fall in Austria the year before, I knew how easy it would be to slip on the gravel surfaces, with a heavy rucksack to drag me down. I slowed down the pace and breathed deeply to calm myself, leaning into the rock and taking it one step at a time until we reached the top of the slope.

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

Thankfully, the path at the top of the slope was much easier, winding through a flower-filled meadow and we decided to take a detour to Rifugio Alpe di Tires which we could see up on our right. The beautiful modern refuge with its bright red roof, sat on a grassy plateau, on the saddle between two valleys with fantastic views in both directions. The terrace  and cafe were full of walkers and climbers and the stylish interior would not have been out of place as a hip city hangout. As grey clouds gathered, the 10 minute stop we’d planned turned into an hour, with a rain shower bringing mountain bikers and hikers running inside. Still it was no hardship to stay a little longer, sipping our raspberry lemonade.

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

Leaving Rifugio Alpe di Tires

As blue skies re-appeared, we set off on the path that skirted the mountain, until Rifugio Alpe di Tires was just a tiny toy house in the distance, easy to spot because of the red roof. As the path climbed ever higher, I was worried that we might be in for a repeat of the vertical rock climb, but was reassured that the path must be quite manageable when we passed walkers accompanied by their dogs.

Signpost hiking in the Dolomites

Signpost hiking in the Dolomites

Now we were practically level with the tops of the grey rocky crags across the valley and reached a grassy plateau where blue flowers like larkspur were blooming in the meadow. The fence with a gate, told us that there must be cows up here, munching their way through the grass, surrounded by stunning mountain scenery.

Blue flowers on our hike in South Tyrol

Blue flowers on our hike in South Tyrol

The final walk to Rifugio Bolzano

Beside the path was a large cairn of rocks and from here we could see Rifugio Bolzano where we’d be spending the night. Although it seemed to be just a short walk across the grass plateau, we knew that distances in the mountain are not easily judged by the eye and that it would be nearly two hours before we arrived there.

Cairn in the Dolomites

Cairn in the Dolomites

After our climb, it was time for a break and a rest, so we shrugged off the rucksacks and took 20 minutes for a snack and a drink. I took the opportunity to take a few photos, while my friend Julia lay on the grass for some quiet time, contemplating the views.

Julia resting in the Dolomites

Julia resting in the Dolomites

Just as we left our rest spot, the sky darkened and the rain started to come down, turning the gravel path into sticky mud. With waterproofs on, we trudged along the path across the plateau, marked by a series of white cairns and nearly two hours later arrived drenched at Rifugio Bolzano.

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

A cosy stay at Rifugio Bolzano

What a relief it was to take off our muddy boots and wet waterproofs, to hang up our poles and enter the cosy, wood panelled dining area. We found the place was already full of families, with children playing games and relaxing before dinner time. Rifugio Bolzano was built over 100 years ago and with 47 beds is one of the larger refuges in the area – we soon settled into our private room with wooden beds and threw open the window for a view of the mountain.

Dining at Rifugio Bolzano

Dining at Rifugio Bolzano

We were slightly taken aback to find that there were no showers at the refuge, only communal washrooms where we had to take our chance for a bit of privacy. Still the atmosphere was friendly and convivial as we settled in with a drink and then ordered a dinner of hearty mountain fare, with the filling kaiserschmarrn pancakes for desert.

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

By the morning, the showers had passed and the rain seemed to have washed the air clean, revealing sunny views of the jagged rocky teeth that make the distinctive landscape of the Dolomites.

View from Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

View from Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Our final day hiking back to Cyprianerhof

From Rifugio Bolzano we walked gently downhill across green pasture dotted with white standing stones, feeling a little bit like Hansel and Gretel following the trail. At the end of the plateau we could see down into the valley, although it was difficult to identify on the map which of the villages might be below us. Somewhere behind the ridges before us lay the luxurious Hotel Cyprianerhof, which we were very much looking forward to reaching that evening.

Hiking near Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Hiking near Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

From the plateau the path became a narrow ribbon, zig-zagging steeply downwards, taking us towards the valley. Despite going downhill, the descent was by no means easy and as we got closer to the tree line, there were more steep steps with tree roots and the gravel was slippery from rain showers. After a couple of hours we reached a cross where there was a lovely picnic table for us to take a break and eat some of our snacks. The worst of the descent was now over although we had our waterproofs on and off with frequent showers, and there was still a good 3 hours to walk before we would reach the hotel.

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

A walk through the forest in South Tyrol

We now skirted along the side of the slope through forest, the smell of cow dung mixed with the scent of pine needles. The air was cool and damp in the shade of the forest canopy and moss gathered around the tree roots. Along the trail were a few wooden sculptures, carved from trees and logs that must have fallen there; an overhanging giant mushroom and a fierce eagle’s head jutting into the path.

Walking back to St Cyprian

Walking back to St Cyprian

At times the path crossed tricking streams that had been channeled into wooden troughs where you could stop for a drink or fill up a water bottle. Through gaps between the trees we could look down into the valley and from down below the sound of Sunday church bells and a brass band practicing in the church wafted up to greet us. The gentle walk gave me time to absorb the details of the forest, the tiny pine cones crunching underfoot and the orange mushrooms the size of a coin set into the bright green clumps of moss.

Hiking back to St Cyprian in the Dolomites

Hiking back to St Cyprian in the Dolomites

The final descent to Cyprianerhof

Now we were on the downward slope, on a wide track that would take us down to St Cyprian in the green valley, with the distinctive jagged peaks of the Dolomites rising in the distance – the ones that we had climbed over just a few days before. We have a tradition on our hikes of taking a ‘Before’ and ‘After’ photo and so on arriving at Cyprianerhof, we grabbed a passing walker to take a picture of us –  tired but thrilled at the prospect of the luxury that awaited us. Take a look the picture below – I think you can guess which is the ‘Before’ and which the ‘After’ ?

Before and after our hike in South Tyrol

Before and after our hike in South Tyrol

After four days and three nights in the mountains, staying in simple accommodation with limited shower facilities, you can imagine what a treat it was to enter our room at Cyprianerhof. It was all as lovely as we remembered; the luxurious natural fabrics and cosy faux fur throw, the huge bathroom with polished stone sinks and the apple on the bed to remind us to stay healthy in the mountains.

Bedroom at Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol

Bedroom at Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol

A well deserved Aperitif after our walk

Soon the wild women of the mountain were transformed into chic and sleek creatures, with freshly washed hair and make-up, changed into the clean clothes that we had left at the hotel – what bliss! It was time for a well deserved aperitif at the drinks party offered for hotel guests on the lawn outside; a Hugo for me and an Aperol Spritz for Julia.

Heather and Julia at the end of the hike

Heather and Julia at the end of the hike

With the view of the peaks that we’d climbed on our first day, we toasted our success and endurance in scaling those rock-faces, climbing over the passes, and surviving the lack of showers with only hearty mountain dishes and the odd beer to sustain us. Now we deserved the delicious meal and elegant surroundings that awaited us at Cyprianerhof – we’d certainly earned it!

A well earned aperitif in the Dolomites

A well earned aperitif in the Dolomites

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Where we stayed in South Tyrol

To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol on HotelsCombined.

Night 1 – Hotel Cyprianerhof

Website: Cyprianerhof.com A luxurious 4 star hotel in St Cyprian with extensive facilities for wellness and activity excursions. The hotel’s philosophy is to offer guests the full experience of the Dolomites, allowing them to recharge and clear their minds through hiking in the mountains, combined with relaxation in the spa and sauna facilities.

Hotel Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol

In summer there is a programme of hiking as well as climbing and Via Ferrata, while in winter guests can try snow-shoe, ice climbing and cross-country ski. The hotel is affiliated to the Wanderhotels group of hiking hotels with hiking and snow-shoe excursions included as part of the half board package that includes breakfast, afternoon tea and evening meal. The food here was excellent using local and seasonal produce. Half board package including activities from €156 per person per night. You can check prices and book for all hotels in South Tyrol on HotelsCombined.

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

Night 2 – KolnerHütte / Rifugio Fronza alle Coronelle Website: Rifugiofronza.com

Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)

The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms, with 60 beds in total. Blankets are provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There is 1 hot shower which costs €3 to use. The Refuge can also be reached from St Cyprian by a bus to the foot of the Laurino chairlift, then take the chairlift up to KolnerHütte. Many people use the chairlift to reach KolnerHütte quickly and then walk the higher mountain routes from there.

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Night 3 – Grasleitenhütte / Rifugio Bergamo Website: Grassleitenhuette.com

Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)

We received a warm welcome at this family run Rifugio that was built in the last century as a base for wealthy mountain climbers and still has an authentic Tyrolian atmosphere with wood panelling, old pictures and maps. The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms with duvets provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There are 2 hot showers which cost €3 to use. The refuge has a charming traditional feel and is family run with friendly owners and excellent cuisine and wine.

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo

Night 4 – Schlernhaus / Rifugio Bolzano Website: Schlernhaus.it

Cost: from €39 per person for 2 bed room including breakfast. Meals can be ordered from the modestly priced menu and half board is available for groups of 8+ people.

The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms, with 120 beds in total. Duvets are provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There are no showers, only a washroom. The refuge is large with a traditional wood pannelled dining room and panoramic views of the mountains as well as friendly staff. The Refuge seemed to be a favourite with families and several people had dogs with them.

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Night 5 – Return to Hotel Cyprianerhof (see above)

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Getting to South Tyrol

South Tyrol is the north-east corner of Italy, bordering Austria to the north and Switzerland to the west. We flew to Venice Marco Polo Airport and hired a car to drive to the nearest village of St Cyprian, which took around 3 hours. Alternative airports would be Milan Bergamo (2 hrs 50 mins), Innsbruck (1 hr 50 mins), Verona (2 hrs), Venice Treviso (3 hrs). For those using public transport, trains and buses are available from most airports to Bozen/Bolzano and there is a bus (number 185) running from Bolzano to St Cyprian which stops ouside Hotel Cyprianerhof, running around once an hour (journey time 50 mins). The taxi from Bolzano to St Cyprian would take around 30 mins. To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol check out HotelsCombined.

Speaking the language of South Tyrol

In South Tyrol both German and Italian are widely spoken, since the province was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1948, then became part of Italy after WWI.  In the Dolomites we found that German was more commonly used although most locals will easily switch between Italian and German. English is less widely spoken although you will not have a problem in larger hotels and in mountain huts there is generally someone with a little English. Because of the dual languages all towns, villages and mountain huts have two names – both German and Italian. For simplicity in this article I may use just one of the names.

Hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in South Tyrol

Plan your hiking routes in the Dolomites

A good resource for planning your hiking routes in the Dolomites is the Sentres.com website and the South Tyrol Tourism website also has plenty of information to plan your holiday in South Tyrol.

You will find timings for walking routes on the Sentres website. However, be aware that these are times for fit walkers without any stops for rests or photographs. In our experience we found that for each 2-3 hours of the ‘official’ time, we needed to add 30 mins to allow for being less fit and 30 mins for a drink stop in a refuge. So overall we would add 1-2 hours to the times given per day.

We used the Tappeiner 1:25.000 Map No 29 Schlern – Rosengarten – Sciliar – Catinaccio – Latemar – you can order it on Amazon and a similar map was for sale at Cyprianerhof for €9 and probably other places locally. We could not find an English guidebook to the routes we were walking but we found we could navigate fine with just a map as the paths were well marked.

Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Here are the routes and timings we took

Day 1 – Cyprianerhof to KolnerHütte

  • Official time: 4 hours
  • Actual time without stops: 4 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time with stops: 6 hours
  • Our route was: Cyprianerhof – Nigerhütte 2 hrs / Nigerhütte – Messnerjoch hütte 1 hr / Messnerjoch hütte – KolnerHütte 1 hr 30 mins

Read about our Day 1 hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Day 2 – KolnerHütte to Grasleitenhütte

  • Official time: 5 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time without stops: 6 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 7 hrs 30 mins
  • Our route was: KolnerHütte – top of Coronelle Pass 1 hr / top of Coronelle Pass – Rif. Vaiolet 1 hr 45 mins / Rif. Vaiolet – Grasleitenpasse 1 hr 30 mins / Grasleitenpasse – Grasseleitenhutte 1 hr 30 mins Warning: very steep climbing with cables over Coronelle Pass

Read about our Day 2 hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Day 3 – Grasleitenhütte to Schlernhaus

  • Official time: 4 hrs
  • Actual time without stops: 5 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 7 hrs 30 mins ( we made a 40 min detour to Rif. Alpe di Tires)
  • Our route was: Grasleitenhütte – Rif. Alpe di Tires 3 hrs 25 mins / Rif. Alpe di Tires to cairn at start of plateau 1 hr 20 mins / Cairn at start of plateau to Schlernhaus 1 hr 30 mins. Warning: very steep climbing with cables on final part of route 3 up to Rif. Alpe di Tires

Day 4 – Schlernhaus to Cyprianerhof

  • Official time: 4 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time without stops: 6 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 8 hrs
  • Our route was: Schlernhaus – Junction of route 3 & 7 1 hr 50 mins / Junction of route 3 & 7 – Turning to route 7B 1 hr / Turning to route 7B – Tschafonhutte 1 hr / Tschafonhutte – Cyprianerhof 2 hr

You’ve just finished reading about Day 3 & 4 of our hike

Thanks to the South Tyrol Tourism board who hosted my walking tour of the Dolomites.

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Read about hiking in the mountains of South Tyrol

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Top 10 places to eat and drink in Southampton for cruise visitors

Southampton is your gateway to the best food of the South of England; the chalk streams and vineyards of Hampshire, salads from the Isle of Wight and the artisan food producers of the New Forest. Here are some places to eat fresh and local in Southampton and the foods to look out for, especially if you’re visiting on a cruise. You may also like to read my article on Top 10 things to do in Southampton.

Top 10 places to eat in Southampton for cruise visitors

1 Mettricks: for coffee and brunch

Mettricks is a locally owned café, close to the cruise terminal, that’s on a mission to bring great coffee to Southampton. The decor is homely, with scrubbed pine tables and mismatched chairs and they work with many local suppliers for the best quality meat and bakery products.

Mettricks Coffee shop in Southampton Photo: Mettricks.com

Mettricks Coffee shop in Southampton Photo: Mettricks.com

If you’re on the hunt for free wifi, this is the place to settle down for an egg and crispy bacon sandwich or tea-time treat of home-made cake and coffee. We especially like the original cafe at 117 High Street, which stays open in the evening for cocktails, wine and real ales with light bites and bar snacks until 10pm.

Mettricks: Branches at 117 High Street, 2 East Bargate and opening soon at 1 Guildhall Place.

Mettricks Coffee shop in Southampton Photo: Mettricks.com

Mettricks Coffee shop in Southampton Photo: Mettricks.com

2 The Pig in the Wall: a stylish place to try local produce

The Pig in the Wall is a boutique hotel, set into the old city walls of Southampton, with a deli bar serving light dishes, homemade flatbreads and cakes from mid-morning to 10pm. As the name suggests, they specialize in charcuterie, with a fine selection of ‘piggy bits’ such as pork crackling and apple sauce or Honey Mustard Chipolatas. The decor is shabby chic with exposed brickwork, easy leather chairs and a touch of the potting shed. All the produce is all locally sourced with New Forest pork, Hampshire cheeses and Isle of Wight tomatoes on the menu. Their sister hotel, The Pig at Brockenhurst, is well known locally as a foodie stop and well worth the 30 min taxi ride, but best to book in advance.

The Pig in the Wall, West Esplanade, Southampton.

The Pig in the Wall in Southampton Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Pig in the Wall in Southampton Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

3 The Dancing Man: for real ale and pies

This micro-brewery, bar and restaurant is housed in The Wool House, an atmospheric medieval stone building that once stored wool on Southampton’s quayside. Behind the bar is the micro-brewery where around 20 different beers are brewed in rotation with seven on tap at any one time.

The Dancing Man Micro-Brewery in Southampton Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Dancing Man Micro-Brewery in Southampton Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Look out for the Pilgrim’s pale Ale and The Last Waltz, named after the song playing on the Titanic as it went down, as well as guest beers from other local breweries. The menu is deliciously British, with pies a specialty (served with buttery mash and greens) and a popular Sunday roast.

The Dancing Man, Town Quay, Southampton

The Dancing Man Micro-Brewery in Southampton Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Dancing Man Micro-Brewery in Southampton

4 The Grand Café: for an elegant afternoon tea

Around Southampton and the historic towns you may visit on your cruise excursions, you’ll find plenty of tea-rooms serving tea and cakes. If you want to take the oh-so-English ritual of afternoon tea up a notch, head for The Grand Café, originally the historic South Western Hotel, used by first class passengers on the Titanic. Afternoon tea is served from 2.30-5pm (book in advance) and you’ll be served at a table with an array of delicate sandwiches, scones with cream and jam and a selection of cakes. It’s a meal in itself, so you’d better miss out lunch to do it justice. If you’re visiting Beaulieu, another elegant afternoon tea stop is the luxurious Montagu Arms, for tea in the lounge or courtyard garden.

The Grand Café, Southwestern House, SO14 AHS, Afternoon tea £17.50

Afternoon tea at The Grand Cafe in Southampton Photo: Grand-cafe.co.uk

Afternoon tea at The Grand Cafe in Southampton Photo: Grand-cafe.co.uk

5 Oxford Street: Southampton’s Restaurant Quarter

If you want to find a selection of great restaurants all in one place, head for Southampton’s lively restaurant quarter in Oxford Street, just a 10 minute walk from the cruise terminal. At weekends and in the evening, the pedestrianized street has a buzzy atmosphere and you’ll also find good value lunch menus from many of the restaurants. We especially like the lively Oxford Brasserie serving a cosmopolitan menu using local produce, Olive Tree offering classic French bistro food, and the White Star Tavern, specializing in modern British cooking using local Hampshire produce.

Head for: Oxford Street, Southampton, SO14 3DA

Oxford Street, Southampton's restaurant quarter Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Oxford Street, Southampton’s restaurant quarter

You may also like to read my article on Top 10 things to do in Southampton for cruise visitors.

6 The Duke of Wellington: a traditional pub in the Old Town

If you’re looking for a cosy, traditional pub for some real ales and hearty home cooked food, try the Duke of Wellington, opposite The Tudor House in the heart of the Old Town. The timbered building dates back to the 13th century and has been a public house since 1494 when this was just a stone’s throw from the bustling town quay. They serve a wide selection of draught and real ales and on the menu you’ll find pub favorites such as fish and chips, steak and ploughman’s with ham or cheese, as well as options from the specials board and sandwiches at lunchtime. This is a good choice if you want to dip into traditional English pub culture.

The Duke of Wellington, 36 Bugle Street, Southampton

The Duke of Wellington Pub in Southampton Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Duke of Wellington Pub in Southampton Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

While you’re exploring Southampton and other parts of Hampshire and the New Forest, look out for the following local specialties.

7 Vineyards that produce Hampshire’s answer to Champagne

The chalk soil that characterizes much of Hampshire is ideal for wine growing and close to Southampton you’ll find some of England’s best-known wineries. The still and sparkling white and rosé wines feature on many restaurant menus, especially such as those made by Nyetimber and Hambledon that aim to rival the best champagne. Near Southampton you can visit the Three Choirs vineyard at Wickham (30 min taxi ride) where they have regular tours, daily tastings in the shop and you can also have lunch in their elegant restaurant.

The vineyards of Hampshire Photo by Thee Choirs Vineyard

The vineyards of Hampshire Photo by Thee Choirs Vineyard

8 Watercress: the crop of Hampshire’s rivers

One of the seasonal foods that Hampshire is renowned for is the peppery, green watercress, and a Watercress festival is held in the market town of Alresford every May. The watercress grows in beds that span the Itchen and Meon valleys, thriving in the clear water flowing over chalk beds. There’s even a steam train that runs from Alresford past the watercress farms, known as The Watercress Line, that was used in the 19th century to transport watercress to the markets in London. The watercress is available all year round, but look out for it on restaurant menus in the spring and summer when it’s at it’s best.

Watercress Photo: Healthaliciousness.com

Watercress Photo: Healthaliciousness.com

9 Isle of Wight tomatoes

With a mild climate and hours of sunshine, the Isle of Wight is known for its fresh produce such as asparagus, cherries, apricots and especially tomatoes. The island is just a short ferry ride from Southampton and can be visited in a day, but look out for the tomatoes and other produce on restaurant menus in Southampton. The glass houses and tomato growers like The Tomato Stall sell the sweet and flavorsome tomatoes through supermarkets, local delis and farm shops.

Isle of Wight tomatoes Photo: thetomatostall.co.uk

Isle of Wight tomatoes Photo: thetomatostall.co.uk

10 Ice Cream from the New Forest

Well you wouldn’t be on holiday, if you didn’t have an ice cream, would you? The local New Forest ice cream produced at Lymington is widely available in shops and cafés around Southampton. A few other artisan ice cream producers are worth looking out for while visiting attractions near Southampton; there’s a delicious selection at Sundae’s Child, who have an ice cream parlour in Romsey, and at Beaulieu chocolate studio in Beaulieu village.

Ice Cream at Sundae Child in Romsey Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ice Cream at Sundae Child in Romsey Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

You may also like to read my article on Top 10 things to do in Southampton for cruise visitors.

More information to plan your visit to Southampton

More information for visitors is available from the Discover Southampton Website and the Visit Hampshire website.

Note: I originally wrote this article for a cruise website but it was never published so I am republishing it here, hoping that it will give some useful tips and advice for cruise visitors to Southampton.

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Top 10 things to eat in Southampton for cruise visitors

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Hiking in Aruba: exploring Arikok National Park

At 8am the heat was already rising, as my taxi dropped me at the Arikok Park Visitor Centre at the northern end of Aruba. Think of the Caribbean and perhaps you’ll imagine relaxing on white sandy beaches with a rum punch in your hand. I’d had my fair share of that on Aruba, but today I was about to experience a different side of the island; a hike along sandy paths weaving between spiky cactus, past cave paintings and giant boulders.

Arikok National Park in Aruba

My guide Stanson met me in the Visitor Centre, an impressive hardwood and glass building that had been constructed in 2008, offering visitors information about the flora and fauna as well as much needed air-conditioning. The visitor centre is the starting point for many of the hikes in the park and is easy to get to, although the speed bumps on the park roads mean it’s easier to get around inside the park with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Stanson explained that he was student volunteering as a park ranger in between his studies, and his enthusiasm was as infectious as his encyclopedic knowledge was impressive.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

We set off along the Canucu Arikok, an easy hiking trail that is ideal for first time visitors to the park. The trail provides a circular route from the visitor centre, which takes around 2 hours to complete. Unusually, the ground was a little damp from overnight rain showers, the first decent rain they’d had for 3 years. The hot and arid climate of Aruba creates the distinctive landscape of the island, covered with prickly trees and cactus, which have adapted to survive the lack of water.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Within the park are a few hills which provide viewpoints over the island and our path took us past Sero Arikok at 185M, where there’s an air traffic control beacon and a trail that leads to the well known Conchi or Natural Pool on the coast, one of the popular things to do on Aruba. When the park was created, there were already trails used by locals to ride their horse or donkey to the Miralamar gold mines, which were cleared and bounded by stones to make the hiking trails. The Cunucu Arikok was an easy, level walk on sandy paths and although I love a challenging hike in the Alps, I was quite grateful that in the rising heat we had a more gentle stroll and chance to take in the natural landscape.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Without Stanson’s warning, I could easily have brushed up against the Bringamosa plant, which he described as ‘like poison ivy on steroids‘, as it will make your skin burn and itch for several days. The best antidote is to either pour alcohol over your skin or to rub it with another plant that grows nearby, the Seida – the only problem being that the two plants look rather alike!

Cactus at Arikok National Park Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cactus at Arikok National Park

A rather more pleasing find was the Turk’s cap cactus, a spiky ball topped with a felt like cap within which were buried bright pink berries. This was a sweeter treat, as the fruit can be pulled carefully from their furry enclosure to pop in your mouth. They’re otherwise known as Bushi or Bush fruit and look like tiny pink peppers with little black seeds inside.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

As we continued along the trail, we stood aside for a group of mountain-bikers to pass us, bumping fearlessly down a set of stone steps. There are a few challenging trails in the park, with a new one opening a couple of years ago, built by the Trails for Life project. As part of their ‘Good for the Neighbourhood’ community scheme, high school children constructed a new hiking and biking trail that reaches all the way out to the Natural Pool.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Along the trail we reached a part where the path narrowed, hemmed in by huge boulders that looked as if they might have been dropped by a playful giant. Here, painted on the sides of a small cave, we could see the paintings left by the Caquetío Indians. Traced in red and white pigment I could make out an iguana and a bird with wings outspread, that has been used in the logo of the Arikok National Park. There are more paintings in the Quadirikiri and Fontein caves on the other side of the park, where the much larger caves contain stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a colony of bats. The bats are an important contributor to the ecosystem on Aruba as they act as polinators for plants and flowers, doing a job that would normally be performed by insects or birds.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

All along the trail, my guide Stanson pointed out curiosities of the flora and fauna, such as the Wayaka tree, also known as Evergreen as you’ll never see it with a brown leaf. Because the tree survives from reservoirs of water deep undergound, it grows very slowly, perhaps an inch each year. Don’t be fooled by the diminuitive size, as a tree that’s 2-3 metres tall may be around 300 years old.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

The cactus in the Arikok park come in all shapes and sizes, grouped together in tangled thickets as well the elegant lone cactus framed against the sky. “Just as tourism is an economic pillar on Aruba, the Cacti are the ecological pillar” Stanson told me. The cacti provide a prickly pear fruit, which is the main source of food for many birds on the island and to conserve water they have shared root systems, which spread underground over a wide area. Eventually a cactus may get too heavy and topple over, but as they dry out their wood can be used to construct the frames of the old style adobe houses.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Every so often we spotted a flash of a bird in the trees, looking for fruit or nectar from the flowers that appear after any rains. Stanson reeled off the names; the Bananaquit which as its name suggests has a bright yellow breast, the blue-tailed Emerald hummingbird and Ruby-topaz hummingbird, which provide a flash of jewel colour if you can spot them. The Burrowing Owl, locally known as Schopo, is also found here and is the national bird of Aruba. The owl buries its eggs deep in the ground, but as soon as the chicks are old enough to venture out, they dart around to catch insects and small lizards.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

At the end of the trail, we reached the old Adobe house, enclosed by its trankera or fence made of cactus plants and tranchi stone wall. Because the cacti are stem plant, you can cut a piece off and plant it in the ground where it grows more roots. This was the traditional form of enclosure on Aruba, providing security, fruit and a haven for wildlife. The house is a replica of an older building that was destroyed in a huricane and has been restored to show how a traditional homestead would have looked on Aruba.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

It’s constructed by making a frame out of cactus wood which is smeared with a mixture of mud, sand, clay and saltwater, known as Torto. Once one layer of the Torto mixture was dry, another would be applied until the walls were thick enough. We walked inside the empty shell of the house, where a couple of bats flitted overhead as we examined the kitchen area with cooking platform and a stone mortar for grinding meal.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Our circular route took us back in the direction of the Visitor Centre again, passing a tree that looked bare and lifeless – but not so, Stanson told me. In the arid landscape of Aruba, every plant has its own tricks to survive, but after rain the trees such as this will quickly flower and then fruit with a cherry that will attract all the iguanas from miles around to a feast under its branches.

Beside the path we also saw plenty of Aloe plants that were another economic driving force on the island, before oil refining and mining. The plant is well known for the cooling and healing properties of its gel-like sap, but some species also provide a sugary syrup as well as fibre from the dead leaves which was used to make rope.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

By now we’d come full circle on the Cunucu Arikok trail and arrived back at the visitor centre, just as the heat was become a bit too much for any more walking that day. I was grateful of the cool air conditioning of the cafe to refresh myself with a drink from the chill cabinet, before heading back to my hotel with its pool and views over Eagle beach. My morning in Arikok National Park had provided a fascinating insight into the landscapes and natural world on Aruba, far removed from the tourist beaches and bars. I’m so glad that I went for that hike and discovered a very different kind of day on Aruba.

Visiting Arikok National Park on Aruba

The island of Aruba is small, so it’s easy to get to the Arikok National Park visitor centre, either by hire car or by taxi. The taxi ride was around 30 minutes from my hotel at Eagle beach and would be closer from Oranjestad or San Nicholas.

The park is open daily from 8am to 4pm and I’d recommend arriving as early as possible to avoid hiking in the heat. Be sure to wear a sunhat and take plenty of water with you. You can hike on the easier trails in trainers and shorts, but on the more advanced trails, boots and long trousers are advisable.

The Park entrance is $11 per person which is used to support the maintenance of the roads, trails and park infrastructure. You can book one of the Park Rangers to act as your guide on the hiking trails and this service is free, although you need to book at least a day in advance. Park Rangers are also available at the visitor centre and around the park for advice and information.

I highly recommend booking a Park Ranger as their knowledge of the flora and fauna will certainly enhance your experience, although the Canucu Arikok trail was easy to follow and did not require any special guidance. There are, however, more demanding trails in the park, some of which require basic climbing skills and use of ropes, so these would be best taken with a guide.

For more information about Arikok Nationa Park, visit their website at www.arubanationalpark.org

More articles from the Caribbean

My 10 favourite things on Aruba
Street-art on Aruba: the unexpected Caribbean
Where and What to eat and drink in Aruba (Travel with Kat)

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba

Where to Stay on Aruba

During my week in Aruba, I stayed at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort, a delightful hotel that’s just across the road from Eagle Beach. The hotel is family owned and was built 25 years ago in traditional style with Dutch gables, painted in the warm yellow that you see everywhere on Aruban buildings. I was extremely comfortable, sharing a suite with two bedrooms and a first floor balcony looking towards the sea, furnished in traditional Caribbean style with dark wood furniture, brightly coloured walls and citrus shades of lime, lemon and tangerine.

The outside areas of the hotel were beautifully maintained with paved areas, trees and immaculate planting, with a welcoming pool area and the shady Mango restaurant, where we had breakfast. The hotel is ideal for couples who want to relax by the pool or on the beach, while having a well located base for exploring Oranjestad and all the other sights of Aruba.

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel

The staff could not have been more friendly and helpful and they even have a dedicated Romance Co-ordinator to help you organise your beach wedding or celebration event. The Fofoti trees opposite the hotel are a favourite for wedding photos and the Passions on the Beach restaurant where we ate one evening is an incredibly romantic setting to have a cocktail and dinner as the sun sets over the ocean.

For more information, visit the Amsterdam Manor Beach resort website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Address: J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 252, P.O. Box 1302, Oranjestad, Aruba.

To compare prices and book for hotels on Aruba check out Hotels Combined where you can see the best deals from all the booking websites for hotels including Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort.

See more photos from this trip

Click to see more photos from this trip

Visitor Information for Aruba

For more information to plan your holiday in Aruba, visit the Aruba Tourism Website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest

Thanks to Aruba Tourism for hosting my week’s stay in Aruba to discover the island.

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