Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A recipe for choosing a hiking destination in the Alps.

A few years ago, Karen Walker, Vice President of Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures, wrote that choosing an alpine hiking tour was a bit like choosing from a dessert cart: Everything looks wonderful! She added that in Switzerland alone, “There are more villages worthy of hiking than there are coals in proverbial Newcastle." Some are good for a day or two, while others merit weeks of exploration.

Throw Italy, Austria, and France into the mix, and the dessert cart quickly resembles a giant smorgasbord. For those of us that can’t always go back for a second helping of vacation, there’s a bit of pressure to get it right the first time. What follows are the preliminary steps for choosing a hiking destination in the Alps.

Step 1. Shut down the computer and grab a piece of paper. Set the paper aside because you’ll need it later.

Step 2. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself hiking through Europe. Include all of your senses. What would you like to see, smell, do, taste, hear and feel? Think about the buttery aroma of warm, sweet croissants gently wafting through a tranquil alpine village, while the sound of a lone church bell tolls far in the distance. Imagine the cool mountain air, and the feel of your feet on of a soft forest floor as you leave the village and hike toward tall, glaciated peaks bathed in the first rays of morning sun. Every person holds a unique picture and a dream of their perfect vacation. What’s yours? Escape, if only for a moment.

Step 3. Grab your piece of paper and write down everything that you experienced. Don’t just write what you saw, but also include what you felt, what you heard, what you tasted and what you smelled. OK. This might feel like Creative Writing Exercise 101, but I find that it really helps. Research has shown that you are more likely to make something happen if you write it down first. Some people call this the power of intention. Do you really want to go to the Alps? If the answer is yes, then it's worth a shot. If you have trouble, then download our independent tour questionnaire. It might help to get your creative juices flowing.

Step 4. Repeat Steps 1, 2 and 3 as often as you like. You might find that your first list of imaginings gave you fodder for things that you didn't think about originally. This a great escape from reality.

Step 5. Make your temporary escape BECOME reality. Switch on the computer and start browsing our tours. Don’t make any decisions yet. Just have fun. Let the photos and written descriptions carry you away. Research the words and phrases that you don’t understand, words like Gemütlichkeit, Südtirol and Glüwein. This is a great opportunity to learn about another corner of the world. What is the Dom, and can I have it for dessert? Compare your findings to your list from Step 3.

Step 6. Call or email us. This is very important for two main reasons.
  • A. Each person is unique. Some people think about food, and that’s all they think about. Others like culture and history. A prospective guest once told me that words like roman, stone, olives, and togas, "really got him excited." I quickly deduced that he was not a candidate for a hike through the Berner Oberland. He ended up loving the stone houses and Roman architecture of the Engadine, though he discovered that few people wear togas there anymore. In short, writing a tour description that appeals to everybody’s perspective is a bit like a crapshoot, and we only have so much space. We could literally write multiple web pages for each tour, each page written from a particular point of view. A real conversation will allow us to discuss the things that matter to you, and to you only.
  • B. We’ve been talking about this stuff for decades and we can’t stop. We’re addicted and we need you to satisfy our addiction. The Alps are just too much fun, and a good conversation regarding some far off mountain region gives us the opportunity to enjoy our own little Step 2 over and over again. Even better, we get to share all of the wonderful experiences that we’ve had with you. What can I say? We’re Peter Pans.
Step 7. Revisit any of these steps as often as needed. If nothing else, you might discover something that you hadn’t thought about before. Perhaps you need a way to get more helpings of vacation.

A few of our upcoming topics:
A peek at the alpine regions.
Guided or Self-Guided: That IS the question.
Can I hike with my children?
How do I sign up?
Should I buy Travel Insurance?
An Introduction to the alpine lexicon.
Understanding European public transport.
How do the railpasses work?
What do to in case of an Emergency?

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