Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Check Out These Delicious Photos

Two of our guests had a chance to do some modeling!

We just received the following note from two guests that we sent on one of our custom self-guided hiking tours through the Alps. Lucky for us, they know a couple of photographer friends that like to hang around Zermatt. Throw in a few clothing items from Smartwool and, voila, you have the perfect alpine photo shoot. (In case you're wondering, yes, that's the Matterhorn in the background).

Be sure to click on the link to Patitucci Photo. He took some great photos of these two during their trip. Enjoy.


From our guests:

"Ok - we're having a little bit of fun!! Check out the photo link below. We couldn't of hit the weather any better.

http://patitucciphoto.com/lightbox/smartwool_alpinehiking/index.html

Dan and Janine our photographer friends we fired up, and they had a couple prime smartwool models, just for the matterhorn. Only 12 hours of hiking and posing like super posers. Holy cow is that place beautiful...but a bit of a shock to the system after no people in the Bregalia. We are so stinkin lucky!! The only bad weather day we've had so far has been a travel day to Zermatt.

We're getting spoiled rotten in super luxury hotels - there's a roman bath in this one - sauna, steam, jacuzzi, pool - deluxe!

We're in Chamonix and keith is officially in heaven. This place is the land of rock climbing. We're headed up to a hut tomorrow am for 2 days, then back to Chamonix - then up to another hut. Ooh this is going to be good. We played on the rock today and cruised around the Mer de Glace, in awe of the big views.

Hope all is grand.

Love Julie and Keith

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

See our Hiking Domain on Television


If you watched Sunday’s stage of the Tour de France then you saw the famous bike race enter Switzerland and finish the day at the top of a climb in the alpine village of Verbier. Verbier is an optional stop along our popular Hiker’s Haute Route (extended version).


Today’s stage offers more fantastic views as it ascends from Martigny, Switzerland, over the Col du Grand Saint Bernard before descending into the Aosta Valley of northern Italy. This is grolla country and one of our favorite hidden hiking spots. The tour even descends through a small village called St. Rhemy, an absolutely charming little hamlet that we’ve enjoyed on many occasions. It wasn’t too long ago that I almost got our luggage van stuck between two walls of a narrow alleyway in this pint-sized town. Anyway, the race continues across the Col du Petit Saint Bernard and back into France for a finish in Bourg St. Maurice.

Watch the tour on television if you get a chance. The beginning and middle part of the stage offer a great chance to view the surroundings before the race heats up and the cameras hone in on the cyclists. I saw some great views this morning of the Mont Blanc Massif and of l’Aiguille du Midi, a popular mountain spire that towers over Chamonix, France, the beginning of our Tour du Mont Blanc and Hiker’s Haute Route. I also enjoyed some great views of the Aosta castles during the latter part of the stage. This day of the Tour de France offers a great opportunity to see one of our treasured hiking domains on television. Treat yourself. Tonight’s expanded coverage begins at 8:00 PM eastern on Versus.

Photos: Hiking in front of the mighty Mont Blanc Massif and our cozy home for the night in St. Rhemy, Italy. By Chris Pranskatis

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hallstatt Austria: Worth Its Salt


Our group descended into tiny Hallstatt this afternoon, a storybook village perched on the rocky shore of the Hallstätter See in the Salzkammergut region of upper Austria. Hallstatt is a small town, but what it lacks in size it generously makes up for in character and sensorial stimulation. Lovingly decorated gasthauses and cobbled alleyways make this secluded gem feel more like a fantasy diorama than an actual functioning town. This is the real deal though, and about 1,000 inhabitants call Hallstatt their home. The strategic location of our hotel for the next two nights will offer our guests the best of two worlds, stunning mountain scenery and a fairytale market square on one side, and delicious lakeside views of the glacial fjords on the other.(Look closely. Our hotel sits directly behind the church steeple in the above photo).


A brief history:

Historians believe that Hallstatt gets its name from the old Celtic word "hall" meaning salt. It was, in fact, this rich resource that brought Hallstatt its wealth and attracted some of the first human habitation of the region thousands of years ago. The world’s first salt mine is supposedly located here which, three thousand years ago, earned Hallstatt recognition as the salt mining capital of Europe. The salt trade, and the highly developed culture that flourished because of it, was so important that historians even refer to a particular 1,000-year period in European history as “The Hallstatt Period.”

Hallstatt became a market town around the year 1300, a legal term from the medieval period that granted certain European settlements the right to host markets in order to sell and distribute goods. This was a big deal back in the day, and it contributed to Hallstatt’s continued economic success.

Hallstatt continues to produce salt today, but tourism plays a larger role in the town’s economic vitality. Tourists descend upon tiny Hallstatt to see the famous salt museum and to witness the brine pipeline that, since 1595, continues to transport precious salt a full 40 kilometers from Hallstatt to the town of Ebensee.

Perhaps even more interesting than the subterranean lakes and tunnels of the mines, however, is the ossuary. Hallstatt has always been so pint-sized, and perched so precipitously on a miniature ledge that it long outgrew, that bones in the church cemetery were exhumed every 10 to 12 years to make room for the newly departed. The result is a fascinating chapel of decorated bones with each of the more than 600 skulls named, dated, and decorated in different motifs of rose and ivy. (The church fortunately stopped this practice of exhumation back in 1960).

We’ll enjoy some of the local tourist attractions, but our primary purpose is to hike and discover the Gemütlichkeit that makes this region so wonderful. What, you ask, is Gemütlichkeit? It is something that’s easy to experience in Hallstatt but difficult to explain in words. Perhaps you should join our Heart of Austria tour to find out first hand for yourself. We think you'll agree, Hallstatt is certainly worth its salt.

See you on the trail.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another Taste of Austria


The Heart of Austria-Guided
The Heart of Austria-Self Guided

A Taste of Luxury in the Heart of Austria


Our tour participants hiked into this mountain gem two days ago. They spent last evening in a cozy house among the high mountain passes, but tonight they’ve returned to the valley to relax at this four-star estate surrounded by the stunning walls of the Gosau Kamm Mountains.


This is one of our favorite accommodations. It features gourmet dining and a well-deserved taste of luxury in the heart of the Austrian Alps. Guests at this hotel feast on the utterly divine flavors of historic Austria, they toast to the good life in the exclusive wine cellar, and they enjoy every modern amenity during their stay. Local craftsmen tastefully appointed each room with careful attention given to every detail.

Tomorrow the Heart of Austria tour continues to Hallstatt, a majestic waypoint that many have named, “The most beautiful lakeside village in the whole of Europe, if not the world.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Have I Been Here Before?


I love old postcards of the Alps, and this one is particularly appropriate because it captures a glimpse of the region that we’ll call home for the next few days. As I mentioned yesterday, we’re hiking our new Heart of Austria tour, and tonight we rest our feet in the village of Gosau, surrounded by the impressive peaks of the Dachstein.

The country home in this postcard is the Gasthof Gosauschmied, and although we’re not staying here, I know it well. This house is characteristic of the small homes that dot this enchanted countryside. This particular guesthouse celebrated its 310th anniversary in 2005, and the family that runs it is 5th generation. They continue to welcome weary travelers with warm meals and a comfortable place to sleep.

Old images like these stir something exciting my blood, and I feel like they rekindle deep-rooted memories of the past. I like to think that a person can actually remember their ancestral history because it would to help explain the reason that I’m drawn to images like this one, with its dark forests, clear running streams, and lonely mountains looming in the distance.

I can almost smell the hot soup bubbling on the open hearth. I can feel the smooth, well-worn and almost waxy texture of the long wooden dinner table. I can taste the cool mountain spring water and see my shadow dancing across the hand-hewn timbers in the flickering firelight. I can even hear the faint din of laughter and song from the hearty wayfarers that passed this way centuries ago.

I find this region enchanting. Do I have an ancestral memory of this place? I like to think that I do. People settled this region more than 7,000 years ago; maybe my ancestors walked their own paths through this mysterious land.

Check out more images of Gosau and the Dachstein by clicking today’s Twitter link, or visit gosau.org.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Start of Something Spectacular



This twittering thing has been interesting. On the one hand, I love writing concise messages. On the other hand, I feel like I want, and need, to say more.

Take today’s tweet for example. I mentioned that our Heart of Austria tour begins tonight, but what I really wanted to say was, “Yes! We’ve arrived at the doorstep of something truly spectacular.”

This week’s tour begins in the small market village of Bad Goisern. Bad Goisern doesn’t really see a lot of international travelers, other than Germans, which makes it a great, undiscovered stepping stone into the hills and mountains of the Salzkammergut.

The Salzkammergut’s history goes back to Neolithic days, as evidenced by various artifacts discovered throughout the years, but the first written record of Goisern as a settlement dates back to the 14th century. A document from 1325 mentions Bad Goisern as the village of "Gebisharn".

Bad Goisern became an official spa town in 1931, hence the word “Bad” or “bath” in front of the actual name, but today it’s known as a place where people and nature coexist in harmony. To prove this point, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, recognized the region around Bad Goisern for its distinct natural and cultural treasures. In addition, 76 different lakes throughout the region make this ground zero for people that love the mountains and water.

Tonight we’ll enjoy a warm welcome and a delicious dinner. Tomorrow we’ll step into the hills and go looking for a fairy tale.

NB: The guided Heart of Austria tour may have departed already, but there’s still time to organize your own self-guided version. This has been a popular tour this summer and for good reason. Please contact us for more details.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Basel Serves up Van Gogh


If you like Van Gogh, and you’re looking for something to do following your hiking tour, then swing by the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland.

The Kunstmuseum Basel presents a major exhibition of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. The exhibition features a broad cross-section of paintings from every creative period of the famous master, with a thematic focus on landscapes from around the world. Helping to place the master’s work in a broader context, the exhibition also features examples from Van Gogh’s contemporaries Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Cézanne and Gauguin.

This exhibition runs from now until September 27, 2009

Location: Kunstmuseum Basel
Address: St. Alban-Graben 16
For more info: www.vangogh.ch

Let us know if you like to do this. We can help you with accommodations and great places to eat.

Image courtesy of vangogh.ch

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Save Money and Receive a Free Alps DVD!

Don't forget. Book one of our special tours and save $200 per person PLUS receive a complimentary DVD featuring the IMAX movie The Alps. (Limited time only).


This special film follows mountaineer John Harlin III up the North Face of the Eiger as he attempts to honor the memory of his father who died on the same mountain 40 years before. The film beautifully captures one of Europe’s greatest mountain ranges and offers a stunning look at the landscapes that our signature tours explore. Click here to read more about the film, including behind the scenes, photos, and more.

Save money, get your free copy of the film, and see the filming locations in person by registering for one of the following guided tours.

The Eiger Trail
The Jungfrau Ramble
The Hiker’s Haute Route

Please contact us to register or for more details.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What about bugs?


This morning I ran across an old article from Iowa State University concerning bug repellent research. The study concluded that catnip is 10 times more effective than DEET for repelling mosquitoes.

As an avid canoeist and explorer of backwoods waterways, I enjoyed this bit of woodsy info. The subject matter confirmed, however, just one more reason why I love hiking in the Alps. Bugs simply aren’t an issue over there. While it’s true that we might encounter them once in a while around humid areas or at lower elevations, in general, we just don’t have to deal with them.

We’ve had a number of guests ask about bugs on our hiking tours and our response is always the same. Leave the bug dope at home. You just won’t need it.

If you’re one of the consistently over-prepared, tuck a few sprigs of catnip in your hat and watch the alpine cats go crazy.

Cheers!