Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Franklin Would Check a Bag


Continental just rolled out its new “Fare Lock” and it got me thinking about air travel. There used to be a time when you simply bought your ticket and you flew. Maybe you paid a little extra for business or first class but, in general, one fee covered everything.

These days, the airlines charge myriad fees-fees for baggage, fees for seats, fees for food, fees for holiday travel, fees for ticket changes, and now fees for locking your fare. Some airlines are even considering fees for simply checking in. Do it online, it’s free, do it at the airport, get ready to pay.

It can be easy to feel depressed about all these ancillary revenues, but don’t despair. In our opinion, we’re still, very, very lucky. The fact that we can simply jump on a plane in New York and have breakfast in Rome 7 hours later is, for a lack of a better term, extraordinary. Turn the clock back to Ben Franklin’s day and consider this:

During the 1740’s, the average Atlantic crossing took about 1 month by boat, and that’s if the ship left on time, which it usually didn’t. Ben Franklin’s autobiography specifially mentions that ships were often delayed an additional three weeks or more before they made sail. Do you think airline delays are bad these days? Imagine sleeping at the airport for a month before catching your flight. There was also a logistical concern. Most ships connecting the American colonies and Europe landed on the western shores of France. It would’ve taken another handful of weeks, by land or sea, to access the prime hiking trails of Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and northern Italy.

Just for fun, let’s consider that you had an extra six months to spare for round trip travel to the Alps, and you didn’t mind storm-tossed seas, cramped quarters, and spoiled food. If you traveled during the 1770’s, you’d also have to worry about engagement with His Majesty’s Navy. Sure, we have terrorism nowadays, but Franklin had to deal with the awesome firepower of the British Ships of the Line. Imagine enduring a full broadside of heavy cannon during your next voyage to Europe.

Anyway, the next time you find yourself with the airline blues, remember one thing. The fact that we can just hop on a plane and go hiking in the Alps is still a pretty sweet deal. In fact, if Ben Franklin were still around, he would probably check a bag.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Grab Your Toga!


Our new Cotswolds Way finishes in the World Heritage City of Bath. Can you guess why it's called Bath? Here's a hint; think Romans and toga parties.



A long time ago, the Romans built what some people like to call, "One of the finest thermal spas of the ancient world." The spas featured heated rooms, fountains, plunge pools, salons, and a sophisticated heating and pumping system. It's pretty amazing when you consider that electricity wouldn't come around for another 2,000 years.



We recommend that all our Cotswolds hikers leave some extra time to explore these vestiges of Roman culture. The following museum site offers more info: http://www.romanbaths.co.uk Don't forget your toga!

Images: Karen Walker

Thursday, December 09, 2010

On the Edge: Exploring the Cotswolds Way

We’ve written a few pieces about the Cotswolds this week, in honor of our new self-guided hike through the region. We’ve introduced the new tour, we’ve written about the architecture, and we’ve mentioned some of the notable authors that found their inspiration in this enchanting corner of England. What we haven’t really talked about, though, is the hiking. What are the hikes like? How long are the days? How high are the hills? To answer these questions, let’s define what the Cotwolds are in the first place.

The word ‘Cotswolds’ is actually a combination of two very old English words, ‘cots’ and ‘wolds’. While there is some debate regarding the etymology of these two words, most people tend to agree that ‘wolds’ are gentle hills and ‘Cots’ are sheep enclosures, though some argue that the word ‘Cots’ could also refer to a personal place name or simply mean ‘high open land.’ Without analyzing it any further, let’s just say that the Cotswolds refers to a region of gently rolling hills, peppered with sheep farms and crisscrossed by stone walls and cobblestone lanes, the perfect tapestry for a long distance hiking trail.

The Cotswolds Way achieved National Trail status in 2007 and is literally a patchwork of routings through farmland, moorland, woodland, villages, backyards and country roads. (In case you’re wondering, a moor is an area of rough, grassy high ground with exposed rocks. It’s typically higher than the surrounding landscape but not exactly mountainous). The full route is about 102 miles long and can be done in a variety of configurations with the majority of the trail following the Cotswolds Edge, an 80-mile long, uplifted, eastward-tilting escarpment of limestone bedrock.

Compared to other Ryder-Walker tours, the Cotswolds Way might seem relatively easy. The hike offers negligible ascent, and Cleeve Common, the high point of the tour, rises a mere 900 feet above sea level. That said, don’t underestimate the quality of this undulating adventure. Depending on the length of your schedule, some days can be quite long, as much as 16 miles in our recommended itinerary.

Our itinerary travels from north to south, from the quintessential Cotswolds village of Chipping Campden, to the World Heritage City of Bath. We prefer this direction for three reasons. One, to begin in Chipping Campden is to dive right into the Cotswold groove in one of the region’s most delightful villages. Two, the entry to Bath is dramatic and makes a fine finish. Three, the entry to Bath is also the longest day of the trek and is best tackled when one is fit and used to the pacing of the Cotswolds Way. Note: we can make most days shorter by car and van shuttles if desired. In fact, we can customize this itinerary in myriad ways. Just ask!

The Cotswolds region is unique in that it’s rich in Neolithic sites. The area is home to more than 400 Bronze Age barrows, 80 long barrows, and 32 Iron Age hill forts. Belas Knap is one of the largest long barrows, while
Hetty Pegler's Tump invites visitors to crawl around inside (day 7 of the tour).

Equally inviting are the pubs, and it’s hard to talk about England without mentioning them. The places are cozy, with wood fires, home cooked meals, and, of course, plenty of ale or wine. You’ll find pubs in even the tiniest villages, and the bar meals they serve are some of the best found anywhere.

As with all our tours, you can pack a picnic lunch or buy something when the opportunity presents itself. As luck would have it, most hikes on the Cotswolds Way land you near a pub right about lunchtime. Did the trail developers plan it this way? Maybe. Are we complaining? Certainly not. Almost all Cotswold villages of decent size also feature an Indian restaurant. The English were big fans of Indian food, and we are too, it’s a nice way to spice things up.

Finally, the accommodations on this tour offer a delightful mix of four star hotels and intimate B&B’s. The places that we’ve selected are well appointed, and they exude historic charm and character. Think hand-hewn wooden beams, half-timbered walls, stone hearths, and fluffy down comforters. If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping into a storybook, this is your chance.

Image: There's a bull in the field! A typical half-timbered gatehouse. Both by Karen Walker

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Henry Ford's Cotswolds


Of all the qualities that make the Cotswolds so precious, it is the collection of limestone cottages that give the region its distinctive character and attract visitors from around the world. Built from the underlying limestone bedrock, adorned with flowers and topped with roofs made of stone or thatch, the cottages resemble something straight out of a children’s book, and some of them are more than 500 years old.

Henry Ford was so enamored with these cottages that he bought one of his own, dismantled it stone by stone, shipped the whole thing to America and reassembled it on his property in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford’s Rose Cottage still stands today, and is one of the oldest buildings in the collection of the Henry Ford museum at Greenfield Village, MI.

I had an opportunity to swing by Greenfield Village this past summer, and, as luck would have it, I snapped these photos.


Rose Cottage was built in the 1600’s and resided in the village of Chedworth, Gloucestershire, England. Henry Ford bought the cottage for $5000 in 1930. A similar cottage would probably fetch about one million today and would be officially protected by the UK government.



This is a typical Cotswolds Forge, originally built in the early 1600's and also relocated by Henry Ford to Greenfield Village. This particular forge was continuously operated by a Cotswold 'Smithy' for 300 years.


Here's a peek inside the forge.

Now imagine 100 miles of tranquil villages comprised almost entirely of limestone retreats like Rose Cottage. What you end up with is something like this.



This is Arlington Row, a famous collection of Cotswold cottages in the village of Bibury. (Click on the image to see it up close). Supposedly, Henry Ford also tried to buy this entire row and have it shipped to Michigan. We're glad that he left these in place. It gives us something to admire as we walk from village to village on our new Cotswolds Way. Truly, to step into the Cotswolds is to step back in time.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Portrait of the Cotswolds


If you read yesterday’s post, then you know that we just unveiled a new hiking tour through the Cotswolds of west-central England. The Cotswolds attract visitors from all over the world and for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the beauty. When people think of an idyllic countryside, replete with cozy stone cottages, rollling hills, and sheep grazing outside the wooden gate, whether they know it or not, it’s usually the Cotswolds that pop into their minds. Visitors also flock to the Cotswolds for a second reason, to follow in the footsteps of their favorite literary characters.

Just for a fun, I did a little Google search to see how many authors have connections to, or have drawn inspiration from, this magical heart of England. I already knew some of the biggies, Beatrix Potter, JK Rowling, Jane Austen and, of course, William Shakespeare. And, while I may not have found the comprehensive list I was hoping for, my search did lead me to the following article by Marsha Dubrow. Rather than rehash what she so thoughtfully organized, allow me to suggest this link. Dubrow’s article paints a nice portrait of the Cotswolds, albeit Christmas themed.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Announcing: Our New Cotswolds Way


Quintessential England is, perhaps, the best way to describe the Cotswolds of west-central England. Peaceful villages welcome travelers with warm stone cottages and intimate B&B's. Winding country lanes, cobblestoned and lined with dry-stone walls, guide explorers through a tapestry of quiet tearooms and cozy pubs. Stately hedgerows divide a fanciful realm of rolling hillsides and mysterious woods.

It is not surprising that so many stories, from Harry Potter to Peter Rabbit, arise from this magical corner that many people refer to as a "Christmas card come to life.” Read more...

Image: Karen Walker

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Celebrating Bounty



Traditionally speaking, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate a bountiful harvest. It’s in this spirit that we post today's image. But first, a back-story.

The valleys of the Alps have been inhabited for thousands of years. In the beginning, Neolithic people settled in caves like those at Wildkirchli in the Appenzell region of eastern Switzerland. Over time, as the glaciers receded and the climate warmed, the cave dwellers emerged from the rock. Low lying villages took hold. As the years went by, the villages grew, populations expanded, and the surrounding resources dwindled. Eventually, the needs of the population surpassed the carrying capacity of the land, and the inhabitants turned their eyes skyward. They needed more space. The villagers cut meadows into the slopeside forests, digging, chopping, and rolling boulders as they climbed. The mountainside became an extension of the low-lying farms, and the new pastures, literally hand-hewn from the mountain slopes, gave farmers new acreage to graze their livestock. Thus, a new tradition was born. Cattle migrated to the high pastures for summer grazing, while grass grew and villagers stored it away for winter down low.

Fast forward to today.

Mountain people still maintain traditions from long ago. At first glance, this scene may not evoke the stereotypical image of a bountiful harvest replete with turkey, pumpkins and all that jazz, but to an alpine farmer, this picture celebrates bounty just the same. A simple pile of grass promises one more winter that is free from want. It promises another glass of milk, a wheel of cheese, and an extra pat of butter. It's meat on the table and winter heat from sleeping livestock. (One of the main reasons that mountain homes were built above barns). In the mountains, a barn full of hay means security. It means a day’s work accomplished and the promise of a good night’s sleep. Like the proverbial woodpile, banked against the oncoming storm, this is money in the bank. This is self-sufficiency at it’s best. This is bounty.

When I look at this photo, I see a story that transcends time. I see a tale of the hills. Ultimately, I see thanksgiving, and I’m thankful that I get to witness this traditional style of living first hand.

Image: By Ken Fuhrer. From the alpine pastures of Slovenia's Julian Alps.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Calling All Singles!


Our Cortina & Lakes of the Dolomites Trek is almost sold out. We only have two single rooms available! If you're a solo traveler, looking for a fun-loving group of avid hikers, then now is your chance. Have a look at our trip, then give us a call. We'd love to give you the inside scoop on this slice of heaven from northern Italy.

Image: By Mike Thurk. From our Cortina & Lakes of the Dolomites tour.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Those Dam Goats



Last week’s facebook post linked to jaw dropping photos of Alpine ibex scaling a precipitous dam in northern Italy. As it turns out, the article stirred up a few conversations among our friends regarding mountain goats. The big question; what’s the difference between an ibex, a steinbock and a chamois?

Here’s the quick answer:

The ibex and the steinbock are the same thing. Its scientific name is Capra ibex, a species of mountain goat that thrives in the high places of the European Alps. It's common name is Alpine ibex.

English speakers call him an ibex.
Germans call him a Steinbock.
Italians call him a stambecco.
French call him a bouquetin.
Slovenians call him a kozorog.
Astrologers call him Capricorn.



Characteristics: His enormous backward curving horns give him away. The horns of a male ibex can reach lengths of more than three feet. Males commonly grow to about three feet tall and weight between 150 and 200 pounds.

Habitat: Steep, rocky terrain at snowline.

Check out our Gran Paradiso Trek for an opportunity to get up close with these majestic animals. The Gran Paradiso National Park boasts a herd of more than 4,000 ibex.


A chamois is an entirely different animal. Referred to as Rupicapra rupicapra, a chamois is a goat-antelope species that, while originally native to the mountains of Europe, now roams as far of New Zealand.

English and French speakers call him a chamois.
Italians call him a camoscio.
Germans call him a Gämse.


Characteristics: Chamois have short, somewhat straightish horns, which hook backward at the tip. A fully-grown chamois reaches a height around 2 and a-half feet and weighs an average of 45 to 65 pounds, considerably smaller than an ibex.

Habitat: Steep, rocky terrain at moderately high altitudes.

The chamois is a popular game animal in Europe, highly prized for the taste of its meat. Chamois hides also produce a soft cloth with exceptional absorbant qualities. This is where chamois leather, colloquially known as ‘shammy’, comes from. If you’ve hiked with us in Europe, then you’ve probably seen chamois horns adorning the many beer stubes and mountain huts that dot the Alps.

Images: Steinbock, (Kozorog), in Slovenia's Julian Alps. Courtesy of Slovenia Tourism, Tomo Jesenicnik. Chamois in the Val di Rhemes. Courtesy of Val di Rhemes Tourism.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Please Share Your Thoughts


This is a quick reminder for our previous guests. If you haven't responded to our 2010 online questionnaire, then please do so. Your feedback is important to us. All 2010 guests should have received an email with a link to the survey. Please contact us if you didn't receive the link. We're happy to send it again.

Thank you!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Now for Winter and Save


Rail Europe Inc., Switzerland Tourism and the Swiss Travel System announced today that they will offer $100 off every booking of $200 or more that contains a Swiss Pass. This is a great excuse to join our Winter Engadine Holiday. Please see our previous post.

Why not use the Swiss Pass during a week of winter hiking or nordic skiing in the Engadine? How about hopping over to Zermatt on the Glacier Express? Zurich for shopping? We can think of all sorts of ways to use a Swiss Pass around your tour. The possibilities are endless.

This winter special is only available while supplies last. Please contact Ryder-Walker for more details.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Plan a Delicious Winter Vacation


What could be more delicious than roasted chestnuts, hot spiced wine and tempting sweets from the heart of the eastern Swiss Alps? Add a few hot spring spas, sprinkle a few story book villages here and there, tie everything together with expertly maintained trails for skiers and winter hikers. You'll have a recipe for a delicious winter vacation.

This year's self guided Winter Engadine Holiday runs mid January through mid March.

Tour highlights:
  • Hiking, snowshoeing and nordic skiing from inn-to-inn on meticulously maintained winter trails.
  • Traditional Swiss guesthouses, warm, inviting and tastefully appointed with careful attention given to every detail.
  • Sledding from village-to-village. Seriously! Historically, sledding offered viable transport between villages. It's not just for kids anymore. Read on...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Boisterous Night

The Hotel Post in Sulden, Italy sent us this photo of the Ötzi crew posing in front of the mighty Ortler peak. At 3905 m, the Ortler, or Ortles in Italian, is the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps outside of the Bernina Range. The Hotel Post also wrote a nice piece about our group on their blog. Fortunately, it's all in German, so here's a brief translation.

'American tour operator Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures recently brought a delightful group of guests to stay at our hotel. The group had just come over from the Hintergrathütte in pouring rain. Following a bit of relaxation in the hotel wellness center and spa, the group enjoyed a boisterous night at the hotel bar. The group hit the trail the following day in the direction of the Payerhütte/Trafoi under bright, clear skies.'

A boisterous night at the hotel bar? Indeed. With RW Guides Daniel Sundqvist and Porter Teegarden at the helm, we're not surprised. Those two love a good tea.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The 10 Best of Everything



Wondering where to hike? The Huffington Post recently published a slideshow titled, "16 Best Hiking Destinations.” The post adapted their story from National Geographic’s extensive compendium, The 10 Best of Everything. To our delight, National Geo lists Cinque Terre, Bhutan and, of course, Switzerland, all within the top ten.

Check out what they wrote about the Cinque Terre. "Footpaths cross the terraced slopes of the Riviera di Levante to hamlets with pastel-colored buildings and contrasting shutters and lead to brightly painted boats in small harbors. Walk past trattorias and a solitary abbey to a rocky promontory with the sea always in full view and a clear sky overhead. Along the route, there’s Ligurian cuisine, including characteristic Italian pesto made from locally grown basil—a source of particular pride among chefs and restaurateurs from these neighboring villages, each one claiming the best recipe. Sciacchetrà is a rare, crisp, fragrant white wine, a specialty harvested from the Cinque Terre’s terraced vineyards."

About Bhutan: "Ancient citadels rise on the horizon. Buddhist temples and carved wood farmhouses are discovered along fertile valleys. Swiftly flowing rivers dash across an open landscape, the snowcapped Himalaya towering in the distance. The journey in the Kingdom of Bhutan leads into the heart of a modern-day Shangri-La. There is a warmth and hospitality to experience in local culture, customs, and ceremonies. Travelers have only recently been allowed to visit Bhutan, and tourists to the country are still limited to a fortunate few. From vistas overlooking the Punakha Valley to the intricately patterned Thimphu weavings, the walk has beauty in this peaceful realm."

And about Switzerland: "Spirits soar a the sight of the alpine landscape; and what better place to walk than over breathtaking mountains. Venturing into two culturally distinct regions and hearing three languages along the way, you can experience variety, wilderness, and Swiss hospitality. Look over the Lauterbrunnen Valley, framed by five summits, ancient glaciers, and mountain ranges that seem to extend forever. There is no better way to end the day than by sharing a fondue and cornichons, topped off with a bite of chocolate."

You can view the full slideshow by clicking here.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This Is What It's All About


A group of hikers descends a hidden valley in the Swiss Alps. Cowbells tinkle. A goat bleats in the distance. The smell of damp earth and raked hay permeates. A voice rings out from the hillside."Buon Giorno!" A lone glacier eats away at the earth's crust. The mountains begin their journey to the sea. Time passes slowly. The hikers continue to descend. Tonight they'll rest in the tiny village of Soglio, a Roman village filled with tiny alleyways and cobblestone roads.

Image: By Ken Fuhrer
Taken during the Engadine Summit Series. The glacier in the background is called the Bondasca. The mountain range is the Sciora.

Friday, September 03, 2010

It's Always Nice

...to see our guests having fun in the Alps. This morning's note comes from a guest on our Jubiläum 2.0.

Hi Peter. We're having a fantastic time in Pontresina! We had a little weather today, so there was snow on the way up toward the Segantini Hut. You would have liked that.

As this picture shows, Daniel thought it would be more interesting to find a new route up. I always thought you were supposed to be roped, but Daniel encouraged me to solo climb.

Best,

Don(and Susan)

Climb on Don. We're glad to hear that Daniel, our resident Bergführer, offered to show you the ropes. Or not.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The New 2011 Schedule is Online


Click here to start planning your adventure. Please note: Prices valid until September 30, 2010. Book early and save.

We're also proud to announce four new trips for next year:

The Slovenian Triglav Circuit

Via Alpina Stage II

Matterhorn Trek

The Gran Paradiso Trek

Some of you might remember the Gran Paradiso Trek from years past. This new tour follows a different itinerary through an equally, if not more, spectacular region of northwestern Italy.

Please contact our office for more details.

Image: The mighty Jalovec, emblem peak of the Solvenian Alpine Club, crowns the Julian Alps of Slovenia. Many people call this mountain the "Matterhorn of Slovenia." The Jalovec is also referred to as the "Crystal Mountain."By Ken Fuhrer.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Suite


Our little Hotel Bellevue Crystal in Mürren sent us these photos. Hotel proprietors, Ruth and Othmar Suter, recently remodeled the honeymoon suite. Notice the little half doors that open to the bathroom. Oh the possibilities!

The Hotel Bellevue Crystal is a member of Small Elegant Hotels Worldwide.






That's a wooden bathtub in case you're wondering.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Ötzi: The Iceman Murder


If you've hiked our Ötzi or Dolomites Treks then you've almost assuredly heard of Ötzi, the copper aged hunter that died in the mountains above the Ötzal of northern Italy 5,300 years ago. Hikers discovered Ötzi's body in 1991, and, since then, he's become well-known as Europe's oldest natural mummy.

While scientists have learned a lot about human ancestry as a result of the Ötzi find, the circumstances surrounding Ötzi's death still remain a mystery. That said, we recently stumbled across this fascinating video that attempts to piece together clues surrounding the Iceman's demise. If you're an Ötzi fan, then you'll love the film. Note: The flick is an hour long, so pour yourself a beverage and settle in.

Also for Ötzi lovers:

Scientists recently announced their success in completely decoding Ötzi's DNA. Researchers say that Ötzi's genetic code could shed light on hereditary diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Read about it here and here.

The Iceman Museum in Bolzano houses Ötzi, and presents a fascinating look at the world in which he might have lived. The museum is first rate, and we recommend a visit. It's also a convenient side trip to our Dolomites Tours.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It Doesn't Get Much Better

...than this.

RW Head Guide, Ken Fuhrer, shot this photo earlier today while leading a group of hikers on the Zermatt & Saas Fee Flex Tour.

Of all the mountains in Switzerland, the Matterhorn, also known as Monte Cervino (Italian) and Mont Cervin (French), is probably the most famous and recognizable. Its distinct pyramidal shape draws visitors from all over the world and offers a stunning backdrop above the alpine resort village of Zermatt.

Note: The prominent ridge running up and to the right on the front of the Matterhorn is called the Hörnligrat. The Hörnli is one of the most frequented climbing routes to the summit.

Other Ryder-Walker trips that visit the Matterhorn:
Hiker's Haute (guided and self guided)
Swiss Haute Route (self guided only)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eurostar Offers Direct Service To French Alps


Traveling to the Alps just got easier for our UK travelers. Eurostar, the high speed passenger train linking the UK with the mainland, just announced direct winter service to the French Alps. Return service starts at just £149. The new line services top ski destinations in the French Alps such as Courchevel, La Plagne, Tignes, Meribel and Les Arcs. You can read more about it here.

This new service offers a convenient link between the UK and Paradiski, a popular French Alps ski tour offered by our sister company, Alpenglow Ski Safaris.

We hope this service continues, and expands, into next summer.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Trail Cam: Eiger Day 2


Mike Thurk just sent us this photo from the Eiger Trail. He and his group embarked on a nine-day trek across the Berner Oberland region of central Switzerland. This is a glimpse of Day 2, the stage from the glitzy resort town of Gstaad to the tranquil farming village of Lenk.

Notice the strange limestone formations in the foreground. There's a place on the Trutlisbergpass, the mid point of our hike, where the limestone has been hollowed and carved by the dissolving action of water and CO2. Geologists refer to this dramatic environment as karst topography and the result, though you can't see it in the photo, is a dramatic display of whirlpool-shaped sinkholes, gnarly outcroppings, vertical shafts and more. I've often wondered what the subterranean network looks like. Karst ecosystems usually contain mysterious worlds of serpentine caves, disappearing streams and gnome-sized tunnels.

This convoluted landscape gradually gives way to the high peaks of the Berner Oberland. The benefit of hiking from west to east in this region is that the first few days offer a nice warm up before the trail turns skyward toward the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bargain Airfare to Europe

We recently found round trip flights from LAX to Zurich for $471 this fall. JFK to Zurich came in at $696. Search fares from your own city at airfarewatchdog.com

Autumn is a great time to hike through the Alps. Airfares are typically lower. The trails are quiet. The chalets are cozy. Cinque Terre and the Engadine are two of our most popular fall destinations.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

It Sounds So Fun To Me!

That's what a friend recently exclaimed about Appenzell. We concur. There's nothing boring about the juxtaposition of vertiginous limestone spires and the gentle Swiss countryside that surrounds them.

Known as the Alpstein Massif, Appenzell's folded mountain landscape juts out of gently rolling eastern Switzerland the way a solitary volcano thrusts skyward from the sea. Over millennia, rainwater eroded the limestone peaks of this range and produced an intricately sculpted maze that beckons hikers to get lost for a while. Precipitous drops, tenuous holds and airy trails that excite the acrophobe are just a few of the rewards for the intrepid adventurer that explores this mysterious land.

Albert Heim, a geologist from the turn of the 20th century, once wrote that the Alpstein was perhaps, "the most beautiful mountain range in the world." Indeed, a hiking tour through the Appenzell region must have sounded fun to him too.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reverend Rambler



Check out these great old photos from the Swiss Alps. Martin Nil, a village pastor in the Bernese Oberland between 1912 and 1949, went high and low to capture photographs of alpine flora and the mountainous landscape. He shot the images in black and white and then meticulously colored each image by hand. Imagine what he could have done with Photoshop.

Watch the video. From the pulpit to Swiss mountain peaks.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Matterhorn Surprise



The hike from Belap to Bettmeralp explores the north side of the Rhone Valley in central Switzerland. It's a popular stretch on our Secret Swiss Valleys tour, and it rewards hikers with expansive views of the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in Western Europe. With a well-known geologic wonder like the Aletsch commanding the stage, it's easy to forget about the other big names dancing across the southern horizon.

"Just turn around," we always say to our guests. When they do, they act as though they've been immediately caught off guard. The Matterhorn pokes up from behind the hills the way a trickster might hide in the bushes and say, "boo!" This is what we mean when we say that a particular hike offers a surprising view of the Matterhorn. Note: The largest peak to the right is called the Weisshorn (4505 M).

Image: Chris Pranskatis

Monday, April 19, 2010

Would you be covered?

...if a volcano, like the one that’s wreaking havoc on air travel across Europe, interrupted your alpine hiking tour? If you purchased travel protection from TravelEx, the answer might be a resounding yes.

TravelEx sent us a recent note regarding the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

Ash clouds from the Wednesday volcanic eruption in Iceland have caused flight delays in major European airports and beyond. Travelex insurance policies consider this a covered reason due to weather. Coverage applies for Travel Basic, Travel Select, Travel Max, TraveLite and Travel Plus.


Volcanoes happen. Just something to consider when planning your next hiking tour abroad.
Please contact us if you'd like more info regarding travel insurance.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Q&A: Mountain Transport Primer


Question
: You guys mention cog railways, lifts, cable cars and funiculars. How do I tell these things apart?

Answer: The alpine countries of Western Europe offer some of the most sophisticated public transport systems found anywhere in the world. Their systems include trains, buses, boats, cog railways, lifts, trams, gondolas, cable cars, and funiculars. While most people probably understand trains and buses, not everyone can identify cogs, trams and funiculars. Here's a quick mountain transport primer.


Lifts


We usually refer to a chairlift when we call something a lift, though the term is often used as a catch-all phrase for mechanized transport up and down a mountain slope. Skiers use chairlifts in winter, but hikers may also use them during the summer. By definition, a chairlift is a mechanized, cable-suspended, chair assembly. Chairlifts are fixed to a single cable, and the cable moves.


Trams


Trams actually have two definitions. In the urban world, trams are known as streetcars. In the mountain world, the word tram refers to an aerial tramway. Aerial tramways are defined by the way they move. The cabin is suspended from a fixed cable and then pulled along by another cable called a haul rope. The above photo offers a nice view of the aerial tramway between Engstligenalp and Adelboden, Switzerland. This is a classic stop on many of our hiking tours through the Berner Oberland region of central Switzerland.


Gondolas


It would be easy to confuse gondolas with aerial trams if it weren't for two characteristics; Gondolas are typically smaller than aerial trams, and they're suspended from a single cable that moves. In this way, gondolas are more closely related to chairlifts than aerial trams. A gondola may also be referred to as a cable car or a télécabine. The pictured gondola is a fine old bird in the Italian Dolomites. She's much smaller than most gondolas and humorously referred to as "the coffin."

Note: Many people use the term cable car interchangeably when describing gondolas and aerial trams. When in doubt, look at the cables. If the cabin is fixed to a single cable, and the cable moves, then it's a gondola. If the cabin rolls along one cable, and is pulled by another, then it's a tram.


Cog Railways


A cog railway, also known as a rack railway, is a railway with a toothed rail in between the running rails. The trains are fitted with one or more cog wheels, also called pinions, that mesh with this toothed rail. This configuration allows trains to operate on steep mountain slopes. A perfect example of a cog railway is the Pilatus Bahn in Luzern, Switzerland. The Pilatus Bahn is the steepest rack railway in the world and climbs grades of 48%.


Funiculars


A funicular, also called an incline railway, consists of two tram-like vehicles that ride along rails on a steep slope. The vehicles are connected by a single cable. Moving like the weights on a cuckoo clock, one vehicle descends while the other climbs. A driving motor also assists in the process but the counterbalancing of the vehicles makes the job a lot easier.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Clouds Aren't High Enough


...for the mountains of the mighty Mont Blanc Massif. Past guests Chiao-Ling, Elaine and Peter sent us this photo from last year's Tour du Mont Blanc.

This is a view from the Grand Balcon Sud, a world renowned hiking trail above Chamonix, France. The Grand Balcon Sud rewards travelers with unobstructed views of Mont Blanc and her towering sentinels. The three jagged peaks to the right are called the Aiguilles de Chamonix. (The needles of Chamonix). In order from left to right are the Aiguille du Grépon, Aig. du Plan and Aig. du Midi. The sinuous glacier, snaking its way through the background, is called the Mer de Glace. (The Sea of Ice). On a sunny day, Mont Blanc sparkles above all the rest.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Quotable: John Muir

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Cork Grips or Rubber?


...on my trekking poles.

Cork, naturally. Although they're a bit more expensive, they feel soooooo nice. Cork grips tend to be drier than plastic and rubber; they feel warm in cool weather and cool when it's hot. They don't get slippery either. Yum.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Südtirol Splendor: Images From Our Guides


If you follow us on facebook then you enjoyed a recent photo post titled, "Where do the Guides Go?" The photo offers a behind-the-scenes look at our guides' extracurricular activities between hiking tours. (The activities that we can talk about anyway.) Just for fun, we offered a free Alps DVD to the first person to correctly identify the photo. Sadly, no one could do it. (We must confess, it's a pretty tough image to identify).

The location of the photo is the Ortler peak (3905 m) in the Südtirol region of northern Italy. Ryder-Walker Guides, Daniel Sundqvist and Ken Fuhrer, shot the photo while exploring a climbing route called the Hintergrat, a fairly exposed ridge that ascends the mountain from the east.

You might ask yourself, "If this is northern Italy, then what's the deal with the German words?" The answer is that the Ortler, and the surrounding Südtirol, belonged to the Austrian Empire before World War I. The border shifted when Italy annexed the region in 1919, a quite remarkable feat considering that Austria controlled the region for more than 500 years. Today, you'll find translations in both German and Italian. The Italian name for the Ortler is Ortles.

Daniel and Ken also shot the above photo during the same climb. For those of you that have ever wondered about hiking in this splendid region lying north and northwest of Merano, Italy; here's a great look. These are the Central Eastern Alps, also known as the Southern Limestone Alps, and this is the domain of the Ötzi Trek.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Rotstockütte


The Rotstockhütte occupies a strategic vantage point on the trail between Murren and the Sefinenfurgge. The Monch and Jungfrau peaks tower in the background, and wildflowers grow in profusion on warm summer days.

Fashioned from stone, and smelling of woodsmoke and sun-dried timbers, the Rotstockhütte welcomes travelers with hot local dishes, cool refreshments, and lots of mountain history. Topo maps, labeled in German and French, adorn the walls and tables. Weathered photos offer a testament to the region's rugged culture. The sounds of laughter and conviviality roll onto the surrounding mountainside. This is also a working farm, so travelers get a first hand look at a centuries-old tradition of high mountain grazing.

Tours that explore this area include:
Jungfrau Trail
Eiger Trail
Self Guided Berner Oberland Trek and Traverse

Photo by Ken Fuhrer

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sold Out: Eiger Trail and Engadine Summit Series

But we still have room on their regional counterparts:

The Jungfrau Trail
August 1-7, 2010

The new North Face movie has mountain lovers drooling over the Eiger, and our Jungfrau Trail offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this legendary mountain up close. It's no wonder that so many film producers choose this region for making movies. It's absolutely stunning. (Note: We will not actually climb the Eiger, nor will we hike in retro muted tones).


The Engadine Trek
August 10-17, 2010

We've offered this hiking tour for nearly three decades, and it continues to delight travelers from around the world. This is Le Grand Cru of Swiss hiking tours.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Crowning Masterworks



Some of you might remember that we have has a sister company called Alpenglow Ski Safaris. Alpenglow's mission is simple; To weave village-to-village ski tours into crowning masterworks of endless powder, dreamy European villages and enormous, skiable terrain.

One of our guests was so thrilled with his recent Glacier Express Tour that he shared a bit of love. Check out the video. (It'll have you drooling). Feel more love here.

Alpenglow's next trip, Paradiski-The Isere Valley, runs April 10-18, 2010.

Incidentally, Vagabond Ranch (the kudos link) is a delectable retreat that focuses on meditation and mindfulness in everyday living. They're located just outside of Granby, Colorado, next to the Never Summer Wilderness and the Arapahoe National Forest. For you meditation gurus out there, the Great Stupa lies just up the road from their place. I've been there on a couple of occasions. It's cool. Check out the ranch: http://www.vagabondranch.org/

Thanks for the praise Josh! This is great stuff.
(We'll send the check next week). ;-)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

GPS: Your Own Atomic Clock

Hiking Tip: Consult your GPS when you need the time.

Need to update your watch? Cellphone ran out of juice? Don’t worry. If you carry a GPS then you’ve got an atomic clock in the palm of your hand. Check it out:

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) offer a great way to record distances, elevation, and memorable waypoints along the trail. Our guides use them, and we find that more and more of our guests use them every year.

GPS works by collecting signals from orbiting satellites and then triangulating a position based on those signals. The signals contain various pieces of information including satellite ID, satellite health, and satellite orbital information. The most notable piece of transmitted information, however, is the time.

Each satellite has its own atomic clock and it broadcasts the time from this clock to the GPS receiver out on the trail. The receiver compares the time that the signal was transmitted, with the time that it was received, and uses the difference to calculate its distance from the satellite. In short, it’s the time it takes the signal from the satellite to reach our reciever that allows us to determine our position here on earth. Add the distances from a few more satellites, and voila, we’ve established a triangulation.

All of this leads to a point: (Pun intended). If you need a source for accurate time, then fire up your GPS. You’ve got access to an atomic clock in the palm of your hand.

Note: The clock reading software in a modern GPS is not as accurate as the atomic clock in a satellite. (Though it’s extremely accurate for every day use-to within seconds and parts of a second). Clock accuracy varies by model.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Fine Lunch Spot


...on our Italian Dolomites Trek.

Built in 1903, and restored after WWI by the C.A.I. (Italian Alpine Club), the Rifugio Vicenza invites hikers to warm the bones and refresh the palate. The sunny patio and warm hearth offer strength to intrepid hikers marching ever-upward through a collection of jagged peaks and splintered spires called the Sassolungo group. The Sassolungo group, also known as the Langkofel, is one of the most striking collection of peaks in all of the Italian Dolomites. Notable peaks in this group include the Sassopiatto and the Sassolungo.

We enjoy the dramatic views from this mountain hut which extend up to the peaks and outward across the Alp di Siusi, Europe's largest alpine meadow. The espresso isn't bad either.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Q&A: What’s the deal with the swirling eye?


Question: While traveling in Switzerland, I often see a symbol on trains and buses that looks like a swirling eye. What does it mean?

Answer: The swirling eye is a pictogram that appears on many regional trains and buses throughout Switzerland. It signifies that there are no conductors on board to check tickets, so you’re on your honor to hold a valid pass or to buy a ticket before climbing aboard. Additionally, although there are no conductors on board collecting tickets, roaming inspectors may board at any time to check fares. The fines for getting caught without a valid ticket can be quite steep.

Swiss Pass holders can simply climb aboard and enjoy the ride, but non pass-holders and pass holders traveling outside of their designated travel days, must purchase a ticket in advance.

Fortunately, most stations provide automated ticket machines, so buying a fare is extremely easy to do. For short distances, the cost is usually negligible, especially when used in conjunction with a Swiss Card or Half-Fare card.

Tip: Purchasing short distance tickets at a reduced rate, (Swiss Card, Half Fare Card), can often prove more economical than using up precious travel days on the more comprehensive passes. Click here for more info regarding Swiss passes.

Friday, February 26, 2010

We Need Your Help! Please Nominate Ryder-Walker For the World’s Best Awards




Here’s the deal. Every year, Travel + Leisure Magazine hosts their World's Best Awards. They survey intrepid travelers like yourselves and then ask them to vote for their favorite tour operators and travel providers. They have different categories for each segment of the travel industry, and the companies that garner the most votes in their respective category get the win. In order to get on the list, however, companies need to be nominated first. That’s where we need your help.

Please send a message to the following email address, and ask that Travel and Leisure add Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures to their World’s Best Awards survey. Our category is tour operator/safari outfitter. (Funny huh? Maybe we should go to Africa next year).

Please send a message to the following address:
WorldsBestSurvey@roiresearch.com
Subject Line: World's Best Awards Survey Addition

With enough nominations, we’ll hopefully get on the list and then we can all vote for our favorite tour operator.

National Geographic named Ryder-Walker one of the Best Outfitters on the Planet for two years in a row. Please help us show Travel + Leisure why others think highly of us, and why they should too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Microcosm


Ryder-Walker Guide, Daniel Sundqvist, grabs a bite to eat on the restipass in western Switzerland. This is day one of our Secret Swiss Valleys tour.

The peaks of the Berner Oberland loom above the remote Lötschental in the background. Historians believe that Romans first settled the Lötschen valley nearly two thousand years ago, but the valley's geographic isolation kept it largely cut off from the outside world until the early part of the 1900's. The result- A microcosm of traditional alpine culture.

Tourism is the valley's main economic driver these days, yet hikers rarely venture into this secluded and tranquil corner of the Swiss Alps. It's lucky for us, because the views are stunning and the hikes pass through varied and fascinating terrain. Point of fact: If we could turn the camera a full 180 degrees, we'd see the whole length of the Pennine Alps, the tallest in Europe, spread out before us like waves on a wind tossed sea.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Swiss Are Well Groomed



When it comes to hiking, snowhoeing, and cross country skiing. In fact, Swiss attention to trail quality is probably the finest in the world; expertly constructed and regularly maintained, they allow hikers of all abilities access to high meadows and spectacular mountain terrain.

That said, snow conditions are quite variable throughout a winter hiking tour. Although the town and ski area will try to keep grooming up to date, their priorities can be flexible. If clearing the villages and the local roads of snow and opening the lifts for skiers is a priority, they may get to the winter hiking and snowshoeing trails later. As such, what looks good on a map may not be so good after a heavy snowfall (or a prolonged period of warm and sunny weather).


Also bear in mind that fresh snow will affect the amount of time that it takes to hike a trail. Six inches of snow could add a half hour to a two hour hike, a foot could add an hour and two feet could double the time the outing will take. Always inquire at the hotel for advice and, regardless of what is said, proceed conservatively.

We also recommend that hikers carry snow safety equipment when venturing beyond the standard groomed hiking paths; This includes a beacon, probe, shovel, and the knowledge to use them safely and effectively.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Swiss Quirkiness

It's fun to write about the fairy tale stuff that makes Switzerland so cute and atmospheric. It's the quirky stuff, however, that really makes us smile.

Take Gucci's Iglu Snow Bar, for example.



Gucci's occupies prime real estate abutting intersecting trails just above the tiny hamlet of Ardez. On a sunny day, the lounge chairs offer quality mountain viewing. (and tanning)

Imagine that you're strolling along, enjoying your winter hike through the mountains of Switzerland, when hot food and delicious drink suddenly appear out of nowhere.




The Alps are peppered with original establishments like this one, each with their own personality and style. Here's a shot of the igloo. A bottle of wine on the table. Hot, local fare on the plate. We love it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Happens To The Cows?...

during winter?

They're still around, albeit lower on the hillsides. It's nice to know that a winter hiker can get their cow fix too.



Most cows tend to stick close to town during the snowy days. This one, in particular, spends her long winter evenings in the tiny hamlet of Ftan.