Seasoned globetrotter and former presenter of TV's ‘Wish You Were Here' programme, John Carter casts an eagle eye over the best short and long-haul guided walking holiday options in 2014.
Having flown to Venice to join a cruise ship a few years ago, I was intrigued by wooden ramps that had been placed over the steps on either side of many bridges. Was this, perhaps, a belated attempt to cater for visitors in wheelchairs?
It was not. The Venice Marathon was being run that weekend and the route had to be "steps-free". The concept of a Venice Marathon was difficult to take in. A regatta or swimming gala - or even a water polo tournament - would have been more appropriate.
That memory popped into my head when I saw Venice featured in the latest Ramblers Worldwide Holidays brochure. Venice as a base for a rambling holiday? Surely, some mistake.
No mistake. I can vouch from personal experience that the city rewards those who explore it on foot with a wealth of treasures, art and architecture. The play of light, at any season and at any time of day, on its buildings, its waterways and bridges is a joy, and another reward for anyone with a camera.
However, this one-week holiday offers more than "La Serenissima" alone. There are side trips to Verona and Vicenza, and opportunities to walk in the Euganean Hills, visible from the city and located a little to the south of Padua. Extinct volcanoes, they rise to a modest 600 metres above sea level and provide a pleasant contrast to Venice and its lagoon. The holiday is available from November 2014, and the price - from £1,025 - includes return flights, transfers and half-board accommodation. The hotel, incidentally, is the Continental which verges on the four-star and happens to be a personal favourite of mine. It originated back in the 15th century as a palazzo for the Frizier family, and has a unique Venetian style.
As 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, many holiday companies are offering special deals to the battlefields. There is just such a holiday in the RWH brochure, based in Ypres. In such a context it is, I think, unnecessary to write of the walking itself, but rather mention that the itinerary covers the battlefields of Flanders, the countryside and villages of Westhoek in Belgium and such iconic locations as Passchendale Ridge, the Menin Gate memorial and Tyne Cot, which is the largest British war cemetery on the continent. The tour, from April 24th, lasts a week and its price - from £999 - includes Eurostar rail travel to Calais and then a coach to Ypres, and half-board accommodation.
It was the Second World War that brought massive destruction to the city of Dresden. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I visited East Germany and spent some days in that shattered city. Since then, a tremendous amount of restoration work has been carried out, buildings have been cleaned and Dresden reborn.
I mention the city because it is the final destination of a walking holiday that begins in Prague and takes you along the valley of the River Elbe, through Saxon and Bohemian "Switzerland", along the Malerweg Trail through some of Europe's most magnificent scenery. The two week holiday is available from May 30th and prices start from £1,390, covering return flights, transfers and half-board accommodation.
Although the Algarve region of Portugal has been well and truly discovered by foreign holidaymakers, and the cities of Lisbon and Porto feature in many brochures, the very far north of the country remains virtually unknown. Which is a pity, as it has some outstanding scenery and a number of excellent hotels. It is ideal for a walking holiday, and I'm pleased to see that RWH has built on the success of previous years to offer a different itinerary in the north west region of the Peneda Geres National Park.
It is a week long, two-centre holiday, available from May 24th, and its price - from £835 - includes return flights, transfers and half board accommodation in two excellent three-star hotels, the second of which (the Peneda in Freguesia de Gavieira) as a personal favourite, though
I must confess it is a long time since I enjoyed the tranquility of its location.
This region is ideal for a walking holiday - mountain villages and high meadows, mountain trails and rugged landscapes. This is a Grade D+ holiday, with rough terrain, and a requirement to cover between seven and nine miles a day. Not, perhaps, to be undertaken lightly.
Of other holidays in the 2014 brochure, I was also tempted by a week exploring the Greek peninsula of Sithonia, a two week holiday in north west Tuscany and, farther afield, a 20 day holiday in Namibia.
It offers a wealth of experiences, as it covers the desert area which runs along the Namibian coast, the Central plateau, and the world-famous Kalahari Desert - venue for an unforgettable drive. You camp out in the Fish River Canyon and visit Twyfelfontein with its stone age rock art, and game drives in the Etosha National Park. The holiday is available from June 7th and its price - from £3,380 - covers return flights, transfers, half-board accommodation and all entrance fees.
Two weeks in Malawi is also tremendously tempting. Its ingredients include Lake Malawi itself, the Zomba Plateau, Mount Mulanje - the tallest in south central Africa - and the tea estates on its lower slopes, the Thyolo Highlands, the Liwonde National Park and much more. Return flights are included in the price – from £3,175 - as are six nights half board and five nights full board accommodation. The holiday is available from May 5th.
During my travelling years, I have been fortunate to visit Cape Town several times, and have a high regard for the city. It has provided me with some pleasant experiences and on my last visit (en route to the island of Saint Helena) I was fortunate to stay in the Protea Breakwater Lodge hotel, in the heart of the Victoria and Alfred waterfront. I see that this very hotel is used by RWH for its 12-day holiday over Christmas. An excellent choice in what appears to me to be a first-class holiday. Perhaps its emphasis is more on sightseeing than hard rambling, but it is, after all, the festive season! The city and its surroundings, including, of course, the famous Table Mountain, provide plenty of opportunities to enjoy urban South Africa at its best. Return flights, transfers, half-board accommodation and all entrance fees are covered by the price of the holiday - from £2,825 - whose departure date is December 22nd.
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