Monday, August 29, 2016

Visiting Zermatt

I have finally gotten around to visiting Zermatt in the Valais region of the Swiss Alps, fulfilling an long term ambition of seeing the epic Matterhorn mountain up close in all of its spectacular alpine surroundings.  I should have gone earlier!

The Matterhorn has to be one of the world’s most spectacular mountains, with its dramatic sharp pointed peak, the likes of which any 5-7 year old would include when asked to draw a mountain!  A ‘real’ mountain!

Switzerland is a favourite place of mine to visit, the most mountainous country within Europe, and possible the prettiest.  Zermatt itself is picture postcard pretty, like most of Switzerland but with the with the added benefit of having the magnificent Matterhorn creating the perfect chocolate box background for all of your photos!  This is the mountain featured on the famous Swiss Toblerone triangular chocolate bars.

Zermatt’s clean mountain air is enhanced by the fact that the town is a car free zone.  It is easy to park up your car in the village of Tasch just down the valley and get to Zermatt on the regular train service which takes just 10 minutes. 

Once in Zermatt electric taxis are available for those wanting to get their luggage to the hotels.  Many hotels offer a free transfer service.  We stayed in the beautiful Jagerhof Hotel which was just a few minutes away. 

Switzerland in summer offers a great range of outdoor activities including climbing, hiking, biking, paragliding, skiing, snow tubing, helicopter tours and scootering (trotti biking). 

Visiting with my two teenage daughters we enjoyed a few days hiking.  On our first day we headed to the top!  Taking the cable cars from Zermatt, up over the marmots foraging on the green lower slopes to Furi and onwards up to Schwarzee and Furgg to the station at Trockener Stegg.  Then on to the large cable car up to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.  Up at the top at 3,883m altitude, it was -2c when we arrived mid-morning, but as it was not windy and the sun was shining it felt much warmer.

The views from the viewing platform were spectacular, looking out over the surrounding snow covered peaks, glaciers and green valleys below. 

Year round skiing, snow tubing and some semi-serious hiking to the top of the snow-capped neighbouring Breithorn peak at 4,164m are all on offer here.  As well at the cinema and restaurant.

A little later, with our camera’s full of stunning snowy photos we headed back down to Schwarzee where we set out on the Matterhorn Trail, a yellow graded (fairly simple) hiking route down to the cable car station at Furi (you can choose to hike all the way down to Zermatt if you wish).  This route offered stunning views of the dramatic west face of the Matterhorn up close!

Once back in Zermatt we took a look around the Matterhorn Museum, an informative museum in the centre of town which tells visitors a lot about the history of the area and especially the famous tragic first ascent of the mountain on 14 July 1865, by the British climber Edward Whymper, during which four of the seven climbers fell to their deaths whilst making the tricky descent.

After a day hiking up in the mountains we enjoyed a superb 3 course meal at the Hotel Jagerhof which offered better value for money than the local restaurants.  The Toblerone Mousse on the menu certainly helped this decision!

On our next day we headed up the other side of the mountains, taking the mountain railway from Zermatt up to Sunnegga, then the cable car up to Blauherd, where a small group of rather cute (aren’t they all!) marmots needed photographing before we could take the final cable car up to Rothorn.

Exiting the cable car at Rothorn there were yet more stunning/epic/spectacular (you will find yourself needing to use all of these words many times a day in the Swiss Valais region!) views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks, glaciers and green mountain valleys.  The Matterhorn, which had teased us for past two days with differing partial views of the peak with varying amounts of cloud covering its rocky and icy faces, finally revealed itself in all of its rugged pointy tipped glory for our day in the Rothorn area.  And it looked stunning/epic/spectacular!

The dramatic wide and now empty valleys carved out by the icy glaciers starkly show how much these remarkable historic ice features are retreating.

From Rothorn, we set out on a simple hike down into the valley on the Kristawegg trail, however due to confusion over the signage we ended up on a red route, the Aventeuerwegg down along the ridge of the mountains to Blauherd (after joining a yellow route).  A beautiful hike with lovely vistas of the Matterhorn and the Zermatt valley, passing several more cute marmots en route.

From here we hiked down to the famous Chez Vrony restaurant for a warm sunny lunch on the terraces overlooking the Matterhorn.  Before hiking back up to work off lunch!

There were lots of other Zermatt activity enthusiasts out today enjoying paragliding, mountain biking and trotti biking (scootering) from the mountain areas serviced by the Rothorn lift system.  Zermatt helicopter tours were also proving popular!

This evening we enjoyed a nice meal on the terrace of the Old Zermatt restaurant by the river, with great views of ‘that’ mountain.  Enjoying watching the many other tourists coming to take this iconic photo of the river, Zermatt and the Matterhorn – plenty selfie-sticks were in use that evening as we dined!

We then headed into Zermatt centre for some crepes and the place was buzzing!  Apparently is was ‘Big Every Third Wednesday’ tonight (there is probably a better title – it may have been lost in translation!) where the town centre is alive in an open air party featuring loud music, barbeques and drinks in the main street.  There was a great atmosphere with plenty of folks dancing in the street and enjoying the food and drink on offer in the main street.  Great fun!

Alas all too soon it was time for us to leave Zermatt and head over the Simplon pass into Italy and Lake Maggiore.

Use this link to see our beautiful Zermatt image gallery on the YouGoDo Facebook page.

We had a great time in Zermatt and I hope to re visit soon!  I’ve looked into how fit I need to be, what experience I require and how long it takes to climb the Matterhorn!  Next time!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Motorcycle Tours of Gran Canaria

In my early twenties I used to explore Europe on a motorcycle, and to this day I think there is no better way of exploring this great world.  Taking a motorcycle tour really immerses you in the surroundings.  Not only do you feel the breezes on your skin, but you get to take in the sights, sounds and the rich smells of your surroundings.  For me there is no more exhilarating method of travel than a motorcycle.  Sweeping through country roads without the frustration of getting stuck behind traffic. 

Whilst in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on an all too short visit recently, with a tight schedule watching my daughter compete in the Spanish Swimming Championships, I needed to find a way to see more of the Island before I left.  I guess like many of the cruise visitors to Gran Canaria, I did not have a lot of time to take a tour.  Luckily I came across Touring Ride based in Las Palmas who offer a wide range of Harley Davidson Motorcycle Tours of the Island, and the neighbouring Canary Islands for those with more than a few days to spare!

A quick email to the owner Krister and he put together a great tour at short notice covering many of the highlights of the North of the Island to fit in with my tight timescales, in between morning qualifying heats and the evening swimming finals!

Based near the old Football Stadium in Las Palmas it was a short taxi ride from my Hotel.  Once there I was kitted up with a Helmet (Touring Ride provide all the necessary equipment including helmets, jackets, gloves, etc).

Myself Krister and Robert (a father and son business team) then headed out to explore the Island.  This was my first time on a Harley, and whilst it took me a few km to get to grips with the torque (wow you can run these bikes at very low revs) it was easy to master (even for a Rice Burner Jap Bike fan like myself!).

The climate in July was superb, and a nice surprise for myself.  Living in Southern Spain where it was in the high 30’s when I left it was great to find a beautiful high 20’s on arrival.  The island’s very southern location off the coast of African with the surrounding Atlantic ocean make Cran Canaria a great place to ride all year round.  Perfect conditions for a cruise in a T Shirt and Open face helmet.  Jackets were available!

We left Gran Canaria heading out West along the side of the ocean feeling the ocean breezes and taking in the salty ocean scents, experiences which make motorcycle touring so special.

We then headed inland and up into the mountains stopping at a beautiful Mirador (viewing point) overlooking the village of Arucas to the South and Las Palmas to the North.  Robert, who was taking plenty of great footage for me using their superb GoPro actions camera and a variety of camera mounts, and Krister were kindly pointing out the highlights of the views.  From this great viewpoint the Rum factory, Arucas Cathedral and the neighbouring Island of Tenerife could all be seen. 

We pressed on through sweet smelling banana plantations then past the Rum Factory and further inland to Firgas, where we took a break and a drink in the sun whilst enjoying chatting about the island’s history, motorcycles and all manner of small talk.  Again Robert and Krister were kindly sharing the highlights of the location.  Firgas is picture postcard pretty villa which is home to a lovely waterfall feature and impressive ceramic models of all of the surrounding Canary Islands. 

We then headed on further inland to Teror, another very pretty village with streets lined with villas with pretty traditional Canarian wooden balconies and its impressive church, which is home to the Island’s main virgin, the Virgin de Los PiƱos (it’s a very Spanish religious thing!).

We then headed on towards Vega de San Mateo.  All of the roads we used on this tour were superb, ideal for cruising on a great bike like the Harley Davidson, well surfaced and with plenty of fun twisty sections!  This was especially true for this section - By now I was getting used to the torque! 

We stopped for a further drink in San Mateo before unfortunately, due to my time constraints, we had to head back to base in Las Palmas.  This said we did have time to enjoy an after ride beer – good planning!

In summary I had a great time in very good company on immaculate machines.  It’s a while since I have done any motorcycle touring – it bought it back to me just what a pleasure it is. 

Touring Ride offer numerous tours and can cater for guests for a half day up to a full week, without repeating the same rides.  They even take groups over to neighbouring Islands.

Highly recommended – take a look at YouGoDo’s 100’s of motorcyclingexperiences here, find out more about Touring Ride here and look here for activities in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

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