Kirsten's Birthday Party - October Winner of the pumpkin competition

Many thanks to Kirsten for the invitation to help her celebrate her birthday in style once again. As usual the food and company were excellent, and a wonderful time was had by all.

We're all pretty familiar with the format now – arrive early on Friday with the intention of helping get set up, but quickly start to make our way through the piles of alcohol, ending up dancing on the tables at about 2am. Saturday wake up feeling awful, try go do something to kill the hangover until it's time to start drinking again. End up reverting to something pink and bubbly at about 6pm and it's down-hill from there until Sunday morning.

On a side note, Jamie did manage to persuade everyone to go fishing (it seemed like a good idea at the time), and ended up catching a 7kg pike in the summer-house lake . He was very happy, especially when he found out it was the largest caught in the lake in memory....


Tuscany - August

For our main summer holiday Jules and I headed down to Tuscany to spend a bit over a week at the agriturismo Duo Ruote, followed by a couple of days in Siena. We did a fair bit of walking and sightseeing in the area around the Marema national park, and caught the build-up to the Palio in Siena.

We started on Sunday, with a fairly uneventful and long drive down from Zürich. We passed through the Gotthard tunnel without queuing at 8:30 in the morning. From there it was clear roads down to Tuscany with only a bit of traffic around Milano to arrive safe and sound in Tuscany.

For the first party of the holiday, we stayed at the Duo Ruote, which was friendly and very Italian. Luca worked hard to make us feel welcome -  particularly at dinner - seating us with people who wanted to speak English. Dinner was a large Italian meal, in five courses, which we rarely finished. Entertainment at night was provided by a very fat gecko which had learned to hang around the uplights in the dining room, and during the day by the broken cockerel, which sounded like it was being slowly strangled.

View of the city Pitligiano perched on the hill

On Monday we had a crack at walks A5 & A6 in the Marema park. We were a bit disappointed that it was mostly paid-for & guided walks in the park in summer. After lunch in Alberesee we headed back to the agriturismo then took bikes on a windy cycle ride to the Marema beach. The beach was fine - quite busy and windy with quite big waves and very warm sea. We finished with walk A7 out to the wetlands and back - all walks were OK, nothing to write home about.

On Tuesday we had a chilled out start to the day resting by the pool. In the early afternoon headed up to Portiglioni to do a variation on walk 37 from Toskana Sued / Rother WanderFuehrer along the coast to the beautiful Cala Violina before looping back further inland to make a 6.25 miles, 2:15 round trip.

On Wednesday we drove down to Porto San Stefano on the Monto peninsula. From there we took the ferry to the Isola Giglio to do walk 47 from Toskana Sued / Rother WanderFuehrer. The walk starts from the port and climbs fairly steeply to the castillo, fortunately mostly in the shade. From there the route heads north along fairly well signed paths to make a loop around the headland. We made fairly good progress despite the 35 ºC heat and arrived back in Castillo to catch the 17:00 bus back to the port, yours truly must be getting soft in his old age! We didn't spend much time on Giglio, but it seemed to be very pleasant - very pretty and quite rustic.

View of brick cobbled streets in Sarema

On Thursday we headed to Scansano to check out a riding place and to have lunch in the pretty town centre. In the afternoon we took a canoeing trip along the Ombrone river  organised by the local tourist office, which was pleasant and relaxing. We saw a European beaver (quite rare apparently) and a black kite,  African bee eaters and a heron. Naturally the German canoe had to be ahead of the others....

On Friday we joined guided walk C1/C2 in Marema park. We nearly didn't find the start of the walk owing to the somewhat ambiguous directions, but eventually managed to get there and set off with about 10 others plus Christina our guide. The walk was quite slow - I had wondered how anyone could make an 11km walk last 9 hours and we know - you stop for a chat every 100 yards! It was a very hot day - probably getting to 38 ºC in the shade, but the walk was mostly in the woods and there was a bit of a breeze higher up in the hills. We were carrying an extreme amount of water for which I was quite grateful as the day did last from 9am to 7pm. We stopped at lunchtime (from 1pm to 4pm) at the very pretty Cala Cervco, where we fortunately found some shade, and went swimming in the sea. The route back was slightly delayed by one of the party suffering from the heat, so Christina offered a lift back from Torra Barsa on the back of the truck - much to Jules' delight. Overall we were walking for a total of 3hrs30 (of the 9 hours we were out) for the 6.5 miles with 2000ft VG/L. The only challenging part of the walk was the temperature, but the views and the beach where very special. We saw two deer and some Marema cows, plus a cute butterfly.

On Saturday Jules went riding in the morning and saw a wild boar! In the afternoon we took a trip to Grosetto, which turned out to be have a surprisingly pleasant old town within a bricked walled city. We were massively upsold on a gelati and a coffee by an exuberant young waitress, but didn't mind too much.

We had a relaxing start on Sunday before heading to Pitigliano - a very pretty old town perched on the top of a hill. We had a perfectly pleasant lunch overlooking the town after failing to buy a schon summer bag for Jules. After lunch we carried on to Sorano to see the old basilica then on to Sorana  - a very pretty little rustic town with herringbone brick streets. It was quite a lot of driving, but at about 35 ºC we were quite happy to get back into an air conditioned car after each stroll.

We spent Monday mostly chilling out, with brunch in Alberese then back to the pool to read and relax.

Horses being chosen in the Palio

On Tuesday we left the agriturismo Duo Ruote and went for walk 25 in Bagno Vignione. The town itself was very pretty with a bath instead of the traditional central plaza. After a perfectly acceptable pasta lunch we went for a circular walk around the town, taking in the nearby hills and views, particularly over Castiglione d'Orcia. From there we headed onto Hotel Athena in Siena. We checked into the hotel and then went for a wander around town - saw the Duomo and had our first experience of the medieval town.

The Hotel Athena is an old fashioned Italian grand hotel in the centre of Siena. We had a lovely room with views over the surrounding countryside and back to town. There was a pleasant terrace bar overlooking the countryside, but unfortunately the service was a bit hit and miss. The breakfast was good, and the hotel is in a good location, just within the walled city which made it convenient to drive into and great for the centre.

We spend Wednesday Thursday wandering around the city centre. It was quite hot - mid 30s - and busy but we saw the sights, including the Campo, the main shopping street and the old fortress. We did see the selection of the order of the horses for the Palio in the Campo. We went twice to Trattoria Strezzaligio, for lunch & dinner and a nice apero looking out over the city walls at Vivace Pizza & Griglia.

Lenzerheide - May View over Alpine meadows, with snow/cloud covered mountain in background

Taking up Cornelia's very kind offer to stay in her family house, Jules and I headed to Lenzerheide for the weekend to do some walking and plenty of relaxing in the mountains.

On Saturday, with fairly low clouds, and snow still on the peaks we decided to do a lower-level walk from Lenz around the nearby villages. We kind of made up the route from the local area maps, and using GPX to keep track of where we actually were. The walk itself was very pleasant, and about right for the conditions, staying off the peaks, but seeing quite a lot of the nearby area. Overall it was 11.5 miles with 2,800ft ascent/descent and took us 4hrs45 all in. It was certainly a T1 walk, and pretty easy except for a couple of occasions where we needed to have faith that there really was a path! The GPX plot of our route is available here.

To make the most of Sunday we headed to Churwalden to do a circular walk via Parpan. Again, we kind of made this up from the local maps, and picked a circular route of about the right length. The start was a steady climb out of Churwalden to reach about 5,700ft which was about 300ft below the snowline. From there we followed the contour before dropping down into Parpan and looping back to Churwalden. Overall it was about 7.8 miles and took us about 2hrs45.

Orchid Walking Jena - May A stand of five purple orchids in a field

To celebrate Andrea's 65th birthday (and a good excuse for a party and a walk), Jules and I headed to Germany for the regular family Orchid walk in the countryside around Jena.

We started the trip with a drive to Magdeburg to visit Oma Maria and then headed down to Jena to join the rest of the family. The event started peacefully enough with some sociable drinks on Friday night, and on Saturday morning we headed off to the countryside for the walk. Albrecht did the usual superb job of curating the walk, which was a little shorter this year than some, owing to the number of little people with legs that got tired more quickly. In spite of this there were a good selection of orchids on show, including some fairly rare ones (I'm told). The actual walk was a little less than two hours for the two miles or so, and the gpx plot of the route is available here.

In the evening we retired to the hotel for a very pleasant dinner with the whole family, including a rather interesting set of songs from the last seven decades played on a pair of saxophones - quite a way to finish off the evening.

On Sunday we drove back home, to finish off a full, but very enjoyable long weekend.

Mallorca - Easter View to rugged coastline almost in silhouette from boat

For our now regular Easter break Jules and I headed back to Mallorca for some early spring sun, and to go walking in the hills around Soller. We decided to go back to Hotel Aimia, having been very happy there before, however this time we decided to forgo the hire car and instead splash out on an upgrade to the junior suite. This turned out to be a good plan - we didn't miss the car at all, but the suite made a big difference as we were able to chill out in the room after a long day walking.

The weather was perfect for the entire week - bright and sunny, but not too hot. We managed to do a lot of walking, along with quite a lot of eating and drinking! The days panned out as follows:

Saturday
After an easy flight, and transfer to the hotel we decided to head out for a bit of a stretch of the legs. We headed up to the fort above Soller, and along the coast north east of Port del Soller. The route was easy to follow - no difficulty in navigating and wound along the coast. After about 3 miles the path became considerably more technical (protection recommended) and so we turned back, happy to have been out. We stopped for a freshly squeezed orange juice on the way back (a bit sharp for yours truly) before dropping down to Port de Soller. The gpx plot of the route is here. After freshening up we headed to Randemar restaurant for a very pleasant fish dinner.

Sunday
For our first proper walk we took the boat from from Sa Calobra and then walked back to Port de Soller, via Cala Tuent along the Sa Costera coastal way. The boat trip was relatively quick, easy and painless, and the captain took us on a little tour of the caves and rocks along the coast. The route itself was fairly long (more than 12 miles) includes 3,400ft of ascent/descent and took just short of 6 hrs, not including a perfectly pleasant lunch in Cala Tuent. The path was easy to follow, and the views along the coastal section were very special. Our gpx plot of the route is here. For dinner we went to El Sabor on the promenade for excellent tapas.

View across the peaks above Soller to Pug Major

Monday
For a slightly more relaxing day we decided to head out from Port de Soller through Binarix and Fornalux to Soller , This turned out to be a very pleasant stroll along the valleys and small hills between the two towns, and which climbed slightly up through the (very pretty) village of Fornalux. We were stopped just short of Soller by a little man selling fresh orange juice from his garage - this must have started since last time we were on the island, because we didn't remember it being a thing. We stopped in Fornalux for a coffee and a tapas, then continued on the loop back down to Soller. We had lunch in the main square before taking the tram back to Port de Soller to round out a gentle and very pleasant day walking. All in all it was 8 miles, including 1,400 ft vertical ascent/descent and it took us 3hrs30, not including breaks and lunch. The gpx plot of our route is here.

Tuesday
For a more challenging day, I decided to head up from Soller, along the Alfabia, back to Soller then to Port de Soller , whilst Jules went to Palma to see the old town. I was a little concerned about the route, being marked as a "climbing route", and the last one of those we saw required ropes and protection, so with a small amount of (unfounded, it turns out) trepidation I headed off. The route starts from the main square in Soller, climbs fairly steadily for two hours to reach the aerials at the west-most end of the ridge, and then runs along the top of the ridge to meet the GR221 near the Refugi dels Cornadors. Navigation along the ridge was actually quite difficult, and I elected to go along the small valley, rather than pick my way along the very top of the ridge. From the GR221 the route was very easy to follow, and I doubled back slightly to go back to the Refugi and then up to the Puig d'es Cornadors. From there it was an easy drop down to Soller along the well marked GR221, and after a refreshing icecream I decided to walk back to Port de Soller. All in all it was a 16.6 mile, 5,200ft vertical day, which took me 7hrs40 plus a short break for lunch. The gpx plot of my route is here

Wednesday
Feeling the exertions of the previous day, we did a much more relaxed walk from Port de Soller to Muleta and back. This is a circular route that we have done all the parts of before, but not this exact route. The path leaves Port de Soller before climbing, giving lovely views back of the harbour. We then looped out to the Refugi at Muleta, where we stopped for a bite of lunch before dropping back down to Port de Soller. A short and fairly relaxing walk, in total it was 5.1 miles, 850ft of vertical ascent/descent and took us 2hrs15 (plus lunch). The gpx plot of our route is here. In the evening we went to the hotel Esplendido for a cocktail and on to Las Olas on the promenade for an excellent paella.

Thursday
For our last walk we decided to do the route from Soller to the Cuber Reservoir and back again. This is an out and back again route, starting and finishing in Soller, and following the GR221 for most of the way. My legs were still a bit tired from Wednesday, and knowing what the climb out of Soller was going to be like wasn't the most inspiring. However we made steady progress up the seemingly endless steps to the Col de L'Ofre, and from there it was just a short distance to the Cuber reservoir. We stopped by the water for a lunch before going once round the lake and heading back down the way we'd come.  All in all it was 14.6 miles, including 3,500ft vertical ascent/descent and took us 6hrs40, plus lunch. The gpx plot of our route is here.

Skiing La Plagne - 1800 Standing at the top of Verdons, with La Plagne in the background

To squeeze one last skiing trip out of the season, I headed to La Plagne to meet up with Giley, Wendy and Jessica-monkey for a week on the slopes. The snow conditions were a bit marginal, and it was definitely a week of up high, on-piste skiing, with plenty of relaxing thrown in.

Sunday
Easy day cruising over the slopes. The snow conditions weren’t the best we’ve ever seen - pretty hard packed on and off piste. Good weather and we covered a fair amount of ground, even with Giley making fun of Wendy for skiing slowly (on her very fast skis). Lunch at La Chaudron in Plagne Centre, which was a very hearty omelette for a reasonable price. Managed to lose my phone at some point during the day, but it was handed in to the police by a kind soul, and I picked it up again in the evening from the Gendarmerie, so all good in the end.

Monday
Headed over to Les Arcs, for a bit of a change of scenery. The journey over was pretty smooth and easy and we caught the gondola over the valley at a little after 10am. Conditions were much the same on the other side of the valley, as we made our way up and over into Les Arcs 1950, and then down to the bottom of Vallee de l’arc. From there we did a couple of runs down Mont Blanc (which had good snow conditions, and was fairly quiet, so great for blasting runs) before stopping at Le Sanglier Qui Fume for an excellent lunch of Foie Gras and steak Tartare. After lunch (and a bit of a rest we headed back slowly over to Plan Peisey (via a detour to Col de la Chal - great snow for that run all the way Grand Renard, Renard and Ours) before hopping back over to La Plagne. We cruised back to finish a little after 4, so a good and fairly long day.

Tuesday
An easy day cruising around La Plagne. We headed over Roche de Mio for a couple of runs down on the Champagny side (but tried not to go too low because of the snow conditions). Had a long lunch at Bon Vieux Temps (the Genepi bar), followed by a couple of runs down to La Roche, which were surprisingly good - a bit slushy, but that was more pleasant than the hard-packed refrozen snow at the top. We finished with a couple of runs under Colorado and Verdons Nord, and the best snow of the day was to be found off to the right of Mercedes - being a high, north facing black run.

Wednesday
We decided to have a slightly easier day, mostly because the Gileys wanted to do a bit of skiing with Jessica-Monkey in the afternoon and we needed to be back to pick her up from creche. After a slightly more relaxed start we headed over to Les Arcs in the morning in search of a famed goats cheese salad in Plan Peisey. The snow wasn’t so good on the Les Arcs side, so we didn’t stay long or venture very far. After a fair to middling salad (Wendy much annoyed that they’d changed the recipe) we headed back and did a couple of runs before picking up Jess and taking her down Golf a couple of times before calling it a day.

Thursday
Pretty gentle day, with snow conditions pretty slushy, especially lower down. Did manage to find some good snow on Sources, but couldn’t be bothered with the queue to go up the Glacier. Did a couple of runs down the Champany side, and took in the impressive views from the top of Gavotte. Had a long, lazy lunch in the sun then headed over to the Genepi bar for the afternoon. Finished up the evening in La Mine bar and went to bed a bit wobbly.

Friday
Another gentle day cruising around La Plagne. We had a vague plan to go back to ski Sources, which took a bit of finding because we went the long way round. The snow was fine on that run, but generally very spring conditions and slushy around the lifts. A long (and quite good) lunch in the Genepi bar, followed by a couple of runs down from Cretes, and some quite good snow dropping down into the bowl from Gavotte. Picked up Jessica at 3pm, and did a couple of runs down Golf before calling it a day/week/season with a drink down Jean Marie.

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We were staying in La Plagne village, and we ended up going to the following places:

La Cantina (Plagne 1800) - friendly barman, and a nice place to stop for a couple of drinks. Very small bar (it’s a restaurant) but a nice feel to the place

Bobsleigh Bar (Plagne 1800) - A funny feel to the place, wouldn’t rush back although the pizza was perfectly acceptable and it wasn’t too pricey

La Mine (Plagne 1800) - Nice pub, although they were showing the rugby on the first night which was a bit dull. Good place to hang out if was a little quieter. Good music most nights (although a bit loud). Generally a good atmosphere - ended up in here most evenings for a quick apres.

La Chaudron (Plagne Centre) - Great Omelette, service fine, for a fair price. Would happily go back.

Le Sanglier Qui Fume (Arc 1600) - Good restaurant for a sit down meal. Portions generous, and Foie Gras and steak Tartare very good.

Le Bon Vieux Temps (Genepi bar) - quaint restaurant for a long lazy lunch followed by a Genepi. One of our reliable favourites.

Skiing Engleberg and Andermatt - January View down ski run and into lower valley

For the first day of the season Andy and I set off for a weekend skiing in the Alps. We headed off early on Saturday to Engleberg, missing most of the traffic and arriving in plenty of time for the first lift.

Unfortunately the top of the mountain was closed, owing to the strong winds, and the snow on the lower slopes was not especially good. Nevertheless we made the most of the first day of the season, doing the runs under Jochpass a few times before trying Stand. Unfortunately with only the slow Stand gondola running we couldn't be bothered with the queues, and we headed back to Jochpass for the afternoon. We stopped for a long, lazy lunch in Berghaus Jochpass Which was perfectly pleasant, if a little pricey. We did manage to find some good runs off-piste to the side of 13/Speedstrecke and did variations on these a few times in the afternoon before strong winds shut the Jochpass chair. We finished with one last run down Stand, before retiring to the Ramada hotel for a well earned beer.

On Sunday we decided to take a chance on Andermatt, reasoning that if the high winds persisted then we'd have more fun in a new resort. The journey to the resort wasn't very promising, with heavy rain on the drive there, but when we arrived there was heavy snow and all the lifts were open. We hustled to the top of the mountain and did a couple of runs down B-Russi Run and  St Anne gletscher, in very good snow, but poor visibility - good for the legs! The snow was even good enough to make the blue runs under Gurschenalp chair good fun - particularly off to the sides. We had a good lunch in the restaurant at Gurschen before heading back up to the top to do the runs down a few more times. The visibility came and went throughout the afternoon, and the skiing was great, when we could see the slopes. We had one fun moment when the Gurschenalp chair arrived with the seat up, which threw us a bit. I managed to get the seat down and catch the chair, but Andy took the smarter option and bailed out to catch the next one, dropping a pole down the front of the chair-house, much to the amusement of yours truly. All in all it was a very good day skiing, and we finished a little after 4pm very tired but happy. The drive back to Zürich was a little busier than the journey out, which made it quite a tiring weekend, but perfectly possible