We’re back from Italy after three weeks of sightseeing, trekking and hiking.
Trekking and hiking? Aren’t they the same thing? Not quite.
We all know about hiking, which most people think of as dayhiking. You hike for the day and come home to your bed or to some lodging.
Then there’s backpacking where you carry all your equipment on your back – your tent, sleeping bag, food and cooking equipment. In the U.S., forests and national parks allow you to set up a tent, cook your meals and spend the night. It’s not so easy in Europe where there’s almost no wilderness.
But Europe offers trekking, where you can hike all day and spend the night in a building. You can buy food or eat a meal in a restaurant or hostel because most of the times you’re going through towns, villages or hamlets. This is what I did in 2013 when I walked le Chemin de St. Jacques in France. I carried everything on my back. Since I could sleep indoors and buy food as I went along, I didn’t carry much. The route had so many places to stay that it wasn’t difficult to find a bed every night without advance reservations.
There’s even an easier way.
Over the years, we’ve used two companies that plan your trip and make reservations in small hotels and B&B along the way.
If you walk in a tourist area like we did in Tuscany, you can’t really depend on just popping up and asking for a bed when you arrive. We’ve used Contour Holidays and Sherpa Expeditions to plan a walking trip and make room reservations. For an additional fee, they will transport your luggage for you from place to place.
Contour Holidays operates in Great Britain and Ireland while Sherpa Expeditions also has many trips in Europe. Otherwise, they seem to offer the same services and I’ve used them both. On their website, you can pick out a trip based on where you want to do and how many miles you want to walk.
Once you book a trip, the companies give you maps, hiking instructions and your list of accommodations. Every morning, after breakfast, you leave your big suitcase in the lobby or wherever the B&B owner asks you to leave it and you start walking with a daypack.
When you get to your next place, you find your suitcase either in the lobby or in your room. How convenient! And it does work. I’ve never had my suitcase wander off to the wrong place.
Depending on where you walk, you may need a real topo or official hiking map. This is especially true if you’re walking a designated trail like Le Chemin de St. Jacques. If you’re walking a route from town to town that the company has designed, you’re depending on deciphering their instructions and we found this more tricky. We got lost a couple of times.
But we have to remember that you’re not in the wilderness in Europe. Much of the time, the trail takes you on small roads. If necessary, you can collar a person and ask “Where on earth am I”? or in Italian “Perduto?”.
Of course, you can make all the reservations yourself and it will be a lot cheaper. But if you want the luxury of not having to figure out every single place to stay every evening, you can’t go wrong with Contour or Sherpa. It’s not necessarily a soft-core adventure. We had two days where we walked over 15 miles a day on our latest trekking trip, South of Sienna. Once in England, we had a 22-mile day. But you know the distances and their estimate of walking times and you can decide what you want to handle.
I’m back in the Smokies this week – hiking, not trekking.