Chalet White Eden – Sainte Foy Tarentaise – Chalet Review 2016

Now here’s a couple of questions for all you ski holiday enthusiasts to ponder. Put to one side the resort and the weather, what are the ingredients that make a great chalet holiday for you? Is it the food, the location, the other guests, the rooms, the facilities, the price; or is it a combination of all these things? And how many truly great chalet holidays have you been on? There’s a lot of variables to take into account, and as a chalet company, a lot to get right if you want to run a successful business in a crowded market place. Hats off then to Small Wonders, who have got a very good handle on the majority of these factors, and tie them all together in a great venue that is Chalet White Eden.

The winner of the Ski Club Ski Holiday For Life competition, Rob Wycherley, has been in Sainte Foy Tarentaise this year.  He gives us his review for Chalet White Eden, Small Wonders.TheLodgeexterior4skiinout Everyone at Small Wonders, from the Managing Director down to the chalet staff in resort, hold the same philosophies regarding genuine hospitality, taking pleasure in looking after their customers, the enjoyment from being in a wonderful environment and that crucial aspect, attention to detail. All this became evident in the week that I spent as their guest in Chalet White Eden, tucked nicely in against the Home Run in the small resort of Sainte Foy in the Tarentaise, close to Bourg St Maurice and within striking distance of the Paradiski and Espace Killy. We’d chosen to hire a car and drive the just over 2 hours from Grenoble, giving us flexibility during the week, but the chalet will arrange a minibus pick up from the station at Bourg, as well as run you to other resorts should you choose to stretch your ski legs. After a short drive up the mountain from the Bourg to Tignes road you arrive in the resort of Ste. Foy, a collection of modern, tastefully presented, chalets and residences. Chalet White Eden is in the upper part of the village, and has the benefit of an underground car park, that proved to be an absolute godsend due to the levels of snow that we had during the week.

The chalet itself is only a few years old, and unlike a lot of its competitors in this price bracket spread across the Alps, it is not lacking for space. Aside from the underground car park there is room for a separate ski and boot room (equipped with powerful heaters and a sofa to change your boots on, heaven, and a massive tick from me!) as well as a sauna, a lift, generous living areas, a

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Jacuzzi on the balcony (great fun to bubble away in as the snow falls) and large bedrooms and en-suites, where you don’t have to trip over you and your companion’s gear as you get ready in the morning.

White Eden is set up in a style of what is best described as boutique chalet-hotel, with Savoyard architecture, and a smattering of art and carvings, making for a sophisticated but relaxed environment, with subtle lighting and a welcoming log fire in the hearth. Twice a week there are “Le Chic” Happy Hours, where champagne and mouth-watering canapés are served up, however outside of these times there is an honesty bar, which also includes quality teas and coffees. Although the hosts are generous with after dinner drinks, at this level of service with typical properties in the Alps, local beer and wine runs free of charge throughout the stay.


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Now on to the food; one word, wow! Expertly cooked and beautifully presented, with a wonderful repertoire and great matching wines. My mouth is still watering from the thought of it all after 3 weeks. Local produce is high on the list, and after an initial foray into gauging the right amount to serve for the guests on the first night, we settled into a well-balanced and perfectly timed series of dinner parties with our fellow holiday makers. Unusually for chalets in the Alps, during the week that I stayed it was a cosmopolitan mix of Europeans, with guests from France, Luxembourg, Ireland and Switzerland; and myself and my buddy were the only Brits in the mix. As the French were the most numerous, it was their language that dominated at the table, which might be a bit intimidating if you don’t speak the lingo, but everyone made a real effort and we all learned more about each other and had a lot of laughs in the process.

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For those of you interested in bringing children, as after all the resort is fabulous for families, there was a first sitting for dinner, and plenty of space for the kids to retreat to so that they can watch television and access the free wifi.

So, back to those questions I posed at the start. Small Wonders have that combination right, and it is testament to the company and their product that there was an almost unanimous re-booking for 2017 from the guests that stayed. This was a great chalet holiday, oh, and the snow played its part too!
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Have you heard of this resort? If you have, you’re in the minority. There might be a number of reasons why you could have, either you’ve passed through the main village on the road from Bourg St Maurice to Tignes and Val D’Isere, you might have a young family and wanted something quiet and safe, or lastly you’re a back country officianado who has heard whisperings of the awesome off-piste, and acres of powder that remains untouched days after all the other nearby major resorts have been skied out.

To be honest with you, I was very fortunate to find it, being given the opportunity as a guest of Small Wonders, staying in Chalet White Eden which I was reviewing for the Much Better Adventures website. Like you, I went online and checked out the usual sites for a review of the resort, full of statistics and mouth watering photos taken on bluebird powder days. I was apprehensive, as for a week’s skiing I normally plump for large ski stations with excellent links, miles of piste, ample eating and drinking opportunities with access to a range of off-piste opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, I love a smaller resort, and have been fortunate enough to ski in plenty across the globe, but normally from a larger centre, or for a long weekend or day trip. Ste. Foy however lends itself to do things the other way around, so you can stay at a smaller, more intimate resort and then use it as a base to explore other larger ones that are nearby. In my case, and having the benefit of a hire car, I skied in Val D’Isere and then a day in Meribel where I caught up with friends, though there are other resorts nearer such as Les Arcs, La Plagne, Tignes and La Rosiere within 40 minutes or so.


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For those with family, or with more intermediate desires, then the resort offers ample skiing with accessible pistes from a handful of well linked chairlifts. This makes it easy to navigate for those inclined to use piste maps, and gives reassurance that older children won’t get stuck in the wrong valley when they pester to go off with friends. There are a small number of restaurants to rendez-vous at, all serving good mountain fare, but in busier periods, or with inclement weather it is best to book for meals. My stay co-incided with European half term, but it never felt too busy or crowded on the slopes, and lift queues only became apparent when bad weather forced the closure of the two top lifts due to high winds and avalanche risk.   

So then, what about the off-piste opportunities? Well, if you catch the weather right and you have fresh snow, you’ll think you have won the lottery. The top lifts open up a significant amount of area, from the unpisted blacks through to tree skiing and itineraries, it is all here, and what’s more there are only a small number of like minded individuals doing the same, so it is possible to make fresh tracks for a number of days after. My friend and I cut first lines on an epic run of 1,300m of vertical from the top of the lifts via the deserted hamlet of Le Monal down to the village of Le Miroir. For a long time we were following the hoof marks of a small deer, which met an unfortunate demise on the path with only its head left on show in a pool of red snow! Eeek! We didn’t hang around long to look for the culprit, but safe to say we asked locals from the safety of a bar about the likely wildlife able to carry this ambush out. At Le Miroir there is a handy bus service that takes you back to the main resort. To get the best from the off-piste then, hire a local guide, gear up and get stuck in.

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Safe to say that the nightlife in Ste. Foy is pretty quiet, but there are a small number of bars and eateries, including a pretty decent wine bar that has some atmosphere, so you can venture out on the chef’s day off. We ate at the Maison a Colonnes at the base of the slopes, and thoroughly enjoyed a “Witch’s Hat” pierrade (see pic) with all the theatre of cooking your own grub.

Well then, there you have it, a super little destination that is becoming increasingly better known in skiing circles, and ticks a lot of boxes for a wide range of needs. It’s a relatively new resort that retains a lot of charm, and for those that have found it there are enough compelling reasons to keep coming back, and to keep it as quiet as possible from the rest of the skiing fraternity.

Damn, I’ve let you into my secret.

Want more of Rob? Check out his review of Go Ski Meribel Chalet Review 2015

 

Everest clean up trek commemorates 60th anniversary of Hillary/Tenzing feat.

May 29th 1953 was a special day for Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as they made history by stepping onto the worlds highest peak, Mt. Everest, for the first time.

To honour their accomplishments, Ace the Himalaya announces an 18-day Everest 60th Anniversary trek targeting arrival at Everest Base Camp on May 29th. Here they will have a two-night stay, while a service project to clean up the area will be accomplished along with enjoying an anniversary dinner celebration with Everest climbers. On the very auspicious day Ace has also planned for a special surprise gift to those who were born on the same day (more info here).

The trip begins and ends in Kathmandu along the following route: Kathmandu-Lukla-Namche Bazaar-Tengboche-Lobuche-Gorak Shep-Everest Base Camp-Kalapatthar-Lukla-Kathmandu.

Guests experience high-altitude trekking four to six hours daily. Ace say 100 percent of the money from this project stays in Nepal through the locally owned company leading the tour.

Hired porters and yaks will bring the garbage down to Namche bazaar where it will then be handed over to a Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC).

Prem K. Khatry, managing director of the company, explained that the base camp has become much polluted because of the thousands of annual visitors.

The ultimate joys of our Everest base camp trek are the breathtaking mountain panoramas, so its our duty to conserve its beauty and help keep it pollution free. If you like to trek and be a part of this important mission, this will be one of the most inspiring ways to get involved, he said.

The per person rate of $1,450 includes airport/hotel transfers, twin shared accommodation (in Kathmandu) for four nights with breakfast, guided city tour, sightseeing/monument entrance fees, lodge/guesthouse accommodation during the trek, all needed camping equipment, tented camp at Everest base camp for two nights with full board meals and hot drinks, local Ace the Himalaya licensed English speaking guide, local staff and porters for carrying luggage, all the required equipments (bags, baskets, gloves) to collect the garbage, yaks to carry the collected refuse from Base Camp down to Namche, food, accommodation, salary, insurance, equipment and medicine for all staff, down jacket and sleeping bag for use during trek, airfare from Kathmandu Lukla – Kathmandu including airport departure tax in Kathmandu and Lukla airport, surface transfer from and to Kathmandu, special 60th anniversary Celebration dinner, farewell dinner with culture show in typical Nepali restaurant, all government taxes, VAT, tourist service charges, and official expenses.

Ace the Himalaya works closely with and is one of the main supporters of Sambhav Nepal Foundation, a non-political and non-profit social organization. Ace the Himalaya contributions support the remote village of Arupokhari (Gorkha, Nepal) through donations, sponsorships and partnerships in a wide range of projects.

For more information, to see their other treks including Everest and Annapurna, and make reservations enquire direct to Ace from this page.

You can also check out more treks in Nepal, Everest treks and Annapurna treks from local and independent operators.

What’s the etiquette for taking photos of strangers?

We have all been there wondering around soaking up the atmosphere and keeping an eye out for photo opportunities, when suddenly you turn a corner and there in front of you is the most photogenic person you have ever seen. It is the shot you have been waiting for, and no doubt it is destined to make the front cover of some glossy adventure magazine.So let the moral dilemmas begin. How do you go about taking the picture? Do you do it sneakily without them noticing, or stroll right up and point the camera in their face? Will you offend them to ask? Will you offend them to offer payment? Will you even be breaking some local cultural taboo and usher in the devil as soon as you click the shutter? Its a minefield.

Taking a well-posed snap of friends and family is straightforward. Everyone is in agreement and ready to have their photo taken. However, taking a shot which involves photographing strangers is an entirely different matter. Deciding on the appropriate etiquette for snapping someone you don’t know can be tricky to get right. Here are a few pointers to help get it right.

 

To ask or not to ask?

The first issue to deal with is that of permission. Some photographers prefer not to ask to be allowed to take a picture, preferring instead to just get the shot while it’s there. This takes a lot of confidence and experience though and may not be the ideal way for an amateur to get the picture they want.Confidence isn’t a bad thing, however. Showing that you’re afraid to ask permission to photograph someone can come across as abrasive and almost threatening, which will immediately alienate your subject. The best way to get over this fear is just to do it. Get plenty of experience by asking for permission frequently. Be open, approachable and friendly. If you feel you need to give a valid reason for wanting to photograph someone, say it’s for a school, college or photography class project. Most importantly, take refusal with good grace and acceptance and move on.There may be cultural or religious reasons why someone does not want to be photographed, so if you’re taking shots while abroad or at a religious or cultural landmark, it’s wise to ask about the etiquette that may apply at these venues. Tour guides, venue staff or even just a passing local, might be able to fill you in on what’s acceptable and what’s not.

 

Getting relaxed shots

Getting the best shot can be difficult if you’ve asked permission first, as most people who know they are to be photographed will naturally turn towards the photographer, striking a pose. This is where your confidence as a photographer comes into play. Be bold about asking your subject to look at the camera, or away from it, or at the task they are doing. Strike the pose you want yourself so that they can copy you. Being direct about what you want can get better shots than treading on eggshells, or snapping from a distance.Keeping the conversation flowing while snapping can help your subject to relax while you get the picture you want. Chat to them about what they’re doing, ask questions about their costume, talk about the weather, even. Anything that will help them to lose any stiffness or awareness they have that they are being snapped.

 

To pay or not to pay?

Once you’ve got the shots you want, it is important to thank your subject. They may be keen to see the pictures you’ve taken and it’s only fair that they should be allowed to take a peek at them. In certain popular destinations, you need to be aware that there may an expectation of payment for having been photographed. Some cultures will be offended if you offer payment without being asked, so try to get to grips with what is appropriate before you start taking snaps. Most importantly, don’t be so impolite as to attempt to barter if asked for remuneration in exchange for a picture. If you’re not prepared to pay, then politely refuse and walk away.

 

Post by Tony, a UK based blogger on behalf of Cheapflights.

Interview: The ‘Snap Year’ vs. The ‘Gap Year’

In times of austerity, rising student fees and uncharitable statutory leave, the ‘gap year’ (or Gap Yah as it’s affectionatelyknown) has become a luxury that fewer can afford to justify.

In fact, a recent industry survey revealed that the number of people taking extended time off, of four months or more, has fallen by 69% in the last five years.

However, in that time there’s also been a 22% increase in trips lasting 2-3 months – a travel phenomenon that has come to be known as the ‘snap year’.

The shorter, cheaper, more compact version of its predecessor is most popular amongst university students during their summer holidays and young professionals on career breaks.

We’re mighty intriguedby this latest travel trend and spoke to Heather Lowe, a recent snap yearer and friend of the site about her recent trip and asked why she thinks the ‘snap year’ is a much better alternative to the gap year.

She also shared a few pictures from her journey, just to rub it in.

Where did you go on your snap year?

I joined an overland tour covering countries in Central and South Africa. It was an overland tour that travelled through Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

How long did you go for?

The tour was over a two month period, travelling by road and camping the majority of the nights.

The truck we travelled on carried camping and cooking equipment and had personal lockers on board to keep all your belongings.

What inspired you to take this time out?

I had always wanted to travel further but after university I wanted to prioritize entering the job market and getting a head start on a career.

After three years working at the same company I realized I wanted a new challenge but wasnt sure what my next move should be.

A two month snap year seemed the perfect opportunity to travel without leaving the job market for too long and to contemplate my options before committing to another job.

Why a snap rather than a full gap?

My primary reason for a snap year over a gap year was the expense. I would have had to spend a lot longer in my job in order to save up enough to spend a whole year abroad.

In retrospect I also feel that a shorter amount of time meant I had the energy and money in order to do more optional activities during my time there.

If I had been travelling for a whole year I feel I would of missed out on many of the things that ended up being the highlight of my time away.

What would you suggest to others planning a snap year?

Personally I would choose a country/continent to visit that you wouldnt be able to make the most of in a few weeks.

Africa appealed to me as it was a more diverse place than I had ever visited and in two months I was able to see such a range of countries.

Each country in Africa is so different to the next and I feel so lucky to have seen the lush green jungles of Uganda and the vast stretches of the Namibia dessert all on one holiday.

However I would advise that the overland tour I did was a camping and participation tour. It can be tiring and a bit rough at times but for me that was all part of the adventure.

If you were to do it again what would you do differently (if anything)?

Honestly I wouldnt change a thing.

Acacia Adventure Holidays are a great company and I was lucky enough to have a fantastic tour guide and driver.

There was a great diversity of people who I met throughout the two months, some of who will be friends for life. It was well organized with a great selection of cultural and adventure attractions along the way.

Thanks Heather! No, we’re not jealous at all…

Time forOrlandoto record a sequel perhaps?

If you’re planning your own snap year, you can check out thousands of adventure holidays with great local companies around the world or get in touch with us for advice.

Make Friends and Explore The World With Singles Adventures

Everyone deserves a vacation that thrills them. If you prefer adventures to relaxing by the pool, consider taking a singles tour. You can meet like-minded friends while seeing the sights.If you have been putting off a global adventure because you don’t want to travel alone, think about taking a singles adventure tour. You will enjoy exploring the biggest cities and the deepest wilderness on the same trip.

There are singles tours that are designed for specific age groups. You may find love or start a lasting relationship after meeting someone while you climb mountains or kayak down rivers together. Traveling with a small group offers a range of other benefits.

What To Look For in a TourWhen looking for singles holidays abroad, start by narrowing your search down to tours for groups of twelve or less. Small groups are more engaging and fun. You can find tours for groups as small as four people. If you are booking a singles engagement, aim for a group size between eight and ten individuals.

You will end the tour with plenty of new friends. Check into the tour leaders when searching for an adventure. Traveling into the wilderness is much safer when you have an experienced and prepared guide. Many groups include two or three leaders to ensure everyone has the support they need.

Having companions for the trip also provides an extra layer of safety, especially during backpacking expeditions.

Climbing MountainsEven if you are in a committed relationship, you may want to try some independent traveling. You can try adventures that require a high level of endurance or physical fitness in the company of similar individuals.

Your partner can enjoy a more laid-back and relaxing experience at the same time. If you want a challenge for your next vacation, consider a mountain climbing trip. A small group makes it safer and easier to reach the Everest base camp.

This thrilling trek will help you make friends for life as you come to rely on your team members to navigate through the snow. Any winter climbing expedition will provide you with amazing views and stories you can share with your friends back home.

Exploring Cultural SitesMany singles adventures involve athletic activities that aren’t as strenuous as climbing Mount Everest. You can enjoy walking tours, leisurely hikes and days on the beach with a cultural trip. Try visiting one of the Caribbean islands with a small and active group.

These excursions involve travel and take you out of the cities to see the nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries. You will return to the cities each night, giving you access to unspoiled wilderness and award-winning cuisine on the same trip. A trip to South America could give you a chance to find romance while exploring Mayan or Incan ruins.There’s no excuse for sitting at home through your yearly vacations when you could be having the time of your life with a singles tour group. Explore the world’s best destinations and meet adventurous singles at the same time.About the author

This guest article was written by Annabel Rodriguez. Annabel has been writing articles for years on singles holidays abroad for a wide range of travel publications and websites. She is an active traveler and spends most of her time on the beach.

What to Look for in your Kilimanajro Climb Tour Operator

When you think of Kilimanjaro you may think that you havent aptitude to climb to the dizzying summit of 5895 metres above sea level.

You are wrong! Of course you need a reasonable fitness level but its the planning that you do before hand that makes all the difference between a successful and non successful climb. Choosing the right Kilimanjaro climb provider is essential.

Here are the 5 essential tips; The dos and donts:

The Price Is Right.

It is difficult to give the exact prices you may face when booking a tour provider due to the amount of variables that affect your climb e.g. where you start, the climb route you chose and the size of your group. But, the right provider wont try to buy you in with too-good-to-be-true cheap prices and wont hide any fees such as national park fees or airline charges always read the small print and don’t sell out.

The 3 Rs: Reputation. Responsibility. Reliability.

There is one more R that rounds these 3 of: research. Its imperative to do your background research before booking your Kilimanjaro climb. Make sure you have read traveller reviews, been in contact with the tour operators and know their Ts & Cs.

Can I see your identification please?

There would be nothing worse than spending your hard earned money on a tour provider whose tour leaders are not qualified. Check and check again that the leaders are qualified and know their way to the top, safely.

Many companies send locals up who may be able to get to the top but who have no concern for their group i.e. you.

Every step of the way

A Kilimanjaro climb should not be taken lightly, support is crucial to ensuring a successful, enjoyably trip. Some tour providers dont make contact with you until you are there and ready to take on the 5895metres of mountain.

Others, however, give expert Kilimanjaro advice constantly as soon as you sign up, such as comprehensive kit lists and vital information about your Kilimanjaro climb.

In sickness and in health

Dont say I do to a tour provider if they do not offer a medical service in their packages. With extreme factors working against you on Kilimanjaro having a medical expert will make your climb far more relaxing as you know help is always right beside you and not 5895 metres below, or in some cases non-existent.

Dont be fooled however, some companies may imply they offer a medical service but unless they can prove this with medical certificates dont sign on. There are hundreds of tour operators advertising the Kilimanjaro experience but very few are trustworthy.

Do your research otherwise the tour providers may become more dangerous than the climb itself!

Are you considering a trip to Kilimanjaro? Click here for a list of great local and muchbetter operators to contact direct.

5 Cheap or Free Things to do in Cuzco, Peru

Katy from Aspiring Adventures gives us some of her local insights for scratching under the surface of Cuzco, Peru.

Anyone going to Machu Picchu must pass through Cuzco, so the town gets a lot of tourist traffic. As Cusco is a beautiful, interesting place with lots to see and do and plenty of places to enjoy some downtime, many end up staying longer than they planned to.

Going on tours of Cusco and hitting the Western-style cafs recommended in guidebooks can get expensive, though. If youre looking for new and affordable ways to entertain yourself in Cuzco and gain insight into what the locals get up to in their free time then read on

1. Hang out at the weekend market in the Plaza Tupac Amaru.

This market started up fairly recently and is a lovely sign of the ever-improving standard of living in Cuzco. Its the first market in the town whose purpose is leisure, not survival. Throngs of locals wander from stall to stall buying houseplants, toys, artesanal yoghurt and pet clothes. Often there are music concerts and street theatre.

2. Discover Sacsayhuamans rock playground.

If you have paid for entry to Sacsayhuaman, the massive Inca fortress overlooking the town, make sure you explore the whole site. To the right of the main complex if youre coming up from town, over on the other side of the ticket booth, is a whole complex of ruined walls, natural rock slides, and mysterious tunnels you can wander through.

3. Watch schoolchildren practice traditional dancing.

Where in my culture, sports days and Speech Nights were the punctuation to the school year, in Cusco its parades with traditional dances. Theres a small plaza on the left hand side of Calle Plateros as you walk up away from the Plaza de Armas and you can often see groups of schoolkids practicing their dances here.

4. Have lunch in the South Valley.

Catch a local bus towards Urcos or Sicuani and hop off in Saylla, about half an hour out of town. Locals flock here on the weekends for family lunches and a stroll in the countryside. The bus will set you back a couple of soles, and a huge plateful of food in a garden restaurant between 10 and 20 soles.

5. Catch some culture.

If you speak Spanish, look out for free plays, talks and arthouse movies at the ICPNA and Biblioteca Pukllasunchis – they put posters up around town.

Want to get away? You can search for the adventure holiday of your dreams right here.

Why Are Trains So Expensive?

Choosing whether to take the train or to fly to a destination can often be a tricky one, decided by a number of options time, cost, baggage, convenience and environmental concern.
As a cost-sensitive buyer, Tom is looking into whether he should fly or grab a train ticket for a couple of up-coming trips…
Bristol to Glasgow (Toms off to a wedding!)
Flights
Tom can fly from MuchBetter HQ in Bristol directly to Glasgow, choosing flights which suit his timings (not the cheapest options) for 65.98. This is just the standard fare, with no baggage. Tom will be spending an extra 50 to take his bike with him (theres some great mountain biking in Scotland!) total of 115.98
Train
Its fair to say that there are far more options by train. However, they arent particularly cheap. The cheapest rail tickets Tom can buy this journey for is 82. This is certainly cheaper than the flights IF Tom is taking a bike, but the times arent particularly friendly. Realistically Tom would want to be spending a whopping 155 on a return ticket, if he wants to avoid 7+hr train journeys either leaving or departing at sensible hours.
Take the bike out of the equation and pick the cheapest trains (remember, the flights arent the cheapest he could have bought) and the train is 16.02 more expensive take into account life (bikes and sensible timing) and the train is 39.02 more expensive!
Hmm…
So the next trip Tom is looking to book is over to Morzine, in February for a birthday ski trip.
Bristol to Geneva
Flights
Once again, Tom will fly from Bristol, this time to Geneva. Taking some luggage (and once again not the cheapest flights) itll cost Tom 155.98 plus the cost of a transfer to resort (35 Euros each way).
Train
Well, weve hit a stumbling block here… Tom is booking his trip during the prime ski booking window, towards the end of September, and its not been possible to search for a train ticket for the dates he wants, because theyve not been released yet. Tickets for the train he wants will probably be released for sale in late November by which time, the flights are likely to have gone up in price.
Not exactly very convenient.
A quick scan of European train websites suggests that the train will cost in the region of 120-260, plus the cost of a transfer.
Toms not really sure what to do here wait to see if the train ends up cheaper? Its a bit of a risk…
How come train travel is so expensive?
A quick scan of the internet, such as this article, suggests that the 2 biggest problems is the reduction in government subsidies for train companies and the cost of franchising train routes.
Subsidies
The government is cutting the subsidies for train companies, meaning a lower proportion of the costs are born by general taxation, and more is paid by the traveller. In times of austerity it makes sense to reduce government expenditure on items such as this. Ok, this seems fair; however its going to have a real impact on sustainable travel in the UK if it continues.
There are many who believe that economic recovery should be based on sustainability. If trains are a more sustainable transport method (and really, we all know they are), then the government should be promoting their use. Cheaper train travel means more business-people will use them, more people will jump on a train to visit friends and family, and people may choose to remain in the UK for a holiday, instead of picking up a flight, which is cheaper, to another country. All of these will have a positive effect on the UK economy.
Franchises
In terms of the franchising of train routes, the government rarely re-negotiates route franchises (rumblings over Virgin Trains loss of the West Coast route continue…) theyre good money spinners and therefore its no wonder that big money often wins out. And how does big money win? By charging more.
Booking
The other problem Tom came across was the inefficiency of buying train tickets, especially for the European routes. Late September/October is one of the main ski holiday booking periods and yet it is impossible to buy train tickets, and therefore confidently plan your holiday, until much later in the year. This means you may miss out on early bird specials or have difficulty finding a holiday if you want to holiday in busy periods (such as half-term).
Tom may well have been able to find cheaper trains in the UK too, if he had spent ages splitting the journey into smaller segments and buying them individually. The structure of train ticket pricing is complicated and time-consuming to navigate. What we need is one pricing system without a plethora of different, seemingly innocuous variants. If one were to get all political, perhaps a renationalisation of the train service might be in order… thats another debate though!
Toms top tips for buying train tickets
Split your journey into segments and buy individual tickets for each this can take time to find the perfect mix of tickets, but you can save a lot of money this way (eg instead of buying Bristol to Cambridge, you could try Bristol to London, London to Cambridge it may end up cheaper).
Railcards offer good discounts, if youre eligible for them. You have to pay for the card, but assuming you spend around 100+ per year, you should start to see overall savings
Tom usually uses eastcoast.co.uk to by his train tickets he finds this site offers the easiest way to see various price options
Dont disregard 1st class travel at times it can actually end up cheaper!
Book well in advance – you can buy tickets up to 3 months in advance, there are often only limited numbers of cheap tickets

Choosing whether to take the train or to fly to a destination can often be a tricky one, decided by a number of options time, cost, baggage, convenience and environmental concern.

As a cost-sensitive buyer, Tom is looking into whether he should fly or grab a train ticket for a couple of up-coming trips…

Bristol to Glasgow (Toms off to a wedding!)

Flights

Tom can fly from MuchBetter HQ in Bristol directly to Glasgow, choosing flights which suit his timings (not the cheapest options) for 65.98. This is just the standard fare, with no baggage. Tom will be spending an extra 50 to take his bike with him (theres some great mountain biking in Scotland!) total of 115.98

Train

Its fair to say that there are far more options by train. However, they arent particularly cheap. The cheapest rail tickets Tom can buy this journey for is 82. This is certainly cheaper than the flights IF Tom is taking a bike, but the times arent particularly friendly. Realistically Tom would want to be spending a whopping 155 on a return ticket, if he wants to avoid 7+hr train journeys either leaving or departing at sensible hours.

Take the bike out of the equation and pick the cheapest trains (remember, the flights arent the cheapest he could have bought) and the train is 16.02 more expensive take into account life (bikes and sensible timing) and the train is 39.02 more expensive!Hmm…

So the next trip Tom is looking to book is over to Morzine, in February for a birthday ski trip.

Bristol to Geneva

Flights

Once again, Tom will fly from Bristol, this time to Geneva. Taking some luggage (and once again not the cheapest flights) itll cost Tom 155.98 plus the cost of a transfer to resort (35 Euros each way).

Train

Well, weve hit a stumbling block here… Tom is booking his trip during the prime ski booking window, towards the end of September, and its not been possible to search for a train ticket for the dates he wants, because theyve not been released yet. Tickets for the train he wants will probably be released for sale in late November by which time, the flights are likely to have gone up in price.

Not exactly very convenient.

A quick look at European train websites suggests that the train will cost in the region of 120-260, plus the cost of a transfer.

Toms not really sure what to do here wait to see if the train ends up cheaper? Its a bit of a risk…

How come train travel is so expensive?

A quick scan of the internet, such as this article, suggests that the 2 biggest problems is the reduction in government subsidies for train companies and the cost of franchising train routes.

Subsidies

The government is cutting the subsidies for train companies, meaning a lower proportion of the costs are born by general taxation, and more is paid by the traveller. In times of austerity it makes sense to reduce government expenditure on items such as this. Ok, this seems fair; however its going to have a real impact on sustainable travel in the UK if it continues.

There are many who believe that economic recovery should be based on sustainability. If trains are a more sustainable transport method (and really, we all know they are), then the government should be promoting their use. Cheaper train travel means more business-people will use them, more people will jump on a train to visit friends and family, and people may choose to remain in the UK for a holiday, instead of picking up a flight, which is cheaper, to another country. All of these will have a positive effect on the UK economy.

Franchises

In terms of the franchising of train routes, the government rarely re-negotiates route franchises (rumblings over Virgin Trains loss of the West Coast route continue…) theyre good money spinners and therefore its no wonder that big money often wins out. And how does big money win? By charging more.

Booking

The other problem Tom came across was the inefficiency of buying train tickets, especially for the European routes. Late September/October is one of the main ski holiday booking periods and yet it is impossible to buy train tickets, and therefore confidently plan your holiday, until much later in the year. This means you may miss out on early bird specials or have difficulty finding a holiday if you want to holiday in busy periods (such as half-term).

Tom may well have been able to find cheaper trains in the UK too, if he had spent ages splitting the journey into smaller segments and buying them individually. The structure of train ticket pricing is complicated and time-consuming to navigate. What we need is one pricing system without a plethora of different, seemingly innocuous variants. If one were to get all political, perhaps a renationalisation of the train service might be in order… thats another debate though!

Toms top tips for buying train tickets

Split your journey into segments and buy individual tickets for each this can take time to find the perfect mix of tickets, but you can save a lot of money this way (eg instead of buying Bristol to Cambridge, you could try Bristol to London, London to Cambridge it may end up cheaper)

Railcards offer good discounts, if youre eligible for them. You have to pay for the card, but assuming you spend around 100+ per year, you should start to see overall savings

Tom usually uses eastcoast.co.uk to by his train tickets he finds this site offers the easiest way to see various price options

Dont disregard 1st class travel at times it can actually end up cheaper!

Book well in advance – you can buy tickets up to 3 months in advance, there are often only limited numbers of cheap tickets

What are your experiences of flights Vs trains? Are we wrong here to concentrate on the cost of trains? Should we be taxing airlines more? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Midweek Mountain Adventures

I am engaged in an endless custody battle for the rights to my soul. The (actually rather nice) company that pays my wages has my soul from Monday to Friday and I get access to it at the weekends. Sometimes we even get to spend holidays together. This current arrangement has been in place for quite some time, my employer and I both know where we stand and we try not to bicker (especially in front of my soul). Pretty much everyone I know considers their very similar arrangements to be normal and, although we all like a little grumble about it from time to time, it is generally accepted that proper, soul satisfying, fun and adventure is confined to the weekend.

Over the years I have been purposefully and unintentionally benighted on top of Scottish mountains, always at the weekend or whilst on holiday. Nothing beats a sunrise viewed from a high and empty place, where you literally wake up to adventure – no traffic, no sorting out kit and definitely no last minute jobs that need to be done before you can set off. Just open your eyes and you are already there.

After an unforgettable night on a snow covered Ben Donich in April, Anna and I decided to head back to the Arrochar Alps for another summit wild camp. However a lack of free weekends meant that a trip was not likely to happen before October. We were both disappointed that no amount of calendar juggling would give us the time we needed for the trip. The Arrochar Alps are a group of mountains near Loch Long and Loch Fyne, just a ninety minute drive from my office in Glasgow, which begged the question – why not just head up after work and then make our way straight back to the office the following morning? It seemed almost too obvious and straight forward, why had we not done this before?

With Glasgow desperately trying to beat its own Wettest Summer record, we left the city in torrential rain at around 5pm on a miserable Monday evening. Having already packed our kit and loaded up the car we were able to get straight on the road and arrived in Succoth at around 7pm (a little later than expected thanks to the traffic). Our original plan had been to climb Ben Donich, however yet another landslide at Rest-and-be-Thankful (the access route to the mountain) forced us to reconsider. We opted instead for the more famous peak of the Arrochar Alps, The Cobbler, despite it being a significantly more challenging proposition for a summit camp than Ben Donich.

Although it was not raining in Succoth as we put on our packs, the weather hanging over the numerous summits of the Arrochar Alps looked like it had rolled in from a miserable day in November. We had optimistically packed bivvy bags (on the basis that lightweight adventurers are fast adventurers and it would also save the time of pitching and striking a tent), however the thought of a long night on the rocky summit in bad weather made me strap my 4.5kg Super Quasar tent to my pack at the last minute.

The route up The Cobbler from Succoth starts at sea level, with the first 1,000ft being along a well maintained (but rather laborious and uninteresting) set of switchbacks through a muggy forest. After reaching the main access path which runs between The Cobbler, Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime our optimism took a little nose dive as The Cobbler should have come into view. The cloud, and now rain, was obscuring the entire mountain. Tired after the first lung bursting 1,000ft, we now had the challenge of scrambling up The Cobbler in poor visibility, with heavy packs and on wet rock.

The route finding presented no issues, even in such poor weather, however the combination of being laden on wet, mica schist rock was making progress on the scramble to the summit tiring, slow and a little risky.

Eventually topping out at 2,900ft on the centre summit (with its infamous needle) at 10pm, we were relieved at being able to remove the packs and slightly apprehensive about whether we would find a suitable site to pitch the tent in the thick soup of cloud surrounding us. After darting off to the North and South summits to scout for potential sites, I returned unable to find the perfect pitch and we decided to set up camp right where we had dumped the packs, beside the needle at the centre summit. Finding a small patch of grass with sheer drops on all sides, we quickly pitched the tent in the fading daylight, had some hot chilli and settled down for the night. There was no beautiful sunset, no amazing views, no sitting around glowing with a sense of adventure. It was cold and wet, we just wanted to get some sleep!

Sleep, like the good weather, was another thing which evaded me on this trip. I spent most of the time between 11pm and 4.30am trying to decide how to get down if the weather remained poor. The path off the North summit was likely to be the safest, but would add on almost an hour to our total time. Descending the way we had come up would be treacherous in the low light, poor visibility and wet. The route off the South summit was by far the most direct, however it was also the route with which I was least familiar. I was well aware of the fantastic (and bold) climbing at the South summit, however that was not a great indication of safe conditions underfoot for two tired adventurers with heavy packs.

There was no need for my alarm to sound at 4.30am, I had not slept a wink. Anna did manage a reasonable sleep, however as she tentatively edged out of her sleeping bag, I already knew what her first question would be Is the weather still as bad? Unfortunately, it was exactly the same as when I zipped up the tent a few hours before, horrible! Keen to get moving, we struck the tent and as Anna packed the last of our things I ran off to check the initial section of the South summit to find a safe route off the mountain. After quickly down climbing the first couple of hundred feet, I decided it was safe enough and returned to collect my pack and Anna. We began to make a slow and careful descent through the cloud.

Finally clearing the base of the cloud at around 2,000ft, we were presented with our first sighting of, well, anything since the day before. The stunning sunrise over Loch Long, Ben Lomond and beyond gave us the injection of optimism which we were in need of. With a new found spring in our steps we admired the new day breaking around us and looked back with a muted sense of satisfaction at our gloomy camp site atop The Cobbler.

Reaching the car at 7am (much later than we had hoped) we immediately set off towards Glasgow and my office, weary from the descent and lack of sleep. The drive back was in fine weather and it was hard to imagine that we had been perched up on The Cobbler just a few hours before. We reached my office at 8.30am and after a quick shower I was suited and ready for work at around 9am.

It was at this point I was able to answer the question which I had asked myself at the beginning of this adventure…is it possible to mix mountain adventures and the working week? Technically yes, however I certainly did not feel like I had got the balance right, I was absolutely exhausted (mainly from lack of sleep). Would I do it again? Absolutely, although a bit of decent weather and a few sleeping tablets would certainly be welcome!

After failing to attain high enough grades to become an astronaut and unable to grow a beard thick enough to be a world famous mountaineer, Steven chose a career in law, which gives him enough free time (compared to being in space) to indulge in his love for all things mountainous and wild.

Rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking and wild camping on summits, Steven offers an alternative view on the world of adventure, where you don’t have to be soloing El Capitan, bivvying on Everest or snowboarding down The Eiger in order to have fun as an Adventurer.

You can follow what Steven gets up to atThe Amateur Adventures of a Professional.

5 Pieces of Essential Bivvy Kit

Bivvying seems to be the up and coming way of spending the night in the wild. No longer the activity of just army guys and rugged mountaineers, more and more people are experiencing the delight of camping under the stars, and not having to carry a weighty tent!
Heres 5 pieces of essential kit to make your night as comfortable as possible…
Bivvy bag
Ok, start with the obvious one! Generally there are 2 types the simple bag, with an open face (such as an Alpkit Hunka) and the more complex (but slightly more weather/bug proof) hooped bags.
You want to make sure your bag is as waterproof and breathable as possible, so look for goretex and the like.
My experience of the Hunka is that its really rather good, so well recommended.
Tarp
A simple sheet of waterproof material can make the difference between a comfortable night and one filled with misery.
Tarps can protect your head and kit from the rain, offer some wind protection, and can also help disguise you a little, if you want to stay hidden. Lighter tarps are obviously a benefit, as theres less to carry, but make sure the waterproof-ness is up there too, as you dont want drips in the night!
If you can get creative with mounting options, theres no need to take along a pole. My last bivvy, for example, used our 2 upturned bikes as anchor points for 2 corners, and 2 tent pegs held the other 2 down to the ground enough shelter for ourselves and our bag under there!
Head torch
Bivvying makes wild-camping so much easier light weight, quick and flexible. Many people choose to set up camp late to avoid prying eyes, and so a head torch is the ideal tool to make sure you can see what youre up to. By mounting it on your head, and not in your hands, youve got 2 hands free to make camp, cook, read your book and have a sip from your hip-flask!
Sleeping mat and sleeping bag
2 staples of the happy camper! Youll need to check your mat fits inside your bag, or be happy enough for it to lie underneath there doesnt seem to be a consensus on this. I tend to use inflatable mats in the bag, but foam ones underneath. Inflatable mats are generally a bit warmer, and pack up a bit smaller, however regular foam ones are fine too, and certainly a lot cheaper! Dont forget you can trim a foam mat to make it more portable.
The type of sleeping bag you use depends on when you want to use it. A simple 1 season may be enough in the summer, but youll need something more substantial in cooler months. Tents offer a little extra weather protection, so you may want to choose something a bit warmer.
Theres always a risk of getting sleeping bags wet, and certainly more so if bivvying, so if I were to choose a bag purely based on bivvying, I might look at a synthetic one over down, as they perform better if they get wet.
Hip flask!
Because your tipple of choice is a wonderful thing when sleeping under the stars!

Bivvying seems to be the up and coming way of spending the night in the wild. No longer the activity of just army guys and rugged mountaineers, more and more people are experiencing the delight of camping under the stars, and not having to carry a weighty tent!

Heres 5 pieces of essential kit to make your night as comfortable as possible…

Bivvy bag

Ok, start with the obvious one! Generally there are 2 types the simple bag, with an open face (such as an Alpkit Hunka) and the more complex (but slightly more weather/bug proof) hooped bags.

You want to make sure your bag is as waterproof and breathable as possible, so look for goretex and the like.

My experience of the Hunka is that its really rather good, so well recommended.

Tarp

A simple sheet of waterproof material can make the difference between a comfortable night and one filled with misery.

Tarps can protect your head and kit from the rain, offer some wind protection, and can also help disguise you a little, if you want to stay hidden. Lighter tarps are obviously a benefit, as theres less to carry, but make sure the waterproof-ness is up there too, as you dont want drips in the night!

If you can get creative with mounting options, theres no need to take along a pole. My last bivvy, for example, used our 2 upturned bikes as anchor points for 2 corners, and 2 tent pegs held the other 2 down to the ground enough shelter for ourselves and our bag under there!

Head torch

Bivvying makes wild-camping so much easier light weight, quick and flexible. Many people choose to set up camp late to avoid prying eyes, and so a head torch is the ideal tool to make sure you can see what youre up to. By mounting it on your head, and not in your hands, youve got 2 hands free to make camp, cook, read your book and have a sip from your hip-flask!

Sleeping mat and sleeping bag

2 staples of the happy camper! Youll need to check your mat fits inside your bag, or be happy enough for it to lie underneath there doesnt seem to be a consensus on this. I tend to use inflatable mats in the bag, but foam ones underneath. Inflatable mats are generally a bit warmer, and pack up a bit smaller, however regular foam ones are fine too, and certainly a lot cheaper! Dont forget you can trim a foam mat to make it more portable.

The type of sleeping bag you use depends on when you want to use it. A simple 1 season may be enough in the summer, but youll need something more substantial in cooler months. Tents offer a little extra weather protection, so you may want to choose something a bit warmer.

Theres always a risk of getting sleeping bags wet, and certainly more so if bivvying, so if I were to choose a bag purely based on bivvying, I might look at a synthetic one over down, as they perform better if they get wet.

Hip flask!

Because your tipple of choice is a wonderful thing when sleeping under the stars!

Bivvying is a great way of getting away on the cheap – these guys can also help in finding a cheap holiday.

The African Travel Checklist

Heading out to explore the vast African wilderness is, I think, quite a polarizing idea amongst a lot of people. On the one hand, its something that a lot of people dream about, venturing to the birthplace of humanity itself. On the other, lots of people are put off by the number of things to worry about. What vaccinations do you need? Is your destination safe? What local customs do you need to understand to get by? What will the conditions be like? Whichever side of the fence youre on, heres a list weve compiled to try and make the whole process of beginning your African adventure as straightforward and painless as possible!

Health

Your health is obviously going to be a priority whenever you travel anywhere, and nobody is going to be surprised to hear that there are some precautions youll need to take before visiting Africa. You should make sure to book an appointment with your doctor at least one month before your departure. This will allow you to discuss the pending vaccinations as well as any other health related queries you might have. Again, make sure you do this with plenty of time to spare, because the vaccinations typically need to be administered a while before you depart so that they have time to take full effect.

Also make sure that you get hold of some Malaria tablets and follow the recommended dosage to the letter. Your doctor will clarify this issue for you. If youre travelling between different countries in Africa it might be pertinent to take a vaccination for Yellow Fever, too, as some require a certificate to allow entry from one country to another.

Clothes

Make sure that you pack for every possible scenario. Just because you are heading to Africa doesnt mean that there will be sun throughout your trip. If youre heading out on a Safari or a climb up Kilimanjaro you will need to purchase and bring clothing and footwear that suits these types of trips. Make sure that you always bring some sort of hat because the heat of the sun in Africa can be excruciating, and sunstroke and heavy burning can set in before youve even had a chance to notice it. If you have an area of your body where you dont have sunscreen you need to make sure that it is covered up at all times to avoid sunburn. We all know that nothing ruins a holiday like spending the whole time in pain and peeling!

Safari Preparations

Heading out on a Safari is a once in a lifetime experience but you will need to take several things into consideration. First and foremost you need to bring clothes with a very bland colour. This is so that they will not attract the attention of the animals around you. Beige is always a winner and a light shade of brown always works well. Bring your hat for sun protection and wear long sleeves and pants to protect yourself from both the sun and mosquitoes. In all this preparation, dont forget the most important thing of all; your camera! You will see some amazing animals and scenery on a safari so make sure you take plenty of batteries (and film, if youve decided not to go digital) and snap some really amazing pictures!

Security and Safety

Even though Africa is a wonderful place you need to consider your own safety and security. If possible you should avoid driving where possible in most African countries. The roads are usually a lot poorer than what you will be used to at home and the laws arent followed as strictly. There are usually a lot of older cars maintained to quite low safety standards on the roads, so it can be a bit of a gauntlet.

You also need to know that you are heading into potential Third World countries where the standard of living can be very low. That is why you need to keep your money close to your heart and dont flaunt your wealth. As with any tourist destination, there will be unscrupulous thieves looking to swipe a handbag, camera, or whatever else is on offer. Most importantly, keep your passport somewhere where theres no way it can be taken from you without you noticing. In order to minimize any risk, make sure you have an extra wallet with your credit card and the majority of your cash for emergencies. Only have a small amount of money in your primary wallet since this wont attract the same amount of attention from potential thieves.

Respect

Always make sure that you are respectful to the locals and their property. Keep in mind that you are a guest and that you are visiting on their terms, not yours. Be polite to staff, government officials and most importantly the Police. If you feel insecure in a situation, it is better to move away and get back to an area where you feel safe rather than confronting people.

Cold as it might sound, you should also be wary about giving money to people asking for it. Helping out the less fortunate is, obviously, a noble gesture, but it might also draw attention to your wealth and cause you to be hassled somewhat by others.

So, still want to visit Africa? Of course you do! Any adventurous traveler should mark the continent down on their list of places to visit, and, hopefully, this list has made the whole thing just that little bit simpler. Just remember to keep your wits about you, exercise caution and common sense, and, most of all, enjoy your adventure!

This article was brought to you by the travel bloggers at Vroomvroomvroom.co.uk, bringing you car hire from all major English airports and around the UK.

10 Inspiring Pinterest Boards for Adventure Travellers

Pinterest is fast becoming the go to site for adventure travellers looking for some inspiration from the adventure world.

We’re big fans of the site and have trawled the network to find you a mix of the best organisations, bloggers and sport enthusiasts worth following.

If you’re just dipping your toe into the pinning game, here are some great pinners and our favourite boards that we recommend to get your adventure fix.

1)Surfrider Foundation

Our favourite board: PSA’s

2)Local Surf

Our favourite board: Grommets

3)Adventuregirl

Our favourite board: Animals and too cuteness

4)Andy Jarosz

Our favourite board: Beautiful Photos

5)Iain Mallory

Our favourite board: Epic Adventures

6)Sea Trek Sailing Adventure

Our favourite board: Life in Indonesia

7)Adventure Cycling Association

Our favourite board: Bike Touring

8)Aivar Ruukel

Our favourite board: Flood – The Fifth Season in Soomaa

9)H&I Adventures

Our favourite board: Mountain Biking Videos

10)Envirosurfer

Our favourite board: Surf Inspiration

While you’re at it, come followMuch Better Adventures’ Pinterest boards!

Are you on Pinterest? Let our readers know about your best adventure boards in the comments below.