Reeling in a Big One in Southwest Portugal

“Now is no time to think about what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man of the Sea

With our year on the road quickly coming to an end (they do go quickly), we set off to the southern coast of Portugal for more sun and some cycling along the Rota Vicentina – the fisherman’s trail.

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The trail follows the coastline through the Alentejo and Algarve regions of Soutwest Portugal. We didn’t cycle it the complete route (hiking is the best way to cover it all) but road some very scenic pieces while  adding some mountain biking in the interior and some road cycling through the cork forests to complete a solid week of cycling in the region.

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The scenery is incredible and parts of the trail are quite wild and remote.

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We started in the sleepy town of Grandola and ended in the surf town of Sagres stopping in Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Odeceixe, Arrifana, and Pedralva. Grandola was a mostly forgettable town, but we did have a surreal experience there. The town is small with 15K people but hardly tiny.  When we arrived on a hot Sunday afternoon, there was absolutely no one around. Parks were empty. Streets were empty. The roads had no cars. It felt liked we stepped into a ghost town.

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But as the night cooled, people started to emerge. Most of the other towns we visited were much more vibrant as they were a bit closer to the coast and still drawing many visitors.

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And the beaches that are scattered all over the coast near towns and in remote and seemingly unreachable locations were “filled” with surfers and sun-worshipers.

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But the true gem of this journey was the endless coastline with its craggy rocks, stork nests, beach flowers,and sea vistas. The coastline is  wild, gorgeous and mostly undeveloped…and a sight to see.

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Sagres was a great place to finish up.  It is one of the larger surf towns on the coast and has a number of beaches and surf breaks within walking distance from the center.  There is a castle and ruins and the Cape St. Vincent, only 4km or so out of town, which is the Western most part of continental Europe. There are plenty of restaurants and watering holes and a strange outdoor laundromat that is a great place to meet backpackers and surfers hanging out drinking beer and waiting for their dry cycle to complete.

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The scenery on the southern coast of Portugal was really amazing.  The cycling was a good means to get the views and experience the untamed lands, but if you are after a pure cycle vacation, there may be better spots in Portugal, the North on the Camino route as an example or east of the coast. On this trip, we ran into a lot of dogs – especially on the off-road routes. Most of them were farm dogs defending their turf.  Some were security dogs protecting particularly remote homes.  Most were chained but enough were not that we were a bit on edge from the many encounters each day.  Often there were options to do a bit of riding on the road but because of the lack of options in the areas, cyclists need to share the road with transport trucks.  If you do cycle here, make sure to carry extra water during the hotter months and a bit of extra food because it can get so remote that you can find yourself hours from any option for food or water.

But if you are a surfer or beach goer, rent an RV and head for the coast.  There are so many spots to pull over and spend the night, take a swim, throw out a line, and chill.  It was a great spot for us to spend the last two weeks of this year’s adventure!

 

Thoughts on Lisboa

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” -Henry Miller

In September, the sun is still out and warm in Lisboa (or Lisbon), and the city is buzzing with visitors and locals enjoying the warm weather. With its fascinating history, coastal neighborhoods and beaches and its gateway access to the rest of the country, Portugal’s coastal capital is a European hot spot. With its relatively low cost of living, it is also a popular spot for travelers looking for bargains (although we found Croatia to be a better European bargain location right now).

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We visited Lisbon twice but both times while entering and exiting the country. So we did not see all the sights or have a chance to visit the beaches in the Northwest (which we would recommend), but we did have enough time to get a good sense of the city and taste plenty of the pastel de natas. It is an incredibly beautiful city with new waterfront boardwalks, ancient twisting back alleys, vast squares and parks and historical buildings. And of course, plenty of hills and trams to help you get up them.

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You can spend days in the city center exploring neighborhoods such as Alfama with its Fado bars or Baixa with its tiled sidewalks and tree-lined boulevards and we did.

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But getting out of the center was nice.  The Belem neighborhood, a 15 min train or Uber ride west of the city center, is one of the more modern spots of the city with new landmarks and a beautiful path along the waterfront.  And with its many museums, the Jeronims Monastary, and the Monument to Explorers), it is well worth a few hours or more, especially if the museums are interesting to you.

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We spent a couple hours at the Museu Berardo which would be worth a visit if for no other reason to check out the building itself.  But it also houses a great collection of modern and contemporary art.

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Parque das Nações is another neighborhood outside of the city center that provides some different sights and while it is designed for visitors,  the developed waterfront attracts many locals and its size and scope make it feel a lot less crowded than other locations in Lisbon. It is very close to the airport and the train station making it a perfect location if you are transiting.  We flew into Lisbon airport, stayed in the neighborhood for the night and walked to the train station the next day to head out to Porto – it was a very convenient locale with some great running options.

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There are a number of days trips that you can take from Lisbon including beach towns and “mountain” towns (Portugal is not known for its mountains, but locals will refer to their hills as mountains).  We took a 45 min train out to Sintra which is a UNESCO city with a number of castles and ruins. It is incredibly hilly, but for the adventurous, a day of “urban” hiking will reward one with views and vistas that are incredible.

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Lisbon, similar to Porto, is undergoing a boom driven by tourism.  Public works projects, including waterfront development, new transit options, and countless hotel and home renovations are changing the landscape dramatically. From our limited perspective, it looks to be positive change.  Of course, not all are happy. Gentrification, traffic congestion due to development projects, increasing housing and travel prices are some of the challenges.

Nonetheless,  go there! – it is a worthwhile visit.

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If you need some additional motivation, check out Night Train to Lisbon (currently on US Netflix and there is also the book) which is another interesting WWII thriller with some great shots of the city of Lisbon.

 

 

 

Good Reads: A Small Death in Lisbon

A Small Death in Lisbon is a murder mystery story based mostly in Portugal and alternating between modern day and WWII. It is a light and quick read thsmall-death-in-lisbonat mostly follows a traditional thriller crime plot.  You follow the investigation of a murder by two Lisbon detectives on the fringes of their peer group.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting as a crime story.  But it will be particularly interesting to those who have visited or are visiting Lisbon with all its references to the city and its neighborhoods, foods and customs. Also, the WWII sub story shines an interesting light on Portugal during that time and as a crucial supplier of tungsten to both the British and Nazi war efforts.

It is a worthwhile accompaniment to your trip to Portugal, especially Lisbon.

Any Porto in a Storm

Port is not for the very young, the vain and the active. It is the comfort of age and the companion of the scholar and the philosopher. – Evelyn Waugh

We are back after our re-entry back to the States. We’ll have a number of updates and a few recaps of the year but look out for a few posts on Portugal where we spent September.  Here is our take on Porto.

We spent most of September in Portugal. It is a great month to visit as the weather is perfect. And although it tends to be a busy tourist time, it is not too hard to find plenty of spots away from the hot spots. Porto, for example, has a number of neighborhoods with hotels that are  only a kilometer or so from the city center but provide a bit more of a local experience.  We spent the better part of the week over two different visits in Porto (an easy 3 hour train ride from Lisboa) and enjoyed the city.  There is a lot of history, port wine production and waterfront to keep things interesting. The small streets with their colorful buildings, tiled mosaics and street art make exploring the back alleys a lot of fun. And the city is also extremely photogenic providing endless vantage points with unique views of the water, its six bridges and the historical monuments and buildings.

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Portugal’s cities are known for its tile work and Porto does not disappoint here. Tiles are used everywhere and are very popular on the sides of homes and buildings.

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Of course, one can not visit the city without tasting some of the port wine that is produced there.  Most of the grapes are grown in the Duoro Valley, and one can take a boat ride up the river to visit the vineyards as a day trip from Porto (our schedule did not allow us to make the trip this time). Grapes are barged down to the city to a number of port lodges that blend, bottle and age the wine.

img_4968img_4969img_4971img_5180img_3732Like many wineries, many of the port lodges (wine making facilities) are quite spectacular and designed to host visitors, Some include hotels and restaurants.  Here is a good list of some of the top ones. We visited Graham’s Port lodge for some tasting and a tour of their facilities.  Graham’s is one of the oldest lodges in Porto and blends some very good port; and was a favorite of Sir Winston Churchill.

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Port wine is a perfect way to start or finish a good meal. Production is quite different than most wines as it blended using up to 135 different grape varieties and then fortified with alcohol.  Out of the three types of port – ruby, tawny, and vintage – vintage tends to be the best and will age quite well. Port is available around the world, but it is worth grabbing a bottle during your visit here as the selection and pricing is quite good if you avoid the tourist shops. (Tip: once open, store your bottle in the fridge. Ruby will last for 6 weeks and the others up to 4 months).

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The Livraria Lello bookstore is a worthwhile stop while in Porto.  It is said to have been a source of inspiration for J.K. Rowling during her writing of the Harry Potter stories.  She lived in Portugal for some time and was said to visit this book shop often. Its architecture as well as many of its student customers, donned in their school uniforms complete with capes, are familiar images to readers of those stories. (Note: the shop can get busy and due to its size it often requires waiting in a line outside).

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Navigating the city center is easy on foot, but streets can be hilly. It is definitely worth getting out of the center for a look around.  Directly across the river is the neighborhood of Vila Nova de Gaia, where there are a number of restaurants and port lodges and its location provides some great shots of Porto city.  Further afield, west along the river and north on the ocean provide some interesting perspectives of the city that are much less touristy.  You can take a tram out to the lighthouse to check out the beach or rent a bike and head along the boardwalk and chat with the local fishermen found up and down the coast.  We put on our running shoes and ran out to the coast along the river a number of times, and it was a great way to experience local life.

img_4883img_4898There are plenty of good eats in Porto, and we enjoyed a number of dishes.  Our favorites included the vinho verde – a young, bubbly green wine perfect for the hot days; bacalhau – salt cod that is prepared in many different ways including some tasty stews (the fish mostly comes from Canada and Norway nowadays, but the Portuguese now how to prepare it); and tripas a moda do Porto which is a bit like the Portuguese version of cassoulet.  Get out of the city center and off of Trip Advisor for eating in Porto. Take a walk down side streets or head west a bit and look for a crowded local taverna for a bite. (We found Uber the most efficient way to move about in the city).

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We would not recommend eating at McDonald’s here or back in the States but their location in Porto needs to be visited.  Zoning laws in the city require that the outside facade of original structures must be left as intended, and details inside historical buildings must be retained.  During a tough time during the city’s history, McDonald’s was able to purchase an old art decco building (there are a lot in the city) that was a very popular night club in the past.  The resulting restaurant is one of the most opulent McDonald’s you will ever visit anywhere in the world.

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The hype on Portugal in the travel industry right now is extreme and you can most appreciate it’s impact in the two large cities- Porto and Lisboa.  Development is booming. Historical renovations, public transport projects, boardwalks and waterfront land development projects are everywhere in the two cities.  It will be quite interesting to visit in 3-5 years when a lot of these projects will be complete.

 

Book Review: The Cost of Courage

The Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser is a heart-wrenching,  true story about a French 25579035-_uy200_bourgeois family whose three (of four) children joined the French Resistance during WWII.  This is gripping read and page turner from page one wondering what happens to the individual family members. The Boulloche family repeatedly demonstrated courage, dignity and humility during the most difficult of times and paid the ultimate price for their patriotism. Certain family members would continue to serve their country and the citizens of France after the war.  The author is the the nephew of an American soldier who billeted with the family at the end of the war and who grew up hearing his uncle’s stories about the family.  Thankfully, Kaiser documented the Boulloche’s story in The Cost of Courage.  For those interested in books on WWII, this is another must read.

 

Bom Caminho! Portugal’s Camino Way

The Camino Way is an historic pilgrimage route (over 1,000 years old) to the alleged burial site of the apostle St. James. St. James’ remains reputedly lie within the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.  Some years ago, Chris and I biked the Spanish Camino Way (aka Camino de Santiago) from Pamplona, Spain to Santiago de Comp0stela, Spain which is still one on our short list of the best biking experiences.  There are trails all over France, Spain and Portugal that lead to the tomb of St. James.  So when we decided to spend some time in Portugal in September, we looked into biking the Portuguese Camino Way starting in Porto, Portugal and ending in Santiago de Compostela.

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The scallop shell is the iconic symbol of the camino, and is used with the yellow arrow to guide pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela along its many different routes. Painted on trees, sidewalks or tiles, the yellow scallop shell (and/ or yellow arrow) helps pilgrims find there way to the next village.  There are many stories tied to the significance of the scallop shell. In French, the scallop is called Coquille Saint Jacques.  We love this system as it typically (not always) makes for easy navigating and you can travel for hundreds of kilometers without a map or GPS.

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Fellow pilgrims are typically super friendly, and part of the etiquette on the trail is to greet fellow pilgrims with “Buen Camino” or in Portugal “Bom Caminho”.  Traditionally, the camino was done for religious reasons.  Today, folks from all over the world walk or bike the camino for a variety of different reasons- spiritual experience, health reasons or social aspects.

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We started our mountain biking journey in the charming city of Porto known for its port wine production.

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But before biking out of Porto, we picked up our camino passports at the Se Cathedral. Hotels, restaurants, bars along the camino have stamps for the passports verifying the distance and noting the days.  The Se Cathedral is in the Romanesque style built between the 12th and the 13th century.  (The Portuguese Camino was used by Queen Isabel of Portugal in the 13th century crossing North Portugal and South Galicia, Spain.)

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Our first destination on the camino after leaving Porto was Barcelos, Portugal.  This was supposed to be a relatively easy ride the first day, but it took us a little while getting out of Porto dogging tourists, cars and buses.  Once out of Porto on the back trails to Barcelos, the trail was quite peaceful dotted with beautifully tiled cathedrals along the way.

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Barcelos is a relatively small village in northern Portugal with a rooster as the town’s symbol and the unofficial symbol of Portugal.  The legend of the rooster is tied to a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela who was wrongly accused of crime in Barcelos and sentenced to death.  The pilgrim repeatedly voiced his innocence and swore to the proof of his innocence by pointing to a cooked rooster and said that the rooster would crow at the hour of his hanging as proof. As he was being hanged, the roasted rooster appeared and stood up on the table in front of the crowd and crowed just as the pilgrim predicted. The judged realized the mistake and rushed to save the pilgrim.

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From Barcelos, we headed out to Ponte de Lima, Portugal- the last village in Portugal before biking over the Minho River which divides northern Spain and Portugal.  Lucky for us, there was an end of summer festival happening in the small village of Ponte de Lima. The village was packed with festive decorations, activities and locals.

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The following day, a rugged path along a small stream among grape vines took us over the Minho River into Tui, Spain for the evening.  However, before reaching Tui, we had a steep and challenging climb in front of us.  The biking distance from Ponte de Lima to Tui was not far, but the terrain was challenging and we ended up biking about 5-6 hours that day. The charming, walled city of Valence (an old Roman village) on the eastern side of the Minho river in Portugal was on the agenda for the day.

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When we crossed the border into Spain (Spain is in a different time zone than Portugal), we lost an hour which we were actually pretty happy about since Spain does not eat until late (very late by US standards around 10-11 pm at night or midnight in major cities) and we were hungry after the big climb and a solid day of biking.  We were also thrilled to be back in Spain for a few nights.  It gave us an opportunity to practice our Spanish, eat wonderful Spanish food and enjoy the vibrant Spanish culture.

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Bridge over the Minho river which is the border between Portugal and Spain

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From Tui, our next destination was Pontevedra.  We spent a Sunday night in Pontevedra and while it is a fairly good size city (about 83K people), it was pretty sleepy.  Restaurants, shops, bars are closed on Sundays in most of Europe.

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Burgo Bridge built in 12th century near the former site of a Roman bridge that gave the city its name, the “old bridge”  (Check out the Camino shells that mark the bridge.)

From Pontevedra, we headed to Lestrove, Spain for one night.

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From Lestrove, we had about a 3 hour bike ride to our final destination, Santiago de Compostela.  Once we arrived in Santiago de Compostela, we headed to the Pilgrims Office to obtain our certificate given to pilgrims that hike or bike 100 km or more.   The journey from Porto to Santiago de Compostela took us 6 days over about 185 miles.

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While the Portuguese Camino Way was a great experience, for those that are considering doing the camino, we would highly recommend the northern Spain route over the Portuguese section.  The villages, the scenery, the food, history and culture we found more interesting on Spanish Camino Way (aka Camino de Santiago).  It also had more pilgrims (at least when we did it) but not too many which is part of the experience. But if you are looking for another Camino segment, this is not a bad one.

In Lake Gadda da Vida, Italy

Having just completed the Tour du Mont Blanc in late August, we were looking forward to spending a few days in Italy before heading off to warmer Southern Europe for the month of September, but we wanted to avoid a crowded spot (hard to do in August) and not get on a plane.  So we rented a car and headed to Lake Garda, one of the lesser known lakes in Italy about a one hour drive from Milan. Lake Garda is known for its biking, beaches and its proximity to Verona (Shakespeare put Verona on the map in Romeo and Juliet) and some of Italy’s wine country.  The wines of the Bardolino zone (red, rosé, and sparkling) and Lugana–a primarily white wine zone are just south of Lake Garda.

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We found an new agriturismo place, Agriturismo Miford ,in the town of Salò, a small town on the southern coast of Lake Garda and infamously known as the previous headquarters of the Fascist Government of the Italian Social Republic.

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We planned for a few days of hiking and biking (both mountain biking and road biking). The town is centered right on the water and has a wonderful boardwalk that follows the coast for about 3 kms.  It is a great place for a run, and there are a number of small beaches, if you want to take a dip.  The town itself is a mix of commercial and classic medieval architecture with the classic old town center.  The northwest part of the town is the most ascetic but any spot on the water is nice.  There are a lot of bad tourist restaurants, but many good ones, if you take the time to look a bit and ask some locals.  We were staying a kilometer outside the city up on the hillside which provided some fantastic views and easy access to a number of trails that wind through hilly farmland and ancient rural villages.  We went out for a short 6km hike that turned into 16km (the scenery was compelling and the signage was lacking).

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On another day, we headed north to the town of Riva Del Garda.  The drive can be a bit challenging with travel on very narrow roads that snakes along and above the coast, but it is well worth it.  Riva Del Garda is a nice spot on the water and a good spot to grab a drink or bite.

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We hiked the Old Ponale Road Path which is an old highway that was carved into the mountainside high above the lake. It is a relatively short and steep hike that provides some fantastic views.  It is very popular with mountain bikers, but we thought it was more interesting as a hike.

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We struck out with the biking.  We considered lapping the lake but after driving it for a day, we realized it was no location for bikes and we did not want to tangle with the Italian drivers who all seem to be late for an important appointment.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed our stay here. It is a very popular with German tourists but does not seem to attract the amount of tourist that other spots in Italy do.

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Road Trip Sidenote: To get to Salò, we had a road trip from Chamonix, about 400km, which was also a lot of fun.  Traveling through the 11km Tunnel de Mont Blanc is an experience as well as the additional 30+ km of tunnels and suspended bridges thru the Italian Alps into Milan was also quite interesting. I always enjoy driving European cars, even the “econoboxes”.  The driving experience is always more fun. The cars are more responsive, and they are typically manuals. Our ride this week did not disappoint. We randomly ended up with a 6-speed Mazda 2 that was completely tricked out with all the latest tech – proximity sensors, lane warnings, auto stop-start, Apple Carplay. It has been a few years since we have driven a new car and with the way tech changes, a few years is an eternity.  We totally agree with Car & Driver that it is “hugely fun to drive” (especially on the winding roads around Lake Garda).

 

 

Majestic Megève

Megève is a smaller ski-town located in the Southern French Alps near the Mont-Blanc with about 4,000 residents.  (As a reference point, Chamonix has about 10,000 full time residents which swells significantly in the winter and summer.) Megève is situated in a beautiful valley – the same one that contains Les Contamines and parts of St. Gervais ski resort. The craggy peaks surrounding it makes for a gorgeous setting. The views of the surrounding ranges, the valley and the medieval cobblestone streets of Megève attract some high-end visitors and temporary residents. In fact, the Baroness Rothschild put Megeve on the map around the 1920s.  As the legend has it, she grew bored with Saint Moritz and turned to Megève.  Rovers, Bentleys, and faster Italian rides roam the streets and the surrounding villages.

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On our rader for some time, we headed there after completing the TMB for a couple days to check it out, to hike a bit more on the fabulous trail system in France and for  a little mountain biking.

From Les Houches, we took the Mont Blanc Express to St. Gervais.  From St. Gervais, we took a bus to Megève.  The Mont-Blanc Express is a fabulous, super scenic train that connects a bunch of villages in the Chamonix valley.  It is a super convenient and very efficient way to get around the valley and visit villages like Chamonix, Les Houches, Argentiere, St. Gervais and a bunch of others. (Hotels can give you free tickets to ride).

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Megève is only about 20km from Les Houches, but there not a lot of direct routes on public transportation.  Most visitors drive or shuttle directly from the Geneva airport.

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The mountain biking was great. There is a large network across three different ski resorts with 4 or 5 different main lifts to get you to some of the good spots or help you get back to your starting point.  Some of the trails are a little rough and raw but if you find the right ones, you can link some fun flow trails into a few 90-120 min loops in a day. I am sure there are a number of more EPIC loops if you can find the right bike shop to show you the way. Online info is a little bit limited and more than a few of the bikes shops in town seem to focus more on the electric bike riders (which is a bit of a thing over in Europe now – we have seen it a lot this summer).

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There are also a number of great hiking trails that leave from the center of the city and Susan was able to find a nice one.

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Megève is a beautiful Alps village and worth the visit. It would be hard to justify a visit there from afar given Chamonix and St Gervais  in its backyard, but if you are in visiting the area, it is a sweet spot.

 

Another Round of Mont Blanc

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss

We received some requests for some additional information on our Tour du Mont Blanc experience.  So here are more details and pictures (in addition to our blog post that we posted earlier).  Enjoy!

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Our Mont Blanc hike was counterclockwise starting and ending in the beautiful mountain village of Les Houches (just a few clicks down the road from Chamonix).

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This route with its Les Houches starting point gets going immediately with plenty of climbing, and some of the best views on the whole route are within the first 3 days but nearly all the views on the TMB are superb.

Les Houches to Les Contamines

15km, 700m up, 1300m down, 6 hrs with Bellevue cable car

We hiked from our hotel to a cable car at the base of Les Houches which took us up to Bellevue to begin our hike.  (We started hiking around 9 am from the hotel and there were plenty of other TMB hikers setting out as well as day hikers and rock climbers heading up in the cable car.

The first part of the day winds through the woods and over glacier rivers.  Then, begins the ascent up to Col de Tricot.  Going up and down is incredibly scenic (you may read that a lot in this post).

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After a short break at a refuge at the bottom of the ascent, it was up another steep but short climb to Col de Truc.

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And ultimately, the trail winds down a forest road to the hamlet of Les Contamines which is at the top of the same valley where Megeve and St. Gervais are located.  ( We fell in love with France all over again this summer.  Megeve and St. Gervais are another two absolutely stunning villages in France.)  We arrived in Les Contamines on a Sunday, and the shops in town were having a massive market sale that took over main street.  Les Contamines is yet another beautiful spot.  (You will hear that a lot in this post with the exception of Trient which we suggest hiking thru and no staying staying in Trient, if at all possible.)

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Les Contamines to Les Chapieux

18km, 1350 up, 90o down, 6-7 hrs

Today’s route started off on another steep forest road along a river, and then climbed up to an open valley that was just spectacular. We hiked along the valley for a couple hours all the time viewing the saddle where we were heading – the Col du Bonhome.

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This day was another dual Col day.  So after the initial climb, we climbed up to the Col du Croix du Bonhome which is one of the highest spots on the TMB.

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There was a refuge just below the summit to grab some food and cafe.  Then it was a long downhill to the tiny village of Chapieux.  There is not much in the tiny village of Chapieux but a couple spots to stay, a bar and a small store (that sells wonderful sausage and cheese).

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Les Chapieux to La Palud

20+ km, 1100m up, 500m down, 6 hrs, with lift down

Today, we hopped on a public bus and took it up the road about 7km.  Purists hike the whole way, but our bus was filled with about 30 folks looking to cut off the less interesting dirt road that starts the hike.  And then it is up up and away to the Col de La Seigne – today’s primary climb.  The peak is the border between France and Italy.

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Once over the top, you hike down and along a valley that reminded us of some of the hiking we have down in Alaska – open meadows, glacial rivers and towering mountains. Our destination was Courmayeur, Italy, and there are more than a few options to hike to Courmayeur. We chose to hike up to the Col de Checrouit which gives you access to a high route along the valley with astonishing views of a number of glaciers

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After descending from the high route, we found a couple lifts to shorten our descent down to Courmayeur, a classic Italian Alps town. It is large and jammed with tourists in August but we stayed a few kilometers above the city center in the smaller village of La Palud.

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La Palud to La Fouly

18km, 1200m up, 900m down, 5 hours

The start of today’s hike also included a bus start. We hopped on the Courmayeur public bus and rode it to the end of the road, about 10km or so past the city center.  The road followed another valley and a small river until we were at the base of the Grand Col Derret.  It was a bit cold and slightly wet at the top of this climb (the only day we pulled out our rain jackets), but the views and scenery did not disappoint. The peak is also another border – between Italy and Switzerland.

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The descent down eventually winds through woods and along another glacier stream that flows through the town of La Fouly, a very typical Swiss village in the Alps. The town is small – a few restaurants, a supermarket and a bunch of beautiful Swiss cabins.  It was pretty quiet when we were there, but it has two ski lifts and a bunch of Nordic tracks in the village so it is likely more popular in the winter.

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La Fouly to Champex-Lac and Rest Day

20+km, 400m up, 550m down, 4 hours

Today was a relatively easy day until the end.  The route was mostly downhill through a number of small Swiss villages. We passed a number well preserved historical farm buildings and neighborhoods and ended the descent in another classic Alp’s valley

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The last hour or so was a steep uphill through the woods to the alpine lake town of Champex-Lac.

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We had a rest day in Champex-Lac which worked out well as it was the only day on our route where it rained heavily for most of the day.  We took the opportunity for a couple short hikes around the lake and trails around the village, but mostly took the day off from hiking.

Champex-Lac to Trient

15km, 700m up, 1000m down, 5 hours

Today was another relatively easy day. The hike was still long and we had plenty of climbing – some of it very steep.  There was some leftover moisture from the previous day so it was a bit chilly and wet heading up the first Col. But there was a nice refuge up there to get a cafe and warm up a bit.

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The route took us up to the Col de Forclaz which is one of the popular road cycling climbs in the area and was featured in this year’s Tour de France. We took a side hike up to another refuge and a glacier vista which was quite nice.

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The trail up followed an ancient aqueduct so it was relatively flat and also positioned well to follow the valley to our final destination of the day, Trient. Trient is a tiny spot with nothing to offer. There are a couple auberges that are pretty worn and tattered but its location on the trail make it a very popular overnight stop. There were definitely more hikers than residents in town the evening we were there.  (Trient is the only village that we would suggest skipping if you plan to do the TMB.)

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Trient to Argentiere

20+ km, 1200m up, 1300m down, 5+ hours

We woke up early and exited our auberge as fast as we possibly could so we were on the trail at 7:15am. We could not get out of it fast enough (it was really the only spot on our hike where we were not thrilled with our accommodations but it did offer a clean bed, cold beer & wine as well as hot food).  Our first goal of the day was to hike up to the Col de Balme which was a 2 hour steep hike in the woods and then another hour of incredible walking up through an alpine meadow to a refuge at the top of the Col. We watched marmots playing and hawks hunting them as we followed the hairpins to the top.

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At the top (after throwing in an extra Col because of some poor navigation), you are greeted with stunning views down to the Chamonix Valley and can almost see to Les Houches  – still a few days of hiking away.

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There are many trails down that wind through ski areas, forests, and ridges to the towns of Tours and Argentiere – both villages north of Chamonix.  We chose the route along the Aiguilette des Posettes which was along a ridge line that provide views of two different valleys.

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We ended in Argentiere which could be our favorite village on the TMB. It is a short bus ride to Chamonix but not as crowded or developed.  It also has a train stop and a number of lifts that can get you high on the mountains fast for great skiing or some alpine hiking.

Argentiere to Chamonix

11+km, 1150m up, 400m down, 4.5 hrs

We took a trail right out of Argentiere to avoid any buses or lifts that many trails require in the area and headed up to Lac Blanc – which is a very popular day spot for hikers staying in Chamonix.  The trail up was steep but beautiful and very rocky at the top.

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The lake itself was beautiful but a bit busy.  We stopped at the refuge for some water and refueling and then headed down a steep and rocky trail to a lift that took us close to Chamonix where we were able to take nice wooded trail along the river right into the heart of Chamonix.

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Chamonix Rest Day

We had plenty of energy on this rest day. And having spent a few days this summer in Chamonix, we decided to hop on a bus back to Argentiere and climb up to the Argentiere glacier. This is a spot that I have skied in the past so I was looking forward to seeing it in the summer. It was good to see the glacier was still there.

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Chamonix to Les Houches

13+km, 800m up, 1700m down, 5 hrs

Today  was all downhill accept for the parts that were not. We took the PlanPraz lift up to the base of the Col de Brevant and then climbed for 90 minutes or so to the top.  The lift was quite crowded in the morning with paragliders who launch at the base of the climb and sightseers who take another lift up to the top of the Brevant. We really enjoyed the hike up to the Brevant as it was very quiet along the backside of the ridge and offered views of different valleys. The trail was steep with some ladders, rungs and chains to help keep you on the trail. Once at the top, the views were fantastic. It was then a long steep downhill back down to our starting point of Les Houches with epic views the whole way.

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We regrouped with our travel companions in Les Houches for some celebrating and a big meal and then it was off on the train in the morning to the St Gervais valley.

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Let’s Go Everywhere, Man

mmw_letsLet’s Go Everywhere

-Medeski, Martin, and Wood

“When you’re tired of your toys,
And of your games, and of the television,
When you’re done with chores and homework
Then it’s time to make a big decision,
You might need a change of scenery,
It might be time to go
Over mountains, over oceans,
Through dark jungles down below
On an airplane, on a railroad
On a tall ship with the tide
All you need’s a little music.
Howzaboutit, whaddya say you buckle
up and we go for a little ride?
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.
We’ll go to
Bombay, Taipei, Mandalay, Bora Bora
Deauville, Louisville, Whoville, Glocca Morra
Havana, Montana, Savannah, Varanasi
Bermuda, Barbuda, Or Yehuda, Tallahassee
Khartoum, Rangoon, Cancun, Saskatoon
Kowloon, Cameroon, Brigadoon, to the moon
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.
Cairo, Shiloh, Moscow, Chichen Itza
Krakatoa, Shenandoah, Mauna Loa, Tower of Pisa
Hamburg, Frankfurt, Beantown, Montecristo
Cayenne, Salt Lake, Cocoa Beach, San Francisco

Saigon, Amman, Dijon, Yokahama
Tijuana, Grand Bahama, don’t forget to call your mama
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.
Xi’an, San Juan, Pusan, Sri Lanka
Chambertin, Canton, Avalon, Casablanca
Warsaw, Aqaba, Shangri-La, Transylvania
Nome, Rome, Stockholm, Lyon, Mauretania
Hong Kong, Guangdong, Haiphong, Tonga
Salamanga, Rarotonga, Cucamonga, sing-a-long-a
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.
Xanadu, Kathmandu, Timbuktu, Santiago
Tasmania, Slovenia, Rumania, Pago Pago
Sedona, Pamplona, Daytona, Patagonia
Winona, Bologna, Barcelona, Caledonia
Bangkok, Sliding Rock, Antioch, Tuba City
Sun City, Cloud City, Emerald City, ain’t it pretty
Let’s go everywhere man
Let’s go everywhere, man
There’s lots of fun out there, man
We gotta have our share, man
Get out of your chair, man
Let’s go everywhere.”