Hidden Delights in South East France

In early September we left the French Alps to explore southeastern France, an area that neither of us had experienced previously. Our destination was the Luberon region in Provence, it is France at it’s finest. With a spectacular countryside of vineyards & orchards, fascinating villages perched right at the top of rolling hills, quaint markets, and outstanding collections of cuisine & cheeses.

Arriving in the south we were met by quaint villages with super narrow roads… Lots of Fun in the camper!

There are multiple villages in Luberon so we were hard pressed to cover it all in the five days that we had but we gave it a good nudge & having the bikes made this even easier along with reduced the feeling of guilt after the consumption of copious amounts of cheese, pastries & wine.

Riding between the villages through vineyards and apple orchards was the best way to get around.

The region is well known for its outstanding local produce & village markets. I believe there is a village market every day of the week. We didn’t do a market everyday, with men in toe this is never a good idea, but we did tick off a quaint market in Isle sur la Sorgue. This market offered fresh produce, every cheese you could imagine and a range of local artisan creations & fabrics. Isle sur la Soruge is where we stayed for the duration of our time. The biggest market in the region is on a Saturday in Apt, it can sometimes have over 300 stalls. Note that markets tend to be in the morning until around lunchtime & are finishing up about 1-2pm.

A couple of tasty treats to fuel the exploration

There is a great farmers market ‘marche paysan’ that sells all the local produce sold by the farmers who grew it in Velleron. It’s picked & sold all in the same day, pretty awesome! We got all of our fruit & veggies here and they were amazing.

The little villages are all very quaint, some larger than others but all offer impressive sights. The ones that we saw were;

Roussillon located very close to Gordes is famous for the ochre trail

Isle sur la Sorgue has a great market, the green cheese is amazing – it’s pesto cheese (no photo, sorry!)

Lagnes is a beautiful little town on a hill

More tasty food in Coustellete

All over the south of France there is phenomenal limestone rock climbing, Isle sur la Sorgue is no different. Tim and Danny are making the most of it here

Following our time in the Luberon region we visited the Gorges du Verdon. This is another must see destination in the south of France.  Here are some images of us making the most of our time there & the sunshine.

Some of the best rock climbing in the south can be found in the Gorges Du Verdon. The Views over the gorges are pretty good too!

Camping next to the top of the lake after the gorges, there were hardly any other tourists in September, making it even better

It was even warm enough to manage a few dips into the lake

Madeira, an Island paradise

At the end of September Hana flew back to the land down under for a wedding, while I went to a 30th birthday adventure for a couple of my kiwi mates in Madeira. Madeira is a reasonably large Portuguese island located off the coast of Africa at approximately the same latitude as Casablanca, Morocco.

Alex enjoying the view at the top of the island

Madeira is well known as a mountain biking hot-spot and currently hosts a stop on the Enduro World Series (a mountain bike event that is a cross between downhill and cross country where riders must ride up and down tracks but are only timed on the downhill sections). The island itself was formed from volcanic activity and rises from the sea floor some 5000+m to tower 1800m above the sea at its highest point. The island rises rapidly out of the sea and is incredibly steep on all sides with practically no flat land. This is clearly evident when you see the airport runway which is half built on massive piers over the sea. A word of warning about Madeira airport, when it is windy it is considered one of the most hazardous airports in the world. If you are unlucky like a number of our group were you may experience significant delays / cancelled flights either on the way to or from the Island… To get an idea of the crosswinds that pilots sometimes have to contend with search Madeira airport highlights on YouTube!

Part way along Boca Do Risco

Exploring Madeira is amazing as it has a constantly changing scenery. Due to rising rapidly to 1800m above sea level each side and area of the island has its own micro-climate, the north shore of the island is wet and humid with lush rainforests, while the south faces are a lot dryer ranging from dry dusty open grasslands to eucalyptus forest and the occasional patch of dense deciduous forests in narrow gullies. Some valleys end in ravine’s that have cliffs over 1000m tall. One particular cliff over the sea extends over 500m from the beach (the highest in Europe apparently).

 

Epic restaurants serving cheap delicious seafood with million dollar views over the Atlantic

When not exploring the Island we managed to indulge in the epic seafood at the local restaurants and dabble in our fair share of partying in the old town. The local dishes that come highly recommended include, melon and Madeira Wine (like Port) as an entre, scabbard fish topped with banana, Octopus prepared in vinegar and Tuna Steaks, although we found they often over-cooked the Tuna.

The Baller pad, complete with a swimming pool that Alex and Andrew sorted out for the team!

After the big 30th Celebrations were done and dusted and we had explored the island most people flew home. This left a couple of stragglers to determine if the mountain biking on Madeira was all it was cracked up to be. And the Verdic was…… Pretty damn good! Trail forks has a load of tracks listed all over Madeira; however, we found that the problem for a bunch of people turning up and expecting to be able to ride them on a budget is:

  1. Madeira is super super steep and to get anywhere you NEED A SHUTTLE, you wont be scrogging up to do the tracks.
  2. The vegetation grows rapidly on the island, so when the locals are not maintaining the tracks, they get over-grown rapidly.
  3. Depending on the time of year / weather some tracks can get ridiculously slippery. For example, the locals reckon that the “Porto da Cruz track” needs up to two weeks to dry out enough not to be as greasy as a butchers prick.

Alex FROTHING (check out that face) to get down a dusty dry trail through eucalyptus trees on the southern side of the Island

We found that the best option (if you are on a budget) is to do a couple of days riding with the lads at Freeride Madeira or similar to get a lay of the land and then get a hire car between 3 people so you can session the trails you liked the most. Our favorite trails included: Boca do Risco – a phenomenally flowey trail on the north cost, Blackline Prazeres – an epic flow/tech trail on the south west of the island, the second half of Ribero Frio – techy trail in the forest on the north/center of the island and Avalanche – another trail on the south west of the island that flows down a narrow gut making it quite unique. One other tip – you can catch bus 56 from the central bus station in Funchal to Poiso (near the top of the island) for a couple of euros. This is a great option for a couple of days as you can access quite a few trails with a bit of peddling and end up back down in Funchal at the end of the day.

The following are sample of photos taken from throughout the island:

There are a load of really cool painted doors throughout the old city area of Funchal

Views from the highest sea cliff in Europe

Sunsets, we love our sunsets!

Freeride Madeira put on one hell of a days riding for the lads

One of the tourist attractions is to ride on a cart down the road from the top of the gondola

Danny Tucker wrassling with his bike….look closely

Three bikes in a small hire car…

Note: The top image is of the east coast of the Island, it is extremely barren but so so beautiful!

 

The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)

In September we undertook the challenge of biking “The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)”, a hiking and/or mountain biking circuit around Mont Blanc (4810m), the highest peak in Europe. The full tour is approx. 180 km in length and has an accumulated height gain and loss of around 8,000m. With 10 mountain passes, 7 valleys, 71 glaciers and 400 summits to go around it is no mean feat!

As a word of warning, it should only be attempted by bikers not afraid of long climbs with a generous serving of hike-a-bike; downhills can be technical in places, and the weather can be brutal at 2,500m+; however, if you have a good sense of adventure and enjoy a challenge you will be handsomely rewarded with breathtaking scenery, amazing food and culture and you’ll soon forget your pain!

Details of our tour;

We started the tour in Chamonix in France and followed the trail as it wound around the entire Mont Blanc Massiff in a clockwise direction passing through Switzerland into Italy and then back into France. Note that most hikers would do the track in the opposite direction. We chose this direction as when biking we prefer steep descents and gradual climbs.

As we had a large group and a couple of first time mountain bikers we did the tour in 6 days, which is slower than most bikers who will complete the circuit in 4 or 5 days. This allowed us to take our time each day and enjoy the amazing cuisine on offer at the various Rifugio’s overlooking grassy meadows and snow capped peaks.  If you are an experienced biker it would not be difficult to do the tour in 4 days, however; you would need to be going at a good pace all day to do this.

Day 1 – Chamonix to Col de la Forclaz:

After arriving in Chamonix the previous night from various locations across Europe we met at a Camping ground, ‘Camping de la Mer de Glace’ (http://chamonix-camping.com/), where we stayed before and after the tour and left our cars at during the tour (they were happy to accommodate this providing we stayed the day & after our tour). The camping ground is around 3km from the centre of Chamonix and is easy to get to and from.  From the camping ground we took the ‘Petit Balcon Nord’ track along the Chamonix valley to Argentiere, where we stopped at the bakery for lunch before heading on to Le Tour at the head of the valley under Col de Balme.

At Le Tour there is a cable car to Col de Balme that you can take advantage of for a quick 900 mtrs height gain. Before getting on the lift however, we enjoyed a quick dip in the glacier fed stream below Le Tour to cool off from the ride up the valley (this was one of the bonus challenges we set ourselves for the tour!!)

After the swim we went up the gondola to Col de Balme, doing a couple of laps of the bike park on the way.

From Col de Balme, the French to Swiss border, down to Trient the trail is fairly loose and rocky and takes a reasonable amount of skill. One of our crew got ejected over his handlebars and cracked his helmet. If you’re new to mountain biking take your time down this trail. After Trient it is a short climb up a trail next to the highway to Col de la Forclaz. We stayed the night here at Hotel Col de La Forclaz. The food at this Rifugio was amazing and everyone was full after two servings of the entrée and the main. For dessert we had homemade vanilla bean & strawberry ice-cream, yummy!

The track that we took can be found here – <Lachlan to insert link to viewranger here, when he gets the chance to!>

Day 2 – Col de La Forclaz to La Fouly:

From Col de la Forclaz the day starts with a hike-a-bike up 500m of steep rocky track. Once you reach the highest point the climb is well worth it with a fast flowy (and at times technical) descent to Lac Champex.

On the way down we ran into other bikers, some hikers & a group on horses! The horse poo was sometimes hard to dodge.

After stopping in Lac Champex for Lunch and a quick dip we continued down the valley towards Issert.

Part of the track to Issert was a highlight of the trip, it was about as steep as you can ride with deep loam. We could have lapped this track all day long!

From Issert we rode up the road 18km to La Fouly where we were staying for the second night. We spent the night at Rifugio Maya Joyie, where the highlight was unlimited Racalette. Another rule of the Tour came into affect on arrival to La Fouly, ‘if you used your phone at the breakfast or dinner table then your punishment was a shoey’ (define: a shoey, meaning that you had to take your shoe off after riding, pour a beer inside & down the contents) at the completion of that day. Ben Tingey took the honours on day 2!

Day 3 – La Fouly to Rifugio Walter Bonatti

Day 3 was our favorite and perhaps the most breath-taking day of the whole tour. Starting in La Fouly the trail ascends to Col Ferrett with a total rise of 1,000mtrs.

The first half is on the road making for easy riding. From halfway you follow a wide trail, which is 80% rideable to the Col. Emerging over the crest of Col Ferret is an incredible moment as the VAL FERRET opens up infront of you with spectacular views of the Mont Blanc Massif draped in Glaciers and snow laden peaks!

The track descending into Val Ferret from Col Ferret is at times very technical with a number of water drains which dissect the trail made from slate which nip ominously at your wheels looking to give you a snake bite. At the end of the main descent is Rifugio Elena, a perfect place to stop for an Italian lunch of pasta and coffee.

 

The trail continues down the valley from Refugio Elana to Rifugio Walter Bonatti, our favourite Rifugio of the entire trip. Lachlan had to complete a Birthday Shoey here to bring in the Big birthday of ‘30’.

If you do the tour, be sure to check out this Rifugio – http://www.rifugiobonatti.it/

Pictures from Rifugio Bonatti & our birthday cake. Yummo!

Day 4 – Rifugio Bonatti to Rifugio Elizabetta:

This was our longest day on the tour and was split into two parts allowing us the opportunity to cut a section depending on the weather and how the crew’s bodies were holding out. As the forecast was for cold temperatures, high winds and rain all day we chose to not do the first part of the day and instead take the road down Val Ferret to Courmayeur in the morning.

After a quick stop in Courmayeur we set off on the second part of the day which took us up a ski resort road to Rifugio Maison Vielle, along a hiking trail and down into Val Veny and along to Rifugio Elizabeta. It rained continuously during our ride up the road to Rifugio Maison Vielle making the warm dry funky vibe of the Rifugio extra welcoming. We were even lucky enough to catch the end of the, All Blacks game against Argentina! They must of known we were coming! Rifugio Maison Vielle is well known for its outstanding food, and so we settled in for a couple of hours of thick hot chocolates with cream of course, espresso, numerous pastas and other assortments of amazing Italian food.

After leaving the Rifugio we followed a hiking track along the valley rising another 500mtrs. The rain really set in by the time we left the Rifugio adding to the adventure on this leg of the trip. The descent down to Rifugio Elizabeta was wet and wild, in the dry the track would be phenominal!

After riding the last few kms in diving rain and snow flurries everyone was pretty happy to make it to Rifugio Elizabeta to be able to dry off & defrost.

Day 5 – Rifugio Elizabetta to Rifugio Bonhomme:

We awoke on Day 5 to clear skies and cold temperatures, thankful that we did not have to face another day in the rain. The snow line was down below Col de Signe, our first pass of the day making for a cold crisp start on the bikes for the 400m climb to Col De Signe.

After crossing back into France at Col De Signe we flew down the wide flowey trail on the other side to the small village of Les Chapieux. We were planning on arriving for lunch in Les Chapieux, so getting in at 10.30am we brought some saucission, local fromage, baguettes & crossiants from the local shop to fuel up for the 1,000mtr climb to Rifugio Bonhomme.

The climb starts on the road for the first 300mtrs and then switches to a hiking track. We took a quick dip before the hiking track and then set off on the hike-a-bike for 700mtrs.

Amac, Timmy & Pj completing their shoey’s for doing something naughty!

The hike-a-bike up to Rifugio Bonhomme was the most intense of the trip, not helped by a bitter wind whipping down the valley. It was smiles all round once everyone reached the hut and sucked down the first of many delicious beers for the night.

Day 6 – Rifugio Bonhomme to Chamonix

The final day starts with a 1,300mtr descent from Refugio Bonhomme to Les Contamaines. The trail starts off with some mega technical areas where everyone in the crew had to walk at some points. Slowly the trail opens up to become more ride able with the final 400mtrs of descent down one of the rowdiest 4wd tracks I have ever been on, super fun!

We had our final, and coldest, swim halfway down the descent, it was cold! We all sat in for a 30 second count.

After Les Contamines we skipped the section of the track around Mont Truc and went straight down the road to Le Chapel. From Le Chapel we followed the trail over Col De Voza for a final descent to Les Houches and a quick ride up the valley to Chamonix and the end of the Tour!

The trail down to Les Houches follows an abandoned mountain biking track where all of the north shores have started to rot, so be careful, some of this trail is phenomenally steep with deep loam.

The Tour of Mont Blanc is perhaps the most enjoyable adventure we have ever completed; We would consider it a bucket list trail with some of the most amazing scenery that Europe has to offer. If you ever get the chance to do it, you should jump on board without a seconds hesitation!

Wonders of the world in Italy

We have visited the Dolomites Three times this year during our travels around Europe. A destination needs to be pretty damn epic to bring us crawling back for more and more, it appears that the Dolomites has what it takes! The massive vertical cliffs, 3000m+ peaks, crystal clear water, technical bike tracks (hiking trails), world class rock climbing, via ferrata adventures, delicious coffee, mountain huts ie. rifgugio’s and all of the amazing Italian food are just some of the things that make the Dolomites one of the best places on EARTH!

We have been lucky enough to meet a few locals through our journey. Tim, one of Lachlan’s mates from University, has a girlfriend, Hannah, whom is from Toblach, a small town in Sud Tirol on the northern edge of the Dolomites. Along with Tim & Hannah’s flatmate, Franz, who works as a mountain guide in Sexten, which is also on the northern edge of the Dolomites. Franz and Hannah gave us a bunch of tips on great tracks, and destinations throughout the Dolomites along with amazing hospitality throughout our stays in the Dolomites.

We have pulled together some “Dolomitic Porn” of our favorites, please enjoy!

Durrensee/Lago di Landro:

Durensee is a shallow, mud-bottomed lake surrounded by tall Dolomitic peaks which offers epic climbing. From the carpark next to Durrensee it is possible to access multiple rock climbing crags with sport climbing routes from 4 through to 8b+ and above.

In winter the lake completely freezes over and in summer due to being only waist deep at the deepest point becomes pretty warm despite the near freezing water that flows into it from the surrounding peaks! The coffee & vanilla crème croissants from the café next to the lake are top notch!

Drei Zinnen and Bullelejoch Hutte / Refugio Pian di Cengia Loop:

The Drei Zinnen (three peaks) are perhaps the most famous attraction in the Dolomites, attracting huge numbers of tourists to marvel at their beauty. It is possible to drive up a toll road and then take a short 45min hike to the base of the three peaks. Unfortunately this option leaves you surrounded by a frenzy of Italian tourists taking away from the tranquility of this beautiful area. Both paying 25 Euros and the idea of driving rather than walking into such a place of natural beauty goes against our grain.

Instead we accessed the Drei Zinnen from Sexten. Our mate Franz’ girlfriend, Steffi’s family owns a Refugio/mountain hut (Bullelejoch Hutte / Refugio Pian di Cengia) near to the base of the Three Peaks.

It is possible to do a loop from Sexten where you go up Val Fiscalina, park your car, take hiking track 102 to the Drei Zinnen Hutte, look at the three peaks and then escape the tourists along trail 112 to Bullelejoch Hutte. You can stay the night in the Refugio or just enjoy possibly the best lunch in the Dolomites. We recommend the knödels followed by an apfelstrudel washed down with a delicious beer and finished with a Macchiatoni (halfway between a Macchiato and a Cappicino).

From Bullelejoch Hutte take track 103, into Val Fiscalina, to link up with track 102 and get back to your car. If you’re brave enough, try going for a swim in the river near the carpark in Val Fiscalina, possibly the coldest water we have been in so far on tour!

Cinque Torri

Cinque Torri (translating to five towers) is a cluster of towers that range in height from 10m – 140m located near to Cortina and surrounded by huge dolomitic peaks on all sides. We spent 3 days climbing at Cinque Torri doing a range of sport climbs, multi-pitches and a bit of trad climbing. There are so many routes that you could spend weeks here and still not climb everything! The views are unreal too, it’s like being on a movie set.

The Tour of Lago di Sorapis

Lago di Sorapis is a beautiful, glacier fed lake located at 1923m in the Dolomites near to Cortina. It is possible to do a Via Ferratta, which starts and ends at Lago di Sorapis circumnavigating the “Gruppo Del Sorapiss” mountain range. We completed the Via Ferratta loop over 2 days and accessed the lake the night before we started from Tre Croci on track 215 which is a wide path utilized by numerous tourists to visit the lake and the refugio next to the lake. We camped at the bottom end of the lake; however, be warned that this is verboten (forbidden in english) and it is possible that you could be fined up to 500 euro. We took this as an idle threat from the refugio and had no problems at all!

The trail for the Via Ferratta goes up shingle scree from the lake and around the back of Ponta Del Sorapis on trail 215. It then passes through a saddle where you traverse along a wide terrace on track 242 over a 500m+ drop for an hour and a half. When the terrace runs out the via ferratta really gets going. There is a steep descent down wire ropes and ladders and then an equally steep ascent. At the top of the ascent you come out on a cast landscape overlooking the Val De San Vido and the ‘Slataper Bivvy’ which sticks out brightly in fire engine red. We had lunch at the bivvy and then pushed on towards the ‘E.Comici Bivvy’ along tracks 246, 247 and 243 where we planned to stay the night. From the ‘Slataper Bivvy’ the trail drops down and then runs along the Val De San Vido on a terrace just above the tree line with a number of ups and downs. After approx. 3 hours the trail runs through a pass and down to the ‘E.Comici Bivvy’.

The next morning the trail continues around to the final Via Ferratta under Sora El Fo, looking over Lago di Sorapis. This is a great ferratta with massive exposure and is a lot of fun! Just before the top of the via ferratta we encountered 3 chamois (mountain goats) and managed to get within 15m of them, the boys were stoked, and it was pretty cool! From Lago Del Sorapis it is a short walk on track 215 back to Tre Croci.

Note that due to the lack of flora in the dolomites fresh water and running streams can be hard to find. There was only one good stream running when we did the trail so its imperative to take lots of water carrying capacity.

Mountain Bike Trail 1 – Starting in Saint Vigil

Franz took us on a great, but at times quite technical ride, that started in Saint Vigil. From Saint Vigil we ferried a car to the start of track 12 which we used to access the shingle road going up Fojedora Valley. From the Pass at 2283m we followed track 24 around to another pass at 2296m. To get to the second pass took a bit of hike-a-bike action.

From the second pass we followed tracks 24 and 25 back to Saint Vigil. The track down was ultra technical in some locations requiring a high degree of skill. Some of the riding across shingle scree was pretty hair raising and almost everyone had at least one bail over the handle bars at some point down the valley! Lots of fun though, no broken bones, and the views were exceptional!

Mountain Bike Trail 2 – starting in Sexten

This was another track recommended to us by Franz. To cut down the uphill scrog mission required you can catch the gondola out of Sexten for a quick 900m height gain. The trail follows the ridgeline along the Austrian-Italian border to ‘Schwarz See’ where it drops back down into Italy along track 14.

The start of the track is a mix of fast single track and tight washed out track. The trail then traverses back towards Sexten on trial 13. When trail 13 crosses under the first gondola you can take the Erla trail (a new MTB specific trail, grade S2) down to Moos. Great little day out and there are plenty of refugio’s that you can stop in at for coffee, beer and whatever else tickles your fancy!

We could have spent all summer in the Dolomites; there are simply so many different hikes and adventures to be had, if you are in the area then message us at hello@honesttucker.com and we can forward on further details on the places above and link you up with mountain guides to keep you safe on your adventures!

 

 

 

 

The most amazing alps yet, The Swiss Alps!

On the last evening of Trail Days in Kransjka Gora we met a lovely Swiss couple (Nik and Daniela) who were camping in the same freedom camping area next to the river as us. Hana had been on a ride with Daniela as part of the Specialized Women’s Ambassador Rides so we got chatting. Daniela and Nik invited us to visit them in Switzerland if we passed near their home town of Lenk later in the year. In the middle of July we were in their area and had a week to kill so we decided to take them up on their offer. To date visiting their little piece of paradise in the middle of the Swiss Alps tops any other biking destination we have been to, big call we know, but it was truly an amazing week. The local people were warm and welcoming, the food was amazing, the single track was a superb mixture of all natural flow and tech and the surrounding mountains were awe inspiring. We can not wait to get back to Lenk in the near future!

The beauty of the small quaint town of Lenk to any English speaking tourist, and in particular as a mountain biker is that it has not been discovered. Not even a little bit by mountain bikers from Switzerland let-alone the rest of Europe and beyond. In fact, not counting for Nik, Daniela and their friends we met only one other mountain biker the whole time. This let us roam the trials on our own, not needing to worry about that a pack of ‘Park Rats’ that might shred past us at any given moment. There was never a queue for the lifts and we didn’t see a single braking bump on any of the tracks. Note, you still need to be careful to watch out for locals hiking on the tracks, especially on the weekends!

When we arrived on the Friday morning we opted to get a 3 day pass for the gondolas for 65 CHF each, we then had to pay 5 CHF for each day we took our bikes on the lifts for a total of 80 CHF for the 3 days, which is pretty damn cheap. The lifts have not had mountain bike racks installed to date and therefore you need to take the bike into the gondola with you. If people start to hear about how epic the trails around Lenk are they will need to do something about this asap!

On our first ride we did a short tour that left from the top of the Lenk-Stross Bahn to complete a loop under Furflue and back into Lenk.

On Friday nights the Metschberg gondola runs until 9pm. When Nik and Daniela finished work they met up with us to do a few laps of Metschberg and finished the day with some delicious fondue made from local cheese next to the snow-making reservoir while watching the sun go down over the mountains & drinking a local brew too.

On the Sunday Nik took us on a tour of six of his favorite trails surrounding Lenk to complete a total of 6000m of decent, including a bakery stop for a top up with sweet treats, a coffee stop to fuel up on caffeine and finishing at the local pub, ‘Elk’, for a cold beverage. We were lucky enough to have Mario and Janic from the local bike shop “Sputnik” join us for the day. We had a ripper of a time and possibly one of the best days riding I have experienced in Europe!

Below is a map showing the six tracks that we completed, they link perfectly between the two gondolas on either side of the valley allowing for a variety of riding on different tracks ranging from fast flow to steep tech, we have included links to all the different tracks so you can download them & find them yourselves if you so desire.

The first track; Track 1 of the Grand Tour of Lenk departs from the top of the Metschberg gondola heading eastwards. It runs into a steep decent down sharp switchbacks with loose gravel requiring a reasonable level of control and ability. The trail then cuts across and along the west side of a valley to emerge next to a small hut. From the hut the trail descends down a meadow and a 4WD track to link into another epic steep technical trail that leads to the valley floor. Find the link to the track here – http://my.viewranger.com/track/details/NTM5NzY4NQ==

Track 2 descends down past the Metschberg snow making pond to follow consecutive hiking paths with multiple stair sets, tight corners and switch backs. This track finishes near the centre of Lenk allowing for a quick bakery stop before crossing town to catch the lift on the opposite side of town, the Lenk-Stoss lift. To download the link & experience it for yourself go here – http://my.viewranger.com/track/details/NTM5ODMxOQ==

Track 3 is a perfect mix of flow and tech, with nothing that is too difficult allowing you to carry good speed the whole way. Getting to the start of the good part of the track requires an uphill ride from the end of the gondola and a descent through a meadow (with no marked track) and down a 4WD track. Once you reach the single track the traverse is worth every second! Download the link to the track here – http://my.viewranger.com/track/details/NTM5OTgxMA==

Track 4 is back on the Metschberg side of the valley. The track starts down a steep ridgeline with a few ultra tight switchbacks. The trail then goes through two fast flowey forest sections to reach the valley floor. From the end of track 4 the tour crosses town again to the Lenk-Stoss lift. Here is the track file to download – http://my.viewranger.com/track/details/NTQwMDY0Nw==

Track 5 was my favorite track on the tour, shorter than the other trails, it does not lack in quality. Starting from the middle station of the Lenk-stoss lift the trail descends mostly through the forest to arrive back at the base of the Lenk-stoss lift. The combination of tech and flow on this trail through the forest with steep roll-overs and an abundance of loam reminded me of riding in Rotorua, NZ. To find this track & download the details, click here – http://my.viewranger.com/track/details/NTQwMTAyNw==

Track 6, although not all ride-able, is a good way to finish the day. The track descends down into a beautiful gorge from the top of the Lenk-stoss lift. From the end of the trail ride into town for a refreshing beer at the Elk Bar! Download the track & experience it for yourself here – http://my.viewranger.com/track/details/NTU4NTkwNg==

If you want a break from riding for a day or two while in Lenk there are plenty of hiking trails leading out of the valley. Nik and Daniela recommended hiking to the top of Wildstrubel (3,243m high).

We completed the hike in two days, hiking to Fluhsee (mountain lake) on the first day where we spent the night camping next to the lake at 2050m. The sunset across the French Alps was amazing and lit up the cliffs behind the lake.

In the morning we hiked the remaining 1200m to the summit of Wildstrubel. On a good day you can see Matterhorn from the top of Wildstrubel, unfortunately it was cloudy when we reached the summit. We could however still view the expanse of the glaciers surrounding the peak and the wild waterfalls emerging from under the glacier.

Note if you don’t have camping gear you can book to stay in the huts along the way, in the area there is the Fluesee Hutte at 2049m or the WIldstrubel Hutte at 2791m, they are super cute, very impressive how they utilise the small amount of space & accommodate multiple people & it’s a great way to experience the mountains along with meet fellow hikers.

If you are thinking of doing a hiking, biking or mountain trip near Switzerland you should definitely add Lenk to your itinerary! If biking is high on your priority list, Nik and Daniela run a bike guiding, and mountain bike skills company after work and on the weekends. If you want to get the most out of your time in Lenk then we would recommend that you get in touch with them through their website – www.trailstar.ch or on email at – bike@trailstar.ch.

Maintaining Happiness in the Van

Van life is an amazing experience & we pinch ourselves daily having this time & opportunity to do what we are doing right now. It no doubt looks amazing to the outsider looking in at our great adventure pics & the epic sunsets we have found along the way. For the most part van life is awesome but … there is always a but! We have put together a bit of a list of our findings / learnings from the past 100+ days living in our van & how to maintain happiness & be in the moment…

{Parked up in Slovakia, doing some stretching & spreading out the contents of the van}

  1. Making the most of Time on the Move;

You are on the move or thinking about the next move a lot of the time. While this is exciting and you are constantly exploring new places it can also be quite draining and time consuming. To fully utilise the time on the move we have been listening to a number of amazing podcasts & audio books. This can be great for expanding perspectives, learning new new things and generally just keeping entertained on those 5+ hour road trips!

Some of our podcast fun finds to date;

  • The Tim Ferris Show; from the guy who wrote the 4 hour workweek, 4 hour body and 4 hour chef. This is an amazing array of interviews with some incredible people. Our favourite to date is with Jamie Fox & Arnie (Arnold Schwarzenegger – Part 1 & Part 2)
  • The Journal by Kevin Rose; we have only recently started listening to this one but enjoying his monthly updates too.
  • Found My Fitness by Rhonda Patrick; this is an amazing podcast SO much information though, so you may need to listen to them a couple of times! A stand out for us is a short & jam packed one on sugars / refined sugars, find it here!

Our favourite Audiobooks have included;

  • Black Box Thinking, by Matthew Syed. An amazing story, maybe you could even call it a self help book. You learn so much from failure as well as how to learn from the mistakes you make & bounce back from adversity.
  • Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Mans Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl. A phenomonel read! Not only a tragic memoir of the Holocoust but a story of hope & ultimately finding meaning to life.
  • Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. We are currently listening to this story but after reading the story in book form over 5 years ago it’s great to listen to it narrated. The narrator does a great job of all the different accents and really brings the book to life.

Try out a podcast or audio book in the car this week. You never know, you might learn something! It is a great way to keep the mind thinking, learning & engaged.

{Just a cheeky shot of the two of us & Barry – the van}

  1. In the Spring & Summertime’s, once the sun goes down the bugs come out to play.

This can be very annoying & painful! Having a fan & mosquito net for the hotter nights is crucial. We bought a great Mountain Equipment mosquito net for about £13 & it’s our saviour. Also it’s quite cosy & romantic getting into it on the nights when it’s needed.

{In the mosquito net early one morning after we stayed at the National Park in Bratislava}

  1. You don’t need much & its an empowering thing.

We have far too many things in our van with all the activities that we like to keep up with & the mixture of seasons that we have travelled in. Now that we are in summer we have too many warm clothes for the hot days. This means having more clutter to search through and makes you realise just how little you really need to live which is an empowering thing & something that I will take away from this trip forever.

Our must haves list includes;

  • a good book (we have kindles),
  • a journal / a notebook (we have moleskins)
  • a flask (we have Hydro Flasks, they are the best),
  • a pair of crocs (matching navy ones)
  • a bamboo or cotton towel (these can team up as a shade in the van, a scarf at night or its purpose as a towel when you swim or bathe)
  • A portable speaker (we love our Logitech speaker + our sound system in the van is old school so this is our stereo too.{Lachie journaling by a lake in Serbia}
  1. No toilet in the camper, sucks!

Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of towns, cities or even parked up at a park with lots of people around & with no toilets which can be a tricky one. There have been a few instances where the orange bucket in the van has had to be used.

  1. Patience is key!

Being in a small space has its advantages & disadvantages. Getting up in the morning & thinking you’ll be able to get dressed, make a cup of coffee, eat some breakfast & be out the door in 10 minutes is next to impossible. It requires more time & consideration with preparation, organising & another person in mind… Patience is key.

{The view from our van in Slovakia, practising patience}

  1. Having high value goods in your car, can add to your stresses.

Ultimately living in a van means you have everything you own with you while you are on the move. When the van is parked up & you are exploring a town or city it plays on your mind that you may have your camera or laptop in the car for someone to break in & steal or it means that you just carry everything with you!

  1. Documenting the travel aka www.honesttucker.com.

Is a great way to keep track of things but its not always how it looks on our Blog or Instagram. We have found having the blog to document our highlights & fun finds has been a great way to remember places, things that happen, people we meet along with give us a purpose to our travels. Also it’s been a great excuse to try out some tasty coffee in local cafes while we upload our posts online!

{Great coffee in Budapest at Espresso Embassy, strongly recommend going here!
Fun vibes & traditional jewish cakes too}

  1. Having four bikes, yes that’s right four bikes… in our van is becoming a bit of dilemma!

Its great having the town bikes to cruise around cities on & the mountain bikes to climb mountains on, but when the mountain bikes are erected which has been about 90% of the time these take up our living space & consequently mean we are climbing over bike tyres while brushing our teeth or putting the morning cup of coffee on & can get irritating & a little maddening at times!

{A great camping spot we found in Slovenia, note all the bikes in this picture, in the foreground & on the back of the van}

  1. Avoiding cities & getting off the beaten track.

We avoid the toll roads, which consequently results in longer travel time but means that you cruise through all the towns both big & small. Some of our best camping and adventuring locations have been found by travelling this. For us the best discoveries have been in the mountains & it has always seemed to be very easy, with no problems. The problem with cities is that it’s often hard to find good convenient places to park up the van. In contrast vanlife is perfect for remote places / the mountains / by lakes / where there is space.

{Walking towards a mountain that we hiked & camped on, in Switzerland}

  1. ‘Ice-Cream’ in every language you visit is a must know!

In saying this though you need to know when the right time to say yes….

  • German, it’s ‘Eis’
  • Italian, it’s ‘Gelato’
  • Hungarian, it’s ‘Jégkrém’
  • Serbian, Hungarian & Slovenian is all the same, it’s ‘Sladoled’
  • Slovak & Czech is the same, it’s ‘Zmrzlina’
  • French, it’s ‘Crème Glacée’

{The gelato creation a cute little Italian man made me}

  1. The best and most important thing on a van trip, is having the time!

Although in saying that the time that we have to travel of almost 9 months is not going to be long enough (if you can believe it). To make the most of the time we have, we try to get up early around 6am & seize the day. We meditate for about 15 minutes every day to check in & practise stillness of the mind & heck in with the body. We are also taking the time to keep a journal & appreciate what we are doing, why we are doing it, what we have in our lives & create goals for our future lives too. This is something I still want to practise now & moving forward, it’s a great way to reflect & work towards something, even if it’s only a to do list!

{Overlooking Lake Thun, Switzerland}

Oops & almost forgot… Taking in a few sunrises & sunsets. This is very important.

Rychlebske Stezky – Riding Bikes in Czech Republic

After a somber morning in Auschwitz, Poland, and while planning our next move to travel from Poland to the Czech Republic we stumbled across a cool little biking area, Rychlebske Stezky. It’s located in Czech Republic just across the border from Poland.

If you are into biking, hiking or just being outdoors & amongst a fun family friendly camping atmosphere, a holiday here could be your answer. With the opportunity to camp on either side of the hut / restaurant for less than €4 a night what more could you want. Did we mention the beers are around £1 a pop too!

The Rychlebske Stezky trails are a mixture of old hunting footpaths and specifically built mountain bike flow trails, offering riders the ultimate riding experience. With a mixture of trails on offer there is something for everyone. All of the tracks offer the unique landscape with deep dense forests, gigantic granite boulders, abandoned quarries and idyllic mountain streams. The up hill bike trails are also pretty incredible as they are not just standard fire roads, but tailored tracks through the forest & beside a flowing waterfall. This makes for an enjoyable climbing experience.

The Super Flow trail is the must do trail. According to some fun facts it’s a special route, which was built together with experts from Wales and a guy called Rowan Sorrell and his crew called Back On Track. It is a one of the best flow trails that we have done to date. The track starts off smooth & a little uninteresting but builds up to waves of trail along with banked turns, berms that swing you around the corners & crests that pull you up into the trees.

At the time of our visit some work was being made to ‘Mramorowy trail’ so we had to take a detour but found our way to the adjoining trail, Sjezdy, it isn’t a huge trail, around 110m decent but offers a great clean, crisp ride with a  number of really fun jumps, Hana mastered 3 in a row finishing with a wide smile.

To find out more, check out – http://www.rychlebskestezky.cz/ or visit on facebook at – https://www.facebook.com/Rychlebsk%C3%A9-stezky-217277161616193/

Location: Černá Voda 193, Černá Voda, Olomoucký Kraj, Czech Republic

The glorious mountains in Slovakia, The High Tatra’s

The High Tatra Mountains are an epic mountain range located at the border between northern Slovakia and Southern Poland. Formed of Granite the Tatra’s rise out of the Carpathian mountain range to over 2500m. Everyone we talked to as we approached Slovakia recommended the Tatra’s as a must visit location. They did not disappoint!

We had four days in the Tatra’s with a mixed bag of rain, sun, wind & some wicked lightening. The weather didn’t slow us, or any of the many other tourists down, and we managed to either hike or bike everyday we were there. With 25 peaks over 2500m there are so many trails to choose from, the ones that we stumbled upon were awesome and are worth checking out.

On our first night in the Tatra’s we randomly decided to camp next to a mountain lake called Strbske Pleso.  Strbske Pleso, is located at 1350m a.s.l and about 600m above the valley floor to the south of the range. It turned out to be one of the famous tourist towns in the Tatra’s with multiple elaborate hotels and a chairlift running up the ridgeline of one of the peaks from the northern end of the lake. We camped in the public carpark for the night, the parking warden was happy for us to stay as long as we paid him 6 Euros for the following days parking.

In the morning it was teeming down, so we donned our Gore-Tex jackets and pants and set out to do a loop track to a tarn approx. 4km north of the town. Along the track there were a number of info boards which provided details on the fauna and flora of the mountain ranges; identifying the different trees, bushes, mountain cats, bears etc.

At the tarn there were a couple of restaurants and we enjoyed some hearty beef Goulash soup, while we got some respite from the rain! The restaurant workers told us that all the trails continuing on from the than were open. One of the hikes was to the top of Mt Rysy, a 2499m peak.

At the base of the hike was the sign shown below detailing how you could get a free cup of tea at the hut below the peak of Rysy if you carted up some fire pellets or some of the food in the safe at the base. Relishing the idea of a free cup of tea, and the opportunity to help the hut we loaded up and set off.

The hike to the top of Rysy goes up through the forest and emerges into alpine shrubs were it passes a couple of tarns, waterfalls and thick snowdrifts. The track then continues through rock fields were ‘lichen’ is the only living plant, over near via-ferratta terrain to arrive at the hut just below the peak.

By the time we arrived at the hut it was blowing pretty hard so we abandoned the idea of knocking the top off and enjoyed hot tea while it poured cats and dogs outside. When the rain halted we made our way back down to the van for some much deserved dinner and rest!

We awoke the following day to calm clear weather. Over breakfast we dried out our gear and then went to the Information Centre in Stary Smokovec to get a recommendation on where to hike for the day. They recommended that we hiked to Teryho Chata located up the valley next to another spectacular tarn. It was surprising how many people were on the track, we would have passed at least 200 people throughout the day.

The track to Teryho Chata winds up the valley from Stary Smokovec passing more amazing waterfalls, forests, terminal moraines and massive rock walls.

At the top we treated ourselves to a sauerkraut soup and a desert of pancakes, with chocolate, cream and maple syrup too. Supposedly a local dish so we had to try it… Pretty damn tasty!

On our final day in the Slovakian side of the of the Tatra’s we camped at the base of the ski area in Tatranska Lomnica.

Halfway through dinner we were joined by a wild, but very friendly deer. Lachie even patted him & fed him some grass.

The following morning, we rode from the carpark up to Zelene Pleso.

The track is a four wheel drive track the whole way, but is not for beginner riders! From about halfway the track is made up of large boulders that require a reasonable level of skill to navigate.

At the top we braved the icy cold waters of the tarn, and quickly headed into to get warm in the hut over a strudel and coffee.

We spent the last day on the Polish side of the Tatras in Zacopane, a busy tourist town with more shops than you could point a stick at. There is a reasonably good market here, but the throngs of tourists were tough to deal with.

The one highlight of Zacopane was the pork knuckle and kebabs that are cooked over open fires in the restaurants throughout the shopping district. Certainly worth a try!

 

Grand Architecture, unique cultural traditions & incredibly tasty baked goods, Budapest

Budapest is a remarkable city to visit, the buildings range from beautiful, grand and immaculately kept to grungy, falling to pieces and riddled with bullet holes (some still unpatched). With the last Hungarian Revolution occurring in 1956 (where approx. 3000 were killed after a student demonstration escalated) and the Russians only leaving the country in 1991, Budapest has a volatile history.

On our last day we met an old man called Laszlo (the name derives from a famous 11th Century King of Hungary) who gave us his life story and described some of the tough times that Hungary has seen. He described how the police would take people from their homes to vote if they didn’t go themselves, and how there was only 1 party to tick when you got to the polling booth. How it was almost impossible to travel, despite being able to easily get a passport, because no-one would exchange the Hungarian Forint, so effectively you were broke when you left the country. Laszlo never thought he would live to see the day that the Russians left Hungary, he said that the liberty to travel and live life how you wish, since the Russians left, has been the most incredible gift. It goes to show how lucky we are.

Lachlan  with Laszlo and his dog Doti

We spent a long weekend in Budapest and managed to cover a lot of the city on our single speed bikes in a few days; however, you could easily spend a week in this beautiful city and not run out of things to do. A few of our favourite places worth seeing & visiting are:

Espresso Embassy

With a rich café culture, the extensive selection of amazing & highly recommended cafes made it hard to choose. Espresso Embassy was really good, the staff were so friendly & helpful, and they have an amazing selection of coffee to purchase along with tasty treats, both savory & sweet! Ask for the Apple, Walnut & Poppy Seed Traditional Jewish cake, its unbelievably good (see top right in the picture above)!

Lukacs Baths

(Photo credit – to the official website of Lukacs Baths, we didn’t end up getting any!)

Budapest is well known for its Thermal baths and the health benefits of its thermal waters. Our favorite place was Lukacs Baths, it was the most cost effective baths we could find and had some amazing old baths which are the oldest consistently running baths in the City. Baths have been in operation here since the 12th Century. The Sauna runs at 85 degrees, try doing a 20min stint followed by 5min in the cold tub…. It’s a journey!

This is from the other baths we visited in Budapest, the ‘Gellért Baths’

Our Amazing Lunch, at ‘Grandma’s House’

We came across this quaint little spot by accident. Think local cuisine served in your Grandmas sitting room, wallpaper mixed with floral everywhere, and you will have some idea of what its like. Its right over the road from the Lukacs Baths so easy to stop by after a long relaxing spa.

The shoes on the Danube

The shoes on the Danube is a memorial to honour the Jews who were lined up on the banks of the Danube and ordered to take off their shoes before being shot and pushed into the Danube so that their bodies were dragged away by the current.

Mazel Tov

Mazel Tov was recommended to us by a Slovenian guy, Marco, at Trail days in Kranjska Gora. It is a Jewish restaurant serving a range of Israeli street food and modern cuisine.  The food is spectacular, but what really makes the place is the live music. While we were there a young guy used a loop machine to build up modern pop songs using only his Violin, it was unreal!

The Central Market Hall

A great place to get some local cured meats! The garlic one was our favourite.

Castle Vajdahunyad

This castle is located in the Budapest Park, if you are going to Budapest in a van like us there is a massive carpark on the edge of the park that is free and you are allowed to camp in. This is really close to town and makes the visit to Budapest 100 times easier.

Citidella

Located on west side of the city over-looking the Danube and the city. Half way to the Citadella there is an old roman half circle shaped monument, Fun fact – if you whisper on one corner your voice echo’s around to the other corner.

The view from the top of the Citadella.

To Health & Happiness & ‘The Gut’

For some time now, we have both been very interested in the topics of health, happiness and how to get the most out of our bodies. Our journey down the health rabbit hole that seems to be gripping the world right now; think the banishing of refined sugars, paleo diets, high fat / low carb, different types of training techniques, started some time in 2015 when Lachlan got hit by a stomach ulcer caused by Helicobacter Pylori. The ulcer inevitably resulted in weight loss, stomach pain, and a massive course of antibiotics to get rid of it. This experience peaked our interest in all things health and we started delving into personal research on how we can get peak performance out of our bodies so we are healthy, happy and ready to take on all of our epic adventures! Our intention is to use this blog to share with you some of the research, interesting findings, life hacks that we have discovered in our quest.

As we are over 80 days into our adventure now (crazy right??), there have been a lot of healthy discoveries, happy moments, endless fun finds & epic adventures. So here is the beginning of the health & happiness side to our blog.

This post is about a book that we read over six months ago, called “The Gut” or “Darm mit Charme” in German (translating as Charming Bowels), it’s a must read! It’s a book Hana stumbled across with her ongoing searches for good foods for the gut & how the gut actually works one night in London.

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, is written by an incredible young German biologist, Giulia Enders, and endeavours to tell the story of how the gut works from a simple and somewhat comical perspective that is easy for any layperson to understand. Let’s be honest, the gut is not an immediately interesting topic to most people. With the farting and belching that it can sometimes create it’s at times a rather embarrassing body part. Although the subject of defecation, constipation & general bodily functions is covered the message is far more important than this; ‘our gastrointestinal tract is not only the body’s most underrated organ’, as Enders puts it, but it’s the brains most important guru.

The magic of The Gut is that you are enchanted by Giulia’s story telling along with creative illustrations from beginning to end, and as a result soak up a lot of information that would otherwise perhaps be dull and tedious to read about.

Illustrations by Guilia’s sister – Jill Enders

A couple of the key takeaways, learnings and quotes from the book are:

  1. In an experiment conducted with cleansed mice scientists found that when planted with certain bacteria they could:
  • develop problems metabolising sugar when planted with the bacteria from a type 2 diabetic.
  • start to become obese when given bacteria from obese humans
  • When bold and timid mice had their gut bacteria switched they started to show personality traits of the other mice. i.e. the bold grew timid and the timid grew bold.
  1. The gut nervous system is massive, second only to the brain, and can work in conjunction with the brain sending packets of information to the brain. Enders uses an example; ‘think of the feeling you get in your gut before a big exam’ or for some of us before a bungee jump, etc. The gut holds onto this feeling & will remember it for future experiences too.
  2. ‘I like to compare the gut flora with a forest. It’s really an ecosystem; diversity makes it more resilient’
  3. ‘1.2 billion people around the world who squat have almost no incidence of diverticulosis and fewer problems with piles. We in the west, on the other hand, squeeze our gut tissue until it comes out of our bottoms’ – This is an astonishing fact & something that has now influenced the way that we go to the toilet, it helps while on the road that squatting over a bucket in the van is sometimes the only option. You could try this at home with a little stool, pop it in the bathroom & pop your feet up on top of it when you are going to the loo, & see if you notice the difference!
  4. The reference to the different types of stools that there are; another great reference is the ‘Bristol Stool Chart’.

With so much study & research going into the importance of gut health & how this could directly influence our mental health, our wellbeing, our motivation, this drives the importance to know more. Enders’ enthusiasm is contagious and will change your view of your insides, as she states; ‘the more you know about the gut, the more beautiful it appears’. It really has opened up a new curiosity for us and we have so much interest in learning more about this topic; the brain & the gut.

 

Another quirky illustration by Jill Enders

If you have anything to share with us please do so, feel free `to email us at; hello@honesttucker.com