Stephen, who enjoyed the recent Travel SOS on walking holidays in Italy and Spain, has asked Kay O’Sullivan for similar information about France.
Q. I enjoyed the article on walking tours in Italy and Spain and I’m hoping you can give me some tips and information about companies in relation to France. Our focus would be on the small villages and maybe chateaux as we’ve tended to travel by train in the past and mostly seen the larger towns. We’re both pretty fit and would really like to see France on routes that are a little more off the beaten track but not too far off track hopefully.
A. When I read your question, I immediately thought of the Australian company UTracks, which has been offering active holidays involving walking, cycling, boating, etc. through Europe since 2007.
UTracks’ general manager Kate Baker says you are spoiled for choice if France is your preferred destination. Utracks offers 116 holidays through that beautiful country, 20 of them guided and the rest self-guided. All regions are covered, and all fitness levels catered for. If you opt for a self-guided walk, you can start virtually any day of week that suits. And as the tours are nearly all-inclusive, there are no hidden costs beyond the initial price.
Which brings me to the perception that anyone can sort their own travel on the internet and that it will be a hell of a lot cheaper than any company can provide. On this, Kate is unequivocal. Not so, she says. “Because we have long established relationships with the hotels and services along the route, our buying power means we can pass on very affordable prices,” adding that UTracks doesn’t use chain hotels rather the accommodation is specifically chosen to reflect the style of the trip.
“We will always get a better price than an online aggregator because of the volume of traffic they provide. No doubt about it,” she says. And, as she says, trying to book a B&B in a small town on the internet can be quite a hassle if English is not the hotel manager’s first language.
And as for the walk itself, Kate says route notes and maps provided for self-guided trips are bang up to date, unlike guidebooks on which independent travellers have to rely.
And I would add that you should be wary of the information about tracks and trails even when you are on ‘official’ tourism sites. My experience as a travel writer endlessly researching travel websites suggests that generally destinations don’t update information on their websites often enough to be entirely reliable, and that is especially true of rural locations.
“Also, if something goes wrong when travelling by yourself, who are you going to call? Self-guided trips offer 24-hour local emergency contacts, which can be the difference between getting back on the trail in a matter of hours, or aborting the trip completely,” says Kate.
I’ve also jumped on Utracks.com and found the Vineyard Trails of the Loire for you. The eight-day self-guided walk delivers all the elements you are after – chateaux, lots of walking, small villages – plus plenty of opportunities for a glass of French wine. It sounds like heaven to me.
Now, I’m wondering whether you and your wife would like some company on your trip?
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Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has written about travel for numerous papers, magazines both here and internationally and on the internet.