On a self-guided holiday, whether on foot or bicycle, every day will be an adventure. You will be challenged. There is a very good chance you will get lost. You will have your independence, but your night’s accommodation will have been booked for you, and—probably—your luggage moved. Your route will have been at least loosely planned. Emergency help from the company that arranged your outing is usually available.
I’ve hiked and cycled in many lands and for me the self-guided trip is the best of all holiday worlds. But these are not for everybody. Here are some tips on what, and what not, to expect.
“I don’t come out for flats,” said good-looking Christophe, who had picked us up in Tours, France for our cycling trip in the Loire Valley. We four women, keen cyclists, but lacking in the area of mechanics, were stunned. Thankfully we did not have a flat tire on our seven days of cycling, however, we did have some other issues that required calls to Christophe: a bike lock that wouldn’t open, for example. He responded, but in a very laissez-faire manner.
Needless to say, we were less than impressed. When our hosts, Detours in France, asked us for feedback, we let them know. When they heard that Christophe, a contract person, was less than efficient, they got someone else to service their Loire Valley clients. So, no matter how excellent the company—and I give Detours a glowing report—you may encounter a negligent person.
Although the maps and directions provided on self-guided trips are usually detailed, trust me, you will lose your way, especially when travelling in groups. On England’s Coast-to-Coast Walk—304 grueling kilometres—our group of eight constantly disagreed and sometimes arrived into tiny villages from four different directions! A marker in a farmer’s field or a cairn in a wood may seem straightforward, but everyone deciphers directions differently. What I’ve learned is, when travelling with a group, to take turns putting one person in charge. They determine which way to go and if they lead you wrong, they buy the brew in the pub that evening.
Another lesson: utilize the locals. When walking the hilltop villages of Tuscany we hailed grape pickers, stopped farmers driving tractors and knocked on doors to ensure we were on the right track to tiny places like Chiusure (not mentioned in any guidebook). Our many conversations only added to the allure of the countryside. This trip was with Randonnée, a Vancouver-based company that was especially good at providing wonderfully varied accommodation: a grand 16th-century manor one night, a lovely farmhouse the next.
One day in Ireland, cycling on my own, I showed a man walking his dog my map. He studied it and said, “You can’t be following this, lass, you’ll be lost!” I laughed and we chatted. I was indeed lost, but what a pleasure: to pedal country lanes, to talk to the people you meet and eventually to find your own way.
For more information on cycling the Loire Valley visit the Detours in France website at www.detours-in-france.com.
For more information on hiking the hilltop towns of Tuscany visit the Randonnée Tours website at www.randonneetours.com.