Mountains

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Six (Refugio Bonatti to La Fouly)

Refugio Bonatti - Refugio Elena

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Striding out from Bonatti at 7:15am with a good breakfast behind us we knew it was going to be a long day. One of the more difficult sections of the TMB, the route to Col Ferret was always going to be a challenge, especially in adverse weather conditions. The initial track from the Refugio is steady going. It's a well worn path that cuts across the hillside towards a farm and then weaves downhill through the trees to Arnuva where there is a tearoom and outdoor seating. Whether you are able to stop in the tearoom or not (we couldn't, it was closed) it is the last flat ground you are going to see for some time. The path begins to wind uphill across open grass, increasing in altitude until you reach Refugio Elena. The refuge is well placed at a the end of the valley with the huge Glacier de Pré de Bar behind it which spills out onto the mountainside. Elena is only open until mid-September. Therefore it was closed and there were no facilities but it can still be used to shelter from the elements and as an opportune spot to look up at the hill you have yet to climb.

Looking back to Bonatti

Looking back to Bonatti

Refugio Elena to Grand Col Ferret

This is probably one of the harder sections of the standard TMB and for us the poor weather certainly made it seem so. Taking around 1h30m to reach the summit of Grand Col Ferret, the track is relentless. I have no comments regarding the view due to driving rain and sleet which along with the cloud made visibility very low. After an arduous climb, the path evens out to reach a triangulation point at the top. At 2534m you feel pretty high up and Switzerland beckons. Apparently the panorama is incredible...

Grand Col Ferret to La Fouly

A muddle of signs

A muddle of signs

Passing by Grand Col Ferret, the path then leads gradually downhill. After an hour of walking you will reach La Peula where you can find a variety of food and drinks. Despite welcoming this watering hole, the cost of the first rest in Switzerland doesn't come cheap. Even though this is a great spot to warm your hands by the fire, you can expect to pay at least 18CHF for two sandwiches and two cups of coffee. Prices nearly as steep as the climb!

Leaving La Peula it takes another hour to reach the tiny hamlet of Ferret and then a further 45 minutes to reach La Fouly, mainly walking alongside the river and in the process crossing a very wonky bridge. As with lots of places in Switzerland, La Fouly is a cute, little town with extra large price tags. The main campsite in the town is Camping du Glaciers which has fantastic amenities, including a heated room to sit, cook and enjoy the company of others. However, camping here will set you back 24CHF a night for two people and it is by far the cheapest option available. Switzerland is expensive and even going to the local supermarket to buy food involves taking out a small loan. You can still visit on a budget though. We bought soup and bread, cooked it at the campsite on a fellow camper's stove (thanks Kevin!) and then played cards with friends we had met along the trip. Great fun.

Wonky bridges near La Fouly

Wonky bridges near La Fouly

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Five (Courmayeur to Refugio Bonatti)

Courmayeur - Refugio Bertone

Refugio abertone in the cloud

Refugio abertone in the cloud

Sometimes the signs along the trail are hilarious. A sign at the bottom of a hill will boldly declare that you have 1h30m until you reach the top. Bracing yourself for an uphill climb you set off and walk for 15/20 minutes until you reach the next sign which still boldly declares that you have 1h30m until you reach the top! Therefore, don't take them literally! One spot along the trail where this is evident is on the route from Courmayeur. A steady incline along Villair road leading from the town takes you to the foot of a forest which then rises in steep zigzags all the way to Rifugio Bertone at the top. Half way along this path was the spot where the signs played tricks with us. A friend we met along the trail (a guy called Herakles from Seattle) even went so far as to suggest the signs always altered their figures for the person looking at them depending on how slow they thought you were walking!

Great views can be seen through the trees down to Courmayeur at various places along the forest path. You are rewarded for your efforts at Bertone where there is sheltered seating and a selection of hot drinks. The coffee here is wonderful!

Refugio Bertone - Refugio Bonatti (via Col Sapin)

Replenished and refreshed from Bertone it is a small uphill climb to reach Mont de la Saxe with the way being flat and pleasant all the way to Col Sapin. Cloudy days provide an eerie haze across the grassland and be on the lookout for Ibex who like to hang out in these areas.

Misty mountains at Bonatti

Misty mountains at Bonatti

    Every year there is a 330km race that ends in Courmayeur, if you are in the town to watch the runners come in you can cheer them on and watch the grimaces on their faces as they aim for the finish. Some of the runners complete the race in three days which works out at over 100km per day! Lots of runners passed us on this section of the route working out their final few kilometers down to the finish. If you are there when they are, give them room to run and a clap as they pass by.

The final route to Refugio Bonatti is a slippery slope of mud and if you are lucky enough to be walking in the rain, poles really help here. Despite this, the way is not difficult to navigate and with the exception of a final ascent to warmth and comfort, Bonatti is reached without too much effort. Refugio Bonatti is an excellently run private establishment. Everything about it is great: the location; the staff; the cleanliness; the bathrooms; the food and the general atmosphere. Hammering rain and uneven ground meant we welcomed the chance to stay in the refuge rather than camp and we were able to stay without booking ahead. We were there in September, where you rarely need to book ahead in order to stay but if you are hiking in July or August then booking is essential. The cost of a bed, breakfast and evening meal is €48 each and it is well worth it.

Having a half way pint after five days

Having a half way pint after five days

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Four (Refugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur)

Note that for this day we did not take the traditional route due to inclement weather. The official TMB route is said to be a glorious journey with incredible views. However, when we undertook this section the rain was pouring and the visibility low. Therefore we took the variant route through Val Veny.

 Refugio Elisabetta - Refugio Monte Bianco

Wait, is that blue sky!? 

Wait, is that blue sky!? 

Descending down from Elizabetta in the early morning mist makes you realize how close you are to nature. The rain was pouring, our packs were heavy and our boots were soggy but the river ran wild and the air was fresh. The path (which can be observed from the Refugio) runs straight down the middle of the valley and at the end of a very straight track there is a split. The right path leads uphill and is signposted Courmayeur, the left path leads straight on across the bridge and is labeled Monte Bianco. The latter is the one to take in bad weather. Although it's not an incredibly exciting journey, the views are still spectacular with huge cliff faces to look at the whole way down.

Cloud shrouded mountains on the way to Courmayeur

Cloud shrouded mountains on the way to Courmayeur

 Refugio Monte Bianco - Courmayeur

Day four in the rain! 

Day four in the rain! 

Again, this route should not be taken in preference to the standard route except in bad weather. There are no real notable viewpoints, it involves quite a lot of road walking and you have to be on the lookout for cars going way too fast. On reaching Courmayeur, it is more pleasurable. Whilst having the alpine feel of towns we had already passed, Courmayeur also feels very Italian. Narrow winding streets, cobbled stones, miniature balconies, pizzerias, coffee shops and wine bars all contribute to this feeling. With no campsites near Courmayeur and the possibility for wild camping off the cards we decided to book into 'the cheapest hotel in the town.' The place whose name escapes me now cost €57 per room, per night. Despite the fact that it was a shared bathroom and the decor hadn't been changed since the Romans were around, the balcony was cracking! Hungry for food, we strolled the streets in the hope of a cheap and cheerful meal. We were surprised to find plenty of options for main courses under €15. Courmayeur caters for a high society, especially during ski season and yet there are many hotels that are very reasonably priced. You can tell that the town is used to a rich crowd as intermingled with all the cute Italian stuff is Prada, Gucci and Fashion for Dogs. And real estate, lots and lots of real estate.

9 miles.

Winding streets of Courmayeur

Winding streets of Courmayeur

Tour Du Mont Blanc - Day Three (Les Chapieux to Refugio Elisabetta)

Les Chapieux - Refuge des Mottets

FREE campsite at Les Chapieux! 

FREE campsite at Les Chapieux! 

There is a shop in Les Chapieux that sells local cheese and fresh bread and it is open from 7:30am. I would highly suggest stocking up there. We bought a fresh crottin of goat cheese, a sizable baguette, two croissants and two apples in readiness for the day for only €8. The route to Refuge des Mottets used to meander along the road but it now cuts along the hillside on the other side of the river, past plenty of cows all donning bells around their necks and hence making the whole experience feel very alpine. The cows were in the process of being moved from one side of the bridge to another and gruff farmers in wooly jumpers were to be seen shouting angrily at some of the more uncooperative bovine beasts in the bunch.

Cows on the move in the sun! 

Cows on the move in the sun! 

Refuge des Mottets - Col de la Seigne

Refuge des Mottets is great. It comes into view at the end of the long valley from Les Chapieux. It's a perfect spot for a brew before making the ascent up to the Col. Although a cup of England's finest is rather on the expensive side at €2.50 a pop, the refuge is well worth seeing due to its museum like display of old cheesemaking equipment decorating the walls. As you sip on your caffeine and look up you can see a Swiss flag flying in the wind and beyond it the vast hill that awaits you.

Looking back down the valley from Les Chapieux

Looking back down the valley from Les Chapieux

The Cicerone guidebook describes this section of the hike up to the Col as 'not arduous' but I highly doubt Mr. Cicerone was carrying camping gear up the hairpin paths. I also doubt that he had a near gale force wind blowing in his direction as he made his ascent. Signs advise the hiker that it takes two hours to get to the Col, which isn't far off depending on the size of your bag (and your calves). Helpfully for the hiker, the path does get less steep the further you ascend but to counteract this the wind gets stronger. Or it did when we went up. Reaching the top you'll find a stone edifice showing distances to far off cities and a small, crumbling wall to shelter behind whilst you eat fresh goat cheese and bread. Standing on the top, the view is incredible. On the edge of two countries, you can look ahead towards the wild Alps of Italy whilst looking over your shoulder at the French valley you have just climbed. That's providing you're not shielding your face from the wind and murmuring expletives.

Goat cheese and bread on the top. €3! 

Goat cheese and bread on the top. €3! 

Col de la Seigne - Refugio Elisabetta

After the 'not arduous' climb up to the Col, there is relief in the form of an abundance of downward paths into the valley beyond. If Refugio Elisabetta is your destination, ensure that you take the paths leading downhill and not the one to the right that continues uphill, even though it may look the more obvious route. The web of paths eventually mold into one and it descends all the way to the Refugio, which can't be visibly seen until it's right under your nose. It's a pretty impressive sight, the only building in view it commands your attention. Whilst wild camping is not permitted in Italy below 2500ft (and the whole area is), you can pitch a tent as long as you are not in view of the Refugio. I know you can because I asked. Eating in the Refugio costs €25 for what is a really good three course meal. Alternatively you can stay half-board for €45 per night. Under normal circumstances we would have camped but the weather was terrible and Refugio looked excellent! This seems to be one of the more popular Refugio's and it's not hard to see why. The Italians are good hosts!

9.7 miles

The route onwards to Italy from Col de Seigne

The route onwards to Italy from Col de Seigne

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Two (Les Contamines to Les Chapieux)

Les Contamines - Col du Bonhomme

The Cicerone guide book I have suggests that the gradient to begin this day is more difficult than Les Houches to Col de Voza but I am inclined to disagree. The route to Col du Bonhomme is long and fairly challenging (especially with a 15kg bag on your back) but the way is varied and feels more like a mountain path. Whilst still steep, there are steps up's, protruding rocks and Roman slabs to maneuver your feet around thus making the walk interesting and less demanding. The route from Les Houches on day one is simply a road on an incline. Not good for the feet.

The route to La Balme

The route to La Balme

La Balme

La Balme

As you rise up through the valley the eyes set view upon two refuges, the second of which is called Chalet la Balme which serves a nice cup of tea with a great view down from where you just walked. This is well worth a stop considering the next leg of the journey is considerably more challenging. Leaving Chalet la Balme behind and feeling refreshed from the tea, the track continues to rise more steeply to the top of Col du Bonhomme. The view from here is arguably the best of the day and a great stop for a picture. Our picture was taken by a lad we met at the top named Dustin who turned out to be just one of the friends we made during the ten day hike.

Col du Bonhomme - Col de la Croix

The route up Col du Bonhomme

The route up Col du Bonhomme

Admiring the view from every angle there are two paths to take from Col du Bonhomme, one to the right and one to the left. The left path is the one to take and it continues immediately uphill to the next Col - Col de la Croix. By the time the second Col is reached, you've gained 2500m of elevation and conquered the highest point in this section. The refuge just past the Col appears all of a sudden almost out of thin air, perched on the hillside of the valley you are about to descend providing you are taking the standard TMB route and not the variant route. We didn't make a stop but refreshments are available should you need them and apparently they are pretty good!

Col du Bonhomme! 

Col du Bonhomme! 

Col de la Croix - Les Chapieux

Col du la Croix

Col du la Croix

It's all downhill from here. Literally. Taking the path left of the refuge begins the long winding route to Les Chapieux. Les Chapieux cannot be seen from the top (and can only just about be seen from the bottom!) and there are no signs until you get much further down the mountain. Just as you think there can't be any civilization in the valley, the small hamlet can be seen from the stone bridge that crosses the river. The best thing about Les Chapieux is that the camping is FREE and it is situated in a large field behind the tourist information office, you literally can't miss it. If you do miss it you must be a halfwit. The Auberge de la Nova is large and many people stay and eat there. We met up with our Italian friend from the previous night's camping and made a new friend from Chicago. The best thing about hiking is that you meet so many different people.

Les Chapieux just peeping out! 

Les Chapieux just peeping out! 

Even though we were taking the opportunity to camp for free we still needed to eat. We had the set menu of a three course meal involving soup, beef cheeks, cheese and pannacotta all for €22 per person. We went to bed with full bellies. Can't say fairer than that.

11 miles.

Tour Du Mont Blanc - Day One (Les Houches to Les Contamines)

 Les Houches - Col de Voza

Setting off early is the key to any successful hike so we packed up the tent, threw on our packs and gallantly walked to the start of the trail. With only a small divergence into the bakery to buy €1 croissants and a tuna sandwich we set of for Col de Voza, our first milestone for the day and the highest point at 1653m. I consider myself to be a relatively fit thirty year old hiking enthusiast, a middle of the road kind of guy. With that in mind, the first section of the walk is not easy. It is an uphill climb, on a road, for two hours. It's pretty steep at the start, it's pretty steep in the middle and then steep at the end. Nevertheless, it certainly elevates quickly and there are grand views down to the valley where Les Houches is situated. A wonderfully positioned picnic table near the top of the Col is a perfect spot from where you can ravage a recently acquired tuna sandwich.

Tuna sandwich eating spot

Tuna sandwich eating spot

Col de Voza - Bionassay

As an Englishman with a terrible hold on any other language except my own I have no idea how to say Bionassay, so I either plump for Beyoncé or Beyond the Sea. However it is pronounced, one can't deny that it is a huge glacier that fills the view for most of this section, slowly luring you in with it's icy, glistening majesty.

As well as being a hiking route, the TMB interlinks frequently with a bike trail therefore you can expect to be dodging cyclists at various points along the route. We stopped to talk to a traveling band of of bike enthusiasts who were attempting to ride up a hill far too steep for comfort. I exchanged stories about our routes so far with a German man who had leg muscles the size of Munich. I described how our bags felt like they were filled with rocks and he laughed. With him stretching in his Lycra and I averting my attention from a potential view of a budgie smuggling, he boasted that he was cycling about three million miles a day. After a few minutes of comparisons regarding effort, I had been reduced from feeling like I was conquering Everest to acting like I was complaining about taking a short stroll from the kitchen to the lounge! Not to mention that this guy was in his late fifties and physically fitter than me, our interaction came to an end with his sarcastic comment of 'perhaps one day you'll be a man and get a bike!' I bid the leg-flexing German goodbye and only fleetingly hoped he fell off his bike into a pile of cow dung.

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Bionassay - Gruvaz (via Le Champel)

This section evens out under foot and passes through two tiny hamlets of Le Champel and La Villette of which the former has a Gîte that is open all year round if you so desire to retire for the night. Passing uniquely built houses with flowers on every corner you would have to do really well not to enjoy this stage of the walk. Nearly all villages along the TMB route and especially the ones in France are accompanied by a spring that continually splashes out fresh, cold water that can be taken advantage of by the thirsty hiker. We stopped here to replenish our bottles.

Gruvaz - Les Contamines

Home of the man who found Neptune! 

Home of the man who found Neptune! 

The last slog of day one is generally flat and pleasant with only the occasional hill to keep you in check. After passing through a dense wooded area with copious amount of red ants, the trail brings you to the small hamlet of Tresse which is where Alexis Bouvard was from. If you hadn't heard of him then don't worry neither had I but it turns out he was pretty famous around these parts from 1767-1843. He was the man who discovered Neptune which I found quite entertaining considering by this point the huge bag on my back was telling me that I'd in fact walked to the outer echelons of the solar system myself. Hauling our feet the last mile to Les Contamines which involves a mean uphill struggle right at the end, we were greeted by an aesthetically pleasing, quintessentially French, alpine town. Diving into the local supermarket for much needed sustenance we noticed yet again that this town has lots of amenities for the traveling walker. Whilst we munched on our food we looked up at some of the perfect, wooden hotels and contemplated our next move to find the campsite. The campsite (Camping Le Pontet) turned out to be a 40 minute walk from Les Contamines therefore taking our total to 12.5 miles for the day. At €14 for the night plus the option of a three course meal at the campsite for €15 each we decided that this was the place for us. Having dinner at this campsite I would highly recommend. You are sat round a table with people you don't know and eating enough to keep you full for a week. We sat with an American couple, 3 French blokes and a guy from Italy. Despite the language barrier from our side of the talking block we met some great people who all enjoyed walking, traveling and laughing at my terrible attempt at speaking French.

 

12.5 miles.

Les Contamines

Les Contamines

Tour Du Mont Blanc - Day Zero (Geneva - Les Houches)

Intro

To explain very briefly (and it doesn't take a genius to work it out) the Tour of Mont Blanc is a winding, circular hike around the 15,771ft massif that is the mountain of Mont Blanc. The snow covered, glacier-ridden peak is the highlight of a range that includes some of the most impressive mountains not only in the Alps, but in the world. Much in line with many other long distance hikes, the tour attracts huge numbers of people who aim to traipse the 110 mile (approximately) journey every year. Most walkers who attempt this feat generally stick to the summer months of July and August when the trail can be unbearably overpopulated. Also, the majority of people choose to stay in hotels or refuges for the entirety of their stay. Whilst a comfy bed can ease aching body parts at the end of long walking days it can also hike the price of the trip (no pun intended) to astronomical proportions - a great luxury if you have the funds but not really feasible if you don't. Based on the above, we decided that if we were going to actually enjoy the trail we would have to go in September and if we were going to afford the trip we would have to spend a considerable amount of nights in a tent. The official guide books for the trail are great but they don't go into great detail about camping options, so here is our experience.

The view from the Ouibus! 

The view from the Ouibus! 

Les Houches

The excited wife

The excited wife

Taking a 'Ouibus' from Geneva airport in Switzerland to Les Houches (very reasonably priced at €19 per person) was our choice of transport to the trail. The journey takes about an hour. Les Houches is a sensible starting point situated close to Mont Blanc, five miles south of Chamonix. Along with Chamonix it is probably the most popular spot to begin the anti-clockwise route. We camped for the night in Bellevue campsite on the south entrance to the village from the highway near the TMB trailhead. At €13.50 for two of us we snapped up a spot on the green grass, pitched our tent and went to explore Les Houches. More importantly we went to have our last beer for 11 days; a crazy, addled last minute decision of mine to build some will power! The main street is wonderfully neat and orderly, dotted with a mixture of bakeries, hotels, clothing stores, restaurants and the occasional cheese shop! If a good, cloudy beer and some cracking food is what you are looking for you should go to 'La Delice' where a very smiley English girl will make you feel welcomed. The town has everything you might require before starting a bloody long hike but beware, if you arrive on a Sunday as we did, nearly everything will be shut until late in the day.

 Preparing for the Off

Having slept in Athens airport in Greece the night before our flight to Geneva (different story) we were in need of some serious shut-eye and so made our way back to the campsite to prepare our bags ready for the start of the big walk that lay ahead of us. Guide books can tell you endless amounts of stuff but the best advice you can gain is from somebody who has just finished the trail as you are about to start. This opportunity arrived for us in the form of three guys from three different countries who meandered into the campsite and slumped down next to our tent having taken their last few steps of the hike. They told us in glorious detail about the conditions of the trails, the highlights, the details of refuges and campsites along the way, and how they felt at various points during the tour. Therefore, one conversation later we had gained a ski pole (they really do help going downhill) and found out that we could leave anything we don't require at the refuge in Les Houches for only €1 per day! I watched the three friends crack open a Heineken to celebrate their achievement and got into the tent with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Laying down on my makeshift pillow (which was in fact a crumpled shirt from my backpack) I thought to myself 'tomorrow I'm walking 12 miles with a bag the size of Jupiter and I'm not even having a beer again until I've done that very thing 11 more times.' And so the journey began...

Kefalonia, Kefallonia, Cephalonia, Kefallinia

Kefalonia is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea which is part of the Mediterranean. There are about a gazillion ways to spell Kefalonia (Kefallonia, Cephalonia, Cephallonia, Kefallinia just to mention a few) and depending on the sources you read, all of them are right/wrong. With that in mind, Kefalonia is a wonderfully aesthetic island that towers from the water with a certain dominance that immediately commands your attention. Approaching from the east it's huge, wild, undeveloped cliffs plunge into the sea like a scene from Jurassic Park. From the air the vast, vibrant greenery hardly seems to reflect the island's intense dry season due to a dense canopy of trees layering the ground as far as the eye can see. To say that it is pretty would be a huge understatement. Being the largest island in the vicinity, Kefalonia holds prime position in an Ionian chain straddled by Lefkas to the north, Zakynthos to the south and tiny Ithaka alongside it, which from above looks like a baby whale swimming alongside it's mother.

  • On approaching
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Landing at any airport is always a bit scary. Even with clear skies and no turbulence I'm always left wagering with the forces that be and saying to them 'if you get this plane down safely I'll be a good boy forever and ever' whilst gripping onto the arm rest so tightly that I'm in danger of cutting off my circulation. Suffice to say, I'm not keen on flying. However, this flight was different. Not only was the weather perfect for flying but the view of Kefalonia appearing out of the haze surrounded by the reflective, bright blue color of the Mediterranean Sea was enough to distract even the most nervous of flyers from hoping the pilot knows where the runway is.

  • On airports

Despite the size and ever increasing popularity of the island, Kefalonia's airport is the size of a small box with 'airport' written on it. If you have ever seen the Guinness world record of 'most people in a Mini Cooper' attempt then you can easily conjure up an image of the baggage return room at Kefalonia airport. Being English in a room full of English people only makes matters worse. Normal, well rounded people turn into luggage monsters desperately close to seeking the sun yet held at the final hurdle by a hot, crowded room whose staff work on Greek time (which is approximately 15 times slower than British time). If nothing else, it's entertaining to watch.

  • On driving

Hiring a car is easy on Kefalonia and you can expect to pay around €50 a day for a car that is just about big enough to swing around a cat. Deals are offered if you require one for multiple days. As opposed to England but much in line with the rest of the world, Greeks drive on the right, although based on experience you could say they drive in the middle. Taxis overtake on blind corners and scooters carrying anywhere between 1-4 people pretty much just have their own set of rules! Hairpin bends (usually on the side of mountain cliffs with sheer drops) are commonplace and you can guarantee you'll meet a large bus in the most awkward of spots whose driver doesn't slow down but simply speeds up, forcing you to squeeze as close as you can to the edge in the hope of staying alive. As with most of the islands, don't expect clear signage and be prepared to get lost in the backstreets of small towns. With all that in mind it's well worth hiring a car! The views are incredible.

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  • On food and drink

Authentic cuisine, home cooking and family run restaurants are standard in lots of Mediterranean countries and it's no different on Kefalonia. You'll find no McDonald's here. No Burger King, no Subway, no KFC, no other huge chain that has managed to take over most of the world. Here you can sit at a modest restaurant by the water, order a full meal and still pay less than the average visit to a greasy counter. As a rule of thumb, main courses cost around €8, starters around €4, beer around €3 and a glass of wine for €1! All in all, you can get a comfortably fat belly for no more than €25. Should you go to the supermarket to buy food, it's even cheaper.

  • On history

Kefalonia has a rich and tumultuous history of being invaded and ruled by different countries over the last 2000 years and it only became part of Greece in 1864. Locals argue that the island was the home of Odysseus which makes it famous for anyone who is a fan of Homer (although not Homer Simpson) and it was the setting for the book/film named Captain Corelli's Mandolin which is based on the Italian/German rule during the Second World War.

  • On everything else

Whether you want to lie on the beach all day, visit a coastal fishing village or take a hike to an ancient Acropolis, Kefalonia has a lot to offer. The island has an array of beaches with Myrtos beach being one of the most stunning. Aqua blue water that rushes waves onto bright, white pebbles backed by huge cliffs is the stuff of film sets. Lots of the island's building were destroyed in a severe 1953 earthquake with only the most northern town of Fiskado surviving. Today it is one of the most traditional, natural harbors on Kefalonia and a great place to visit for a bit of food next to the sea. Unlike so many of the other larger Greek islands, Kefalonia caters for tourists and yet doesn't lose it's character which is one reason why people keep going back again and again.

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Searching for Grizzlies with Huckleberry Wheat!

We were on the tail end of two great days in Glacier National Park and we still hadn't seen a grizzly bear. We didn't exactly want to come face to face with a 500lb claw ball but we still wanted to see one nevertheless. Our best shot was to go out at dusk in the car and scour the wilderness. In order to do so it was essential to have both the binoculars and a beer with a picture of a bear on it.

We headed into the local store not only in pursuit of a beer but a beer with 'a picture of a bear on it' - not easy to do in most large retail establishments! However, this was bear country so I was hopeful. I looked at the selection of singles in the cooler. There were four beers and surprisingly one of them pictured a bear! I picked up the chilled bottle and read 'Huckleberry Wheat.' I wasn't impressed. I generally don't like wheat beer or fruit beer so a combination of the two seemed like a bad idea but a bear's favorite fruit are huckleberries so I took it to the counter!

The kit for finding bears! 

The kit for finding bears! 

I chilled my Huckleberry Wheat and headed for a ranger event in which we had the privilege of attending a talk called 'Native America Speaks' - an hour of singing and information from a very inspirational character called Jack Gladstone about his life and the history of the Blackfeet Tribe. He sang a song with his guitar about 'a bear that stole the chinook.' Yet more bear related material leading us to believe that this was our night.

The scene was set. It was dusk. We had our huckleberry wheat beer from the Great Northern Brewing Company, we had been singing songs about bears who stole the wind and we had our binoculars. In order to find a bear I had to feel like a bear. We drank the Huckleberry Wheat and shivered, not because it was cold but because the taste wasn't to our liking and we began to search the mountains from the road for signs of bears.

We looked for some time and we still couldn't find one. To be precise we couldn't find anything, not even a chipmunk. I couldn't understand it, it was dusk, I was feeling native and I had my 'bear goggles' on! Rather sullenly Haley began the drive back to the campsite and I was left contemplating why fruit beers always leave a weird taste in your mouth when all of a sudden a bear ran across the road in front of our car! It was brown and it was fairly big! Could it have been a grizzly?! Or was it a lighter colored black bear? It all happened so quickly. He lumbered across the road 50 yards before our eyes and disappeared into the bushes! We were both super excited! Perhaps the bear was feeling sorry for us because we didn't enjoy the beer and he had heard of our search. Maybe he had decided to give us a quick glimpse to make us feel better! What a sight to see! The beer was ok but the bear was great!

Beer-o-meter rating: 5/10

Bear-o-meter rating: 10/10

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Banff - Cliffs, Colorful Lakes and Cheeky Wolves!

The lady in the AAA shop back in Boston told us that we should definitely go to Banff. She said that it was one of the best places she had ever visited and that we simply had to go. She was no stranger to travel herself having meandered through nearly all the states in the USA and the more she spoke to us the more we felt as though we needed to make a detour to visit this haven! Her enthusiasm was infectious: she told us of incredible mountain vistas, ample opportunities to hike the hundreds of miles of trails within the region and of the abundant wildlife that called the National Park home. By the end of our fifteen minute conversation we had already decided that Banff sounded like a place we had to visit. And so we added it to our route.

To put things into perspective, Banff is a the name of a town within Banff National Park which is itself part of a huge network of five National Parks. When looking at an ariel view of the map it appears as a huge splodge of green straddling British Columbia and Alberta. The area features glaciers found amongst the rugged crevices of the northern Rocky Mountains and when they melt they provide streams and waterfalls which turn into amazingly azure glacial lakes. Wildlife in Banff is diverse and truly wild. Grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, marmots and eagles can all be found here as well as numerous other small animals.

Having set off from Glacier National Park at 7am we were within the park boundary by 12pm. We set up our backpacking tent which takes a whole five minutes to assemble and headed to the town of Banff to explore. Put plainly, the town of Banff is brilliant. First and foremost it is a year round tourist town as it caters for a huge influx of summer visitors/hikers as well as the winter skiers. Everything in the town has been planned to perfection. The buildings are immaculate and built from local wood and it's incredibly clean. The main street has a bustling vibrancy to it that is amplified by the huge variety of accents and languages you can hear. People fly from all over the world to visit this place and it was not difficult to see why. Not only can you wander around this pretty place adorned with hanging baskets and pubs but you can look to the sky and see massive bare rock mountains towering over the town that light up in the sun like a shining shiny thing!

After completing our laundry (not particularly enthralling but not too many opportunities when camping!) and making a trip to the liquor store to check for local beverages (found a great one from Grizzly Paw Brewing!) we headed back to the campsite to cook and to finally get a shower after days of primitive camping!

The next day was one of the best days on our trip so far. We had planned a 9 mile hike from Lake Louise which is one of the most famous glacial lakes in the region. We arrived early before the crowds, packed the bear spray and approached the lake. The color of the lake left us pondering whether it could be such a natural phenomenon. It's bright blue, cloudy but electrifying. The only way I can describe it is as toothpaste blue, whatever that means. Whilst still gazing at the lake we began our climb to Lake Agnes, yet another glacial lake via Mirror Lake. The fresh air of the pine trees that encompass the whole area filled our lungs and the more we climbed the more we wanted to stop and take photos of the incredibleness!

Passing the two lakes (Mirror Lake being exactly like a mirror, so reflective that it could be the very one Narcissus became obsessed with!) we headed for the two peaks of Little Beehive and Big Beehive. One relatively strenuous climb later which involved stopping to watch a marmot going about his daily routine we reached the top. We dropped our packs and took in the panorama that opened up before us. At 7,400ft we were high enough to see everything we wanted to see! We peered over the edge of the cliff, Big Beehive was not named lightly - the drop was sheer on every side with the rock mottled and uneven like the sides of a beehive.

As we made our way back down to Lake Louise, clapping loudly every so often so as not to have a surprise interaction with a bear we marveled at the vast array of wildflowers on either side of the trail. With the sun beaming down on us we were ready for a cheeky beverage and we hastily made our way back to the campsite to see out the remainder of the day.

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But the fun didn't end there. Later on at dusk as we were sitting in our easy chairs Haley saw something creeping towards us. I turned my head to look and saw a wolf sneaking up on us from about 20 meters away! We both stood up quickly and the wolf made its exit (albeit after hesitating!) through the woods! A little scary but fantastic!

The lady in AAA shop was not wrong, Banff sure is a great place!

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Note - We only took pictures of our hike with the camera as I didn't take the IPad so we don't have them available to add to the post yet! And we only have one flip phone between us so that ain't gonna take no photos! 

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