Thursday, 20 November 2014

Walking in The Alpujarra

Walking in The Alpujarra

The Alpujarra is the area that is the southern slopes of Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Having walked all over Europe and in North Africa, I can honestly say that the walking here is unsurpassed. This is hill walking terrain rather than mountain walking of the high Sierra Nevada. It is characterized by steep sided valleys, terraces and pretty white washed villages.

Walking in The TaHa
 Although many of these pretty white washed villages provide a good base to stay, Capileira is undoubtedly the best place to base yourself. There are several good day walks to be had straight from the village and other walks could be had by either driving out or by catching the bus.

Busquistar, a village in The TaHa
Sierra Nevada Guides have some walks already written up on their website and run a programme of guided walks in the spring (April, May and early June). If you are thinking of a walking holiday for your walking club, then Mountain House Holidays are able to organize a package for you. A full board, fully guided week from £695.

It’s hard to pick out a favorite walk as there are so many to choose from, and according to season when flowers are out. Undoubtedly walking in the Rio Poqueira from Capileira or in the Taha de Pitres provide the best walking. It is also possible to venture up into the Sierra Nevada without having to tackle the mountains. Hoya del Portillo above Capileira provides a good starting point. Only half an hour above Hoya brings us to the viewpoint of Puerto Molino where the higher summits can clearly be seen, especially Mulhacen (the highest mountain in mainland Spain) and Veleta the 2nd highest in the Sierra Nevada.

Walking in the Alpujarra can get too hot in July and August.  Good times are March to June and September to November.  That said, if the sun is out, it is possible to walk in T shirts throughout the winter!

T Shirts in winter!

If you are restricted to the height of summer, there are several walks to be had in the high mountains where it is cool at altitude. It is possible to catch the National Park bus from Capileira to Mirador Trevelez 2700m asl. You can expect the tempreture at 3000m to be around 15 to 20 degrees during the afternoon in July if it is not windy. With wind chill you might be looking to wear a fleece or jacket.
From Mirador Trevelez, the old road leads to The Caldera at just over 3000m. From here a path leads down the Rio Mulhacen and you can make a circuit via the Refugio Poqueira (food, drinks and toilets) before returning to the bus at Mirador Trevelez.

Maps and English guidebooks are available locally, but to help with your planning, they can be obtained in advance from Stanfords. The Editorial Alpina map / guide to the Sierra Nevada and Alpujarra is a good start. Spanish maps are usually flimsy so consider getting your map laminated before you go.

Accommodation is plentiful. Pensions, Hotels and self catering are all available. If you are planning to visit in the hotter months (mid June through until the end of September, look for somewhere with a pool or plunge pool.  It’s great to cool off after a good walk!

Mountain House Holidays and Sierra Nevada Guides are the only qualified British guides (International Mountain Leaders) based in the Alpujarra / Sierra Nevada.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Walking in Slovenia’s Julian Alps

Walking in Slovenia’s Julian Alps

We first discovered Slovenia’s Julian Alps on a weeks Spring break in May / June 2011.  Since then we have spent a further 5 weeks getting to know the area in some depth.

Lake Bohinj
The Julian Alps are believed to be named after Julius Caesar and are the highest mountains in Slovenia with at Triglav 2864m the highest summit. The Slovene people are rightly proud of their mountaineering heritage and the national flag has Triglav represented on it. There is a “saying” in Slovenia that you are only a true Slovene if you have climbed Triglav.

As an alpine nation, its mountains are not as high as those in neighbouring countries but they are equally spectacular. There is an extensive network of mountain huts throughout its mountains making it quite possible to stay for longer periods high up without having to keep descending to a valley base each evening.

Martagon Lilly
Our first trip was in the spring of 2011.  Too early to access the high paths and summits because the high mountains were full of snow. We were able to walk to the summer pastures on the low alps where the cows were being taken up to from the villages and the wild spring flowers were very impressive. We were surprised at the warm weather, though the proximity to the Mediterranean generally gives a warmer and more stable climate than the western alps.

The second trip we made was for two weeks in August 2011.  The paths and mountains were now mostly clear of snow and we were able to explore the extensive network of paths and huts in the high mountains. Especially memorable was seeing both Edelweiss and the rare, endemic, Zoiss Bellflower.

We returned again for two weeks in 2013, this time leading walking holidays for Mountain House Holidays. We led two, week long holidays and were able to take our clients to the summit of Triglav. We became true Slovenes!

In September, 2014 we had the privilege to return once more leading a hut to hut walking holiday for Mountain House Holidays. Memorable on this trip was the accordion playing that we experienced at all of the huts we stayed at.

Pogacnikov Dom

Zoiss Bellflower
Situated less than an hours drive from Ljubiana Airport, the Julian Alps are very accessible. There are flights from both London Stanstead and Luton airports. We have found car hire quite cheap though there are taxi’s and mini-bus taxi’s available. By booking them in advance these also work out quite cheaply.

If you are planning to visit in springtime, there are lots of flowers out in late May and early June. An ideal base would be around Lake Bohinj. There are plenty of hotels, guest houses and hostels here to suit all. Hostel 13 in Studor offers good clean basic self catering accommodation. Hotel Starre offers good hotel accommodation.

For summer hut to hut trips you need a start and end point. The Aljazev Dom at the head of the valley above the village of Mojstrana has a massive “wow” factor that it overlooks the mighty north face of Triglav. This is one of the few huts that has showers and you can get a taxi or drive to within about 400m of the hut. We have also left bags here with our clean travelling clothes to return to on several occasions.

If you want a guided itinerary, Mountain House Holidays will help you sort out a suitable itinerary and provide you with a qualified International Mountain Leader who has knowledge of these beautiful mountains.

Mike and Jane from Mountain House Holidays are always willing to advise you to plan your walking holiday in Slovenia.


Friday, 7 November 2014

Mountain House News

Greetings from Mountain House Holidays
Peak Navigation Courses       &   Sierra Nevada Guides

It has been great to meet lots of you over the summer, which saw us spending time in Spain, Scotland, Swaziland and Slovenia.  Now we are back in Derbyshire and the nights are drawing in, we are working on our programme for 2015, and wanted to share a few of our ideas with our friends and customers.

 New for Next Year:

A 5 Day mini break 
the highest mountain in Greece. This is a walking itinerary but with some “exposed” paths. If you are interested in joining us, we’d really like to hear from you.

Munro bagging in Torridon, some of the more difficult mountains in Scotland. Six days of guided walking.

Navigation Course, October

We are trying out a new navigation course, designed for more 'mature' walkers, who are available during the week, and would appreciate learning in a smaller group or at a slower pace.  If you know anyone who might be interested in Map Reading for Mature Walkers, do pass on the information.

Don’t forget: All our navigation courses can be bought as gifts, so why not choose one (or 2) for friends and family this Christmas.

Sierra Nevada Guides are once again hosting a week of winter skills training in Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains. This year we plan to spend most of the week at the Poqueira Refuge, high in the mountains where we can put the new skills to good use.

Winter Skills Training Course in The Sierra Nevada in February

Next spring and summer we will be spending more time in Spain, so if you are interested in joining us during April, May, June, July & early August we can offer daily guided walks from the wonderful base of the hotel Alcadima starting and finishing at a date of your choice. (We were fortunate to spend a few days in September as guests at the Alcadima and really enjoyed the experience.) Our programme of daily walks cost 40 Euro's per day.

We always appreciate hearing from you with feedback, suggestions and requests for trips. If you are part of a group we can offer special rates on our holidays, or design a map reading, navigation or GPS course specially for you, so let us know what you would like.

Best wishes

Mike & Jane

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Munro Walking Holiday 2015, Torridon

Munro Walking Holiday with Mountain House Holidays

Following on from successful holidays over the past two years based in Kinlochleven and Roy Bridge, Mountain House Holidays will be running their annual Munro climbing holiday in Torridon (Kinlochewe) during August 2015. The week is intended for keen mountain walkers who have some experience of rock scrambling but who would like to undertake these mountains supervised by qualified International Mountain Leaders.

The Magic of Climbing Munro's

Some of the days will be long and strenuous and (weather permitting) are likely to include:
A Dry Day
Maol Chean-derg 933m           

Beinn Alligin(2 Munros)            
Tom na Gruagaich 922m
Sgurr Mhor 986m

Liathach (2 Munros)                        
Spidean a Choire Leith 1055m
Mullach an Rathain 1023m

Beinn Eighe (2 Munros)                      
Spidean Coire nan Clach 993m
Ruadh–stac Mor 1010m

A Wet Day, but this is Scotland!
Slioch            981m                                            

Bienn Liath Mor 926m           
Sgorr Ruadh 962m                       

Shorter alternatives 
(for possible wet weather / rest days):
Fionn Bheinn 933m 

Moruisg 928m      

Mike and Jane from Mountain House Holidays, both International Mountain Leaders and climbing instructors (SPA’s) will be supervising this holiday themselves.

How this holiday works.
Enjoying the views
You sort out your own accommodation and transport to Torridon / Kinlochewe.
You sort out your own meals.

On the first evening we shall meet at the Kinlochewe Hotel at 8pm for introductions and to plan the itinerary and meeting time / place for the first walk.

Each evening we shall meet up in Kinlochewe to plan the following days itinerary.

15th to 22nd August 2015,  
(Six daily walks 16th to 21st August).

£250 for the week, includes all guiding. Some places may be available on a daily basis at £50 per day.           

This can be done direct on the Mountain House Holidays Website

More Scottish Magic!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Spring is coming to Southern Spain

Yesterday evening we had a real sense that spring had arrived. After a couple of days of cold wet weather, the sun was out, birds were singing and we could sit on out terrace to watch the sun go down. We shared the experience with a couple of bats, out to catch their evening meal, and then watched as a fox zig zagged across our land looking for frogs.

Earlier in the afternoon I had taken a short walk around the mountainside and seen the first pink fringed orchids, heard bee eaters fly past - almost too high in the sky to see and watched larks in their courtship.  The final 'icing on the cake' was watching a Golden Eagle circle overhead.

Spring and early summer are great times to visit the Sierra Nevada and Alpujarra, and we are very fortunate to be able to be here.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Snowshoeing Holidays and Day Hikes in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains

Snowshoeing Holidays and Day Hikes in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains

Although this is Southern Spain and close to the Mediterranean and Africa, The Sierra Nevada boasts Europe’s most southerly ski resort and mainland Spain’s highest mountain, Mulhacen 3482m above sea level. As an indication, the ski season usually starts here at the end of November and finishes in May with a celebration of skiing in the morning and swimming in the sea in the afternoon! However there are sometimes during the season when the snow starts to get a bit thin though we can usually find somewhere to snowshoe.

In the forest above Capileira

The joy of exploring the Sierra Nevada on snowshoes is that the area is mainly undeveloped, so unlike alpine ski resorts you can get a real feel of wilderness away from crowds, ski lifts and prepared snow slopes. Our snowshoeing days start from one of the pretty high villages (usually with coffee) before heading up dirt track roads as high as possible into the snow. Occasionally we have to walk a bit before putting on snowshoes but often we can snowshoe from the car.

Our routes usually start up through the forests before gaining the open slopes above the tree line. On the majority of days we enjoy blue skies and sunshine which is a distinct advantage over the traditional alpine resorts, though if the weather is poor we can always walk the spectacular paths in the Alpujarra (the lower southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada).

On our snowshoeing holidays we like to spend a night up at the Poqueira Refuge (2500m) which although bunk accommodation has a good dining room, bar and made all the better by the log fire.

Views of Mulhacen on the way to The Poqueira Refuge

Perfect snow and blue sky!

Snowshoeing is a little more strenuous than normal walking, but we are often walking over terrain where it would be impossible to walk without either snow shoes or touring skis. That said the normal snowshoeing day is around 10am until 4pm though shorter if conditions dictate.

In short, snowshoeing is good fun; sociable and takes you to places not normally visited in the winter months. The owners of Mountain House Holidays, Mike and Jane are all International Mountain Leaders, the qualification recognized in Spain (and internationally) for being a snowshoeing Guide.

In addition to their guided snowshoeing holiday, Mountain House Holidays are offering guided snowshoe hikes in the Sierra Nevada from 
50 Euro’s per person including the hire of snowshoes.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Bird Watching in The Alpujarra

Bird Watching in The Alpujarra

This years grape harvest was poor in The Alpujarra with many bunches of grapes shriveling up or bunches with only 5 or 6 grapes. As a consequence, many of the “frugal” bunches were left unpicked awaiting our annual pruning session in mid December.  This coupled with a long, hotter than normal Autumn meant that not only did we have the normal birds hanging around, but that we even had a surprise visitor that we have not seen in the 11 years we have been here. A Sardinian Warbler which spent a lot of time feeding on the unpicked grapes. Even when we did finally prune the vines, we left the grapes dangling and were rewarded visitations from Robins and Blue Tits in addition to the Sardinian Warbler.

Sardinian Warbler feeding on grapes at Finca Montaña

Our House, Finca Montaña is 1300m above sea level and it can get quite cool up here in the late autumn and winter. Snow doesn’t usually last more than 3 days as it’s always warm when the sun is out. However the night time temperature does often get down to around -8 degrees centigrade. That said our winter resident birds include: Golden Eagles, Griffon Vultures, Kestrels, Larks (crested and Sky), Black Eared Wheatears, Black Caps, Stone Chats, Robins, Blue Tits, Jays, Magpies and Ravens. A little above us (in the Juniper) we have Ring Ouzels (from around 2100m). But never before a Sardinian Warbler.

We are now planning to leave bunches of grapes every year in the hope of attracting more birds.

Black-eared Wheatear at Finca Montaña

In Summer the list of birds to be seen expands dramatically to include Egyptian Vulture's, Hoopoe's, Bee Eaters and various swifts and Swallows to name a few. 

Higher up on the mountain tops we are rewarded with Alpine Accentors which are remarkably tame on the summit of Mulhacen 3482 (mainland Spain’s highest mountain) where they have got used to being amongst people and feeding off the crumbs and remnants of sandwiches.

Alpine Accentor on Mulhacen
Spring is a good time to visit with both the migratory birds passing through and the summer visitors arriving. Finca Montaña is ideally placed for bird watching, situated very remote, in its own 5 acres of grounds but surrounded by mostly undeveloped natural mountain side and a few small holdings still mainly farmed in a traditional way.

Mike and Jane who own Finca Montaña provide a full board package from £30 per night.  As qualified International Mountain Leaders they also offer guided walks and treks in The Alpujarra and Sierra Nevada.