Americans Take the Slow Lane Judy Leaver | Posted: 29 February 2016
Self guided walking holidays in France
Self guided walking holidays in France
Self guided walking holidays in France

Judy Leaver is a writer based in Washington D.C. and here describes how a walking holiday along the coast of Brittany was just the tonic for her and her Europhile friends from across ‘the pond’...

"Walking is good for the legs – but it does wonders for the soul. There is a rhythm in the earth that rises into our feet when we walk.” *

For my friends and me, that rhythm is slow.

’Slow’ is easier said than done for many Americans. That’s why my friends and I enjoy hiking in Europe so much. We’ve been following the hiking paths of Italy, Spain, France, and England for ten years. With Inntravel, we most recently hiked the pink granite coast of Brittany, with its profusion of blue, purple and hot pink hydrangeas, the crisp blue sea on our right as we walked, and those amazing granite boulders.

The flight across the Atlantic lifts us out of the Type-A frenzy of Washington D.C. where we live. Once in the air, phone calls, emails, and demands stop – all the things that speed up time and chop the days into little pieces.

The very definition of a hike – putting one foot in front of the other at a steady pace – is what attracted us to hiking in the first place. ‘We’ are six women of a certain age. Sauntering, rather than hiking, more closely describes our pace. Going slow allows us to explore a country on foot while we have laugh-out-loud fun and create cherished memories in the company of good friends. I think of it as ambulatory mental health treatment.

When other people hear about our trips, they’re envious, yet alarmed to learn that we never hike with a guide. “Aren’t you afraid? Are you sure it’s safe? What if you get lost or hurt?”

None of these questions occurred to us when we started taking these trips. We were far more focused on the promise of an adventure that might include some controlled risk-taking, such as using our wits (and compasses) to get back on the trail if our talking-and-walking approach led us away from Inntravel’s prescribed route – as it did on more than one memorable occasion!

Embarking on these hikes has taught me how to keep calm and not panic, how to persevere when I want to give up, and how to get information – despite feeling totally intimidated – in a language that isn’t my own.

Related Holidays & Further Information

The Granite Coast of Brittany

Follow our splendid walking route along the rocky coast of northern Brittany to discover bustling fishing ports, pretty stone hamlets, a fascinating Celtic culture and delicious seafood along the way.

More about our walking holiday in Brittany >

Once on the trail, we start each hiking day with an hour of silence. We can hear the crunch of the trail under our boots, listen to the local birds’ chorus, laugh at the dogs barking at us, enjoy butterflies flitting past, and breathe deeply of the abundance surrounding us. This quiet hour helps my brain shift into a lower gear, grateful to be where I am at that particular moment.

The photos of our Brittany adventure take me back to the port village of Treguier... after a breakfast fit for a lumberjack in the Hotel Aigue Marine, we wind our way through town to the trailhead for the GR34.

After our hushed first hour, we nose around in an ancient wayside church and stop to chat with a friendly local. Further on, we ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over the vivid blues and pinks of hydrangeas that flank Bretons’ tidy homes and admire the designs in the intricate Brittany lace curtains we see in most windows.

Eventually, our growling stomachs get our attention. In the tiny town of Trestel, we spot a bench overlooking the port area where we open our packs and munch on a picnic of bread, cheese, meat and fruit (‘borrowed’ from the breakfast buffet).

By mid-afternoon we reach the edge of Perros-Guirrec and walk up the hill to Manoir du Sphinx, happy to see that we’ve reached the same hotel as our suitcases. After a nap or shower we gather for a drink to recount the day’s discoveries – seeing how far out the tide goes, leaving boats beached in the mud until the tide comes back in; figuring out that 100 meters is roughly the length of a football field; having our first taste of Brittany’s apple-based drinks like cider (with a kick), pommeau, or calvados; buying a Brittany striped shirt, or being jolted by the visceral shock of a German bunker looming through foliage overlooking a harbor.

We’re often ready for dinner before restaurants are ready for us. We’re not Americans-in-a-hurry; we’re just tired and want to get to bed so we have the energy to repeat the same sweet rhythm the next day.

My journal entry from the Brittany hike sums it up: “Today was easy on the feet, a feast for the eyes – a 15 km walk, mostly along the coast with views of the Atlantic, rounding a curve to see a beach below, islands in the distance, and sunshine sparkling off the water. Then the path took us away from the water into the shady trails of the woods. It was glorious.”

And, it was slow.

*'A Cherokee Feast of Days: Volume II, Daily Meditations' – Joyce Sequichie Hifler

This sounds like my kind of meditative practice
05/03/2016 13:52:09

Kristina Aaronson
Loved reading this. I heard about Inntravel from your hiking partner, Mary Rojas and we are about to go on our third walking trip with them. I, too, have written about each trip but didn't know how to send it to Inntravel. You have inspired me! Thanks!
01/03/2016 22:14:36

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