My wife, Claire, and I have always loved the outdoors, especially long hikes in the country. In our younger years, when we lived in the Midwest, we enjoyed tent camping at various Ohio and Indiana State Parks.
In the late 70’s we moved to San Diego, which has an abundance of outdoor activities. In only an hour we could drive from the Pacific to the nearby mountains and hike at 6,000 feet. We soon purchased a VW camper and drove up Highway 1 all the way to Vancouver, BC, with our two young daughters, camping all the way.
Once our daughters were off to college we participated in several organized multi-day hikes, where we were part of a group of up to 16 hikers. We hiked around Mt. Blanc, the Southern Coast of Crete and then the three peaks of Great Britain. These hikes consisted of fairly good walks during the day with an overnight stay at a mediocre inn or hut. There was always a group dinner where the tour leader attempted to keep us all entertained.
It was after our three peak Great Britain trip, where we were stuck with too grumpy middle-aged brothers and a son that we decided we had to find a better way to see the unspoiled backcountry of Europe. It was at this time we were introduced to Inntravel. What a difference, being able to hike at our own pace and staying, each evening, at some of the quaintest inns we’ve ever seen, eating great meals all at a fraction of the cost of the organized guided tours.
Our first Inntravel adventure was their Pyrenees to the Atlantic hike. What a wonderful change of pace it was to travel all on our own.
Of course we were a little scared, at first. Getting to the starting hotel in St Etienne-de-Baigorry, France was an adventure of its own. We took the French train version of a “milk run” which stopped at every little village until it reached St. Jean du Port. We thought we were going to be let off in the middle of town but the train station was all off by itself about ¾ of a mile from the town center. This would have been OK had there been a taxi at the train station, but there was nothing, just us. As we had little luggage we just walked into town and found the local tourist office. From there we were able to hire a taxi that took us directly to Hotel Manechenea.*
Hotel Manechenea was our first Inntravel hotel and they must have thought we were a typical crazy American couple. We kept hearing a buzzing once we checked into our room. We thought it was from an outside light. We called the innkeeper who looked at us funny but she quickly changed our rooms as she also heard the buzzing. Strangely, the buzzing was occurring in the second room. This was really odd and aggravating the innkeeper. It was then that we looked at my wife’s suitcase and realized the buzzing was coming from there. It was her electric toothbrush that was making the noise. We sheepishly moved back to the first room, apologizing as best we could to our hostess.
After this incident I was sure we were going to have a rough time, that evening, at dinner. Just the opposite was true. Dinner started out with an entire sautéed trout for each of us along with some salad. We assumed this was it. Our plates were taken away and we were then each brought an order of steak pomme-frites, which was followed up by some great French pastry.
The next day we hit the trail bright and early, after a typical French breakfast of more French baked goods. We were also given a packed lunch for the trail. Along with very good trail maps, Inntravel provides each hiking group with detailed hiking instructions, making it virtually impossible to get lost. Just follow the instructions, keeping to the well-marked trails and it becomes a walk in the park, except for the several challenging up hills. By mid-afternoon we were entering our next stop in Bidarray. It turned out that the normal Inntravel inn was fully booked and we were put up for the night at a lovely alternative inn, which was right by the river. The views were wonderful. That evening we were driven back to the main part of town where we enjoyed a special French dinner of Boudin and positively the best mashed potatoes we’ve ever eaten. As we were leaving our inn the next morning we were given a packed lunch, which came from the same restaurant.
The next day’s hike to Itxassou was spectacular, hiking along country roads in the French/Spanish countryside. One could hike right along the border, which was only noticeable by several large marked stones. We were thrilled when we stopped for lunch and took a look at the packed lunch as it was fit for a king. Each of us received a plastic container filled with pasta and shrimp. Another container contained freshly picked strawberries. Sitting nearby was another couple that had started the hike the same day we started ours. They were also enjoying the same lunch. The couple, Chris and Avril, were from Edinburgh and the four of us hiked the rest of the trip together and we became great friends.
That evening we stayed in Itxassou and the view from our room was as if it was painted by Van Gogh. I really cannot remember what we had for dinner but our dessert was something special, the best crème brûlée I’ve ever eaten. Since I’ve been back in the States I’ve sent friends to this inn, just to eat the crème brûlée. Breakfast was nothing more than different ways to eat butter, be it butter on a baguette or butter in various forms of raisin rolls or croissants.
I could go on and on about this trip as it was both a hiking and food adventure all the way until our final night in Hondarribia, Spain. Beautiful trails, wonderful inns and fabulous food.
As a result of this first Inntravel adventure, which took place June of 2004, I’ve participated in 10 Inntravel European hiking vacations and I feel it’s the best way to see the most interesting hidden places in Europe. It’s just a very easy way to travel on the Continent.
*Note from Inntravel: We are happy to organize rail and taxi transfers for our customers. Tell us which airport you are flying to and we’ll normally be able to organize it all for you.