Sunday, 22 November 2009

Building on slowmoves

We are currently contributing to a new travel website called Greentraveller, a guide to sustainable holidays and places to stay in Europe. We hope you enjoy it.

Anouk & George

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Springfield park & marina

Springfield park is officially my new favourite park in London. I still love my 'local' Clissold park of course, but there's something really enchanting about Springfield park. A 10 minute cycle ride from Stoke Newington, the park is in Upper Clapton and sits alongside the river Lea. As you near the park, there's a steep hill with great views of the park on your right and Springfield marina straight ahead. I always feel like I'm on holiday somewhere (for some reason it makes me think of San Francisco?!) as I cycle down this hill.

The park has lots of different levels, tennis courts, weeping willows, great views of the river and surrounding marshes and a great cafe with yummy healthy food (I had a Moroccan salad). As you walk down to the marina, there's another cafe, a rowing club and endless walking routes along the river. If you cross the bridge and take a right, you can walk through Hackney marshes (you would never believe you were in London) until you reach a huge green with the largest collection of football pitches in Europe.


Saturday, 3 October 2009

Cyclosport events

Worth checking Cyclosport out if you are in to cycling, and not fainthearted.

It's all about the bike.

Within the site (along with places for reviews, photos, training tips and a lot more) Cyclosport list events taking place all around the world, search able first by continent, then country. You can find one close to you, or one that provides you with the destination to enjoy the journey to. Perhaps something to think about for next year but even a look at the beginning of October for the UK alone shows a month including tour of the Pennines and another of the Peak District.

It's worth reiterating the not fainthearted bit, but also making clear you can use the site how you wish. If you prefer to be independent and going at your own pace - rather than the peleton's - you can still be inspired by the rides on the website, they each come with summaries, 'getting there' information, maps, downloads and useful links.

Thanks to Rory who recommended the site following his completing of Atlantic to Mediterranean over Pyrenees peaks, in 100 hours this summer. The harder end of a journey written about earlier this year on slowmoves...


Picture from

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Pick your own glass of champagne

It's harvest season in the vineyards which means it's one of the best times to make a trip to the Champagne region in north-eastern France. A mere 1 hour 15 minutes by train from Paris and you've arrived in Epernay, the home of the great Champagne houses including Moet & Chandon, Taittinger and Mumm. It's also a stunning region with lots of little surrounding villages, sloping vineyards and chateaux.

For the whole month of September and early October, several winegrowers organise grape picking days for guests. You'll start with a big breakfast, then head out to the vineyards to pick grapes, followed by a lunch at the chateau with all the grape pickers. In the afternoon, the owners will give you a tour of the cellars, introduce you to wine pressing and then you can finally indulge in a nice glass of champagne in the sun.

For more information, visit:

There are some gorgeous, relatively affordable chateaux in the area should you want to spend the night after a long day of picking and drinking.


Thursday, 3 September 2009

Swimming the length of the Amazon, on film

Short post but to share something that caught my imagination when reading about it at the time he did it.

Martin Strel from Slovenia in 2007 swam for 10 hours a day, to take himself from Peru, across Latin America and out of a Brazilian estuary to the Atlantic Ocean.

3,274 miles in 66 days... Say nothing of the current! Plenty of that the dark water hides. And wild swimming.

A truely remarkable achievement, which is by a number of accounts captured in a remarkable documentary. For those reading in London, showing throughout September at the Institute of Contemporary Art, just to name one place.


Reaching Morocco and slowmoves

Not sure what I expected out of Morocco but I was taken from the first step. A pace and energy fuller than that I have come to know in so much of Europe. This was Africa, and arriving by boat. Like a draw bridge coming down, a beeping lowering cargo door. An immediate and unceasing blur of sights, sounds and smells. Senses only dumbed by the heat.

Between the coastal Tangier and the culture capital Fez, in the heart of the county, the temperature went up with every stop train stop. 42oC, 43oC... Not wholly incoincidentally with the number of people onboard, at least in duxieme classe. My travelling partner Tommo, read of Gregory David Roberts in India: "through the sleepy night, and into the rose-petal dawn, the train rattled on. I watched and listened, literally rubbing shoulders with the people of the interior towns and villages. And I learned more, during those fourteen constricted and largely silent hours in the crowded economy-class section, communicating without language, than in a month of travelling first class." I related to that. Crossed words of fellow passengers intermittently broken by laughter, or sharing of water or pillows... Less so of seats.

Where to begin with an etiquette as foreign as any tongue. slowmoves.

10 days. Miles and miles. Tube to train to metro to sleeper to bus to boat to train to bus to camel to taxi to bus to taxi to bus to another bus, and back. slowmoves.

Overland and sea to Morocco stays recommended!


Thursday, 20 August 2009

Wild swimming in the UK

At last the scorching summer they predicted is here, at least for a few days... When it's like this there's nothing I want to do less than sit in front of a computer and nothing I want to do more than take a dip in the sea or any other body of fresh water. Rivers, lakes, waterfalls, ponds. There's something really magical about swimming in natural water - for one, you feel much more connected to the scenery around you.

I've had a few great wild swimming experiences, including a lake in the Ardennes in Belgium and Lake Bled in Slovenia. A definite surprising highlight is the women's pond in Hampstead Heath right here in London. It's a haven of peace, a secret society of women and a corner of wildlife within a bustling city.

Here are some more wild swimming highlights in the UK:

- The mystical circular waterfall at St Nectan's Kieve near Tintagel in Cornwall: legend has it that King Arthur's knights were babtised here ahead of their quest for the Holy Grail.

- The River Dart in Dartmoor, Devon: bathe in remote river pools surrounded by steep lush forests.

- Swimming in the sea in Abereiddi Bay on the North Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales

- Taking a dip in the Moray Firth near Inverness, Scotland : a number of rivers flow into the Moray Firth and there are various bays and inlets to swim in.

For more information on wild swimming:


Saturday, 8 August 2009

Guest post by low carbon traveller Barbara Haddrill

The following is a guest post by low carbon traveller Barbara Haddrill. She is the author of Babs2Brisbane, a book documenting her overland journey from the UK to Australia in 2006:

It is strange, now, only a few hours before I embark on my next low carbon travel journey, that I feel quite calm. Considering the enormity of what is to come, I think I should be panicking a bit more. Fear was all I felt three years ago, as I was sitting in Victoria Coach Station in London, waiting to begin my overland trip to Australia, and mulling over all the possible things that could go wrong. Then my mission was to travel, without using an aeroplane, to be the bridesmaid at one of my best friend's wedding in Brisbane. In those final moments before departure, it dawned on me that this was the biggest challenge I had ever faced. But this was one I had set myself. My passion for conserving the environment was strong. I just hoped it was enough to pull me through the unknown road ahead.

Almost as soon as the coach pulled almost noiselessly into the dark autumn night, my life was changed forever. I learnt the way of the slow traveller. Having time for myself and time for other people. And time to stop and stare, watching every mile between my home in Wales and my destination in Brisbane pass slowly by. Slowing down gradually from bus to train to cargo ship, hitch hiking and finally bicycle. Instead of taking 24 hours and emitting 5 .6 tonnes of CO2, my journey took me 7 weeks and the emissions were down to 1 tonne of CO2. I succeeded in my challenge when many thought I would fail (and discussed it at great length on my travel blog But I also learnt so much, from meeting local people and seeing lives so different from my own. I learnt not to fear my worldly neighbours but approached everyone I met with an open heart and positivity and that is what I received by the tonne in return.

My next challenge is to work with horses – driving and logging. Bringing real horsepower back to our oil dependant world. I am taking the bus to pick up my coloured cob called Tyler now. She and I will hopefully enjoy the next slow life journey together.......

For more information about my trip to Brisbane and my new horse adventures look at my blog or buy the book 'Babs2Brisbane' available from most good bookshops.


Sunday, 26 July 2009

One day in Paris, favorite places

A number of slowmoves posts mention passing through Paris, mainly from London on the way to somewhere else in Europe. Of course slowmoves means making the most of the places or are on route. There's a fun article we found about one day in Paris, it might give you some ideas if you are looking to spend a bit of time in Paris before heading on.

Aside, I highlight a couple of personal favourite things in Paris (without detailing the number one and known Musee D'Orsay):
  • Lots of tourists swarm the island in Paris, home of Notre Dame Cathedral. But far too many overlook its adorable little sister, the quaint Ile Saint Louis just a few steps away. Read more
  • Pass through the hidden doors of the La Mosquee Hammam and the culture and heritage
    of the Byzantine era presents itself.
    Read more
If you have any favorite things to do for a day or night in Paris, we would be delighted to hear from you.


Picture from:

Overland and sea to Morocco

It's a little more expensive (by approx. £150) than the budget flights now flying between the UK to Marrakesh but slowmoves gives reason for the extra expense of a train and boat ride. Imagine watching the way the land changes, mile by mile from urban London, through the green fields of Kent and Northern France. Crossing Paris, then in to the evening and south towards the jagged Pyrenees, direct to Madrid. From Madrid, it's down to Algeciras and Tarifa then the boat across the Gibraltar Straight to Tangier, Africa.

Some change in scenery and some difference between what you leave to what you find. slowmoves offers an intimate means of experiencing this. Of course time does not allow us to make such a journey regularly, which is a reason in itself for treasuring the possibility, as is the more practical consideration of a night's accommodation included in the ride, if leaving as below:

1404: London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord (1726) - Train
1945: Paris Gare d'Austerlitz to Madrid (0910) - Train
1505: Madrid to Algeciras (2033) - Train
2100: Algeciras to Tarifa (2145) - Bush
2300: Tarifa to Tangier (2235: 35 minute crossing and time change) - Boat

Of course, there's the option of spending more time in Paris or Madrid or Algeciras, depending what your scheduled, motivation or interest is.

Thanks to The Man in Seat Sixty-One for helping with the travel information and image. The relevant Seat Sixty-On page also tells you how you can travel on from Tangier, and how the cost of travel drops.

This justification of experience, is at the heart of many slowmoves choices. I for one think it's well worth it.


Friday, 24 July 2009

Picture of the month

I love the feeling of freedom this photo exudes. You can also sense the haste to get into the water. More on wild swimming coming soon.

Nam Khan River... Photo by Ra Song


Sunday, 12 July 2009

Grantchester by foot, boat, or bike from Cambridge

If you're looking for a day out of London, why not head to the university town of Cambridge. After only 45 minutes on the train, we were wandering around the streets of historic Cambridge. It took us a while to find the nice bits, as much of the main street was infested by high street shops and unfortunately made it look like any other town in England. But once you head over to the riverside where all the old colleges are, you'll understand the appeal. Amongst the most spectacular colleges that still exist, check out Peterhouse, which was founded in 1284, and Kings College that has an impressive chapel where you can catch a choir concert.

Getting to the slow travel bit... You can rent bikes at Cambridge station which I would highly recommend as it's a very bike-able city (if the thousands of bikes around the city are anything to go by). It reminded me of a Dutch city. Alternatively you can make your way to the riverside at Mill Lane Boatyard and rent a self-hire punt to go punting along the river. This is THE Cambridge thing to do and seems like a lot of fun, especially if you're in a big group. Then either cycle, punt or walk to Grantchester, a lovely little village 3 miles from Cambridge. Grantchester is a tiny village with thatched cottages, a few good pubs and the highest proportion of Nobel prize winners.

If you're opting for the walking option, I'd recommend walking through Newnham and stopping along Grantchester meadows for a picnic. Then once in Grantchester, treat yourself to a nice pint at the Red Lion pub or traditional tea at the Orchard in the garden.


Sunday, 5 July 2009

Fin Going a very long way South by bike

How many people go about cycling from Alaska to Panama?

A Dutch TV company, deepeei, has prompted Andrew Finlay to take to his bike for the best part of a year and do exactly that. The story is not just about adventure and physical challenge but is inspired as a means of linking themes and specific projects that relate to climate change. Fin is joined by one other on his cycle south, while two others will ride from Colombia to Ushuaia in Argentina. In all, 16,765 miles, 26 projects and 17 countries.

From land usage to waste, there are six themes under the tag 'search for sustainable solutions'. slowmoves and opting for vehicles other than planes - as Fin and the others taking part in the project so grandly have - could be another.

Fin is blogging regularly, on every angle of his trip. Check it out:


Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Slowmoves on Guardian's Been There website

Slowmoves is being featured on the Guardian's brilliant 'Been There' website. "Been There is a guide to the world as traveled by you". Users can share their travel stories, post tips and browse thousands of reader recommendations.

Check out the slowmoves feature here:

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Campaign for better train travel

Why is it that in this country taking a plane across the UK is often cheaper than taking the train? UK train fares are the highest in Europe, especially if you don't book in advance. A last minute ticket from London to Manchester can be as ridiculously expensive as £250 return. But people love taking the train, watching the landscapes change, being able to walk up and down the carriage. And of course it's a much greener way to travel, ultimately reducing traffic and improving lifestyles.

The train VS plane debate is battled out in this funny video put together by Campaign for Better Transport. They argue that the government should stop giving such high subsidies to airlines and put their energy and money into better and more affordable train travel. You can join the campaign at:


Thursday, 18 June 2009

Here's what you're missing when you fly

Not my words.  The words of Sunday Times' Chris Haslam.  I'll continue with them, "as you know, it's not the arriving, it's the getting there."  Or TS Elliot, "The journey not the arrival matters".

The centre page spread is titled SLOW TRAVEL.  Look out.  The article includes the following if you're UK based and want to check out the link for details:
- to Paris by bike in four days (which a number of friends have done and I hope will feature on this site)
- slow train to Constantinople in five days (slower than the 3 night express, which coincidentally I am looking at for August)
- banana boat to Costa Rica in 20 days
- camper van to Kathmandu in 40 days

slowmoves fits to whatever time you have.  Our only tip to add to the trips is to remember traveling loops (rather than straight) mean you don't have to cover the same ground twice... if you'd rather not.

Thanks to Paddy for sending us the article.  Echoes of my first post, not flying for a year.


Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The London Loop Walks - part 1

After making the decision to ration our use of flights to one big long-haul adventure every three years we have been a bit stuck for cheap holiday plans... Cheap flights are obviously out, trains can be really expensive, camping is polarising in our house, we can't really afford British hotels... So at the expense of our sanity we haven't done anything in the last two years that might, even vaguely, count as a holiday. So this year, we've decided that we need a mission - something that gets us out of the house and gives us a sense of purpose. Cue the London Loop - one of the Mayor of London's Strategic (!) walks. The London Loop is a series of 24 walks almost encircling outer London - each walk ranging in length from 6 - 14 miles.

We've just completed the first walk... from Erith to Old Bexley (8.4 miles) heading anti-clockwise around London, starting at the Thames. The walk was extremely diverse - taking in everything from salt marsh to woodland - with a huge array of both natural and man-made curiosities along the way. My favourite sight was a glass recycling factory! Doesn't sound very beautiful - except that the ground-down glass powder meant that the whole area had a glittery green sheen.

We’ll keep you informed of our progress.


Monday, 8 June 2009

Crazy Guy On A Bike

Grateful to the Crazy Guy for giving us the cycle route between Bordeaux and Biarritz.

Mixed emotions about revisiting the site as I was hoping the slant of this post might be about achieving cycling 400kms. The first line I re-read is: "after last year's trip we decided on another one to a flat part of France".

Crazy Guy On A Bike is practical a website, offering easily searchable cycling trip ideas and routes around the World in a series of postings, muddled together. Aside, it offers journal and forum facilities. It's well worth a visit.

Our Bordeaux and Biarritz tour was indeed flat, and at times frustrating, to be by the sea but not in view of it. However we were struck by the quality of ride itself. Of 400kms, the vast majority was on maintained asphalt, purely for cyclists, away from any roads and traffic. In fact away from just about everything other trees making up light, airy woods. slowmoves in the most peaceful of surroundings. June felt like a good time to be there. I am sure September also.

We did our trip slowly, albeit over four reasonably long days. Our route was Bordeaux of Cap Ferret, via Lacanau, before around the Bassin Arcachon and on south. Trains to and from Paris go from on the same line for both Bordeaux and Biarritz.

Along with the woods, highlights were Dune du Pyla and Biarritz, for very different reasons. Dune du Pyla (pictured) is something I simply didn’t know Europe had. Biarritz is more diverse and vibrant than my preconceptions had given credit to. I must also acknowledge the fantastic Hotel De L'Ocean, where we stayed for three nights, right in the heart of Biarritz and at very good value.

A recommendation of website, route, journey and destination.


Pictures from our trip to follow, but in the meantime from:

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Great British Walks

As you've probably gathered by now, at slowmoves we are big on walking - the ultimate form of slow travel. So when I heard that the Guardian/Observer were doing a 6 day supplement of 'Great British Walks', I thought other ramblers should be informed.

It starts tomorrow (sat June 6th) with an Art and Literature walk through the places that inspired painters, sculptors, writers and poets.

And then:

Sunday - Film and Music walk to explore famous film and TV sets, and see the places that inspired great musicians.

Monday - War and Politics walk guiding you through the sites of great battles and the places that have shaped politicians.

Tuesday - Engineering and Architecture walk exploring awe-inspiring bridges, earthworks and stunning architecture.

Wednesday - Lost Worlds and Legends walk through giants, hunters' caves and stone circles.

Thursday - Castles and Churches of Britain walk.

Friday - Wildlife and Water walk to get a closer look at our native wildlife.

6-12 June
Free with the Guardian and the Observer


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

A hidden gem in Jaipur

I have recently returned from a two week trip to India in which I stayed at a variety of hotels and guesthouses. Our specifications were basic – bed and air conditioning (it was hot hot hot!) – and as expected so was the standard of the accommodation. However there was one guesthouse, Pearl Palace in Jaipur Rajastan, that stood out because of the warm welcome and homely feeling they worked hard at creating.

On arrival I was handed a brilliantly crafted and carefully considered guidebook to the hotel and city entitled ‘An Alien’s guide to Jaipur’. It was created by the staff with the input from past guests. In slowmoves style, the guesthouse consider guests as pearls – being at the heart of the business. The slogan is engraved on the door of every room.

Most impressive is a beautifully designed roof terrace for guests to escape from the hectic pace of the bustling city below and leave your worries behind. The hotel features an elegant common room/ lounge where you can check emails, recline on a sofa, marvel the décor or read a book from their well stocked library.

Unlike other hotels we stayed at they enforce a policy not to tip individual members of staff. Instead they ask for you to donate in a communal pot at the end of your stay – a much less corrupt way of working and less stress for the guests!


Sunday, 17 May 2009

Pedalling around cities with the best public bike schemes

Montreal, Barcelona, Paris - apart from being incredible cities, they also all have successful public bike schemes. Have you ever come across the mini parking lots of identical 'velib' bikes in Paris? Or people riding around in red 'Bicing' bikes in Barcelona? You can pick up bikes at a number of stations - 20,000 bikes at 1,450 stations in the case of Paris - and just pay a small fee to ride around the city. In Barcelona, the first 30 mins are even free. They encourage short trips, for getting from a to b, as an alternative to the car, bus or metro.

But it's not just practical - it's also hugely enjoyable discovering these gorgeous cities on wheels. Last year, on a trip to Paris, the velib bikes were our primary mode of transport. It made us feel like real locals and allowed us to discover hidden areas and streets we wouldn't of otherwise ventured to.

Montreal has just launched their own scheme called Bixi. It made sense for them as Montreal has twice been named the best cycling city in North America. It is really compact and there are many lakes, mountains and canals you can pedal to within close proximity.

So when will Boris grant his promise for a much-awaited London public bike scheme? Personally, I can't wait...


Saturday, 16 May 2009

Hiring a bicycle away from home

Grand plans for cycling Barcelona to Biarritz have been put on hold as time hasn't allowed us to try that this year. It would take us longer than a week. We're instead cycling a different B2B, Bordeaux to Biarritz, doing a roubdabout route of 400km in 4 days. More of that when we have done it.

Whatever the start and end point, something we have thought about is the logistics of travelling with bikes. I have had issues with this before between Lyon and Paris. Not again. BikeRentalsPlus is the answer forFrance, Italy and a whole load of other countries. They will drop off and pick up your rented bike from any destination you require, within reason. They offer more types of bike than I knew existed, and will fit to your exact requirements. All the necessities come with the package (spare inner tubes, puncture repair kit etc.), as well as options, like panier racks.

We have taken BikeRentalsPlus up on just about everything they have offered and will have bikes delivered to our hotel in Bordeaux on a Sunday first thing and picked up from our hostel in Biarritz the following Wednesday night. Under £150 all in. No worries about dismantling and reassembling my bike at home, nor need for concern about the mood of French train staff and bikes only with us for the time we want them (not on the beach or outside the holte in Biarritz for a long weekend).
This isn't supposed to be an advert for the supplier, just promotion for something that will be a big part of a slowmoves holiday.


Sunday, 10 May 2009

Champex Lac and Tour du Mont Blanc

Without wanting to labour a recent trip... Somewhere I was earlier in the year was Champex Lac. I have known for a little while that I would be going there. I didn't though know Champex Lac was a couple of other things along with being a skiing resort.

I learnt Champex Lac sits as part of two important Alpine routes:
- Haute Route, which I have written about previously: the ski touring route between Zermatt and Chamonix
- Tour du Mont Blanc: the walking route can only really be done in the Summer (May to October time), so to avoid heavy snow. It follows, more or less, the base of Mont Blanc, offering striking scenery all the way around. It's a vintage, heavy weight of long European walks. It's just over 170km and takes up to 10 days to do, depending on your pace. The route is not easy, and includes one 10km ascent, as well as passes through France, Italy and Switzerland, including Champex Lac. Your route will be planned around the numerous refuges there are along the way. Less slowmoves, there is an Ultra Trail Tour that takes place each year on the route, the record time is 20 hours...

Photos from and Creative Comments: Mt Blanc Sept 2004

Monday, 4 May 2009

Wild Camping hotspots

Sometimes you just want to get away from it all, as far away as possible from the sound of traffic, your phone ringing, your computer screen, big concrete buildings... I often find myself dreaming of escaping into the depths of the countryside, completely disconnecting and bonding with nature.

What better way to get away and be at one with nature than to go wild camping. Moving away from the overcrowded sites and smelly bathrooms of organised campsites, wild camping promises utter tranquility and seclusion.

Living in the UK, it can seem impossible to find your own little uninhabited corner of peace. But there are a few hotspots where you can pitch your tent freely and indulge in the surrounding countryside that essentially becomes your back garden for the night. Here's the challenge: wild camping is only legal if you ask permission from the landowner but as long you're out of sight, away from livestock and you don't build open fires it is tolerated.

The hotspots

Scotland - wild camping is legal as long as you're at a distance from roads and dwellings. Try the highlands for ultimate remoteness:

Dartmoor - The Dartmoor park authority encourages wild camping as long as people pitch up within certain areas:

Lake district and Snowdonia - perfect wild camping territories as they're on high ground and there's very little hassle.


Photo by:

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Picture of the Month

April's picture of the month is taken from the Zanzibar coast line, looking out to the sun and ocean. It was taken by a good friend on his honeymoon. The detail of picture is in four Dhows. Across the water to Madagascar, if you can get there, I've been recommended island hopping by Dhow as a means of slowmoves!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Great historic journeys across the world

People have been travelling since the beginning of time, it just took them a lot longer to get anywhere. As well as going from a to b, travel allows us to escape and discover new landscapes, people and culture. It's dreamy and aspirational and the subject of many great books and films. Take Jules Verne's 'Around the world in 80 days', or Jack Kerouac's 'On the road'.

Good magazine brilliantly documents some of these inspiring historic journeys, from the silk road to the trans-Siberian Railway. You can click on any of the adventures, real or fictional, and learn about the interesting points along the journey. Why not base your next trip on one of these voyages? You can walk in the footsteps of great explorers and get a history lesson in the process. And of course you'd travel 'slowly', as they really didn't have another alternative back then.


Monday, 6 April 2009

Mont Blanc Express

I mentioned in a previous blog that just this week before last I had travelled from Swiss Alps to French Alps. I made the same trip back by train the following day but in daylight rather than after hours. The exact route was Martigny to Chamonix, on the Mont Blanc Express.

I was told the Mont Blanc Express is one of the most stunning train rides around and I cannot think of a more striking train journey I have been on (Bergen to Oslo was the best I had been on before this trip). The train takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The train goes at a leisurely pace throughout, stopping regularly, including at the Swiss boarder so don't forget your passport. A highlight is certainly the descent to (or climb from) Martigny. Also look out for stops at Finhaut and Salvan. Mountain, village and gorge scapes.

There are windows in the roof of train there is so much to see!

It would be hard to justify a slowmoves to Martigny or Chamonix especially for the train but the ride maybe of interest if you ever have to think about travelling between the two places, or if you have a day to spare next time you are in the area.

As a side I have to mention the fantastic La Vache Qui Vole restuarant in Martigny. Unexpectedly fantastic food, service and ambience, even for a vegetarian.


Sunday, 5 April 2009

Rural retreats in Italy; the home of 'slow'

The slow movement began back in the 1980's in Italy to counteract fast food and fast life and promote local, traditional food culture and a slower pace of life. Guido, the owner of Barbialla Nuova guesthouse (pictured) in the Tuscan countryside sums up his devotion to slow living:

"We are Slow through and through: we wait for just the right moment to collect truffles; we raise our cattle in a leisurely way, giving them all the time they need to grow naturally. We run our agriturismo in a way that we feel helps our guests to leave behind the stresses of modern life."

As I read this, I thought; 'when's my next holiday? I'm going to Tuscany'. I couldn't have come across a more relevant article for slowmoves as I flicked through last weekend's Observer and read an article about rural retreats in Italy called 'A slow traveler's guide to Italy'. Alaistar Sawday has just published a new book called 'Go Slow Italy' and he's hand-picked a selection of the places to stay for the Observer. They all have a focus on home-grown products, the pleasures of the communal table, abide to social and environmentally-sound practices.

Here is a selection of the wonderfully dreamy and inspiring places... let me know if you ever have the pleasure of making your way to any of them, I would love to hear about it.

Locanda Casanuova, Tuscany (pictured below)

Locanda Casanuova is a place of contemplation - and always has been, for it began life as a monastery. Bedrooms are almost monastically simple, but have splashes of colour and style to introduce a perfect measure of modernity.

The 23 hectares of vineyards and olives produce 7,000 litres of wine and a lot of olive oil; there is an organic vegetable garden too. It is an intensely personal place. It was 20 years ago that they came here and resolved to rescue it. They have done so much more: Ursula practises yoga in the early mornings - you are welcome to join her - and is a superb cook; meals are wonderfully convivial affairs in the refectory, off which is a library where you can pore over trekking maps at a big round table.

• Locanda Casanuova, near Figline Valdarno (00 39 055 950 0027; Twelve doubles, two suites, four singles - from €70 per person half board. Two apartments, from €75 a night for two. Nearest train station: Figline Valdarno

I Mandorli Agriturismo, Umbria

Wanda is the overseer of this 45-hectare estate. With her three daughters, Maria, Alessandra and Sara, and their daughters, you have the privilege of seeing Italian family life in action. I Mandorli is a higgledy-piggledy house with little steps here and there leading to rooms and apartments, outhouses, lofts and old olive mills. Flowers tumble from pots, capers scale stone walls and fruit and cypress trees give shade in the garden. Bedrooms are simple affairs with wrought-iron beds and pale homemade patchwork quilts; the small bathrooms are spotless. The vineyard is managed organically; vegetables and sunflowers are grown and there is a little outlet for the estate's produce; you can buy wine, lentils, oils and jams to take home.

Guests can wander the land, pick herbs, help with the olive harvest, take cookery lessons, cycle, walk and go rafting. Children will love the wooden slide and seesaw, the old pathways and steps on this shallow hillside, the new pool - wonderful to return to after outings to Assisi and Spoleto.

• I Mandorli Agriturismo, near Trevi (00 39 0742 78669; One twin/double, two triples, from €40. Three apartments: one for two; two for four, from €65 a night. Nearest train station: Trevi

Thursday, 2 April 2009

CouchSurfing your way around the world

Driving a few extra hours to avoid spending a night in a shady motel; an uncomfortable overnight stop-over at an airport because you wouldn’t know where to go; too little money on the last leg of a trip to be able to enjoy it; or leaving a city with mixed feelings because the tourist spots didn’t do it for you. Those are situations that we have all been exposed to at one point or another during our travels.

I wish I had known about CouchSurfing during those ‘hitches’. CouchSurfing is a website connecting people throughout the world by sparing their extra bed or couch (for free!), thereby offering an affordable way to plan your itinerary but the real attraction of this website is the cultural exchanges taking place between guests and hosts who often go out of their way to provide a meal or offer a guided tour of their city with a local perspective.

Safety features have also been planned out to minimize misadventures and consist mainly of member referrals as well as a system to verify names and addresses. And it all seems to work fine.

The first random search led me to the following referral of a female UK traveler to Santiago de Chile:

“If Carlos ever gets tired of the day job he should become a tour guide (or a bartender thanks to his excellent pisco sours!)! He gave me a wonderful and very thorough tour around Santiago when I surfed his couch there, and I enjoyed every minute of it. He´s a very friendly, informed and easy-going person - thanks so much, Carlos, for your hospitality and help in Chile.”

To date, CouchSurfing has over 1 million members across 232 countries and is growing by the day. All there is left to do now is dig out a map and hit the road! Happy surfing!



Friday, 27 March 2009

Picture of the Month

This month's picture of the month links with the website, specifically and their Photo competition. The website also invites photos being sent in, and exhibits some great shots. We share in their picture for March 2009!

The intro starts "A spot of bother on the main road between Uyuni and Oruro in Bolivia".

A road I remember from a visit in 2002!


Cross country skiing

I write this from a sandwich shop in the French Alps having crossed over from Switzerland in the hope of skiing the Vallee Blanche way up above the town of Chamonix. The weather has though dictated what I do again, hence the sandwich shop as opposed to being on and in amongst glaciers under the gaze of the formidable Mont Blanc.

I say the weather dictates again as I found myself doing something different to planned yesterday also. As nice as this sandwich shop is (playing blue grass good and loud), yesterday's alternative to ski touring was more satisfactory. From staying in Le Chable at around 800m above sea level, I caught the bus to a stunning small village called Champsec. It always amazes me how little a distance we have to travel to find ourselves outside of the company and atmosphere of fellow tourists. Particularly in mountain valleys where foreign interest seems to stop at the last turning to a big ski resort. Champsec is a 20 minute bus ride on from the turning to Verbier. I swapped a glossy mass-produced piste map for a hand drawn one.

Champsec has a cross country skiing course with two modestly sized loops, one of 3km, the other of 5km. Cross country skiing far from always happens in short loops and arguably is at its best when done long, from cabin to cabin. As regular visitors to slowmoves may have read, I have written previously about ski touring and all the joys it offers, not least the appreciation of where one is. Yesterday reminded me what I like about cross country skiing. It's good exercise on snow - calling on every major muscle group - and invariably comes with a still and silent countryside setting (from limited experience - Champsec and also in Norway (where cross country skiing is called langlauf), cross country skiing best takes place in sheltered surroundings). There is something medative that happens when you get a rythm of striding out. Like going for a good walk, or run, in a place away from roads, traffic and people. You don't have to think, you can just do. And for some reason snow makes the air nicer to breathe!

The slowmoves case goes deeper. Cross country skiing offers a great alternative to the more popular downhill skiing. It's a far cheaper option (equipment, insurance and normally no pass required) and there is a broader selection of places to do it. Plus higher potential for adventure. You don't have to be in the mountains.

If you need a goal, how about the Vasaloppet?


Sunday, 22 March 2009

Tales from the rails in America

"I think all Americans should take the train once, it would do wonders for the American spirit", says Jackie, a traveler aboard a cross-country train in America. Jackie is one of the 5 travelers who shares her story and appreciation for train travel in one of the brilliant short videos for the New York Times article 'Riding the rails'.

Train travel may be a routine occurrence here in Europe, but in the US, where the distances are vast and a large majority drive their cars everywhere, train travel is rare. But with global warming becoming a more mainstream concern and Obama focusing on better public transport, rail travel is gaining popularity.

Jackie points out that people talk to each other more on trains - it's normal to ask fellow passengers where they're going, where they've come from and just enjoy watching the changing landscapes together from the observation deck. In tune with the slowmoves ethos, one man, Gerald calls it therapeutic because it's less fast-paced. As opposed to the airplane, or even the car, you can watch farmlands, desserts and rivers, observe the changing seasons and comfortably walk through the carriages.

The Cardinal
This U-shaped train journey takes you from New York to Chicago, taking 27 hours and stopping 31 times at many of the hot spots of American history - Baltimore, Washington, Cincinatti...
Fares start at $84

The California Zephyr
Runs daily from Chicago all the way to Emeryville, California. It can take less than 4 days and passes through the Rocky mountains, the Nevada dessert and the Sierra Nevada.
Fares start at $145

All photos from New York Times:

One of the most beautiful train journeys I ever took was along the coast from Marseilles in France to Nice. There's something so dreamy and inspiring about seeing the coastline change little by little. What are some of your favourite train journeys?


Sunday, 15 March 2009

Cycling and wine tasting in Burgundy

I've always had a vision of cycling through vineyards and stopping in little wine villages to go wine-tasting. Well that's exactly what I did last week in the wonderful region of Burgundy in France with my boyfriend. Burgundy, the region known for wine, mustard, Cassis, and meat was an easy sell, and the fact that it was only 2 hours from Paris made it all the more attractive.

We took the Eurostar from Kings Cross St Pancras in London and 2 hours later we were having an (expensive) coffee at a typical french cafe across from Gare du Nord in Paris. We spent a couple of days exploring Paris before heading east to Beaune, a picturesque town in the middle of Burgundy. You can catch the TGV from Gare de Lyon to Beaune via Dijon which takes about 2 and a half hours in total.

Where we stayed...
A lovely bed & breakfast about 20km from Beaune and right near a famous wine village called Nuits-Saint-Georges. Val de Vergy is a massive old country house build of stone, that has 4 unique bedrooms, a swimming pool and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and neighbouring horses. It meets all the criteria that I listed in my previous post about unique places to stay. The house was built in 1680 by a wine-maker. The current owners, Brigitte and Dominique, have been living there for 40 years, having bought it as young newlyweds when it was just a ruin without running water or electricity. You can read all about their inspiring story in the memory book they made for all the guests to read in the breakfast room.

Our room was absolutely lovely, with wooden beams and a huge bathroom with free-standing bath. Brigitte laid out a yummy breakfast of farmhouse baguette, homemade jams and honey and fromage frais every morning in the common room where all the guests eat together.

The cycling bit...
On the first day, I was determined to fulfill my vision of cycling through the vineyards and that's just what we did. We headed into Beaune and rented bikes across from the train station (watch out, EVERYTHING is closed between 12 and 2!) and off we went on the 'velo-route' through the vineyards. The bike route was 22km there and 22km back, on special roads through the vines and going through the famous wine villages of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault. It was stunning scenery and we kept thinking it would be even better at the height of spring or during harvest season. I would recommend bringing a picnic and stopping off for a bite amidst the vines.

The wine bit...
So now on to the wonders of wine-tasting. We decided not to combine wine-tasting with cycling as we may never have gotten back to Beaune! We did a wine course at Sensation Vin in Beaune which was really eye-opening. I've loved red wine for a while now but I have to admit I don't know much about it: the different grapes, regions, appellations, etc. In an hour, the teacher managed to cram in all the basics and had us try ('deguster') 6 different wines. By the end, we understood the different 'Appellation d'origine controllees' (AOCs) which ranged from Grand Cru to more regional appellations. We could also distinguish between the different tastes, smells, and colours and start to understand the reasons behind them.

This gave us a good basis for our real wine-tasting experience at the oldest wine cellars in Beaune 'Patriarche' which span for 5km underground. Just imagine 5km of wine bottles ranging from 1904 to today. We wandered through the dark corridors lined with thousands of perfectly arranged bottles to find the tasting area where we sampled all of 13 wines. I had to learn the art of 'deguster' (spitting out the wine after you taste it), otherwise I don't think I would have come back up.

The last night we went to eat at a real local restaurant in Villars-Fontaine 'L'auberge du Coteau' and had an amazingly tender Cote de Boeuf and of course some local wine. It was quite hilarious because we bumped into everyone that night: our hosts at the b&b, 2 of the restaurant owners where we ate on the other nights and the other guests in our b&b. That's when we knew we were eating at the right place.


Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Two return tickets from £90 on Eurostar

The Times newspaper has a fantastic offer going on. So good I am pretty much just writing that which they have... A return trip for two on Eurostar to a selection of destinations from just 90 quid. The offer will take you between (and back) London and Paris, Lille or Brussels.

A couple of conditions:

- offer is only valid to travel from 24 March until 8 August 2009
- to book your return trip for two, you need four passwords, collectable up until this Sunday, 15 March

slowmoves can't do much more than support or inspire a trip between the above dates (booking lines opened yesterday) BUT we can help with the passwords:

1. Chocolate
2. Experience
3. Adventure
4. Escape

Four passwords are enough to book although there are more featuring in the Times, up until this weekend... if you feel you should be buying the Paper to take advantage of the offer!

For more details, or to book, go to:

Tell us how you go.


Picture sourced from

From London to the Caucasus by train

Photo of Batumi Tbilisi train by Alex

The following is an itinerary for travelling from the U.K. to the Caucasus by train!
The main leg of this week-long journey will take you, comfortably ensconced in a succession of sleeper compartments, to Tbilisi, the capital of the (now unfortunately notorious) Republic of Georgia, from where you could easily hop up into the highest mountains in Europe and get blind-drunk with shepherds in fortified mediaeval towers well out of the range of any mobile telephone network!
(You might find it useful to follow this itinerary on the Google Map I have created for it, which you can see here.)


Day 1

Head to London's St. Pancras International railway station, and catch the 10:57 Eurostar high-speed train to Brussels (Bruxelles-Midi); your Eurostar arrives at 14:03 local time (GMT+1). Head into town, and enjoy a nice lunch washed down with Belgian beers, then make your way back to Bruxelles-Midi station and catch the 17:25 Thalys high-speed train to Köln (Cologne), which arrives at Cologne's magnificent Hauptbahnhof at 19:45. A quick change of platform, and you will be in your compartment on board the 20:06 sleeper to Vienna!

Day 2

The sleeper from Brussels arrives in Vienna's Westbahnhof at 09:04 (GMT+2). You will have all day to visit Vienna, so there is no need to hurry! Leave your suitcase in a locker, and head into town. You need to be back at the Westbahnhof in time to catch the 18:50 sleeper to Sofia.

Day 3

After having travelled all day and all night, the sleeper from Vienna arrives in Sofia at 17:40. You will only have two hours before the sleeper to Istanbul departs, so it would probably be best to stay close to the station. The train to Istanbul leaves at 19:30.

Day 4

Your train will arrive in Istanbul's Sirkeci station at 08:00 (GMT+3), and this is where it gets tricky: Sirkeci station is on the European side of the Bosphorus, and your connecting train (which will take you across Anatolia) leaves from Istanbul's Asian railway station, Haydarpaşa, at 08:35. Even by taking the direct boat across to the station, I doubt it is possible to make it in time for the train... So it is extremely likely that you will have to spend a night in Istanbul. (My personal recommendation would be the "Chill Out" Hostel next to the Galata Tower: Central, comfortable, and cheap!)

Day 5

The "Mountain Express" sleeper train leaves Istanbul's Haydarpaşa station at 08:35, and crosses Anatolia in about 40 hours, via Eskişehir, Ankara, Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, and Erzurum. Your destination is the bleak town of Kars, a frontier-town in north-eastern Turkey where the train "terminates". (It used to continue to Armenia.)

Photo of the views from the Istanbul to Kars train by Alex

Day 6

The sleeper pulls in at Kars' railway station at 22:00. Take a taxi, and head into town to find a hotel for the night. I recommend the Güngören Otel – good value for money. Have dinner and go to bed early, as you will need to get up for an early start!

Day 7

Head for Kars' otogar (bus station), where you need to find either an otobus (bus) or dolmuş (minibus) to take you to the town of Hopa on the Black Sea coast, via Ardahan and Artvin. This journey takes around 6 hours. From Hopa, you can either take a taxi or a minibus to the border with Georgia, which you will cross on foot before continuing by either taxi or minibus to Batumi, Georgia's second-largest city. Batumi's railway station is slightly out-of-town, in a nearby village with the rather amusing name of Makhindjauri ("Child of [the] Ugly [person]"). The sleeper from Batumi to Tbilisi leaves at around 22:00 (GMT+4).

Day 8

The sleeper from Batumi arrives at Tbilisi's railway station at around 08:00 local time. From Tbilisi, you can either take the sleeper to Baku (8 hours) or to Yerevan (15 hours).

Tbilisi, Georgia (

There is no single website which can provide you with all the timetabling information you would need for this journey.

The Man in Seat 61 can help you with the London-Istanbul stretch, but after that, you will have to resort to the Turkish State Railways website, whose English version can be found here. Essentially, once you reach Kars, you are on your own!

Georgian Railways do have a website, but it is completely useless, and as there is only one train you can take from Batumi to Tbilisi, which leaves daily, your chances of either missing it or of boarding the wrong one are slim.

My personal recommendations would be: Carry plenty of photocopies of your passport (to avoid having to trust the conductors with the original); take plenty of books with you; bring spare batteries for every electronic item you think you will need during the journey (the electricity supply in the compartments doesn't always work); buy picnics at every available opportunity; carry a not-too-thick-but-just-about-enough wad of cash with you (you will not always have the time to find ATMs along the way); bring a fresh duvet cover with you in case the bedding is unsatisfactory; and plan your ticket purchases carefully, for you will sometimes have to change trains in a hurry.


Sunday, 1 March 2009

Running routes

Let's not get technical, slowmoves can involve any mode of transport, it's the context and way we go about the journey that defines slowmoves. For example, running can be as much slowmoves as walking... Communting to work can be seen as a chore, or an opportunity (there's a blog to be written on that!). I enjoy running, it gives me great satisfaction to run just about anywhere (running machines not included for lots of reasons), but particularly from point a to point b (rather than point a to point a, you understand).

A great tool I was introduce to was Run Finder. And since this, I have also found Map Runner and Walk Jog Run and Run The Planet... There are loads! The sites offer everything from places you can log and share routes, to more technical aspects like stride lengths and calories burned. I have often asked myself, fow far did I run? Was it more up than down? Would it be quicker than the bus that stops everywhere?

If you like running or want a tool that might encourage you to start more than the idea of a stitch, check out some routes at my favourite: Good Run Guide.