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 d├ęcor 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: