It’s a convivial gathering, eight of us around a dining table at a rural hotel in a converted farmhouse. The food has been plentiful, the wine flowing. As the evening progresses we get to know one another better and tongues loosen. It’s such an intimate setting that everyone is aware we’re here to update travel guide information. One of the couples is at the table because they booked one of the Inntravel holidays we’re updating, the other couple didn’t.
“But we are here because we saw it in an Inntravel brochure,” the man confesses. “We look at where Inntravel go, as we know they’ll pick off the beaten track destinations we like, and then we book it ourselves.”
It’s not the first time someone has told me this. I smile back at the man, I like him and his wife. They’re an amiable and interesting couple. But they’re only going to have a fraction of the experience the other couple who did book the Slow Travel holiday will enjoy.
Somewhere beside the Sado Estuary a couple of days ago
I whittled down potential routes on Wikiloc, using experience of the ‘hit and miss’ UGC (user generated content) walking site to find a route through a network of dykes around the edge of the Sado Estuary. It’s a fascinating walk, beginning with sandy trails through cork oak forests and small vineyards in the intriguingly named Vale de Judeus, and along narrow lanes whose names reveal what the area was known for. On reaching the estuary, the path we’re following heads into the maze of earthy dykes which protect the basins. Some are salt pans, others are filled with neat rows of wooden squares, oyster beds. Most are inhabited by birds – cormorants, egrets, white heron, and spoonbills. Standing aloof, further into the estuary, are silhouetted flamingos. We know about the area because we researched it following the last time we walked here, a lengthy business as information is hidden away in obscure Portuguese websites. We do this whether walking for fun or creating routes for others. We like to know as much as possible about the places we walk. Wikiloc might show us a potential route, but it rarely reveals information about it.
Slovenia a few months ago
After two weeks in Slovenia we have rucksacks packed with experiences, anecdotes, and reams of information picked up during our travels. We’ve spent eight days exploring and recording walking routes in and around one valley; driven from Ljubljana to the border with Austria; travelled from east to north and then to the Adriatic coast using four different trains; interviewed numerous locals including rural hotel owners, wine specialists, hikers, and a herbalist tour guide. When you’re a travel writer you tend to get access to a lot more information than you do as an average traveller. When you’re a travel writer creating new Slow Travel holidays that will bring visitors to an area, that access is even greater. It’s been an extra special and highly illuminating trip. Slovenia is a country that has enchanted us, one we will return to. We’ve collected so much information and experiences it’ll take us forever to complete the two Slow Travel guidebooks required for the holidays.
Peneda-Geres also a few months ago
It’s the third trip in a year to Peneda-Geres, Portugal’s only National Park. We’ve hiked from near its northern perimeter to beyond its southern one – creating an itinerant walking holiday where routes will take Inntravel customers from one end of the park to the other, staying in wildly contrasting accommodation in six different locations. Much of the base ingredients are the same as Slovenia above. However, itinerant holidays are more logistically difficult to put together than single centre discovery ones. Where transport will already be arranged to get Inntravel customers and/or their luggage seamlessly from A to B, no such network exists for us. We have to figure out how it will work for others. When we reach a hotel after 15km on the trail we can’t collapse into the bar, we have to arrange transport to get us back to where our car is parked at the start of the route, then drive back again – only then we can hit a local bar. It makes the mission more challenging, but it’s wonderfully satisfying when it all comes together and we see the finished product on a website or in a brochure.
Tenerife and the Canary Islands – for fourteen years
We started writing walking route directions for Tenerife after being confused time and time again by poor quality free routes from tourist offices. You get what you pay for, and if you pay nothing…
Neither were there any guides which suited our hiking preferences – featuring lots of in-depth local knowledge/quirks/ and food related information. So we decided to create our own. Fourteen years of specialising in writing about Tenerife and the Canary Islands, using knowledge gleaned from first hand experience, has been channelled into these walking routes and our other Tenerife guides. There are no shortcuts to compiling knowledge of the level we have for the Canary Islands. How we went about gaining it has formed a blueprint we apply to everywhere we visit.
Norway, a few months into the future
“It’s perverse not to.”
Is the realisation we arrive at when researching a holiday to Norway which will involve a raft of places we want to see and experiences we want to notch up. Inntravel have such a holiday in their stable, but it feels odd to book a ‘holiday’ with the company we help create holidays for. So we look at putting it together ourselves before reaching the conclusion above. Why on earth would we not use a company who we know create specialist Slow Travel holidays of the sort we’d book ourselves? We know the work that goes into them, we know we’ll see the very best there is and lots that others won’t. It would be crazy, and a lot of extra work, not to. So we book their holiday.
Back to the dinner table
The man who’d made the confession nods toward a little black book on the table beside the woman sitting opposite, it’s the bespoke guidebook Inntravel customers are sent when they book a holiday.
“Can I have a look at that?” The non-Inntravel customer asks. “We followed the wrong path a couple of times today, and there are a few things we saw that we didn’t know what they were…”