Walking with Bears in Slovakia

I’ve written about similar trips before so was excited to hear that the UK’s leading trekking holidays company, Walks Worldwide, is now working closely with conservation group, Projekt Medved, and has created a unique trip called ‘Walking with Bears’ in the High Tatras mountains of Slovakia.

The High Tatras are the highest mountains in the Carpathian Arc which stretch from Romania to the Czech Republic.  The range is small in area but they are very steep and provide the only High Alpine environment in Europe north of the Alps.  There are a number of well-marked tourist trails but the highlight of this new trip are the days spent off the trail, following animal tracks and ancient smuggling paths in the company of guides who know the region and wildlife inside out.

Bear

This trekking holiday with a big difference, provides the chance to walk not only in a spectacular mountain area populated by bears, but with the intention of seeking the mighty beasts on foot!  The tour actually begins in Poland and initially follows recognised way-marked trails across the High Tatras, descending into Slovakia.  On reaching the Ticha, the group will be joined by a Park Ranger who will take the group ‘off piste’ and walk among the mountains and valleys in an area where tourists are normally forbidden.  This unique opportunity is restricted to a maximum group size of eight people in order to minimise disturbance.  Walking is graded as demanding, hiking at altitude in mountainous terrain for up to 9 hours per day.

The one-off trip departs on Sunday 14 August and costs from £985 pp (land only). This includes ground transportation, 7 nights’ accommodation, most meals and the services of and expert walking and wildlife guide. Call 0845 301 4737 or visit www.walksworldwide.com

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Celebrate Slovenia’s Jubilee Year

Ptuj SloveniaThis year, 2011, marks the 20 year anniversary of Slovenia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.  There is no better time to visit this jewel in Eastern Europe’s crown.  The whole year will see many special events, the adoption of new visions for development and a huge celebration to which the whole world is invited.  A very special part in these gatherings will be played by Slovenian expatriates and their descendants – the biggest such gathering in Slovenian territory is planned for early July.

This year the Slovenian Tourist board plans to make it easier for Slovenians, their descendants and friends to visit Slovenia, through numerous special offers and discounts.  To ensure that Slovenians, their descendants and friends throughout the world know about these offers, details are posted on the Slovenia.info website.  The website, which posts special tourist deals and packages for expatriates, emigrants and their nearest and dearest, has also organised a forum for impression of relatives and former citizens.  The Slovenian Tourist Board has even put together the special packages in cooperation with a range of tour operators, and will be continuously updating them.  We can’t wait to get there, neither should you!

For more information visit www.slovenia.info – book a deal now!

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Let the Train Take the Strain to Tirol this Winter

If you think flying is the only option for your ski trip to Austria, think again. Train travel may not be the first thing that springs to mind but with improved services and connections, Austria is closer than you think.

Train v Plane

We all know the benefit of train travel in terms of sustainability, but there are some key advantages to skiers in letting the train take the strain.

Increasing charges for skis and luggage v  No charges for skis or luggage

1.5-2 hour check-in v 30-minute check-in time

Long transfers from the airport v Railway stations in resort or a 15-30 minute taxi or bus ride away

Instead of moving from airport queue to airport queue you can sit back, relax and enjoy the journey by train as the scenery glides by. By going overnight you can ski on the day you arrive and depart, giving you two extra days on the slopes.

City Night Line –  Relatively undiscovered by the UK ski market, the City Night Line train is Austria’s answer to the Snow Train.

The resorts of Alpbach, Söll and Hopfgarten are easily accessible using the City Night Line. The journey times are as follows, with adult returns starting from £195. Outbound Depart London St. Pancras 16.02 Eurostar Arrive Paris-Nord 19.17 (change stations) Depart Paris-Est 20.20 City Night Line Arrive Wörgl 09.40

Inbound Depart Wörgl 20.31 City Night Line Arrive Paris-Est 09.23 Depart Paris-Nord 10.13 Eurostar Arrive London St. Pancras* 11.28

Then take a taxi: Worgl to Alpbach (30 mins; €40) Worgl to Soll (15 mins: €22) Worgl to Hopfgarten (15 mins: €22)

Söll Part of the Ski Welt circus, Austria’s largest connected ski area, the resort of Söll has access to over 270km of varied and interesting slopes. Located between the majestic Wilder Kaiser mountains and the Kitzbüheler Alps, the pretty resort offers great value for money, is a popular choice for Brits, with a lively après-ski scene and has top winter wonderland activities for all to enjoy.

How much? A “White Weeks” package at the 3* Hotel Tulpe in January* starts from €570 per person for 7 nights on half board, including a 6 day ski pass Wilder Kaiser – Brixental. (* 8 – 21 Jan 2011). More packages and offers are available at www.wilderkaiser.info

Hopfgarten-Kelchsau-Itter Situated at the foot of the Hohe Salve, the resort of Hopfgarten is located in the heart of the Ski Welt, which has recently been awarded the TOP resort award by the Skiresort Service International. Hopfgarten is Söll’s quieter neighbour, boasting a a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and traditional Tirolean charm.

How much? 7 nights in 3* accommodation starts from € 544,50 per person on half board, including a 6 day ski pass. To book email hopfgarten@hohe-salve.com or call 0043 5335 2322

Alpbach Highly regarded as one of Austria’s most picturesque villages, the charming village of Alpbach is a true winter wonderland and a top choice for families, beginners and intermediates. A wide range of non-ski activities are on offer too, from snowshoeing to sleigh rides and tobogganing. How much? 7 nights at the 4* Hotel Böglerhof in Alpbach starts from €790 per person on half board, including a 6 day Alpbachtal ski pass and weekly activity programme. For more information visit www.boeglerhof.at.

St Anton Extensive and varied slopes, breathtaking scenery, reliable snow, a bustling village atmosphere and some of the best après-ski in the Alps – what more do you want from a resort that has it all! Located in the western part of the Tirol region, St Anton is regarded as one of the top European resorts and it just keeps getting better.

The full daytime journey details to St Anton are as follows: Outbound Depart London St. Pancras 06.22 Eurostar Arrive Paris-Nord 09.47 (change stations) Depart Paris-Est 10.24 TGV Arrive Zurich 15.00 Have a meal at Zurich station Depart Zurich 16.40 Railjet Arrive St Anton am Arlberg 18.57

Inbound Depart St Anton am Arlberg 09.01 EuroCity Arrive Zurich 11.20 Depart Zurich 13.02 TGV Arrive Paris-Est 17.34 Depart Paris-Nord 19.13 Eurostar Arrive London St. Pancras* 20.34 How much? Adult returns start from £195, child returns start from £153. Stay at the centrally located 3* Hotel Ehrenreich in St Anton for 7 nights on half board, with prices starting from €665 per person. To book call 0043 5446 2353.

For more information about train travel to the Alps visit www.snowcarbon.co.uk For more information on the Tirol region – www.visittirol.co.uk

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September Events in Slovenia

Maribor Festival SloveniaThere are so many reasons to visit Slovenia and this September there are some fantastic events taking place which will not fail to lure you to this bountiful Balkan land.  First up is the Maribor Music Festival which is taking place between the 3rd and 12th of September.  The festival offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a traditional international festival of chamber music against the historic backdrop of Slovenia’s second city, Maribor.

Comprising 17 main concerts together with several accompanying events, the festival will feature performances of masters such as Dvorak, Beethoven and Rachmaninov, as well as world premieres written for the event. They will take place in some of Maribor’s most impressive venues, such as its 12th century Gothic-style cathedral and Maribor Castle, which was first mentioned in the 1100s. Visit www.festivalmaribor.si for more details.

Next up is Bohinj Cow Ball!  The Kravji Bal or Cow Ball takes place on 19 September at picturesque Lake Bohinj in the heart of the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park, and celebrates the return of the cattle to the valley after a long summer pasture. Cows are decorated with wreaths and bells and paraded through the now dry Govic waterfall accompanied by herdsmen, dairy maids and cheese-makers; stalls sell wicker work, wooden products and herdsmen’s cheese. Plus there’s traditional entertainment with folk music, dancing, sling shooting, horse-shoe casting and log sawing.

With lakes, mountains, picturesque coastal towns and a buzzing capital city, there really is something for everyone in Slovenia!  For more information about this Balkan gem visit Slovenia.info

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Horizon Field – Antony Gormley in Vorarlberg, Austria

Antony GormleyThe British artist Antony Gormley is creating a unique project in the mountains of Vorarlberg in co-operation with the Kunsthaus Bregenz.  Gormley explains:

“Who are we, what are we, where do we come from and to where are we headed? Those are the basic questions which the project “Horizon Fields” asks us. The whole point of this work is to make a connection between that which is palpable, perceivable and imaginable. It’s a field of relations between mind and body, in which some of the bodies are surrogates and some are real.”

Horizon Field will be the first art project of its kind erected in the mountains and the largest landscape intervention in Austria to date. The opening will be on 31st July. Horizon Field consists of 100 life-size, solid cast iron figures of the human body spread over an area of 150 square kilometres. The work forms a horizontal line at 2,039 metres above sea level. This height has no specific metaphorical or thematic relevance in the placement of the statues. It is an altitude that is readily accessible but at the same time lies beyond the realm of everyday life.

The individual sculptures will be mounted at intervals ranging from sixty metres to several kilometres, depending on the topography, looking in every direction but never facing each other. Some of the figures will be installed in locations only reached on foot or on skis in winter. Others will be unapproachable, visible only from certain vantage points. The works are neither representations (statues) nor symbols, but represent places where a human being once was, or where any human being could be.

Horizon Field engages the physical, perceptual and imaginative responses of anyone coming within its relational field. Over the two years during which this installation will be in situ, the work will be exposed to the elements, to different lighting conditions, and to the changing seasons, thus enabling constantly new perceptions and impressions.

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Outdoor Adventure at AREA 47, Austria

This year one of the most extraordinary outdoor adventure playgrounds in the Alps, AREA 47, has opened its doors. Located at the entrance to the Ötz valley in the Austrian Tirol, this ultimate theme park is exceptional, offering climbing, canyoning, rafting, mountain biking and much more. Combining nature and the latest technology it creates an innovative environment, offering the very best the outdoor world can offer.

Area47

Situated where the Ötztaler Ache flows into the river Inn, AREA 47 derives its name from its location at latitude 47oN. Test your balance 30m above ground on the high rope course, your physical limits on the climbing wall or race against the clock on one of the speed climbing routes. For a thrilling descent, ride 400m on the ‘Flying Fox’, experience a true freefall adventure on the ‘Powerfan’ or swing across the Ötztaler Ache on the ‘Megaswing’. Water lovers will have a splashing time with a rafting or kayaking adventure on the Ötztaler Ache and Inn River, canyon through the picturesque gorges or for speed on dry land try the go-cart or KTM Electro tracks.

And who said a land-locked country can’t have fun on the beach? AREA 47 features sandy beaches and plenty of fun with beach volleyball, beach soccer pitches and a Venice beach style gym. The swimming lake with thrilling waterslide park is complete with diving platform and there is even an area for any budding stuntmen to try and land their creative jump stunts down the water ramp on skis, snowboard or even on a bike.

For an overnight experience you can even stay in one of the authentic Tepee’s or traditional log cabins on B&B, with prices starting from €22 per person per night, sleeps up to seven or from €32 per person per night in a lodge, sleeps up to four.

For those holidaying for a week or longer, choose to stay in one of the villages in the Ötz valley, from Haiming at the entrance to the valley, to centrally located Längenfeld or Obergurgl high up in the Ötz valley. Innsbruck is served by easyjet.com.

For more information visit www.area47.at or call +43 5266 8 76 76.
For more information on the Ötz Valley visit www.oetztal.com or on the Tirol
www.visittirol.co.uk

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The Golden Valley of the Alps

Considering a rural, mountain adventure, packed full of natural beauty and rich history?

The Rauris Valley could be for you.

Rauris ValleySalzburg’s Hohe Tauern National Park boasts many special spots, but the Rauris Valley is a secret golden jewel.  Shaped by a rich history, it offers today’s visitor a holiday that is relaxing and exhilarating.  At 1,800 km², the valley is the largest national park in the Alps, and boasts a rich variety of unique and natural treasures.

It is also home to tales of time gone by, of gold mining and mule packing. Its natural history attractions include the Tauern Window and the Valley of Vultures – a fantastic wildlife viewing habitat… Make your way up from the far end of the Rauris Valley to the glacial regions and you’ll stroll through every climate zone and habitat you would encounter if you were travelling from Central Europe to the Arctic.

Whether walking across these high-alpine pastures or following the footsteps of the mule packers, watching the bearded vultures, exploring one of the many self-guided trails, such as those in the Rauris Virgin Forest or at the foot of the Sonnblick Glacier, you’re sure to experience fascinating encounters leaving lasting memories.

In 1986, the Rauris Valley was selected as the primary site in the Alps for the reintroduction of bearded vultures (this year will see the final release of bearded vultures into the wild).  Since then, it has been possible to observe these impressive animals and their cousins, the griffon and golden eagle, in the wild, along with marmots and chamois.

The valley is not only one of the most beautiful but also the largest natural hiking playground in the Hohe Tauern National Park.  From tranquil trekking through glorious countryside to mountain tours leading up to glaciers. In just a few minutes, the Rauris Hochalm Lifts whisk nature lovers to the heart of the Hochalm hiking area.  With over 295 km of superbly marked hiking paths and alpine trails, the Rauris Valley is one of the most adventure-filled hiking areas in Europe.

During the summer months, around forty farms and mountain huts are staffed and fling open their doors to visitors. “Gold Fever” breaks out in Rauris every summer, as treasure hunters chance their luck as they pan the river for fine platelets of pure metallic gold. Though commercial gold-mining ceased in the last century, to this day there are still three beautiful gold-panning sites for locals and visitors to enjoy. Under the watchful eye of a local expert, become a real treasure hunter and, with a little bit of luck, find your very own pot of gold.

Traditions and folk culture is alive and kicking in the Rauris Valley, still practised in their original, authentic form.  As the saying goes, “we don’t just give guests a place to stay, but let them share in our traditional lifestyle”.

www.raurisertal.at

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UTracks: Explore Eastern Europe

I recently came across the company UTracks who offer active walking, trekking and cycling tours throughout Europe, including Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Romania and Transylvania.  There are tours suitable for all capabilities from those seeking something of an introductory level, all through to those seeking something a little more challenging; yet all offer unique opportunities to discover the untrodden Europe, spanning postcard landscapes, centuries-old culture, rural lifestyles and tempting culinary delights. In short, they’re flexible, unique adventures of undiscovered corners, offering you a great deal of independence yet providing support when you need it. Best of all, they start on virtually any day of the week, so you can combine any tour to create exactly the holiday you want.

The six-day Transylvania Castles and Mountains tour includes a trip to Bran Castle to learn about the legends of Dracula, time for discovering unique villages, a walk along limestone ridges to take in the stunning landscapes of Piatra Craiului and plenty of cultural exchanges with local people.

The tour itinerary:
Day 1 – Arrive Bucharest, train to Brasov and transfer to Zărneşti
Day 2 – Walk in Piatra Craiului (Royal Stone) through the Zărneşti Gorge (5hrs, 15km +800m, -600m)
Day 3 – Continue on foot through Piatra Craiului mountains and rural villages (4hrs, 13km +450m, -450m)
Day 4 – Walk to Bran Castle home to the origin of the character known as “Dracula” (4hrs, 12km, +350m, -600m)
Day 5 – Ascend the Bucegi Mountains with stunning views (6 hrs, 18km, +650m, – 900m)
Day 6 – Transfer from Bran to Brasov where you take the train to Bucharest. Trip concludes on arrival in Bucharest.

During the trip you will be accommodated in rural pensions which are rated as 3 stars in Romania. These are traditional guesthouses which while simple, provide a unique dimension to the cultural experience of travelling in the region.

This May UTRACKS are launching a new trip through Slovenia lasting 10 days.  Slovenia encompasses a wealth of stunning natural features: this self guided cycle journey takes in all of the highlights while allowing for time to appreciate the unique culture and culinary delights. From Lake Bohinj and the delightful lakeside town of Bled, the cycle continues around the Julian Alps, with a white water rafting experience on the vivid blue waters of the Soca River! In the wine growing region of Brda enjoy a special dinner and wine tasting before heading to the massive Skocjan Caves with its underground gorge. Ending in the capital city of Ljubljana, there is time to explore the old town and sample the local cuisine.   Departs: Every Monday from May to September 2010.  Price: £1,190 per person

To book a UTRACKS trip, complete the booking form which can be downloaded from their website www.utracks.com

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Slovenia – Be In It To Win It: Holiday Offer for British Tourists

Slovenia Ambassador to London Launches Slovenia...
Iztok Jarc, Slovenia Ambassador to Great Britiain Launches Slovenia… Bet You’ll Love It Campaign, The Colonies Pub, London

I would normally shy away from discussing all things sport related (certainly football related) but last week I was invited to The Colonies pub in Victoria, London to celebrate the launch of Slovenia’s goals for hols promotion.  Slovenia’s World Cup footballers have set a goal of attracting thousands of British fans with the kick-off of a holiday giveaway campaign.

Drawn in the same tournament group as England, the plucky Slovenian squad wants to encourage British holidaymakers to head for their home country in this unique promotion. Travellers will be given back part of the cost of their planned trip as Slovenia progress in South Africa – culminating in a full refund if the side carries off the trophy.

Under the Slovenia… Bet You’ll Love It campaign, travellers booking Slovenia holidays between 10 March and 10 June with participating holiday companies and travelling before June 2011 qualify for the cash-back offer.  Should Slovenia reach the quarter finals, those with qualifying bookings get back 25 per cent of the cost of their holiday. If the team gets to the semi-finals, a 50 per cent refund is paid.  Should the Slovenia team win the World Cup final the full cost of the holiday is paid back!

Captained by West Bromwich Albion midfielder Robert Koren, Slovenia have been drawn in the tournament’s Group C, together with England, USA and Algeria. Slovenia’s opening match is against Algeria on 13 June and they play England on 23 June.

Read more…

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Slovenia: Ideal Location for First-time Skiers

Looking for a first-time skiing holiday that offers more than just the slopes?  Slovenia could be the perfect choice.  Just a two-hour flight from London, Slovenia is one of the cheapest skiing destinations in Europe. Its ski resorts are world class but include plenty of gentler slopes suitable for beginners.  What’s more, as one of Europe’s most compact countries, it’s easy to escape the pistes and combine a ski trip with a distinctive city experience in the picturesque capital, Ljubljana.

Krvavec
Krvavec

About 40 per cent of Slovenia is mountainous so skiing is a national sport. The country hosts the men’s and women’s World Cup slaloms every year (at Kranjska Gora and Maribor-Pohorje respectively) and offers dozens of other ski areas.  From the award-winning Krvavec (identified by one UK national newspaper as ‘the best ski short break resort in Europe’) to the charming little resort of Cerkno, Slovenia is becoming renowned for its beautiful alpine settings and its skilled ski instructors.

Read more…

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