My Perfect Tenerife Itinerary

My Perfect Tenerife Itinerary

It’s been two years since I published a post about the 11 places I’d want to visit in the following year. It was November 2015 and I was making plans for 2016. I said I’d visit Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, and Sapa Valley, in Vietnam. And I did – I went with my sister in March 2016. I promised I’d go to Bergamo, in the North of Italy. And kept that promise.

I wrote that I intended to go to the Maldives and to Etna. And I went – a year later than I had intended, but I did go. In fact, I so wanted to go to Maldives that I decided to pay a visit even though I’m still single (and learned there are many things to do in Maldives that aren’t just for couples). And I didn’t just hike Etna, but also Vulcano and Stromboli.

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Volcanoes and gorgeous beaches – that’s Tenerife

But of those 11 places, there’s some I still have to visit. The thing is, at time life gets in between me and my travel plans. And other times, I simply don’t have any plans, because I am too tired to plan anything, and because I like the idea of having at least some level of flexibility.

Tenerife though… I still have to go. And seriously, I won’t be able to stare at my own reflection if I don’t go in 2018. I’ve read about it, I have been drooling over pictures, I have been dreaming of myself conquering Teide, and I have even thought of a rough itinerary that I’d love to follow there, something that puts together my thirst for adventure, my love for small villages, and my desperate need to relax and just do nothing.

Here’s what my perfect Tenerife itinerary looks like.

Teide

It’s the hiking I am after, in Tenerife

My Perfect Tenerife Itinerary

Enjoy lots of hiking

Most people go to the Canary Islands, including Tenerife, to enjoy the beautiful beaches. But it’s the hiking and adventures I am after.

Check out what the best Canary Islands are in my latest post. 

Tenerife is where the highest volcano in Europe, Mount Teide, is located, and Teide National Park has a series of incredible trails that I am keen to hike. Montaña Blanca, the path to Teide summit, is meant to be hard, but I am eager to challenge myself. Other trails there are the Roques de García and the Dogollada de Guajara. The latter one starts in Teide National Park and ends in Vilaflor.

But there’s more. Teno Rural Park has various trails, of varying difficulty. One goes from Los Silos and terminates in El Palmar. A tougher one starts in Garachico and ends in Chinyero mountain.

These are all volcanic trails – which would quench my thirst for volcano hikes. But there also are forest trails, such as those of Anaga Rural Park, and coastal trails such as Malpaís de Güímar.

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Coastal villages in Tenerife

Discover the beautiful villages

Whenever I travel, anywhere in the world, I like having a mixture of adventure and hiking with culture and sightseeing. Ideally, I alternate hiking days with days during which I visit a city or, even better, a bunch of villages. The best is actually hiking to a village.

Tenerife is packed with coastal and rural villages – some of them connected by beautiful hiking trails. In my time there I plan to visit as many as possible. Here’s just a few of them.

Among the unmissable villages to visit in Tenerife there is Masca, which is perched on a rock needle and characterized by narrow cobbled alleys and bougainvillea gardens.

Tenerife

There’s more than just beaches in Tenerife

Garachico is another village I am keen to visit. It is a tiny port that has been threatened by the forces of nature throughout time, but has somehow managed to survive (and shine).

Tegueste is meant to be one of the prettiest villages in Tenerife: set in the gorgeous countryside, it has a lovely square and a farmer’s market buzzing with life.

Vilaflor is Spain’s highest village and that’s enough for making me want to visit. It is backed by mountains, surrounded by a forest of pine trees, and it is said there’s flowers all over.

Last, but definitely not least, Granadilla, home of an 18th century baroque church and a Franciscan convent.

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La Caleta is one of the best beaches in Tenerife

Relax at the beach

I did say that to me a good trip has a good combination of adventure and culture. I should however add that the ultimate trip would end with some relaxing time and some pampering, possibly at a lovely beach.

I feel incredibly attracted by the possibility of sitting in the sun and swimming in the sea even in April (Sardinia is still too cold at that time of year). Add to this the fact that Tenerife is packed with beautiful beaches – and it is easy to see why I am keen to go.

Among the best beaches of Tenerife there’s La Caleta, which is thought to be the hidden jewel of the island for its idyllic setting and quiet environment. There’s even a few traditional fish restaurants there.

Similarly to La Caleta, Playa del Bollullo is one of the most remote beaches of Tenerife, though there is a footpath which makes it quite easy to reach. It is a black volcanic sand beach (typical of Tenerife), of plain, wild beauty and surrounded by gorgeous cliffs. The beach is very popular with surfers as it is often swept by winds that bring in good waves.

Playa Jardin is an urban beach, and as the name says it is completely surrounded by palm trees and cacti, a bit like a garden. As many other beaches in Tenerife, it often gets big waves.

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Tenerife has great waves

Los Gigantes beach is located in western Tenerife, in a secluded place where nature rules. It is a resort, but the beach is meant to be gorgeous, with golden sand and clear waters, and surrounded by cliffs that reach 800 meters.

Another resort beach is Playa del Duque. It is characterized by golden sand and the water is clear and warm. The beach is completely serviced: sunbeds, restaurants, and it is so clean that it’s been awarded the blue flag.

Located in Playa del Duque there’s the Iberostar Grand Hotel el Mirador, which sounds like the perfect place to end a trip packed with adventure. It has a spa, it boasts view of the beach, there’s restaurants that serve only the best local cuisine and it’s motto is tranquility, which is just what I like.

Have you ever been to Tenerife? What did you like the most about it? Do you have any insider’s tip about places I should add to my itinerary?

What to expect when volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

What to expect when volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

28 June 2018 Update: in the 3 times i have visited Nicaragua, I have always felt safe. Yes, I am aware of crime issues (especially petty crime, and especially in bigger cities such as the capital), but I have never encountered any real issue. But starting in April 2018 civil unrest and protests against the government have caused the situation to worsen.

I still think that Nicaragua is safe for travelers, but I know that a lot of hotels, restaurants and places that work with tourists are shutting down, at least temporarily. I hope things can get sorted peacefully as soon as possible, especially for the people fo Nicaragua. Should you decide to visit despite everything, you should not skip Cerro Negro. This post explains why.

If anybody had told me that one day I’d go volcano boarding, I would have laughed at them.

I have recently revealed my passion for volcanoes, of which I became fully aware of only once I traveled to Central America. Coming from Italy, I grew up with the news of volcano eruptions of Etna or Stromboli. But that’s what it was to me: just news material when a big eruption occurred.

I didn’t realize I was really interested in volcanoes before I found myself literally surrounded by them, first in Antigua Guatemala, and then in Lake Atitlan. They looked so mighty, so imposing, that they obviously caught my attention.

That’s how I ended up on my first ever volcano hike in Guatemala. I enjoyed it so much that I vowed to hike more volcanoes during my backpacking trip. After all, I was traveling across Central America, and it would be silly not to make the most of it, right?

Then I made it to Nicaragua, and ended up having one of the most fun, adrenaline packed adventures of my travel life.

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The incredible sight of Volcan Momotombo in Nicaragua

Nicaragua and its volcanoes

I didn’t know much about Nicaragua before visiting, and had close to zero expectations about it. I ended up falling in love with it, with its incredible vibe, with its welcoming people, to the point that I have been there three times, and I have vowed to go again.

To read more about my love for Nicaragua, check my post “The day I fell in love with Nicaragua.”

One thing I had no idea of before going, is that Nicaragua is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes. It isn’t by chance: there’s 19 active volcanoes scattered around the country. Of these, a few surround Leon, my favorite city in Nicaragua. Some are close to Granada, Nicaragua tourist hot spot. And two make up Ometepe Island.

Pretty much any time one looks around in Nicaragua, there is a volcano in sight. Eventually, whether one likes it or not, it is inevitable to get on a volcano. I walked on the crater of volcano Masaya, not far from Granada, and explored the lava fields. I hiked Maderas, in Ometepe island. But it is Cerro Negro that gave me the most thrilling experience.

The following is a recollection of my experience on volcano Cerro Negro, with a few tips on how to make the most of it.

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One of the many volcanoes of Nicaragua

Volcano Boarding on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

Cerro Negro is close to Leon, Nicaragua most interesting city. It is the youngest and smallest volcano in the country, reaching an elevation of around 750 meters, yet among the most active ones. Its last big eruption occurred in 1999.

Just knowing these facts, I was curious to learn more about it, and possibly hike it. After having hiked Volcano Pacaya, in Guatemala, I was really keen to go on a similar experience in Nicaragua. After all, I love hiking, I love volcanoes and even more so, I love the thrill of hiking an active volcano.

To read more about my experience on volcano Pacaya, check my post “What to expect when hiking volcano Pacaya.”

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The stunning view from the top of Cerro Negro

It was only when I started enquiring about the possibility of hiking a volcano near Leon (and possibly Cerro Negro), that I learned that it is possible to go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. Needless to say, as soon as I found that out, I signed myself up. I was incredibly curious to experience this: after all, it was considered one of the most fun things to do in Nicaragua.

To find out about all the other fantastic things to do in Nicaragua, read my post “The most awesome things to do in Nicaragua.”

What makes volcano boarding on Cerro Negro possible is its soil, made of tiny grains of volcanic rock. To date, I haven’t actually heard of other countries that offer this activity – possibly due to the terrain of their volcanos.

Sliding down Cerro Negro implies a short but somehow tough hike to its top. The path isn’t hard in and of itself, actually. What makes the climb difficult is having to carry the wooden board all the way up, and fighting the strong wind which, although providing a good break from the almost unbearable heat of Leon, literally swipes away – especially when the wooden boards act like sails!

The landscape that surrounds Cerro Negro is lush: the vegetation at its bottom is thick, thanks to the incredibly fertile soil. The view from the top is simply splendid: it is possible to see as far as the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, sunset views from there are simply breathtaking.

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Gearing up for volcano boarding – photo courtesy of Andrew White (flickr)

Once at the top, everyone in the group is handed a pair of overalls, leather gloves and goggles to wear for the descent. These are supposed to protect against the dust and to reduce the impact if falling down. Needless to say, anyone who goes volcano boarding, regardless of any protective gear, is bound to get covered in dark dust at least on the face and hair. It took me a few showers to get rid of the dust and tiny dark pebbles from my hair!

People slide down one at a time. The descent is more or less fast, depending on the actual weight of the person going, on how many people have paved the track beforehand, and – obviously – on how one manages the board. I tried to catch as much speed as possible, but I was by far the lightest in my group, yet went before everyone else, with the result that I went down terribly slow, while the rest of the group went very fast.

Between the hike, the actual volcano boarding, and the gorgeous views, the experience is a lot of fun: it is worth every cent and I would totally do it again (sending someone to slide before me, so I manage to catch some speed this time).

Volcano boarding on Cerro Negro isn’t dangerous per se, though I know of a few people that fell and got injured (that’s a good enough reason not to go alone: here’s a post I wrote that explains why I don’t hike solo). Once again, it is all a matter of choosing the right balance between fun, adrenaline, and safety: it’s up to each and one of us to decide the speed to which we are sliding down, and to break when going too fast. Some people simply choose to go too fast and then lose control of the board.

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Finally, volcano boarding! – photo courtesy of Garret Ziegler

Practical facts

Cerro Negro is at about one hour drive from Leon. There is no public transportation to goes all the way to the base of the volcano, and the road is quite bumpy, so the best way to get there is on a 4WD truck. The entrance fee to the protected area costs $5 USD.

There’s no place to rent the boards used for volcano boarding anywhere near Cerro Negro, so the most time and cost effective way to enjoy this experience is on a guided tour departing from Leon.

There’s various companies that offer volcano boarding. The cost is always the same – around $35 USD. Some tours can even be booked online. Usually, the more people in a group, the cheaper the price.

Tours generally depart from Leon at around 2:00 pm, giving the possibility of experiening an incredible sunset from Cerro Negro.

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Gorgeous sunset view from Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

Gearing up for volcano boarding

  • Wear a good pair of hiking boots, with proper ankle support. The soil is thick and sandy, and the strong wind makes it already hard enough to walk.
  • Carry a wind jacket: it does get really windy and chilly, which is a novelty in Leon.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes against the thick dust.
  • Pack a small daypack with plenty of water for the duration of the hike.
  • Carry some dollars or cordobas to pay the entrance fee to the protected area.
  • Carry a camera to take amazing sunset shots: it can be left with the guide when sliding down, and he can use it to film the experience.

Care to know what’s normally in my backpack? Head over to read “My Packing List.”

Have you ever been volcano boarding? Did you enjoy the experience?

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Discover how to prepare for volcano boarding on Cerro Negro - via @clautavani

What To Expect When Walking The Poon Hill Trek, Nepal

What To Expect When Walking The Poon Hill Trek, Nepal

Hiking the Poon Hill Trek, in Nepal, was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

I never miss an opportunity to hike. It is a fantastic way to get close to nature, to learn more about the history, culture and way of life of a country, and even to meet other travelers. I have spent most of the first half of 2017 hiking. More than that, I have done several multi-day hikes.

First, I walked part of the Jordan Trail, trying to go from Dana all the way to Petra. It was meant to be a 7 day hike that I sadly had to cut short due to an injury.

Then, I walked the Jesus Trail in Israel, an experience I got to share with my friend Eyal. It was a great adventure, despite the fact that we kept getting lost – but that’s part of the experience, right?

Finally, I went to Luxembourg to walk and bike the Mullerthal trail, and realized that this country has a lot more to offer than what most people might think.

And when I was not traveling, I was doing day hikes around Sardinia, where I live, to get spectacular views over beaches that couldn’t otherwise be reached.

Anybody else would have been quite happy with this amount of hiking, but I am always looking for more. So when I was given the chance to go hike the Poon Hill trek in Nepal last May, I didn’t think about it twice and next thing I knew I was boarding a flight to Kathmandu. After all, everyone kept telling me that 2017 is the year to travel to Nepal.

Poon Hill Circuit

The lovely Pokhara is the typical starting point of the Poon Hill Trek

The Poon Hill Trek

Nepal is hiking paradise. Anybody who loves hiking as much as I do will end up going to Nepal at some point. The Annapurna Base Camp and the Everest Base Camp are the most popular hikes, for obvious reasons, but they to require a high level of fitness (which I may have) and a long time to be walked. I am dreaming of walking them, but I didn’t have much time to do so this time around.

I was glad to walk the Poon Hill Trek, an incredibly scenic and somewhat challenging multi-day hike that starts in Nayapul and goes through the tiny mountain villages of Tirkhedunga, Ghorepani, Tadapani, to eventually reach the lovely Ghandruk and then lead back to Nayapul.

The Poon Hill trek goes through a variety of climates and landscapes (from temperate forest to rice terraces and alpine region), and it gives the opportunity to encounter different cultures and ethnicities. More importantly so, throughout the hike the views of the Annapurna South are spectacular.

It is a challenging yet rewarding hike. On some days, the hike is almost completely uphill, which is hard on the lungs and on the quadriceps. On others, there are a lot of downhills, which on the other hand is hard on the knees. Add to this that it may (and will) rain and the trail becomes incredibly muddy, and it’s easy to imagine how hard it is.

Poon Hill Circuit

A lovely river to cool down on day one of the Poon Hill trek

In a way, the experience reminded me of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in terms of climate variations and walking, although the sleeping and eating arrangements on the Poon Hill trek are ten times better (more on that later). Even the companionship that was quickly created among the members of the group was similar to that experienced on the Inca Trail.

To find out more about the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, check my post “Inca Trail Dos and Donts.”

Hiking the Poon Hill trek was a fantastic experience. I am glad I’ve done it and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody who enjoys hiking. The following is a report of my experience. There also are some tips for those who are planning to go.

Hiking the Poon Hill Trek

Day 0: from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Pokhara is the typical starting point of hiking and adventure expeditions in Nepal. It can be reached by bus from Kathmandu, on a ride that can take anything between 5 and 9 hours; or by plane, on a flight that lasts no more than 30 minutes and that offers spectacular views of the Himalayas.

Pokhara is thought to be the adventure and tourism capital of Nepal. It is located at around 900 meters above sea level, and with a population of roughly 450000 people.

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The lake in Pokhara is splendid at sunset

The sights

Unless catching a flight, the best way to travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara is by breaking the trip to do some fun activities along the way. I went rafting in the Trishuli river, starting in Charaudi (about 3 hours drive from Kathmandu). Between the actual rafting and the jumping in the river, I had a real blast.

Pokhara is a pleasant place where to spend a few days in preparation for the hike (there’s many shops to stock on gear for the hike) – or to go back to afterwards. It’s main attractions are a beautiful lake, that offers splendid sunset views and where it is pleasant to walk around; the International Mountain Museum, which has a great exhibit that takes visitors through the most famous expeditions on the Himalayas, as well as the flora, fauna and cultures of Nepal; and the World Peace Pagoda.

Where to sleep and eat in Pokhara

Being such a major tourist hub, there’s a great selection of places to stay and eat in Pokhara. I slept at Swapna Bagh Hotel, which has good sized rooms with comfortable beds and powerful showers, a small but nice pool, and a good onsite restaurant. Moondance is one of the best restaurants in town, with a great selection of local and international dishes (think burgers, steaks and fabulous desserts).

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On day 1 of the Poon Hill Circuit hike, we met a few locals coming from the other direction

Day 1: from Pokhara to Tirkhedunga

The first two hours of the day 1 of the Poon Hill trek are spent driving from Pokhara to Nayapul, the actual starting point of the hike, which is located at around 1000 meters above sea level. Nayapul if where everyone stops to get the permits to hike.

Once past the bridge, the real walking starts, first to Birethanti, which is at 1065 meters above sea level; and then all the way to Tirkhedunga, which is at over 1500 meters above sea level. The hike around around 4 to 5 and it is a combination of flat and slight to steep uphill walk.

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Lovely sights along the first day of Poon Hill trek

The sights

The views on the first day of the Poon Hill trek are lovely, though by far not nearly as spectacular as those of the other days. The mighty peaks of the Himalayas make a couple of appearances, but they look like a far away dream.

The trail initially follows a dirt road, so it is not uncommon to cross paths with motorbikes, jeeps, trucks and local people on their daily errands. It then goes through beautiful bamboo forests and pasture land (cows and buffaloes are a common sight). For a while, it follows the banks of Bhurungdi Khola river, which is quite a sight with lovely natural pools where kids jump to cool down.

Eventually, the trail goes past a beautiful large waterfall and it finally reaches the tiny Tirkhedunga, a lovely village to rest after a hard day of walking.

What to expect

As I have said before, the sights on the first day of the Poon Hill trek are pretty, but not nearly as spectacular as they get the following days.

During my hike, there weren’t many people on the trail. My group and I occasionally met a local going to the opposite direction, and very few tourists along the trail. This may well be due to the season – I walked the Poon Hill trek at the very end of May, which is supposed to be the start of the monsoon season and hence low season for tourism.

The first day of the Poon Hill trek is supposed to be the shortest and easiest, yet it was the hardest one for me. While the climb and the walk were technically easy, the heat was almost unbearable. I am not sure it is like that the rest of the year – it may well be a seasonal thing. Either way, be prepared with lots of sunblock, a hat, and lots of water.

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As we arrived in Tirkhedunga, it just started to rain

Where to sleep and eat

Ramghai Evergreen Hotel is a good place for lunch. It has a lovely terrace overlooking the river, and while waiting for lunch to be ready, it is possible to relax in the beautiful garden or to walk all the way to the river to soak the feet in the incredibly clear water. Food is plain, but good – expect a selection of international dishes such as fried rice, and local ones such as the unmissable dahl baht.

Laxmi is a good tea house to sleep and eat in Tirkhedunga. It is very basic – as the rest of the tea houses along the way. There’s various very basic twin rooms, with electricity (but no sockets, so batteries have to be charged at reception); a toilet on the upper floor, and one on the ground floor, where there’s also a shower with hot water.

Day 2: from Tirkhedunga to Ghorepani

The second day of the Poon Hill trek is spent climbing all the way to Ghorepani, going from an elevation of 1500 meters above sea level to one of almost 2900 meters above sea level. That should already explain a lot about the difficulty of the day. It takes about 7 hours to hike the entire way, including the breaks.

Leaving bright and early from Tirkhedunga, the first 10 minutes of the hike are spent walking downhill. Then, past a bridge and having crossed the Bhurungdi Khola river, begins the climb uphill to the Magar village of Ulleri, where groups generally stop for a well deserved break.

The next break is for lunch, and after that, it is once again uphill walking all the way to Ghorepani.

Descriptions of the second day of the Poon Hill trek talk of around 3800 steps uphill. Someone in my group decided to count them, and by the time we reached Ghorepani she had reached well over 5000.

The sights

Finally, on day 2 of the Poon Hill trek, the views open up to reveal the peaks of the Annapurna South. The pastures and cultivated fields I saw the day before soon give way to an incredibly thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons.

The area seems to be too steep for villages to be built, but there are a few houses spread here and there – proof is that there’s a few locals that go up and down the stairs, carrying weights or leading a bunch of mules. There must be a school too, for in the early morning children are running all over in what seem to be school uniforms.

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Posing triumphantly after finally reaching Ghorepani

What to expect

The second day of the Poon Hill trek is hard – to many, it is painfully difficult. But I actually think it is totally doable – and it is not nearly as hot as on the first day. I always say that if I could do it, anybody can. It does take a decent level of fitness, but more importantly what is needed is will power. In other words: I am stubborn and there was no way I would not make it to the top.

The good thing of hiking the Poon Hill trek in a group and with a guide is that members of the group support each other, and the guide is always ready to help, and to give information on what to expect next. I was really lucky with my group: we were all exhausted, but we joked about it, we cheered each other up, we shared snacks and stories that made us forget the pain of walking over 5000 steps uphill.

I walked the last bit of the trail on my second day under the rain, and made it to my tea house just in time before a storm raged and it started pouring. At the end of May, rain can be expected at any time, every day.

Because of the increase in the altitude (almost 1400 meters difference from the starting point), altitude sickness symptoms may occur once in Ghorepani. I was lucky enough to only experience a bit of lack of appetite, and I didn’t sleep too well that night. Others in my group experienced nausea and headaches.

Where to sleep and eat

Green View Lodge in the village of Banthati is a good spot for lunch. They have a nice terrace with tables outside, as well as seatings inside in case of rain. The food is ok – pretty much the same variety and standard as throughout the rest of the hike.

In Ghorepani, Hotel See You is a good tea house with comfortable large rooms – mine had a huge double bed and windows on two sides, so I had an incredible view of the mountains. Rooms even have sockets to charge batteries. The toilets are on the upper floor (there’s both regular ones and squat toilets) and hot showers are downstairs.

Hotel See You has a fantastic common room, incredibly cozy and with large windows for great views. There’s also nice stove that heats around which guests can sit, and a couple of cats that roam around, much to my entertainment (I love cats!). There is a good menu (which includes pancakes for breakfast).

Day 3: from Ghorepani to Tadapani

The third day of the Poon Hill trek is the best one in terms of sights. On this day, I had to wake up at 3:30 am and set to walk at 4:00 am, for a steady uphill hike of one hour to finally reach Poon Hill.

Once at the top, at an elevation of 3200 meters above sea level, it is possible to admire a fantastic sunrise over the Annapurna South range. There’s even a kiosk that serves tea, coffee and masala chai – which will be needed, to warm up against the bitter cold.

After about an hour at the viewpoint, the walk back to Ghorepani begins (around 45 minutes downhill), in order to have breakfast, pack the bags and start walking to Tadapani, which is at about 2650 meters above sea level.

Although the difference in elevation between Ghorepani and Tadapani is minimal, the first part of the day is spent walking uphill, and after lunch begins a steady downhill walk. The walk from Ghorepani to Tadapani takes around 6 hours.

The sights

The sights on the third day of the Poon Hill trek are simply spectacular, and had me going “wow” several times. This is when I finally got to admire the entire Annapurna South Range, from various points of view – first and foremost that of Poon Hill.

Poon Hill was actually completely covered in haze when I arrived, and the view completely blocked. Apparently, it is like that most of the time, and on certain occasions it rains too. I know that a friend that started her hike just a day after I did, did not even walk uo as it was pouring rain.

My guide Sanjaya actually explained that there are only 25% chances for the haze to clear. I guess I was lucky, the haze quickly dispersed to reveal the most incredible mountains.

The view remained beautiful for the rest of the morning – I continued to admire the mountains until I walked through the forest to reach the tiny village where I had lunch. By the time I got there, however, it was pouring. It kept raining until I made it to Tadapani.

Once in Tadapani, the rain continued for a good while, until it cleared for a couple of hours and I went out to admire the incredible view once again.

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This was the view once the rain cleared in Tadapani

What to expect

The third day of the Poon Hill trek is hard due to the incredibly early wake up call (after an almost sleepless night due to the altitude), the steady uphill walk for the first part of the day and the incessant rain that makes it almost impossible to recognize the trail – at times I felt like I was actually walking on a creek.

After lunch, begins a steep downhill walk which is made all the more difficult under the heavy rain. Despite wearing appropriate gear (hiking boots, rain proof jacket, etc) by the time I made it to Tadapani I was completely soaked.

The third day is also the one during which I met more people: there was quite a crowd (not even remotely overwhelming) in Poon Hill, and I met a few people hiking in the opposite direction – they must have made Ghandruk their first stop on the hike.

Where to sleep and eat

I had lunch at the Tranquility Hotel in Naghethati. The menu was no different from that offered in other tea houses, and the service too (painfully slow when hungry). The place is actually very cozy, and the food good.

In Tadapani, I stayed at Fishtail View Top Lodge, a plain tea house with simple twin rooms set around a nice courtyard, and toilets and showers (actually piping hot) outside. The dining room at Fishtail View is nice and cozy, with a stove against which everyone hangs their wet clothes. There’s also a cat that roams the area and that enjoys a bit of attention.

Food at Fishtail View is good – the menu is the same one of other tea houses on the Poon Hill trek. The good news, however, is that real filter organic coffee is available here – as opposed to all other tea houses which only offer instant coffee. To a coffee lover like me, it was a real treat.

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Ghandruk is one of the nicest villages along the Poon Hill circuit

Day 4: from Tadapani to Ghandruk

The fourth day of the Poon Hill trek is an easy one compared to the others. Walking time is about 3 hours, and most of the walk is downhill. After an initial short climb through the thick forest, the trail pushes along to offer more incredible views and it eventually reaches Ghandruk, which is at 1950 meters above sea level.

Ghandruk is generally reached by lunch time. Once there, it is necessary to walk through the village and eventually hike all the way up to where most of the tea houses are located. The bonus is the possibility of actually visiting a village (one of the largest in the area).

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Crossing tea plantations on the way to Ghandruk

The sights

The day starts with the incredible view of the Annapurna South from Tadapani. The day I was there, it rained throughout the night so I didn’t get to see the sunrise – which would have required to literally just walk out the door to the terrace.

The trail moves along beautiful flatlands, forests inhabited by monkeys (keep quiet and look up so as to spot them) and agricultural fields (I spotted some rice patties and some cabbage patches). It then crosses a suspension bridge over Khumnu Khola, and there are beautiful views of the creek. It also goes through an incredibly scenic tea plantation.

Yet the most interesting part of day 4 of the Poon Hill trek is the possibility of visiting Ghandruk and getting to know more about its people, its tradition and its culture. Ghandruk is a Gurung village famous for the leading role of women. These assumed leading positions in the every day life and in the political and social aspects of the village once the village men had joined the British army.

In the village, there is a lovely small museum and a nice temple.

Poon Hill

Smiling faces in Ghandruk

What to expect

The fourth day of the Poon Hill trek is an easy one. It is mostly downhill (save for the bits inside the village). Personally, I prefer to hike uphill as I find it much easier on my legs and once I get into the rhythm of it I can keep a steady pace. But at least it is a short hike (only 3 hours) after which the rest of the day is spent chilling in the tea house admiring the view of the mountains, reading, chatting, eating, sipping tea and eventually stepping out to visit Ghandruk.

Where to sleep and eat

In Ghandruk, I ate all my meals and slept at Snowland Lodge. The place actually is a gorgeous traditional building and the views from the garden are just unreal.

I had a small basic twin room with electricity located on the first floor, which I could reach via a narrow, rickety wooden staircase. There also are larger rooms that fit up to 5 people. Toilets (only squat) and showers with hot water are outside.

There also is a nice dining room, with meals cooked to order. The menu is similar to those offered by other places along the hike.

What makes Snowland Lodge an incredible place to stay, aside from the spectacular views over the Annapurna South, is the incredibly kind staff. Everyone there is most welcoming, to the point that they organized a small party for my group, where we were all invited to dance and sing. It was actually quite fun to dance to traditional and international tunes, in the middle of the mountains of Nepal – an experience I will never forget.

Nepal Poon Hill

The view from the tea house in Ghandruk was just jaw dropping

Day 5: from Ghandruk to Kimche

On the last day of the Poon Hill trek I walked from Ghandruk to Kimche. Officially, the trail goes all the way back to Nayapul but the company that organized my hike had everything arranged so that a jeep would meet me and the rest of the group in Kimche and drive us all the way back to Pokhara.

After 4 full days of hiking, the one hour walk to Kimche literally felt like a walk in the park. The views were still very pretty, needless to say. The jeep ride afterwards may well be the bumpiest one I have ever taken.

Nepal

As the sun finally made an appearance on the Annapurna, I had to pose for a picture

General tips and information for hiking the Poon Hill trek

When to hike the Poon Hill trek

I hiked the Poon Hill trek at the very end of May, which is the beginning of the monsoon season and probably not the smartest time to hike. I kept getting wet in the rain and at times the clouds obstructed the view – though to be fair, every time they cleared the view was spectacular. The other side of the coin, however, was that it was never too cold, even at night, and that there weren’t many people on the trail as it was the end of shoulder season.

Having said so, March and April in the spring, and September, October and November in the fall are probably the best months to hike the Poon Hill trek, as the chances of rain are much less – however, especially in November and in March, it may get really cold (below zero) especially at night.

How to organize the Poon Hill trek

Independently

Those who wish to walk the Poon Hill trek independently may be glad to know that it is completely doable, and relatively easy to walk. Of course, it is necessary to first get to Pokhara from Kathmandu. You can either take the bus on a ride that lasts around 8 hours or a short flight that last just 25 minutes.

To book a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara, click here

For direct flights from Kathmandu to Pokhara, click here

Once you are in Pokhara, you have to then arrange transportation from Pokhara to the starting point in Nayapul and back; arrange the hiking permits (two passport size photos are required for this, and depending on the season there may be a line at the office); and if walking in peak season it may be hard to find a place to sleep (the tea houses can’t be booked in advance, as they don’t appear in any booking engine).

The trail is mostly well marked, but there are some spots where one may get confused, take the wrong turn and ending up being lost. Which is why I wholeheartedly recommend not to hike the Poon Hill trek alone (in fact, I never recommend hiking alone: you can read why here).

For the costs, these are some rough calculations:

  • around 300 to 600 Rupees per night for a bed (on the basis of shared or private room);
  • 100 Rupees for a hot shower;
  • 100 Rupees to charge the phone and batteries;
  • 100 Rupees for wifi (though it hardly ever works);
  • between 200 and 400 Rupees for each meal
  • between 50 and 100 Rupees for a liter of water (the costs increase with the altitude);
  • between 400 and 500 Rupees for a half liter bottle of beer

Considering that the exchange rate is around 100 Rupees to $1 USD, the estimated daily cost of the Poon Hill Circuit hike can be anywhere between $15 USD and $30 USD per day, and of anything between $75 USD and $150 USD for the hike, to which the transportation and permit costs, as well as those of accommodation and food in Pokhara should be added.

Poon Hill Nepal

I got to share my experience of hiking the Poon Hill trek with a fantastic group of people

On an organized hiking expedition

For the sake of making things easy, I would recommend walking the Poon Hill trek on a guided expedition. I did it with a company called Royal Mountain, with a lovely group of a total of 9 tourists (including myself), 2 English speaking guides (one of them always walked at the front of the group, and the other at the back), and three lovely, funny and incredibly helpful porters.

The entire trip costed $600 USD, which may seem a lot compared to the minimal costs of doing the hike independently. But keep in mind that these $600 include airport transfers, accommodation in Kathmandu and Pokhara, transportation to and from the starting point of the hike, meals, guides and porters.

I only had to add some extra money for water and whatever other drinks I may want along the hike.

Nepal

Good hiking gear is important when hiking the Poon Hill trek

I never had to worry about where I’d spend the night, and I had the comfort of two competent guides who can communicate with the locals (extremely important for me, with all my food allergies); of porters who carried my stuff (no more than 10 kg per person) – because trust me, the hike is hard enough without weight on the back; and the company of an incredibly fun and supportive group.

These are some excellent guided Poon Hill treks:

If you’d rather join an organized trip to Nepal that also includes a lot of hiking (as well as the Poon Hill trek), G Adventures has some excellent ones:

  • Annapurna Sanctuary: an incredible tour of Nepal that starts and ends in Kathmandu and included the Poon Hill trek and the Annapurna base camp. Perfect for hiking junkies.
  • Annapurna Circuit Trek: similar to the previous tour, but with even more hiking!

What to pack for the Poon Hill trek

My advice to anybody embarking on the Poon Hill trek is to pack as little as possible. This is not an occasion to show off any cool outfit, but to rejoice with nature and take a break from the stresses of daily life. And even when getting a porter, it is simply considerate to take as little as possible and making his life easier.

Having said so, spread between the daypack that I carried, and the duffel bag the porters carried, my packing list was as follows:

  • A pair of really good hiking boots: I saw people walking in running shoes, but it does get slippery when it rains and having the extra ankle support helps.
  • A pair of flip flops: they were essential to rest my feet after the hike, and to shower.
  • Two pair of hiking pants: one of them was a pair of Kuhl quick dry pants; the other a plain pair of comfortable Kuhl pants.
  • A pair of leggings I could change into at night. They were ok to go to dinner, and to sleep in.
  • Three or four t-shirts: I had two colorful Kuhl cotton t-shirts as well as a couple in more technical material that dried quickly.
  • A long sleeves t-shirt I used at night.
  • Socks: I mostly carried cotton socks and I was ok since it wasn’t cold, but I also added a pair of hiking socks that had extra padding.
  • A light sweater: I wore it at night, and when I walked to Poon Hill at sunrise.
  • A rain proof jacket: I was sure that the one I had was water proof, but it wasn’t. It may have protected me against some light rain, but in the thick monsoon rain I ended being soaked to the bone. Make triple sure that the jacket is indeed water proof and carry an extra rain poncho just for good measure.
  • My beauty case included the basics, to which I added a good sunblock(which I especially needed on the first day when there wasn’t much shade) and any possible drug I may need (I have asthma) and which I luckily didn’t need at all.

Other items I carried were:

  • Toilet paper and wet wipes: it is not available in tea houses.
  • A refillable water bottle: in an effort to reduce plastic waste, the Nepalese government encourages everybody to drink water that has been boiled and filtered.
  • A sleeping bag: although all tea houses have blankets, they don’t always have clean sheets so a sleeping back, or at least a sleeping sheet give some extra comfort.
  • A quick dry towel
  • A power bank
  • Snacks: I had some protein bars; others in my group had trail mix or cereal bars.

Also, don’t forget to take some cash. There’s no ATM at all along the trail, and cash will be needed to pay for drinks and, at the end of the hike, to tip the guides and the porters (trust me, they will deserve it!).

Curious to know what I normally pack? Head over to read “My Ultimate Packing List.” 

For a detailed guide on what to pack for a long term hike, check out my post “The Perfect Hiking Packing List For A Long Distance Trek.”

Nepal

Tea houses are very basic but incredibly cozy

Accommodation and food along the Poon Hill trek

Throughout the Poon Hill trek, trekkers eat and sleep in tea houses – called bhatti in Nepalese. These are very basic guest houses with plain rooms – think two twin beds, and a small bed side table. There’s a light in the room but no socket for electricity. Toilets (usually squat) and showers (with an additional fee for hot water) are usually outside. There’s wifi for an extra fee, but it hardly works so it may be a good time to detox from internet and social media (unless carrying a local SIM card that receives well in the mountains too).

Interestingly, despite being so modest, the tea houses are incredibly cozy. It may be that by the time one reaches the room nothing matters other than having a hot shower and a bed to crash on; it may be the lovely atmosphere with the group – to me, everything was just as good as it could be.

Poon Hill

Dahl Bhat power, 24 hours quickly became our motto along the trail

Tea houses also cook meals. I was actually terrified that the food may be gross, too spicy, or that it may cause me some bad stomach infection. None of that happened – in fact, nobody in my group ever got sick.

Food is surprisingly good given the conditions, and there’s actually a really good selection of dishes. I often had the dahl baht; but other things on offer were fried rice, eggs, grilled chicken, soups, mac and cheese, pancakes to name just a few. It was luxury! The only thing that was missing for me was good coffee (I only had it in Tadapani). It may be a good idea to bring some ground coffee from home and just ask for hot water to brew it.

Possible nuisances

Leeches

Soon after starting to hike on day 2, someone in my group noticed some weird looking bugs on the ground. We immediately realized they were leeches. We kept seeing them throughout the rest of the hike – it seems they come out more with the rain.

I was lucky none got on me, but following the advice of my guide Sanjaya, I always stayed on the trail and I banged my feet on the ground if I stopped in a place where they may be leeches long enough for them to crawl on me. It’s amazing how those little things can crawl on the legs without being noticed, and once they suck on the blood, they release a substance that doesn’t allow it to coagulate. Wearing hiking boots (rather than shoes), long socks and pants is generally a good idea to protect against them.

Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness is hardly an issue on the Poon Hill trek. The elevation never gets extreme. I wasn’t bothered at all. Yet, it is a good idea to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, and to take notice of any issues such as nausea or strong headaches and warn the guides if that is the case.

Nepal

With the lovely guides and porters during my Poon Hill trek

Final remarks and recommendations

Hiking the Poon Hill trek is not a race. It is a great occasion to take in the gorgeous mountain views, the beautiful nature of Nepal, and to get to know the local culture a bit better. It has to be an enjoyable experience, and it surely was to me.

I always recommend people to hike at their own pace, and once they find a suitable rhythm, keep at it. I am generally a fast walker, so I was always at the front of the group. But just as well, I would have not pushed myself to go any faster than I was going just for the sake of “getting there first.”

Finally, make sure to get a good travel insurance before you travel. Get a quote for a good travel insurance here

I enjoyed every minute of my Poon Hill trek, and I feel extremely lucky to have shared it with an incredible group of people: my experience was made much better by Aleah, Anna, Cathi, Nina, Staci, Charles, Dave and Tim.

Have you hiked the Poon Hill trek? What was your experience?

Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Nepal and PATA during my visit to Nepal. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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Find out what to expect when hiking Poon Hill, Nepal - via @clautavani

 

Everything You Need To Know To Hike The Jesus Trail

Everything You Need To Know To Hike The Jesus Trail

I don’t even know why I hiked the Jesus Trail. I am not religious at all. But I still loved every minute of it.

I fell in love with Israel the minute I set foot there. It started with an itch to get to know Jerusalem, get a better understanding of its history, of its many layers, of the people that live there, of the conflict over a city that is holy to the 3 biggest monotheistic religions in the world.

But it was when I finally made it to Tel Aviv that I understood that this country is a second home to me, to the point that it is the only place in the world, other than Cagliari (where I grew up), where I can see myself living long term. I was charmed by this city, learned about the many things to do there, got out of the city to get a bit of a taste of the rest of the country, but my visit was way too short.

To read more about what Tel Aviv has to offer, check my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”

I was still in Israel when I decided that I’d go back as soon as possible and visit more of it – and I usually keep my word. I started reading about more places to visit and things to do in Israel pretty much right after I came back after my first trip there. I knew that I’d want to explore more of Jerusalem (one is never fully done exploring it!!) and spend more time in Tel Aviv, checking out more things to do there.

Jesus Trail

Hiking is a great way to get closer to nature

I also knew that I’d want to head south and check out the Red Sea and the big hype about Eilat, which I ended up truly enjoying (as reported on my post “Why I love Eilat”). And there was no way I’d leave the Middle East without also visiting the West Bank and trying to learn a bit more about the Palestinian conflict – which is why I visited Ramallah, Jericho, Betlehem and Hebron.

To read about the impact Hebron left on me, read my post “Why I Took A Dual Narrative Tour Of Hebron.”

But there was more. On my second visit to Israel, I would not want to miss the chance to hike. After all, hiking is how I met most of my Israeli friends.

You see, I find hiking to be one of the best ways to explore a country. It gives me the chance of getting closer to nature, of learning more about the culture and the people of a place, of meeting new friends on the road who like sharing the experience, with whom I can complain about the fatigue and I can share a beer at the end of the day.

I enjoy all kinds of hikes – mountain and hill ones; those that offer coastal and lake views; those that go through the desert or through forests; those that allow me to visit villages and archeological sites; short day ones and multi-day hikes. As long as I get to walk, I am happy.

The Jesus Trail

Israel is packed with good hiking trails. The most famous one is the Israel Trail, which cuts through the country, all the way from the border with Lebanon to the south, through the Negev desert and to Eilat. It takes roughly 8 weeks to walk its full length. I would love to do it, eventually, but I didn’t have time for it on my trip.

So I looked for other multi-day hikes, and the Jesus Trail came up. It’s quite ironic that a self professed atheist like myself may consider hiking the Jesus Trail. But this appeared to go through a region of Israel that I was keen to explore, and to combine beautiful views with interesting cultural and historical aspects of the country.

The Jesus Trail is a 62 km long walk that can be covered in the space of 4 days. It starts in Nazareth, known as the city where Jesus grew up, and goes all the way to Capernaum via Zippori, Cana, Kibbutz Lavi, Moshav Arbel and Mount of Beatitudes. It pretty much crosses the entire region of Galilee, thought to be a crossroads of cultures and a gateway for trade since humans have been living there.

Jesus Trail

Following in the footsteps of Jesus – literally

Although it remains to be proved whether or not Jesus actually walked this trail, most of the sites the trail goes through have been identified as places visited by Jesus in the New Testament. What is certain is that Jesus walked this region.

Interestingly though, the Jesus Trail actually goes well beyond Christian holy sites, as it goes through Arab towns, Jewish archeological sites, Muslim shrines and even Crusader battlefields. An added bonus is the landscape of olive groves, hills, nature reserves and at the end of it the Sea of Galilee.

The idea of the trail was conceived in 2007 and the first group of hikers ventured on the trail in 2008. In 2009 the trail was officially recognized and fully marked with signs – incidentally, the same year Pope Benedict XVI visited Nazareth.

The idea of walking the Jesus Trail sounded fascinating to me – not to mention, totally doable in terms of time. I was pretty set on it: whether people considered it a religious and spiritual walk or not, I wanted to do it. I walked the Jesus Trail pretty much for the same reasons I walked the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela: for the views, for the culture, for the company, and for the adventure.

Speaking of company, I was delighted to have the company of my very dear friend Eyal, who’s like a brother to me. We’ve known each other for 7 years now. Apparently walking the Jesus Trail was also his dream, and when he found out I was planning to do it, he decided to join me. Needless to say, we had a blast.

However, we didn’t have much time to research the itinerary or the accommodation options along the trail, so we thought it may be a good idea to take advantage of a Jesus Trail pre-packaged tour.  We saw that the Jesus Trail can be walked, either independently or with a guide; and it can even be biked (but I do not recommend hiking it alone: you can read more about why I think that hiking alone is a bad idea in this post). We opted for a self-guided tour which included all accommodation and meal reservations (breakfast and dinner); a Jesus Trail detailed guide book (which literally became our Bible) and updates on the trail (which we soon learned were very much needed); briefing before we actually started and regular support before and during the trail.

Hiking the Jesus Trail was an incredible experience. I am happy to have done it and would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. Following is a recollection of my experience, with some useful tips for those who wish to embark on it.

Jesus Trail

Splendid views along the Jesus Trail

Hiking the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee

Day 0 – Tel Aviv to Nazareth

Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail. It is fairly easy to reach via bus from Tel Aviv old bus station, where there’s both direct buses and shared mini vans. It takes around 3 and a half hour to get there. Keep in mind that the bus doesn’t go to the Old City, so it is a bit of a walk from the final bus stop to hostels located in the centre.

Nazareth is the main city in the Galilee region. Around 70000 people live there, and pretty much 100% of the population is Israeli Arab (or rather, Palestinian), divided among Christians and Muslims. Due to its connection to Christianity, Nazareth is a major tourist spot for groups of pilgrims.

Jesus Trail

The Old City of Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail

The sights

Nazareth is an interesting city, though a bit more chaotic than I expected. The Old City boasts a beautiful market, though most shops have been closed as a result of the renovation works and owners haven’t moved back. I am hoping that more of them open again in the near future, because it would bring it new life (and more economic turnaround!).

There’s a few historical homes in Nazareth – the most interesting one is the Fauzi Azar, a beautiful traditional Arab home with a gorgeous living room and high ceilings that is currently being used as a guest house. The best part of it is that it also is a hotel!

Other places of interest are the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is the largest church in the Middle East, and Mary’s Well and Ancient Bathhouse. A place I absolutely loved and could have spent hours in is Elbabour: this amazing old mill sells all sorts of spices, teas and coffee, dry fruits and nuts. It’s where I also tried the za’atar, which is a mixture of herbs (mostly oregano and thyme) that is mixed with olive oil and spread on traditional Arab bread. I think I got addicted to it.

Jesus Trail

Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth

Where to sleep and eat in Nazareth

The best place to stay in Nazareth is the Fauzi Azar Inn. There’s a range of private rooms with private bathroom (though they are not cheap) and of dorms with shared bathrooms. The place is incredibly charming, and quiet. The breakfast is good, the kitchen perfectly equipped and they even do occasional traditional cooking classes.

Having a good kitchen is a plus, considering that there aren’t many good options for food in Nazareth that are budget friendly. I tried Rosemary, a restaurant near Mary’s Well and the food was good and not too pricey. Other options are the various kebab places around the square – cheap and filling.

Day 1 – from Nazareth to Cana

The first day of the Jesus Trail is spent walking out of Nazareth and (literally) finding the way to Cana. The trail starts in Nazareth Old City, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, and goes through the Market, where it is well marked: it leads to a flight of over 400 steps that take to a nice viewpoint from where the city can be admired.

Once there, the trail it goes through a suburb of the city to eventually lead to Zippori village and Zippori National Park, Mash’had Village and eventually to Cana. It pretty much feels like an urban hike for almost the entire way.

Jesus Trail

The lovely view of Cana from a distance

The sights

The views around Nazareth Old City are pretty: narrow alleys with the odd cat walking by, or children playing football; back yards with lemon trees and pouring bouganvillea flowers. From the Promenade of Nazareth the view opens up to the rest of the city below.

Zippori National Park (for which there is an entrance fee) allows access to Old Zippori Village, with excavations of buildings from different time periods and which include a Roman Villa from around 200 CE and various mosaics. Eyal and I didn’t actually visit the ruins. We got lost on the way out of Nazareth (more on that below) and wanted to get to Cana before dark, so we pushed on.

My recommendation for those who are keen to visit Zippori is to leave Nazareth really early – we felt it was a pity to miss it, but we would have run really late if we visited.

Once past the National Park, the trail goes through a forest until it reaches Mash’had, a small town of around 7000 people, who are mostly Muslim. There, the main point of interest is the Central Mosque.

From Mash’had it is a shorter walk to Cana (known in Israel as Kfar Cana), the traditional site of the wedding party where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. The main attraction in Cana is the Franciscan Wedding Church, where it often happens that already married Christian couples go renew their vows.

Cana

The Franciscan Church is the main sight of Cana

Cana, a tranquil village, is also known for its pomegranates, whose seeds are pressed into a delicious juice or used in various recipes.

What to expect

The walk from Nazareth to Cana is by far not the longest of the Jesus Trail – it’s only 13.6 km. It shouldn’t even be the most difficult one, because it mostly goes through small cities and villages. Yet, for some reason, it is.

The main difficulty during the first day of the Jesus Trail is in finding the way out of the city. Once on the promenade, the signs to follow are not easily visible and the constant road works imply regular changes to the actual route.

I admit Eyal and I actually got lost after walking up all the stairs and once we got to the Promenade. After all, I am an unsuccessful backpacker, and I am starting to think Eyal is too! We took a right turn, instead of a left (which was the new route) and eventually went around in a circle and found ourselves back in the Old City, having to walk up the over 400 steps again. We had a good laugh when we realized where we were; but we laughed a little less when we went up the stairs for our second time!

The good thing is that the locals we met on the way were all really friendly – when they saw us walking with our backpacks, they asked us if we were walking the Jesus Trail and were keen to give us directions. Eventually, we bumped into a family that realized we were lost and would not be happy unless they could drive us to at least the junction to Zippori (they were going in that direction) and since we had already been trying to find our way out of Nazareth for a couple of hours, we decided to take advantage of their kind offer.

Jesus Trail

The garbage was one of the bad sights of day 1 of the Jesus Trail

One thing that we didn’t enjoy so much on the first day of the Jesus Trail is the amount of garbage we saw on the side of the road on the suburb areas of Nazareth and as we left the city, and at times thrown right between the bushes and under the trees near Zippori National Park. I am not talking about a plastic bottle here and there. I am talking about literally heaps of garbage, which at times included forniture and even home appliances.

I don’t know who’s responsible for that – the local authorities, the national authorities, the people? Either way, it was really sad to see that a place that would be otherwise beautiful is ruined by garbage.

Where to sleep and eat in Cana

There aren’t many sleeping options in Cana. Eyal and I stayed at Cana Wedding Guest House, we slept in dorms – they have separate female and male dorms, and also double rooms. It’s a nice, clean place and the hosts are really caring. They have a small communal kitchen for guest use, and they serve an incredible home cooked dinner for the guests for an additional charge. Other than that, there aren’t many options to eat in town other than a small falafel shop.

Day 2 – from Cana to Ilaniya

On the second day of the Jesus Trail we walked from Cana to Ilanya. From the main church in Cana, right by Cana Wedding Guest House, the trail exits the village past a lovely mosque and then goes down on a dirt road with views of the Tur’an Valley and of Tur’an town and through the forest of Beit Keshet.

It then borders an army base pretty much following the road, and takes a small detour to reach the lovely and peaceful Ilanya village.

On the second day of the trail, I fell down. I was happily walking and talking to Eyal while we were bordering Beit Keshet forest, and I didn’t notice a big piece of iron coming out of the dirt road. I tripped on it and fell, badly scratching my elbow. Luckily it was just a scratch and – coming from the Jordan Trail where I had injured myself quite badly – I had all sorts of medication with me.

To find out what happened while I hiked the Jordan Trail, read my post “Why I hiked the Jordan Trail.”

Jesus Trail

Catching my breath after falling on day 2 of the Jesus Trail

The sights

Once leaving Cana, the path at first goes steeply downhill through the countryside. The views of Tur’an and the valley below are very pretty. It is incredibly quiet and peaceful, with nobody in sight. Once at the bottom, it becomes more gentle, with lovely hills and the Beit Keshet forest providing lots of shade.

The ending point of the second day of the Jesus Trail is usually the village of Ilaniya, a tiny community of no more than 500 people founded originally in 1899 with the name of Sejera. It was one of the earliest model farms founded by the Jewish Colonization Association during the First Aliyah – the first wave of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Ilaniya was briefly home to David Ben Gurion, famous Zionist who later became the first prime minister of Israel.

Jesus Trail

Solitary walking on the second day of the Jesus Trail

What to expect

The walk from Cana to Ilaniya is around 11 km, and mostly downhill. Getting out of Cana is easy, but once in the countryside it’s not so easy to actually follow the trail as in some parts the signs are missing. Do keep an eye out for them. In any case, Tur’an can always be seen in the distance so it is virtually impossible to get lost.

The good news is that once at the bottom of the hill, the forest offers a lot of shade, hence being a nice break from the strong sun.

Other than in Cana, there are no shops and no water fountains along the trail so buy snacks, lunch and water before you start hiking.

Jesus Trail

Crossing beautiful green fields during the Jesus Trail

Where to sleep and eat in Ilaniya

Eyal and I spent the night at Yarok Oz Ecolodge and Organic Goat Farm. It’s a family run business where they grow organic fruit and vegetables and they have a few goats and sheep that are used to produce milk and cheese. There’s even a couple of lovely cats and dogs that roam around the farm.

At Yarok Oz there are some very big huts with beds inside, which are also air conditioned, and they also have places to pitch tents. Toilets and showers are shared and there’s a super equipped common kitchen that guests can use. We didn’t bring our own food so we took advantage of the family cooked vegetarian dinner and breakfast – they were both delicious, very healthy and a real feast (so much food we were unable to actually finish hit).

Make sure to read my posts Tel Aviv Vegan Food Guide – The Best Vegan Restaurants In Tel Aviv” and A Complete Guide To Israeli Food.”

Other sleeping and eating options are further along towards Lavi (which is passed on day 3 of the Jesus Trail), in Lavi Forest where there is a free campground where it is possible to pitch a tent, there are picnic tables, water and bathrooms (sometimes locked, however); and at Kibbutz Lavi Hotel.

Day 3 – from Ilaniya to Arbel

The third day of the Jesus Trail was great, despite being by far the longest. We walked from the village of Ilaniya, walking back to the main trail, all the way to Arbel. We walked on the underpass to Road 66 at the Golani Junction, then Road 77 and following the old Roman Road to pass right behind Kibbutz Lavi.

We then followed the trail to the Nebi Shu’eib and to the Horns of Hattin and eventually crossed some ancient olive groves to reach the lovely village of Moshav Arbel, where we spent the night.

Jesus Trail

The view of the Horns of Hattin from a distance

The sights

What makes day 3 of the Jesus Trail even better than the rest is the amount of interesting sights that can be seen. Right after the Golani Junction, there’s the ruins of an old Roman Road that used to connect Acre to Tiberias.

Close to Kibbutz Lavi there’s the remains of ancient wine presses and a cemetery and holocaust memorial. Pushing further along, the Horns of Hattin can be seen from a distance. It is a double volcanic formation that resembles the horns of a bull and from where there’s a fantastic view of the entire Jesus Trail. The Battle of Hattin took place right below the Horns in 1187: the forces of the Crusader army faced the Muslim ones under Saladin.

This was one of my favorite places along the trail. Eyal and I had the site to ourselves for most of the time we spent there. We were only interrupted when a small group of teenagers walked by to also enjoy the view. We took the chance to rest under the shade of a tree, boil some coffee (Israelis never go on a hike without carrying a small stove and coffee pot) and just admire the view.

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The Horns of Hattin were one of my favorire sights throughout the Jesus Trail

Another place of interest on day 3 of the Jesus Trail is Nebi Shu’eib, a building which houses the tomb of Jethro, father in law of Moses and a prophet in the Druze tradition.

Not far from Nebi Shu’eib, there used to be the Palestinian village of Hittin. This was one of the more than 400 Arab towns and villages that were destroyed and abandoned right after the 1948 war. The remains of these villages are not immediately visible – quite often, the abandoned villages have been buried and forests were planted over the ruins.

What to expect

The walk from Ilaniya to Moshav Arbel is around 20 km, making it the longest day on the Jesus Trail. The path is a mixture of smooth uphill and downhill. The main difficulty is the long distance and the fact that for most of the trail there is little shade (there’s some at the Horns of Hattin).

The only place to get food and water is at Golani Junction, where there’s a gas station and a small shop, and at a fountain near the ancient wine presses. Other than that, there’s nothing on the trail and we hardly met a soul. So do make sure to refill water bottles and get food before getting on the actual trail.

Another difficulty is that the trail isn’t clearly marked in some places, and Eyal and I got so concentrated in our conversation that we missed a sign or two and got lost again. The good thing is that Moshav Arbel is actually visible from the hills around the Horns of Hattin, so we eventually cut through the olive groves to reach the village for the night.

Where to sleep and eat in Arbel

There are a few sleeping options in Arbel. Eyal and I stayed at Arbel Holiday Homes (Konowitz Family) and it was the best stay during our Jesus Trail. We had a whole cabin to ourself, with a cozy bedroom, a living room with a huge couch, a well equipped kitchen and a fabulous bathroom with a huge jacuzzi. Once again, however, we took advantage of the home cooking of the owners and had a scrumptious dinner and breakfast the day after.

Jesus Trail

From Moshav Arbel ancient synagogue there’s a lovely view of Mount Arbel

Day 4 – from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee

On the fourth day of the Jesus Trail we walked from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee. The trail actually continues to Capernaum and Mount of Beatitudes, and from it is possible to actually continue to walk around the Sea of Galilee. But by the time we made it there Eyal and I were exhausted with the heat we had accumulated from the previous days of walking, and had to catch a bus back to Tel Aviv: it was the end of Pessach break and Eyal had to go back to work the day after.

Jesus Trail

The view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel is simply stunning

The sights and the views on the fourth day of the trail were amazing. We visited an ancient synagogue; we walked up to Mount Arbel and from there could admire the Sea of Galilee, and eventually made it all the way there (and Eyal also had a dip!).

The sights

Right outside the village of Moshav Arbel there are the ruins of an ancient synagogue which dates back to the 4th century. It’s a beautiful site, and we were lucky to have it all to ourselves – as pretty much all other sites on the rest of the trail!

From the synagogue, the view of Mount Arbel is simply spectacular. We exited the site from the other side, and from the parking lot the paved road goes steeply uphill until it reaches Arbel National Park (for which there’s a fee to pay).

The view of the Sea of Galilee and of the valley (including of the village of Wadi Hamam) from the top of Mount Arbel is breathtaking.

Jesus Trail

Taking in the view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel

Walking from Mount Arbel down to Wadi Hamam, we passed several ancient cave fortresses – some where actually being used by cows who were taking advantage of the shade!

Right at the exit of Arbel National Park, a few trees, some bushes and a creek offer a good break from the sun. We rested for a short while and then continued on the trail, crossing several agricultural fields and eventually crossing the road 90 to get to the Sea of Galilee.

Once on the Sea of Galilee, the trail leads to several small beaches where it is possible to relax and swim. I was too tired to even just conceive the thought of swimming, but Eyal sure took advantage of it.

Jesus Trail

The Sea of Galilee is an incredible shade of blue

What to expect

On the final day of the Jesus Trail we walked around 13 km. It’s an extra 5 km to get all the way to Mount of Beatitudes. The walk from Moshav Arbel to Arbel National Park is a short but steep uphill, and from there to Wadi Hamam a steep and somewhat difficult downhill.

There are several paths to get down from Mount Arbel to Wadi Hamam. The shortest one is the one that people afraid of heights should not take. It’s also possible to walk back to the main road and follow that to the village.

Eyal and I opted for the third option. We walked down a trail that leads all the way to the village. We had to go down an incredibly steep trail (good thing that there’s some very useful rails to hold on to) until the very narrow path got a bit easier and we could follow it all the way to the bottom where there’s a small creek and from there to the village.

Once down, the path is actually nice and flat until the Sea of Galilee. Please note that from Mount Arbel the Jesus Trail follows the path (and the signs) of the Israeli Trail until the entrance of Nakhal Amud, before Tabgha.

On the final day of the trail, we actually met more people – either tourists on Mount Arbel, or other people hiking bits of the trail, and even a family enjoying a day out at the Sea of Galilee. By this, I don’t mean that it was crowded at all. It was simply pleasant to cross path with others and exchange tips and experiences. Eyal and I walked part of the way with Tal, a truly nice guy we met coming down from Mouth Arbel.

Where to sleep and eat around Tiberias

Once down from Mount Arbel and past Wadi Hamam, the trail goes right by a village called Migdal. Right on the main trail there is a convenience store that sells snacks, drinks and meals such as schnitzel or falafel sandwiches and fries and salads.

Eyal and I didn’t spend the night in Galilee but there are plenty of accommodation options in Ginosar Village, Tabgha, Capernaum and Tiberias.

General tips for hiking the Jesus Trail

When to hike the Jesus Trail

Eyal and I hiked the Jesus Trail in mid April, right after Pessach (Passover). We had perfect, dry and sunny weather throughout. I would not recommend starting it any later than that, as it does get really hot. The temperature was around 24 degrees during the day, and we sure sweated a lot between walking and carrying a backpack.

What to pack and what to wear for the Jesus Trail

My packing and clothing tips for the Jesus Trail are meant to be applicable to any multi-day hike.

My first recommendation for those who intend to walk the Jesus is to pack as light as possible. Anything over 30 liters and more than 5 kg is going to be heavy to carry around, bound to cause back and leg pain in the long run. It is also important to make sure that the backpack fits nicely to the body, properly sitting on the hips.

My backpack was nice and small. Eyal had a bigger one as he also carried a sleeping bag and a tent (he intended to camp but ended up taking advantage of the accommodation available throughout the trail). He also carried a small camping stove for coffee and coffee cups, for which I made fun of him – except that I ended up drinking the coffee and truly enjoying it.

Jesus Trail

Comfortably dressed for the Jesus Trail in my Kuhl clothes

Essential items for the Jesus Trail are: good hiking boots with proper ankle support; a pair of hiking pants (or anyways, comfortable pants), and a pair of shorts (because the weather does get really hot). Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are very comfortable and lightweight – the top choice is the ones that have the zipper so that they can turn into shorts.

T-shirts and tank tops are a must. Kuhl has some light, colorful and comfortable ones. Summer hiking socks keep the feet comfortable and give extra padding which is a good way to obviate the pain that walking for a long time causes. I had a rain proof jacket and a light sweater too, which I only used at night. I also recommend wearing a hat to protect the head and face from the sun and heat.

As for the beauty items, I carried the basics: and toothpaste, soap and shampoo, deodorant and quite importantly so a good sunblock I realized on the second day of the hike that my arms – to which I had forgotten to apply sunblock – were completely sunburnt!

Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antisepctic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.

Read my guide on what to pack for long distance hikes. 

Budgeting for the Jesus Trail and other general tips

Walking the trail together with Eyal, we understood that it is completely doable without a guide – though we’d need to read maps, use a GPS, and rely on the very few locals we’d encounter for directions. It is possible to sleep in local guest houses or camping grounds and eat at local eateries or take advantage of the food cooked by the hosts of the guest houses for a small fee.

Water is free in all of Israel. Whenever there is a tap, the water is drinkable. Personally, I found the taste of it quite strong so whenever I had a chance I preferred buying bottled water.

The Jesus Trail isn’t a strenuous hike. Provided that one pays attention at the sign and properly reads the map (which Eyal and I didn’t, but that is a different story!), it’s easy to follow and can even be done alone. There aren’t many people on the trail – in fact, we didn’t meet a soul on certain days. So this certainly isn’t the kind of thing that someone who’s keen on meeting other people should do.

More information on the Jesus Trail is available on the Jesus Trail official website.

Finally, here’s a few more readings for you:

Have you hiked the Jesus Trail? What was your experience?

Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Abraham Tours throughout my Jesus Trail. They kindly provided accommodation and meals during the 4 days hike, and offered the incredibly useful Hiking The Jesus Trail book. Eyal and I hiked completely alone and all the views expressed are my own.

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Why Luxembourg is adventure seekers’ paradise

Why Luxembourg is adventure seekers’ paradise

I had never really thought of visiting Luxembourg. It is one of those tiny countries that for one reason or another never caught my attention. It could be that it is hardly mentioned in the media, other than for business related to the European Union. And since I had not heard much about it, it didn’t tickle my curiosity.

Then my cousin went on a weekend trip when she was living in Belgium. She came back with beautiful pictures of green hills and fairytale castles, and that caught my attention.

I started doing a bit of research about it, just to see if it may be worth going. That’s how I learned that Luxembourg has some incredible hiking trails. And being the hiking junkie that I am, it didn’t take me long to decide that it was finally time to go and explore this small country. What I discovered though is that there’s much more to Luxembourg than one may think.

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One of the most iconic images of Luxembourg is the Schiessentumpel bridge

I spent 4 days roaming around Luxembourg City and the Mullerthal region, and concluded that this may well be the most underrated adventure destination in Europe. But the good news is that even though it is adventure galore, there are plenty of comforts so that at the end of an adrenaline filled day, it is possible to fully relax.

I visited lovely cities, hiked through the thickest and greenest forest I have ever seen, biked some smooth hills, explored castles, and gorged down on delicious food. My time there definitely wasn’t enough time to unveil all that Luxembourg has to offer, and I left wishing to go again soon.

Here’s why I think Luxembourg is adventure seekers paradise.

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Wonderful sights while biking in Luxembourg

Why Luxembourg is adventure seekers paradise

Hiking trails are literally everywhere; they are easily accessible…

All it takes to find a hiking trail in Luxembourg is looking across the street. Most trails can be accessed via a short walk from one of the lovely villages. Others have access points directly from the main road. I noticed when I drove around the Mullerthal that there were what looked like well hidden stairs carved in rock all along the road, and once I actually went on a hike and found myself right on the street after going down those stairs, I understood what their purpose was.

But there’s more to it. Hiking trails in Luxembourg are among the leading quality trails of Europe. So is the Mullerthail Trail, which runs for 112 km, going around one of the thickest, greenest and most untouched forests in Europe, through incredible rock formations (whose names are impossible to pronounce) and reaching hidden gems such as the many abandoned mills (muller, from which the region takes the name, actually means mill) and the photogenic (and now iconic) Schiessentumpel bridge and waterfalls, in Mëllerdall am Bësch.

The trails are easy to follow (well signaled!) but I don’t recommend ever hiking alone – find out why in this post. 

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Did I mention Luxembourg is castles galore?

… and they even lead to castles

All little girls dream of being princesses at some point. I was no different. And I even used to wish for my own castle. I am not a little girl anymore and I don’t dream of having my own castle. Visiting one, though, is a special treat. So imagine my excitement when I found out that the Mullerthal Trail goes all the way to Beaufort Castle!

This is not just one, but two castles built right next to each other. The first one was built between the 11th and the 17th century and it is now mostly (beautifully kept) ruins: narrow and steep stairs lead to what used to be dining room, and even torture chambers.

The second one was built from the 17th century and it was inhabited until 2012. The interiors are perfectly kept, with beautiful decorations and furniture.

The gorges create the best natural playgrounds

Naturepark Mëllerdall, in the Mullerthal region, has some incredible rock formations that create natural labyrinths. I had a lot of fun trying to find my way out the intricate and narrow passageways. I can only imagine what it would be like for children, then!

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Luxembourg is the perfect biking destination

Biking trails go right thorough the forest…

… to the point that any traffic noise is obstructed. Now, call that peaceful! Far from being an expert rider, I still enjoy biking and even mountain biking. I feel it is a great way to get close to nature, much like hiking, but with the added bonus that it is much faster and so I get to see more places.

When I visited Luxembourg, I biked through the Guttland region. I won’t hide the fact that it was challenging: there were a few tough uphills where I had to get off my bike and push. But it was mostly because the bike saddles can be very uncomfortable so my bottom was truly sore. The sights though were incredible: thick forest, hidden mills, a river and nobody else around.

The country is spotless…

I am accustomed to traveling to developing countries, where people and authorities alike hardly show any interest in environmental protection. Places like Panama have garbage collection and disposal issues. And let me not even get started with India, where whatever throwing trash in the street is a common practice.

I have always done my share to protect the environment and I am used to recycling everything, and I was pleased to see that this is a common practice in Luxembourg: the country is truly clean!

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Isn’t Luxembourg City pretty?

… and the cities are pretty

The fact that I love adventure and nature doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy visiting a city. I found Luxembourg City to be a real gem. I went on the Wenzel circular walk and visited the Old Quarters; I sipped a hot coffee to warm up during a rainy day; I soaked in the friendly atmosphere.

I also visited Echternach, the oldest city in the country. This small city has a pretty city centre, and it is the kind of place where people go on a stroll whenever the sun is out (and not only) and enjoy each other’s company.

Driving around the Mullerthal region, I also saw some beautiful and colorful villages.

Locals are laid-back…

I haven’t spent long enough in Luxembourg to fully grasp its culture, but in my time there I was under the impression that the locals are incredibly laid-back and that they enjoy life. I found them to be friendly, welcoming and kind. It made my experience there all the better.

…. except when they have to decide what language to speak

The funniest conversation I had with Luxembourgish people was about which language they speak at home, or to their children. People truly “stress” (well, sort of!) about which language they should teach their kids at home. I guess coming from Italy it goes without saying that we speak Italian at home, or one of our 12 minority languages. I actually speak Sardinian to my mother, as I am from Sardinia.

There are 3 official languages in Luxembourg: Luxembourgish, German and French. Locals easily switch from one to the other. Not only that: the majority of the population speaks fluent English and, due to the large Portuguese population, also Portuguese. This means that chances are that, whichever language one may speak, the locals also speak it. Communication is really easy and makes traveling a lot more enjoyable.

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Food in Luxembourg is delicious

There is a great restaurant scene

There’s nothing better than having a good meal at the end of a long day of hiking and biking. Scattered around the country there are some fabulous restaurants that offer all sorts of delicious dishes, from the most local ones, to fusion and international recipes. I guess it reflects the fact that Luxembourg is truly multicultural.

Local wine is crisp and refreshing

I love a good glass of wine every now and then. After all, I am from Italy! I enjoy sparkling white wine, and was happy to find out that Luxembourg has its very own, called Cremant. Needless to say, I obliged.

It’s actually not that expensive…

… especially with the Luxembourg Card. This costs no more than €28 for 3 days, during which it is possible to use any train and bus on the national public transport network and visit one or all of the 72 attractions it provides access to. There are even guided tours that can be booked via the Luxembourg Card.

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Aren’t pods the cutest places to sleep in? They are all over in Luxembourg

… and there are fabulous budget accommodation options.

Budget and adventure travelers and backpackers will find that there are plenty of accommodation options to suit their taste and need in Luxembourg. Luxembourg City Youth Hostel is perfectly equipped with comfortable and spotless dorms. Yet, the best places to stay are camping sites such as the Camping Officiel Echternach, where it is possible to pitch a tent, place a caravan, and even to sleep in a pod.

From the outside, pods look like huge wine barrels. Inside, they are tiny yet perfectly organized rooms that sleep up to 4 persons. They have electricity, central heating and they feel very cozy. I actually enjoyed falling asleep to the sound of rain!

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Dressing properly is a key factor to enjoy hiking in Luxembourg

Packing tips for Luxembourg

I went to Luxembourg in May and the purpose of my visit was to hike around – so I packed accordingly. Unfortunately, it rained most of the time when I visited, but this didn’t put me off and I still explored a lot. Besides, I was dressed appropriately and so did not get wet or cold.

Having said so, I recommend anyone who intend to go hiking in Luxembourg to dress in layers. Wear hiking pants, preferably convertible, to detach the lower leg in case it gets hot. A good technical t-shirt is key to make sure that no matter how much one sweats, the back doesn’t get cold. A light sweater and a rain jacket on top will complete the outfit, and needless to say a pair of good hiking boots.

To see more of what goes in my backpack, read my post “My ultimate packing list.”

Have you ever visited Luxembourg? What did you like the most about it?

Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with the tourism board of Luxembourg, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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