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February 2010

Climb a "via ferrata" in the Dolomites

Mountain climbing in the Dolomites
ABOVE: A climber in the Dolomites enjoys a spectacular view.

Dolomite Mountains, an adventure-travel company based in the province of Belluno, Italy, is offering a unique mountaineering experience for anyone in good shape who has a head for heights: Clients can climb a "via ferrata," or "iron road," in the rugged Dolomites of Northern Italy.

Here's more information, courtesy of Dolomite Mountains:

Women climbers in the Dolomites  

"A via ferrata is a mountain route which is equipped with fixed cables, ladders, and bridges. The use of these allows otherwise isolated routes to be joined to create longer routes which are accessible to people with a wide range of climbing abilities. It is a different way of enjoying the sheer magnificence of the awesome Dolomite environment--travelers will be stopped in their tracks by amazing views and mountain situations. 

"Many via ferratas were originally built to aid movements of alpine military units during the First World War, and now (although they also exist in Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland) they represent one of the major attractions in the Dolomites. They are, in effect, a range of protected routes, comprised of fixed cables, ladders and even gorge-spanning bridges, which aid ascent to places normally reserved for expert rock climbers. Routes are graded according to difficulty.

Women climbers in the Dolomites "Via ferrata climbing is suitable for anyone not afraid of heights who wants to experience the Dolomites in a different way. Cables and ladders aid even the non-expert climbers to do beautiful via ferratas. There are many ferratas of different difficulties so everyone can do what suits best. 

Lagazuoi Tunnel "Probably the most unusual via ferrata in the eastern part of the Dolomites is VF Lagazuoi Tunnels. Fighting for control of Mount Lagazuoi in World War I, Austrian and Italian troops built a series of tunnels through the mountains. The aim of each side was to tunnel close to the enemy and detonate explosives to destroy their fortifications. Some of the tunnels have been restored, with a via ferrata following the route of one of these. It is now possible to descend into the mountain by following the VF Lagazuoi Tunnels route."

What to expect during your climb:

"'We supply simple mountaineering equipment such as a harness, helmet, some rope and a few karabiners,' says Agustina Lagos Marmol, founder of Dolomite Mountains. 'Your guide will teach you how to use the equipment and give you hints on climbing techniques in complete security. Trips are adapted to clients' abilities, and our local guides will show not only the beauty of the mountains but the history of the area though the via ferrata as they were built during WWI.'"

About climbing in the Dolomites:

"Around 1850, English mountaineers began to appear in the Ladin valleys. Their journeys took them several days on foot and their destinations were the imposing rock faces and peaks of the Dolomites. From 1870 onwards, train connections and large hotels attracted the nobility who, without exerting themselves too much, could restore themselves with the pure mountain air and the alpenglow. 

"The inhabitants of the Dolomite valleys found themselves at the service of the guests in various ways: as hotel personnel, as mountain guides, and in other roles. Some of them soon started their own businesses and, around 1900, began to teach new winter sports to their guests.

"After 1945, tourism became the most important business sector in the Dolomites. Today, the Dolomites are famous for skiing in the winter months and mountain climbing, daily excursions, climbing and Base Jumping, as well as paragliding and hang gliding in summer and late spring/early autumn. Free climbing has been a tradition in the Dolomites since 1887, when 17-year-old Georg Winkler soloed the first ascent of the pinnacle Die Vajoletturme."

To learn more about Dolomite Mountains and the unique adventures they offer, visit https://dolomitemountains.com. (If you'd prefer to reach Dolomite Mountains by telephone, you'll find Italian and North American phone numbers on the Web site's "Contact" page.)

Photos: Dolomite Mountains.


Suffolk Walking Festival caters to all ages

Siuth and Heart of Suffolk Walking Festival
ABOVE: A guided walk at last year's South and Heart of Suffolk Walking Festival.

South and Heart of Suffolk Walking Festival logoEach year, the South and Heart of Suffolk Walking Festival offers more than two dozen guided walks for Suffolk residents and tourists of all ages. This year's festival runs from Saturday, 15 May through Sunday, 6 June. Here's what to expect, according to Pat Edgar of PR Matters:

The 2010 South and Heart of Suffolk Walking Festival will feature around 30 guided walks in a variety of locations to suit different tastes and fitness levels. A different kind of walking festival, it will feature some outings accompanied by a poet and storyteller plus photographic and twilight nature walks.

The region, with its softly undulating landscapes, pretty villages and magnificent cultural heritage, is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the fresh air while exploring its countryside on foot.

Walks range from gentle 2-3 mile country rambles and medieval meanders through ancient villages and towns to longer and more energetic outings of up to 12 miles through Suffolk’s beautiful countryside. Many include lunch and afternoon tea stops with a chance to sample some fresh local produce, while for others walkers are asked to bring their own picnic.

Special interest outings include Wildlife Discovery on 15th May, a circular walk taking in the habitats at Grove Farm, near Thurston where conservation and farming can be seen working side by side, and an early morning walk on 22nd May around Arger Fen to watch and hear the dawn wildlife and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the designation of the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This ends with breakfast at the idyllic Assington Mill.

Walkers will be joined by poet and performer Dean Park on four of the routes who will recite poems and stories along the way; there will also be a photographic walk on 22nd May starting out from the Beyond the Image Gallery at Thornham Magna when everyone is encouraged to bring a camera, and a chance to visit the sites associated with the famous murder of Maria Marten in the Red Barn at Polstead on 23rd May.  

There are also several walks with activities to attract a younger audience such as Mister Stevenson’s Light Railway on Bank holiday Monday, 31st May, which follows the route of the ‘Middy’ to discover how to interpret landscape clues, and the Scavenger Hunt at Thornham Walks – a gentle afternoon stroll through the woods hunting for a given list of items.

The South and Heart of Suffolk Walking Festival is organised by Mid Suffolk and Babergh District Councils and sponsored by the Discover Suffolk Project, which aims to encourage local residents and visitors to get out and about in the scenic Suffolk countryside.

Pre-booking is essential for all walks by calling the Tourist Information Centre at either Lavenham on 01787 248207 or Mid Suffolk on 01449 676800; they would also be able to advise on places to stay. Many of the walks are free while for others the prices range from £2 up to £20 per person (latter includes lunch); dogs are allowed on some walks but must be kept on a lead at all times. For further information or to download a copy of the Walking Festival programme, visit: www.southandheartofsuffolk.org.uk


Meanderer: a family-owned barge in France

Meanderer hotel barge
ABOVE: Meanderer on a canal of the Upper Loire. INSET BELOW: Meanderer in a lock, and the newly redecorated lounge.

Meanderer in French canal lock Independently-owned hotel barges are thin on the ground (or maybe we should say "the canals") these days, so we were intrigued recently when we heard about the Hotel-Barge Meanderer, a former Belgian cargo vessel that offers luxury cruises in the Upper Loire region of France.

Meander lounge photo Meanderer was converted into an upscale passenger barge in 1992, and its current proprietors--George and Susan Kovalick--have owned the vessel since 2007. They've upgraded the vessel with such features as flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi Internet access; other amenities include CD and DVD players in each cabin, an outdoor Jacuzzi, and a bicycle for every guest.

The 125-foot (38m) barge has three cabins, with five crew members to serve a maximum of six passengers. Voyages begin every Sunday from April though October, and the barge is available for whole-boat charters as well as conventional cruises. For more information, visit Meanderer's Web site at meandererfrenchcanalcruises.com.

April bargains: On March 13, we received word that Meanderer has opened two voyages in April, 2010 for individual bookings and is offering its remaining cabins for US $2,500 per person, based on double occupancy. The fare reduction of nearly 50 percent applies to Meanderer's April 18-24 and April 25-May cruises.