We have been back from our family journey to Europe for three and a half months. From being confined in tight spaces as a family 24/7 to being back at work and straight into our real life routine, I was craving a little break from the everyday and some time for myself. More than anything, I was craving time in the mountains.
My loyal climbing partner, Shenoa, and I started plotting our mountain adventure weekend, settled on dates and set our sights on a multi-pitch extravaganza in Banff National Park to tick off some of the recommendations from this article in Gripped.
Our neck of the woods boasts some fabulous rock climbing but unfortunately no moderate multi-pitch sport routes. Long climbs also require a bigger time commitment than cragging and therefore, you tend to never know when you are going to come home, which isn’t ideal for mother for whom being home on time to cook a healthy dinner is a top priority.
This is my bad; unlike my dear husband who has no problem blocking out every other aspect of his life (such as his daughter and myself) when he climbs, I feel like I am failing at mother duties if I am away for more than a half-day. However, I don’t seem to feel that way when I am away with work for multiple days. Women psyche…still trying to figure it out myself!
Perhaps it’s a form of mother FOMO?! How on Earth are they going to survive dinnertime without me? They sure will be dying from a frozen pizza overdose and a TV comatose if I am not around?!
Anyhow, I knew that removing myself from the family for an entire 2 days and 2 nights was probably the best way to really focus on my own goals: climbing two classic moderate Rocky Mountains itineraries, getting half-way through my Jan Redford book “The End of the Rope”, sleeping nine uninterrupted hours twice, engaging in meaningful conversation with my friend over wine and chocolate and somehow avoiding to spend significant financial resources in one of Canada’s most pricey resort town.
Yes, we were really going to dirt-bag it! Well, sort of.
We left town on a Thursday after work in my friends shiny F-150 pick up truck loaded with a luxurious Bronco pop-up camper at the back that contains a plush queen-size bed, a cozy duvet and a 3-way fridge stocked with dry cider, four different types of cheese, artisan sourdough bread, fresh garden produce and a healthy dose of dark chocolate…and red wine. Real fancy dirtbags we are!
We arrived at the Lake Louise overflow parking lot quite late where we would spend the night, avoiding paying campsite fees. A sleepless night later (awoken every ten minutes by semi trucks rolling on the busy nearby TransCanada highway) we popped the camper down and agreed on the plan to head to the Tunnel Mountain campground to snatch one of the last first come first served campsites. Heck, I had already screwed one of my night’s sleep, I sure didn’t want to risk screwing the next one and even worse, our climbing goals because of sleep deprivation.
While we were driving to Banff, we got the news from our hubbies that Kimberley was under evacuation alert because of the nearby wildfires. Darn! That almost put a damper on our adventure as the guilt started settling in my stomach: my husband would need to pack our essentials on his own and still get my daughter to her swim lesson on time. How could I be such a selfish mother, prioritizing rock climbing over my family in danger of evacuation?! Fortunately, we were on a rock climbing trip and not a shopping spree, which likely would have made our respective husbands request that we come home NOW! Somehow they seem to like the idea that we are as committed to climbing as they are…
After some reassurance that the families were fine and would reunite with us half-way should things get out of control, we decided to stick to our plan.
After a hearty breakfast at our quiet campsite, we strapped our backpacks on and set out on foot for Banff’s scenic Hoodoo trail toward Tunnel Mountain and our objective for the day: Le Soulier (5.7, 4 pitches). This route was first established a long time ago but the spaced-out rusty pitons have been replaced by shiny bolts in recent years. The route originally owes to a single climbing boot nailed with a piton but has since been replaced by a pair of high heel pumps. A funny nudge to our female climbing party of which neither of us ever wear heels.
A little over an hour after leaving the campsite, we found the start of the route and got all set up for our climb. While the first pitch had some loose rock and was more of a succession of ledges, the remaining 3 pitches were surprisingly solid and fairly well protected. The climbing was straightforward, easy and enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to rehearse our system of swinging leads efficiently and building bombproof belay stations. Unfortunately, due to the raging wildfires in BC, we didn’t get the picturesque views of the Bow River and Banff Springs hotel below nor the majestic Rundle Mountain across from us. We topped out a couple hours later and had a nice “summit” picnic before the ten-minute back down via a nice trail.
Adventuring with other women is really something I appreciate, especially since becoming a mom. Like Jan Redford in her personal tale about mountains, marriage and motherhood, my will and courage levels seem much higher when I don’t have a male partner to rely on. In the presence of males, often stronger climbers, skiers or adventurer (even if I am more experienced than them), I tend to second-guess myself more.
I also find women tend to be more attentive to each other and therefore we are more likely to pause more often and check in. We also eat and hydrate better, hence I usually feel less tired after a day out with my girls. I also pay more attention when selecting the objectives and ensure I am going to maximize my enjoyment as opposed to just blindly going for it.
With the 12 km walk both ways from the campsite, that day felt like a well-rounded mountain adventure and the perfect warm-up for our goal the following day: Plutonian Shores (5.9, 7 pitches).
Giving up $27 on a campsite ended up being a great decision of ours and after a gourmet camp dinner and finally a great nights’ sleep, we woke up refreshed and ready for our day.
We drove to the Cave and Basin area and followed a good but steep trail toward the north face of Sulphur mountain and our chosen route. Thanks to a very detailed topo, we had no problem finding the route which appeared to have four climbing parties already on.
We left them plenty of time before we started climbing and apart from a small rock or two falling in our direction, having other climbers above our head wasn’t too much of an issue. The smoke was worse than the day before but the temperature cooler, which we didn’t mind at all.
We linked the fun and long pitches (up to 55m!) one after the other, swinging leads, cheering each other and enjoying ourselves very much. We were quite pleased with our idea to only take a small pack for the two of us. We also ate and drank prior to getting on the wall. The limestone was quite solid with plenty of positive holds and the challenge was well within our skills and climbing level. We even caught up to the male party ahead of us and had to pause to give them some space and avoid being crammed up at the anchor with them.
The walk-off was steep and loose but short and well marked with cairns. With a large smile on our faces, we walked back to the truck, chatting and joking, feeling so happy and proud of our accomplishments.
By dinner time, we drove into Banff and sat at a small table in a busy vegetarian restaurant for our post-climbing reward. We had after all been such dirtbags that we thought we deserved a yummy over-priced meal and drinks to round up our fantastic girls weekend.
While the routes we climbed that weekend weren’t the hardest nor the longest nor the most prestigious I have done in my fifteen years of climbing, I have seldom felt as stoked on the drive home. Not a single time when I was moving upward on the rock did I think about dinner time at home nor felt the tinge of guilt from being away from my family.
I felt alive, I felt relaxed, I felt empowered and more importantly I felt myself.
P.S.: Many thanks to my rock warrior friend Shenoa for making this trip extra special and for being such a great climbing partner. xox
Kimberley, BC is the town my husband and I have been calling home for the past 7 years.
We moved here after a winter of ski bumming in Golden and had never heard of the town before. While we both had a pleasant first impression of this community of 7,000 souls nestled at the foot of the Purcell Mountains, it took us a while to appreciate the possibilities this town offers for outdoor recreation.
Unlike Golden, the high mountains are a bit further away and need to be travelled to as opposed to being “in your face”.
It just took us a little bit of time to figure out the logistics and get to know the “insiders” beta, like purchasing a snowmobile to access the endless backcountry skiing terrain and a four-wheel drive vehicle to transport it and access trailheads, some of the more remote climbing areas and scrambles.
We also adapted our recreation habit too, especially since giving birth to a little girl: less alpine climbing overnight trips, more short mountain bike rides. Slightly less epic backcountry skiing, more deep powder tree skiing and lung-busting skate skiing. Don’t be fooled however into thinking that these more hardcore endeavours cannot be done from Kimberley. Between the Purcell and Rocky Mountain Ranges, there is still much unexplored terrain to be conquered.
We soon realized that the slightly more difficult access to the backcountry is, in fact, a blessing for Kimberley. It preserves the secludedness and privateness of many recreation areas and keeps the place more authentic, laid back and down to earth that many other Resort communities.
For instance, Kimberley Alpine Resort is, in fact, more of a subalpine resort as it doesn’t boast any alpine bowls, steep chutes or epic slack-country terrain. However, since the resort is mostly sought after by families, it doesn’t get the same amount of attention from hungry powderhounds. Because the hill is sheltered in the trees, the snow tends to remain fresher, puffier and less wind affected than in higher altitude resorts.
With the sprouting of new information technology such as social networks and the Trailforks, Strava, and other apps, it’s obvious that Kimberley won’t remain the hidden playground for much longer. But overall, we appreciate the new energy and growing services and amenities that more tourism visitation brings to the town.
While the pedestrian Platzl was a desert on a summer evening 7 years ago, it’s now alive with busy restaurant patios, outdoor concerts, fancy specialty stores, a craft brewery and so many more young families riding their bikes, playing in the water fountain and enjoying a cone of gelato.
Don’t take my words for it. Come and see for yourself how Kimberley is #agoodplacetobe. And since I have appreciated the generosity of locals once sharing their favourite trails, ski runs, powder stashes and huckleberry patches (that’s not true, no one shares those!) with me, I now would like to share my very own favourite trails with you.
My top trails in Kimberley:
1.For an after-work trail run:
I like to head out to the Lois Creek Trails and hit Blake’s Singletrack. Covered in fine pine needles, this aesthetic single track meanders gently through the tall trees. Without any significant elevation gain or loss, it’s such a pleasant feeling to just let the legs roll under you. For a 5k run, loop back through Totem; for a 10k, run all the way to the end of Blake’s and return via A-Frame and 401. 5-10 km. Easy.
2. For a quick’n dirty mountain-bike ride:
By living at the ski hill, I can hit Magic Line in just short of one hour door to door. A heart-pumping technical set of three climbs all progressively longer and steeper alternating with three fun and rolly bermed descents. 7 km. Intermediate.
In the Kimberley Nature Park, BC’s largest municipal park, enter via the Higgins Street entrance and head south toward Apache and link it with the nice and steady climb of Duck Pond through the ancient red pine trees. A sharp right turn onto Pat Morrow’s trail (named after the legendary climber & alpinist) for a fun short descent onto Lower Army Road. At the Three Corners, get onto Ponderosa and link it with Eimers Ridge which will take you right back to the Higgins entrance. ~8-9 km. Easy.
3. For a fun hike with my daughter:
In May and June, we love to head to Sunflower Hill to enjoy the dramatic view of the Rockies and the St.Mary’s River Valley along with the sight of thousands of sunflowers also known as balsam root.
While this hike starts near the Kimberley Riverside Campground with a steep climb, the rest is fairly flat and easy and finishes with a gentle descent back to Jimmy Russel road. On a hot day, head down through the campground toward the river for a refreshing foot bath and a snack at the nearby playground. 3-4 km return. Easy.
In July and early August, we like to hang out at the ski hill with a large container to pick huckleberries along the way. Early in the delicious and tart berry season, no need to hike very far as they are plenty of those little wonders just above North Star Drive and toward the bottom of the Boundary ski run. 2 km. Easy.
4. For a leisurely family stroll:
The North Star Rail Trail between Kimberley and Cranbrook was a genius investment for our community. Busy with young families, seniors and anything in between on weekends, the trails turn into the greatest inter-community commuter route on week days.
While the full 26km lenght might be a bit too long for wee children, cruising the trail to Marysville and return via the Lion’s Way along Mark Creek makes a wonderful half-day outing. Leave your vehicle at the skatepark and head across Rotary Drive and onto the rail trail which takes you to Marysville on a gentle downhill involving barely any pedaling. While the return has a slight elevation gain, being near the creek and shaded from the trees makes it a much easier exercise. 7 km. Easy.
The Centennial Loop is Kimberley Nordic Club’s classic easy multi-use trail. It is mostly flat and covered in bark mulch and provides a wide, smooth and cushy ride for the little kids on their bikes or on foot. Start at the Nordic Centre parking lot. Look out for Mama Moose and her calves when looping back via Spruce. 3 km. Easy.
5. To challenge myself:
Kimberley also offers plenty of opportunities for type 2 fun: excruciating calves pain and lungs burning sensations, face as red as a hot lobster and sweat pouring out of your body like you just showered. Kimberlites seem to love challenges, as the presence of many of them amongst the participants and even winners of endurance events such as the Round the Mountain festival, the Black Spur Ultra and the most recent addition, the Spartan Race Rocky Mountain edition.
Classic Ski Hill hike:
For the calf-burning sensation (and quad burning sensation on the way down), the ski hill hike never disappoints. Steep, steep and steep. The ultimate reward is the sensational view on the Rocky Mountains and the trench and beating your own speed record. Park at the base of the resort if you want to add a few metres of vertical or at the bend on North Star Drive for the classic itinerary. Follow the old t-bar line. ~5 km return. Intermediate.
Can also be done on a mountain bike. Also steep, steep, steep…follow the cat track.
Like the namesake event, the trail can be travelled year-round. On foot, on Nordic skis, snowshoes or by bike. This 22-km trail circumnavigates North Star mountain and should not be underestimated by its length, presence of wildlife and the lack of cell service in some spots. Starts at the Nordic Centre. 22km. Intermediate.
Bootleg Mountain Trails:
Bootleg Mountain is a newer recreation area with lots of potential every season of the year. With stunning alpine bowl and chutes, it’s also my husband and I’s favourite destination for a short backcountry skiing day, as it is the close to town and only a short snowmobile ride up. This mountain also offers potential for alpine hiking. However, this area is a sensitive habitat for mountain goats and other species. Travel with respect and always remember that you’re nature’s guest. Be responsible and bear aware.Pack out what you’ve packed in, take only pictures and leave only tracks in the snow!
Because I have never been much of an enduro or downhill type of rider, I find downhill mountain biking also quite challenging and adrenaline-pumping. The new additions to the Bootleg Rec Site and Trails include fun and (more) accessible trails such as Purple People Pleaser and NIMBY (the acronym for Not In My Backyard). Shuttle up the road or ride the up trail to round up the workout. ~4km. Intermediate.
Kalymnos is a small island located in the Dodecanese region of Greece, at a stone-throw for the Turkish coast.
Renowned for its superhuman sponge divers and its mythical rock climbing, Kalymnos is a wholesome travel destination sought after by foreign and Greek travellers alike.
We have been fortunate to spend two full weeks on the extraordinary island back in April and what struck us the most is, well… everything!
Intrigued by the quantity and quality of rock climbing routes, we were amazed to find out that Kalymnos is a wonderful island to discover as a family and that is sure to please everyone, including the non-climbing grandparents.
Greeks Are Fond of Children
Greeks literally adore children and welcome them everywhere. Now try to walk out of a store without a free treat – usually sweet – being offered to your little angel! That’s just about impossible. While we were there, I must say that I had to loosen my grip a bit about sugar and treats as it would have been quite impolite to turn down such a nice gesture and refuse the treats #hellofreegroceries.
Cafés and taverns are all very welcoming to kids and will make anything to please them and their parents. I read in a travel guidebook that hiring a babysitter on a Saturday to go out on an adult date just isn’t a thing in Greece. Hence, it’s not unusual to see very young children out and about with their parents quite late in the night. If the restaurant owners have children themselves, they are very likely to be playing in the place while their parents are at work and entertaining the guests.
Anywhere you go, beware however that there is just no boardwalk in that country. Streets are as narrow as can be and cars, scooters and other motorized vehicles drive at fast speed. A stroller is great to keep the little ones contained while walking on the road and older kids should be kept very close by.
Greek children learn a very good English in school and are happy to engage in a conversation with foreigners at the playground or the beach. Most of them have dark hair and dark eyes, they are quite intrigued when seeing a little blond kid and sometimes can stair with insistence. To my point earlier about sweet treats; it appeared to me that Greek children eat a lot of junk food and a lot of sugar and sugary drinks; something that even our daughter noticed on her own. Different country, different eating habits!
Grandparents Are a Blessing
I am speaking in general here. But they are especially for a rock climbing couple traveling to Kalymnos Island with their four-year-old daughter.
We don’t have the luxury of living near our parents in the everyday life and that makes us appreciate even more to 1) spend quality time with them as an extended family 2) being able to leave our daughter with them for a few hours to go climbing AND knowing she is having a blast.
This year we realized that for the first time we are able to really climb as a family, now that baby girl is no longer a needy baby or a crazy toddler and starts to enjoy climbing a lot or is just content playing with her toys at the crag and making friends with whoever has a few minutes to engage in a conversation with her.
I must say that having my father and stepmom there with us was extra special and made us enjoy our stay on the island … a lot. In addition to providing us with some quality adult time, it also opened our mind to other activities and attractions to explore on Kalymnos for non-climbers.
For those who would like an opportunity to go on the occasional adult climb, Monster Café in Masouri offers a childcare service for about 8 euros per hour. This is also a place for the little ones to hang out with their parents, meet up with other kids and enjoy the fabulous toys and activities. The Café’s menu includes healthy kid-friendly meals and snacks, fresh fruit smoothies but also good coffee and après climb hop beverages.
Here is the list of our top activities to do as a family in Kalymnos:
Well…It’s a bit difficult not to mention it, so might as well start with it. The climbing in Kalymnos is not only fabulous, but also very family-friendly. The information about the walking distance and difficulty of the trail is easy to find as well as the areas at the bottom of the crag and presence of easy climbs for beginners or children and the sun exposure. The guidebook is very complete, to say the least, which makes the planning of family cragging days much easier. The trails are overall in quite a good shape and walking distances are reasonable. Many areas at the bottom have been landscaped nicely so parents don’t have to fear deadly falls or traumatizing injuries. We also found that although the routes are all very long (30-40m), the first couple of metres often offer easier climbing, which makes the scenario ideal for families.
great easy climbing and flat area at Symplegades
more fun things to explore
climbing with the sea in the background
Unsurprisingly, we encountered quite a few young families during our stay, all eager to exchange beta and share a secret gelato place or nice kid-friendly beach.
Speaking of beach, the “Beach” sector was one of our favourite to spend a day at, with kid and grandparents. We also enjoyed Symplegades a lot as well as Sea Breeze and Arginonta Valley, all for their easy access, flat and safe areas and shade.
For non-climbers wanting to experience verticality, guided via ferratamight be a great option. Located near Myrties, the via ferrata takes adventurers from 10 years old and up some 400 metres above the sea with outstanding views of the neigbouring cliffs and the island of Telendos.
2. The Underworld
Caving. Underground exploration. Spéléologie in French. The act of going underneath the surface of the earth through a sometimes tiny hole entrance to enjoy the sight of karstic activity and stalagmites and stalactites as big as the walls of a gothic cathedral.
Fully equipped with steel ladders and ropes, the Underworld is the most accessible cave on the Island. Located near the town of Skalia, it can be accessed within only 10 minutes of walking. While my daughter had the time of her young life going down in the tummy of the Earth, I – a longtime claustrophobic – was petrified.
Nonetheless, (and because I know my own fear is irrational) I thought the place was safe to explore for a child that can safely climb up and down a ladder and walk on uneven ground with some help from papa.
Since then I know I am less of a hero to my daughter who was so proud to out courage her mom at only 4. Well, that’s just the beginning, isn’t it!?
For a preview of what the cave is like, check out this short Youtube video.
3. The Sea & the Beaches
No surprise here. Kalymnos being a Greek Island, just like all the many Greek islands, boast amazing beaches, is warm and sunny and is surrounded by deep turquoise water. Beaches and children always go well together and early-mid April, the temperature of the air and the water were getting warm enough to enjoy nice swims and sandcastle building sessions. The beach in Masouri has some really nice sand and one or two cute beach bars.
Taking a taxi boat ride to Telendos, the nearby island located 10-minutes across from Myrties is also very much worth it. For 2 euros per adult one way, a day spent at Telendos is great fun for the whole family and the beaches are beautiful and shady.
We found the cute little harbour of Porto Vathys was also a great place for a nice seafood lunch and a swim. The place has some natural diving platforms and hosts diving competitions in the fall each year. Make sure to take swimming armbands or a lifejacket for little kids as the water is too deep to stand and the stairs are coated with sea urchins…ouch!
In the summer months, Vathys would be an ideal base to go out on a kayak or SUP tour and boats can be rented right there.
Scuba diving and snorkeling is also very popular on the Island which boasts many diving schools and guiding services.
4. Local flavours
Tomatoes taste better when they are in season and fish tastes much better when caught the same day. Kalymnos is an absolute paradise for foodies, especially foodies like myself who enjoy food when fresh, local, ripe and its most simple form. A little olive oil and vinegar, a little oregano, a few olives, fresh goat feta, crispy cucumbers and sweet red bell peppers AT EVERY SINGLE MEAL. Difficult even for a picky eater not to like the food in Greece. Greek yogurt topped with honey and pistachio, frozen greek yogourt with berries, local salami…yyyuuuummmm. Exploring the flavours of Kalymnos was my own personal second favourite activity (or perhaps even my first).
It is true that sweet treats are very present in Greece and especially when traveling and in need of quick, easy snacks that don’t require prep or can be packed easily. However, fresh produce is everywhere and is so affordable compared to BC!
Oh, the joy we had in stopping on the side of the road to buy fresh feta from the local lady cheesemaker, or fresh oranges and strawberries from the mobile market – a pickup truck loaded with produce going around the island each day.
Agriculture is a very important part of Kalymnos economy, as the thousands of free-roaming goats and chicken can attest. Grapes are grown in the lush Vathys valley. Fish is caught every day, right there off the shores of Masouri.
Restaurants all take pride in the authentic Greek menus they display on the black chalkboards. Eating out is way more affordable than in other european countries. Count 12-15 euros per adults for an entree and a beer.
Portions are generous enough so two entrees can feed a family of three with leftovers to take home. Greek cuisine is simple but so tasty. Greek wine is okay and quite pricey. Beer is thirst quenching after a day spent outside in the sun and of much better value.
On the go, grab a gyro! For a mere 2 bucks, those tasty pita bread filled with chicken or pork, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and tzatziki make up the best lunch.
5. Archeological & Cultural Wonders
As the cradle of Western civilization, Greece boasts many remnants of the past and does well at restoring, interpreting and showcasing them.
The Orthodox calendar is filled with celebrations of all kind so chances are one is going to fall while you are visiting. We were there for Catholic Easter (not really a big deal) and the Orthodox Easter or Christos Anesti (Christ Arisen), celebrated in Kalymnos with dynamites and fireworks across all the island, in memories of the battles against Turkey and perhaps as a warning to the neighbouring country with whom Kalymnians seem to hold on-going tensions. The detonation of dynamite bouncing off the limestone cliffs was really deafening and I sure was glad to be witnessing the celebration in downtown Pothia rather than climbing in a cave that could collapse from the strength of the explosion!
Massive family reunions seem to be the tradition on Christos Anesti and the equally traditional lamb roast is what brings the families together. Wandering through the streets, we couldn’t help but feel our mouth water to the fragrant smell and sight of perfectly roasted animal on the tiny balconies. Having a taste of a juicy and flavourful chunk of lamb kindly offered by a local was a pure delight to our daughter.
Pothia holds an impressive archeological museum for the size of the town and the island. Exhibitions feature antiquities fromthe PrehistoricandPost-Byzantineera, presenting thus timelessly the island’s historyovermillennia.
The Castle of Chora is oneof the most famousattractionsin Kalymnos. It is situated in the place where ancient Pothiaonceresided and it is considered as the medieval capital of Kalymnos. The castletookits finalformin 1495 and was inhabited continuouslyuntil1812 . Our little clan enjoyed hiking up the 230 steps leading to the Castle, wandering through this larger than nature open-air museum and exploring the many chapels and building that once constituted the town. With a little imagination and many princess and dragons stories, this kept our child entertained and interested for a full half-day.
The Maritime Museumof Kalymnos is another important cultural point of interest. Itpresents thenaval tradition, history and methods of thesponge catching, along with many artifacts fromancientshipwrecks.
6. The hiking
There are many great hiking trails on the Island most of which are fairly easy and short and can be managed by strong little walkers or parents carrying the precious load…or a mix of both, like in our case.
Though the trail is in much better condition on the Pothia side. Built by during the Italian occupation of the island under Mussolini, this easy 8-kilometre journey took us from the narrow streets of the capital to the quaint port of Vathys over a pass culminating at about 400 m above sea level with amazing views along the way. The work that has gone into paving the first portion of the trail to carry weapons and supplies is unbelievable.
Along the way, the landscape evolves from urban at the start to a few gardens and farm on the outskirt, then to dry and deserty land on the plateau with views of the sea and the neighboring Island of Kos. Then, upon descending toward Vathys, the lush valley bottom lined with fruit trees and vine welcomes the travellers that then end up the journey with the refreshing view of the harbour, its cute houses and colourful fishing boats.
This hike is best when completed early in the day as there is no shade at all and no access to water. From Masouri, we took a bus to Pothia and then a scenic 30 minute taxi ride back to Masouri after a well-deserved swim and ice cream.
Kalymnos hiking map can be purchased at any outdoor retailer and includes the location of all walking trails as well as all the climbing sectors.
Getting there, getting around and getting a roof overhead
Kalymnos being a remote little island, it can be a bit challenging to get to, especially when the weather is not cooperating. From our research, we found that flying from Athens into Kos and then taking a ferry ride was the fastest, safest and most cost-efficient of all. The flight takes about an hour. Then a taxi takes you to Mastichari for about 15 euros. From the port, a fast or a slow ferry sails across to Kalymnos in 20 to 45 minutes for 5-10 euros per person. On the return day, it’s best to allow plenty of time to get to the Kos airport and to book a return flight later in the day as the stormy sea might get in the way of catching your flight.
Scooters are the absolute best way to get around the island, although it’s not very convenient with an infant. We used a mix of scooter rental (12 euros per day or weekly deals around 55-60 euros (yes, the 3 of us rode on it with all the gear! #dontdothatathome) and public transit (2 euros per trip). Small rental cars are also available and are certainly the best option for families of 4 or with babies. Otherwise, when staying in Masouri, many climbing sectors, stores and amenities can be accessed on foot.
Note that tap water in non-potable so, therefore, the freshwater logistic needs to be planned efficiently, hence a car might be useful for families. Free water springs are found in Masouri and bottled water can be purchased everywhere, but please, do our dear planet Earth a favour and don’t contribute to the plastic orgie in the sea.
All accommodation options can be found in Kalymnos – (except camping?!) but our recommendation for families really is the apartment with a full kitchen. Little studios are less costly but are limited in cooking amenities and usually more designed for couples. I personally find that you always end up spending more time in the unit as a family as you would without kids, might as well be comfortable.
Our travel party of 5 opted for a spacious 2-bedroom apartment that we rented from Poppy and Nikolas Sdregas, a lovely local couple. We thought the place was a little pricey and located oddly close to the road but it offered comfort and convenience of cooking most meals in, easy walking access to everything and a common living area to hang out as a family. Moreover, the kindness and attention of the owners really made our stay enjoyable, especially the fridge stocked with bottled water, wine and breakfast items upon our late night arrival.
Masouri is the climbing epicentre
our flat for two weeks
We had been wanting to experience Kalymnos for so long and the waiting was well worthwhile. Kalymnos is getting better every year with more sectors, more routes and more amenities being added. We were surprised to see how family-friendly the destination is and enjoyed discovering the island with our daughter, my father and stepmom so much. Kalymnos must be on every rock climbers list and having a family should not be the excuse you are making not to go. Go! Go, now!
P.S. I would like to say a special thank you to Jacques and Diane for being such formidable travel companions and grandparents and allowing Hervé and I to climb together again. Thank you to Hervé for being carrying such a heavy load around each day and still managing to send some pretty impressive routes. Thank you to my little Eva for being such an incredible adventure partner and a keen little rock climber and finally, thank you to my friends Anne and JD for giving us the guidebook and lots of very useful tips.
This past winter has been the coldest and snowiest in years in Western Europe. By traveling over there to spend our six-month sabbatical holiday, we didn’t expect to face that much cold weather. In fact, we were quite looking forward to a shorter, milder winter. Since our trip didn’t quite go as planned with Hervé’s knee surgery and a missed 2-week trip to Spain in November, we were all feeling a little sun deprived.
Therefore, in December we started looking for a warm and sunny European destination to meet up with my mother who lives in Quebec for late January/early February where we could potentially climb, hike, enjoy nice walks on the beach, discover a new culture, eat well… and forego socks.
“Being able to wear sandals” is an important factor in our decision-making process as it means that we are not particularly looking for 30-degree weather but rather a mild climate to enjoy some outdoor activities and have a drink on a patio without wearing a toque and a down jacket…or wool socks. While I personally enjoy a climate with four distinct seasons very much, living in flip-flops year-round would be my absolute bliss.
In our research, we quickly stumbled upon the Canary Islands as an ideal destination both for the climate, the warmest of all Western Europe for this period, and the ease of access from the continent as well as from Canada. Tenerife also seemed like the best island for us to visit due to the concentration of points of interest AND climbing sites.
Once we made our choice, it wasn’t difficult to sell the destination to Mom who was eager to escape winter, to spend time with her granddaughter and be a player in our six-month lifetime memory-making family adventure.
It’s on a sunny 25 degree Celsius Thursday that we picked her up at the Reina Sofia International Airport in our Peugeot Partner minivan for a two-weekexploration of this fascinating island with the goal to find activities and attractions to suit every family member’s taste and fill our head, ears, eyes and taste buds with the Island’s wonders.
Here is a summary of our highlights!
Wind & Waves – Breathing the Atlantic Ocean
All five of us were unanimous on the best beach area of the whole Island: El Medano.
Located only a few kilometres from the South Airport, this small community is the absolute wind & wave sports Mecca and the one with the best vibe in Tenerife.
On the beachfront, a wooden boardwalk leads from surf shops to cool cafés and bars. Small size hotels and apartment buildings, kilometres of fine sand beaches, warm water, a vibrant scene made out of small families, old surf bums, backpackers, retirees and friendly locals make up the landscape of El Medano, along with the Montana Roja, the omnipresent red volcanic hill separating El Medano from La Tejita, the also very nice neighbouring beach town.
In El Medano, one can rent a wind/kite surf, a SUP or a surfboard for cheap or take lessons in any of these sports. For 20 euros, we rented a surfboard for 4 hours with 3 wetsuits and spent a very fun afternoon in spite of the strong winds, while grandma took pictures, fed us ice cream and kept our little girl wrapped in a warm towel each time she got out of the water shivering.
Another beach that all five of us really enjoyed was La Playa de Las Teresitas, a few kilometres north of Santa Cruz for its super fine white sand and crystal clear water. We thought it was well worth a sunny picnic stop before heading to Anaga and its wetter and cooler climate.
Beware, however, that isn’t unusual to come across a bare naked German swimmer. Tenerife, like many islands, hosts its share of quirky, free-spirited souls!
Volcanic Rock – Climbing in Tenerife
While rock climbing wasn’t the main objective of our trip and neither did we expect a fantastic climbing destination, we were still happy to have brought the gear along.
A keen crew of young climbers – locals and foreigners – are spending countless time and energy to bolt and equip new sectors on the unique volcanic rock. The main climbing areas are located near the village of Arico, up in the Teide National Park and on the south-west side of the Island near Guia de Isora. Trad climbing, bouldering and even deep water soloing can be found on the Island which benefits from a climate suitable for climbing year-round.
My husband and I were able to leave grandma and daughter at the vacation rental a few half-days to check out some of the sectors; we also found one site suitable for young children.
In the hills behind Arico, a short hike down the trail leading to El Barranco del Tanque takes the climbers to Tamadaya, a canyon right out of the Flinstone movie in less than half hour. There, families will find plenty of routes in the 6th grade and a few in the 4th and 5th, flat grounds and solid rock to spend a fun day.
unknown climbers enjoying the shade
a fun sector for all the family
Grandma and Eva hiking into the canyon
Near Guia de Isora, the sector of Guaria is located in a nesting area of importance for several species of birds and therefore, the number of climbers allowed to access the area is limited to 70 per day. A daily permit system is available online.
We appreciated the effort going into developing the climbing sectors but agreed that the consistency in the grading, availability of easy routes, the chossy nature of the rock in some areas and the sometimes spaced-out bolting (many routes are bolted from the top) made the destination not quite ready yet for masses of climbers to visit.
Kamikaze-type stronger climbers will, however, enjoy discovering this new territory, especially the sectors in the Teide National Park for the unbelievable scenery and harder routes which we didn’t get to explore because it was completely snowed in at the time we visited.
Mountains & Valleys – Tenerife’s Best Hiking
Not too far from the coastal resort towns and quaint fishing villages lie hundred of kilometres of high-quality hiking trails. The rich and diverse biodiversity and landscapes of Tenerife make it a very interesting ground to explore by foot.
From the drier hills of the south coast to the lush rainforest of the Anaga Peninsula and the high alpine environment of Pico del Teide – the highest peak of Spain culminating at 3700m – one cannot get bored of walking.
Our crew enjoyed going on some shorter walks towards the pine forest up behind Granadilla before heading to the beach in the afternoons.
We also were struck by the beauty and uniqueness of landscape which reminds us of the Peruvian Andes on more challenging hikes on the North-East end of the Island.
Our favourite trail was the one linking Punta del Hidalgo to Cruz del Carmen, a 10km /900m vertical one-way hike. While our daughter had to be carried a large part of the way, we encountered a friendly Swiss family of five with whom we shared a few kilometres.
The sight of a 7, a 10 and a 12-year old cute children enjoying their hike fully was very motivating for our daughter as much as the few chocolate cookies they kindly shared with her.
While we, unfortunately, weren’t able to pay a visit to the Teide National Park due to heavy snowfalls (we were escaping winter after all!), we did get talked into the very touristy but not less fascinating Masca Valley hike, 6km /- 600m vertical one-way,which we didn’t regret at all.
We set off from the town of Los Gigantes early on a sunny but brisk Sunday morning by bus to Santiago del Teide, the local outdoor Mecca. Riding with us on the bus was an older Danish man retired on the Island and absolutely found of hiking. He told us this amazing story of the eruption of the Chinyero back in 1909 that was threatening the village and how few local men miraculously stopped the lava with their faith.
Santiago early in the morning
Santiago del Teide, Tenerife’s hiking capital
The mythical village of Masca
From Santiago, we took a taxi ride to the stunning village of Masca to avoid the herds of hikers coming on the first bus later in the morning. After a cafe con leche, all five of us started the descent toward the deep canyon in good spirits. Four hours of leapfrogging our way from rock to rock, we reached the ocean where we had just enough time to enjoy a refreshing dip before heading back to the town by taxi boat (reservation highly recommended).
The Masca Valley hike is not to be underestimated and requires a good physical condition and adequate shoes, plenty of food and water. The canyon, however, is stunning and in spite of the business of the trail, the itinerary is really unique and very worth spending a day.
hiking down the Masca Canyon
a nice refreshing dip
Culture & Nature – Diverse Landscapes and a Rich Heritage
Tenerife is the island with over 3000 ecosystems. From high alpine to sub-alpine, temperate rainforest to desert with tropical areas in between, Tenerife boasts the most extreme climatic regions all squished into 2,000 sq km of land.
Geologically, the island is also fascinating in its diversity. We haven’t ceased to be amazed by the black volcanic rock along the coastline, the fine white, black or pink sand beaches dispersed around the island or the jagged peaks of Anaga.
Many zoos feature the various animal species from the island for the enjoyment of visitors young and old. The marketing of these zoos is also very present everywhere on the island and it’s difficult for a kid not to notice it and feel attracted.
After a short research, it appeared to us that Loro Parque was the one to visit, for it’s unique educational and conservational vocation. In spite of a fairly high entrance fee (35 euros per adults, kids 5 under are free), the day spent at Loro Parque was a great experience for the whole family and I can understand why it is rated in the world’s top visitors attractions on Trip Advisor.
We enjoyed learning about the marine mammals and learning what to do if we encounter a whale stranded on the beach. We were delighted to observe and learn about the many parrot species of the park including the ones that were saved from extinction with the help of the Park’s foundation and scientific team.
Our child’s environmental consciousness was reinforced by the evocative images on pollution caused by plastic, marine transportation, industrial activities and other human behaviours and the arm it can do to wildlife.
Due to its geographical location almost half-way across the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands hold a very special place in the history of world’s exploration. It is so interesting to read about how key Tenerife was in providing food, supplies and staff on the first sailing expeditions around the globe, including Magellan’s very first circumnavigation. The island boasts a few interesting archeological sites and a great ethnological museum at the Guimar Pyramids, and the opportunities to find out more about history are plentiful.
Very Spanish indeed, Tenerife also boasts a very sensible influence from Northern Africa and even Central and South America in its culture. Catholicism is also an important part of Tenerife’s culture and can be witnessed through the architecture, the local celebrations and way of life.
Tapas, Fish & All The Flavours from Las Canarias
With climatic zones and soils so diverse, everything can grow on Tenerife. Agriculture, namely the culture of banana, aloe and pineapple, is a major economic driver. One can find a variety of fruit and vegetable year-round and enjoy some good quality wines from the grape grown and vinified right there on the Island. Foodies like me will be glad to hear that food and drinks prices on the island are at least 30-40% cheaper than in continental Europe which really makes a Tenerife vacation more affordable especially with the hefty exchange rate with the Canadian dollar.
We simply couldn’t get enough of those gigantic sweet red peppers, delicate-tasting avocados or sun riped bananas.
Fresh fish of the day (expensive but so tasty!), tapas (we’re in Spain after all) can also be found everywhere as well as some very local specialties such as goat stew, papas canarias (wrinkly potatoes cooked in salt water), or mojo, tasty red or green sauces made out of oil, vinegar, herbs and spices.
The cultural melting pot of the Island also brings an international diversity to the food scene including many English Pubs, Italian, Indian, Moroccan restaurants. Happy hour is popular in the many resort towns and one can get a pint of beer for as low as 1 euro. Hurray! The bars of Tenerife also serve excellent cafe con leche for 1-1,50 euro.
Our best dining experience on Tenerife was at Bea’s restaurant (the owner of the condo we rented) Tabaibarril in San Miguel de Tajao . Upon arriving, we were invited to pick our fresh fish and seafood right from the kitchen and had it prepared to perfection. We also enjoyed having a drink and a few tapas at Cafe Al Mar in Poris de Abona near our condo and watch thesun go down. We also sampled some very traditional cuisine of goat stews, local charcuteries, cod, tuna cakes and grilled pork chops at the impeccable Tasca del Horno in Granadilla.
Like all busy tourist destinations, however, it can be difficult to pick a good and authentic restaurant that serves fresh local food. Wandering off the beaten tracks into lesser visited areas is always a good option to come across interesting flavours.
Cozy Beds & Sweet Dreams
Visitors benefit from loads of accommodation options everywhere. For 40-80 euros per night, we found modern and comfortable 2-bedroom condos to rent to house our extended family. Some areas of the Island namely Los Christianos/Playa de Las Americas/Los Gigantes and Puerto de la Cruz seemed more expensive and given the short distances, it’s better value to stay in quieter areas and drive for those who would really want to spend time there.
Those areas are critically over-saturated and spoiled by mass tourism, unfortunately, which is a deep contrast with the pristine nature and unoccupied areas in the center and north of the island.
In order to limit further hotel/tourist accommodation development on the Island and foster a higher yield tourism type, the government now limits the building of new visitor accommodation to five-star resort-like establishments offering new attractions and activities through a strict moratory.
We preferred to stay in quieter communities such as El Poris and Juan’s apartment was our best accommodation by far and the best suited to our muli-generational travel party with it’s two bedrooms and large living areas.
We also check out the campground near Playa de La Tejita which seemed like an interesting option in the future. Free camping can also be found in some places. As mentioned earlier, Tenerife Climbing House can also be a great option for climbers in a hostel-type formula.
In the North, Punta del Hidalgo or Taganana seemed like quaint and authentic places to settle for a few days.
Getting There & Getting Around
Flying into the South Airport is an inexpensive bliss from any major Western European city. The three of us flew direct on Easyjet from Geneva for 400 euros all in, including a checked bag. From Canada, flights are available starting at $1,100 from any major cities with one or two stop-overs.
Ferries from Cadiz are also a good option for travellers in a van/camper or the ones with lots of time on their side.
A rental car is absolutely necessary for anyone planning on exploring the rock climbing sites. For hikers, foodies, surfers or cultural buffs, Tenerife has a very robust public transit system that will take you to/from any location for 1 euro per trip. The island also boasts beautifully paved winding roads that seem well suited for bike tourists/cyclists…but beware of the many, many hills!
Tenerife: An Exotic & Distinctive Winter Getaway
In conclusion, my mom, husband, daughter and myself all agree on the fact that Tenerife was an ideal destination for us to meet and spend quality time together in a warm location. We were struck by the beauty of the scenery and the ease to get around. We were pleased to discover how friendly and welcoming the people of Tenerife are and how proud they are of their island.
In two weeks time, we filled our bodies with vitamin D from the sun & vitamin C from the fresh fruit and filled our minds with stunning images. We filled our pockets with volcanic rocks and our shoes with fine sand and most of all, we created family memories that we are not close to forget.
P.S. A special thank you to my beloved mother for joining us on that trip and being our best adventure pal and your granddaughter’s best roommate ever. Je t’aime!
Upon entering the town of Finale Ligure in the Province of Savona, Italy nothing tells it apart from the other resort towns on along the Riviera – a continuum of densely urbanized settlements squeezed between the coastline and the mountains. Nothing but maybe a sign with Capitale dell’ Outdoor written on it.
Then upon taking a closer look, it doesn’t take long to realize that Finale is a place where all the enthusiasts of the great outdoors collide. In the brisk temperature of this late afternoon in December, a few surfers are gathered near the coast catching the few waves reminiscent of the last storm. Up high on the cliffs at the entrance of the town, a few stainless steel bolts are shining in the last sun rays. On the street, two mountain bikers with full-face helmets pedal down from the hills somewhere.
Late in the fall, sunbather and swimmers have vacated the place and trail runners, cyclists of all types, long distance trekkers and rock climbers are replacing them.
Welcome to Finale Ligure where you can get your outdoor fix at any time of the year!
The layout of Finale is quite interesting in itself and seems to have three very different towns crammed into one: 1- a mediterranean seafront resort with a sandy beach, long boardwalk and seaside touristy restaurants and shops, 2- an authentic modern Italian downtown core with streets busy with vespas, piaggios – the mini three wheeled pick up trucks –as well as elegant Italian women pushing baby strollers and talking on their mobiles with their arms moving like windmills, 3- the old fortified town – Finalborgo – that boasts ancient buildings, cobbled streets AND at least a dozen outdoor and bike shops, which is more shops per square foot than Chamonix or Zermatt!!
On the outskirt of town lie an endless playground, very mountainous in nature, olive tree orchards and other agricultural lands, quaint villages and many campgrounds.
Blame it on my tourism development background by I soon realized that Finale and its surroundings have done a tremendous effort to develop, protect but also brand and market its territory in a cohesive manner around a shared love for the outdoors and the local culture. I found this was quite innovative and forward thinking in an area where the warmth, sun and sea suffice to fill most businesses on the seafront several months of the year.
Finalborgo by night – all lit up for the holidays
That means that the public and private stakeholders have decided to share the wealth in a more sustainable manner beyond the beach and main downtown core to the many surrounding villages and rural areas and foster a year-round visitor base and a viable economy, while ensuring that the development of new trails/areas/routes is done in a respectful manner with the residents, the other industries and the environment.
Some online research has proven the theory to be true:
“On October the 14th 2015 in Finale Ligure an Agreement between the 5 municipalities of Finale Ligure, Calice Ligure, Orco Feglino, Vezzi Portio, Rialto and the Association Finale Outdoor Resort was signed. It established the starting point of the union called Finale Outdoor Resort, thanks to which Finalese is not just a territory but becomes an identity brand that defines a district from the great historical and cultural richness, strongly connected to outdoor activities.” finaleoutdoorresort.com
While the main pillars of Finale’s tourism development are the hiking, climbing and mountain biking, every outdoor sport can be experienced in Finale and the territory is well laid out to provide a great deal of enjoyment and skills development.
The Outdoor Pursuits
Having heard many great things about Finale and with a full week ahead of us before the holidays, we decided to check the place out. We are eager to enjoy a bit of warmer, drier weather than what can be found in France at this time of year.
Hervé has only had his knee surgery three weeks earlier but he is feeling great and would like to slowly get into climbing again. Since there is just the three of us with no other adult partners to climb, we also arrive in Finale with the goal to climb a little, hike quite a bit and get into the Italian vibe (meaning eat lots of pizza and gelato!) and walks on the beach.
On our first morning, our first stop – after caffe latte obviously – is in a friendly little climbing store with the goal of foraging some beta on accessible, kid-friendly crags.
The salesman at is a great source of information and the gear and clothing in his store so very attractive that Hervé can’t refrain but purchase an Italian-made E9 pair of pants. Might as well dress like Cesar when in Rome after all!!
At the Rocca di Petri, we find a nice south facing crag with mellow routes and an easy 20-minute walk access to spend our first family climbing day. If at first, we find a bit odd to drive right below the autostrada to access the crag, the view and the peacefulness aren’t disturbed too much once at the crag. There is plenty of space for our daughter to play safely and the rock is solid as well as the routes well equipped. It feels so good to enjoy a day out without a down jacket on!
The next day we set off for a hike in the nearby town of Borgio Verrezi where we find a varied network of hiking trails, all of them very diverse in length, elevation and also very well signed. They take the hikers from gorgeous rural churches to ancient caves, geological wonders and stunning sea views. There is even a trail that links all the towns on the Riviera and provides a one-of-a-kind multi-day hike.
Way up on a road so steep and winding, we find the trailhead to a great 5 km loop with lots to entertain us along the way. This close to Christmas, there are many outdoor nativity scenes around the hamlet and even in the caves. Some steeper sections of the trail are even equipped with iron cables and steps like a via ferrata, to our daughter’s greatest delight.
The other crags we explore over the course of the week are Monte Cucco near the village of Orco that is simply the best for young kids as some easy top ropes routes are located less than a 5-minute walk from the parking area. The only downside on a colder winter day is that it’s in the shade.
Finally, we also spend a very nice day at Pianmarino, a spot popular amongst the mountain bikers and also one of Finale’s most historical crag. The hike in is fairly easy and short (25- 30 minutes), south facing and benefits from a very flat area at the bottom. The routes are however fairly short, and just like in Finale’s older climbing areas, the bolts are quite far apart and the routes quite challenging.
Every night, we retreat to our humble studio quite early as the temperature drops fairly quickly after the sun goes down. We have rented the apartment for the week with Residence Adelaide, a rental agency located downtown on booking.com for the unbeatable prices and convenience. The place is spotless and fairly well appointed, there is a reception open during regular office hours with friendly and helpful staff (some even speak French!) and the prices are reasonable (300 euros for a studio for 4 people for a week).
Finale counts a large number of apartment rentals and hotels as well as many campgrounds and outdoor people hangouts where you can meet fellow travellers from all over the world and ask around for information.
One day on our way to Monte Cucco our daughter was asleep in the car and we were desperate for a ristretto. (tiny little cup of very strong and delicious espresso).
In the village of Orco, we asked the first guy we saw where we could find a bar and he answered in Italian “Let me go inside and get the coffee machine on!” Actually, I must say that the only thing we understood was “la mac&china” and then we saw him run inside a building with a sign written “ Bed & Climb” on it… We figured in astonishment HE was going to make us a cup of coffee! We learned a great deal about the area by talking to Mauro who is just so knowledgeable and adorable and enjoyed a pure moment a warm Italian hospitality…or perhaps is it that strong worldwide connection between climbers.
Anyhow, we thought that his bed & breakfast and adjacent associative bar would be a cool place to stay in the future for an affordable and friendly experience and to meet fellow climbers and route setters. Orco Bed & Climb also offers guiding services and social events in the community.
Him & his wife Paula, along with their local climbing society had been investing time, energy and money in training the new generation of young climbers and getting the locals to open up to this new clientele and source of income while encouraging a healthy way of living in the local youth, all of which is fitting greatly in with the “Finale Outdoor Resort” philosophy!
The pizza, the pasta, gelato & Vino!
Blame it on the exchange rate or our tight travel budget, we were struck by how expensive the cost of living is in this resort town and namely the cost of gas, food and drinks. In Finale, an ordinary croissant costs 1.20 euros and at least 3.50 euro for a kilo of mandarines (although they were in season). The most simple bottle of wine costs way over 5 euros and poor quality bread that becomes inedible the next day costs 3 euros, which is way more expensive than in France. Hence, we have dined in most nights and have done most our shopping at the Co-op, the Fruiteria and the bakery and have packed a picnic lunch every day.
Of course, we have indulged in a few gelati here and there (those are inexpensive!) and a few happy hours with (German!) beer and an antipasti platter for 3 people for around 20-25 euros. There seems to be a rule in Italy that one shall not serve alcoholic drinks without some food to sponge it up! To the greatest delight of us, hungry penniless travellers!
Our diet for a week
On the last night of our stay, we have also treated ourselves pizza and tiramisu at the nearby Trattoria…because one can’t spend a week in Italy without eating pizza, right!?
The bottom line of our Finale experience is that this area really is worth visiting and it can easily be accessed from any western European cities (4 hours from Lyon, Geneva or Milano; 1.5 hour from Nice or Genoa and their international airports). This means it’s the perfect spot for a quick getaway any time of year but that could also be a destination on a longer euro climbing road trip in a van.
The climate is quite pleasant and the culture vibrant; the opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless (although the snow sports are a little far away!)
I personally never get tired of discovering the Italian flavours and of hearing my four-year-old practicing the few words of Italian she has learned during our trip: “Grazie! Ciao Bella! Brava! Per Favor!”
It’s hard to believe we are already half-way through our 6-month journey.
Our time in Europe has been truly amazing so far and packed with quality time with friends and relatives and lots of traveling in between and we feel it’s time to re-centre and get back to a quieter routine, unpack the suitcases and have some family time, just the three of us.
We have obviously spent lots of time with the in-laws so far and even a little more than anticipated, with Hervé’s torn meniscus and related surgery. We have visited Ardèche and the Italian Riviera. We have spent some time with our friends near Albertville and a full week in Val d’Anniviers, Switzerland.
Every day feels a bit like Christmas as everywhere we go we get to enjoy feasts and celebrations (along with the odd heartburn and overhang it brings), lots of time outdoors, a big share of adaptation and improvisation, of packing and unpacking, of searching through our bags and trying to keep some sort of order and tidiness and attempts to maintain a healthy routine for our 4-year old daughter.
After doing some research on the web for affordable accommodation in small family-oriented ski resorts, we settle on Pralognan-la-Vanoise. Around mid-January, we are outside of the busy school holiday periods and other major events that could disturb our peace and quiet AND our tight budget.
Our choice isn’t completely random, however. Pralognan, although I only have a vague memory of the village itself, is reminiscent of very sweet memories for Hervé and I. It was the starting point of my first ever overnight ski tour, some fifteen years ago. I remember the jagged peaks and impressive glaciers of la Vanoise range as well as the bright blue skies and the spring weather. I remember the warmth of the hut, how good the evening meal tasted after a day of skiing and the good times we shared with our companions.
I also remember and laugh at how much of a beginner skier I was, the tears I shed skiing back down to the valley and the huge blisters on my feet from the way-too-small ski boots I had borrowed. I remember the pride I felt and the endless admiration I had for my man who taught me everything about the mountains.
Since we have also climbed few classic routes in the Parc National de la Vanoise, one of France’s largest and most diverse mountain ecosystem protected through the National Park designation, but we have never really spent time in Pralognan.
I know that the ambiance of the village is exactly what we are looking for this time for our family stay: a pedestrian village, outdoor activities for kids and adults alike including some great options for backcountry skiing, a small kid-friendly ski hill with an affordable ski pass, some genuine mountain culture and a small alpine village feel and of course, SNOW!
Well, a few days in I can say that all our expectations were exceeded. More than that, I think am officially in love with this place.
Anne-Marie, the owner of the little flat we rented on AirBnB is just adorable and so thoughtful. Her place is sparkling clean and just right for the 3 of us and equipped with all we need, including a washing machine, thank goodness! The price for the week was more than fair and most of all, we have a little nest on a quiet street where we can settle in and most importantly feel at home. Upon our arrival, we find a hand-written greeting note, a bottle of local pear juice and a jar of local honey. God does Savoie ever produces good food!
During our first day here, the snow started falling and it hasn’t really stopped since. Over a metre of snow has fallen upon Pralognan in 5 days.
On the second day, the whole ski resort was shut down because of the wind and heavy snowfalls.
On the third day, it was still snowing and we got to enjoy this one-in-a-season amazing day. We had the brilliant idea upon our arrival to sign our daughter up for some ski lessons and to the local “kids club” for afternoon child care, which she was ecstatic about. Hence, Hervé and I had the day to ourselves to ski fresh powder snow and explore the resort.
Pralognan in January has many pros one of them being that the very few vacationists around are mainly retirees and family with young children, most of them with limited skiing abilities if I may say so without any disrespect. For us, that meant that the competition for fresh tracks was non-existent and so were the lift lines. Pure bliss!
The scene is quite a bit different in the spring when spandex-dressed ski mountaineers and herds of French Alpine Club adepts rush to the nearby peaks early in the morning and stop in for a beer and a tartiflette en masse after their tour and wander through the streets in their high tech gear and colourful clothing.
In very high avalanche risks conditions all week, we are staying very conservative and sticking to low angle off-piste itineraries well within the ski area. Hervé is also taking every opportunity he has to chat with local ski patrollers and mountain guides to learn about the conditions. Everyone is very friendly and generous with information. The current conditions are quite unusual and haven’t been observed by the locals for at least 20 years. All around us, roads are closed and mountain hamlets are being evacuated. We feel blessed that Pralognan is a relatively safe haven.
Meanwhile, our daughter who is now entering her third ski season is taking her first ski lessons: 2 times 2 1/2 hours of skiing with other little French kids. Even though her ability to manage her speed with snowploughs and turns is improving highly when skiing with us, we feel that some lessons are going to help improve her autonomy and her ease in the transitions like putting her skis on, riding the t-bar on her own, going up small hills, walking around, getting back up after a fall, etc.
She is so proud of getting her “ourson” medal. She can now ski at the level of a bear cub, whatever this means!
In the French culture, everything is very standardized and there seems to be tests, levels and categories in every sport as I have learned over the years.
The ski instructors in their very French way don’t put on white gloves to tell your kid that he or she isn’t doing things the right way. If at first, it makes my teeth cringe as a firm believer in positive reinforcement, I acknowledge that life isn’t always easy and that my child will have to face her share of frustrations and failures… might as well start now.
At the end of our ski day we like to meander in the village to check out the lovely storefronts, have a drink and some appetizers or buy our loaf of bread or a bottle of wine to go with dinner before retreating to our cozy nest, tucked away at the dead end of a quiet street.
In my suitcase, although space is very limited, I will be bringing back a few bottles of locally made génépi and verveine liqueur, a piece of Beaufort, one of my favourite cheeses in the world and perhaps a picture to hang on the wall of our apartment in Kimberley and dream of this unique adventure we’re currently living. The village has no shortage of cute little artisan stores, bakeries and sports shops that we try to stay away from…
On the weekend we have our friends Fabrice and Magali and their three kids Zian, Liv and baby Dolma come over for the day to try out the Nordic trails. By the end of the day it’s snowing so hard they can barely make it back home to Albertville. Meteo France, the French weather office, has issued a special warning for heavy snowfalls in our area and urges travellers to stay home or plan alternative accommodation in case the roads close.
During our time here, we are also experiencing all the many amenities the village has to offer. It’s impressive to see a place of 700 souls residing year round with an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, skating rink, indoor climbing wall and even a spa!
Savoie – Mont Blanc is definitely a wealthy district and the fact that Pralognan is located nearby the infamous resorts of the “3 Vallées” is certainly contributing to the wealth.
Skiers staying in Pralognan for the week can purchase a 6-day ski pass for a mere 170 euros and have a free entry to the pool, the skating rink, unlimited access to the Nordic loop and the ability to ski in La Plagne or Courchevel for a day with a free shuttle!!
For that amount, a skier in BC barely gets a 2-day ski pass at one resort like Fernie or Revelstoke. Now you get why Canada isn’t a competitive destination on the world scheme of ski holidays…but this is a story I save for later on how to ski for cheap in Europe. Stay tuned!
As the sun goes down on our last day in Pralognan, I know for certain that we will return to enjoy more of the high alpine, the magnificent meadows and the peaceful atmosphere of Pralognan.
We are now packing our winter gear and clothing away for a two-week hiatus as we take off for Tenerife and the Canary Islands on Tuesday to meet up with my mom.
We hope all this fresh snow settles a bit for when we return and pursue new adventures in the Southern Alps…
The air is brisk and the almost full moon lights up the pebbled path to our cozy little apartment, a vacation rental or gite rural located on the floor above la mielerie – where the honey is extracted and stored.
Deep down in the valley, I can see the lights from the small settlements along la Volane, all the way to Vals-les-Bains and Aubenas, the nearest cities. I take a deep breath of pure mountain air and pause for a moment before making carrying on my way to bed.
We had arrived in La Coste a few hours earlier. This tiny hamlet part of the municipality of Genestelle is home to our dear friends Seb and Christine Martinez and their two boys, Juneau (4) and Milo (2).
We have known the couple for as long as we have lived in Kimberley. From epic climbing adventures to family camping trips, a shared love for France, and several Christmas Eves spent together, we have woven a deep friendship.
After living in BC for over fifteen years, Seb, an Ardèche native, and his wife Christine, a Saskatchewan girl, have made the decision to come home to take over the family apiary. Sad to see them leave our home-base but so excited for their new endeavour, we made the promise to come visit them here often.
This promise wasn’t hard to make for the ones acquainted with La Coste and its surroundings.
The location in itself is just stunning: a perfect steep south-facing slope perched at 650m of elevation, fertile soil and a mild and pleasant climate. Seb’s parents Didier and Sibylle have fallen for the place – remote, cheap land with a spring of fresh water. That’s not all however as the place also has a special feel to it – which they found out when scoping out the perfect spot to build their dream during the hippie era.
Out of the ruins – piles of old stones reminiscent of a small settlement from the early 17th century – they created a home for their family, a roof for their apiary, and a massive garden -stone by stone.
Years later, they restored the adjacent ruins to their home into a few apartments, every one of them worthy of a feature in architectural and design magazine that the couple turned into vacation rentals.
Visitors to La Coste have been loyal over the years and mostly book their stays a year out. I sense that Didier and Sibylle’s passion for their area and warm sense of hospitality is just as important as the stunning location and unique accommodation units.
Completely sold out from June to October, the apartments can still be rented in April, May and from mid-October into November.
Vacationists in search of an authentic rural France experience and a large dose of peace and quiet, nature and sunshine won’t be disappointed. The breeze and spectacular swimming pool are sure to keep the visitors afraid of heat cool and happy. The fruit trees around the estate along with the fragrant and delicate-tasting honey to will keep their craving for sugar fulfilled.
La Coste is the ideal base camp to explore Ardèche, a mostly rural département and so rich and diverse in its landscape and attractions. In the north, one will find a rugged hill and plateau landscape, harsh climate and the highest peaks around, le Gerbier-de-Jonc and Mont Mezenc; mountains made out of granite and volcanic stone. This is also home to la Loire river headwaters.
In the middle, the volcanic hills of Centre Ardèche are softer and the climate milder. Snow seldom falls in this area, which makes it perfect to visit anytime and any season. Chestnut, oak and acacia trees are plentiful and on the adret the south-facing slope one won’t be surprised to find orchards of apricot, peach and kiwi trees. Quaint villages are all walking distance from each other and have the most interesting stories to tell and characters to meet. The area is home to some of the country’s most beautiful rivers that attract paddlers and canyoneers from all over the world.
In the south, lies a more open landscape, limestone cliffs, karst structures and massive caves – pre-historic sites of importance. The south has more of a well, southern or Provencal feel to it and farmers find the perfect soil and climate to grow grapes and fragrant lavender. Herds of Dutch tourists have made the area their destination of choice for its rivers, beaches, warm sunshine and the infamous canoe route of les Gorges de l’Ardèche. The heat there in the summer is suffocating and so is the crowd…which is why La Coste and the Centre Ardèche are so attractive in many ways.
To find out more about le gîte rural de La Coste and to make a reservation for your next vacation, click here.
Castles, medieval villages and Roman paths
From La Coste, a myriad of scenic hiking trails lead the visitors to the many nearby hamlets and viewpoints. One of my favourite paths is the one going to Antraigues, a medieval village among the most picturesque in the country. This village was made famous by Jean Ferrat, an iconic poet, songwriter and singer who made this place home.
This is the first outing we take our little crew on – a mere 2.7 km walk one way mostly downhill, to a well-deserved reward of hot chocolate and madeleines. On this ancient cobbled donkey path, we enjoy picking a few remaining chestnuts, walking in knee-deep beds of leaves and taking in the stunning views.
In Antraigues, the townsite is quiet on this early December Monday. The kids can freely explore the cobbled streets and safely play on the Plaza. At this time of year, we’re happy to find out that a few restaurants, the bakery and a small grocery store remain open. We’re in France after all and there are real people living real lives in rural areas, no matter how small or remote they are.
It would take a lifetime to explore all the villages and stories that Ardèche boasts. I recall Seb telling us that he had himself only visited about sixty. I bet that now that he and his family have returned home, they will have plenty of inspiration for weekend outings and the boys will surely take great pleasure in adding a few to their papa’s list.
Ardèche limestone: let’s climb some rock!
The region is known among climbers as a serious climbing destination. Many sites can be found in every corner of Ardèche with a large variety of rock types and routes. Le Cirque de Gens near Chauzon is definitely the most famous of all. Climbers beware however that the popular nature of the site combined to this type of limestone makes the routes in the lower grades (to 5.11) VERY polished and challenging.
We take the children to Balazuc for a quick afternoon session. In December, the periods of daylight are very short and temperature colder; Balazuc’s south-facing limestone towers offer a rapid and easy hike in and short routes that are ideal to set up a few easy top ropes.
Juneau earning his skills
Eva showing the boys how it’S done
Balazuc, un des plus beaux villages de France
While early spring and fall are the prime seasons for rock climbing in Ardèche, one can find locations throughout the winter in the spots sheltered from the wind. Some campgrounds remain opens and climbers can benefit from very low off-season deals on vacation rentals everywhere in Ardèche. If climbing isn’t our main purpose on this trip, it is still nice to touch some rock and enjoy a few hours of warmth.
In this land where tourism and agriculture are the main economic drivers, the locals literally work day in and day out from April to November. We are fortunate to be here at a time where Seb and Christine have a little downtime and are available to show us around and enjoy some quality time with friends. The boys normally in daycare and school are doing l’école buissonière – skipping school for a few daysto our daughter’s greatest delight.
Late fall and winter are the time of year where the local social life picks up again and the many celebrations take place. Every village has a fête of some kind: fête de la Chataigne, fête de la Pomme, pre-holiday celebrations and craft fairs of all kinds. In those remote valleys, newcomers and young families are surprisingly quite numerous and they fear not going the extra mile to enhance the local social life.
Upon hearing that a nearby village is having a Fête de la Soupe, we make plans to spend our Saturday.
After a car dropoff, our little crew sets off by foot for the little village of Bise, which in French means “breeze” or “kiss”, whichever you prefer! Jérôme, Kelly and their two teenage girls Nea and Riley- a Swiss- American couple living in BC are joining us for the weekend and also take part in the fun outing that day.
It has snowed last night and the day is sunny but chilly and windy. On the trail leading from Conchis to Bise, we meet several hunters in search of chestnut-fatted wild boars. In this country, it isn’t unusual for hikers and hunters to share the same trails and vigilance is key, as no one wants to end up with a bullet in the calf or a frightened boar running at them. Seb’s informs the hunters of our route and we carry along.
It feels strange to descend from the mountain and to arrive in the middle of the celebration. From a distance, we can smell the boiling soup and woodfire smoke and we can hear the laughter.
A warm bowl of soup as a reward for our hike
Crêpes with crème de marron and honey…delicious
The fest is a good place to be
The Fête is well attended and the soups and crêpes are delicious. There is a bar -off course- and a craft fair, games for the kids and soup contest. After lunch, Christine and Hervé drive the children home for the nap and the rest of us head back to where we came from, on a different trail.
We hike to the valley’s end where we encounter a 93-year old sheepherding lady who’s eager to chat. Her strength and vitality are impressive. She has sure lived a long healthy life although certainly not always pleasant and easy in this remote valley.
We take the scenic way home and follow the ridgeline for a long time so we can admire the unique landscape – hills spreading as far as the eye can see covered in scotch broom and dried fern with the odd stone hamlet and winding mountain road leading to it. In this faint winter light, everything looks still although on the ridge top the wind is quite strong.
Several hours later, we come home and all gather in Seb and Christine’s home. On the table we lay another delicious feast in which the chestnuts picked along our hikes were sautéed or roasted. The meal is obviously paired with local wines and liquor and some early Christmas treats. The conversation is lively, the belly full and the spirit’s high.
The following day we awaken to more snow on the ground – enough for the children to make snowmen. From climbing rock in a t-shirt to hiking with the goose down jacket on to making a snowball fight, winter time in Ardèche is definitely just as diverse as the region itself.
Ardèche is full of surprises and delights that ought to be discovered in the offseason… and with good friends.
We are thankful to the Martinez family for their warm hospitality and pleasant company. One thing is sure, we will be back in Ardèche very soon!
For more trip-planning information about Ardèche click here.
As real country pumpkins, we don’t often spend time in big cities. When looking at a map and planning our next trip, we usually pick mountainous regions as our destinations of choice. However, sometimes we like to do brief immersion in the concrete jungles, as they really provide a break from the everyday and a quick culture fix for the outdoor adventurers that we are.
Lately, we chose to layover in Vancouver for 24 hours to see what the glass city was really about and get a preview taste of the West Coast.
A great traveling tip I discovered lately is that when booking a flight on points (we collect aeroplans), it usually doesn’t cost more to book a multi-city trip. This is exactly what we decided to do, on our way between Cranbrook and Quebec City.
Sleeping in and waking up in a high-rise hotel room really started our express stay on a good note. At age 4, I don’t think my daughter had ever seen a building taller than 4 storeys. Watching cartoons in bed all curled up with too many pillows was definitely one of her personal highlights.
Out on the street on this cool summer morning, which was a nice break from the intense heat we had experienced in the Interior all summer, we wandered to get some coffee and breakfast at a nearby café. If eating out is a treat we don’t indulge in often at home, in the city, it is one of our most decadent pleasure.
The good news was that we had three meals ahead of us to enjoy Vancouver’s food! We found some delicious breakfast sandwiches and good lattes (for $3.50!) at the Cafe Restaurant Mangez, Mangez on Melville St.
After some window shopping and people watching on Robson St., we made our way towards the Burrard Bridge area to pick up two rental bikes and a bike trailer at Cycle City Tours. ($80 dollars for two bikes and the trailer for 5 hours)
All geared up with fancy townies, crossed the bridge and took a left toward Grandville Island and it’s enormous urban market. On a weekday in August, the place was packed with people and cars. We were glad to be on two-wheels as bike parking was much easier to find, and cheaper also.
On Grandville Island, there is so much to see, smell and taste! From the various artisans from all over British Columbia to craft beer, any type of food vendors one could dream of to seafood restaurants and garden shops, the place is buzzing with life, with reason.
For the shoppers at heart, the Kid’s Market is the place to hit for children clothing, shoes, toys & games, books and even specialized haircuts! A dangerous place to take a toddler in my opinion as you can’t go in without buying something for your little angels.
At the “adult” market, I didn’t have enough of my two eyes to take in all the beautiful jewelry, pottery, artisan bread and fresh produce, while my husband and daughter happily chased away the hungry pigeons out on the waterfront.
We elbowed a few people to find a table to sit down and eat.
After our meal, we hopped back onto our bikes. By then our daughter was ready to doze off for a nap so we made her a cozy little bed in the bike trailer and we aimed toward the Seawall in the direction of Stanley Park.
The cycling path network in Vancouver is impressive. By riding along the ocean tucked between the beach and the skyscrapers is really when you get to feel how special Vancouver is. This big cosmopolitan city of 2.5M souls transpires a mix or urban, ocean and mountain cultures and lifestyles.
289 km of paved trails take the explorers looking for an easy, fresh, affordable and ecological way to explore the city from parks to beaches and from landmarks to attractions. The most scenic part, the Seawall is comprised of 28 km of seaside greenway for walking, biking and roller skating.
Within a half hour of pedaling, we reached the entrance of Stanley Park where we had to duck around a few fat geese feasting by a small pond. Named for 1888 Governor of Canada Lord Frederic Stanley, the park covers 405 hectares of green space almost entirely surrounded by water. Home to the gigantic douglas fir trees and to the Vancouver Aquarium, this park is my favourite attraction in Vancouver and was voted best park in the world by Tripadvisor in 2014!
Twenty minutes later, after a quick look at the Totem Poles, we reached the bridge and the entrance to the harbour. Fishermen were going about their business with their oversize net and large buckets filled with small fish.
Right around that time, my daughter woke up from her nap just in time to catch a glimpse of the Inukshuk beach. We set the bikes aside and added our own to the impressive number of small rock towers and watched the teeny-tiny crabs in the tide pools.
One kilometre down the path, we stopped at Third Beach for a toe-dip just as the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Playing in the fine sand and watching the cargo ships isn’t something we get to enjoy often in our beloved Kootenays so we took full advantage of it.
A little further down, we came across the kids spay park and stopped for well-deserved ice cream and berries at the beach concession. A short stop at the playground and our way out the Park and we slowly made our way back to the bike shop.
All that pedaling had made us thirsty! We landed for happy hour, French-Riviera style near the Burrard Bridge marina at Ten Ten Tapas where we enjoyed a glass of craft beer from Stanley Park and a few appies while looking at the luxury yacht docked nearby.
We couldn’t spend a day in Vancouver without tasting Asian food of some kind. In this multi-ethnic city, where approximately 36% of the population is from east and south Asia, locals and visitors can enjoy the best selection of Asian cuisine east of the Pacific. One wouldn’t have enough of a full year of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner out to nearly cover all the Asian restaurants there are in the city.
We gave our 4-year old the choice of what to eat for dinner…unsurprisingly, she picked sushi!
After our feast, it was time to head back to the Sheraton to pick up our bags and slowly make our way to YVR airport where the start of a new adventure awaited.
Those 24 hours spent in Vancouver had left us with the salt on our skin, sand in our shoes and plenty of West Coast images in our heads.
Featured image by Philippe Jobin courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond
Located fifty kilometres away from Quebec City, Saint-Raymond is the new outdoor recreation mecca in the Capitale-Nationale region.
The quaint town, home to roughly 10,000 souls, is surrounded by countless lakes, rivers, picturesque farmland, rolling hills and lush mixed forests where wildlife thrives. It boasts a long tradition of forestry, hunting, fishing and cottage culture.
Far enough from the city to benefit from many local amenities and not feel like a commuter town, yet close enough for thousands of recreationists to visit each weekend, the town is literally booming with a young and fresh energy. The vibe found there is reminiscent of the one found in the small hip mountain towns of Western Canada.
With the development of an award-winning sustainable tourism development model over the last fifteen years combined with a thorough downtown revitalization initiative, Saint-Raymond looks and feels better than ever.
Born and raised in the Portneuf region and descending from two local families of settlers, I have known Saint-Raymond forever and spent some of my best childhood moments there. I have always taken great pleasure in going back to visit my many relatives. This year’s visit was extra special as I got to take my husband and daughter for a two-week incursion into the awesomeness of this little town and its surrounding beauty. Wearing new sets of lenses – a blogger, traveller and mother always on the lookout for inspiration – I got to re-discover this beloved land and share the experience with my little family.
I’d like to share the highlights of our stay and give some tips to anyone lucky enough to be planning a trip to Quebec and willing to experience this unique area’s authentic culture and way of life.
Lac Sept-Iles (Lake of Seven Islands) – For Lakelife and Relaxation #QuebecStyle
Along with my mother and sister, we rented a lovely cottage right on the water in this piece of heaven that screams “vacations” and “good times.” Cute cottages and manicured landscapes (also some very luxurious mansions!) surround this lake located a mere 10-minutes drive from town. The narrow winding 11km lake road, dotted with hand-painted address numbers and welcome signs and wrapped up in a dense canopy of ancient maple trees is worth exploring on two wheels or on a morning jog.
swimming with grand-ma, daily fix.
Connecting to the main lake is a natural haven, Lac aux Chiens (Dogs Lake). Part of the preserved land adjacent to the Station Touristique de Duchesnay, this protected area is ideal for a quiet paddle, a swim, and a picnic. Binoculars are in order as it’s quite frequent to observe a family of beavers at work, a hungry moose or some of the numerous bird species. A good trail also wraps around this lake, which serves as the perfect destination for a trail run or family hike.
Peace and serenity on the paddle to Lac aux Chiens
Lac Sept-Iles is popular amongst boaters, wakeboarders and waterskiers and can be busy on hot summer days. But by picking our stay later in August, and thanks to the cooler, wetter temperatures, we basically had the lake to ourselves.
Many cottages are available for rent for every budget and group size and usually include the use of kayaks, canoes, windsurf or paddle boats. The Camp Portneufalso offers cottage rentals, serves as a watersport base, holds a summer camp and day camps for kids age 4-14 and even offers family camps.
The Vallée du Bras du Nord (North Arm Valley) – Outdoor Adventures for Everyone
The “Vallée Bras-du-Nord” or North-Arm Valley is certainly the major draw for many visitors traveling to Saint-Raymond, and with good reason. What used to be a hidden gem where locals would go backcountry camping and canoeing on the North-Arm of the Sainte-Anne river, is now an epic larger-than-nature outdoor resort. A full week wouldn’t be enough to check out all there is to do!
The topography of the place is perfectly suited to hiking, paddling and mountain biking, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into perfecting the trail network over the years.
The “En Marche” project, a youth workforce rehabilitation initiative, employs a dozen local youth each year who are dealing with personal challenges such as dropout, addictions, and violence, to build and maintain the trails.
This initiative, along with the social enterprise management model that applies best practices in local governance in relation to land use, funding, and development, truly contributes to making the resort even more remarkable.
the Welcome Centre – Vallée Bras du Nord
the trails map, dozens of km of awesomeness
the local’s watering hole
Home to the best mountain biking trails in the vicinity of Québec City, riders can find a wide variety of itineraries for beginners and experts alike, a full-service rental shop, amazing vistas, slick rock, tacky dirt and wooden features of all sorts. The trail network, which serves as the course for the infamous annual “Raid du Bras du Nord” – the premier MTB event in Québec – has now been extended to the local ski hill and the edges of town, as the local rider base keeps growing and so does the demand from out-of-town.
During our stay, my husband, sister and I got to ride La Neilson Nord and la Neilson Sud , a fun 25 km black-diamond flow trail loop dotted with some very techy sections, berms and skinnies, and runs along the namesake river and its stunning rapids and waterfalls. La Neilson Est provides a newly-added 10km extension, but unfortunately, we ran out of time to ride the full loop. I must also say that with very little riding under my belt this summer, I already felt quite humbled by the challenge presented by the two trails.
The Valley is also an incredible hiking destination. It boasts state-of-the-art mountain huts dispersed along the scenic and rewarding multi-day hiking routes that can be completed year-round (with snowshoes in winter). Easy day hikes, a larger than nature guided via ferrata course, guided canyoning outings down the spectacular waterfalls and single or multi-day paddling are also amongst the activities offered in the Vallée.
In the winter, fat-bikers and backcountry skiers now have a new and ever developing playground to explore.
With a full array of accommodation options right on site including yurts, campsites, and fully equipped cottages, and a Welcome Centre open year-round, the Vallée is a destination worth spending time in to enjoy the wonders in every season.
La Vallée Secrète – For Your Little Gnomes
A dwarf here and a gnome there. Proudly wearing the green dwarf’s hat, your little ones aged two and up get to embark on a fantastic scavenger hunt. Through the woods, they will follow a path and discover the world of wood fairies and other creatures. Equipped with keys, a map, and a magnifying glass, they move along an age-appropriate course. The goal is to find treasure boxes tied to trees, open them up with the right key, answer the questions and unleash the secret code. Kids must use their logic and observation skills to move along, complete the course and be granted access to the dwarf’s musical show.
the cutest little gnomes
turn the key and find out!
An award-winning family attraction, the Secret Valley is a great way to spend a half-day with and for the little ones. Located only a 20-minute drive from Saint-Raymond’s downtown, the park is popular with day camps and school groups. It boasts a covered picnic area, kid-sized washrooms, and a gift shop. It also hosts turn-key birthday parties. www.valleesecrete.com
Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Cycling Path – For the Two-Wheel Travellers
Linking Québec City with Rivière-à-Pierre, the 75 km-long cycling path takes cyclists along rapidly moving rivers, calm lakes, colourful forests and quaint towns. With a very gentle incline, this rail trail offers a fun and meditative way to discover Québec’s authentic countryside, while burning the calories from the decadent food eaten along the trip. Quebec’s Route Verte network is often stated as a best practice case study for cyclo-tourism for the quality of the network, the signage, the services offered along the way and the ability to easily travel across the province on two wheels. The Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Trail is part of the Route Verte #6.
Roquemont Craft Brewery – For the Thirsty Explorers
When we first walked into the Restaurant and Brewpub, we were struck by the smell of hop and smoky ribs. Our little group sat down and ordered a pint of laSingletrack,la Bois Rond, as well as a few other locally brewed cold pints, and appreciated the refined and complex tastes, a testament to the master brewer’s savoir-faire.
The menu holds a dozen brews including some seasonal features. On a Friday night, the place was lively and full. With a few of my childhood friends visiting that night, we couldn’t help but comment on how hip the place had become.
The Roquemont is also known to feature pub food with a twist, like house-made sausages and boudin noir (black pudding), a signature poutine with game meat and beer gravy, and divine tartars. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sample the food menu this time.
In the parking lot, SUV’s of all sorts boast bike racks well equipped with the latest mountain bikes. Next door, Frenette Bicyclette has set up shop right at the trailhead closest to town and provides a full retail, repair and rental shop.
The Roquemont is also an affordable place to stay and offers 40 newly renovated rooms and all sorts of stay and play packages, which makes the hotel the perfect base-camp for weekend warriors.
Capitalizing on good vibes, good beer, good food and live music, the new management of the Roquemont definitely seems to have found the recipe for success. www.roquemont.com
Cheese & French Fries – Saint-Raymond’s Culinary Delights
This year I felt so honoured to take my daughter to my grandparents’ old house to check out Alexis de Portneuf‘s boutique store. It was quite unique to see my mom showing my daughter where her bedroom was growing up in the home.
A stone’s throw away from the Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf Rail trail, it is the ideal location to grab some cheese, fresh bread, cold cuts and a craft ice cream cone to make up the best picnic. This place is also perfect for grabbing some edible and non-edible souvenirs from your trip.
The best tip for cheese lovers, the store has a selection of cheeses on special for $1, $2 and $3 daily…Heaven!
Obviously, my post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the other food institution in Saint-Raymond, the infamous Ti-Oui Snack Bar. This place has been around for at least three decades and serves Québec’s absolute best poutine. With loads of squeaky fresh cheddar curds, served over fresh hand-cut fries and a secret recipe gravy (BBQ is my favorite type), a trip to the Portneuf region isn’t complete without a stop at Ti-Oui’s.
While I am cognizant that what made our stay in the Saint-Raymond area so exceptional is the family connections we have in this place and the quality time we spent with our friends, uncles, aunts, parents, and cousins. But as a world traveler, I know for a fact that this area has a lot to offer the explorer in search of an authentic off the beaten path Quebec experience.
I would recommend to anyone considering a trip to this region to hurry up, as it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a preferred travel destination with all the hassles that come with it!
Nous sommes au début du mois d’août 2012. Hervé, mon fiancé, et moi en sommes à notre deuxième année à parcourir les courses classiques des Rocheuses et des montagnes Columbia, à ski, en escalade de glace, en escalade de grandes voies et de voies alpines.
Nous nous régalons à découvrir ce nouveau terrain de jeu et à nous adapter aux aspects qui le rendent si différent des Alpes: nivologie caractérisée par des mètres et des mètres de neige, approche version “chantier” dans la forêt dense, nature plutôt friable du rocher, quasi absence de refuges, éloignement et animaux sauvages; dont les plus encombrants sont de loin les moustiques et les ours grizzlis.
Nous avons plutôt la forme et l’idée d’ajouter quelques courses d’envergure à notre liste, dont la célèbre Arête Est du Mont Temple près du Lac Louise en Alberta, est tentante.
Le Mont Temple fut le premier sommet de plus de 11 000 pieds (3500m) à être gravit dans le Rocheuses par son arête sud-ouest (voie normale). La voie de l’arête est quant à elle fut gravit en 1934 par O. Steigmaier and H. Wittich. Considérée alors une des voies le plus difficiles du secteur par sa longueur et son exposition, elle perdit un peu en prestige dans le années 1970, avant de connaitre un regain de popularité du à l’inclusion dans la liste des “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” (50 Ascensions Classiques d’Amérique du Nord). Pouvant être complétée en une (longue) journée, cette voie semble un objectif idéal pour nous, aventuriers du dimanche.
De plus, elle présente un défi intéressant de par son aspect complet incluant escalade de rocher, déplacement en terrain glaciaire puis sommet à plus de 3500 m et descente à pied par un autre itinéraire. En dessous du niveau technique de plusieurs autres voies que nous avons grimpées dans le Rocheuses et les Alpes, l’exposition de cotation IV n’est toutefois pas à sousestimer.
Cet été, ma grande amie Anne et un copain de longue date, Thomas, ont fait le trajet depuis le Québec pour passer un moment avec nous et se joindre à nos projets de grimpe. Après un séjour dans les Bugaboos, Anne, plutôt adepte de bloc à cette époque, choisit de poursuivre sa route vers Squamish.
Thomas reste avec nous et rapidement nous nous mettons à échafauder notre plan d’ascension du Mont Temple. Par un beau vendredi après-midi, nous prenons la route en direction de Castle Junction et son terrain de camping, ou nous allons tenter de dormir quelques heures avant d’entreprendre la course. Arrivés au camping vers 19 heures, nous sommes rejoints par une autre cordée de copains: Kent et Seb.
Après un repas vite avalé et une minutieuse préparation des sacs à dos, nous nous mettons sous la tente pour quelques heures de repos.
À 1h00 du matin, après avoir vaguement fermé l’oeil, l’alarme sonne. C’est l’heure de vérité. Les trois Français: Thomas, Hervé, Seb, ainsi que Kent et moi-même montons dans notre camion et mettons le cap sur la route du Lac Moraine et le départ de la course, tout en partageant un gruau d’avoine plutôt insipide à même la casserole.
Arrivés au stationnement, il nous faut quelques minutes pour trouver le départ de la sente devant nous mener au départ de l’arête. La nuit est bien noire et nous avions du mal à nous orienter. Sans réel sentier, nous tirons à vue en remontant un couloir d’avalanche abrupte pendant près d’une heure. Nous nous suivons de près en essayant d’être le plus bruyant possible pour signaler notre présence aux grizzlis, généralement nombreux dans le secteur.
Le talus estinstable et la lueur de nos frontales à peine suffisante pour éclairer le parcours. La pente commence à se redresser d’avantage et nous devons nous aider de nos mains pour passer certains ressauts. Après plusieurs passages un peu techniques, nous savons qu’il est temps de nous encorder. La pénombre est toutefois si profonde qu’aucun de nous n’arrive vraiment à voir si nous sommes au pied de l’arête. Nous décidons de nous arrêter pour faire une pause et attendre les premières lueurs du jour pour réévaluer notre trajectoire.
Il fait froid et, aux petites heures du matin, le sommeil semble vouloir nous rattraper. Un rat a décidé de nous mener la vie dure et s’attaque à nos sacs à dos pour y trouver de la nourriture. Même les cailloux que nous lui jetons ne semblent pas le décourager.
Enfin le ciel s’éclaircit, ce qui nous permet de nous orienter. Après avoir grignoté une maigre barre de céréale nous nous remettons à grimper. Il ne faut pas trop trainer car la route est encore bien longue.
Nous avalons le dénivelé positif plutôt rapidement pendant la matinée, qui est chaude etensoleillée. Nous alternons les passages faciles et succession de vires herbeuses au rocher instable.
Puis, nous arrivons au passage où sont concentrées les difficultés techniques de la voie : deux longueurs de 5.7 suivies de quelques longueurs en 5.5 avant de rejoindre la vire médiane de l’arête.
La cordée constituée d’Hervé, Thomas et moi prend les devants. Le rocher friable rend le passage délicat, surtout encordés en flèche où deux personnes secondent le grimpeur de tête, chacune sur une corde indépendante. Le premier doit évidemment s’assurer de ne pas faire tomber de rocher sur la tête du second, juste en dessous.
Puis, Kent prend la tête de la seconde cordée, secondé par Seb. À quelques mètres audessus de la vire, une prise de main casse et Kent fait une chute qui le ramène directement sur la vire dans un fracas de douleur; son pied a percuté la vire en premier lui fracturant la cheville nette.
Je comprends vite en entendant les hurlements qu’un accident s’est produit. Seule au relais suivant et en bout de corde, je suis complètement inutile. Plusieurs minutes s’écoulent et je vois enfin poindre un bout de casque. Kent a réussi, de peine et de misère, à sortir les longueurs clés et à rejoindre notre cordée sur une vire de bonne taille.
Je l’accueille avec grand soulagement, car l’idée d’avoir à effectuer un secours en paroi dans ce rocher de qualité douteuse me semblait peu réjouissante.
Kent a eu de la chance de ne s’en tirer avec une simple blessure à la cheville; aussi encombrante soit-elle, sa vie n’était pas menacée. Nous nous rendons cependant vite à l’évidence que la seule option viable pour Kent est d’appeler les secours du Parc National de Banff. Avec une cheville fracturée, il lui est impossible de compléter l’ascension, puisqu’après l’arête, il faudrait grimper la pente de neige sommitale et entamer une descente de plusieurs heures dansdu terrain instable.
Avec regret, Seb sort sa radio de son sac et appelle les secours.
Notre groupe rejoint la grande vire médiane d’où il est plus facile pour l’hélicoptère de récupérer Kent et Seb. Je dois avouer qu’à ce moment-là, nous souhaitons être évacués par hélico également, ce qui est impossible vue la taille de notre groupe. Puisqu’il reste encore plusieurs heures de clarté et qu’aucun de nous trois n’est en détresse, nous savons que nous devons continuer.
Nous transvidons le contenu des bouteilles d’eau de Seb et Kent dans les nôtres, prenons ce qui leur reste de nourriture et convenons qu’ils iront à l’hôpital de Banff avec notre camion, et qu’ils nous récupéreront ensuite sur le stationnement dans la soirée.
Secoues par l’accident denotre amis mais surtout conscients du temps précieux que l’accident nous a fait perdre, Hervé, Thomas et moi reprenons notre ascension en direction des “Black Towers” aussitôt que nous entendons l’hélico approcher.
Puis, nous voyons la cordée être soulevés de la vire, suspendus par leurs harnais à un long câble, comme deux minuscules araignées, se faire basculer en pleine vitesse au-dessus du vide et redescendre dans la vallée. La vue de l’hélitreuillage est si impressionnante, que l’envie d’être évacués nous passe et nous avons redoublons d’ardeur dans la grimpe.
Les “Black Towers” se révèlent être un cauchemar. Le rocher friable de la vire inférieure semble solide et compact en comparaison. Après plusieurs erreurs de trajectoires et une désescalade de névé exposée, nous nous retrouvons dans l’ombre de la face, un dédale de poussière et de rocher friable qui se dérobe sous nos pieds et n’offre aucun encrage solide pour nos protections. A chaque pas, Hervé nous projette une pluie de rocher en pleine tête.
Essayant tant bien que mal de nous abriter, Thomas et moi sommes aussi inquiets de voir chuter notre premier de cordée que de se faire décapiter par une pierre. Transis de froid, nos bouteilles d’eau complètement à sec, nous commençons à avoir le morale dans les chaussettes, chaussettes qui soit-dit en passant sont trempées depuis notre traversée du névé.
À ce moment, Thomas trouve les mots justes pour décrire les fameuses “Black Tower”; avec un air grave et une mine déconfite, il me regarda et dit avec son accent français: “Les Black Tower, c’est l’enfer sur Terre”. Je suis tout à fait d’accord.
La mine d’Hervé, notre premier de cordée n’est guère plus rassurante. Complètement déshydraté, il nous affirme que si à la fin de la prochaine longueur nous ne sortons pas sur l’arête sommitale, il va jeter l’éponge. Définitivement le plus expérimenté de nous trois, avec un moral d’acier et un instinct remarquable, le fait d’entendre mon cher fiancé jeter l’éponge n’est pas rassurant. Bien que je ne sache pas trop ce qui nous attende si Hervé décide de ne pas continuer :
Est-ce que cela signifie un bivouac dans la voie à 3500m? Une hypothermie assurée et des engelures certaines à mes pieds mouillés? La mort par la faim et la soif ? Je lance ma petite prièrepour qu’il atteigne le sommet de l’arête et la pente de neige sur la face nord.
Hervé fini par rejoindre le sommet de l’arête suivi de peu par Thomas et moi, ragaillardis par l’espoir d’enfin terminer cette course. Quelle n’est pas ma déception quand je vois la distance qui nous sépare encore du sommet du Mont Temple! Vers 20h00, avec près de 15 heures d’ascension, l’idée de marcher en crampons et piolet pendant encore au moins une heure ne me fait pas rêver. De plus, la pente de neige semble plutôt glacée, surplombant les imposants séracs de la face Nord.
Armée de mon piolet playmobil, je me maudit de m’accrocher à mes réflexes à l’européenne, avec un sac à dos minimaliste et de l’équipement hyper-léger. Si le poids du sac est un facteur qui peut ralentir le rythme, le climat et l’isolement des Rocheuses Canadienne requiert quelques kilos de matériel supplémentaires pour faire face à des situations d’urgence.
Malgré tout, la traversée de la pente de neige se passe plutôt bien, Hervé et Thomas m’encordent au milieu afin de compenser une chute potentielle due à mes encrages moins qu’optimaux.
Nous atteignons le sommet vers 20h30, sous un ciel d’une beauté ahurissante, fatigués, soulagés et fiers. Sans trop tarder, nous capturons l’instant par quelques photos, enlevons nos crampons et entamons la descente par la voie normale du Mont Temple, un des scrambles les plus longs et engagés du secteur. Nous voulons perdre le plus de dénivelé possible avant la tombée de la nuit, car nous savons que l’itinéraire de descente peut s’avérer difficile à trouver.
De retour à l’étage subalpin, en pleine pénombre, nous sommes également de retour en terrain à grizzli. Les autorités du Parc National recommandent de circuler en groupe de quatre ou plus et de rester groupé, sous peine d’amende salée… ou d’une rencontre inopportune.
Malgré l’épuisement, nous finissons la longue descente en chantant et frappant dans nos mains et en espérant que les rangers ont mieux à faire que de patrouiller les sentiers à minuit.
Nous rejoignons le stationnement du Lac Moraine vers minuit et demi. Il n’y aucune âme en vue. Une bonne demi-heure plus tard, affalés les uns sur les autres sur le stationnement, nous entendons finalement le ronronnement caractéristique de notre camion au loin. Seb arrive pourvenir nous chercher!
Rongé par l’inquiétude, il a arpenté la route plusieurs fois pour tenter de nous trouver et était prêt à alerter les secours à la première heure du jour.
Sur le chemin du retour, en finissant les restes de gruau d’avoine insipide laissé la veille tant nous sommes affamés, nous entendons l’alarme sonner; il est1h00 du matin. Nous terminons uneascension qui a durée 24 heures.