Hiking (some of) the Gran Sasso Massif with kids

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Having two active boys means our outdoorsy family are always looking for adventures and, in our book, you can’t get much more adventurous than climbing really high mountains. Early in August, as the intense Lucifero heatwave swept through central Italy, we headed high up into the Appenines to try and find some cool air and have an adventure along the way.

Corno Grande – the Appenines highest mountain stands at 2912m a.s.l. One big piece of rock with a west, east and central peak she dominates the Abruzzo skyline and can be seen for miles around.  She’s just as impressive close up. This time we weren’t going to the summit though, we were keeping Corno Grande in our sights as we took in another peak in the Gran Sasso range Monte Portella at 2385m.

 

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The trail we chose starts on Campo Imperatore, the largest Alpine meadow plateau of the Apennine ridge, known locally as little Tibet. It’s a great starting point for kids because it’s already at approx 2000m which means your walk doesn’t have to be too arduous but you get to take in some significant peaks. You can drive up to Campo Imperatore and there is plenty of parking space, alternatively if you want to add to the adventure there is a cable car from Assergi to Campo Imperatore (which we have also taken before).

An easy single track, the path skirts the mountainside and offers up incredible views over the mountains and valleys below that even impressed the 8 and 10 year old (that’s saying something!). You then reach a natural saddle and turn up to the right before hitting the steeper part of the climb. The beauty of this path is that although it is steep in parts, the steep parts are fairly short and easy enough for the kids to handle.

After the short, sharp climb you meander onwards and upwards until you reach Monte Portella – stopping at the cairn for a photo opportunity.

Then it’s an easy down, up, down on to the traditional mountain hut Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi at 2388m for a welcome pit stop and refreshments.

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Once you’re fully revived you continue past the rifugio and head directly for Corno Grande, again the path is not too steep or difficult, but is narrow in places. You come to a junction at the saddle of Monte l’Aquila where the path is then sign posted back to the Hotel at Campo Imperatore, about another 30 minute walk down to the plateau.20621014_10156424176858709_3164057443823252708_n

A little bit of History

Before heading off take a look at the hotel on the Campo Imperatore plateau, it has witnessed a significant moment in Italy’s history. After the deposition and ensuing arrest of Benito Mussolini in July 1943, Mussolini was moved around Italy by his captors and by September 1943 he was being held prisoner in the hotel on Campo Imperatore. A bold rescue, ordered personally by Adolf Hitler, was made by German commandos and paratroopers in a daring glider mission on September 12th 1943. Italian troops were taken by surprise and overwhelmed by the German forces, Mussolini was rescued and flown out of Campo Imperatore into Rome, and then on to Vienna.

Our hints and tips

As with any hike in the mountains, take plenty of water and don’t be shy with the suncream, it may feel cooler up high but the sun is just as strong, if not stronger (those of you that ski will know what I mean!)

Check the weather forecast before you go, take layers and raincoats. Mountain weather has a tendency to change at the drop of a hat and there is nothing worse than cold, wet kids – it tends to take the fun out of things.

After an afternoon walk in the Gran Sasso we like to stop at Cherry Pizzeria in Paganica. It’s rustic and not much to look at from the outside, but it serves great pizza at incredibly good prices. It doesn’t matter if you head in still in your walking gear – it’s not the kind of place that you need to dress up for. It’s nice to be able to sit back and relax knowing that you’ve worked hard for that pizza you are about to consume!

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Dreams of far flung places with theinsatiabletraveler.com

As our world adventure edges closer and closer (only one year to go now!) I have been trawling the internet for more detailed information about each of the countries that we’ll be visiting. Sometimes you come across a site that just inspires you and Susan over at theinsatiabletraveler.com did just that with her silhouette photography piece. So evocative, no more words needed, I’ll let the photos do all the talking…

I love a beautiful silhouette. It rarely matters of what. Every silhouette is shrouded in drama and mystery, and more than a drop or two of romance. I love silhouettes for what I don’t see as much as for what I do. Sure you can see more when the subject is in the light, but I […]

via 21 Beautiful Silhouette Photos Guaranteed to Inspire Travel —

Magical Falls of Bolognano

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While waiting for our big adventure next year, we are spending this summer still exploring the incredible places that our stunning region of Abruzzo has to offer. Unlike some other more obvious areas of Italy, Abruzzo doesn’t hand you a tourist itinerary on a plate. There is so much to see and do, but you still have to discover the majority of it by yourself…it can, at times, be rather frustrating, but I have to say it does add to the sense of adventure. After 5 years of living here we are still on our mission of discovery and there doesn’t seem to be an end to the places to go.

Bolognano Waterfalls is one of the magical places we love to visit since we discovered it a couple of years ago. Who needs to pay for a man made water park when Mother Nature can provide her own? Located along the Orta river close to the small town of Bolognano, a marked walking path drops down through the gorge to the river’s edge from where you follow the river, cross over a couple of times and finally climb up the rock to the spectacular site of the natural rock pool. Deep enough to jump, dive and swim, it is an adventurous family’s paradise.

For those with a really adventurous spirit (and lots of water confidence) you can head even further up the river for more swimming, scrabbling over rocks and what my boys call nature’s very own ‘lazy river’.

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Our hints and tips

The walk down to the gorge takes about 20 minutes and although not difficult, it is steep in places – you need to have a head for heights at certain points. The path is well maintained and clear to follow to the river’s edge.

Take some insect repellent – this is nature’s playground after all – but only use it if really necessary as the chemicals can get washed into the river and damage the local ecology.

Take a small rucksack (backpack for my American friends out there!) with water, snacks and a change of shoes – you will get wet! Rock shoes are ideal if you have them. The rucksack means you’ll have your hands free to steady yourself on the rocks where necessary.

Get there early! The rock pool is in the shade until about 11 am in the height of summer. As soon as the sun comes round the locals know it is the most stunning place for sunbathing and cooling off, so the rocks can get a little crowded. We tend to head further up river when the hustle and bustle gets too much.

Go on a weekday. For the same reason of missing the crowds – ok we’re not talking the colosseum or vatican, but it is a popular spot among the Abruzzesi so take advantage of them being at work and head over on a weekday.

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Do you have any incredible Abruzzo must sees that you want to share? If so, leave a comment.

 

A Winter Jaunt around Europe Day 2: A day in Murten, Switzerland

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Day 2: 367 km – 4h10

Switzerland is a magical place to visit just before Christmas. The fairy lights, snowcapped mountains and chocolate box villages really set those Christmas nerve endings tingling! But Switzerland is not for the budget traveller, so we are lucky to have friends there to stay with and keep our costs down. Five years since we last stopped by in mid summer, we made it back to see our great friends Carola and Tim in their new home in Courgevaux (or not so new to them now!). A whistlestop visit – we only had 24 hours, but we managed a trip out to blow off some steam after a day and a half in the car.

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What we loved

Two boys, three including the gorgeous Max, means climbing and exploring is always a good call and in Murten this is more fun than in most places. The great medieval ramparts surround the whole town and mean climbing, running and adventures of knights and kings are a plenty! The views from the ramparts across the town or out across the lake are most definitely worthwhile, even on a misty day the eerie sense of calm across the lake adds to the medieval feel.

 

You can watch the inner workings of the town clock, fascinating for inquisitive engineering minds.

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We also discovered a cello maker down one of the side streets and watched him in his workshop.

 

After which we headed to the town museum. We didn’t quite make it inside, but we did manage a battle with the canon.

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Once you’ve climbed the ramparts, walked the town, found out about the clock and watched instruments being made, climbed the canon and looked out over the lake, you can head to the MarktHalle, the beautifully restored old market hall where you can have a coffee or something to eat, and that now sells seasonal produce, local speciality cheeses and wines and even has its own swiss chocolate chocolatier.

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What we didn’t get to do

Murten lake has plenty of cycling, rollerblading and walking paths, as well as offering lots of water sport activities. We didn’t get chance to try them for ourselves this time, but it does mean we have an excuse to go back again!!

Day 2 budget

Petrol: €50

Tolls: €2.20

Swiss Vignette: €40

Total : €92.20

As we stayed with Carola and Tim our accommodation and meals were generously donated by them (we must have already looked poor and hungry!) all I can say is thank you C&T for your generous hospitality.

 

 

A Winter Jaunt in Europe: Day 1 From Abruzzo to Parabiago, Milan

Day 1: 668 km – 8h30

We picked the boys up from school at midday and amazingly left on time! The car was jam packed with our clothes, christmas presents, gifts for our hosts, scooters, school bags, food…the list goes on. Note to self: on the trip round the world take less stuff.

The plan had us heading to Parabiago, just outside Milan, simply because Courgevaux was just a bit too ambitious in an afternoon, so we’d factored in an overnight stop. 15km down the road and we hit our first hurdle – the car tyre pressure warning lights came on…it’s ok, we only had another 652km to go. Panic!! We didn’t know if we had a slow puncture, pulling over didn’t reveal anything, but we knew that if there was all the Italian tyre shops would be shut for lunch until at least 3.00 p.m.. – when ‘La Dolce Vita’ works against you. So, we’d only just got going when we were forced back off the motorway looking for a garage/service station to check the air in the tyres. Aghhhhh!!

Luckily, it turned out that we just needed a bit of air. In preparation for our trip – and because it is a legal requirement for driving in Germany in winter – we’d had winter tyres fitted the week before and it seems that the tyre pressures had not been properly balanced. Phew!!

So back on the motorway we went, eating on the go, stopping briefly to change drivers and the inevitable toilet breaks – I can’t blame the kids on this one, I’m worse than them! And we steadily made our way up the beautiful Adriatic coastline and then veered off to Milan. No traffic problems, we were amazed at how clear the roads were…until we hit Milan at evening rush hour. Mmm, that plan wasn’t well thought through was it!

Through booking.com we booked a family room at Hotel Domus Expo for a great price (€62 euros including breakfast for all 4 of us). The hotel was easy to find, clean, the shower was good, the staff were friendly, the breakfast was more than ample and all in all it was a great experience! If you need a stopover  on your way through the north of Italy, or you are visiting Milan and don’t mind being a bit outside the public transport links to the centre are good and you’re not paying Milan prices. I would definitely recommend it

It wasn’t exactly the high life! We ate sandwiches in the room that we’d brought with us, Josh amused himself by lying upside down in the wardrobe and taking photos (if this was what 8 hours in a car did to the poor boy it wasn’t a good sign for the rest of the trip!), we slept, then ate breakfast and headed off early in the morning for Courgevaux to see our good friends Tim and Carola. The story continues…

Day 1 budget:

Meals and Snacks: €21.12

Motorway Tolls and Fuel: €46.90

Hotel: €61.92

Total: €129.94

A winter jaunt in Europe…the Intro!

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A trial run at family travel – planning vs reality!

Many of you that know us also know that we are planning a big round the world trip. We thought it might be a good idea to have a little trial run at sticking to our budget, combined with visiting some friends we haven’t seen in a while and places in Europe that we have wanted to visit for some time.

We started our trip on December 21st and planned to spend 3 weeks travelling, including a 5 day stop off in England for Christmas to see family, getting back to Abruzzo on January 10th.

idij1209Where we hoped to go

The original plan had us visiting…

  • Courgevaux, Switzerland
  • Crowborough, England
  • Middelburg, Holland
  • Amsterdam, Holland
  • Eindhoven, Holland
  • Leipzig, Germany
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Salzburg, Austria
  • Neuschwanstein, Germany
  • Verona, Italy

Ok, I admit it, it was a bit ambitious for the timeframe! I spent several hours pouring over the paper maps and google maps looking at the days we had available, the distances we would need to travel each day to get to each stop off, the time we wanted in each place to make sure we did what we wanted to do, the plans soon got scaled down. Before we even got past planning stage Amsterdam was dropped (just being there on New Year’s eve would have blown the whole budget anyway!),as was Vienna. But, with a bit of jiggery pokery everything else seemed doable, so on the list it went.

Where we actually went

For logistical reasons only (i.e. the boys not being able to leave school before lunchtime) an overnight stop in Milan also got thrown into the mix. We saw nothing there except the inside of the hotel room and we did nothing as we arrived late and left early in the morning, but it would have been rude not to mention it!

The first half of the trip went swimmingly, despite the blanket of fog that descended on northern Europe. According to plan we managed Milan, Courgevaux, Crowborough, Middleburg, Eindhoven, Leipzig and Prague with relatively few hitches. We even discovered Colditz was not far off route, so we took a little detour to pay a visit.

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Scuppered by the weather!

And then, on our stopover in Prague the super winter weather front arrived. Temperatures dropping to -19C and unusually severe blizzards were forecast for the time we were supposed to be crossing the Brenner pass, through the Alps back to Italy – oh joy!

Although we’re quite used to cold and snow here in our Abruzzo winter, and we knew travelling through the Alps in winter meant we would face some snowy weather, driving in the forecast unusually severe, unstable conditions would just have been a crazy idea. It was a risk we weren’t prepared to take – getting stuck half way across the Alps didn’t appeal and staying North of the Alps wasn’t an option – nor was it in the budget, so the plan had to change!

Salzburg got pushed aside, as did Neuschwanstein to my complete dismay!! It was to be my trip highlight, the crescendo after several thousand miles on the road (no offense intended friends that we went to see). Instead we scoured the map for a more direct route to Italy and spent a night in Munich (which I loved!) and headed straight across the pass to Verona during a brief, clear weather window.

Did we stick to ‘The budget’?

Ok, so the budget was tight! From our research following various families that are off on their round the world adventures we plucked a reasonably informed figure of 100 euros a day for food, accommodation and travel costs. And to my amazement, with the much appreciated help of free accommodation, and very good food too, from friends here and there, we actually made it work until the final day. Rightly or wrongly, my thinking is if we can do this in northern Europe – undoubtedly one of the most expensive continents to travel round – we must be able to do it for a year around the world! Fingers crossed…

What did we learn?

Apart from all the cultural aspects and discovering of new places, we also learnt about travelling as a family, which is probably one of the most important things given our future plans. My biggest lesson, I think, was actually to build in a bit of down time for us – the temptation is to fill every day with either travelling and sightseeing or doing something, but after a couple of weeks we were ready for just a day of hanging out and not doing much. So, I guess this is a lesson that will be built into planning the big one!

I will be posting more about each individual place we visited, what we did, how we managed the budget and what we thought in the next few blogs…Happy Reading!

Potatoes taste better home grown.

 

We harvested these beauties in November, that should keep us going for a few months. Now we just have to convince the boys that, despite their protestations, they really do like potatoes! Baked, roasted, mashed, chipped we love them all ways.