Day pack hiking tours

This item appears on page 41 of the August 2017 issue.
Randy Poteet at the highest point of Inntravel's “The Provence Long Trail” itinerary in France. Photo by Sally Schoenberg

Kip Sturdevan of Encinitas, California, wrote (May ’17, pg. 17), “Several of our friends have taken walking tours on which the organizing companies had arranged accommodations and made sure the luggage was moved every day to the next night’s lodging, thus allowing the walkers to carry only day packs. Each day’s hike tends to vary from 7 to 14 miles.

I am 70 and my wife, 60, and I can’t get her to do anything too extreme, but hiking tours where you carry only day packs and spend the evening in comfort sound attractive. We would like to hear from anyone who has done this sort of trip. What firm do you recommend? What tips do you have for making sure an advertised trip is one that will fulfill its promise?”

Following are some of the letters we received on this topic, and more will be shared in the next two issues.

Day pack hiking tours are sometimes called inn-to-inn walks. I absolutely LOVE independent inn-to-inn walking. They are my favorite vacations, and I am always lobbying hard for another one. I don’t like guides, as they talk too much, and I love finding my own way using a map and the marks along a path. 

My husband, Randy Poteet, and I have made five inn-to-inn walks in the UK, several in France (the last one in the Dordogne, four years ago), two in Italy and one from Switzerland to Italy (less than two years ago). 

In the United Kingdom, it’s more usual for people to call it “walking,” “rambling” or “roaming,” not hiking. I think the word “hiking” must have some connotations that I don’t know about; on our first walk there 10 years ago, along Hadrian’s Wall, I kept saying “hiking” and saw a lot of smirks on the faces of my listeners. Now I habitually say “walking” instead of hiking.

Walking maps in the UK are excellent, with an amazing amount of detail. The same can be said for the guidebooks. The paths are very well marked, usually with tall fingerposts (though not always). I love walking quietly with my husband at our own pace, stopping when we’re interested and moving on when we’re ready. 

Usually, there are no buses or taxis involved. When I walked England’s more-than-100-mile Cotswold Way with my sister 10 years ago, we did not once get into a bus or a taxi. Twice we crossed busy roads, and once we walked over an M highway on an overpass. 

Shakespeare’s Way, from Stratford to London (146 miles), was entirely walked in 2014 — not a single taxi ride, exactly as William S. would have done it.

Randy and I walked the Kintyre Way in Scotland, a more demanding walk, in summer 2016. The days’ walks were longer, and it was wetter; we did need to use a taxi once. The marks along the path were blue-colored posts about 3 feet high. I was glad I had taken binoculars; I frequently had to use them to find the next mark. 

My husband, Randy Poteet, walking past a marking post on the Kintyre Way in Scotland. Photo by Sally Schoenberg

To plan our UK walking tours, we have always used the UK-based Contours (phone +44 1629 821900,, and I wholeheartedly recommend them. The hotels and B&Bs they have booked us in have been adjacent to the paths and have almost always been comfortable, and the hosts have usually been very helpful. 

Contours offers a variety of distances of walking tours, and the different tours vary a great deal. In the pre-trip literature, they detail the amount of elevation gain you will need to do on each leg of each walk. Just carefully read the descriptions and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding something that’s perfect for you.

In France and Italy, Randy and I have always used the British tour company Inntravel (Whitwell Grange, York, England, YO60 7JU, U.K.; phone +44 1653 617001,, which I also heartily recommend. I especially like their itineraries. I think they plan them to maximize exposure to historical places and ruins. The Roman bridges and roads are my favorite places to explore.

The paths in France were also very well marked and easy to follow, but we encountered fewer people, and villages seemed to be farther apart. The food was terrific. Each night, there was a gourmet dinner with a flask of wine in a beautiful village.

In France, the path markers don’t have distances to the next mark as indicated by an arrow; they have time periods, as in “1 h” (one hour) or “3.5 h.” That’s how much time it’s supposed to take for you to walk to that next mark. We’ve done four walks in France and have found that in every case, the time allotted for the distance was wildly optimistic.

On our walks in France, Inn­travel’s walking notes were very good, exact, but following them depended on knowing how many meters or kilometers you walked. Following them carefully using my Garmin Etrex GPS device, we not only found our way safely in good time but repeatedly helped other couples on our paths. We found that everyone overestimated the distance walked since the last known position. 

My GPS device is a Garmin Etrex that I bought two years ago. Today’s basic model, the Garmin Etrex 10, for $85, is the equivalent to what we have used for the majority of our walks in the past 10 years. I think the Etrex 10 is perfectly adequate if you are carrying a paper map and can find your place on it, given exact distance and direction traveled since the last known position. (Also available is the higher-end Garmin Etrex 20x, which sells for $184 on Amazon.)

My Garmin Etrex along with my Lowa boots and clean dry socks have been my most prized possessions on all of my walks.

In Italy, the paths were not very well marked. There, the marks were painted rectangles each about 4" by 3", similar to a tiny flag in two and sometimes three colors. Different paths had different colors, and, frequently, paths converged, overlapped and diverged. Often, there were too many marks and the colors were unreliable. 

The marks could be painted on anything semipermanent: rocks, bricks, stone walls, fence posts, gates, tree trunks, the corner of someone’s house…. Trying to find them was like an Easter egg hunt. Then there were places where they were so far apart, it was unnerving. 

We did that walk in 2010, and we would still be wandering around south of Bologna, on our way to Florence, if my Garmin Etrex hadn’t told me how far we had walked. 

On the other hand, when we did that walk, we had the Duomo of Florence in front of us for three days. When we first saw it, we were standing on a mountaintop; the Duomo was tiny and barely visible in the distance, but it was unmistakably the Duomo.

Over the last three days of walking, it was really fun watching it get gradually bigger until it was really big. So a walk in Italy, if that’s what interests you, may be worth the trouble of repeatedly finding the path.

Both Inntravel and Contours have telephone numbers you can call in an emergency, but we’ve never needed to call. We’ve always arrived in the afternoon at our inn, with our bags waiting for us. However, often the hotels and inns had stairs, no elevators, and we had to carry our bags up, ourselves. 

Americans new to walking long distances almost always overestimate how far they can walk each day. My advice is to schedule the first walk with no more than 10 miles per day. Less is probably better. 

Randy and I now can walk 15 miles a day, interspersed with a few 18-mile days, without a single blister or sore muscle. It’s worth the effort to get into shape for walking long distance before a trip. We hike frequently throughout our town and in the mountains. 

One more thing — Americans tend to carry all their things in a big heavy backpack. Locals use a baggage service (transport of baggage from inn to inn) and carry only a minimum on their backs. Contours, Inntravel and other walking-tour companies arrange for the baggage service. You can walk faster and farther, and it’s more pleasant, with only a small knapsack on your back.

Randy and I are both in our 60s. We’ve seen many walkers in the UK older than us. I would even walk by myself in the UK if I had to. I’ve got 20 more years of future inn-to-inn walking tours sloshing around in my head!

Sally Schoenberg
Bellingham, WA

Having been a South Africa-based subscriber to ITN for many years, I remain surprised that there has been so little mention of Alternative Travel Group, or ATG (274 Banbury Rd., Oxford, OX2 7DY, U.K.; phone +44 1865 315 678,, the “slack-packing” organisers based in Oxford, England. 

Having hiked 11 of their European routes since 2004, my wife and I, like many South Africans, rate them highly. Routes are selected for the quality of walking and for outstanding places of interest.

What’s included? The highest-quality walking itineraries, carefully chosen accommodation (a choice of standard or superior), breakfasts and some dinners, local route managers (who will brief you, move your luggage and provide local information and who can be contacted at any time) and comprehensive route books with detailed instructions, maps and practical information.

Our recommendation is always to take the standard-accommodation package because those hotels are usually more typical of the local culture and people. Superior accommodation is too much like luxury accommodation anywhere around the world (though we do often spoil ourselves by booking the luxury accommodation for our last stop and extending our stay there, depending on the local attractions).

Our favorite destination has been the Dordogne in France (ATG has two routes there), as much for the food and wine as for the scenery, but the highlight was probably our first hike with ATG on the Amalfi trail in Italy — magnificent scenery. 

In Italy, we have been to the Cévennes, Alsace, Provence and several other places, notably Tuscany. Distances are typically between 7 and 17 kilometres (4 to 10.5 miles) per day, and the degree of difficulty and the level of fitness required are indicated on the website. If you are “walking fit,” none of the trips are difficult.

ATG also has a “lodge,” Pieve a Castello, between Siena and Florence, where you stay with others together with a route manager and an expert on the theme of the week, which varies throughout the year (such as historical gardens, history or art). 

You stay at Pieve on an all-inclusive house-guest basis and walk out or drive out every day to different attractions. Lunchtime picnics during the outings and dinners in the castello are gourmet affairs, all based on interesting Italian foods and wines. A truly memorable experience in luxurious and historical accommodation!

ATG also offers guided tours (and cycle routes), but we prefer to walk alone. The standard of organisation is truly excellent, the experiences are memorable, the food and wines are always a highlight, and interacting with the locals is very special. 

As for the cost, our week at Pieve in 2016 cost £2,300 (near $2,900) per person, all inclusive. 

If you are a walker or hiker, check out ATG.

Alan Ramsay
Cape Town, South Africa

My husband and I have taken 12 walking trips, in England, France and Italy, with Alternative Travel Group (Oxford, England; They offer numerous trips — walking and biking, guided and independent — all over Europe and beyond. 

We highly recommend their independent (“Footloose”) walking trips for people who prefer to walk without a group. We also like that they allow you to add extra days along the walk.

ATG books hotels, transfers bags and provides excellent instructions/directions. They also can recommend and book restaurants for each night, if you so choose. 

We like the fact that, if a choice is available, ATG allows you to choose which category of hotel you prefer: basic (3-star) or luxury (4- or 5-star). 

They provide very detailed lists of places at which to eat lunch or to buy food for a picnic along the way. 

In the route booklet provided for each walk, you’re also given addresses and opening times of museums, churches, palaces, etc., and other places of interest. 

Every trip manager we have dealt with has been pleasant and helpful. 

We’ve never had an emergency, but we’ve been lost a couple of times (always our fault). We usually managed to correct ourselves but one time simply could not figure out where we had gone wrong. We called our trip manager and he offered to come and get us. We declined his generous offer but did have him talk us through our mistake. 

Our last trip with ATG was on the Gargano Peninsula in southern Italy in May 2014. We walked from Manfredonia to Peschici for a total of 54½ miles, mainly following along the Adriatic coast. This walk had spectacular views and wonderful food. 

About two weeks before we left for Ireland in September 2016, we decided that we wanted to add a walking trip to our itinerary. We contacted Hillwalk Tours (6 Galway Technology Centre, Mervue Business Park, Wellpark Rd., Galway, H91 A560, Ireland; phone 353 91 763994, The planning and booking took about a week. Everything worked smoothly.

Hillwalk Tours specializes in B&Bs, and the four we stayed in during our short, 3-day trip were delightful. We recommend Hillwalk.

Anyone interested in more information is welcome to contact me at

Vaneesa Little
Atlanta, GA

In summer 2016, my husband and I hiked the Wainwright Route across England, from St Bees on the west coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the east.

To reserve our accommodations and shuttle our luggage, we booked with Packhorse (1st Floor, Skywalk House, South Road, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, England, CA17 4SY, U.K.; phone +44 017683 71777, We recommend Packhorse wholeheartedly! 

We enjoyed a mix of lodging experiences — manor houses, farmhouses, B&Bs and hotels. Each establishment featured hot showers, beer on tap (in the bar or nearby), bountiful breakfasts, comfortable mattresses and scenic locations. 

The entire route, including two layover days, took 18 days to finish. For the coast-to-coast walking package, plus a guidebook and two maps, the two of us paid a total of £2,633 (near $3,406).

(We booked our train travel from London to St Bees and from Robin Hood’s Bay to London, plus accommodations at the Oxford Street hostel, on our own.)

We requested that the guidebooks and maps be mailed to us in the US prior to our trip. We scrutinized the “Coast to Coast Path” guidebook by Henry Stedman carefully to help plan clothing and gear. 

My husband and I, both 72, were delighted with the scenery in the national parks and with the splendid accommodations, the route finding and the physical challenges.

Anyone with questions about planning a walking trip with Packhorse can email me at

Diane Baker
Corona del Mar, CA