Author Archives: Sunflower Books

Exploring the Azores


Image: Corvo from the ferry crossing from Flores

We’ve been receiving daily reports for the update service from a walker in the Azores. His report on his visit to Corvo from Flores (Walk 30) makes great reading for seafarers and walkers alike – how we would have loved to be there with him!

“There seemed to be just two options available when we arrived in Santa Cruz port this morning: the Atlantico line ferry, which normally must be booked in advance, and the more adventurous open dinghy service, which gets up close to the spectacular northeast coast of Flores, including dodging between stacks and entering a sea cave. Price of both is 30 euros per person return.

Those taking the Atlantico ferry set off at 9:30 and headed straight for Corvo, where there was no minibus waiting for them! We set off after 10 and when we eventually hit the open sea, I got drenched, but then I had managed to select the worst possible place to sit. After an interminable white knuckle roller coaster ride in the heavy swell, we arrived in Vila Nova to find a minibus waiting, still 5 euros to the caldeira. We passed the three Atlantico walkers before long and at the end of the road, most of the passengers, deterred by a cold wind, went back down after taking a few snaps.

Three people headed for the mast, but we headed down into the caldeira on the official route PRC2COR. The estimated time for the complete walk: down, around two lakes and back up is 2.5 hours, but we had less than 3 hours to be back at the boat, so a little improvisation had to be employed. We were soon rewarded by sunshine and after a very brisk hike around the nearest lake and back up, I’d managed to dry out my underpants. We sauntered back down to the port in high spirits and bright sunshine with 20 minutes to spare.

On the way back to Flores the sea was relatively calm and we took a more direct route, stopping only when we encountered a small pod of dolphins : delightful as always.”

Route closures on Tenerife!

Tenerife route closures

We’ve just received the following update from a user regarding Tenerife (14/03/2015).

There have been serious rock falls in the upper Orotava Valley affecting Walks 5 and 6.

Walk 6 (‘Above Los Organos’) is closed by a substantial wooden barrier at the 45 minute-point (the “important junction”). Unfortunately we saw no indication at the start of the walk that anything was amiss, so we didn’t find out until we had climbed to this junction and had to come back down again.

Walk 5 was closed at the Choza Pedro Gil, by tape and “keep out” notices. This is a popular walk from La Caldera, and walkers were ignoring the closure. There is plenty of debris (and larger rocks) on the track, and the hillside above the Casa del Agua and approaching Llano de los Corrales looks very unstable and ready to fall. It would be highly dangerous in wet weather. There is a further official closure notice beyond El Topo.

There was no indication as to how long these closures would last, but if the whole hillside requires stabilizing it could be some time.

Sunflower’s been trolled!

Just in time for the new year, Sunflower has ‘arrived’. We’ve joined the ranks of the famous, with our very own troll!

Over the Christmas holidays, the troll (called ‘European Traveller’) posted identical reviews of almost all our titles on Amazon – proving, if nothing else, that he/she is even-handed and a prodigious hiker!

Each ‘review’ has 2 stars, is headed ‘beware good reviews’, and reads, ‘If you go to the publisher’s website, Sunflower Books, you will find that you can get their books for free if you post a 5 star review on Amazon. So all Sunflower Books get great Amazon reviews because if you give them a good, 5 star, review you get a free guide book.’

So in addition to possibly not having read or used the actual book, the troll hasn’t even read our website, which reads (ever since we started this scheme): A free pdf Sunflower guide… in exchange for a few minutes of your time!

Have you used any of our guides while on holiday? And are you a customer of If so, you’ll know that product reviews are a key part of the Amazon service and of great importance to buyers. Sunflower Books is keen to encourage users of the Landscapes series, the Walk & Eat series and the Sunflower Complete series, to submit more reviews to (We don’t mind whether they are complimentary or critical — it’s individuals’ viewpoints that trigger discussion and more reviews.)

The troll is probably doing us a favour by calling attention to the free book offer, which many people may not even see.

The offer on our website makes clear why we run this system: back when we first started publishing, travel guides were widely reviewed in the press. (The Sunday Times gave us an ‘Oscar’ for Madeira and Mallorca and called our books the ‘little blue bibles’.) But for many years guides are no longer even mentioned, no less reviewed, in most travel articles. So how do you know which book might suit you personally, and why?

In fact only a very small percentage of the reviews on Amazon come from those taking up the offer. (And, much to our amusement, those who do take it up bend over backwards to be impartial – typically giving only a 4-star review to a book which they then go on to rave about!)

Sunflower were the first to publish walking guides for southern Europe and the first to offer an Update service. Then we were the first to do something positive to encourage reviews on Amazon.

All our guides are updated regularly. We wish you happy hiking for many years to come!

Discovering the flysch in the Basque Country

Flysch Basque Country

When you are walking in the Basque Country, don’t miss the 8 km-long coastal stretch between the towns of Deba and Zumaia in the province of Gipuzkoa. Zumaia is visited in my Sunflower guide, Basque Country car tours and walks (part of the Landscapes Series).

The coast here reveals some extraordinary rock formations that are now protected as part of the Basque Coast Geopark, just 30 minutes by car from Donostia-San Sebastián and a little under an hour from Bilbao. The most striking formations are made of what is known as the flysch – a sequence of sedimentary rocks that make up one of the longest continuous rock strata in the world, formed nearly 100 million years ago by the crashing of waves against the cliffs and creating a platform of alternate hard layers of limestone and sandstone, and soft layers of clay and loam.

The effect, especially at low tide, is stunning. Park in the bustling, attractive fishing port of Zumaia (Car tour 1 in Basque Country car tours and walks), then start walking from the chapel of San Telmo on the western side of town, perched precariously right on the clifftops above the beach of Itzurun. From the chapel some of the best parts of the flysch can be seen by following the GR121 (red and white waymarking, part of the vuelta de Gipuzkoa route) just 10 to 15 minutes in the direction of Deba.

FlyschHowever, it is worth continuing along the same coastal footpath for about an hour to the most spectacular section of coast around Sakoneta, which forms Europe’s most extensive abrasion platform, that can be defined as a sloping or nearly flat bedrock surface that extends out from a sea cliff under shallow water.

At low tide, the Sakoneta coastal area reveals a huge variety of wildlife such as cucumbers, starfish and sea slugs, along with many varieties of sea anemone. The platform has been carved over millions of years by the sea to create wavy, almost wafer-like sheets of bedrock of great beauty. Until recently this area was hardly known outside the province but with the creation of the geopark, this is likely to change and so now is the perfect time to explore it.

The Algorri Interpretation Centre in Zumaia is a good place to learn more about the flysch, and where guided walks to the most spectacular sections of the coast around Sakoneta and beyond can also be arranged. A new feature here are the 3-hour boat trips from Zumaia along the coast westwards via Deba to Mutriku, which enables the best of the entire geopark to be viewed from the sea. These trips are highly recommended and can be booked before either via the geopark website itself or through one of the local tourist offices in any of the three towns mentioned above.

And of course this being the Basque Country, you are never far from mouth-watering pintxos (the Basque version of the tapa) at bars in all the towns and villages along the coast, washed down by the local txakoli white wine – to help recharge the batteries after an exploration of the flysch route!

A first-time visitor’s observations of Madeira…

Travel in Style Madeira

Both Landscapes of Madeira and Walk & Eat Madeira ran out of stock in September. Rather than reprint, we decided to do new editions of both, so they would be bang up to date. Although they will be officially published on 1 January 2015, copies will be available from 5 December. A visitor new to the island joined the Sunflower team walking in Madeira for our September updating trip. Here are a few of his random observations…


Forest Fire: The pines are scorched and smashed – discarded remnants of their lush former selves, gaunt sentinels in line up the hillside. The young eucalypts, arrogant usurpers, take over the vacant niche. Human beings follow much the same pattern – but not, apparently, in Madeira. The elderly still have their place – watching the world – and the walkers – go by … until it’s time to till the soil or get the family meal or say a prayer.

The Pinnacle: It stood out against the brooding sky and the crashing waves, an oasis of calm as the road traffic sped by, ignoring it. The Madeirans – of course – carved a chapel into it.

madeira landscapes

The Old Fort: Excavating the river mouth – to protect against future mudslides – they came across the foundations of an old fort. Clearly, in the recent washout, Mother Nature had repeated herself. She deserves the respect she is now being given.

The View: The dome of the NATO radar base, perched on the top, disturbs the view for nobody. It’s always shrouded in mist. I wish I could say the same for the wind farm.

The Rockfall: I could have walked around it or through it but – impressive as I imagined it to be, with thumping great boulders among the smaller rocks and the bits and pieces, I felt it wiser to stay in safer territory – as the barrier clearly indicated to road traffic… If another fall like that one landed on me, it would be likely to ruin my entire day.

The Levadas: Walking along the flat clay, cooled by the flowing stream, it’s easy to forget the working conditions of the men who built the first ones… and the price many of them paid to give the land its irrigation and me my comfort and pleasure.

Belladonnas: The pink flowers – growing at between 300m and 900m above sea level – weave a loving band around Madeira’s mountains at this time of year.

The Fajã: The only ways of getting there are by sea or by a lift down the cliff… – but supposing we need to get back in a hurry!


Language: The volley between two Madeirans, engrossed in their own firmly held convictions as they walked past us, left my Portuguese-speaking companion none the wiser. She hadn’t understood a word… But she guessed it was about football. – Evidently it always is.

Floral Foresters: The first thing they did after completing the concrete road was to plant agapanthus right along both sides of it. They know how to live in beautiful surroundings. The sweet chestnut trees were there already. That helps.

Sugar: Why would a barman grow his own sugar cane? – Of course… He makes his own firewater!

The Business Park: Why did they put it all the way up there? Anything to be stored needs to be taken all the way up and then brought all the way down – and the workers would have to make the same journey. No wonder it’s empty.

Travel in Style:The sledge runs were made for logs to be taken down the mountain. Nowadays they transport no greater a burden than tourists – but that’s burden enough – and the drivers are probably better paid than they used to be (main picture above).


Lunch: On two consecutive days – lunch to die for and lunch to die from. But, still, it’s a good arrangement: they do the walking, I do the eating.

Espada: I’ve seen some ugly fish in my time, John Dory – St. Peter fish in southern Europe – for one. Espada in Madeira runs it a close second. They both taste amazing.

madeira food

Bananas: Small, curvy and delicious… That’s what bananas should be like. The Madeirans got them right. European Union marketing regulations – as always – got them wrong when they forbade them.

Espetada: How on earth did they discover that laurel leaves bring out the taste? And how can I possibly eat half a heffer? … Ah … I can.

Stuffed Aubergine: What an experience! A culinary feast! Such basic ingredients – but what a chef!

Zakynthos (Zante) is an ideal location for spotting reptiles…

four line snake

Zakynthos (Zante) is an ideal location for spotting reptiles because the warm climate encourages them to emerge from the vegetation and bask in the sunlight, a bit like us holidaymakers! In my book Zakynthos, A Complete Guide with Walks, I tell you the best places to see certain species of snakes, lizards and tortoises (and of course sea turtles, the subject of the first article of this series).

I have frequently seen the Hermann’s tortoise at Gerakas (Walk 1-2) and Vrondonero (Walk 7). Lake Keri (Walk 9) is great for spotting terrapins (although several species are introduced and invasive). And the island’s sinuous ancient olive trees make particularly ideal sites for Balkan whip lizards to bask on sunlit patches of bark, while geckos emerge from their nooks and crannies to hunt insects at night (at twilight both compete in the hunting!).

Zakynthos also has several species of snakes, none of which are dangerous (although you may need antihistamine if bitten). Those most frequently seen are the four-line snake and the Montpellier, both of which can be spotted on most walks on Zakynthos. Here again, the ancient olive trees are an ideal site for four-line snakes: they take advantage of branches with holes, to get a good look at passing walkers! (Can you spot the head and body of the snake in this photograph, taken on Walk 6?)

When looking for snakes, just tread lightly and keep looking, particularly in the undergrowth and along the old stone walls, as well as up in trees. The cat snake (or so-called ‘holy snake’ because of the cross mark on its head) may be spotted on mountain walks, particularly around Exo Chora and Kampi (Walks 17 and 18). The migration of this snake coincides with the Name Day of the Patron Saint in Kefalonia, where it is placed on the icons.

If you are unlucky and don’t spot any reptiles on the walks, then take a break and enjoy an evening meal at one of the restaurants in the Sunflower Zakynthos guide, and keep your eye on the walls and lamps: you are bound to spot the odd gecko hunting for insects attracted to the lights or the sun-warmed walls!

Photograph: Four-line snake on an ancient olive tree, seen on Walk 6. Note its head viewing the scenery from a hole in the branch! Photo: Martin K S Lilley.

Zakynthos waters inspire vibrant turquise ceramics

zakynthos / zante wildlife

A friend once asked why the ceramicists on Zakynthos use such vibrant turquoise colours. I believe that it is to do with the clarity of the island’s marine waters. In my book Zakynthos, A Complete Guide with Walks, I describe alternative routes for every walk on Zakynthos, often directing walkers to secret nooks and crannies along the coast to view the marine life and perhaps have a dip – hopefully, with a snorkel and mask to truly appreciate the underwater beauty.

The waters of Zakynthos are as clear as an aquarium most of the year, so it’s possible to see many marine plants and animals just by walking beside village ports like Agios Sostis (Walk 8) and Lake Keri (Walk 9). You may easily glimpse shoals of fish of various sizes, colourful crabs, rays, urchins, starfish, octopuses and anemones – without even getting wet!

For outstanding snorkelling, there are shallow reefs along the shoreline from Gerakas to Daphni (Walks 1-3), with amazing rock forms, a vast array of algae and fish species, dogfish, seabass and, often, sea turtles. If you’re a strong swimmer, then swim around Kentinaria (Walk 13, from point B on the map): the waters on the ocean side of the islet are deep, while the sheltered side is shallow with many fish species. I missed an encounter with a monk seal while swimming here in 2010, so keep your eyes peeled. Another amazing swim spot is Korakonisi (Walk 16), where, again, both deep and shallow waters may be found. Many locals come here to collect natural sea salt and cockles.

Even along the sandy seabed stretch of Laganas and Kalamaki (Walks 6 and 7), you will find isolated rocks supporting various fish species. In places, the fish provide an important service for sea turtles, cleaning the carapaces and skin of algae!

Particularly in spring, many jellyfish, usually Pelagia, along with by-the-wind-sailor are washed into Laganas Bay. Avoid Pelagia: they have long painful stinging tentacles. But you might also see the 40cm-long octopus jellyfish (Rhizostoma): it doesn’t have stinging tentacles and it’s a beautiful pale purple/pink jellyfish that has many small fish swimming amongst its lobes.

If you visit Zakynthos during winter and spring, be sure to walk along Laganas/Kalamaki beach (Walk 7), where a huge variety of seashells of all shapes and sizes are washed up in the winter storms.

Finally, if you have the chance to go on a boat trip around the island, or travel across to Kefalonia, you are likely to see pods of striped dolphins, so keep your eyes peeled. Sperm whales have been documented migrating past Zakynthos, but are located much further offshore!

Photograph: The waters surrounding Zakynthos are as clear as those in an aquarium

Walking in the Eastern Pyrenees and foothills

eastern pyrenees

Sunflower’s guide Landscapes of the Pyrenees is intended for people who want an introductory overall view of the range. The ideal way to use it is to tour the Pyrenees by car, stopping for walks en route. Naturally, covering such a large area, there isn’t going to be a heavy concentration of walks around any single base.

So if you’re heading to a villa or hotel near the Eastern Pyrenees this autumn and planning to stay put for a week or two, be sure to pack a copy of Landscapes of the Costa Brava and Barcelona in addition to Landscapes of the Pyrenees.

You will then have a choice of over 50 walks on the coast and in the hinterland. From the Pyrenees guide there will be nine walks (with variations) within a 50-mile radius of the French coast around Collioure. The Costa Brava guide describes 23 long walks (with variations) and 18 shorter walks especially suitable for motorists between Collioure and Barcelona.

The Sunflower team have regularly ‘road-and-footpath-tested’ both guides in autumn – when the air is sparkling and the temperatures perfect for hiking. Two of our favourite places are the volcanic Garroxta region and the Serra del Cadí not far to the west.

Photo: Pedraforca – the ‘forked rock’ – landmark of the Serra del Cadí

Walking in Madeira: Path Collapse on PR1

madeira steps

steps 2Madeira’s top walk (thus ‘PR1’) is the traverse from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. There are two routes: the westerly trail, which passes through tunnels, and a more strenuous easterly path that climbs over the Torres peaks. The two routes join at a saddle and go on to Ruivo, the island’s highest summit.

Last year the path from the saddle fell away in storms; there has been quite a lot of correspondence about developments in Sunflower’s Walking in Madeira Update Service for Landscapes of Madeira. We learned that an alternative ‘detour’ route had opened in April but that it was being avoided by some local walking tour operators who felt that it had been built too hastily.

So we went to investigate for ourselves prior to publication of a new 12th edition of Landscapes of Madeira in 2015. We completed the traverse with no problems, but most of the people walking with us at the end of August turned back without tackling the ladders and steps involved in the new path. Here is a preview of what to expect! …What to expect, that is, if this ‘detour’ path survives the coming winter’s storms. In the meantime, it is likely that the original path will be reinstated, although there was no sign of any work on it in summer 2014.

Provence by rail all year round!


Eurostar have recently announced a 6h 15min service from London St Pancreas to Marseille to run all year round. The train will only make two stops, at Lyon and Avignon. So it will only take something under 6h from London to Avignon, without the hassle of security queues and airport transfers.

The service will start on May 1st 2015 – just perfect for walking in Provence before the weather gets too hot.

Sunflower’s guide Walk and Eat around Avignon is perfect for those using public transport to get to walks in Provence – not just Avignon, but other key towns in the area like Arles, Nîmes, St-Rémy and Gordes. As well as the towns, the book also describes walks focussing on well-known beauty spots like the Pont du Gard and Les Baux de Provence.

But for those of you who like to drive, why not take the train all the way to Marseille – from where it’s just a short straightforward drive to Aix-en-Provence, the meeting point for Sunflowers two ‘Landscapes’ guides to Provence. From Aix you could either drive east with our guide Eastern Provence: Côte d’Azur to the Alps or head west with Languedoc-Roussillon and Western Provence. Each guide has about a dozen car tours, with plenty of picnic spots and walks en route.

Since walking in Provence is enjoyable in all seasons, the new Eurostar year-round service to Avignon and Marseille will be a real boon.

Photo: crèche at Avignon’s cathedral: our authors like to visit Provence at Christmas