A Roman Town in Provence


Recent television programmes plus the British Museum’s current Life and Death in Pompeii exhibition have brought renewed interest in the city that was destroyed in a cataclysmic eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in the year 79AD. What many people do not realise is that – albeit on a lesser scale – if you are walking in Provence you will have the opportunity to explore another Roman town that, like Pompeii, disappeared from sight for many centuries. That town was Glanum. It was lost not from a volcanic eruption, but from man-made circumstances. The town was abandoned in 260AD when its inhabitants founded the nearby city of St. Rémy. In fact, they used some of the stone from the deserted buildings of Glanum in building St. Rémy. The sophisticated drain and sewer system of Glanum that had been constructed by the Romans ceased to be maintained. Over the centuries the ruins eventually became flooded and covered with mud and sediment washed down from the surrounding hills in heavy rainstorms. Little was left to indicate that it had once been a thriving settlement.

Not until 1921 did the first systematic archaeological excavations begin – and they continue to this day. In the intervening years, the 5-acre site on which Glanum stood has been opened to the public. Sunflower’s two guidebooks Walk & Eat Avignon and Landscapes of Western Provence both contain tours or walks that visit the site. Among the ruins to be seen are the public baths and swimming pool. The huge stone slabs with which the Romans constructed the main street remain intact. Underneath the street ran a water channel to carry away rain water and sewage. Extensive information plaques can be found throughout the town directing the visitor to the principal buildings of interest including the council house, treasury, fountain and wells. One of the houses has a painted bedroom and there is also all that remains of the forum and theatre. Stone, engraved in Latin nearly two thousand years ago with beautiful classic lettering, will delight any designer or artist. It’s a fascinating glimpse of how thoroughly the Romans colonised this part of France.

Across the road from the site entrance is a magnificent triumphal arch in a remarkable state of preservation, (see photo above) together with an equally well-preserved and impressive three-storey mausoleum. These two buildings remain largely intact, in contrast to the ruined state of the remainder of the town. A visit is a must if you are staying in Avignon, Arles, Nîmes, Orange, or nearby. (Each of these towns also have Roman remains worth exploring, including some fine amphitheatres.) Whether you are walking or touring by car in Provence, do make a point of visiting Glanum. The setting, surrounded by trees, is delightful – a visit will be a highlight of your walking or touring holiday in Provence.

Above left: Part of the Roman town of Glanum. Right: the triumphal arch

Add an extra dimension to your holiday in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland


Above: Kleine Schedegg in the Bernese Oberland. The train to Jungfraujoch, with the hotel and mountain featured in the film North Face.

If you plan to enjoy a walking holiday in Switzerland you will need a reliable guidebook such as Landscapes of Lake Geneva and Western Switzerland, published by Sunflower Books. One of the regions covered by the book which you are sure to consider is the Bernese Oberland. For here is stunning mountain scenery, in summer months providing enjoyable walking amidst the mountains with no need for specialist equipment, since there are dozens of mountain paths easily covered by all ages and abilities. These are readily accessed using Switzerland’s superb public transport services which include lake steamers, mountain railways, funiculars and cable cars.

Walkers can holiday in resorts such as lakeside towns Thun, Interlaken or Spiez. Or maybe for a quiet getaway, a charming lakeside village like Merligen on Lake Thun, which offers many superb walks close at hand. And as with all the lakeside villages, it’s easy to take one of the frequent steamers to reach Interlaken, from where there is access to many mountain resorts such as Schynige Platte, Wengen or Kleine Scheidegg. If you holiday here, during your stay do make a point of using the amazing Jungfrau cog railway to travel far up inside the Eiger mountain to Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. You’ll ascend via a seven kilometre-long tunnel that took over ten years to excavate. It was finally completed in 1912, and you eventually exit onto a snow-covered plateau at a height of 3454 meters (about 11,300 feet).

During the journey through the depths of the mountain the train makes stops of a few minutes each at two stations far up inside the mountain. At each of these stations passengers are permitted to alight and view the snow-covered slopes using panoramic windows that look out from the sheer side of the Eiger. There’s a story attached to one of these viewpoints.

In 1936, when no-one had ever succeeded in reaching the summit of the Eiger via the north face, two German climbers Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz set out from Kleine Scheidegg in the valley below, aiming to be the first to make the ascent to the summit using this route. The true story is told in Philipp Stoelzl’s spectacular film North Face, which realistically portrays this breathtaking tale of human endurance. The film shows how, as the weather deteriorated, the climbers had to abandon their aim to reach the summit and make their way back down the mountain in appalling conditions, only to reach a point where a vital rope was missing and they could go no further. To attempt to rescue them, rescuers used one of the railway’s viewpoints to reach the precipitous slope where they were trapped.

If you are walking in Switzerland in the Bernese Oberland, be sure to see the film before you go. It’s readily available on DVD and viewing it in advance of your walking holiday in Switzerland will give you much additional pleasure when you travel. You’ll be able to gaze at the places where those events of over 75 years ago occurred and see the locations where the film was made, recalling the thrilling story it told.

Too hot to walk on Zakynthos?

Cameo Islet

The current heatwave on Zakynthos makes walking a little difficult at this time of year; however, several of the walks pass close to the sea, so, while you may not achieve the entire walk, sections of walks are ideal for finding swim spots far from the crowds, particularly if you are following one of the car tours around the island. For instance, the Gerakas to Daphni trail (walk 2 in Sunflower Books Complete guide to Zakynthos), runs along the shoreline, with reefs extending almost to Pelouso, which are rich in marine-life, including sea turtles.

The beach of Vrondonero (be warned it is unofficially nudist) on the Vrondonero walk (Walk 5) is also beautiful, with deep cool waters. Alternatively, the entire stretch of the Kalamaki Dunes to Agios Sostis (walks 6 and 7 — see the photograph above) are sandy beaches, with shallow waters that become very warm in the afternoons, if you prefer a warmer swim – at present there are many female sea turtles resting in the nearshore waters preparing to lay their first of second (every 15 days or so) of 120 eggs in the sand of the beaches. If you see a marine turtle in the sea, be respectful not to disturb them, the female turtles are conserving energy for reproduction, keep a distance of a few metres, and just enjoy watching these beautiful giants gracefully swim in the sea.

For stunning coastal scenery, you could drive, rather than walk, the Marathia coastal trail (walk 9) down to the rocky outcropof Point Marathia, where there is a sea arch and several caves worth exploring. You could also drive down to isolated Korakonisi Islet (walk 15), with deep cool waters and sea caves. Alternatively, if you have an offroad vehicle, you could detour off one of the car tours and drive along the first part of Cape Skinari Coastal Trail (walk 20) to point 7 which is a small isolated cove facing Kefalonia. Be certain to look out for sea turtles, monk seals and striped dolphins, along with numerous other forms of marine life. Whatever the weather this summer and autumn, you can still enjoy exploring Zakynthos!

Exploring the Costa Brava – News from our Author


I often get asked about the hinterland to the Costa Brava – what landscapes hide behind some of the rather unfortunate building that went on along the coast from the 1960s onwards. And the answer is always the same – within a short distance, this north-east corner of Catalonia has a wonderful variety of scenery on offer for those who want to walk in the Costa Brava and for those who prefer to tour the Costa Brava by car. For example, in my region, La Garrotxa, with its medieval bridges and Romanesque churches, crowned by the medieval village of Besalú (pictured), the walks I know and love and which I describe in Sunflower’s Landscapes of the Costa Brava and Barcelona guide are myriad, yet always offer me something new.

Continue reading

Things to do in Zakynthos (Zante)

zakynthos shipwreck

Many visitors packing the Sunflower Complete Guide to Zakynthos (Zante) will be visiting the island to go walking. But Gail Schofield, the author, has also described a wide selection of car tours covering all the beauty spots on this enchanting island – the third largest of the Ionian Islands.

One of the island’s must-see attractions is the world-famous Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach. Although the beach can be seen from a nearby cliff-top viewing area, it is inaccessible by land, so a boat trip is required to reach it and see the shipwreck up close. Rest assured there is no shortage of operators running excursions from various parts of Zakynthos!

Continue reading

Tenerife adopts EU standard waymarking

Tenerife waymarking

In the last couple of years signposting and waymarking of walks on Tenerife has been brought in line with EU standards. At the same time, quite a few new trails have been opened. There are

  • red/white-waymarked GR routes (‘grandes recorridos’ – long distance walks),
  • yellow/white-waymarked PR routes (‘pequeños recorridos’ – short trails of up to six hours), and
  • green/white-waymarked SL routes (‘senderos locales’ – local trails up to a maximum of 10km long).

So there was no question about what to do in Tenerife during our Christmas and New Year’s holidays! The Seventh edition of Sunflower’s Tenerife guide was due for an update. Meanwhile we’d been getting conflicting reports from users about walk numbering … and about new trails criss-crossing our routes.

Continue reading

The Orchid season in North Cyprus

orchid season north cyprus

Brian and Eileen Anderson, keen botanists and authors of several Sunflower guides, are soaking up the lovely weather and walking in North Cyprus, their second home. They write:

“If anything brings delight to the eyes of a botanist, it is that dark red terra-rossa soil formed from the weathering of limestone under a hot Mediterranean sun. It holds the promise of a rich array of orchids and wild flowers alike. North Cyprus could easily have invented terra-rossa. The craggy Kyrenia Mountains in North Cyprus, once the home of castles, kings and crusaders, offers 160kms of limestone habitats — at least half of it north facing. With all the right elements in place, it can hardly fail to produce an abundance of orchids and wild flowers.

Continue reading

Cider Houses of the Basque Country

Basque Cider House

The beautiful Basque coastal city of San Sebastián (or Donostia, as all the locals call it, in Basque) is rightly famous as a Mecca for foodies, boasting 7 Michelin-star restaurants, three of which have been awarded the coveted 3 stars – not bad for a city with a population of under 200,000.

Apart from the legendary pintxos (the often highly-elaborate Basque variant of the Spanish tapa), which are works of art in themselves, between mid-January and mid/late April is cider season. The highest concentration of sagardotegiak (cider houses) is to be found just south of the city around the town of Astigarraga.

Continue reading

Walking the Gecitkoy reservoir in Cyprus


Losing a good walk is irritating both for walkers and authors, but it does happen – all too frequently. Recently this was the case with one of our favourite North Cyprus walks, the circuit at Geçitköy Reservoir in our guide ‘Walk & Eat North Cyprus’.

For once the walk wasn’t lost because of landslips, resistance from landowners or the inconsiderate use of bulldozers – but for a reason which delights the residents … water!

Continue reading