As writers who also create walking holidays, we want to know how the holidays we’ve worked on are received by those who use them. We also like to compare how other walking companies approach implementing walking holidays in the same areas. Part of this research involves checking customer reviews across various specialist websites. Most reviews for walking holidays tend to be favourable, but there can be niggles now and again. Sometimes negative feedback is justified. But sometimes it can be due to people’s lack of knowledge of the areas they have chosen to visit. Here are 10 common complaints about walking holidays in Europe.
Rural hotels are cold at night.
This is something we regularly heard in the Canary Islands, but it applies to many winter sun destinations in Europe. Because holidaymakers might be sunbathing at coastal level, some walkers expect similar temperatures in the hills. When the sun is out in January during the day, the weather might be perfect for walking. But at night, it plummets at higher altitudes. It’s obvious that temperatures drop the higher you are, but some walkers overlook this. Rural hotels in destinations like the Canaries and southern Portugal don’t tend to have central heating, so it’s sensible to pack for cool nights.
There’s a lack of places for lunch along the route.
This one baffles me. The best walking is invariably through rural/remote countryside; of course it’s likely there’s going to be a lack of places to buy lunch. Good walking companies advise walkers about this and often arrange packed lunches.
The route was more challenging than we’d been led to expect.
I believe walking companies can be guilty of understating difficulty levels on occasion in a bid to make their holidays more appealing to a wider range of people. I was on a podcast some years ago with representatives from various walking holiday companies. One really played down walking in the Canaries, referring to it as being ‘not serious walking’ which is nonsense, as anyone who’s walked on Gran Canaria or the western islands will testify. My advice would be to research the difficulty levels of walking in a specific destination using resources not in the business of selling holidays.
There was more pavement and tarmac than we would have liked.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this in relation to the Camino de Santiago, and I want to tear my hair out every time. It’s a pilgrimage, it’s not a scenic jaunt in the countryside, even if there are plenty of scenic aspects to the Camino. People walk the Camino for the experience of walking the Camino de Santiago. It is unique. What it isn’t is just another hike through lovely countryside with the same sort of ingredients people expect from walking holidays. It does have those as well, but that isn’t what defines it.
The directions promised great scenery, but the cloud rolled in every day. We didn’t see a decent view for the entire holiday.
The weather is the weather. Even locations known for being sunshine traps have cloudy days. It’s disappointing, but it’s just bad luck.
Restaurants did not take payment by card.
Much of Europe hasn’t gone as far down the road to being a cashless society as Britain and some other countries have. There are destinations where cash still rules, especially in rural locations. We’ve struggled to pay by card in decent-sized towns in Germany, in Greece, and in parts of Portugal where foreign cards simply weren’t accepted. The moral of this is always to carry or have access to cash.
English wasn’t widely spoken.
Anyone who wants to visit off the beaten track places should be prepared to find English isn’t widely spoken; that’s part of the adventure. We’ve created walking holidays in numerous countries where we couldn’t speak the language, and have successfully managed to communicate, one way or another, in every one of them. I’ve some magical memories of being shown around by someone whose words I couldn’t understand but whose enthusiasm conveyed the message they wanted to get across. The most authentic travel experiences involve leaving our comfort zones.
Described route timings were over optimistic.
I don’t know how other companies do it, but I know the brief we receive involves using Naismith’s Rule, a long-established formula which standardises calculated walking times. The fact is some people walk quicker than others, and some people walk slower. There is no ‘one ring to fit them all,’ so walking route estimations can only ever be guidelines. There must be some self-awareness applied here. We are aware we’re not slow, but neither do we behave as though we’re on a route march.
Restaurants were closed on a Monday.
Most good walking notes should advise people when restaurants are closed. But there are a couple of things regarding eating out which travellers should consider whether on a walking holiday or not. In most small places, many restaurants close on Mondays, and often Tuesdays as well. Sunday evening can also be dodgy as there are plenty of destinations where some restaurants close after popular Sunday lunch times. We always research which restaurants are open Sunday-Tuesday, and we also book them in advance where possible because we know that in places with foreign visitors, everyone will converge on the same restaurants.
Paths were scary, dangerous, we should have been warned.
Again, most good walking notes will advise of paths which some people might find vertiginous. But what is and isn’t considered vertiginous is difficult to pin down as it is such a personal thing. One person’s dangerous path is another’s walker’s highway. We hesitated at a sloping scree path in the Dachstein mountains, and while we were deciding if it was safe enough, a family with young children came skipping across, completely unconcerned.
We’re used to looking at feedback from the POV of people who write walking directions. Soon we’ll be customers ourselves, for the first time going on an itinerant walking holiday we haven’t put together and with a company we have no experience of. It’ll be interesting to evaluate how someone else does it.