I had always wanted to visit the Garfagnana and it seemed the perfect trip for my first walking holiday and first group holiday (I was a little apprehensive, not having been on one - and going on my own as well). I was not disappointed; the group was friendly and supportive, the scenery was stunning, our tour guide could not have been more encouraging, and I enjoyed my exposure to Italian culture and to that of this less visited part of Tuscany in particular. I am planning my next Exodus trip, although this one will be tough to match!
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Coming down after a morning's climb in the driving rain on the first day - the sun came out and I admired the scenery. I felt good having provided to myself that I could manage the climb after all - even in adverse conditions!
The impressive view on the climb to Monte Sumbra
Seeing wildlife in Orecchiella Natural Park
Enjoying a "day off" from the main walk and exploring Castelnuovo di Garfgagnana and walking around the area near Villetta and Braccicorti - especially the wine bar in Castelnuovo!
- What did you think of your group leader?
Our group leader, Sara Bull, offered the group - and certainly me - extraordinary support and encouragement. She never made me or anyone else feel awkward about our ability level or what we were able to manage each day, and dealt managing the day's walk with the different endurance and ability levels of the group with considerable skill. Her manner and support made all the difference to me during the trip - there were several times where i was worried about how I would manage, or was intimidated when dealing with my fear about heights or falling, and she gave me enough support to get through those times, but helped me realise i could manage those fears and trust my judgment, and learn for my experiences going forward.
Sara also handled some quite stressful situations during the week incredibly well - this also made me more adventurous, as I was assured that I was being guided by someone with the experience and judgment to ensure I would be all right as i explored my own personal limits--I don't think i would have found out how much I could do without that confidence.
She was also quite a lot of fun to talk to - great sense of humour and fantastic anecdotes about all her past experiences at Braccicorti and elsewhere!
Sara's encouragement made the trip particularly special and is one of the reasons i have been encouraged to book another walking holiday this year. I would not hesitate to go on any holiday Sara was leading in future and hope I will get the opportunity.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
The trip really is Moderate. You will definitely be out for 7-8 hours a day, minimum (unless your group is made up of entirely fast walkers) - with a lunch break and the odd break here and there - and there is a lot of climbing up and down involved with most of the walks. Go into this with your eyes open; some of the group were a little surprised by the length and difficulty of the walks (I think I expected them to be a little shorter myself, but that is dependent on a lot of factors).
it is, however, the best way to see the Garfagnana that there is - and if you do need a day off, you can skip any of the walks if you choose and stay at Braccicorti or take a day trip to nearby towns, as i did.
Bring walking sticks - I was a convert that week (Sara loaned me some spares) and think I would have avoided a calf injury if I had used them more. also ensure you bring waterproofs!
we also were accompanied by two dogs who live at Braccicorti - Elvis and Dora. I think they added immeasurably to the experience (they accompanied us on most of our walks) but if you don't like dogs, realise they come as part of the package. that being said - they are not in any way aggressive or badly behaved and genuinely like people and are quite protective of "the group".
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
I think the best thing about this trip is that you get so many wonderful elements - a wonderful place to stay (Braccicorti) full of character with a beautiful setting and fantastic home cooked food, unspoilt and gorgeous scenery that would be difficult to see on your own and with few other tourists, and a good dose of Italian culture a bit more off the beaten track. I also think if my group is anything to go by, you will meet a lot of wonderful people, too. Enjoy all of it! it's really a special trip - it will be difficult to top it. and if you're not sure about going on a group holiday or going on your own - go for it. I'm so glad I did -