GOING TO EXTREMES: Reinventing the European Walking Holiday at the Bottom of the World


An Interview with Michael and Betsy West of The Wayfarers.

Taking inspiration from his passion for the English countryside - its history, environment and people - in 1984, Englishman Michael West co-founded The Wayfarers, a Britain based company providing custom crafted walking holidays and tours. 

Today, the company hosts visitors in some of the world’s most scenic landscapes, where they offer an insider’s view of local life and lore, dine at fine inns and local restaurants, and make cultural interactions— with native artists, musicians, artisans, naturalists, vintners and farmers, for example—an important part of the experience.

Earlier this year Michael and Betsy West traveled to Argentina and Chile seeking the perfect itinerary for the Wayfarers’ first foray into South America. The result? A new 2013 Patagonia walk

I caught up with the Wests recently to get the inside scoop on the upcoming adventure.

Why Patagonia?  

In the words of Bruce Chatwin:  “Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origin” It is the ultimate wayfaring destination. 

 

Tell us a bit about your recent exploratory trip there.

We rented a car in El Calafate in order to be able to cover the distances in the time we had to research and walk the trip. It was a little bit like ‘Mad Max’ because petrol stations are few and far between and the fuel they have is scarce and subject to rationing depending on when stations expect their next delivery. So we had to strategically plan at every stage! 

 

Any surprises along the way?

The weather is pretty unpredictable - you can truly expect some days to present all four seasons.  And the wind!  From October to March the currents of the Pacific cause a wind to blow across the land - and some days it is very strong.  It adds to the feeling of being at the end of the world, away from civilization. 

 

Who would love this walk?  

Anyone who loves the idea of wide-open spaces, with a sense of adventure. Anyone with an glimmer of interest in photography will be spoiled for choice of scenic views. The walking is rewarded by unique vistas of endless prairies, up close views of glaciers beautifully framed in their surroundings and with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Travelers should be relatively fit to enjoy this walk - some of the trails are very remote.

 

What sort of unique experiences do you have in store 

Patagonia is a vast region - the size of France and Spain combined - and one can spend many hours traveling between the areas best suited for walking. We have created a varied itinerary that is very focused on walking in two of the most beautiful areas of this large land - El Chalten and El Calafate - and so we are able to maximize time spent on the trail and minimize time spent in a bus. 

We will walk in the footsteps of the early settlers, we will meet the gauchos who still work the land on remote ranches and we will cruise to almost touching distance of the great Perito Moreno glacier. We will see guanacos and hares and condors and flamingos, maybe if we are lucky even a puma. We will have the chance to eat Lemon Pie in the tavern (La Leona) where Butch Cassidy stayed! We have balanced the more strenuous walking days by sprinkling in boat rides, a trip to a glacier museum and a ranch visit. 

 

What cozy launch pads have you selected as special places to stay? 

El Calafate: Hotel Kau Yatun (1 night)

Located on one of the area’s original estancias and six blocks from downtown El Calafate, Kau Yatun provides the  perfect launching pad for our Patagonian adventure. Rooms overlook the estancia and all are equipped with King size beds, Wi-Fi, toiletries, safes, hair dryers and heating with individual control.

North of El Chalten, Hosteria El Pilar (3 nights)

Built as an homage to the houses of early British settlers, the remote hosteria on the banks of the De las Vueltas Rivas has 10 comfortable rooms. We will have exclusive use of the inn and enjoy its remote surroundings with views of Mt Fitz Roy and convenient location at the head of several trails. The inn has the ambience of a private country house, and all rooms have private bathrooms, heating and stunning mountain views. The restaurant at El Pilar is known for its fantastic food!

Hotel Eolo - truly a sanctuary of tranquility (4 nights)

Thirty minutes away from El Calafate, on the way to Perito Moreno Glacier, Eolo is strategically located in La Anita Valley, on the eastern side of Mount Frías. It stretches over a 3,000 hectare property. From Eolo’s ample and comfortable facilities, which evoke ancient Patagonian “estancias”, one can observe Lago Argentino towards the north, La Anita Valley towards the east, and the Torres del Paine and the Rico branch of the same lake towards the south. The place is unique.

All the rooms in this Relais and Chateaux property are positioned with exceptional views. Facilities include the main living room, overlooking La Anita Valley, bar and restaurant overlooking Lago Argentino, library overlooking Torres del Paine, TV room (purposely the only TV in the hotel) overlooking Lago Argentino, indoor swimming pool and sauna. Guest accommodations are large and have every conceivable comfort including WiFi and hairdryers. The restaurant serves superb cuisine and its barbeque nights are particularly special.

 

Any recommendations for pre or post walk experiences? 

We highly recommend three possible trip extensions which we have researched and that fit well on either end of The Wayfarers itinerary.

A Buenos Aires City Stay (3 nights) - including airport transfers, private guided city tour, tango show, boutique hotel accommodations in the fashionable Palermo District. 

Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia (3-5 nights). This all inclusive program at the luxurious Patagonia Camp features hikes every day in the Torres del Paine Park, transfers to and from either El Calafate, Argentina or Puntas Arenas, Chile.  

Our Estancia La Cinacina(2-3 nights) extension, located 70 km/ 43 miles from Buenos Aires and five blocks from the center of the sleepy colonial town of San Antonio de Areco, takes place at the home of gaucho writer Ricardo Güiraldes.

And for travelers who have a little more time, there are flights from El Calafate (where our itinerary begins and ends) to Ushuaia and Tierre del Fuego and we would be happy to give some guidance for this area as well.

For additional information and bookings, visit www.TheWayfarers.com/Patagonia

 

About The Wayfarers

Named by National Geographic Traveler as purveyor of one of the “50 Tours of a Lifetime,” and by National Geographic Adventure as one of the “Best Hiking Companies,” The Wayfarers is a Britain based company that provides custom crafted, small group walking holidays and tours in 40 destinations around the world. Entering its twenty-ninth season in 2013, The Wayfarers offers distinctive all-inclusive vacations for walking enthusiasts in some of the world’s most scenic landscapes. The privately held, global company with offices in the U.K., North America and Australia, specializes in bringing culturally curious and environmentally respectful travelers together. For more information, please visit www.TheWayfarers.com

Photos and illustrations courtesy The Wayfarers.


About Ellen Barone: Consumer travel expert Ellen Barone is the founder and publisher of EllenBarone.com and YourLifeIsATrip.com. Learn more here and connect on Twitter at,FacebookGoogle+ and LinkedIn

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".