This is an entirely Nepali run and based volunteer placement agency that ensures your pennies and helping hands go to those that most need them. Volunteer Society Nepal offers a huge range of volunteering placements from teaching monks English in the remote corners of the Himalayas to setting up teacher training programs in bustling Kathmandu. The placements all involve living with the local people, language lessons and cultural inductions whilst visiting some of the many world heritage sites in Kathmandu. If you fancy experiencing the wonders of Nepal, living with the locals and lending a hand to one of the poorest countries in the world then get involved.
Costa Rica is a favourite holiday destination for its active volcanoes, wildlife abundant rainforest and picture postcard coastline. Its capital, San Jose, is less celebrated but is unavoidable if you are flying in and out of the country. Hotel Aranjuez is the perfect way to begin and end your trip in stress free, simple style in San Jose. Costing the same as the hectic hostels in town this hotel is a beautiful rambling colonial house that offers lots of communal space, pleasant courtyards, beautiful clean rooms and an included buffet breakfast to die for. I would highly recommend it.
It’s so easy to look for the quickest route through somewhere familiar, but by ditching the car for a bike you have no choice but to go on the slow roads. This can shed a whole new light on familiar journeys leading you to small pockets of undiscovered rural life. This principle carried my fiancé and I with great ease and pleasure through 1600km of English and French countryside from London to The Pyrenees. By plotting a route that largely follows cycle paths and river valleys, it is possible to stay mostly on flat ground all the way from Dieppe to The Dordogne. The ease of the landscape means that you can take your time and by loading the bike with panniers and a tent perched on the back you have everything you need to be as flexible as you like. On this trip we cycled between 3 – 6 hours a day, stopping at villages that took our fancy for coffees, snacks and lunch, camping when we've had enough of being on the bike and stopping at some places for two nights to explore on foot when it suits. With the freedom and slower speed to that of a car or camper van you end up seeing much more of the country and can explore lesser trodden areas.
This has meant the trip has been rewarding not only from an exercise perspective, but we have found fascinating pockets of France that we didn't know were out there. From Dieppe we rode down the Avenue Verte for 40km South to Forges-les-Eaux, a disused railway track that has been paved for cyclists lined with big old crumbling farm houses and orchards. At Forges-les-Eaux we picked up small roads following the River Eure through riverside villages and woodland until we spied the 12th and 16th Century spires of Chartres Cathedral. After stopping to absorb some culture in Chartres, we spent a day cycling through France's industrial farming plains where the road cuts straight through crops that stretch as far as the eye can see. Hungry for prettier roads we joined the Loire river at Blois, whose castle is famed for spanning 4 centuries worth of architecture, and followed the river past perfectly manicured chateaus, vineyards and sunflowers all the way to Chinon. From the castles, wine and brocantes of Chinon we followed The Vienne River to the Medieval town Chauvigny and from there we weaved our way into the Dordogne, through back roads littered with rustic country mansions. Once we had mastered some of the hills of The Dordogne we followed the river from Ste Foy le Grande through to St Emillion, world heritage sight and particularly good feasting and wine territory. On leaving The Dordogne we continued further into the forests of Aquitaine to Bazas, a few thermal spa towns and then coast before it was time to climb up the breathtaking (and a little back breaking) foothills of The Pyrenees to St Jean Pied de Port.
Whilst these places could have easily been seen by car or camper van, being on a bike changes how you experience the country you are passing through. The lack of engine and main roads makes you considerably more at one with the surrounding environment, leaving birds and other wildlife undisturbed and in full view as you pedal pass. The lack of closed windows and doors also makes you an unintimidating and intriguing traveler, open to interactions with complete strangers wherever you are. Our holiday was littered with meeting new people: chatting with strangers wherever we are, receiving invitations for coffees, dinners and aperitifs.
Cycle routes and paths from England to France: thames-path.com/MU/avenueverte/discover/
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