How is your trip rated: Difficulty, Comfort, Independence

About the “Level” rating system we employ

All of our tours are rated on a scale of 1-5. A rating of 1 is easiest and 5 is most challenging. The system is simple and not region specific but instead, the ratings are based on all of our tours across the board. So, a level 2 in Italy will closely correspond to a level 2 in France. We do not use a scientific formula to arrive at the rating number for a tour and sometimes we often rate a tour as 1-2 or 2-3. This indicates that it is slightly more challenging than the lower number but not so hard as the higher number. We arrive at these ratings based purely on our experience and the experience of our local team who help us develop our routes and itineraries. Below is a basic overview of the rating levels we employ, along with a description of any health suggestions or requirements that go along with each level. You know your ability best and need to use this information to judge if a tour is the right fit for you. However, you can always ASK US for an opinion too.

Degree of Difficulty Rating

Level 1 [All Ages] – typically flat terrain, no notable hills or anything of steep gradient, and low kilometer count by comparison to other tours. These are the easiest trips available and we don’t have too many that rate here. This rating could be a good fit for a family with young children, however some level 2 trips can be modified for families with kids.

  • Cycling time: 20km or less per day
  • Hiking time: less than 3 hours and under 8km per day
  • Fitness needed: These tours can be completed by persons that exercise regularly by elevating the heart rate over sustained periods of time. Any number of exercises such as running, swimming, stairmaster, etc., meet this requirement. The best training of course, is cycling or walking (depending on your tour type) and you should work in these activities no less than 2-3 times per week.

Level 2 [Moderate] – rolling countryside, occasional hills, possible short gradients of low percents but with lower mileage. These are available to most people of some experience and average fitness who are working out regularly.

  • Cycling time: 20-45km per day
  • Hiking time: up to 12km or 3-5 hours per day
  • Fitness needed: As in level 1, you should be working out regularly. Cyclists should be out 2-3 times per week striving for at least 1-2 hours in the saddle (or more on weekends,) and riding 15-30 miles per ride. Walkers/hikers should be out for at least 2-3 hours at least 2 times per week.

Level 3 [Fit] – more consistent rolling countryside, some notable hills with longer distance rides or hikes.

  • Cycling time: 45-60km+ per day
  • Hiking time: 12-20km+ & 4-6 hours per day
  • Fitness needed: Travelers pursuing a tour at this level should be cycling at least 80-100 miles per week, including hill climbing and/or combining other workout activities. Walkers/hikers should be out for at least 3 hours, at least 2 times per week, carrying a small backpack with water.

Level 4 [Challenging]* – rolling to hilly countryside with notable grades and long days in the saddle. Trips like this may not have every day of the same degree of difficulty, to allow for some rest in between. These trips are for stronger cyclists and walkers.

  • Cycling time: 50-70km+per day, with notable elevation gain riding
  • Hiking time: 5-6+ hours, 15-20km+ per day, with notable elevation gain over rocky or uneven terrain
  • Fitness needed: Travelers pursuing a tour at this level should be cycling 150+ miles per week with hills and sustained climbs or higher heart rate pace. Walkers/hikers should be training with packs and long distance hikes between 18-22 km, more than 1 time per week.

Level 5 [Extreme]* – The most challenging trips we program for experienced and strong travelers, as these tours include technical aspects of hiking and riding on unusual surfaces.

  • Cycling time: Road tours could go 100km+ per day or include famous and difficult climbs like Alpe d’Huez in France.
  • Hiking time: High mountain routes where elevation can be impactful. Treks on these tours can be above 10,000 ft or 3,000 meters. This is not mountaineering however.
  • Fitness needed: Cyclists should be riding 10-12 hours per week with sustained climbing and descending as part of the ride. Walkers and hikers need to be covering 20+ km per day at higher elevations and carrying packs of 22 lbs and higher (10k).

*We recommend that persons who are over 55 and new to the activity you intend to engage in, visit a doctor first to get permission to train and take such a vacation. Persons planning Level 4 and 5 tours should also consider a personal trainer or certified training plan to best prepare. We believe these recommendations will prepare you for your tour, however we also recognize that some people can do almost nothing and come out and have no problems. Ultimately, self evaluation is VERY IMPORTANT and you alone are responsible for your condition at the start of a trip. Daily work will prepare you better for the daily exercise you will experience on tour and prepare your muscles to recover daily for the next ride/walk.
**Any tour can be made more challenging by you if you simply take our maps and add miles to your route. Feel free to improvise, but know your limits and know what the symbols on the maps mean!

Three main factors are considered:

  1. Distance of the ride or walk/hike, which will determine how long to spend each day.
  2. Amount of elevation gain (hill climbing) and gradient with the climb(s) on either the ride or the hike.
  3. Surface conditions of roads & trails:This factor can directly impact a rating, as our bicycle tours are usually on paved routes but not always. Mountain bike tours have levels of technical skill involved and obstacles and trail conditions make them more challenging. Hiking/walking trails are assessed for any technical aspects as well as gradient. If some unforeseen event like heavy rain should occur, this can change trail/surface conditions; but this is not factored.

Other Potential Factors: Independent of our rating are other factors that can influence how hard or how easy you find the tour such as weather, the load you add to your backpack/bicycle (if you stuff packs with bottles of wine for example!) how you dress, and how you use the equipment. Here are a few examples of potentially influential independent factors:

  • Weather: heat, cold, rain, and wind will all have an effect on your ride or hike and extremes of each will make it more difficult.
  • Load: carrying excessive weight obviously makes more work for you. We always transfer luggage, so this refers only to what you take in a day pack or in panniers.
  • Dress: layering, using appropriate and lightweight clothing, proper sun protection, and good footwear make your rides or hikes easier and more comfortable for you.
  • Equipment: this factor is primarily related to cycling, but knowing how to shift, when to shift, and how to maintain your bike will make rides easier for you as well.

Time Estimate Information: How long will it take to cover the rides/walks/hikes at these levels? There is no specific answer because everyone travels at his or her own speed. However, when we indicate a time, such as in the hikes, we generalize with an average of 2 miles/hour or 3.2 km/hr on flat and low grade. Those times do include bathroom breaks, but not time for lunch and visits. Everyone should allow time to stop and explore, visit sites, and check directions.

If you can ride a bike at 20 mph or 32km/hour, you cannot take a trip and expect to finish a ride in 2 hours. First, you need to allow time to check directions as you go, and also stop to visit. No less than 4 hours should be allowed to do any of the hikes and rides we have in our programs on any day. Longer days will last as much as 8 hours, with stops and visits included.

Loop tours: These are days where you return to the same hotel where you start the day. This means that people who are less strong can do shorter days than stronger persons. It also allows a potential day off and is a great way for families or groups of people with varying abilities and interests to do the same trip together. These tours offer everything from easy to challenging rides, but are usually rated as easy because they accommodate easy.

Hiking vs. Walking: There are probably scientific definitions somewhere, but we go with what most people think of when they hear these words. Hikers hike on natural trails and Walkers walk on any surface. Many hiking trails in France and other parts of Europe are Grand Randonee (GR) routes, recognized on maps and marked with waypoint markers. Many of these GR routes have become partially paved in recent years. Nonetheless, they traverse rural areas. Hikers seek natural environments like forests, mountains, parks and Walkers walk anywhere. Hikers like to dress the part in natural fibers, sturdy boots, and occasionally use hiking sticks/poles. Walkers may take such extra attention, but often they are going as they please. Walkers may walk as often as daily, while hikers go out on weekends or longer trips less frequently.

Your Fitness: How to know what you can do? Fitness and ability can be measured in a number of ways. We leave it up to you to determine if you are capable, knowing that if you take on more than you are capable of doing, it will make for an unpleasant vacation. We cannot recommend any of our tours to sedentary people. If you are not in the process of regular exercise then you should not consider a self-guided, independent walking or cycling tour. Several factors such as age, resting heart rate, max heart rate and weight, will impact everyone’s ability to engage in cycling or walking. You should know what you can do and if you are not sure, you should see a doctor. We always recommend that every traveler consult their doctor before booking an adventure holiday.

Independence Rating

Reading Maps and the Roadbooks: On cycling tours, you will find plenty of road signs and indications to keep you on course, and roads are easily identified on maps. Reading maps is a skill and anyone unfamiliar with how to orient a map in the field should do what is necessary to learn before coming on a trip.

Navigation and Independence Rating Guide: To give you another  ranking system to gauge yourself before booking a trip, we rate the level of support and we rate navigational skills necessary to help you decide about your skill level. Here are some brief descriptions of what each level means:

Level 1 [Most support – Easiest]: Fully guided and supported tours with both vehicle assistance and activity support by certified, professional guides. You should have basic map reading skills so you can have some independence.

Level 2 [Partial support – more self sufficiency]: Vehicle supported but activities are mostly self-regulated so that it requires more advanced map reading skills and GPS device skill are highly recommended.

Level 3 [Self guided with personal welcome and telephone support]: You will ride, hike, and complete activities on your own and at your own speed. Advanced GPS skills are recommended via smart phone app or your personal device; you must be comfortable using a provided GPS.

Level 4 [Self guided with telephone support only]: No orientation, but telephone support available as needed during the daytime. GPS navigation skills are required; you are expected to know how to manage GPX files and devices, upload and set up navigation on own, problem solve skills and be self sufficient with maps, orientation, and technology.

Level 5 [Self guided – No support]: GPS navigation skills are required. You are expected to know how to manage GPX files and devices, upload and set up navigation on own. Problem solving skills and self sufficiency with maps, orientation, and technology, are all necessary.

Independence with navigation is important, as well as basic bike mechanics. Nobody should ever come on a self guided bike tour with no prior knowledge of fixing a flat tire. Only on a guided tour can you expect help with a flat but even then, you should know this so that you can keep going without delay.

On hiking tours, it is even more important to know how to orient with a map, as you will have fewer sign postings to rely upon. Hiking tours mostly follow GR routes which are marked trails, often paved, but are often in remote areas. Hikers need to be able to read maps much better than cyclists and be able to recognize symbols, path lines, and direction. Anyone uncomfortable with map orientation, and basic orienteering, or their own GPS with our routes pre-loaded, should not come on a hiking tour without someone who is familiar with these techniques.

We are here to help you but in the end, you will be the one out there on the road/trail and the more prepared you are mentally as well as physically, the more fun and better memories you will have! You should be an independent person, capable of reading a map, interpreting directions, and taking charge of your planning. Use this tour as an excuse to increase your conditioning, fitness and navigation skills! Take the time to read everything we send to you as well as do your own research. Preparation is part of the fun in travel – don’t let it go unattended!

Comfort Level Rating

Finally – how can we rate a tour for comfort level?  Primarily, through the lodging you choose from our list of available options.  There are some standards around hotel quality ratings and there are also several ratings out there! Lots of opinions too!  This aspect of your trip is usually the most costly part but by far, NOT the only thing included in your trip. Too much can be said about hotel quality; so we stick to generally accepted hotel ratings by stars.

Lodging with Star Ratings:  these can be guest houses, country inns, B&B’s, refuges; many things.  We do occasionally use places without a standardized quality rating, if we think it to be exceptional. We always choose quality, which comes in the form of: charming local hosts, beautiful location, amazing food, historical building, and more.  This sometimes means a sacrifice of something such as air conditioning or elevator, in exchange for a property overflowing with charm and delight.

1 star hotels – we never use these!

2 star hotels – on occasion, very rare, never a chain hotel, and only if it’s the best solution to be in an amazing locale.

3 star hotel – our ‘go to’ standard; we typically price trips here and upgrade from this point.  We do try to choose the best options that work with us in many ways – for cyclists and bike storage rooms, a tasty and substantial breakfast, friendly English speaking staff, quiet or ideal locations, good quality rooms with proper beds for westerners.  Booking terms and many other operational questions have to be answered as well.  Sometimes a hotel won’t work, even if its the best choice . For example, in high season, a place may demand a minimum of 3 nights per stay.

4 star hotel – usually 4 star hotels are the top hotels.  More and more of the exceptional 4 stars have now moved up to 5 stars.  Typically our Upgrade version is going to include 4 star hotels. All of the amenities of a deluxe hotel can be expected.

5 star hotel – best of the best, usually very expensive and not always flexible for adventure travelers.  We do use them when it makes sense but rarely do we include these in our trip prices. They can be requested and we are happy to book them for you on your request!

What else might contribute to your comfort level?

  1.  Be ok traveling abroad.  The more experience you have, the easier and more comfortable you will be.
  2.  Learn some language phrases in advance, to help you get by easier.
  3. Train in advance, your body needs to be prepared.
  4. Know how to read maps, use devices, and orient yourself in unfamiliar territory.
  5. Have a good attitude – people will want to help you so it helps to be kind, flexible, and appreciative!

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