At Classic Journeys, we’ve never met a mountain vacation we didn’t love. But climbing them — not so much. We always head for the top. After all, that’s where the views, the wildflower meadows and the mountain goats are! But we’re strategic about how we get there, looking for ways to enjoy the way up without wearing ourselves down. Here are four of our favorite lower-impact, high-altitude walks.
THE ANDES UP TO MACHU PICCHU
There’s a fun fork in the route up to Machu Picchu. We all chug out of the Sacred Valley on the luxurious Inca Rail train. Partway up, the train pauses, and hikers (who have asked us to make advance reservations) step off to spend 5–6 hours ascending the last 1,500 feet of elevation of the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate — where you look down onto the legendary ruins. But trust us, it is no compromise to stay comfortably aboard the train! As the tracks rise, the valley narrows and the river tumbles past. Through the picture windows and viewing panels in the train’s roof, you’ll see a succession of Incan ruins. Late in the morning, you arrive in Aguas Calientes and check into our hotel. Hop on a shuttle for an advance visit to Machu Picchu, enjoy a spa treatment or go orchid hunting with a naturalist. Ensconced in one of South America’s top 10 hotels, you won’t feel for a second like you missed out on having a wonderful day.
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THE JUNGFRAU REGION
Funiculars are fun, especially the one up to Grutschalp, where we begin the scenic walk to nearby Mürren, a village with no cars. Mürren is the highest village in the Bernese Oberland and has knockout views of the Jungfrau massif and the Breithorn. In winter, it’s a traditional ski resort. In the summer, it’s a botanist’s paradise. Next, we take a two-stage cable car to the summit of the Schilthorn. Lunch is in a revolving restaurant with 360-degree views. (James Bond fans will instantly recognize it as the mountaintop lair for the villainous Blofeld in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”) Later in the day, we ride the funicular back down to Lauterbrunnen for a visit to Trümmelbach Falls, the region’s most impressive cascade and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just like that, you’ve spent the best mountain vacationday of your life without even breaking a sweat!
MIDDLE ATLAS MOUNTAINS
Between the medina of Fés and the dunes of the Sahara lie the Middle Atlas Mountains. This massive range soars to alpine heights, and as we drive through we stop for a walk. You could say the macaques make us do it. Better known as Barbary apes, troops of them live in the cedar forests. On a walk of a couple of hours (without much altitude change), we’re joined by them as well as shepherds moving their goats. This is the Morocco we didn’t expect the first time we visited. The air is mountain-crisp and incredible. In plenty of seasons, patches of un-melted snow hide in the shade of those picturesque cedars. And Ifrane, that village up ahead, is a ski resort built by the French in the colonial era. Its buildings are more chalet than kasbah. We love this walk for how it upends all the souk-to-sand clichés about Morocco’s personality.
ABOVE LAKE LOUISE
Lake Louise is the most iconic spot in the Canadian Rockies. You’ve seen the photos of the mirror-smooth lake cupped in pine-covered slopes at the foot of a glacier. This morning’s walk is on a path that does gain some altitude as it rises 1,400 feet. But we take our time, and it is so worth the effort. Starting from the lake’s shore, we ascend above the tree line. There, the alpine meadows open wide, and we occasionally have a spotting of a grizzly bear. Ahead, we get breathtaking views of Mount Victoria and the Victoria Glacier. We’ll take a breather at Lady Agnes Tea House, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1900s. Every moment is spectacular. Of course, if you prefer, you can stay at lake level to go for an easy canoe paddle, explore the shops and grounds of Chateau Lake Louise or saddle up for a horseback ride.
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