Sunday, 8 October 2017

La Palma, Ruta de los Volcanes Trail Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 14.4 km (9 miles), terrain: very hilly, sometimes steep, gain 757 meters!

This is one amazing run. You'll transition from rain-forest shade forests to blasted, wide-open volcanic lava-flows. Sometimes you'll be in the clouds, sometimes you'll have views out over a carpet of clouds way below. You'll be stepping along the edge of craters, and viewing out across the Atlantic Ocean towards other islands. 
Trail view over the Atlantic towards Tenerifa
NOTE: This route is extremely rugged! It's steep, rocky, and you have to watch your step all the time. You might even prefer to hike it rather than to run it. But there are some hearty runners who traverse the rocky terrain like mountain goats. However you do it, make sure you bring a water bottle and a windbreaker! Walls of clouds can also suddenly move in, so watch their movement, and bring a good map and GPS. Plan it for a day when the ridge should be clear of clouds.

The Canary Islands isle of La Palma is the result of one huge volcano, then many smaller ones that followed through the millennia. No visit to the island is complete without a visit to the edges of the volcanic craters, some less than 50 years old.

This route follows the Ruta de los Volcanes (E7) hiking trail that winds along the peaks among a variety of volcanic cones and lava fields that popped up, one by one, forming the south end of the island. The route is normally well-marked, heading north-south almost the whole way.
El Pilar mist
We'll start it at one of my favorite spots on the island, El Pilar, a picnic park up in the clouds, and one of the most popular recreation areas for the islanders. Often, the clouds get stuck up here on the north/south ridge, and it looks like a rain-forest. Cloud-soaked Spanish moss drips from the trees, which disappear upwards into the swirling mist above.

The E7 hiking route begins a long ways north of here, circling the huge Caldera de Taburiente then heading southwards past all the main volcanic cones along the ridge of Cumbre Vieja, all the way to Fuencaliente, at the southern tip of the island. We'll just follow the middle section of the trail, Cumbre Vieja, where the biggest concentration of volcanoes and lava flows can be found.
Start of the run at El Pilar
El Pilar is off on a side-road from the main road between Santa Cruz and El Paso (watch for the signs to turn off), along the ridge that divides the eastern and western sides of the island. There is plenty of parking, so find a spot and put on your running gear!

Now walk to the area with the picnic shelters and playground swings on the south side of the road. If you walk past the playground to the far south end of the park, you'll see the waymarker signs for the hiking trail towards Fuencaliente, which begins going right up the hill. Did I mention that this is one difficult trail? Oops, well now is the time to tell you...
View northwards towards the Caldera de Taburiente
The trail heads uphill through pine woods towards the southwest, along the north flank of Pico Birigoyo, our first volcano. There are some nice views northwards towards the huge Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma's first volcano, the biggest volcanic crater in the world.

After a kilometer, the trees thin out and you have a wide view westwards, over the black lava fields of an eruption about 70 years ago.
View westwards over the clouds
After 2 kilometers, the trail heads down into a valley to join onto a jeep road, turning left, then heading uphill to the south. At different spots, you can see where recent fires have blackened the pine woods around you, but most of the trees survived.
Blackened pine tree along the way
After another half a kilometer, the trail leaves the jeep road and heads uphill southwards, passing a strange rock spiral that some people once laid out. The trail crosses a couple of wooden bridges and then takes you out over the ridge to the face the east side of the island.
Wooden bridge
At the 4.5-kilometer mark, you'll have a great view eastwards out over the ocean towards Tenerife. A few trails branch off here, heading downwards towards the east coast. But continue uphill, following the signs towards Fuencaliente.
Downhill runner at the trail branch-off
We are now in the high country, the trail will follow the Cumbre Vieja ridge for the rest of the way. This area is where the 1949 volcanic eruption happened, with lots of fairly fresh-looking lava flows.

Soon, at the 5-km mark, you'll come to the steep edge of a crater opening westwards, Volcán Hoyo Negro. The black and tan volcanic ash layers are strongly eroded into deep canyons. What a sight!
Volcán Hoyo Negro
Continuing southwards past some rocks with great views to more volcanoes. You'll face the blackend peak of Montaña de los Charcos across a lifeless, black valley of loose ash and rock.
Approaching Los Charcos
The trail takes you along its western side. The wind is wild up here at the peak, not a place to hang around!

Just south of los Charcos is a second cinder cone, Deseada, almost 2000 meters high. There are some cement markers along the trail here, with a couple of smaller trails heading off the the left (eastwards) that take you to the edge of Deseada and los Charcos.

Take one of those trails down to the crater edges and get a closer look at these other-worldly sights. You'll feel like you're on Mars.
Deseada and Los Charcos
But it's been 7 kilometers of hard trail climbing so far, so let's turn around and head back home now. There's still a long way to go to get back! And when you make it, kick off your shoes, shower off the sweat and grime, and it'll be time to tilt-back a well-earned glass of local La Palma wine!
Here's to one beautiful run!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Geneva Old-Town/Rive Gauche Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 8.9 km (5.5 miles), terrain: flat with two hills, gain 87 meters
Or shorten it to just 5-km if you leave out the last leg along the leg
A runner in Parc des Bastions
In our other Geneva route, we went up the north shore of the lake. This time, we'll see the old town and the south shore (Rive Gauche). But you can easily split this route into either half, if you want shorter runs.

The old town is perched up on a hill overlooking the exit of the Rhone River from Lake Geneva (Lac Leman). There is a fairly steep uphill climb to get to the top, but it's really worth it! The town has existed since pre-Roman days, founded by a Celtic tribe, and there are lots of interesting spots to discover.
Old-town café near the cathedral
And down behind the old-town, to the southwest, lies the university quarter, with its lively (and relatively cheap) pubs and restaurants and the Plainpalais fairgrounds.

So, if you're ready to discover Geneva's fascinating other half, get yourself to the Jardin Anglais park at the lakefront. This is one of the nicest spots in town, a great place to view the boats going by and to people-watch.

The steamship fleet heads off from several docks all around you, and out in the harbor the huge Jet d'Eau fountain rockets a stream of water into the sky.

In the summers, a big Ferris Wheel lifts visitors up above it all, right next to one of Geneva's landmarks, the immaculately trimmed flower clock. Remember, Geneva is the "City of Time", the headquarters of Swiss watch-making-craftsmanship for centuries.
The flower clock
Standing with your back to the flower clock, cross the busy street to run southwards into Place de Longemalle, a narrow square full of the mix typical of Geneva's downtown: banks, watch-sellers, jewelers, chocolate shops, restaurants, hotels and fountains.
In Place de Longemalle
Keep running south as the street goes uphill towards the cathedral spires ahead. You'll come to Place de la Madeleine, with an old church, a carousel and restaurants accompanying you into the old town.

Continue straight ahead, following Rue de la Fontaine uphill, with terraced parks above you on the right side. And of course, you'll go by fountains. In fact, everywhere you go in Geneva you'll find beautiful fountains.
Cafès at Place Bourg-de-Four
You'll soon reach the next square, the beautiful Bourg-de-Four, with alleys zig-zagging into it from several directions. There are some lively cafés and restaurants here (for later!). Keep to the right and keep heading uphill along Rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville.

There are nice galleries and antique shops here, and the cathedral is coming up on the right. So at the first lane to the right, turn there and run straight towards Saint-Pierre cathedral, just a block away.

It's pretty impressive, with various additions from various eras. The oldest parts are over 850 years old.

Turn left and run downhill a bit to come to the front entrance, with its huge portico.
Saint-Pierre Cathedral
This is a Protestant cathedral. Geneva was a hotbed of Protestant activity during the Reformation. John Calvin preached here, and his house was just a block away. Many Protestants, persecuted in nearby Catholic areas, fled to Geneva for refuge.

Now turn with your back to the church and run out along Rue Otto Barblan, which ends at the armory in just a block (another great fountain here!).

Now turn left and run past the armory, with its cannon collection in the arcade.
The armory cannons
At the corner, the flag-covered town hall is waiting, which has a cool old courtyard inside the doors, take a peek!

Keep running southwest, along the right side of the town hall and you'll run under a columned gateway and out onto a wide terrace, with a view out over the south side of town. You can see the Alps rising behind the city.
Along the Promenade de la Treille: great lookout!
This park with the inspiring view is called the Promenade de la Treille. A lot of people come here to relax and enjoy the amazing view, and whole families come to picnic at the tables.

Down below, that other park and the neighborhood behind it is where we'll head next.

So, after taking in the view, turn right and run downhill along the street, passing the 1-kilometer-mark. You'll come to Place de Neuve at the bottom, flanked by a collection of elegant, classical buildings. The biggest one, the Grand Théâtre, is now inside a big tent, undergoing restoration.
Chess players in the park
On the left side, behind the iron fence, is Parc des Bastions. This is a great place, with chess-players, a restaurant-café, monuments, exhibits and the main university buildings along the south side.

Turn left to run through the park. Along the left side, lining the wall to the outlook is a series of statues for the Protestant pioneers, many of whom spent time in Geneva.

Along the other side, the classical university buildings line your run. Normally, quite a few runners come through here mornings and evenings.

Just before you exit the park, turn right to stay on the walkway within the fence and exit the park on the south side. Now turn left, then right to get onto Rue Saint Léger, running southwestwards.

Follow the street for the next few blocks as it curves to the right. This is the university neighborhood, with some cool hangouts.

Cross the tram tracks at the 2-km-mark, with the Holy Cow gourmet fast-food hamburger restaurant (try it out some evening: their Montreux Jazz and Blues burger is amazing!)

After a block, you come to a big empty square, the Plaine de Plainpalais. This used to be a big swamp, but is now home to Switzerland's biggest flea market every Wednesday and Saturday.

Now just circle the square for a kilometer, running as you please, and come back to this spot again.

Then head back the same way you came, but when you come to the Parc des Bastions, stay on Rue Saint Léger, running along the outside of the park fence, heading towards the hill of the old town, straight ahead.

Stay on Rue Saint Léger as it goes by nice flower plantings at the park gate, then up through an archway into the old town.
Rue St. Leger, heading up into the Old Town again
Soon you'll find yourself at Place du Bourg-de-Four again. But this time, instead of turning left to head down the way we originally came, turn right to see a bit more of the old town, along Rue Etienne-Dumont. This is a nice street, with interesting boutiques and restaurants.

The street ends at Place Franz-Liszt, an elevated spot, with a busy road sunken down in the valley below.

Turn left to run through the Promenade Saint-Antoine square, which lines the roadway below.

Run to the traffic circle ahead, passing the 4-km-mark, then turn left and you'll be back at Place du Bourg-de-Four again.

Now turn right and head downhill again towards the lake, but keep right to stay on Rue Verdaine, to see a bit more of downtown.

When Rue Verdaine ends, turn left till you're back at Place de Longemalle, where you turn right and in a block you'll be back at the flower clock, right at the 5-kilometer-mark.

NOTE: Now you'll have to decide if this is the end of your run or if you want to add another four kilometers and run out along the south shore of the lake.
Musicians in the Jardin Anglais
So, if you want to experience a bit more of this beautiful lake, head to the water's edge in Jardin Anglais, and turn right to follow the water, heading out to Genève-Plage (Geneva Beach).
Along the Rive Gauche docks, with a steamship
There is a tree-lined promenade along the waterfront for the whole way. The line of apartment buildings has an elegant flair, but not much life. There are hardly any restaurants or stores along the way. The waterfront -- with its docks and boats -- is definitely the big attraction. And it's crowned by the view across the lake to the Jura Mountains, forming the nearby border to France.

You'll pass a water-taxi dock (ride these to get a great view from the water!) and then the narrow causeway to the Jet d'Eau fountain. You can run out there and take a close look!

After the big Eaux-Vives marina and then the appropriately named Baby Plage (a tiny beach), you continue following the promenade.
View along the whole lakefront stretch, from the Jardin Anglais
You'll then come to Port Noir, with the yacht club and Genève-Plage, an outdoor pool and a little lakeside beach. You can't get into either place, though, so you might as well cross the road at the crossing and turn back towards town.

On this other side of the street, running southwestwards, we can pull into a couple of elegant old parks along the way on the left side.

The first one is Parc des Eaux Vives, a huge park-like property on the sloping hillside, with a tennis club behind the mansion. The house is now used as a hotel. The property is actually private, and not a public park.

The grounds are impressive, so take a loop towards the house, then continue southwestwards through the wall to the next park. This will be the 7-km-mark.

This next one, Parc La Grange, also has a huge mansion, and big trees and a rose garden. But this one is a real public park. Again, loop around near the house and then exit at the lake road again, across from the Baby-Plage.

Now, just head back to the Jardin Anglais, passing the Jet d'Eau at the 8-km-mark.

So, what do you think? Geneva is not a bad town! No wonder it is rated as one of the world's top cities to live in.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Geneva Rive Droite Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 8.6 km (5.3 miles), terrain: flat with one easy hill, gain 68 meters

Geneva has so much going for it: a beautiful lakeside, an old town, two rivers, mountains to the east and west, sailboats and steamers gliding past on the lake... You really have to get out and enjoy the water views.

So this run does just that, following the northern shore of the lake, plus an extra turn inland to head through the botanical garden and take a look at the United Nations campus up the hill.
Rive Droite runner
The northern shore is referred to as the Right Bank (Rive Droite), and it's lined by a nice promenade and a string of parks and mansions. The town's oldest, most elegant hotels line the lakeside there, and the steamboats head off for tours up the lake. And another great thing is, you get a view of the Alps across the lake, towards the tallest peak in Europe, Mont Blanc.

So, don't leave out this route if visiting this beautiful town!

We'll start in the heart of downtown, right near the lake, at the Place du Molard, lined with restaurants and the Globus department store. One of the old town-wall towers still stands at the north end of the square.

So turn north, run past the tower and continue over the zebra stripes to the water just a few steps ahead, with its Promenade du Lac.

The waterside Lacustre Restaurant and a water-taxi landing are right there, along the promenade.

NOTE: The yellow water-taxis are part of the Geneva public transportation system, and are included with your visitor's free transport card. Make sure to ride them! 
The waterfront at Molard, with water-taxi
You're now facing right towards the Rive Droite, where we'll be running. This spot is where Lake Geneva (Lac Leman in French) empties out into the Rhone River, soon becoming France's biggest river. France is just a few kilometers away, up past the airport.

To get to Rive Droite, we need to cross one of those several bridges to either side. Let's turn left and take the first bridge to that side: it's for pedestrians only, and nice and quiet.

So run along the Promenade du Lac, right next to the water till the bridge, then turn right and cross the Pont des Bergues, with its little defensive fort, L'île Rousseau.

At the far side, turn right and start running along the Rive Droite. Normally you can take a little sidewalk under the next loud street and bridge (Pont du Mont Blanc), but some construction blocked it when I was there last week, so I had to cross at the traffic light above.
Quai du Mont-Blanc
Past the bridge, we're now running along the Quai du Mont-Blanc, passing the main tour-boat landing. The traffic is loud here, and the sidewalk is right next to the street, but soon you can run along the promenade, a bit off to the side, and you'll be out of the worst downtown traffic.
A steamboat heading off for a lake tour
You'll pass the Beau Rivage, Geneva's most elegant hotel. The neighborhood behind it, rising uphill to the train station, is known as the red-light district. But it seems pretty tame, and is a quiet residential area with a lot of shops and hotels.

At the 1-kilometer-mark, you'll pass the next water-taxi landing that connects to Rive Gauche across the lake.
The lighthouse at night
After a little marina, you'll see a narrow spit of land going out to a nice old lighthouse. This is the Bains des Pâquis, and a public beach and swimming pool line the walkway. There is a fun restaurant/bar that I can recommend. Across the water, you'll see one of Geneva's landmarks, the huge fountain called the Jet d'Eau (water jet), created for practical reasons to relieve the water pipes of excess pressure.

You might want to run out to the little lighthouse and take a look!

Now the lakeside takes a turn to the left and you continue northwards along Quai Wilson along the promenade past another marina, with great views to the Alps across the lake during nice weather.
A runner along Quai Wilson
Soon, things will get even better. At the 2-km-mark, the street will veer off to the left and you'll now have quiet lakeside parkland to run in, at Parc Mon Repos. There are a series of mansions here, each with a park-like garden.
In Parc Mon Repos
You'll pass a long building on the left with a couple of statues, that's the World Trade Organization.
More parkland
At the 3-km-mark, you'll come to a green, metal gate into a small, waterfront section of the Botanical Garden, and continue for 100 meters. Then, just before reaching the fence at the other side of the garden, turn left and take the paved footpath under the nearby Rue de Lausanne road and into the main part of the Botanical Garden.
Greenhouse in the Botanical Garden
The path curves to the left and takes you to a round greenhouse. Just before the greenhouse, turn right to head uphill to the further greenhouses. What a great park, with interesting plants and gardens in every direction!
A rockgarden
Turn left and head south past the rock gardens and giant oak trees to the southwest exit of the park.

Exit onto Avenue de la Paix, a busy street with a lot of new UN buildings on the other side.

Turn right and continue uphill along Avenue de la Paix, heading under the train tracks at Sécheron station. Right after that, the main UN campus lines the right side behind a stout fence, at the 4-km-mark. This was originally the League of Nations headquarters, the precursor to today's UNO.
The UN
Soon, you'll come to the main entrance to the UN, with its lines of flags. Across the street is the Place des Nations, with its giant broken chair sculpture.
The broken chair
This is our turn-around point: now head back downhill and follow the same way back home, maybe following some different paths through the Botanical Garden and the parks. Now you'll get to see everything from the other direction: enjoy!
Heading home