Alex Girardi grew up on the outskirts of a small rural village in County Clare. Being surrounded by nothing but woodland, fields, lakes and rivers, he naturally developed a passion and love for everything outdoors. Regular trips to various beaches, mountains and forests throughout Ireland only enhanced his interest.
He would spend his summers in Italy with his Italian relatives, exploring the mountainous regions surrounding Milan and Lake Como and indulging on all the free, delicious, Italian food his family would offer him.
Alex attended the University of Limerick, where he studied Digital Media Design. It was during a work placement as part of this course that he was introduced to the world of Search Engine Optimisation and digital marketing, which is what he then decided to specialise in post-university.
During the summer of 2014, Alex worked on the tiny island of Sark, part of the Channel Islands just off the coast of France. With a population of just 600 people, there are no cars allowed on Sark - the main methods of transport are horse and carriage or bicycle. The laid-back, relaxed atmosphere suited Alex perfectly and he quickly secured a seasonal job as an IT Support Engineer.
Upon returning to Ireland from Sark, Alex entered into his final year project at the University of Limerick, where he investigated the links between the digital and physical worlds using different types of electronic tags. Even though the workload was quite heavy, Alex still found time to go on hiking trips to Connemara, Kerry and Northern Ireland to name but a few.
With dreams of traversing Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South America and pretty much anywhere else you can think of, he would like to combine his love of cycling and travel to someday cycle around the world – or at least part of it and hike the rest!
Ann O’ Grady grew up in a small village in Co. Clare, on a picturesque farm surrounded by mountains and nature.
With the world-renowned Burren region on her doorstep, she loves nothing more than immersing herself in the beautiful surroundings she has come to know and love so well.
From a young age she had a keen interest in hiking, spending her summer Sundays hiking the Ballyvaughan Wood Loop and the Mullaghmore Loop in the Burren National Park.
She also spent two weeks every summer in the Aran Islands (Inis Oírr) with her family where they would spend the days cycling the island.
Ann is currently in her final year studying Tourism Management at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.
With a passion for travelling and promoting tourism, Ann loves helping our walkers to organise their dream tour.
Coming from a rural background, one of Ann’s favourite aspects of the work is creating new opportunities for B&Bs in remote parts of Ireland and the UK. She is passionate about sustainability and the protection of her rural roots.
Ann first came to work in Hillwalk Tours in 2013, for her university second year placement, and she has become such a valuable member of the team, we haven’t wanted to let her go ever since!
Anthony Barrett grew up on a Farmhouse B&B in Mayo in the West of Ireland.
After completing a Master’s Degree in Business Studies in University he spent 15 months travelling the world in search of the best sights, experiences and football stadiums it had to offer.
This including hiking some of the most stunning regions of the world including China, Thailand, New Zealand and South America.
However, these experiences only lead to an increased appreciation of his home country and its unique culture, heritage and natural beauty.
On returning to Ireland, Anthony returned to the hospitality sector working in a variety of front office position in various hotels.
In March 2010, he jumped at the chance to join James and the Hillwalk Tours team in their goal of helping others experience the magic of the European landscape.
Anthony's favourite walks are around the rugged landscapes of his native West of Ireland.
Connemara and the Aran Islands, in particular, are places where he has spent many enjoyable days in sunshine and of course in rain.
Camille Binaud grew up in a small village in the heart of the French Alps between Chamonix and Annecy. From a young age, she used to spend her holidays striding across the mountain paths in summer and riding down the hills with her skis during the winter.
Living in one of the most touristic regions of France, she naturally focused her studies in Tourism Management. She wanted to show the wonders of her region to the whole world!
After working for tour operators in Switzerland, she decided that she would like to have some more international experiences.
With this idea in mind, she spent one month as an Intern with a tour operator in London. However, she realized that one month was not enough to be part of a country.
Therefore, in 2012, Camille left her beloved mountains to study for half a year in the Netherlands. Landscape-wise, that was a massive change! But if she missed her mountains some days, she had a great time meeting people from all over the world and discovering the Dutch landscape with her loyal companion : her Dutch bike of course!
When she went back to France, she decided to finish her Masters Degree in Tourism Management before spending 7 months in Copenhagen, Denmark where she worked for an Event Agency.
It was love at first sight! Camille fell in love with this city, and completely understood why Danish people are said to be the happiest people in the world. One thing that she will remember about Denmark : “Hygge”, the Cosy Danish Way of Life.
After this Danish experience, Camille was keen for new adventures and chose to discover Ireland, attracted by the amazing landscape and the renowned traditional Irish music.
And she was definitively not disappointed by what she discovered in Ireland. Galway is for her, the perfect postcard of Ireland and she loves it!
Charlotte Rufie grew up in the south-west of France, between the rolling hills of the Aveyron countryside and the sandy beaches of the Landes coast.
Annual family holidays were often spent exploring other regions of France; however it did not take long for her to want to venture further. From her early teenage years, Charlotte developed a passion for the English language and English-speaking countries, and started spending a few weeks a year in the U.K. and the U.S.A on language study holidays.
At university she then decided to study English, and it was by a twist of fate that she set off for Ireland in 2008, as part of the Erasmus exchange programme. Unexpectedly, while she did not know much about Ireland, she fell in love with the country, its culture, music, natural heritage, and more than anything, the sense of humour and friendliness of the people. So much so that she decided to come back in 2010, first working in a hotel as part of a university placement and then completing a Master’s degree in Business Management at NUI Maynooth.
She hasn’t left since, except for a six-month trip of a lifetime to South and North America. There she was lucky enough to hike up the Machu Picchu steps, ride a horse across the Chilean desert, walk across the salt flats of Uyuni, and watch the sun rise over the Moai statues of Easter Island, as well as drive a campervan all the way from California to New York.
Six years of living in different parts of Ireland have given her a little bit of an Irish accent – to the point her Irish friends sometimes forget she is French. Charlotte loves nothing more than showing off the beauty of the Emerald Isle to her family and friends through photographs, or organising trips when they come to visit. So, naturally a job a Hillwalk Tours was the perfect opportunity to do something she loves on a daily basis!
Eimear O’Connor grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and from an early age recognised her love of travel, and big cities!
At 18, she headed to London to complete a degree in Business Studies, and on completion jumped at the opportunity to take a sponsorship to Boston College, USA to study International Export Marketing.
Sailing down the Charles River one day, Eimear decided that a year just wasn't enough and stayed in the States. She moved to New York City, residing there for the next five years.
The buzz of the city, the diversity, the amazing cultural treats, and of course the East Village, have left a lasting passion and impression on Eimear. While working hard as a Conference Director, Eimear also found time to travel – from San Francisco to Miami to Bermuda and the Caribbean – she certainly got to see a lot!
Ten years later, with the “itchy feet” soothed, Eimear moved back to Ireland, settling in Galway – impressed by its vibrancy, culture and traditions. Here she worked in HR, specialising in European employment law, until she decided to take a break to spend time with her young family. Eimear is married to Padraig - a Galway man, and they have 3 girls; Brianna, Emily and Grace.
It was during this time Eimear was really able to appreciate the magnificent environment that surrounded her, and her love of living by the sea. Her favourite get away places are Roundstone, Connemara and Portnoo, Donegal – both “good for the soul”.
With her family all getting bigger, Eimear decided to go back to work and low and behold – here she is at Hillwalk Tours!
Hauke* Steinberg is originally (i.e. a loooong time ago) from Schleswig-Holstein in the very north of Germany - and seems to have been destined to work with Hillwalk Tours.
* Hauke is pronounced as in 'HOW CA(n) you not pronounce that?!'
From 1991, Hauke studied such fascinating subjects as Geography, Zoology and Landscape Ecology at Kiel University, on the Baltic Sea. In 1996, he moved to Ireland to study, drink, play music, and later also work at Trinity College Dublin.
After college, he was first working for an engineering company for a number of years before deciding to try something new. He had been almost everywhere in Ireland and knew the country better than most who are born there. So he started working as a tour guide and showed tourists the beauty and secrets of Ireland. By now, it’s hard to find a place in Ireland Hauke hasn't been to.
At that time, he also started training as a trail inspector with the National Trails Office of Ireland. In this role he was responsible for the standards and quality of the trails and loop walks our customers are walking on when they come to Ireland. Thanks Hauke!
Hauke discovered his love for the outdoors while studying and later working at Trinity College Dublin in the 1990's. With the Wicklow Mountains on the doorstep of Dublin, it was easy to join a walking club and go on regular hikes in the hills. These regular walks continued through the years and he even helped to run an ‘After Office Walking Club’ at work.
Over the years, Hauke has travelled not just all over Ireland but all over the world and he has hiked in Scotland, Europe, Africa, South America, Alaska and Japan. In particular, his travels in South America and Alaska developed his interest in landscape and wildlife photography.
Photography has developed into more than a hobby for Hauke. He is an accomplished, award winning landscape and nature photographer and his main photographic interest lies in landscape and nature photography. Hauke's aim is to create compelling and inspiring images of familiar and unfamiliar scenes, places and creatures. You can have a look at his photos at www.haukesteinberg.com
Another thing you need to know about Hauke is his love for Irish music. It all started in the 1980's when Hauke discovered folk music and folk rock. Since then, this has developed into a deep passion for traditional music from Ireland and other Celtic countries.
During his college years he spent most evenings in pubs playing music and earning the money for his rent. By now he is an accomplished musician, playing the Irish concert flute, tin whistle and the bodhrán (the Irish drum) - if you are unlucky enough he might even sing a song for you!
Lately, Hauke has been making plans for a more settled life and he is even starting a family. So he went looking for a new job and got offered a position with Hillwalk Tours. ‘Perfect!’ he thought, ‘I can show people these beautiful countries AND be in the great outdoors AND take photographs! I have found the best job in the world!’
James Byrne grew up on a farm in Kilkenny in the South-East of Ireland.
After studying Business and French in university, he spent nine months in Quebec teaching English.
There followed a brief flirtation with journalism. This ended when he noticed that using his press pass to gain free entry to sports events was proving more enjoyable than actually reporting on them.
Hiking trips in Malaysia, New Zealand and South America reignited a dormant passion for the great outdoors.
Upon arriving back to Ireland, James tried to re-adapt to office work but only lasted three months before he quit his job, bought a new bike and went cycling around Europe.
When he got to Slovenia he turned around and started to consider what to do when he returned to Ireland.
Try as he might, nothing sprang to mind so, as soon as he got home, he got into his car and drove around Ireland looking for inspiration.
One morning, watching the sun rise over the Beara Peninsula, an idea began to form. Before him was a scene as spectacular as anything he had seen on all his travels.
Enticing visitors to come and experience Europe's unique natural beauty suddenly seemed like the most obvious thing in the world...
And so Hillwalk Tours was born.
Luisa Golz grew up in a small town called Waltrop in the industrial Ruhr area in Germany. With her parents, her brother and her sister she enjoyed many holidays abroad.
When her brother returned from a school exchange program in Alaska, Luisa also got the travel bug. As she wanted to improve her English (and had watched a lot of Riverdance), she chose Ireland and spent six months as an exchange student in County Tipperary.
Luisa was fascinated by the friendliness of the people, Irish music and dance, and most of all she loved the varied and beautiful landscape of Ireland.
Upon returning to Germany she could not wait to finish school and return to Ireland. And she did; in August 2011 Luisa began working in a hotel in Kilkenny. After a short while, she realised that the hotel industry was not her passion, and a year later she enrolled in Waterford IT studying Tourism Marketing. In the meantime Luisa worked in the tourism office in Kilkenny and thoroughly enjoyed it. The three year course was then successfully completed in 2015 and Luisa’s next step was to either pursue further education or to get a job.
When Luisa was offered a position with Hillwalk Tours she was delighted to be able to pursue her career in the field she had dedicated the last three years studying for. Taking a job in Galway meant that she and her boyfriend had to move from Kilkenny to Galway. Having enjoyed visiting Galway on weekend trips on a few occasions, Luisa looked forward to the move and a new adventure.
Luisa always wanted to live closer to the sea. Moving to Galway has made this dream come true. She enjoys riding her horse Polly, walking her sheepdog Holly, running in nature and trying new restaurants. All her interests can be satisfied in her new home in County Galway.
Misja Weesjes was born in the Netherlands, and moved to Ireland when she was 13. She spent the remainder of her childhood between the two countries, spending summers camping in the Netherlands and Europe with her father and brothers, and the rest of the year running wild in Galway.
At 18 she moved back to the Netherlands for a year to study hospitality, but the lure of both the wild open spaces of the West of Ireland, and her family proved too much and she moved back to Galway which has been her home since.
As well as rearing her own little family, Misja went back to college and gained a Degree and a Masters in English Philosophy and Writing. She has since worked in a variety of jobs from sales to facilitating community drum classes and creativity workshops.
Apart from her family, Misja is passionate about a few things; books, the outdoors, hiking and travel. Connemara and the Burren are her favourite places in Ireland.
Her perfect day would be a remote hike to the top of a mountain with a good book and a picnic, strolling back down only as the light begins to fade. Or maybe a day at the beach with a surfboard, taking along a good book and a picnic for when the waves die down! Or, actually, a day spent travelling to some far-flung place she hasn’t been yet (making sure to bring along a good book and a picnic!)
With her family grown up, Misja decided to start dedicating her time to doing more of what she loves, and when the opportunity to work with Hillwalk Tours came up she saw it as a perfect opportunity to combine work with pleasure.
Nóirín Gillespie grew up in Galway on the west coast of Ireland, beside the sea, where she eventually returned to settle down.
Nóirín comes from a long line of Scouts and Girl Guides so her interest in the great outdoors stems from a young age.
One of her most vivid early memories involves camping in Sweden and Denmark as a child and swimming in the sea in the middle of the night under the midnight sun. Despite having travelled all over Europe she only recently ventured outside on a trip to Rio.
Nóirín has a degree in German and Sociology and further diplomas and certificates in Business, Training & Education and HR Management. Spending an Erasmus year in Cologne in Germany was the highlight of her university experience.
Nóirín has been involved in the tourism industry and in bringing people to Ireland for a number of years. With this experience and an interest in sustainable, green industries in Ireland, joining Hillwalk Tours was a natural progression for her.
Now in her spare time Nóirín enjoys “Gentle Level” walks in Connemara and other outdoor activities such as gardening, jogging, walking her dogs and socialising with friends.
Her dream holiday is to spend some more time in South and Central America and explore the Aztec ruins in Mexico.
Rebekka Hafner-Toone was born in Yorkshire, North England but grew up in a little village near Munich in Bavaria, South Germany. (She’s still a huge fan of Bayern Munich!).
Growing up she spent a lot of time on her nanny's farm and outdoors, going for walks in the nearby forest. From an early age she visited the Alps and the historical cities of Bavaria with her family. She soon recognised her love for traditions and hospitality while working in beer gardens and local festivals.
Her hometown is twined with Naas in Kildare and this brought Rebekka to Ireland. She first travelled with the marching band of her hometown and then came back every summer travelling the country and enjoying the breath-taking landscape and historical buildings. The kindness and hospitality of the Irish people impressed Rebekka and she decided she wanted to move to Ireland at some stage of her life.
After completing her school exams Rebekka moved to the Franconian city of Würzburg where she did her apprenticeship in the hotel industry. During this time she enjoyed exploring the different vineyard tours and wine areas. Thoroughly enjoying the work at the reception and reservation departments during her training, she moved to Frankfurt to work for a conference and exhibition hotel. During her 13 months in the financial city she met her partner (or as Rebekka likes to call him - her Irish Leprechaun) and decided to turn her dream of moving to Ireland into reality.
She moved to Tullamore - the town of the ladies whiskey - and worked as a Senior Receptionist in a local hotel. During her time in the Midlands she used her days off to travel to different parts of Ireland, particularly the West of Ireland which became her favourite place.
For her future development she decided to move to Dublin where she gained experience in Marketing and Advertising. During this time she missed the countryside and so she decided to move to the place which impressed her the most - Galway.
Organising trips for family and friends to Ireland was her own little trademark and so the position at Hillwalk Tours was the perfect opportunity to bring all her past travel experiences together.
Richard Davis grew up on a farm in a rural village in County Galway in the West of Ireland.
From an early age it was clear that Richard had a sense of travel and adventure in his blood, leaving no stone unturned and no tree unclimbed, much to the dismay of his parents who often had to call out “don’t go too far” and “be careful”.
When growing up, he spent his summer holidays visiting different parts of Ireland with his family and often went walking on the beautiful landscape of Connemara, in the West of Ireland, where his father was born. When he first travelled abroad to London, he was hooked on travelling!
Richard attended University in Galway where he studied Business initially and later Human Resources. During his time in University, often working on a tight budget, he travelled extensively throughout several parts of Europe with his friends; exploring new landscapes, cultures and traditions along with seeing some incredible sights, meeting amazing people and experiencing unusual things!
After completing his Masters in Human Resources, he made the decision to leave his home place and moved to Belfast in Northern Ireland where he quickly obtained employment. Here he spent time not only working but also sightseeing and immersing himself in the different culture, history and sights that Northern Ireland had to offer.
Not content to sit still in one place, he spent a large amount of time still travelling throughout Europe with his work, friends or family. When realising that travel & tourism was his true passion in life, he attended University in Belfast to study a Masters in Tourism. Although enjoying life in Belfast, when the opportunity arose to join Hillwalk Tours, he could not pass up the chance to pursue a career in Travel & Tourism along with a chance to move home to his native Galway.
In his spare time, when he’s not looking for an opportunity to visit a new country, Richard enjoys watching and playing all types of sports, but most notably soccer. He has often travelled to the North-West of England several times to see his beloved Wigan Athletic play. Due to his sense of travel and adventure, he often spends most of his weekends driving throughout Ireland and often chooses the paths less travelled to drive in order to discover locations that a breathtakingly beautiful and remote – the ‘gem’ location.
Some of his other passions in life are trying new foods, farming, music and interacting with friends, family and meeting new people.