Exploring the white waters of the Apuan Alps [Bagni di Lucca, Tuscany]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Known for its hot springs since the Roman times, Bagni di Lucca used to be a hotspot for intellectuals of the romantic period such as Lord Byron and Mary Shelley in the early 19th century. This is also when Princess Elisa Bonaparte, the sister of Napoleon, who reigned on Lucca between 1805 and 1824 used to come regularly, renovating the baths and turning Bagni di Lucca in the summer meeting point of an international and influential community, enjoying the first casino in Italy, the cooler climate and its healing waters. Today, if the quiet Tuscan village has lost its world prominence, it has become a gate to many white water and outdoor adventures, just a stone’s throw away from the historical towns of Lucca, Florence and Pisa.

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Puccini festival in Torre del Lago: Madam Butterfly

In Puccini’s footsteps in & around Lucca [Italy]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

What do Rocky, Mission Impossible, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Goonies, Madam Butterfly and Star Wars have in common? An influencer and precursor of advertising and product placement, a maestro who created the first musical of history, a composer whose operas are amongst the most played in the world today: the Lucca-born Giacomo Puccini was a well-travelled man way ahead of his time whose legacy still resonates today all over the world and even more so in the Tuscan city of Lucca!

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Men in period costumes for the Saint Paolino celebrations in Lucca, Italy.

The Saint Paolino celebrations in Lucca

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Paolino (or Paulinus) is the patron of Lucca and, according to the legend, its first bishop sent by Saint Peter himself to evangelize the Lucchese about 2,000 years ago. Celebrated since the Middle Ages, it is in 1664, the day of his holiday, on July 12, that Paolino became the Saint patron of the city. While canons were shot at blank as part of the celebrations, some of them were loaded by mistake with actual ammunitions. The canons were firing from the San Donato bastion on the crowds. Miraculously, no one was injured! The republic attributed this miracle to San Paolino, proving to the Lucchese and their enemies that Lucca was under a strong divine protection.

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Recipe of tiramisu: adding cacao powder before presenting the tiramisu, with ingredients around (coffee, lady fingers, cacao).

The naughty history of tiramisu

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The origin of the most famous Italian dessert stirs up passions in Italy! In her kitchen overlooking the Sienese landscape, Marta looks at us puzzled as she answers our question: ”Siena, of course!” she says with her cute Italian accent. Born and raised in Siena, the passionate cook graduated from the International Chef Academy has created her cooking school back in 2015. Marta Ciappi takes the dispute on the origins of tiramisu between Siena in Tuscany and Treviso in Veneto quite seriously.

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The birth of Venus by Botticelli in the Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy

How to decode Italy’s best Renaissance museum: the Uffizi [Florence]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The Uffizi is THE museum of the Renaissance in Italy; in the world actually! It was never intended to be a museum in the first place though. Initially, the urban palace designed by Vasari overlooking the Arno River a stone’s throw away from Ponte Vecchio, was commissioned by the powerful Cosimo de’ Medici in the 16th century. The Grand Duke of Tuscany needed offices to rule his duchy. His son Francesco converted part of its top floor in a private gallery to house his extensive Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture collection in 1581. The museum opened in 1769 making it one of the oldest museums in the world, and the most visited of Italy with over 2 million visitors per year today. Beyond Francesco’s sculptures, some of the finest and most influential paintings of the Renaissance can be admired in these galleries. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Lippi, Botticelli of course, and also Raphael, Caravaggio, Bronzino and more are well represented and waiting for you to be decoded…

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An active day [or not] along the Italian Riviera

Text & photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

For the most active ones, this article describes a day packed with activities from biking, to hiking and swimming. All the villages described can also be reached by train and boat from Genoa to enjoy their charms, cultural sites and delicious food without getting sweaty (nor desperately trying to find a parking spot)!

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Castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte and its French gardens

Visit a castle so beautiful it got its owner jailed by the king [Vaux le Vicomte]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The architect Louis Le Vau surpassed himself. The elegant castle stands majestically, reflected by a large piece of water in the park. The perspective is perfect. The genius landscaper Le Nôtre combined its laws with some of the most innovative techniques of the time such as levelling, water conveyance systems and optics theories. The result is a delicate balance between art and nature, making the garden the most beautiful of Europe today and the first French formal garden in history. Keep travelling!

Stand up paddling the Arno River by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio from the water: SUP adventure in Florence

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The morning sun bathes the city in a warm light as we walk towards the bank of the Arno River at the foot of Saint Michelangelo’s Piazza in the city of Florence, Italy. We are meeting with Tommaso Pucci, the founder of Toscana SUP and organizer of Uffizi Sup Race and Florence Paddle Games. He knows the Arno River, and the Tuscan waters like no one else, and has a clear passion for his city, Florence, that he is about to have us discover from an unusual point of view… Keep travelling!

Colourful coastal village at dusk in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre: do not visit, EXPERIENCE it

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Cinque Terre is so much more than just five instagrammable colourful medieval villages dominating the crystal-clear Ligurian Sea. First of all, it is more like a dozen other tiny villages including the ones that are high up overlooking the five most famous Italian villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore (from North to South). It is also Keep travelling!

Seven bottles of the Cinque Terre wines crafted at Possa's vineyards taken in a wine cellar.

High on wine: Cinque Terre’s dramatic vineyards

Text & photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

In Cinque Terre, five tiny colourful villages cling to rocky spurs that plunge into the turquoise Ligurian Sea. This rugged landscape has been softened for centuries by hardworking winemakers who painstakingly carved and maintained terraces into the cliff faces to cultivate them. Most terraces were planted with vines. A few areas were devoted to olive trees, citruses and Keep travelling!

Ready for the pesto workshop at Nessun Dorma in Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy: all the ingredients are on the table

Let’s pesto in Cinque Terre!

Text & photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Seated with my back against a century-old dry-stone wall, I am overlooking the small picturesque harbour of Manarola in Cinque Terre where a few fishing boats dance on choppy waves. Colourful houses built on the dark cliff above the turquoise blue Ligurian Sea in Italy set the backdrop. I contemplate the view when Keep travelling!

Young shepherd in traditional clothes herding his angora sheep in Eastern Lesotho

Exploring Eastern Lesotho

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

“Hold on tight! It is going to be very bumpy,” the seriousness resonates in Christeen Grant’s voice, experienced mountain guide passionate about the Drakensberg. The engine of the iconic Land Rover Defender roars while the suspensions of the sturdy 4×4 are motioning like an accordion. If we found Christeen’s words “It is going to be a little bit bumpy!” quite entertaining two years ago Keep exploring!

7 elephants facing the camera while drinking by a waterhole in the sun, South Africa

Elephant facts – all you need to know about the African elephant [Africa’s big 5 series]

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

I am steering the rental car around the bend on a curvy and hilly road in the idyllic landscape of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve at a rough 25 kilometres per hour. The ideal speed to spot some wildlife on this self-drive safari is also well adapted Keep travelling!

Purple flowers from the King's Kitchen Garden in Versailles with the cathedral in the background.

Stroll the atmospheric King’s Kitchen Garden [Versailles]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

In Versailles, one might expect the King’s Kitchen Garden (le Potager du Roi) to be designed as a perfectly curated French garden. However, the historical garden that was created in 1683 by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie to produce fresh fruits and vegetables for Louis XIV and his court has retained its prime function: an innovative and experimental producing ground. Follow us off-the-beaten path, right by the Palace of Versailles and stroll this lesser-known and atmospheric gem…

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Beautiful wild male lion during a safari in the Karoo National Park, in the sunrise light

Lions facts – how & where to spot wild lions [Africa’s Big 5 series]

The big 5 get their nickname from the times of hunting. Lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants, and rhinoceroses are Africa’s 5 most dangerous mammals to come across in the African bush, and as such they were the utmost trophies to bring home. Today, thankfully, most dream of spotting them in the wild, and capturing them only on camera – even if trophy hunting is still a current practice. Walking in the bush Keep spotting!

The precarious condition of domestic workers in Hong Kong relaxing underground on Sundays

A thought-provoking walk in Kowloon

Countless skyscrapers and high-rise apartments lit up the Hong Kong night sky and convey a sense of wealth and prosperity. The land reclamations call for new construction projects that seem to be everywhere as attested by the ever-present cranes and bamboo scaffoldings. Hong Kong impresses by its modernity, cleanliness, and development level. The trading port and financial centre is home to world’s largest concentration of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (net worth above 30 million USD), and offers some of the greatest wages in the world. However, the 1,100-square-kilometre territory is home to 7.5 million inhabitants making Hong Kong one of the most densely populated cities on the planet, and one of the most unequal. Keep travelling!

Hiker walking the Dragon’s Back trail in Hong Kong with hiking poles

Taming the dragon on Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong is famous for its skyscrapers and modernity. What is less known is that only 7% of the territory is built. Only a few subway stops away from the most densely populated area on the planet (with up to 130,000 inhabitants per square kilometres!), fantastic outdoors are easily accessible. Pushing further than Victoria Peak, follow us on the Dragon’s Back that has been voted world’s best urban hike. Keep travelling!

Notre Dame de Paris: back then & today

The 15th of April 2019 was a tragic day. A fire ravaged the cathedral for 15 hours, taking down its spire and its roof. 500 firefighters operating in the dense heart of Paris could save the monument heroically. Millions shared their emotions and many sent financial help from all over the world showing how much of a symbol Notre Dame is for all of us, regardless of religion or nationality. At the moment, the cathedral is closed to the public and undergoing restorations. Securing it and ensuring its structural integrity were the first tasks: the vault and structure are saved. Explore Notre Dame in this article, from its 850-year history to its current status.

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Cape Fur Seals swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town during a snorkeling session

Seal snorkeling in Cape Town

From the harbour of Hout Bay, it is a 7-minute-boat ride to arrive at Duiker Island. The harbour of the picturesque fishing village which has turned into a family-friendly suburb of Cape Town is naturally protected in the beautiful bay famous for the Chapman’s Peak drive, one of world’s most scenic roads and a UNESCO Word Heritage Site. Today we are not here for the scenery though, instead we are going to explore the playful action going on underneath the surface of the ocean!

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The Furnace Peak volcano in eruption in with the bright red lava in fusion and the red sky

Why is Reunion called the Intense Island?

One of the main attractions of the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean is to get up close to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the Piton de La Fournaise or Furnace Peak. If seismic events are in progress when you visit, you may be lucky to witness a rare event of the forces of nature, with magma spitted up in the air. If not, this will give you the opportunity to hike its caldera and craters in a surreal and unique landscape.

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Black graffiti on a white wall reading Liberty or Death during the Hong Kong protests

Current Hong Kong explained [protests]

In 2019 Hong Kong made the international news due to of waves of demonstrations lasting for months. The ex-British colony has a very complex relationship with mainland China to which it is geographically attached. More than a city, less than a country, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR) finds itself a very unique and delicate situation.

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Colonial architecture of the Slave Lodge building in Cape Town, South Africa

How slavery gave its colours to the rainbow nation

When one knows that Cape Town’s Slave Lodge was built in 1679 to house the slaves owned by the VOC (Dutch East India Company), its appearance today is deceiving. The Cape Dutch architecture of this colonial building, one of the oldest in Cape Town, has nothing to do with what it originally looked like… When it was built, the slave lodge looked like the worst kind of prison, without any windows and only a few openings with bars on the courtyard. The inside was so dark that even during the day a lamp was needed, the air circulation was so poor that the filthy stench was permanent and in these poor hygienic conditions the death rate amongst the slaves owned by the VOC was high. About 8,000 men, women and children lived in the Slave Lodge over a period of 132 years…

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View from Cucina restaurant at night on the high-rise buildings of Hong Kong Island during the laser show, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Hong Kong in 5 days

Whether you like shopping, museums, beach going, the outdoors, history, architecture or you are a foodie, Hong Kong has much to offer in a rather compact territory! We have compiled the best of Hong Kong in an eclectic 5-day itinerary taking you from the must-go Victoria Peak to remote fishing villages while experiencing the best dim sums and grasping the challenges that the territory is facing. Keep exploring

White and gold architecture of the landmark Murray luxurious hotel in Hong Kong and 100-year old landmarked tree

The Murray, more than luxury: a landmark

In less than 200 years, Hong Kong has been transformed continuously from a fishing village into Victoria City, from a warehouse into a manufacturing centre, into a services hub, and into today’s modern metropolis and global financial centre. With such a fast rate of change, Hong Kong is facing a real challenge: sustaining its growth that has made Hong Kong what it is today and is its essence, while conserving the heritage that makes this megapolis so unique.

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The Castle of Good Hope [6 fun facts]

When the Dutch East India Company (VOC) settled on the shores of Table Bay in 1652 to establish a refreshment station, Jan van Riebeeck, the first Commander of the Cape, had a clay and timber fort built. With tensions rising between the British and the Dutch in 1664, it was time for a more permanent structure. Even though the VOC was reluctant to invest in the project, the pentagonal stone fortress Keep travelling!

Interactive map Athens

Interactive map: Athens, Greece

If for many years, far from its glorious past, Athens has only been a short stopover on the way to the Greek islands, it deserves a more in-depth exploration. From one of the best Mediterranean gastronomies that can be uncovered on its lively markets, friendly restaurants or excellent cooking classes, to multi millennium-old ruins that have seen the Western Civilization get born, its vibrant neighborhoods and its true urban culture, the Greek capital should get way more attention!

To make it easy for you to explore Athens, here is our interactive map, showing places to eat, drink, run and visit, from must-see cultural visits to low-key and off the beaten path spots. Zoom in on the area of interest, and check out the black pins. Each of them corresponds to an article. Keep traveling!

Man and woman having dinner outside on a wooden deck on stilts, Tai O fishing village, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

The best of Lantau Island in a day!

Bird songs fill the cabin of the gondola taking us to the Big Buddha. Through the glass bottom we observe the South Chinese Sea which we smoothly pass over towards the mountains of Lantau Island. Behind us Hong Kong airport, world’s largest cargo airport, where we have just landed gets smaller as we fly over the jungle. Sometimes we notice hikers in bright coloured T-shirts which like small dots move through the greenery on various trails beneath our feet. Keep exploring!

The best way up Victoria Peak [not the tram!]

The unbeatable views on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories from Victoria Peak prompts every visitor to make it up the highest mountain of Hong Kong Island. The most common mean to reach the 554-meter high summit is by taking the tram, but there is a much more rewarding way up the ancient volcano that will make you experience a lot more of Hong Kong from the Mid-Levels lifestyle, to its protected forest, and of course unmatched views.

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Visual tour of the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates are a very new country built out of the desert. Just a few kilometres away from Dubai, the hub of shopping and luxurious hotels, and Abu Dhabi betting on culture, the more traditional emirate offers a completely different experience.

Here is a compilation of our best shots capturing the essence of the United Arab Emirates to inspire you. Don’t forget, sharing is caring!

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Young Basotho shepherd wearing the traditional wool blanket, and walking with donkeys in Lesotho.

Visual tour of Lesotho

Lesotho is an enclosed country within South Africa set up on a high mountain-top plateau that was shaped by 30 million years of volcanic lava flowing, forming a 1.5-kilometre thick basalt layer. For the past 150 million years, water erosion formed the beautiful valleys and dragon-like cliff line that separates Lesotho from South Africa on the east side. The kingdom in the sky was created in 1827 by the beloved and wise king Moshoeshoe and a fascinating destination to travel through. Keep exploring

Full raft going down the rapids of the Cataract Canyon, Western River Expeditions, Colorado River, USA.

The call of the white [Rafting the biggest white waters of the USA!]

The vast Colorado River winds its way through the metamorphic red stones of the Colorado Plateau where it has sculpted the land for millions of years carving one of world’s most spectacular gorges. If the Grand Canyon had made explorers of the Great Unknown shiver, the shorter Cataract Canyon just a couple of hundred miles upstream had remained one of the most difficult sections of the Colorado River to conquer. In the springtime, the melting snow feeds both rivers, the Colorado and the Green that merge at Confluence in the heart of Canyonlands NP, the starting point of the Cataract Canyon. Both un-dammed for hundreds of miles upstream, these mighty rivers merge to lead to the greatest white waters of the USA this time of the year with Class II to V rapids ranking along with those of the Grand Canyon in power and difficulty. Today they make the bravest white water enthusiasts shrill while riding these exhilarating rapids!

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Two women laughing while reading coffee on a terrace in Greece.

Offbeat Athens, exploring the city with a local

One of the oldest cities on Earth and the birthplace of western civilization, Athens could easily rely on its glorious past and multi millennium-old ruins and fall into grogginess. For years it has been only a sneak peak into Ancient Greece or a gateway to the islands with many tourists making it to the famous Acropolis before heading to the Piraeus to catch a boat. However, the Greek capital has a lot more to offer with vibrant neighborhoods and a true urban culture.

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The golden death mask of Agamemnon, Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

8 reasons why you should not skip the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens showcases a very rich collection of Ancient Greek art that is a perfect introduction to any trip to Greece. The richness of the collections (a thorough visit will take you about four hours) and the extent of interesting written information can be overwhelming so we selected some masterpieces for you in this article.

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Visual tour of Oman

Probably one of the most welcoming countries in the Middle East where the heat of the sun is only capped off by the warmth of its inhabitants, the Sultanate of Oman is a fantastic playground for adventure seekers and outdoors enthusiasts. With its rich history, strategic position on the ancient trade routes that provided Oman with international influences over the centuries, proud culture, and long-lived traditions, the pearl of Arabia will most definitely seduce you!

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72 hours in Cape Town

With its jaw dropping geographical location between Table Mountain & the Atlantic Ocean,  you will need at least three days to explore its ins & outs and soak up its vibes. Spread the activities based on the weather as the ocean can be rough (for Robben Island) and Table Mountain is often covered in a table cloth of clouds. We can assure you one thing, after spending a few days in the “Mother City”, you will want to come back for more!

This article focuses on the city area where all is reachable by cab or Uber.

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