Mother rhino with her calf by a waterhole at sunrise, South Africa

Rhino facts – all you need to know about rhinos [Africa’s Big 5 series]

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

All photographs taken in the wild & available in high definition upon request. All rights reserved.

I follow our trail guide in his tracks while scanning the bushes surrounding me in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi park in South Africa during an early morning bush walk. With three other wildlife enthusiasts, we are on a mission to spot some of the Big 5 and one of world’s most ancient mammals. Our safari guide seems to have picked up some tracks and signs of one of them… Under the rising sun, he snaps his fingers to signal us to stop walking, while pointing out three majestic white rhinos close to a small waterhole, only 200 metres away from our small group. For a few magical moments, the sound of the shutters of our cameras competes with the singing of the birds and the loud and ungracious honking of a couple of Nile Geese fiercely guarding their precious body of water. “Please, do not post your photos on social media with the exact location of any rhinoceros”, our field guide urges us with a solemn voice. Poachers are a very serious threat and all means are good for them to locate these prehistoric animals for their horns that sell for a fortune on the black market in order to feed the unsatiable Chinese and Vietnamese demand.

In this series of five articles, we feature the Big 5 (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos) – Africa’s most dangerous mammals to encounter on foot in the wild. Keep reading to learn more about rhinos…

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Photographer Marcella van Alphen showing a photo to EcoTracker instructor Norman Chauke in the African bush

In the tracks of wildlife in Africa

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

The three lobes are very distinct. The leading edge of the main pad is flat. I orientate my flashlight to have a better view: the four toes are nicely rounded. There is no doubt: this footprint was left by a young male lion, only a few hours ago. I stand up, and look at my dome tent, barely two metres (6 feet) away. As the sun rises over the South African bush, the sky turns red orange, and the spoors are better lit. I switch off the torch and turn back to the soft sand: next to this track, I can identify some others, amongst which the ones of a lioness with their pointy leading edges lit by the few sun rays at dawn. The way the spoors are positioned tells me that this pride of lions was casually walking through the EcoTraining Camp in the Selati Game Reserve while I was half asleep. The alarm call of the troop of baboons, the sound of the herd of impalas running, the hardly palpable changes in the air and the scuffing in the sand that I heard during the night now all make sense. I do not know what I am amazed by the most: the proximity with these lions or the amount of practical knowledge I have gained during a week immersed in the wild living my most intense safari experience to this date…

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Up close and personal with rhinos

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

The cold water of the rain shower feels good: it has been a long drive with the very last stretch on a hilly rough dirt road in the burning sun before we eventually arrived at the lodge. As I am contemplating the view on the endless rolling hills in my favourite wilderness of South Africa from the shower, I am startled. I jump out onto the large outdoor private deck of our villa and with my hands – and everything else for that matter – still wet, I grab my binoculars: “rhinos!” I observe three of these prehistoric animals with their so coveted horns roaming the opposite green slope: a calf which I estimate no older than a few months, its mother and another white rhino that could be the calf’s older sibling. I feel extremely privileged to witness this scene as their numbers are dangerously plummeting and rhinos are on the verge of extinction, being poached to feed the insatiable Chinese market. For sure, the Isibindi Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge that sits at the edge of the Hluhluwe iMfolozi game reserve in Kwazulu Natal, is well named! If the head of Isibindi Africa Trails, Nunu Jobe, is as pertinently nicknamed, I hardly dare imagining what a walk in the African bush with the “Rhino Whisperer” holds for me…

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Hikers studying Bushmen rock art in the Drakensberg, South Africa.

In the footsteps of the rock artists of the Drakensberg [South Africa]

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

The skinny young man dressed in animal skin is standing, with his spear high up above his head. His friends are following him striking a similar posture. They are wearing animal skins. Their tribe has been following the migrating herds, higher into the mountains. The tracking has been long and laborious, and they are tired. The tips of their spears are covered in diamphotoxin, a slow-acting poison obtained from beetle larvae. Further, a herd of elands grazes. The large more-than-half-a-ton animals are unaware of the men’s presence. Even for great hunters as the Bushmen, this is a dangerous endeavour: with a shoulder height of 1.7 meters (5 feet 8 inches), Africa’s largest antelope is much taller than them.

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Dim sum dinner in a star restaurant, Tim Ho Wan, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Hong Kong interactive map for your trip

Paradise for shopaholics, hikers, beach goers, architect lovers, history buffs, night owls, and foodies, Hong Kong has something to offer for everyone. So, start exploring this interactive map to plan your trip (click on the black pins to see the corresponding article, or the others for information) or check out our visual tour to get inspired! just take your pick amongst the following photographs and get inspired!

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A settlement hugging the cliffs in Mesa Verde National Park, Utah, USA

Your guide to Mesa Verde National Park

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

Completely off-the-beaten path, Mesa Verde National Park provides more than natural beauty: real insights into the lives of the Puebloan people, early inhabitants of America. This great cultural significance combined to the exceptionally well-preserved ruins makes Mesa Verde one of the highlights of any trip to the West.

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Gardeners working in Claude Monet's garden in Giverny, France

Visit Claude Monet’s finest masterpiece [Giverny]

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

He inspired the name of the whole movement that revolutionized art. From Tokyo to New York City via Paris, he remains one of the most celebrated painters honoured in the most prestigious museums. Still, there is no better place than Giverny where the master spent 43 years of his life and shaped his beloved garden to get inspired by Claude Monet (1840-1926) and dive into his universe.

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Close up on a pair of African Penguins grooming on Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

Unique: Swimming with penguins [Boulders Beach, Cape Town]

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

Sheltered from the winds by gigantic 540-million-year-old granite rocks, Boulders Beach is a local’s favourite for its low waves and slightly warmer water temperatures compared to the frigid yet popular Camps Bay and Clifton beaches in the heart of Cape Town. There is something more that attracts beach goers to this picturesque shoreline: it is the only place in the world where one can swim with South Africa’s most unexpected residents: jackass penguins!

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Monk hanging spiraled incense coils at the Man Mo Temple on Hong Kong Island. Red and gold tones dominate in a soft light.

A visual tour of Hong Kong

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

One of the most densely populated places in the world, Hong Kong is an urban jungle to explore. From luxury brand flagship stores to vibrant markets, from high-end hotels and spas with exquisite restaurants to Michelin-star local dim sum eateries, from mountainous parks with stunning vistas to exotic beaches, from traditional temples and authentic fishing villages to modern architectural marvels, from Chinese medicine stores to trendy art galleries, the city is full of contrasts!

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The Bonifacius Bridge over a canal, reflections and blue skies

72 hours in Bruges

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

Bruges is far more than a cute, instagrammable and romantic city to spend a day in. During the Middle Ages, Bruges was a booming, vibrant and extremely rich trading metropolis (have a quick read to dig into its history!). Today, its wealth not only resides in its preserved architecture, but also in the masterpieces that were created here amongst which some of the most remarkable paintings by the Flemish Primitives that are beautifully showcased in the intimate city museums. Follow us on this 3-day itinerary to enjoy Bruges to the fullest, including the best attractions, walks, photo spots, bike rides around town, hidden gems and insider’s favourites!

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Enjoying a beer by the fireplace at De Halve Maan brewery pub, Bruges.

The secrets of beer making in a 500-year old brewery

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

Belgium’s reputation of producing high quality beer is a reason for many to visit, and if it is not your reason, this is the perfect opportunity to learn how to appreciate better this millennium-old drink that has become more and more fashionable lately with the wave of microbreweries all over the world.

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Rooftops and facades of Ghent

72 hours in Ghent

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

Ghent, strategically located at the confluence of the Lys and Scheldt Rivers was a powerful trading city during the medieval times, boomed during the industrial revolution starting in the 18th century, and today is Belgium’s largest student town. The dynamic city of Ghent is refreshing and trendy, while being full of history as highlighted by its varied architecture encompassing over a millennium, its contrasted art from the classic Flemish Primitive masters to funky street art, picturesque canals and gardens, authentic markets, excellent restaurants and great nightlife: an ideal off the beaten path city for the perfect eclectic city trip. In this article we list our must-do’s and reveal some hidden gems for you to craft your perfect 3-day itinerary in the vibrant capital of East Flanders.

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Two people walking through the colourful graffiti street in Ghen, Belgium

Brief history of Ghent, the rebellious city of Flanders

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

For years, Ghent has remained Belgium’s best kept secret. In the shade of fairytale Bruges, only half-an-hour away, Ghent used to be overlooked. Big mistake! If Bruges seems frozen in time back during the Middle Ages, Ghent is a vibrant city with a rich medieval past and architecture, but also an industrial heritage. Today, the lively student town is a destination you don’t want to miss… To fully appreciate this lovely city, take this brief travel through time and be amazed!

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The Adoration of the Lamb by the Van Eycks

Decoding the great Flemish Primitive Jan van Eyck [Bruges & Ghent]

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

The stunning realism, numerous details and vivid colours of Jan van Eyck’s paintings give them an irresistible appeal that makes the Flemish Primitive an undisputed master who revolutionized European art and is still one of the most revered artists to this day. One of the founders of Flemish painting, his style was unique and has inspired many. His technique was so innovative that he is still often considered – wrongly – as the inventor of oil painting. Travelling to both Bruges and Ghent is the best way to learn more about Jan van Eyck, admire his most acclaimed masterpieces and rediscover his art and genius thanks to state-of-the-art technologies.

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Reflections at the Dijver at night in Bruges, Belgium

Bruges’ glorious past & ever-lasting charm

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

In the Middle Ages, Bruges was the centre of the trading world living its Golden Age in the 15th century: exotic products, precious stones and pigments, spices and expensive goods were exchanged from all corners of the world. This is where the stock exchange got its name, and the cradle of the Flemish Primitive painters. Dig into its history to enjoy one of the cutest European towns even better!

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Canal with the medieval Butcher's Hall, Ghent, Belgium

Food & drinks to try in Ghent

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

Belgian gastronomy is too often summed up to beer, chocolate and waffles. There is a lot more to it, and Ghent is the perfect city to explore the wide range of yummy foods and innovative drinks! On top of this, its vibrant student life makes Ghent’s nightlife lively and a forerunner for vegetarian and even vegan fares in Belgium.

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Wild leopard sleeping in a tree at sunset in South Africa

Leopards facts – how & where to spot them in the wild [Africa’s Big 5 series]

Article updated on May 3, 2021
Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Note: all photographs taken in the wild & available in high definition upon request. All rights reserved.

I am hiking in the mountains of the Cederberg, a remote area a couple of hours away from Cape Town, South Africa, known for its magnificent stargazing, and not so much for its safaris. I have just spotted some fresh tracks in the sand though. It is broad daylight and I am following them. They lead me to some dung along the track: it is rather fresh and contains some rodent bones and hair… It is what I thought: I am not alone. These grounds used to be populated by many more wild animals, but here Africa’s most feared predators have been wiped out but for one of them which has been adapting extremely well despite habitat loss: the leopard.

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Taking in The Death Cleopatra by Giovan Francesco Barnieri in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa

72 hours in Genoa [your guide to experience the city]

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

With about 1.5 million inhabitants, the capital of Liguria, squeezed between the Gulf of Genoa and the mountains, is the 5th city of Italy and the busiest of the Mediterranean Sea extending for 15 kilometres along the coast. Off the beaten path destination more known today for its industrial and logistic sides than for its tourist attractions, Genoa was nicknamed La Superba when it used to rule as one world’s most powerful Maritime Republics. Known since the Middle-Ages for its ability to navigate the seas, to build alliances and to develop trade networks, Genoa had greatly developed as Europe’s main port and financial centres. Today, its past wealth emanates from its no less than 140 palaces built by its ruling families, its many richly adorned churches and its art collections. From the palaces, narrow and dark medieval streets, called caruggi, lead to the Ligurian Sea, composing the largest medieval historical centre in Europe after Venice. Genoa is an authentic city that fascinates by its many layers and contrasts and that is definitely worth spending time discovering.

Keep reading for the perfect and authentic itinerary to discover Genoa over three days, from must-dos to hidden gems!

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Woman on a green Vespa enjoying the view on rolling hills in Tuscany, Italy

Your 2-day Vespa loop from Siena through Tuscany [Brunello & Montepulciano wine area]

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

Leaving the walled city of Siena behind, a world of golden rolling hills soon opens up. Farmers have just harvested their crops and round or rectangle wheat straw bales are drying in the sun, providing some shades to a few birds picking up whatever is left in the golden grass. Cypress trees line the long driveways leading to large terra-cotta farms. The scent of hay mixes with the sweet odour of fig trees and the golden wheat fields contrasts with the perfectly blue Tuscan summer sky. It is time for a 2-day adventure, riding a Vespa to explore the South of Siena, and more specifically the most renown wine regions of Tuscany: Brunello, Montepulciano and Orcia. Hop on!

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Renzo Piano's Biosphere contrasting with the medieval towers in Genoa, Italy

5 fun facts about Genoa you did not know about

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

1. And you thought blue jeans came from the States?

By mid-16th century more than half of the population of Genova worked in the silk industry. The craftmanship in the city-state was so renown that exclusive royal garments were often made in Genoa. Collaborating with the city of Lucca where silk was produced, Genoa functioned as trading post and benefited hugely from this trade. However, these precious clothes were unaffordable for common people, let alone sailors.

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White marble kitche counter with fresh ingredients from Italy

A day with an Italian chef in a 17th-century palace [Lucca]

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

Strolling the streets of the picturesque city of Lucca in the heart of Tuscany, we follow the passionate chef Giuseppe Mazzocchi while he leads the way through a maze of narrow alleys bustling with liveliness. A few tourists take in the richly-adorned façades of some of its 100 churches, as it is nicknamed. Others look up at one of Lucca’s characteristic towers contrasting with the deep blue Tuscan sky. Some opera lovers seem to walk towards the birth house of the world-famous composer Giacomo Puccini. Some locals enjoy window-shopping: the city of Lucca flourished thanks to the high-end production of silk textiles, closely collaborating with Genoa, and still today quality shops line its streets. However, the shopping that we are about to do with Giuseppe will have us explore Lucca from another perspective: the palate…

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View on rooftops and a brick tower with trees on top of it and hills in the background

Lucca: your ultimate guide [2 to 5 days]

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

Lucca is this kind of city. The more time you spend here, the longer you want to stay. Yes, the picturesque walled Tuscan city at the foot of the Apennine Mountains and along the Serchio River is touristy. Still it remains an authentic city with a very nice atmosphere, different from a slightly arrogant museum-Florence (don’t get me wrong, Florence can be wonderful, but it has also been the victim of its success and mass tourism seems to have taken the best of it) or quick-cruise-stop Pisa. How long to plan for Lucca? Two days is the absolute minimum, spending at least a night within the city walls. Here are many ideas sorted out by themes to spend a good 4 to 5 days in the city, including climbing its towers, visiting excellent museums, tasting and cooking delicious Tuscan specialties, listening to some Puccini, and experiencing unexpected outdoor activities.

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Uncooked ravioli, pici and tagliatelle on a wooden table

The secrets of pasta making & everything you need to know to enjoy your pastas [Siena, Italy]

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

Tagliatelle, spaghetti, pappardelle, ravioli, tortellini, trofie, pici… who has ever travelled to Italy knows there are many different varieties of pastas which almost all have their traditional accompanying sauces. It is in Siena that we are about to uncover the secrets of pasta-making, with the passionate chef Marta Ciappi, owner of Marta’s Cooking Classes.

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The crafts of Florence: making a leather shoe.

The crafts behind the masterpieces of Florence

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

Florence is the artistic capital of the Renaissance. The Italian city is world famous for its museums and masterpieces by some of the most revered artists of all times. However, the unspoken stories of its craftsmen need to be told. Without them, most of these masterpieces would not have existed as it is thanks to their technical skills that Florence became a powerful trading place for high quality products. Moreover, Renaissance masterpieces would not have been executed with such maestro nor restored the way they are to this day if it were not for the talent of these workers of the shadows.

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The Duomo, the cathedral of Florence by night

The Florence Duomo: 10 fascinating facts about this masterpiece of the Renaissance

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

It bears different names: in Italian, the Duomo di Firenze or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (literally translated as Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower).

It is unmistakable though. World’s fourth largest cathedral (after London, Rome and Milan) dominates the skyline of Florence. Whether from the hills across the Arno River, standing at its foot or looking at it from its bell tower or terraces, its dazzling dimensions make one feel tiny!

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Reflection of Siena in the mirror of a scooter, Italy

Your 1-day Vespa loop from Siena itinerary [Chianti, San Gimignano, Certaldo…]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

While Siena slowly wakes up, we exit passing its medieval Porta Romana and leave the walled city for a day in the Tuscan countryside, each proudly riding a Vespa scooter. In Siena, do as the Sienese do… It is easy to understand why Italians love these scooters so much. They give a great freedom, allowing to take any kind of roads, from city centres to dirt tracks and to park easily (when it is becoming a challenge to drive a car, let alone park in and around Italian cities and even villages).

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Golden plate of hte Hotel Bernini Palace reflecting the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo, Florence, Italy.

Sleeping in the cradle of the Kingdom of Italy [Bernini Palace]

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

In the heart of Florence, a stone’s throw away from the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Museum, the 15th century palace that now houses the Hotel Bernini Palace has a long history of luxury and hospitality. More than staying in a 5-star hotel, staying at the Bernini is sleeping in the cradle of the kingdom of Italy and stepping into history…

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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 a National Park, including a large marine reserve, and it is an agricultural land where vineyards have been cultivated on narrow terraces supported by dry-stone walls for almost a millennium.

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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]

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

Note: all photographs taken in the wild & available in high definition upon request – All right reserved

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 where they still roam is not common. In many African countries, these king animals are confined to game parks (that can be as large as a country: for instance, Kruger Park in South Africa is about the size of Israel) enforcing strict rules for visitor’s safety. Still, bush walks can be organized with highly-trained rangers. Whether you are on a walk, in your own car, or in a game drive vehicle, knowing behavioural facts about lions can greatly up your chances of spotting them!

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!