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)!

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!

A multiday hiker looking at a view on the city of Cilaos on the exclusive hike through the 3 cirques, Réunion Island.

A 7-day exclusive trek for the best of Réunion!

Reunion Island is a true hiker’s paradise. With hundreds of kilometers of well-maintained and well-marked trails crisscrossing the island’s mountains (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), indigenous forests full of endemic species, rivers, striking viewpoints and isolated settlements, it might be hard to choose which hiking paths to take. To hit the most beautiful natural wonders of Reunion Island while experiencing the three very different amphitheaters (called “Cirques”) and meeting its inhabitants walking the most scenic trails, we have created an exclusive 7-day circular hike for you! Keep traveling!

GR 20 Etape 14: Paliri to Conca [GR 20: 180km of hiking DONE!!]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 14 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 14 of the GR 20 (Paliri to Conca): +200m, -980m over 13km

[Click here for the previous stage]

After the long stage of yesterday our muscles seem to be protesting as we start walking and leave beautiful Paliri behind. There is something special about Paliri that makes us realise the ambivalence of our feelings. On one hand, Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 11: Col de Verde to Usciolu [ridgelines & fresh fruits]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 11 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 11 of the GR 20 (Col de Verde to Usciolu): +1090m, -750m over 15.3km

[Click here for the previous stage]

After freezing our butts off for more than a week (packing light does come at a price!), we have had our first warm night on the GR 20! Between the elevation of Col de Verde about 400 metres lower than the refuge of Prati and the weather that is improving as we are getting closer to July, night temperatures have become two digits. Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 10: E’Capannelle to Col de Verde [beer, soccer & BBQ…]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 10 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 10 of the GR 20 (E’Capannelle to Col de Verde): +500m, -590m over 13km

[Click here for the previous stage]

It is early morning when we break the tent and leave to enjoy sunrise on the Corsican Mountains. Shortly after the peaks are tainted pink while the mountains are still in the shade, we descend to the river to cook another hearty oatmeal breakfast with tea and coffee to warm us up after a cold night. Studying our Rite Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 8: L’onda to Vizzavona [how simple pleasures become luxury]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 8 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 8 of the GR 20 (L’Onda to Vizzavona): +650m, -1230m over 10km

[Click here for the previous stage]

That’s it, we have just started the last stage of the Northern part of the GR 20! A short 10-kilometre stretch. Just one last uphill before a smooth 1,230-metre downhill into the small settlement of Vizzavona, or so we thought. Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 7: Vaccaghja to L’Onda [via altitude lakes you don’t want to miss!]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 7 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 7 of the GR 20 (Vaccaghja to L’Onda): +1600m, -1400m over 20km

[Click here for the previous stage]

We slowly wake up in the warmth of the dry stone house after our best night by far on the GR 20. The storm seems to be a distant memory as blue skies contrast greatly with the surrounding greenery. The best of the bergerie (sheepfold) de Vaccaghja has yet to come with our first warm shower Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 6: Castel del Vergio to Vaccaghja [the nicest accommodation of the whole GR 20!]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 6 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 6 of the GR 20 (Castel del Vergio to Vaccaghja): +620m, -450m over 14km

[Click here for the previous stage]

After crossing the road and leaving the asphalt behind, we make progress fast on an easy and relatively flat trail through a pine and later a beech forest. As we ascend towards the col of Saint Peter Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 5: Ballone to Castel del Vergio [why this is better than Tighettu to Ciottulu]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 5 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 5 of the GR 20 (Ballonne to Castel del Vergio): +660m, -680m over 13.5km

[Click here for the previous stage]

One of the perks of favouring bergeries (sheepfolds) over refuges is the warm welcome and delicious food. After an excellent local cured ham sandwich for breakfast that is a nice change from our usual oatmeal, we are ready to tackle this next stage. Much easier than the previous one (13.5 kilometres of distance with only 660 metres of elevation gain and 680 metres of elevation loss), the first few hundred metres feel like it is our very first bit of flat trail on the GR 20. The mineral world of Stage 4 has turned into Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 4: Ascu Stagnu to Ballone [is Monte Cinto really better than Cirque de la Solitude?]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 4 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 4 of the GR 20 (Ascu Stagnu to Ballone): +1220m, -1150m over 9.4km

[Click here for the previous stage]

Early wake up today as there may be more rain early in the afternoon. With most of our gear still wet after the heavy thunderstorm we hiked through on the downhill of Stage 3, we are ready to run the 9.4 kilometres we need to cover today to avoid another unwanted shower! Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 3: Carrozzu to Ascu Stagnu [helicopter rescue & thunderstorms]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 3 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 3 of the GR 20 (Carrozzu to Ascu Stagnu): +790m, -640m over 5km

[Click here for the previous stage]

After breaking up the tent fast we meet with the man in charge of hiking for the Regional Natural Park of Corsica on the now quiet terrace of the refuge of Carrozzu. It is the beginning of the season and one of the busiest moments and he looks worried. The park and the GR face some serious challenges. Last year Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 2: Ortu di u Piobbu to Carrozzu [tougher than we thought]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 2 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 2 of the GR 20 (Ortu di u Piobbu to Carrozzu): +780m, -920m over 7.7km

[Click here for the previous stage]

Most hikers are already gone when we open the rainfly of our tent to admire the view: the mountains are slowly bathed by the pink light of the rising sun. After a cold night, we are both impatient to feel the sun rays. Tomorrow is the start of the summer and the weather forecast has already greatly improved from snow in mid-May to rain and thunderstorms last week. The days are very hot in the sun with a traitorous cold wind on the summits. Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 1: Calenzana to Ortu di u Piobbu [getting launched on the GR!]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 1 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 1 of the GR 20 (Calenzana to Ortu di u Piobbu): +1360m, -60m over 10.6km

A familiar noise wakes me up: the zipping and unzipping of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, down jackets or soft shells of other hikers already getting ready to start the GR 20 at 4:30 in the morning. I turn around in our 2-person lightweight Jamet-designed tent, and doze off a bit longer: after all we have all day to make it to Ortu di u Piobbu, only 11 kilometres away from here in Calenzana, but the strenuous first stage will elevate us by about 1,360 metres in the Corsican mountains…

Keep hiking!

GR 20: Prologue

The toughest hike of Europe will take you through the rugged heart of the island of Beauty. In the Mediterranean Sea, off the coasts of France and Italy, Corsica is a hikers’ paradise and its famous 200-kilometre long GR 20 offers an endless variety of landscapes to the adventurers who will dare braving its often daily 4-digit elevation gains. Keep hiking!

The ultimate guide to Panama!

Panama is world famous for its engineering masterpiece linking the Pacific to the Atlantic. But Panama has a lot more to offer and is probably one of our coup de coeur in Central America! From gorgeous islands with Caribbean vibes, jungles, wildlife-packed cloud forests, exciting white waters, and coffee plantations where the best coffee in the world is grown, join us for our Panamanian adventures ending in the cosmopolitan capital with its rich history, great nightlife, skyscrapers and colonial areas, interesting museums and world-famous Panama Canal. Keep traveling!

The best of El Salvador!

El Salvador is the smallest country of Central America: it is a compact version of stunning coast lines, great surf beaches, mountains coloured by wild flowers, cute villages, delicious pupusas, and active volcanos. Going beyond its unsafe reputation, you will discover the hospitality and friendliness of its inhabitants, always ready to engage a conversation, especially to advise you on where to go, that are second to none in Central America. Keep traveling!

The ultimate guide to Guatemala!

 

From stunning Maya ruins, sometimes completely lost in the rainforest, to traditional villages with vibrant markets, lovely colonial towns, active volacanoes, gorgeous canyons of limestone pools, hot springs, and diverse wildlife, Guatemala seems to have it all. Best of all, Guatemalans are open, curious and kind, happy to share their customs with travellers. Despite its unsafe reputation largely due to a still recent civil war, Guatemala is a fantastic country to explore. Keep travelling!

The land of the musketeer

Explore the country of d’Artagnan, the most famous of the musketeers. Swap the horse for a bicycle and enjoy the ride through the bucolic Gascony in the south of France!

From the sky, it looks like a fan made of valleys from north to south, running from the Massif Central to the Pyrénées. Biking the Gascony region in the south of France is quite a challenge: Keep traveling!

The ultimate guide to Thailand

From the shiny Royal Palace to the ruins of what used to be the richest city on the planet, from some of the best dive sites to world’s oldest rainforest, from fishermen’s islands to vibrant Bangkok, from rooftop bars to delicious street-food or some of the most subtle gastronomy, from painful Thai boxing trainings to even more painful Thai massages, from meditating with Buddhist monks in peaceful temples to white water rafting, there is a reason why Thailand is regularly casted for Hollywood blockbusters!

Take a visual tour!

Keep travelling!

The ultimate guide to Laos

Set back by the C.I.A. secret war, Laos has been recovering and is asking to be discovered by you. A real ethnic patchwork, the country is mostly mountainous and irrigated by many rivers fit for traveling. Meet its welcoming tribes, learn the local handicrafts, taste the underrated local gastronomy, motorbike through its stunning and off-the-beaten path landscapes, float down rivers, and fly above tree tops in one of world’s best ecotourism project!

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Swinging by the Bolaven Plateau, Laos

Next to travelling by river to explore the lesser trodden backdrops of the more remote regions of Laos, venturing out on a motorbike is an excellent way to discover the rural countryside. Besides the scenic multi-day motorbike loop through surreal landscapes leading to the Kong Lor cave in Central Laos, the cooler Bolaven Plateau in the south of the country can be explored similarly. Hop on!

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Angkor off the beaten path & on the single track!

The majestic temples of Angkor are victim of their own success: with 4 million visitors a year mostly during the dry season focusing mainly on three temples, the atmosphere can be lost. Still, it is possible to experience the Angkor temple complex off the beaten path for a fantastic and authentic discovery, unravelling the splendour of the great Khmer civilisation.

I skilfully steer my mountain bike along a few pointy rocks on a narrow single track through the jungle of Cambodia. In front of me appears a desolated ruin, half swallowed by tree roots of strangler fig trees. Birds sing, butterflies flutter around reflecting the strong sun rays peeping through the dense vegetation on their brightly-coloured wings, and a cat yawns while stretching its front paws on the step of the almost-millennium old Khmer temple of Preah Khan in the temple complex of Angkor.

Keep travelling!

Mountain biking down the Mont Faron with a view on the bay of Toulon, France.

Mountain biking, overlooking world’s 3rd largest bay!

I am loosening my helmet to wipe the sweat from my face while putting my sunglasses back in place. I take a few sips from my water bottle while enjoying the view on world’s third largest bay, after Hong Kong and San Francisco: the bay of Toulon along the French Riviera. From the top of the 584-meter high Mont Faron, the view on France’s hidden gem and massive military harbour is Keep traveling!

How to navigate for free [avoid the hassle of paper maps & expensive roaming charges!]

While preparing our 6-week trip through Japan from South to North via remote areas and major cities, we were a little bit concerned about how to find our way once there: different alphabet, hardly any knowledge of the language, very expensive roaming charges, and various modes of transportation (driving, riding the train, walking and biking in cities, hiking…) seemed tough challenges to overcome to navigate easily. Keep travelling!

Stuga hopping along the Höga Kusten, Sweden

I have hiked in summer in basically all the provinces of Sweden, not having any problems finding accommodation. Thanks to the Allmansrättan, giving anyone the right to enjoy outdoor activities respectful of the environment, including camping on any land (but for a few exceptions), I have pitched my tent along hiking trails many times, occasionally staying at a local bed & breakfast, or stuga (a small wooden cabin). Keep hiking!