Northern lights reflected in a lake

Your guide to Finland (inc. best accommodation types for the Northern Lights)

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

From the desolated Lapland where admiring the ruska (the fall foliage) in the fall, picking berries in the summer, or watching the northern lights in the winter are all magic experiences, to the traditional Finnish saunas all over and more specifically in the Kuusamo region close to Russia, via the stunning lakes of the Koli National Park, or the off-the-beaten path and hip Helsinki, Finland has much more to offer than simply forests and lakes!

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Private log-house at Wilderness Muotka Nellim, Lapland

Lapland’s fields of gold

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

Northern Finland was an uncharted wilderness with a scarce population living off the land until gold was found in 1836. Rumours about the discovery were fast to spread… If the quantities extracted have been little, even after state-sponsored expeditions and heavy investments, the precious metal has changed Lapland to this day, with the development of infrastructures and later tourism facilities to observe the Northern Lights and enjoy the vast wilderness whether snow Mo biking, cross-country skiing, hiking or mountain biking.

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Empty street in the Small Béguinage at dusk, Leuven, Belgium

A city trip to off-the-beaten-path Leuven

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

Only 26 kilometres from the Belgian and European capital Brussels, Leuven is a compact student town of 100,000 inhabitants, plus another 60,000 during the school year! Nicknamed the Oxford of Belgium, it competes – gently – against the 2.5-times larger university city of Ghent. Off-the-beaten path, the authentic and historical Leuven is vibrant, young and international, characteristics not often found in such compact towns: all the more reasons to spend a weekend in Leuven between discovering its brewing culture in one of its 240 pubs, exploring its interactive museums, and venturing by bike to some of its picturesque abbeys. For a perfect 48 hours in town read on to find out which places must be on your list!

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The North Cape globe at sunset, Norway

The REAL North Cape [don’t be fooled!!]

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

We are sitting in our room, in the Scandic Ishavshotel overlooking Tromsø, nicknamed the Gate to the Arctic. Looking closely at our interactive map of our next steps, we both tick as we are checking out the North Cape area. About two months ago, we set off from Paris, France, to take our time to explore Norway to eventually reach the northernmost point on the European continent. We zoom in more. It seems clear on the map. We add a pin and check the GPS coordinates. Less than a minute of a degree, but still… The North Cape is not the North Cape!

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Top 5 mountain biking adventures in Norway

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

The vast and wild northern landscapes of Norway, with the right to roam freely on uncultivated land as the only rule, set the expectations pretty high for mountain bikers. The reality is not as dreamy, as the very democratic Norwegian vision prompts for trails for all, instead of specifically designed for and designated mountain biking, hiking or cross-country skiing tracks… resulting in no ideal trails for anyone. Still, adventurous riders can have a blast and feel like travelling back to the start of mountain biking, using today’s high-tech bikes! Norwegian mountain biking adventures, past bike parks, have to be deserved. But fear not, if you are ready to do some pushing and carrying during your ride, and if you love being fully immersed in nature while enjoying dramatic sceneries, keep on reading to find out where your extra efforts will be greatly rewarded!

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Reflection of a mountain biker in a calm Norwegian lake

Mountain biking in the tracks of the CIA and reindeer in true wilderness [Norway]

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

Above Snåsa in the heart of Mid-Norway, a winding dirt road takes us to Ismenningen Fjellstuggu at an altitude of about 500 meters. Our host, Skjalg Ledang welcomes us with a warm smile as we arrive. With his wife Grethe, he has recently acquired this former hunting chalet to turn it into a homey accommodation to explore the beautiful surrounding wilderness of the Blåfjella – Skjækerfjella / Låarte – Skæhkere National Parks, close to the Swedish border.

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Tsucan vistas on the Golden Road at sunrise, Norway

Your 4-day itinerary in Norway’s Tuscany!

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

Barely an hour north of Trondheim, the lovely Inherred region is the ideal place to slow down and follow a food path between local farms and historical landmarks through fields of gold, rolling hills and scenic fjords… Here is your perfect four-day itinerary in Norway’s food basket through Trøndelag starting from Trondheim.

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The iconic Port House of Antwerp, Belgium

The harbour of Antwerp through past & present [inc. GPS track]

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

The harbour of Antwerp is larger than Antwerp itself… Historically, it allowed the city to become one of the most prominent in the world during its Golden Age in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, it provides 150,000 jobs, greatly contributes to the wealth of the region of Flanders and propels Antwerp as the second city of Belgium. Hop on a bike to discover Europe’s second largest harbour (after Rotterdam), between capsize bulk carriers and cute villages surrounded by nature.

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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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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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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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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.

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A multiday hiker looking at a view on the city of Cilaos on the exclusive hike through the 3 cirques, Reunion 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…

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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 Amphitheatre from the start of the Tugela Gorge hike, Drakensberg, South Africa

Conquering world’s second highest waterfall

Article updated on February 18, 2022
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

“Look at those giant ragged shapes on the horizon! It looks like a draak!” One of the early Voortrekkers could have said.

“I am not sure we can go any further! A barrier of spears is blocking us” A Zulu warrior might have said.

Draak is Afrikaans for dragon and the Zulu warrior and Afrikaner were talking about the same mountain range: the Drakensberg, or dragon mountains.

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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!

An adventure to Cambodia’s most secret & remote temple: Preah Khan

Preah Khan may very well be Cambodia’s most atmospheric temple, hidden in the thick jungle of the Preah Vihear province. Royal palace and worship place dating back to the 9th century, it recalls the Bayon and Ta Prohm temples in Angkor. If one makes the effort to reach it, one will be rewarded by majestic ruins with hardly any other visitors, far from the crowds of Siem Reap.

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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!

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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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