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!
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)!
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!
To make it easy for you to explore Barcelona, 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!
To make it easy for you to explore Madrid, 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!
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 Keep travelling!
207 kilometers of perimeter and only 72 kilometers between its furthest points. In only 2,512km² in the middle of the Indian Ocean, an incredible variety of intense landscapes awaits to be explored on Reunion Island: Keep traveling!
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 Keep travelling!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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…
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!
Discovering Madrid running is a fantastic way to enjoy some of its landmarks and take the pace of the city. With a few routes described in this article, explore Madrid’s majestic streets and secret gardens!
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!
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.
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!
Costa Rica is world famous for its rich biodiversity and progressive approach to nature conservation. From gorgeous coastlines, jungles, wildlife-packed cloud forests, stunning volcanos to exciting white waters, explore Costa Rica off-the-beaten-path while it is still possible.
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!
With its karst formations rising off the rice fields, Vang Vieng is set in a beautiful natural setting and has become the number one outdoor destination of Laos with hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing and caving opportunities.
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!
Ironically, the largest flower in the world is hard to spot! Growing in South East Asia, it can be found in the forests of Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand. The lucky hiker may come across one while exploring the trails of the park which lead to natural pools and waterfalls. Keep travelling!
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.
The five towers of Angkor Wat symbolizing Mount Meru, Cambodia
Sunrise on Angkor Wat, Cambodia
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.
Discovering Paris running is a fantastic way to enjoy some of the major landmarks and take the pace of the city. It is better though to have a few routes in mind before venturing out as the traffic can be hectic and its nice cobble stone streets that are great to discover on foot can be a runner’s ankle nightmare. These top running routes tend to avoid these hazards and will also take you to some of the nicest parks of Paris. Keep running!
The engine of our wooden canoe with long tail echoes in the large room while a cool wind makes me shiver. In total darkness, I vaguely distinguish rocks shaped as faces or animals briefly lit up by the beam of the headlamp of our captain. He is constantly scanning the limestone walls, as the slightest miscalculation on these shallow waters would be fatal to our boat. With great skills, our boatman manoeuvres up the winding subterranean Hinboun River which flows through the geological wonder of South-East Asia, the Kong Lor cave in Laos. Keep traveling!
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!
The whistle from the ayudante (the helper of the bus driver) signals that the overcrowded bus must stop. We get off quickly, and not even coming to a complete halt, the bus drives off. A few bright red tuk-tuks, which surround us instantly, indicate in which direction to go. “Up to the park entrance, very far, cheap price, want a ride?” We are at the foot of the Mombacho volcano in Nicaragua, and we don’t want a ride. Instead, we have decided to conquer the 1344 metres of this dormant volcano, from bottom to top with our own little legs! Keep traveling!
The sun burns my exposed skin while I am making my way among fumeroles. A slight smell of sulphur fills the hot air as we walk on a dusty trail. The backpack, stuffed with a tent, a few litres of water and some more gear to spend the night in the wild, presses on my shoulder. We are on our way to the top of the active Telica volcano in Nicaragua, in a quest to observe its massive crater. Keep traveling!
Passing a few women washing their clothes in the river and drying them on the warm volcanic boulders on this sunny Sunday morning, we are entering the Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua, a beautiful playground of soft boulders, steep cliffs, clear pools and wild rapids for a 6-hour self-guided canyoning adventure. Keep traveling!