Text & Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Only a two-to-three-hour drive from Cape Town, the semi-arid Cederberg is a completely different world. The favourite playground of adventurous Capetonians, it is still off the map of most international travellers. Here are five reasons why this wilderness should be on your map!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Article updated on November 10, 2022
Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
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.
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!
George seems to be a sleepy city populated mostly by retirees. It is a bit of the forgotten city along the Garden Route not posh enough for wealthy tourists to really stop, not popular enough for backpackers to consider it. However, George is becoming the outdoorsy capital of South Africa, plebiscited by avid mountain bikers, canyoning enthusiasts, fit hikers, skilled surfers, and passionate birdwatchers. Don’t miss out and make sure to stay for a few days to enjoy its fantastic activities. Keep travelling!
A long distance hike like the GR 20, famous for being the toughest one in Europe [186 kilometers through the Corsican Mountains with an inhumane positive elevation and burning sun!] is the perfect playground to select the optimum gear and test it. Since we have completed it and have been entirely satisfied with our gear, Katadyn water filtration products come with us on every adventure, whether an exposed outdoorsy outing or a city trip in countries where water is scarce and not always drinkable. Keep reading!
May, 1: Fred hikes up to the refuge d’Usciolu at an altitude of 1,810 metres from the village of Cozzano, two hours away. The athletic young fellow needs crampons and piolets to make his way up and often has to saw the icy snow to make his way into the kitchen of the refuge to warm up. For four years he has been assisting Francis, the refuge keeper in the summer months and this is how the 5-month season starts. Before the helicopter delivers 800 kilograms of Keep hiking!
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!
We are sitting on a flat rock by the roaring Indian Ocean observing the powerful waves crashing violently into the rugged rocky shore and spraying 15-metre high into the air. Inland the green hills, warmly bathed by the sunset light, seem to never end. Far on the horizon, only a few white rondavels with their thatched roofs remind us that we are not alone in this world. We are discovering the remote land of the Pondo people stretching along the last unspoilt shore of South Africa during a five-day trek. But the Wild Coast is jeopardised by an international titanium mining project that would disfigure it and rob the Pondo people of their most precious asset: their land. Keep travelling!
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!
Eight more minutes, the sign indicates. “If I am fast it might be only 5”, I tell myself when I eagerly hike up the last few steep metres before reaching the viewpoint overlooking the rural town of Nong Khiaw in Northern Laos. Reaching the top after a one-hour hike, the 360-degree view on Nong Khiaw does not fail to impress: the terraces of light green rice paddies contrast with Keep hiking!
The sun has warmed up my skin more than I can bear while the warm wind spreads a scent of pine through the air. My backpack is filled with delicious fresh fruits from the market of the Cour Lafayette in Toulon, ready to be munched away during a picnic at a secret cove, by one of the most beautiful beaches of the French Riviera. Keep reading
The High Coast trail (or Höga Kusten leden) is a beautiful 128-kilometre multi-day hiking trail from stuga to stuga, along the eastern coast of Sweden, about 6 hours north of Stockholm by car. The High Coast trail leads Keep traveling!
It has been a long trip, walking for hundreds of kilometres. Setting off about a month ago, we have just arrived at the foot of the last obstacle. It is so close and yet, it seems impossible to reach. The high tide covers up the whole shore and I fear greatly for this life-threatening crossing on foot to the sacred island Keep reading
The young ayudante holds his balance gracefully when the colectivo (the mini-van turned local bus), sets off to the next bus stop on the winding road. The engine makes more noise as the gradient of the road gets steeper and the view on the rolling hills surrounding us more beautiful. Behind the next curve lays the remote mountain village of Santa Fé, about five hours South-West of Panama City.
One of Central America’s most picturesque hikes runs between the mountain town of Boquete and the lesser known Cerro Punta in Pamana. Both lay in different valleys putting them a good three-hour bus ride away from each other. They are also linked by the famous 9-kilometre Quetzal trail, squeezed between two dead end roads, for a total of about 23 kilometres. Given the elevation gain, Keep traveling!
Since the archipelago of Bocas del Toro was discovered in 1502 by Christopher Columbus, the island of Bastimentos has served as a base for vessels; hence its name that literally translates as “supplies”. Its fertile soil and tropical climate are ideal for a wide variety of plants to grow plentifully as we are about to discover, setting off for a jungle and beach hike with our specialized guides. Keep traveling!
“Where are they?” I think concerned while guarding the bags containing our camera gear. A few guys with machetes keep an eye on me from a distance, so I cannot leave the spot. The half of best regards from far has disappeared in a low, narrow and dark tunnel filled with water, dug into the rocks. Its entrance is barely visible as it is hidden behind a curtain of water. It has been almost 30 minutes and 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!
Nicaragua is crossed by a long volcanic chain running from north to south, with volcanoes such as Telica, Masaya, Mombacho, Concepcion, Maderas… many of which still active. Close to Granada, a 6-kilometer-diameter and 100-meter deep crater is filled by fresh water: this is the stunning Laguna de Apoyo, and most likely one of the most enjoyable swims in the country! 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!
A light is switched on, waking me up. With earplugs in my ears, my jacket and bonnet on, I am slowly extracting myself from my sleeping bag. It is early! 3:15a.m. Around me, other sleepy trekkers start to pack their sleeping bags and mattresses that cover the floor of Don Pedro’s dining room in a remote village in Guatemala. Only a few hours ago, the 15 of us from all over the world were singing songs Keep traveling!
Article updated on May 22, 2020 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), an ancient route called the Nakasendō, literally meaning the Central Mountain Route, connected the political capital Edo (today’s Tokyo) to Kyoto, home to the Imperial Palace. Samurais and merchants used to cover its 534 kilometres through mountains and valleys. Today one can still hike the historical trail, its most atmospheric stretch being between the villages of Magome and Tsumago to explore a rare and timeless Japan.
Article updated on May 20, 2020 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau
A huge cracking sound wakes me up in the middle of the night. I jump from the futon mattress and open my eyes widely to see a bright light illuminating the Japanese-style room. About 5 seconds later Keep travelling!
Article updated on May 25, 2020 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
“Okay, don’t panic! There is a stone about 20 centimetres (8 inches) below your left foot, and a cavity for your left hand behind that rock. Yes, slightly lower. That’s it! You can put your weight on it.” Keep travelling!
Article updated on May 11, 2020 Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
A mountain so sacred that for centuries only men were allowed to summit it… Ishizuchi san, the highest mountain of Shikoku and Western Japan remains a very important place of worship and one of the major centres of Shugendō, a sect in-between Shintoism and Buddhism. Many pilgrims climb this mountain that still is forbidden for women every July 1, the first day of the climbing season. Whether you are an avid hiker, curious to see what a place so sacred looks like, there to take in the stunning views, or just up for a challenge, hiking up the sacred Mount Ishizuchi will leave you breathless – literally. Keep hiking!