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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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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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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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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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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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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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!

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!

Man and woman having dinner outside on a wooden deck on stilts, Tai O fishing village, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

The best of Lantau Island in a day!

Bird songs fill the cabin of the gondola taking us to the Big Buddha. Through the glass bottom we observe the South Chinese Sea which we smoothly pass over towards the mountains of Lantau Island. Behind us Hong Kong airport, world’s largest cargo airport, where we have just landed gets smaller as we fly over the jungle. Sometimes we notice hikers in bright coloured T-shirts which like small dots move through the greenery on various trails beneath our feet. Keep exploring!

The best way up Victoria Peak [not the tram!]

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.

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Two women laughing while reading coffee on a terrace in Greece.

Offbeat Athens, exploring the city with a local

One of the oldest cities on Earth and the birthplace of western civilization, Athens could easily rely on its glorious past and multi millennium-old ruins and fall into grogginess. For years it has been only a sneak peak into Ancient Greece or a gateway to the islands with many tourists making it to the famous Acropolis before heading to the Piraeus to catch a boat. However, the Greek capital has a lot more to offer with vibrant neighborhoods and a true urban culture.

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Flying legends [San Francisco]

There are plenty of ways to take in the world famous landmark of San Francisco. From the land at one of the many viewing points or biking or walking the bridge, from the sea by boat or kayak, or… from the air! Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge in open WWII biplane aircraft is definitely a unique and unforgettable experience and the best way to see it in style!

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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!

Taming the dragon [3 Salazes]

Even though our alarm clock is set at a shockingly early 3:30 a.m., I am so excited that I wake up five minutes before it goes off. Today is a big day! After dressing fast in my technical outdoor gear and warm jacket, I grab my headlight and toss my backpack over my shoulder. I gulp down a coffee before heading out: after last night’s gargantuan dinner in a traditional Réunion fashion with home-grown lentils of Cilaos, a chicken cari and a few delicious rhums arrangés (infused rums) this is the most I can ingest for the moment! Keep traveling!

Mountain biking the Maïdo [Reunion Island]

Most tourists visiting the Reunion Island drive up the Maïdo road to take in the stunning vistas on the Mafate Cirque from its viewpoint. However, there are more fun and adventurous ways to take in the scale of the ramparts and explore the various ecosystems along the volcanic slopes of the mountain, like rock climbing the Maïdo Peak or mountain biking back down to the coast.

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Réunion Island: a canyoning paradise

“Stand up, lean backwards, rope between your legs, and put both of your hands on the rope. Good. Smile for the camera! And off you go!” I force a little smile towards Olivier’s GoPro before I look down upon one of the many magnificent natural pools of the Reunion Island 35 meters below. Around me bright green and lush vegetation covering the 80-meter high volcanic cliffs contrasts greatly with the deep blue sky. Swallows are flying low below me as they hunt for mosquitos in their acrobatic flights just above the water basin. The only sound I hear is the roaring waterfall to my left of which I feel the splashes on my wetsuit. It is just loud enough to cover up for the sounds of my heartbeat in this adrenalin-packed adventure on which Olivier is taking us in order to uncover the rugged beauty of this lost island in the Indian Ocean. Keep exploring!

Rock climbing the Maïdo Peak [Reunion Island]

Most tourists visiting the Reunion Island drive up the Maïdo road to take in the stunning vistas on the Mafate Cirque from its viewpoint. However, there are more fun and adventurous ways to take in the scale of the ramparts of this massive natural amphitheater and explore the various ecosystems along the volcanic slopes of the mountain, like rock climbing the Maïdo Peak or mountain biking back down to the coast.

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Snaking through Oman’s wadis

The early morning sun slowly colours the steep rocky slopes of Oman’s wildest peaks as our Toyota Land Cruiser makes its way along one of the country’s most stunning 4×4 tracks via the village of Hatt. Patches of lush vegetation break the dry mineral landscape here and there. Large birds of prey hover in the sky. Chris puts the car to a halt. He switches the gear over to 4×4 as things are getting serious. The Toyota peeps and cracks on the bumpy and steep downhill track along the deep and scenic canyon. While being rocked in the car, slowly a massive dark crack in the rock-strewn slopes, far below us, becomes visible: a crevice so deep that we cannot see the bottom. Or not yet as it is the goal of our canyoning expedition! Keep exploring

48 hours in Muscat

Dating back to the 1st century, Muscat gained prominence in the 14th century when traders used it as a maritime hub on their way to or from India, the far East, Zanzibar and Europe. Indeed, the capital of Oman is located in a natural harbour ideally suited for the safe mooring of vessels that has made the Sultanate a nation of seafarers. Today, Muscat is a vibrant city open on the world that is worth spending a few days exploring. Keep travelling!

Johannesburg – would you give it a shot?

Most simply avoid Downtown Johannesburg with its no-go zone reputation. However, the city has changed and bits by bits local initiatives pop up and travellers explore the vibrancy, art scene and culture of South Africa’s biggest city!

It is still early morning when we park our car at 1 Fox Street and meet the passionate Jo Buitendach. With a degree in archaeology and history and with a true love for Johannesburg and its people, she takes us through its vibrant heart where not too many tourists dare passing by.  Keep walking…

Top 8 Must Do Adventures in South Africa

89 days and 9,722 kilometres across South Africa, including a good amount on dirt roads, through 4×4-only mountain passes, along wild coast trails, across the last bit of sand forest left on the planet, side by side with elephants and lions to bring you the best adventures of South Africa!

Beyond the Big 5, South Africa is a fantastic playground for the outdoor enthusiasts, and here are the Top Keep exploring!

A night at the opera in Oslo

Inaugurated only in 2008, the Oslo Opera House has already become the landmark of the Norwegian capital. Its architecture intrigues. Like an iceberg floating in the Oslo fjord, locals and tourists alike climb it to reach its roof via soft inclines or explore its warm and modern foyer. Far from the elite image of most opera houses, the Oslo Opera House is an open space decisively. It has revolutionized its area, a former shipyard cut off from the rest of the city by an ugly highway that was forced underground, and made it a favourite promenade attracting recommendable neighbours like the new Munch Museum or the bar code urbanization project. The building fascinates, and the temptation of exploring its ins and outs only grows bigger as one approaches it.

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Bleack and white, ski jump seen from above without snow.

In the tracks of Norway’s bravest explorers in Oslo

Norway is a rather small country per number of inhabitants, and some of them have led some of the craziest explorations admired from all over the world! They are celebrated in Oslo in some excellent museums where original artefacts that crossed oceans or reached the poles are exhibited. Know where to go to follow the tracks of some of world’s greatest explorers! Keep exploring!

Life on a string: exploring Hogsback, South Africa

With its cool Oceanic Climate, the idyllic village of Hogsback, set in the mountains of the Eastern Cape, draws many South Africans to its fairy-tale like forests that might have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien. Popular among backpackers for its affordable stays immersed in nature, clean air, and wonderful patches of indigenous forest, Hogsback has developed into an artistic community and attracted settlers from all over. The best way of exploring Hogsback is hiking its many trails through the majestic Yellowwood trees, home to the endangered Cape Parrots. Or to take a bit of height and take the real measure of its most emblematic waterfalls by abseiling them!

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Going out in Madrid: do as locals do!

Time for the traditional vermouth!

The hour of Vermouth has arrived in the sunlit streets of Madrid. Madrileños enter the many bars scattered all over the city for their favourite drink. If vermouth is easy to find in the Spanish capital, it is not common to find such a variety and quality as at La Hora del Vermut where not only the finest vermouths are selected but also where tapas are crafted for the best possible pairing. Keep tasting!

District Six museum, Cape Town: a commemoration ground

“We were told that we didn’t qualify to live there anymore because of the colour of our skin.” – Joe Schaffers, ex-resident of District Six. Removed in 1967 at the age of 28.

“Every day to work I would pass by my house, out of which my wife, kids and me had been forcefully removed. Every day I would stop and look at it, seeing the bulldozers getting closer. Until one day our house was gone, just a vacant plot remained, on which I stood with an empty heart.” – Noor Ebrahim, ex-resident of District Six, Cape Town. Removed in 1970 at the age of 26.

“Many streets from which people were removed and houses demolished are still empty today. The goal was to divide people and break us.” – Ruth Jeftha, ex-resident of District Six.

Today Joe, Noor and Ruth are here, at the District Six museum in Cape Town, South Africa. Housed in a former church and the only original building of the District Six that is still standing, more than a museum, it is a commemoration place where former residents reaffirm their identity by sharing their life stories with visitors, celebrate their heritage, confront the complexity of history, and try to come to terms with their forced removals.

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