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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Sperm whale tail by fishing boat, Norway

Whale, whale, whale: safari time!

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Focussed on the horizon, that seems to keep moving uncomfortably, I scout the choppy surface of the Norwegian Sea. Our boat has just left from the small fishing village of Stø, located on the northernmost tip of the Langøya Island of the Vesterålen Archipelago just slightly north of the popular Lofoten. A chilly breeze keeps my senses sharp on this very last day of August and the upcoming winter is already palpable in the air. Dressed warmly for today’s safari, I pick up my binoculars when I spot some activity on the horizon. I cannot yet make out what is going on precisely. Thinking back about my animal tracker course I graduated from in the South African bush, I have learnt to always be on the lookout for signs of other animals, and these fishing seagulls are definitely up to something.  I point out the commotion at sea to our captain who has already been adjusting the course of his small vessel… He takes his binoculars too and a large grin appears on his face: “Killer whales at 12 o’clock!”, he announces with clear excitement in his voice.

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Leuven University Library reading room, Belgium

Have you heard the Big Bang! in Leuven?

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

The Big Bang theory was formulated in 1931 at the University of Leuven by Georges Lemaître (1894-1966). It was not the first ground-breaking discovery made in the Belgian city. Some of the illustrious alumni and professors of the University of Leuven are the 16th century, Andrea Vesalius (1514-1564) who produced the first complete description of the human body, the cartographer Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) who invented the projection that allows to properly visualize the globe in 2D, Jean Pierre Minckelers (1748-1824) who invented gas lighting and the linguist and great humanist Erasmus (1466-1536), to name the ones who have had the greatest impact on our lives.

As such, the off-the-beaten path student town with its picturesque centre, has been a melting pot for innovation and intends to remain so. On its cultural stage, a biennale festival takes place highlighting not only scientific discoveries, but also the arts, bridging themes in a universal and humanist approach. Between October 2021 and January 2022, the BANG! Festival will challenge you through three excellently curated exhibits and many engaging events!

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View on Arctic Cathedral from Scandic Ishavshotel at night, Tromso

3 days in Tromsø, the gateway to the Arctic

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Tromsø, nicknamed the gateway to the Arctic, is the largest urban area in Northern Norway (and the third largest in the world North of the Arctic Circle) where one can tick off probably all the northernmost bucket list items one can think of from the northernmost brewery to the northernmost botanical garden and many more.

With the city centre located on the Tromsø Island, surrounded by the Norwegian Sea and snowy mountain peaks, the weather can be tricky at times. In this article, activities are sorted out by indoor and outdoor settings in order to easily fill up a three-day stay, with a special section about the Northern Lights that are often the reason to visit.

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Characteristic yellow fishermen rorbuer on turquoise water in Lofoten, Norway

Authentic Lofoten

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

Hamnøya, Lofoten, 1900s

The ice-cold winds howl through the planks. The fishing nets and gear hanging in the adjacent room make the whole cabin humid. The stinking cod liver oil lamp provides a gloomy light. There is no escape from the pungent smell of cods hanging on the wooden racks everywhere outside. Through the window, the small harbour is packed with fishing rowing boats. As least, they are well protected here in this natural harbour close to the Moskstraumen, one of the strongest ocean currents, running between this island of Moskenesøya and the small island of Mosken at the western tip of the Lofoten Archipelago in northern Norway. Looking at the direction the king cod hung from the ceiling is pointing, the weather is not about to better anytime soon. With another eleven fishermen sharing the four-bedded 20-square-meter room, the snoring is non-stop and covers the lapping of the waves against the stilts and the loud squeals of seagulls. Today is going to be another day getting busy building a mock up fishing boat to pass time.

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Jumping Svolværgeita overlooking Svolvaer, Norway

Goat climbing & stockfish tasting in Lofoten!

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

It is only thanks to the fish! Mastering the drying of cod, fished in the winter off the coast of Lofoten, transformed this fish into a sought-after and profitable commodity exported all over the world. Without the nutritious stockfish with no expiration date, the Vikings would not have been able to survive their long journeys to Greenland or America; the Hanseatic merchants would not have established profitable businesses in Bergen; Norway would have missed out on one of its most important sources of revenue; and Lofoten would have never seen its cute and colourful fishermen’s cabins pop along its shores attracting so many today and in which it is so enjoyable to stay.

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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 colourful wood warehouses on stilts of Bryggen in Trondheim reflecting in the water

The vibes of Trondheim & its must-visits

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

The third city of Norway, and the first significant one in the North, Trondheim remains rather small and easy to discover over a couple of days. The innovative student town showcases different gentrified areas that are enjoyable to stroll, past the must-visit Nidaros Cathedral that attracts thousands of pilgrims, believers and curious travellers every year.

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Stiklestad church, Norway

In the footsteps of Olaf the Bloody, the Saint Viking & eternal King of Norway [around Trondheim]

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

She is walking briskly. Past the old bridge, along the back side of the colourful wooden warehouses on stilts, towards the train station. It is Sunday afternoon, last day of the Norwegian holidays and the train to Oslo will depart soon. She is carrying a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a 40-litre backpack, and wearing a large smile between satisfaction and serenity. Her face is bright red after days spent in the outdoors. Like her, every year, many complete the Saint Olaf pilgrimage to Trondheim, and even more so during the Saint Olaf festival taking place around July 29, the Saint’s day. To get the official stamp, walking 100 kilometres along the millennium-old hiking path is required. However, many cover much more, and often the 640 kilometres (400 miles) between Oslo and Norway’s third city.

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Author Marcella van Alphen coming out of a crevasse on the Fonna Glacier

Cracks under pressure: The Blue Ice Hike

Text & photographs by Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The winding glacier road leaves the peaceful village of Jondal, bordering one of Western Norway’s most picturesque fjords, the Hardanger Fjord. Passing bucolic hamlets and farms, in only 19 kilometres, this narrow route elevates us from the waters of the fjord at sea level to an ice world at an altitude of 1,199 meters. A magic place where adventures await the ones who are ready to beat the cold and are curious to explore what lies beyond the end of the road…

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Lom Stave Church against a blue sky

The 6 must-visit Stave Churches of Norway

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

A trip to Norway is not complete without visiting Norway’s unique contribution to the world architecture. Thanks to some excellent open-air museums or reconstructions, it is possible to see them in Oslo, Bergen or Trondheim. However, travelling through rural Norway to visit some of the finest remaining stave churches is an unforgettable experience! To decode stave churches and learn some fun facts, check this article out!

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Lofts at the Kviteseid open-air museum, Norway

Meeting romantic Norway deep in Telemark

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

Many travellers skip the Telemark region, shooting for more arctic landscapes while visiting Norway. However, it is mostly this southern region that helped shape the country’s national identity: slow down a little bit and explore Telemark, the romantic idea that most Norwegians have of their own country…

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View from Floyen, Bergen

Bergen in 11 fun facts

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

1. On average, it rains 265 days a year in Bergen, making it the wettest place in Europe!

Estimates vary. Keep in mind that with about 3,000 millimetres of rain a year and so many wet days, chances are you may want to have a few nice museums in mind to visit! Perfect, as Bergen is full of them from the excellent KODE 3 art museum to the Fisheries or the Hanseatic Museum. For inspiration, check this article out!

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Woman looking at a globe carved out of ice in the ice tunnel, Norway

Touching Permafrost, Ice Tunnel & Norse Mythology

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

The Juvasshytta at 1,840 meters of altitude is the base for exploring more than Galdhøpiggen, the roof of Scandinavia. The man-made ice tunnel, entirely dug by hand with ice axes allows you to discover the ins and outs of this world of ice and the fragile climate balance. Explore the mythological well of knowledge hidden in the Ice Tunnel in Jotunheimen National Park, learn about the delicate flora and fauna of the tundra and touch climate change yourself!

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Colourful warehouses of Bryggen with boats in the foreground, Bergen

72 hours in Bergen

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

Once past the cruise tourists who tend to stick to the UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen and to the funicular that takes them up Fløyen, Bergen is a charming city with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. This harbour town has retained its cosmopolitan character and the second city of Norway after its capital Oslo, is very welcoming. This student town is vibrant, surrounded by beautiful mountains and spread around the water: an easy access point to the North Sea that has made Bergen what it is today.

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Photographer Marcella van Alphen walking through the snow in summer with blue skies

On the roof of Northern Europe [Galdhøpiggen]

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

Jotunheimen, the land of the giants. It does feel like seating amongst millennium-old towering giants looking at all these 2,000-meter-high peaks surrounding our small tent pitched in the soft tundra on our way up Galdhøpiggen, Northern Europe’s highest mountain in the heart of Jotunheimen National Park. No less than 250 of these mountains are located in Norway’s most popular national park where the country’s greatest concentration of high peaks is found. From a distance, the summits look like a world in monochrome with the rugged dark stones partially covered in snow, cut by majestic white waterfalls. In this surprisingly arid polar climate, it is the melting of the glacier that provides water to the surrounding communities. Farmers have even dug 250 kilometres of open channels to irrigate their lands. Only the bells of a few sheep roaming these slopes during the summer break the humming of the water cascading in the distance.

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Musk Oxen in Dovrefjell Sunndalsfjella National Park, Norway

Musk ox safari in the Norwegian mountains

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

No, it is not related to the bison even though it looks an awful lot like it from where I stand in the middle of the Norwegian alpine tundra! Actually, it is more related to sheep and goats. The prehistoric-looking musk ox lives in the arctic regions of the world, and the only musk ox population in Norway roams the mountain slopes of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park where I am hiking with my passionate guide Jo Even Kolstad on a musk ox safari.

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Writer Marcella van Alphen crossing a suspension bridge above powerful white waters

The white gold that shaped today’s Norway [Odda/Trolltunga]

Text & photographs by Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The steep green mountain slopes of Western Norway are covered with white veins. Immensely powerful waterfalls plummet into the crystal-clear or emerald-green waters of the fjords where occasionally a whale passes by… Standing on top of Lilletopp, Tyssedal, overlooking the Hardanger Fjord, I am facing two very different sides of Norway: to the right, it looks like a lost and wild place on Earth dominated by nature, to the left another impression sticks… In the midst of this natural beauty attracting hikers from all over to conquer the famous Tongue of the Troll, or Trolltunga, lays the heart of where the industrial revolution of Norway started and the cradle of the country’s hydropower capabilities…

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Testing the senz° windproof umbrella in Delft

12 interesting facts about Delft [& insider’s tips!]

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

Most visitors check Delft out on a Keukenhof day trip, spending only a few hours in the city. Shame! Lovely Delft has a lot to offer beyond its Market Square, Vermeer Centrum and must-visit Royal Delft earthenware factory. Dive into the city, the cradle of today’s Netherlands, to explore this 17th-century postcard a stone’s throw away from Rotterdam and The Hague.

To appreciate it better, here are 10 fun and interesting facts about Delft that you probably did not know about…

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Master painter hand-painting a vase, the Royal Delft museum, the Netherlands

Truly experience Delft Blue at Royal Delft!

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

It looks so easy. It is just a small circle in a corner. But at that moment when my brush reaches a sort of inflexion point and its hairs suddenly switch side, it all goes wrong and I break the regular contour. There is no room for a single mistake though: the porous material absorbs the paint and I cannot correct my lines. My only option is to somewhat transform it into another motif, which, given my drawing skills is not really an option either!

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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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Klein Constantia vineyard with the view on False Bay, Constantia wine route, Cape Town

The best Wine Route of South Africa!

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

A trip to Cape Town seems to systematically include at least a day in the vineyards, very often on exclusive wine estates around Stellenbosch or Franschhoek, about an hour away from the city. It is true that the quality of the wines combined to the beauty of the vineyards calls for an exploration. Stellenbosch can be overwhelming with its hundreds of wine farms. Franschhoek tends to oversell luxurious vineyard experiences rather than high quality wine tastings. Our favourite wine route is much closer, right in one of the most beautiful suburbs of Cape Town, in the cradle of South Africa’s wine making. Only a twenty-minute drive via Victoria Road lining the stunning Atlantic coastline, cooler climate award-winning wines are produced on about 400 hectares. Let’s explore this intimate wine route…

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View from the top of four vegan tapas to share at Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia

Inside the Chefs Warehouse in Cape Town & around

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

South Africa attracts for its safari game reserves, varied landscapes, surfing spots, beautiful Cape Town and the very well-marketed Garden Route. A day in the vineyards of Stellenbosch or Franschhoek is often part of the trip, but the rainbow nation is not necessarily renowned for its gastronomy. However, for the past ten years, the food scene in Cape Town has gone from non-remarkable to exquisite. If there are no restaurants rewarded with Michelin stars in the country, it is simply because the French prestigious guide does not operate on the African continent. Nevertheless, Capetonian restaurants have become used to hitting competing lists of world’s best restaurants such as the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, or La Colombe in Constantia. If it has become quite noticeable, and has also hit the top of these lists, there is still a little gem for the ones in the know… The Chefs Warehouse… Started as one location in the city centre in 2014 by chef Liam Tomlin, and expanded since, the dish-sharing restaurant concept combines delicious food artistically plated in remarkable locations with a fantastic service and a great attention to details.

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Photographer Marcella van Alphen showing a photo to EcoTracker instructor Norman Chauke in the African bush

In the tracks of wildlife in Africa

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

The three lobes are very distinct. The leading edge of the main pad is flat. I orientate my flashlight to have a better view: the four toes are nicely rounded. There is no doubt: this footprint was left by a young male lion, only a few hours ago. I stand up, and look at my dome tent, barely two metres (6 feet) away. As the sun rises over the South African bush, the sky turns red orange, and the spoors are better lit. I switch off the torch and turn back to the soft sand: next to this track, I can identify some others, amongst which the ones of a lioness with their pointy leading edges lit by the few sun rays at dawn. The way the spoors are positioned tells me that this pride of lions was casually walking through the EcoTraining Camp in the Selati Game Reserve while I was half asleep. The alarm call of the troop of baboons, the sound of the herd of impalas running, the hardly palpable changes in the air and the scuffing in the sand that I heard during the night now all make sense. I do not know what I am amazed by the most: the proximity with these lions or the amount of practical knowledge I have gained during a week immersed in the wild living my most intense safari experience to this date…

***

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Up close and personal with rhinos

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

The cold water of the rain shower feels good: it has been a long drive with the very last stretch on a hilly rough dirt road in the burning sun before we eventually arrived at the lodge. As I am contemplating the view on the endless rolling hills in my favourite wilderness of South Africa from the shower, I am startled. I jump out onto the large outdoor private deck of our villa and with my hands – and everything else for that matter – still wet, I grab my binoculars: “rhinos!” I observe three of these prehistoric animals with their so coveted horns roaming the opposite green slope: a calf which I estimate no older than a few months, its mother and another white rhino that could be the calf’s older sibling. I feel extremely privileged to witness this scene as their numbers are dangerously plummeting and rhinos are on the verge of extinction, being poached to feed the insatiable Chinese market. For sure, the Isibindi Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge that sits at the edge of the Hluhluwe iMfolozi game reserve in Kwazulu Natal, is well named! If the head of Isibindi Africa Trails, Nunu Jobe, is as pertinently nicknamed, I hardly dare imagining what a walk in the African bush with the “Rhino Whisperer” holds for me…

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Hikers studying Bushmen rock art in the Drakensberg, South Africa.

In the footsteps of the rock artists of the Drakensberg [South Africa]

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

The skinny young man dressed in animal skin is standing, with his spear high up above his head. His friends are following him striking a similar posture. They are wearing animal skins. Their tribe has been following the migrating herds, higher into the mountains. The tracking has been long and laborious, and they are tired. The tips of their spears are covered in diamphotoxin, a slow-acting poison obtained from beetle larvae. Further, a herd of elands grazes. The large more-than-half-a-ton animals are unaware of the men’s presence. Even for great hunters as the Bushmen, this is a dangerous endeavour: with a shoulder height of 1.7 meters (5 feet 8 inches), Africa’s largest antelope is much taller than them.

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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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A settlement hugging the cliffs in Mesa Verde National Park, Utah, USA

Your guide to Mesa Verde National Park

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

Completely off-the-beaten path, Mesa Verde National Park provides more than natural beauty: real insights into the lives of the Puebloan people, early inhabitants of America. This great cultural significance combined to the exceptionally well-preserved ruins makes Mesa Verde one of the highlights of any trip to the West.

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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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