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)!
The vast Colorado River winds its way through the metamorphic red stones of the Colorado Plateau where it has sculpted the land for millions of years carving one of world’s most spectacular gorges. If the Grand Canyon had made explorers of the Great Unknown shiver, the shorter Cataract Canyon just a couple of hundred miles upstream had remained one of the most difficult sections of the Colorado River to conquer. In the springtime, the melting snow feeds both rivers, the Colorado and the Green that merge at Confluence in the heart of Canyonlands NP, the starting point of the Cataract Canyon. Both un-dammed for hundreds of miles upstream, these mighty rivers merge to lead to the greatest white waters of the USA this time of the year with Class II to V rapids ranking along with those of the Grand Canyon in power and difficulty. Today they make the bravest white water enthusiasts shrill while riding these exhilarating rapids!
The legendary Slick Rock trail in Moab, the Porcupine rim or the Gooseberry Mesa are just a few of the most scenic and technical mountain biking trails leading through the characteristic rocky terrain of Utah. However, with the popularity of mountain biking sky-rocketing these trails get crowded with avid mountain bikers from all over the world and locals alike, especially as they cannot be done year round due to snow cover in winter. Luckily Utah is a big playground and its most Southern West corner has not been touched by mass tourism yet! All the more reasons to hop on a bike to explore its trails!
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!
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!
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!
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.
The indigo sky slightly turns greyish-blue over the Bedouin tents in the sleepy camp while in the east the sun announces itself with a pinkish hue. Venus is still bright in the clear sky. Colours appear slowly tainting the dunes in their warm orange before shadows give them more relief. The wind is still a bit cold over my bare arms and I am looking forward to the sun warming up the humid sand I am seating on on top of the dune overlooking the Omani desert. The sound of silence resonates loudly only to be broken randomly by the chirping of a few birds and the bleat of a goat in the distance. Keep travelling!
“It is not as stable as it looks” Justin shouts, after which he instructs us to stay a good 3 metres away from the gaping black hole into which two white rock climbing ropes disappear. What seems to be solid ground that we are standing on is just a thin layer of limestone covering a vast cavity of air which is more than a hundred metres deep. Basically, we are on the ridge of a collapsed cave, a massive Keep caving!
“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!
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.
If many of the wadis of Oman are dry, and are a great playground to hike or climb, the wet canyons are the perfect place to cool down and have some serious fun! From just swimming to going on an intense canyoning adventure, the warmth of the crystal-clear waters makes the experience very enjoyable. We have listed some of the best wadis of Oman in this visual tour to help you choose the ones to your taste. Keep travelling!
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
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!
With both of my feet firmly set on two stainless steel pins, and one of my hands sliding up along the metal cable, I pull myself up to grab a cavity in the warm rock. As I carefully clip both carabiners connected to my harness onto the next section of the cable, I look over my shoulder to briefly take in the view: the majestic Jebel Shams canyon seems to be bottomless under my feet. I push on my leg muscles a little bit more until I reach a ledge where I can rest safely contemplating this overwhelming barren and rugged mineral landscape.
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!
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!
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!
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!
Franschhoek, or the “French corner” has a fascinating history. Because of the wars of religions in 17th century France, a small number of French Protestant refugees settled in South Africa establishing a successful farming and wine making industry still recognised today as one of world’s best. Get off the beaten path and discover not only the famous wines of Franschhoek but also its stunning outdoors!
During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church was the only official church in Europe, radiating on the continent. The Renaissance brings reforms, discoveries and renewal. The new technology of printing makes the Bible accessible to the common man, and the protest grows against the seemingly unlimited power of the church and its great wealth. Keep travelling
Halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth lies George, the capital of the most famous South African coastal stretch: the Garden Route. While the neighbouring Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are highly advertised for, George deserves way more attention as an outdoor paradise. This laidback town in the Western Cape is about to become the hotspot for adventure seekers with its dramatic mountains overlooking the ocean, its precious and rare fynbos ecosystem, its stunning gorges covered in pristine forests where leopards still roam freely. What a better way to discover this secret nature by kloofing (South African for “canyoning”) than with the man who has explored almost every single canyon of South Africa?
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!
One of South Africa’s most remote destinations may very well be the North Eastern corner of Kwazulu Natal. Bordering Swaziland and Mozambique lies a hardly populated land with scenic yet less famous game parks and a unique ecosystem of four lakes where Tsonga fishermen have passed down their sustainable traditions for more than a thousand years. A land where world’s largest leafs can be found, with rare bird species and different types of mangrove trees. Waters with bull sharks, hippos, manta rays, and whale sharks border South Africa’s most stunning and desolated beaches, on which the only visitors are endangered sea turtles laying their eggs in season.
Join us to explore the best of Kosi Bay in 4 different adventures! Keep travelling!
In South Africa Aliwal Shoal is famous for its shark dives amongst tiger, bull, ragged-tooth or oceanic blacktip sharks, often described as the experience of a lifetime. Sadly, cage diving is a bad practice that is heavily advertised for in all but a very few dive centres…
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to a vast array of unspoiled coral reefs. The best way to explore them is to hop on a boat and SCUBA dive to discover this iSimangaliso (amazing in Zulu) underwater world.
“Hold on tight! It is going to be a little bit bumpy”, our guide Christeen Grant, experienced mountain guide passionate by the Drakensberg, calmly announces. She confidently steers the wheel of the extended Land Rover Defender which roaring engine is operating at its maximum capacity. The 4×4 steadily crawls forward on the steep rocky road winding up towards the Kingdom in the Sky. We are about to enter Lesotho for a multiple day horseback riding adventure although the real adventure has already started at the foot of the legendary Sani Pass in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Keep travelling!
The sun has been up for no more than an hour and its strong rays are already warming me up as I contemplate the village of Malubelube. From the rock on which I am seating on the top of the mountain dominating the settlement at 2,675 metres, I have a 360° panoramic view on the endless surrounding mountains. The morning light bathes the traditional rondavels with Keep travelling!
I pick up some speed going downhill towards a small stream of crystal clear waters. The all-terrain tires of my mountain bike on the wooden bridge break the silence followed up by the swift change of gears as I pedal hard to get up the steep single track ahead of me. I slalom my way up amongst blooming protea trees that add some bright orange and red colours to the green slopes of the Northern Drakensberg that we are exploring by mountain bike. Keep travelling!
“Hug the rock! Just hug the rock!” I keep telling myself as the white waters in which I float like a cork violently smash into a big boulder downstream coming at me fast. The first rock that my gecko (a small one-person raft) went for had me capsize, as I naturally leaned away from it to try and minimise the damages. Approaching the boulder I hold on tight to my gecko as I am exploring one of South Africa’s most scenic rivers: the Sabie River. Keep travelling!
Thousand-year old kites have taken a new turn with extreme sports such as kite surfing or speed riding that have become increasingly popular. Their big brothers have helped us getting airborne like in paragliding or paramotoring using a propeller-powered glider. Come on board with us to experience this thrilling adventure of flying a paramotor over Dubai and over the desert!
“Ready for take-off?” I hold onto my seatbelt that straps both of my shoulders this early morning at dawn. In the seat in front of me, my pilot starts the engine that makes the blades of the one-metre diameter propeller behind me rotate. As the blades pick up speed, the wheels of the buggy we are seated in start rolling, pulling on a kite the size of a paraglider that rises up in the sky. In only a few seconds, we are airborne! Keep flying!
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.
“Hmm, Claire did you read the incoming email from Eric, regarding our kayak trip to the Statue of Liberty next week?” I fearfully ask her. We both sit down and read Eric Stiller’s questions concerning our seaworthiness and fitness level, and a slight panic starts to take control over both of us. The proud owner of the Manhattan Kayak Company wants to know in what specific types of kayaks we have practised, for how many hours a day, and what our average speed is. We are about to board the A380, the super jumbo jet Air France flies from Paris to New York City for a new adventure on the Hudson River, Keep traveling!
Birthplace of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the man who linked the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea in the 17th century by carrying out the largest civil engineering project of the time, the Canal du Midi, Béziers is also where the masterpiece of Riquet can be visited: the 9 locks of Fonseranes.
Having left Sète some 50 kilometres prior, we leave the shade of the centennial plane trees along the Canal du Midi behind to bike over the surreal Pont-Canal de l’Orb. This 1857 aqueduct, both bridge and canal, was built so that boats with their precious wheat cargo would avoid being tumbled over in a violent Keep travelling