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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Golden plate of hte Hotel Bernini Palace reflecting the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo, Florence, Italy.

Sleeping in the cradle of the Kingdom of Italy [Bernini Palace]

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

In the heart of Florence, a stone’s throw away from the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Museum, the 15th century palace that now houses the Hotel Bernini Palace has a long history of luxury and hospitality. More than staying in a 5-star hotel, staying at the Bernini is sleeping in the cradle of the kingdom of Italy and stepping into history…

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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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Puccini festival in Torre del Lago: Madam Butterfly

In Puccini’s footsteps in & around Lucca [Italy]

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

What do Rocky, Mission Impossible, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Goonies, Madam Butterfly and Star Wars have in common? An influencer and precursor of advertising and product placement, a maestro who created the first musical of history, a composer whose operas are amongst the most played in the world today: the Lucca-born Giacomo Puccini was a well-travelled man way ahead of his time whose legacy still resonates today all over the world and even more so in the Tuscan city of Lucca!

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Men in period costumes for the Saint Paolino celebrations in Lucca, Italy.

The Saint Paolino celebrations in Lucca

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Paolino (or Paulinus) is the patron of Lucca and, according to the legend, its first bishop sent by Saint Peter himself to evangelize the Lucchese about 2,000 years ago. Celebrated since the Middle Ages, it is in 1664, the day of his holiday, on July 12, that Paolino became the Saint patron of the city. While canons were shot at blank as part of the celebrations, some of them were loaded by mistake with actual ammunitions. The canons were firing from the San Donato bastion on the crowds. Miraculously, no one was injured! The republic attributed this miracle to San Paolino, proving to the Lucchese and their enemies that Lucca was under a strong divine protection.

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Recipe of tiramisu: adding cacao powder before presenting the tiramisu, with ingredients around (coffee, lady fingers, cacao).

The naughty history of tiramisu

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The origin of the most famous Italian dessert stirs up passions in Italy! In her kitchen overlooking the Sienese landscape, Marta looks at us puzzled as she answers our question: ”Siena, of course!” she says with her cute Italian accent. Born and raised in Siena, the passionate cook graduated from the International Chef Academy has created her cooking school back in 2015. Marta Ciappi takes the dispute on the origins of tiramisu between Siena in Tuscany and Treviso in Veneto quite seriously.

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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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Castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte and its French gardens

Visit a castle so beautiful it got its owner jailed by the king [Vaux le Vicomte]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The architect Louis Le Vau surpassed himself. The elegant castle stands majestically, reflected by a large piece of water in the park. The perspective is perfect. The genius landscaper Le Nôtre combined its laws with some of the most innovative techniques of the time such as levelling, water conveyance systems and optics theories. The result is a delicate balance between art and nature, making the garden the most beautiful of Europe today and the first French formal garden in history. Keep travelling!

Stand up paddling the Arno River by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio from the water: SUP adventure in Florence

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The morning sun bathes the city in a warm light as we walk towards the bank of the Arno River at the foot of Saint Michelangelo’s Piazza in the city of Florence, Italy. We are meeting with Tommaso Pucci, the founder of Toscana SUP and organizer of Uffizi Sup Race and Florence Paddle Games. He knows the Arno River, and the Tuscan waters like no one else, and has a clear passion for his city, Florence, that he is about to have us discover from an unusual point of view… Keep travelling!

Colourful coastal village at dusk in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre: do not visit, EXPERIENCE it

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 Keep travelling!

Seven bottles of the Cinque Terre wines crafted at Possa's vineyards taken in a wine cellar.

High on wine: Cinque Terre’s dramatic vineyards

Text & photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

In Cinque Terre, five tiny colourful villages cling to rocky spurs that plunge into the turquoise Ligurian Sea. This rugged landscape has been softened for centuries by hardworking winemakers who painstakingly carved and maintained terraces into the cliff faces to cultivate them. Most terraces were planted with vines. A few areas were devoted to olive trees, citruses and Keep travelling!

Ready for the pesto workshop at Nessun Dorma in Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy: all the ingredients are on the table

Let’s pesto in Cinque Terre!

Text & photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Seated with my back against a century-old dry-stone wall, I am overlooking the small picturesque harbour of Manarola in Cinque Terre where a few fishing boats dance on choppy waves. Colourful houses built on the dark cliff above the turquoise blue Ligurian Sea in Italy set the backdrop. I contemplate the view when Keep travelling!

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!

7 elephants facing the camera while drinking by a waterhole in the sun, South Africa

Elephant facts – all you need to know about the African elephant [Africa’s big 5 series]

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

I am steering the rental car around the bend on a curvy and hilly road in the idyllic landscape of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve at a rough 25 kilometres per hour. The ideal speed to spot some wildlife on this self-drive safari is also well adapted Keep travelling!

Purple flowers from the King's Kitchen Garden in Versailles with the cathedral in the background.

Stroll the atmospheric King’s Kitchen Garden [Versailles]

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

In Versailles, one might expect the King’s Kitchen Garden (le Potager du Roi) to be designed as a perfectly curated French garden. However, the historical garden that was created in 1683 by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie to produce fresh fruits and vegetables for Louis XIV and his court has retained its prime function: an innovative and experimental producing ground. Follow us off-the-beaten path, right by the Palace of Versailles and stroll this lesser-known and atmospheric gem…

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Beautiful wild male lion during a safari in the Karoo National Park, in the sunrise light

Lions facts – how & where to spot wild lions [Africa’s Big 5 series]

The big 5 get their nickname from the times of hunting. Lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants, and rhinoceroses are Africa’s 5 most dangerous mammals to come across in the African bush, and as such they were the utmost trophies to bring home. Today, thankfully, most dream of spotting them in the wild, and capturing them only on camera – even if trophy hunting is still a current practice. Walking in the bush Keep spotting!

Notre Dame de Paris: back then & today

The 15th of April 2019 was a tragic day. A fire ravaged the cathedral for 15 hours, taking down its spire and its roof. 500 firefighters operating in the dense heart of Paris could save the monument heroically. Millions shared their emotions and many sent financial help from all over the world showing how much of a symbol Notre Dame is for all of us, regardless of religion or nationality. At the moment, the cathedral is closed to the public and undergoing restorations. Securing it and ensuring its structural integrity were the first tasks: the vault and structure are saved. Explore Notre Dame in this article, from its 850-year history to its current status.

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The Furnace Peak volcano in eruption in with the bright red lava in fusion and the red sky

Why is Reunion called the Intense Island?

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.

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View from Cucina restaurant at night on the high-rise buildings of Hong Kong Island during the laser show, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Hong Kong in 5 days

Whether you like shopping, museums, beach going, the outdoors, history, architecture or you are a foodie, Hong Kong has much to offer in a rather compact territory! We have compiled the best of Hong Kong in an eclectic 5-day itinerary taking you from the must-go Victoria Peak to remote fishing villages while experiencing the best dim sums and grasping the challenges that the territory is facing. Keep exploring

White and gold architecture of the landmark Murray luxurious hotel in Hong Kong and 100-year old landmarked tree

The Murray, more than luxury: a landmark

In less than 200 years, Hong Kong has been transformed continuously from a fishing village into Victoria City, from a warehouse into a manufacturing centre, into a services hub, and into today’s modern metropolis and global financial centre. With such a fast rate of change, Hong Kong is facing a real challenge: sustaining its growth that has made Hong Kong what it is today and is its essence, while conserving the heritage that makes this megapolis so unique.

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The Castle of Good Hope [6 fun facts]

When the Dutch East India Company (VOC) settled on the shores of Table Bay in 1652 to establish a refreshment station, Jan van Riebeeck, the first Commander of the Cape, had a clay and timber fort built. With tensions rising between the British and the Dutch in 1664, it was time for a more permanent structure. Even though the VOC was reluctant to invest in the project, the pentagonal stone fortress Keep travelling!

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!

Visual tour of the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates are a very new country built out of the desert. Just a few kilometres away from Dubai, the hub of shopping and luxurious hotels, and Abu Dhabi betting on culture, the more traditional emirate offers a completely different experience.

Here is a compilation of our best shots capturing the essence of the United Arab Emirates to inspire you. Don’t forget, sharing is caring!

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Young Basotho shepherd wearing the traditional wool blanket, and walking with donkeys in Lesotho.

Visual tour of Lesotho

Lesotho is an enclosed country within South Africa set up on a high mountain-top plateau that was shaped by 30 million years of volcanic lava flowing, forming a 1.5-kilometre thick basalt layer. For the past 150 million years, water erosion formed the beautiful valleys and dragon-like cliff line that separates Lesotho from South Africa on the east side. The kingdom in the sky was created in 1827 by the beloved and wise king Moshoeshoe and a fascinating destination to travel through. Keep exploring

Full raft going down the rapids of the Cataract Canyon, Western River Expeditions, Colorado River, USA.

The call of the white [Rafting the biggest white waters of the USA!]

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!

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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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Visual tour of Oman

Probably one of the most welcoming countries in the Middle East where the heat of the sun is only capped off by the warmth of its inhabitants, the Sultanate of Oman is a fantastic playground for adventure seekers and outdoors enthusiasts. With its rich history, strategic position on the ancient trade routes that provided Oman with international influences over the centuries, proud culture, and long-lived traditions, the pearl of Arabia will most definitely seduce you!

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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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Diving with turtles in Réunion

Réunion Island is not only a mountainous paradise. Bathed by the Indian Ocean, its warm waters are home to many species including endangered sea turtles. Dipping your head into the turquoise waters of the lagoon will make you feel like you plunge into a colorful aquarium. Get deeper and SCUBA dive to get up close and personal with its diverse marine life and especially its fascinating sea turtles.

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