Behind the scenes in a GR 20 refuge at 1,810m

May, 1: Fred hikes up to the refuge d’Usciolu at an altitude of 1,810 metres from the village of Cozzano, two hours away. The athletic young fellow needs crampons and piolets to make his way up and often has to saw the icy snow to make his way into the kitchen of the refuge to warm up. For four years he has been assisting Francis, the refuge keeper in the summer months and this is how the 5-month season starts. Before the helicopter delivers 800 kilograms of Keep hiking!

GR 20 Etape 14: Paliri to Conca [GR 20: 180km of hiking DONE!!]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 14 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 14 of the GR 20 (Paliri to Conca): +200m, -980m over 13km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 11: Col de Verde to Usciolu [ridgelines & fresh fruits]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 11 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 11 of the GR 20 (Col de Verde to Usciolu): +1090m, -750m over 15.3km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 10: E’Capannelle to Col de Verde [beer, soccer & BBQ…]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 10 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 10 of the GR 20 (E’Capannelle to Col de Verde): +500m, -590m over 13km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 8: L’onda to Vizzavona [how simple pleasures become luxury]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 8 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 8 of the GR 20 (L’Onda to Vizzavona): +650m, -1230m over 10km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 7: Vaccaghja to L’Onda [via altitude lakes you don’t want to miss!]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 7 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 7 of the GR 20 (Vaccaghja to L’Onda): +1600m, -1400m over 20km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 6: Castel del Vergio to Vaccaghja [the nicest accommodation of the whole GR 20!]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 6 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 6 of the GR 20 (Castel del Vergio to Vaccaghja): +620m, -450m over 14km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 5: Ballone to Castel del Vergio [why this is better than Tighettu to Ciottulu]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 5 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 5 of the GR 20 (Ballonne to Castel del Vergio): +660m, -680m over 13.5km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 4: Ascu Stagnu to Ballone [is Monte Cinto really better than Cirque de la Solitude?]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 4 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 4 of the GR 20 (Ascu Stagnu to Ballone): +1220m, -1150m over 9.4km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 3: Carrozzu to Ascu Stagnu [helicopter rescue & thunderstorms]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 3 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 3 of the GR 20 (Carrozzu to Ascu Stagnu): +790m, -640m over 5km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 2: Ortu di u Piobbu to Carrozzu [tougher than we thought]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 2 Elevation

Elevation for Stage 2 of the GR 20 (Ortu di u Piobbu to Carrozzu): +780m, -920m over 7.7km

[Click here for the previous stage]

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!

GR 20 Etape 1: Calenzana to Ortu di u Piobbu [getting launched on the GR!]

GR 20 Corsica Stage 1 Elevation

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…

Keep hiking!

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.

Keep travelling!

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!

Keep exploring!

The ultimate ethical safari experience: &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve

It is getting dark fast now the sun has set. A jackal scurries on the African soil that is still warm after a hot summer day. Crickets tune in forming a loud orchestra while bright stars start decorating the sky, one by one. Agile nightjars catch moths and other insects in the faint headlights of the open Toyota Land Cruiser 4×4 safari truck in which we are seated. A woollen blanket keeps my legs warm while I tuck away my Canon camera after capturing some of Africa’s most emblematic animals. I am keeping an eye out for leopards, bush-babies, genets, and other nocturnal animals which eyes would lit up in the respectful infrared light that our tracker moves up and down the trees. Suddenly, Keep travelling

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!

How to select the best game park for your safari in South Africa?

For many, a safari is a dream trip, often a once in a lifetime experience. This is why it is important to select the type of safari and game park carefully to avoid any disappointment. South Africa is one of the best countries in the world to observe wildlife in beautiful and varied landscapes showcased in its two main types of parks: government-run parks and private game reserves. The offer is so vast and prices so high that we have put together some thoughts in order to help you select the safari that is the most adapted to you.

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Guernica unravelled

“No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy” said Picasso.

And it can be such a powerful weapon that it can transcend the specific conflict to reach a universal status as a symbol of fight against barbarism. Such is the destiny of Guernica, Picasso’s most famous painting, an art and history icon showcasing strong artistic and political commitments.

Keep traveling!

Soweto, way more than a township: an identity

Lungile leads the way and with a huge smile on his face he greets basically everyone we come across. “Sawubona! Unjani?” Zulu for hello, how are you. “Ngiyaphila“, I’m fine. “Chap chap“. “So you were born and raised in Johannesburg?” I ask him as I push hard on my pedals, biking uphill under the South African sun. “No!” he answers clearly offended to add with pride: “I was born and raised in Soweto!”

Keep reading

Offbeat Cape Town, beyond the Waterfront and Table Mountain

Parading the V&A Waterfront, going wine-tasting in the vineyards, exploring Cape Point, Boulders Beach, Robben Island and Table Mountain, just a grab of the many must-do’s when visiting Cape Town. But before soaking up South Africa’s moving history on Robben Island, indulging yourself to good food, delicious wine or taking selfies from the top of Table Mountain overlooking the magnificent views of the City Bowl, there is one activity that deserves a little more attention: discovering the real Cape Town with a local.

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Exploring the French corner, Franschhoek, South Africa

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

Kingsley Holgate, the bearded explorer

The man looks like Santa: with his shiny white beard, imposing stature, friendly and frank smile that breaks into a loud laugh, deep voice, and soft eyes. Even more so when he arrives in a remote village in the heart of Africa to distribute mosquito bed-nets, water purification systems, and sight glasses; or when he walks into a school with paper and crayons for the kids to draw elephants and rhinos.

Except that where he goes, reindeers would be pretty useless: it is with his trusted Land Rovers and loyal crew that Kingsley Holgate explores Africa. This humanitarian adventurer has a mission summed up by the slogan of the Kingsley Holgate Foundation: “using adventure to save and improve lives”.
Keep exploring

Kloofing in paradise: River Deep – Mountain High

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?

Keep travelling

Getting stoked with a surf champ!

I feel as clumsy as a turtle nesting on the beach, scooping up the sand on which I am laying down with powerful strokes. On the horizon white foam tops off the powerful waves of the Indian Ocean. In front of me multiple South African longboard champion surfer David Macgregor counts the number of strokes with his deep voice: “one, two, three, and up!” Getting up swiftly on the imaginary surfboard that we drew in the sand, I position my feet and arms. “Yeah, it starts to look more like it, girls! Two more and then you are ready for the real thing”, David enthusiastically exclaims. Today South Africa’s longboard champion is running his own surf school and camp in the town of Port Alfred and we are his eager students! Keep surfing!

Zeitz Mocaa, the new pride of Cape Town

I enter a world of concrete, steel and glass towering me. Elevators are going up and down like the pistons of an internal combustion engine. In a cylindrical staircase movement is created by spectators going from one level to another. Looking up, the spiral of the staircase resembles a drill bit. Following the steel pipes running along a concrete tunnel, I notice rusty handles. They used to control the opening of the silos to load the grains onto wagons. The wagons would then take them straight to the boats anchored in the nearby harbour. Of the 42 57-metre tall cement cylinders that used to compose what once was the tallest structure in Sub-Saharan Africa, eight are left, all cut out or carved. Turned into a world-class museum, this industrial landmark has kept its soul and now hosts more than a hundred galleries exhibiting contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Keep travelling!

The Wild Coast: hike it before they mine it!

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!

The best of Kosi Bay in 4 unique adventures

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!

Conquering world’s second highest waterfall

“Look at those giant ragged shapes on the horizon! It looks like a draak!” One of the early Voortrekkers could have said.

“I am not sure we can go any further! A barrier of spears is blocking us” A Zulu warrior might have said.

Draak is Afrikaans for dragon and the Zulu warrior and Afrikaner were talking about the same mountain range: the Drakensberg, or dragon mountains.

The mountain range stretches for about Keep travelling!

Change a Life

Port Alfred, South Africa. A town like many others. With its township like many others. The perfect example of apartheid with its wealthy “first-class-citizen” suburb for whites, Station Hill for the “second class” coloured residents, and the township for the blacks. Although the only township in Africa that bears the name of the iconic Nelson Mandela, nicknamed Nemato.

Nemato looks like your average South African township. Though most of its 25,000 or so inhabitants enjoy electricity, whether it be the legal way or illegally Keep travelling!

Horseback riding the kingdom of the sky, Lesotho

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 2675 metres, I have a 360° panoramic view on the endless surrounding mountains. The morning light bathes the traditional rondavels with their thatched roofs scattered along the slopes. Fields are already being ploughed slowly lane by lane with the help of working bulls, and seeded by laborious men. A man wrapped in a dark blue blanket is galloping on his brown horse through the corn fields. Young shepherds are heading to grazing patches with their goats. Smoke rises up from the fires on which women are cooking pap, the traditional thick corn porridge, the base of every meal. The sounds from the village come up to my position: happy discussions, a loud laugh of a man, kids playing, a cow mooing, a rooster cock-a-doodle-doo-ing and dogs barking. Time feels different here in the highlands of Lesotho that we have been horseback riding through for several days. Keep travelling!

Epic mountain biking in the Northern Drakensberg, South Africa

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!

Back to our roots: finding a new species in the cradle of humankind, South Africa

Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker set out that day of 2013 to look for fossils in unexplored parts of the Rising Star Cave about one hour north west of Johannesburg in the Maropeng area. Meticulously exploring the well-known dolomite cave, they found a narrow vertical tunnel. Taking this chute feet first they discovered a chamber 30 metres below ground filled with bones. These could be just any bones, but when they came head first with what looked like a human mandible, they knew they were onto something big… Keep travelling!

The new gold rush: Sabie’s white gold, South Africa

“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!

Travelling back to the gold rush, South Africa

Sabie in the North East of South Africa is an outdoor paradise and the perfect base to explore the Blyde River Canyon, the Kruger National Park and the picturesque villages that made the gold rush history like Pilgrim’s Rest. Let’s dig more into it!

Digging for gold in the area started way before the 19th century gold rush. A long time ago, Indians landed on the East Coast of Africa pushed by the monsoon winds and started trading routes with African tribes to exchange eastern goods against gold, gems, ivory… Keep travelling!

How to visit a mosque: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I am rolling the sleeves of my shirt down to my wrists. In my bag, I grab a pareo that I carefully wrap up around my head in order to hide my hair. I motion with confidence towards the women’s entrance of the mosque, when I am called back: my pants show my bottom and that is not acceptable here at Sheikh Zayed Al Kabeer Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Also known as Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, this half-a-billion euro place of worship is the largest of the UAE, and can host more than 40,000 worshipers. I am Keep travelling!

Experiencing the Emirati culture in Dubai

Understand the Emirati culture while in Dubai, and also learn how to decrypt a mosque, with which hand to eat to not appear dirty and uneducated, what the five pillars of Islam are, the Emirati dress code…

Laying down on Kite Beach, I am admiring the ballet of colourful kites dancing in the sky which is turning orange as the sun sets behind the iconic Burj Al Arab building. The muezzin is calling for the sunset prayer as some women swim in burqas next to others in bikinis among the kite surfers. I am overhearing Keep travelling!