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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Portrait of a lynx

Face-to-face with Norway’s predators [Polar Park, Tromsø]

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

She is well camouflaged. The light brown colour of her fur dotted with some darker small spots hardly shows when she runs through the forest. I catch a glimpse as she moves out of the thickets. She stops and looks at me with her fluffy fur, white throat, elegant long legs, short tail and characteristic cat ear tufts. The lynx is one of the very special animals living in the wilderness of Norway. Very shy and rarely seen, it is in the Polar Park near Tromsø that we can observe her and learn about her.

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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 Nottebohm room at the Hendrik Conscience Library, Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp: A Must for Book Lovers!

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

If Gutenberg invented printing in 1450, it is Christophe Plantin (1520-1589) who set up the first industrial printing facility in 1555: the Officina Plantiniana in Antwerp. Autodidact, printer, publisher, manager, businessman, humanist, the Frenchman established a renowned publishing house that grew fast into a multinational with subsidiaries in Leiden and Paris. For about 300 years, the Plantin-Moretus’ had been on the forefront of publishing, and the family house has since then been turned into a wonderful museum where one can understand the process of printing, follow in the footsteps of the humanists, admire world’s oldest printing presses, marvel at Rubens’ portraits and at some precious books such as the Biblia Regia by Plantin and one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, world’s first museum being awarded this status.

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The stained-glass windows of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France

La Sainte Chapelle, Paris’ jewel

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

The 13th century Sainte Chapelle, built in a record time to host Christianity’s most precious relics, is a magical place to admire world’s most beautiful stained-glass windows, only a stone’s throw away from Notre Dame de Paris. Probably one of the most breath-taking moments you will have in the city of lights…

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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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Mother rhino with her calf by a waterhole at sunrise, South Africa

Rhino facts – all you need to know about rhinos [Africa’s Big 5 series]

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

All photographs taken in the wild & available in high definition upon request. All rights reserved.

I follow our trail guide in his tracks while scanning the bushes surrounding me in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi park in South Africa during an early morning bush walk. With three other wildlife enthusiasts, we are on a mission to spot some of the Big 5 and one of world’s most ancient mammals. Our safari guide seems to have picked up some tracks and signs of one of them… Under the rising sun, he snaps his fingers to signal us to stop walking, while pointing out three majestic white rhinos close to a small waterhole, only 200 metres away from our small group. For a few magical moments, the sound of the shutters of our cameras competes with the singing of the birds and the loud and ungracious honking of a couple of Nile Geese fiercely guarding their precious body of water. “Please, do not post your photos on social media with the exact location of any rhinoceros”, our field guide urges us with a solemn voice. Poachers are a very serious threat and all means are good for them to locate these prehistoric animals for their horns that sell for a fortune on the black market in order to feed the unsatiable Chinese and Vietnamese demand.

In this series of five articles, we feature the Big 5 (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos) – Africa’s most dangerous mammals to encounter on foot in the wild. Keep reading to learn more about rhinos…

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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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Gardeners working in Claude Monet's garden in Giverny, France

Visit Claude Monet’s finest masterpiece [Giverny]

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

He inspired the name of the whole movement that revolutionized art. From Tokyo to New York City via Paris, he remains one of the most celebrated painters honoured in the most prestigious museums. Still, there is no better place than Giverny where the master spent 43 years of his life and shaped his beloved garden to get inspired by Claude Monet (1840-1926) and dive into his universe.

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Close up on a pair of African Penguins grooming on Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

Unique: Swimming with penguins [Boulders Beach, Cape Town]

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

Sheltered from the winds by gigantic 540-million-year-old granite rocks, Boulders Beach is a local’s favourite for its low waves and slightly warmer water temperatures compared to the frigid yet popular Camps Bay and Clifton beaches in the heart of Cape Town. There is something more that attracts beach goers to this picturesque shoreline: it is the only place in the world where one can swim with South Africa’s most unexpected residents: jackass penguins!

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Monk hanging spiraled incense coils at the Man Mo Temple on Hong Kong Island. Red and gold tones dominate in a soft light.

A visual tour of Hong Kong

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

One of the most densely populated places in the world, Hong Kong is an urban jungle to explore. From luxury brand flagship stores to vibrant markets, from high-end hotels and spas with exquisite restaurants to Michelin-star local dim sum eateries, from mountainous parks with stunning vistas to exotic beaches, from traditional temples and authentic fishing villages to modern architectural marvels, from Chinese medicine stores to trendy art galleries, the city is full of contrasts!

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The Bonifacius Bridge over a canal, reflections and blue skies

72 hours in Bruges

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

Bruges is far more than a cute, instagrammable and romantic city to spend a day in. During the Middle Ages, Bruges was a booming, vibrant and extremely rich trading metropolis (have a quick read to dig into its history!). Today, its wealth not only resides in its preserved architecture, but also in the masterpieces that were created here amongst which some of the most remarkable paintings by the Flemish Primitives that are beautifully showcased in the intimate city museums. Follow us on this 3-day itinerary to enjoy Bruges to the fullest, including the best attractions, walks, photo spots, bike rides around town, hidden gems and insider’s favourites!

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Enjoying a beer by the fireplace at De Halve Maan brewery pub, Bruges.

The secrets of beer making in a 500-year old brewery

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

Belgium’s reputation of producing high quality beer is a reason for many to visit, and if it is not your reason, this is the perfect opportunity to learn how to appreciate better this millennium-old drink that has become more and more fashionable lately with the wave of microbreweries all over the world.

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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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The Adoration of the Lamb by the Van Eycks

Decoding the great Flemish Primitive Jan van Eyck [Bruges & Ghent]

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

The stunning realism, numerous details and vivid colours of Jan van Eyck’s paintings give them an irresistible appeal that makes the Flemish Primitive an undisputed master who revolutionized European art and is still one of the most revered artists to this day. One of the founders of Flemish painting, his style was unique and has inspired many. His technique was so innovative that he is still often considered – wrongly – as the inventor of oil painting. Travelling to both Bruges and Ghent is the best way to learn more about Jan van Eyck, admire his most acclaimed masterpieces and rediscover his art and genius thanks to state-of-the-art technologies.

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Reflections at the Dijver at night in Bruges, Belgium

Bruges’ glorious past & ever-lasting charm

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

In the Middle Ages, Bruges was the centre of the trading world living its Golden Age in the 15th century: exotic products, precious stones and pigments, spices and expensive goods were exchanged from all corners of the world. This is where the stock exchange got its name, and the cradle of the Flemish Primitive painters. Dig into its history to enjoy one of the cutest European towns even better!

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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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Wild leopard sleeping in a tree at sunset in South Africa

Leopards facts – how & where to spot them in the wild [Africa’s Big 5 series]

Article updated on May 3, 2021
Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Note: all photographs taken in the wild & available in high definition upon request. All rights reserved.

I am hiking in the mountains of the Cederberg, a remote area a couple of hours away from Cape Town, South Africa, known for its magnificent stargazing, and not so much for its safaris. I have just spotted some fresh tracks in the sand though. It is broad daylight and I am following them. They lead me to some dung along the track: it is rather fresh and contains some rodent bones and hair… It is what I thought: I am not alone. These grounds used to be populated by many more wild animals, but here Africa’s most feared predators have been wiped out but for one of them which has been adapting extremely well despite habitat loss: the leopard.

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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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The Duomo, the cathedral of Florence by night

The Florence Duomo: 10 fascinating facts about this masterpiece of the Renaissance

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

It bears different names: in Italian, the Duomo di Firenze or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (literally translated as Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower).

It is unmistakable though. World’s fourth largest cathedral (after London, Rome and Milan) dominates the skyline of Florence. Whether from the hills across the Arno River, standing at its foot or looking at it from its bell tower or terraces, its dazzling dimensions make one feel tiny!

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