Snaking through Oman’s wadis

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

The falaj of Misfat, one of the most charming villages of Oman

Many traditional villages in Oman got abandoned to build modern houses close by: mud houses were getting too small, needed too much maintenance and above all could not beat modern life! Thanks to tourism, some of these old villages are rehabilitated such as the charming Misfat al-Abriyeen famous for its ancient irrigation system or falaj.

Keep travelling!

48 hours in Oslo

Day 1

The off the beaten path Akerselva River

Past the ultramodern Bar Code architectural project, and a few streets in the vibrant Grønland district, reach the Akerselva River to walk its banks and explore the industrial past of Oslo. This stream used to provide power to the factories of Keep traveling!

The national museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh

The national museum of Cambodia houses one of world’s largest collections of Khmer art, including and not limited to the period of the Khmer Empire, which at its height stretched from Thailand to southern Vietnam. Abandoned during the Khmer Rouge regime and with most of its staff murdered, the museum reopened quickly at its fall and is paramount to promote Cambodian identity and pride.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of a few must-see and pointers that will also help you understand the history of Cambodia and decrypt its art better especially if you are planning on visiting some temples such as Angkor Wat. Keep travelling!

A quick guide to Omani food

Oman is a nation of seafarers and desert dwellers where influences from far away countries mix to the Bedouin hospitality, and the land and the sea prepared with the best spices brought back from centuries of trading are the signature of the local cuisine. Today, with many influences from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it can be tough to identify the authentic Omani cuisine: here is a short guide to help you make the most of your culinary discoveries in the sultanate.

Keep tasting!

The new outdoorsy capital of South Africa [George]

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!

The Nizwa fort [Oman’s most visited monument]

The Nizwa Fort nested among mountains and oasis with the souk spreading at the foot of its recognisable tower is a must-see.

When Oman converted to Islam peacefully and by faith in the 8th century, the idea to create a true Muslim state was paramount, and prior to today’s sultanate, the Imamate was ruling the country. Religious and political powers were consolidated in the hands of the elected Imam in the capital Nizwa (until the coastal Muscat became the capital in 1793). As such, Nizwa has been the centre of religion and also of politics for many centuries, calling for new standards for fortified buildings in a land divided among many tribes. keep reading

The mud villages of Oman [Al Hamra]

“Al Hamra” it says on the dusty road sign along the way towards the majestic Jebel Shams in the Western Hajar Mountains of Oman. In a last-minute decision I turn the wheel of our rental car and notice a large date plantation irrigated by a traditional falaj. I park the car and we cautiously venture in the desolated streets lined by ruined mud houses to explore the old village. Keep travelling!

Climbing up the balcony in Jebel Shams

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.

Keep climbing!

48 hours in Muscat

Dating back to the 1st century, Muscat gained prominence in the 14th century when traders used it as a maritime hub on their way to or from India, the far East, Zanzibar and Europe. Indeed, the capital of Oman is located in a natural harbour ideally suited for the safe mooring of vessels that has made the Sultanate a nation of seafarers. Today, Muscat is a vibrant city open on the world that is worth spending a few days exploring. Keep travelling!

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!

GR 20: Prologue

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!

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!

Screaming for Munch in Oslo

In 2012, Edvard Munch’s 1895 pastel, “The Scream” sold for a record price of just under $120 million at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. This was then the most expensive piece of art ever sold at an auction, sealing Munch’s reputation as one of the most influential painters. What makes Munch’s paintings so engaging? Keep travelling!

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!

In the tracks of Norway’s bravest explorers in Oslo

Norway is a rather small country per number of inhabitants, and some of them have led some of the craziest explorations admired from all over the world! They are celebrated in Oslo in some excellent museums where original artefacts that crossed oceans or reached the poles are exhibited. Know where to go to follow the tracks of some of world’s greatest explorers! Keep exploring!

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

Madrid’s best kept secret restaurants [and the best Spanish wines!]

Andrés makes his way through the narrow streets of Madrid’s old town that he knows like the back of his hand. He points out to some interesting details on the façades of different buildings as we are making our way to one of his secret spots to taste some of the best food in town paired with some of the best Spanish wines. “Did you know this is Madrid’s oldest building?” he asks when he briefly explains its history before we pop into a 19th century tavern on a historical nearby square. Andrés is taking us out tonight, and we are starting the traditional way with a vermouth on tap and delicias de bacalao. The fried cod cooked to perfection and still crispy is enhanced by the sweet madroño jam made from the fruits of the tree of Madrid: the strawberry tree (go figure, this has absolutely nothing to do with strawberries!).

Keep tasting!

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!

District Six museum, Cape Town: a commemoration ground

“We were told that we didn’t qualify to live there anymore because of the colour of our skin.” – Joe Schaffers, ex-resident of District Six. Removed in 1967 at the age of 28.

“Every day to work I would pass by my house, out of which my wife, kids and me had been forcefully removed. Every day I would stop and look at it, seeing the bulldozers getting closer. Until one day our house was gone, just a vacant plot remained, on which I stood with an empty heart.” – Noor Ebrahim, ex-resident of District Six, Cape Town. Removed in 1970 at the age of 26.

“Many streets from which people were removed and houses demolished are still empty today. The goal was to divide people and break us.” – Ruth Jeftha, ex-resident of District Six.

Today Joe, Noor and Ruth are here, at the District Six museum in Cape Town, South Africa. Housed in a former church and the only original building of the District Six that is still standing, more than a museum, it is a commemoration place where former residents reaffirm their identity by sharing their life stories with visitors, celebrate their heritage, confront the complexity of history, and try to come to terms with their forced removals.

Keep reading

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.

Keep travelling!

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!