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!
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.
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!
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!
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 a National Park, including a large marine reserve, and it is an agricultural land where vineyards have been cultivated on narrow terraces supported by dry-stone walls for almost a millennium.
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!
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…
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.
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.
Bo-Kaap is a historic and small residential area of Cape Town built mostly between 1760 and 1840 that became home to many Muslims and freed slaves. Today with its brightly painted houses, it is one of the most instagrammable districts of Cape Town and a must-visit, also to taste its flavourful Cape Malay cuisine! Keep travelling!
Reunion Island is a true hiker’s paradise. With hundreds of kilometers of well-maintained and well-marked trails crisscrossing the island’s mountains (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), indigenous forests full of endemic species, rivers, striking viewpoints and isolated settlements, it might be hard to choose which hiking paths to take. To hit the most beautiful natural wonders of Reunion Island while experiencing the three very different amphitheaters (called “Cirques”) and meeting its inhabitants walking the most scenic trails, we have created an exclusive 7-day circular hike for you! Keep traveling!
Most tourists visiting the Reunion Island drive up the Maïdo road to take in the stunning vistas on the Mafate Cirque from its viewpoint. However, there are more fun and adventurous ways to take in the scale of the ramparts of this massive natural amphitheater and explore the various ecosystems along the volcanic slopes of the mountain, like rock climbing the Maïdo Peak or mountain biking back down to the coast.
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!
“Hold on tight! It is going to be a little bit bumpy”, our guide Christeen Grant, experienced mountain guide passionate by the Drakensberg, calmly announces. She confidently steers the wheel of the extended Land Rover Defender which roaring engine is operating at its maximum capacity. The 4×4 steadily crawls forward on the steep rocky road winding up towards the Kingdom in the Sky. We are about to enter Lesotho for a multiple day horseback riding adventure although the real adventure has already started at the foot of the legendary Sani Pass in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Keep travelling!
The sun has been up for no more than an hour and its strong rays are already warming me up as I contemplate the village of Malubelube. From the rock on which I am seating on the top of the mountain dominating the settlement at 2,675 metres, I have a 360° panoramic view on the endless surrounding mountains. The morning light bathes the traditional rondavels with Keep travelling!
I pick up some speed going downhill towards a small stream of crystal clear waters. The all-terrain tires of my mountain bike on the wooden bridge break the silence followed up by the swift change of gears as I pedal hard to get up the steep single track ahead of me. I slalom my way up amongst blooming protea trees that add some bright orange and red colours to the green slopes of the Northern Drakensberg that we are exploring by mountain bike. Keep travelling!
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!
Standing on the bunker del Carmen overlooking the city of Barcelona bathed by the sunset light, La Sagrada Familia boldly rises above the buildings. I have always had mixed feelings passing by the grey façades of the most visited landmark of the capital of Catalonia invaded by hordes of tourists. It is only by entering this basilica that I went from a dubious passer-by to being an admirer of Gaudí’s technical genius and refined symbolism.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Passeig de Gràcia is the place to settle in for the powerful and wealthy of Barcelona. In 1903, Josep Batlló a rich textile industrialist buys a 25-year old house on this most prestigious street of the new and modern El Eixample district. However, Batlló’s house looks a bit dull Keep travelling!
Walking down the Ramblas and slaloming between noisy groups of tourists and insisting street sellers, we make a right into a quiet side street. A few metres further and the craziness of the Ramblas seems like a distant memory. We have just arrived in front of Palau Güell, Gaudí’s first major assignment for his most loyal patron, the rich industrialist Eusebi Güell. Keep travelling!
Slightly more than a century ago, the pride of Catalonia already echoed loud and clear, carried by the Catalan Modernist architectural movement and the Renaixença cultural movement. The Palau de la Música in the gothic Barcelona is the communion of these influences. The most representative examples of this Catalan pride, it is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world.
The Sant Pau Art nouveau site is off the very beaten path of the modernist landmarks of Barcelona. A stone’s throw away from La Sagrada Familia, it is an impressive hospital that was built in the early 20th century and one of the most beautiful examples of modernist architecture.
Preah Khan may very well be Cambodia’s most atmospheric temple, hidden in the thick jungle of the Preah Vihear province. Royal palace and worship place dating back to the 9th century, it recalls the Bayon and Ta Prohm temples in Angkor. If one makes the effort to reach it, one will be rewarded by majestic ruins with hardly any other visitors, far from the crowds of Siem Reap.
Explore the country of d’Artagnan, the most famous of the musketeers. Swap the horse for a bicycle and enjoy the ride through the bucolic Gascony in the south of France!
From the sky, it looks like a fan made of valleys from north to south, running from the Massif Central to the Pyrénées. Biking the Gascony region in the south of France is quite a challenge: Keep traveling!
“You are going to Preah Vihear?!” All by yourselves? The temple bordering neighbouring Thailand, all the way up in the Dângrêk Mountains?? Wow!… Do you know the road?” With a grin on our faces and small backpacks ready, we nod in reply to the young friendly Cambodian lady who looks slightly concerned on the small parking lot of our hotel in Siem Reap. She takes another look at us and studies the 120cc scooter we have just rented. With a frown she adds: “Whatever you do once you arrive at its foot, do not drive your scooter up there by yourselves; it is way too steep there!! Be safe and enjoy!”
Indeed, exploring Preah Vihear is a true challenge: it is remote, not connected to any form of efficient public transport, it is hardly visited by tourists nor locals. Due to military tensions between the Cambodian and Thai armies in 2008 who both claimed its grounds, people are still cautious as whether or not to roam these splendid temple grounds. Still, Preah Vihear is settled in the most dramatic setting of all temples built by the powerful Khmers, on top of a majestic cliff dominating the plains of Northern Cambodia by more than 500 metres. All the more reasons for us to explore the ancient stairways, courtyards and sanctuaries organised along an 800-metre long axis defining the off the beaten path temple complex. Keep traveling!
We are standing a few kilometres south of the fortified city of Carcassonne, with the vineyards rolling down from our feet to the base of the majestic ramparts, and the Black Mountain in the background. In Southern France, Carcassonne is a marvel of the Middle-Ages: an entire city completely fortified with its narrow cobblestoned medieval streets, its imposing castle, and gothic basilica. Carcassonne remains the most complete example of French medieval military architecture, and it took about 25 centuries to shape Carcassonne as it is today…
Birthplace of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the man who linked the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea in the 17th century by carrying out the largest civil engineering project of the time, the Canal du Midi, Béziers is also where the masterpiece of Riquet can be visited: the 9 locks of Fonseranes.
Having left Sète some 50 kilometres prior, we leave the shade of the centennial plane trees along the Canal du Midi behind to bike over the surreal Pont-Canal de l’Orb. This 1857 aqueduct, both bridge and canal, was built so that boats with their precious wheat cargo would avoid being tumbled over in a violent Keep travelling
The majestic temples of Angkor are victim of their own success: with 4 million visitors a year mostly during the dry season focusing mainly on three temples, the atmosphere can be lost. Still, it is possible to experience the Angkor temple complex off the beaten path for a fantastic and authentic discovery, unravelling the splendour of the great Khmer civilisation.
The five towers of Angkor Wat symbolizing Mount Meru, Cambodia
Sunrise on Angkor Wat, Cambodia
I skilfully steer my mountain bike along a few pointy rocks on a narrow single track through the jungle of Cambodia. In front of me appears a desolated ruin, half swallowed by tree roots of strangler fig trees. Birds sing, butterflies flutter around reflecting the strong sun rays peeping through the dense vegetation on their brightly-coloured wings, and a cat yawns while stretching its front paws on the step of the almost-millennium old Khmer temple of Preah Khan in the temple complex of Angkor.
The Mont Saint Michel (Saint Michael’s Mount) is a marvel of medieval architecture set in one of the most beautiful bays of the world in Normandy, and part of the top 3 most visited sites in France, attracting about 3 million visitors per year. Keep reading
The High Coast trail (or Höga Kusten leden) is a beautiful 128-kilometre multi-day hiking trail from stuga to stuga, along the eastern coast of Sweden, about 6 hours north of Stockholm by car. The High Coast trail leads Keep traveling!
Exploring the Canal du Midi and leaving Sète and the locks of Fonsérannes behind, we bike about eight kilometres further into the direction of the Atlantic, along the narrow and bumpy towpath where horses used to drag the heavy loaded vessels before engines made it obsolete. Keep travelling
It has been a long trip, walking for hundreds of kilometres. Setting off about a month ago, we have just arrived at the foot of the last obstacle. It is so close and yet, it seems impossible to reach. The high tide covers up the whole shore and I fear greatly for this life-threatening crossing on foot to the sacred island Keep reading
A UNESCO world heritage site, the cathedral of the Assumption in Leon is an impressive building and remains the largest cathedral in Central America. Center of life of the city, it is located on a lively square, while food stalls are aligned along its back wall. Keep traveling!
It must be a tyrannosaur-rex, I think, while I turn on my side in another useless attempt to fall back sleep as the sun is almost rising. The roar from the Guatemalan jungle is so loud that I fear the size of the animal making this much noise, especially while spending the night in a small tent… Keep traveling!
Leaving the flat plains, the mid-day Mérida to Campeche bus takes a winding road as it reaches the Puuc (“hill”) region of Yucatán. It struggles to go up among the never-ending forests. Towards the hills, a high stone structure appears Keep traveling!
The early morning sunlight warms up my skin. Birds are singing as loud as they can while hiding themselves in the exotic tree tops. The earth smells humid from the night before as we walk towards a big clearing. It strikes me: Keep traveling!
As early as during the 6th century, the French king Clovis decided to install his capital in Paris, and more specifically on the Ile de la Cité (island of the city), in its very heart. Between the 10th and the 14th centuries, the Palais de la Cité was the residence of the kings. When Charles V decided to move the royal residence to Le Louvre, La ConciergerieKeep traveling!
Article updated on May 20, 2020 Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Cherry blossoms in spring, red maple leaves in autumn, hidden temples, modern buildings, bamboo forests, bright orange torii gates, philosophical strolls, haute cuisine, Geisha culture: Kyoto has so much to offer! One would have to Keep travelling!
A smell of fish enters my nose while I kneel to capture a fisherman dressed in the recognizable thick yellow waterproof clothing as he sets out on the lake of Thau. Squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and the salty étang de Thau, a famous aquaculture basin for oysters and mussels, Sète breaths the atmosphere of a historical fisherman’s town with its very own traditions. Keep travelling
Article updated on May 20, 2020 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Only a curtain of fog separates the Russian Kuril Islands from Japan along the narrow Nemuro Strait bordering the sea of Okhotsk. The Ainu people, an indigenous ethnic group of people who have inhabited Hokkaido (Japan’s second largest and northernmost island) and the Kuril and Sakhalin Islands belonging to Russia since the 13th century, call it sir-etok, literally meaning end of the Earth. Keep travelling!
Article updated on May 15, 2020 Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Festivals are very important in Japan. In a very fast-paced and ultra-modern country, they are an integrant part of keeping ancient traditions alive and passing them on to younger generations. If they take place throughout the year, the best moment to witness most of them is the summer. Be warned: some are so popular that they make travelling and staying in the hosting cities difficult. Keep travelling!