Lustin safari

Some months ago I booked a surprise weekend in Lustin, close to Namur. To get there we jumped on the direct train from Brussels-Schuman to Lustin and took our folding bikes along. It took only 1h13 minutes to get from Brussels into this lovely spot in nature.

With a weekend ticket you pay only 12,20 EUR p.p. going and back, only downside is that it requires you to leave Brussels after 19pm on Friday evening.

We stayed in La Fête au Palais, a small hotel on top of the hills next to the Maas river. The boss kindly picked us up at the railway station to bring us up the hill (inform him in advance). The hotel is no-nonsense and nice. The rooms with terrace towards the river are a pleasure to hang out and cost 109 EUR/night. You want to reserve well in advance since it’s fully booked most of the year. The restaurant of the hotel has a beautiful terrace so on Friday evening we ate at the restaurant of the hotel.

While going on a hike on Friday afternoon we encountered a small snake and some lovely shiny cockroaches… The big surprise came in the evening in front of our room when we heard some nibbling noises and got to see some beautiful racoons. They are a true ecological problem in Europe since they are an exotic species disbalancing nature by killing too many birds, squirrels and lots of fruits and plants. Apparently there’s hundreds of them in the Belgian Ardennes.

After a good breakfast in the hotel, we filled our Saturday with a nice hike and a long cycling trip along the Maas river. We cycled from the hotel all the way to Namur. Made a stop to picknick, chilled at the local hipster beach bar ‘The Flow‘ and cycled back. In the evening we ate at Pizzeria Venezzia, the local restaurant in Lustin, which is at walking distance from the hotel, following a small hiking trail.

On Sunday we first took a walk in nature, following the local tracks indicated through the woods. In the afternoon we took our bags from the hotel and rolled down the hill by bike.

As you might remember from other blogposts, I enjoy swimming in rivers… The Maas river is a very beautiful and calm river to swim in, with stairs all along the riverbanks.

We followed the Maas river until we got to Yvoir where we took the train back to Brussels (eating vegi takeaway on the train from Jin Xiu next to the station).

All in all, it’s an easy trip from Brussels and a perfect escape into nature both in summer and wintertime. There are also airbnb’s around the railway line from Brussels-Schuman to Lustin. On the hills around the Maas there’s a lot of forests with hiking routes to discover. No excuses to stay in the city!

Night train to Vienna

Have you ever taken a night train?

Most of you know by now: I’m a huge fan of travelling while sleeping on the night train. There’s nothing better than rolling through nature in a charming, calm and comfortable way.

We booked our train through the website of OBB nightjet and were a little confused: the price was better then on the NMBS website, but somehow I managed to make 2 mistakes that had to be corrected by the OBB customer service later on. Our return trip was only booked up to Aachen (no idea how that happened) and my name was linked to the bed in a women only coupé and Tine’s name to the men only coupé.

Luckily all went well during the trip and we had 2 private coupés all by ourselves from Brussels to Vienna: each our own shower, toilet, beds… 4 small bottles of sparkling wine as apero and a decent breakfast included in the price. Our train left on time from Brussels-South at 19h32 on Wednesday evening. For a bed in a 3 person coupé with own bathroom we paid 140 EUR p.p. to go, and 130 EUR p.p. on the way back. It’s not cheap, but the luxury was actually very enjoyable. We took our own dinner with us from the salad bar in Brussels-South. Without realising, a colleague of mine travelled along on the same train, so in the evening we could sit in our coupé to chat while sliding through the countryside.

Around 11am we arrived more than an hour late in Vienna and got a partial refund of 70 EUR a couple of weeks later, to compensate for the delay. Quite a nice gesture.

On Airbnb we found a place described as ‘Central Artsy Room, 7min to Stephansplatz & Center’… This turned out to be the most relaxing and zen airbnb we every stayed. The host Andrija is dedicating his life to meditation and kindly took us along by learning us some new techniques. The talks were really nice and inspiring and the restaurant and city recommendations he gave us were spot on. Andrija will remain in our memories and meditations for years to come!

We spent 4 days in Vienna. Since Tine was pregnant we took it slow and limited the number of activities we wanted to do. You can easily fill a full week with lots of interesting highlights, so we knew we had to skip on some parts. Next time we go we will certainly spend one or two more days to visit some of the impressive musea.

Day 1 strolling around the city

After dropping our bags we took the time to stroll around in the old center for multiple hours. Had lunch on a terrace (Mochi), saw the Saint Stephen’s cathedral, Albertina, Hofburg where we took a siesta in the park and Naschmarkt. We had dinner in Neni am Naschmarkt, a super good Libanese restaurant with lots of vegetarian options.

Day 2 – DRZ documentary & Hundertwasser

On the second day I went to DRZ. An innovative and inclusive recycling center where I took interviews and photo’s of how this project integrates recycling, repair, up-cycling whila also re-integrating people into the labor market again in no more then 6 months. It has its similarities with ‘de kringwinkel’ as we know it in Belgium, but goes a couple of steps further in the recycling and up-cycling of the materials that come in. More details on this and similar projects can be expected in an article for MO magazine that I should finish in the coming months.

On that very same day I discovered a new hero of mine: Hundertwasser. Already half a century ago this man developed the solutions that are needed to fight urban heating and other ecological challenges that we are now facing. He designed green cities and apartment buildings from which trees can easily grow out of the windows. His paintings are not what attracts me the most, but his lifestyle and believes certainly are impressive. -> go visit the Hundertwasser museum. Walking past the Hundertwasser haus is also fun, but the museum allows you to really feel what the man brought to this world.

To finish the day we got the sunset from the Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel. The 12 EUR p.p. ticket is totally worth the impressive views you get on the city. For dinner we tried out the vegan burger chain Swing Kitchen. They pay special attention to saving CO2, Water and forests, so that’s a nice mission… which certainly does not mean it’s healthy food 🙂 it’s fastfood but with a lower environmental footprint.

Day 3The vineyards

Our third day was my favourite one, since it had a good portion of nature in it. We had brunch in Dogenhof before taking the D tramline all the way to the last station in Beethovengang. From there you can start one of the many nature walks of the ‘City Hiking Trails’. We went for Stadtwanderweg 1 – Kahlenberg and made some variations ourselves based on the komoot hiking app. Walking through the vineyards, woods and hills was rewarded with many views on the city and plenty of wine bars spread over the hills to relax, eat and drink (even vegetarian platters in Weingut Wailand).

We finished the day with an accessible classical concert in the golden hall. It was some kind of a “best of” Mozart and Strauss. We bought the cheapest tickets at 55 EUR p.p. and sat on the first row of the Galerie, which we can certainly recommend. We would not have spent 100 EUR or 300 EUR for VIP tickets, since our seats, the acoustics and the whole experience was really good enough from where we were sitting.

Day 4relax

Our last day was a slow one to relax before heading back home. We started the day with a highly recommended vegan brunch buffet at Café Harvest. For as little as 17 EUR p.p. we had the best vegan brunch we ever had. So take your time and relax on the terrace.

Since I like to swim in every big river I pass, we went to the Donau and chilled at Porto Pollo where I could easily get into the water. We spent the day reading some books, strolling a bit more through the old center and finding the best place to get Vienna’s famous Sachertorte. Before heading back to the train station, we found it last minute in Cafe Ritter, one of the oldest bars of Vienna.

Our train left Vienna Hauptbahnhof right on time at 20h13. We were swinged back into the night for a good sleep and an early breakfast on Monday morning. A good shower on the train and some morning yoga prepared me to get of the train in Brussels-North and go straight to the office by 10 am.

Travelling more sustainably is important to us. I told you about my personal mission in life in my last post, and we want to show that we are not compromising on comfort or life quality, quite the contrary. Night trains are the way to go! Traveling by night train is way more relaxing than any flight, and polluting ten times less. As from 2022 you can take our European Sleeper, a direct night train from Brussels to Berlin and Prague. If you travel in the coming months you take the OBB Nightjet from Brussels to Austria, or after a short Thalys ride to Paris you get access to multiple night trains in France.

If you want to travel already tonight, then click this link for the best night train sleepstory ever. Almost 3 milion others have traveled along with Erik Braa on The Nordland Night Train straight from their own beds.

How to get lost on purpose in Flanders

To keep it fun we won’t tell you where we went for this trip. All you need to know is that we packed for 3 days and started walking from our apartment in Brussels. The rest was just purposefully getting lost in Flemish nature along the GR routes.

During the quarantaine we suddenly spotted the famous white-red GR sign in the King Baudouin park in Brussels. That’s when we decided to follow the signs for multiple days without looking at a GPS or map. It was all about the trail and not about the destination or a schedule to stick to. Don’t worry, these GR routes do not go straight from point A to point B but take bends and turns all the time to keep you in the fields. Not knowing your destination makes sure there is no goal for the day, no hurry or rush to get somewhere. It’s just about walking, reading, eating and sleeping.

What we felt was hard to describe, but I want to give you a glimpse just to convince you that it’s totally worth trying yourself. The GR routes have been carefully designed as long distance walking routes that go through as much nature as possible. Once in a while we crossed a village or the suburbs of a city, but very quickly the road turns left or right straight back into the fields and nature.

We’re planning to repeat this concept multiple times in the coming weeks continuing the GR where we left it, or with other routes, e.g. Compostella and other GR routes we saw crossing Brussels.

If you want it or not, when you see a sign you start setting a goal or expectation of where you think you’re going. That’s where the GR is great: it suddenly turns left or right and your expectation soon becomes unrealistic. You’re forced to keep your expectations totally open.

Prepare for 3 days: check the weather, dress appropriately and take a light backpack with the following with you: tent, mattress, sleeping bag, litres of water, picknick (more on that later), pillow, lamp, book and toiletry.

We chose our camping spot around sunset, so that we did not bother other people too much. The first evening we camped on a small plot of grass on the side of a forest, the second night we camped on the side of an open field where our tent could not easily be seen the next morning. If you like sleeping a bit longer the next morning then it helps to chose your spot in a place it will certainly not bother anyone. If you are hungry, find a nice place to sit and eat. If you’re sleepy, find a nice place to set up camp and sleep.

We would wake up around 8 or 9, have breakfast, read a bit and start walking. We took evening walks after dinner because they give beautiful light and help digest your food.

Camping in the wild at such is an interesting activity: it stretches all of your daily routines or processes. It’s not easy at first, since even the smallest or most basic process such as brushing your teeth or going to the toilet don’t go the usual way. It’s good to question yourself and your most basic needs, it gives you fresh insights and stretches the brain.

To make it a good trip enough water and good food is important. Some basic recipes of our all time favourites are the following. To keep the food fresh it’s best to take a small cooling bag in your backpack:

  • Cucumber salad with canned sardines in olive oil
  • Orange, fennel and canned mackerel salad in olive oil
  • Couscous with raisins (pre-prepared and deep frozen to eat on the second day)
  • humous (pre-prepared and deep frozen to eat on the second day)
  • Boiled eggs
  • Granolla mix with seeds, dried banana, grains and oatmeal (make in re-usable packaging per breakfast). If you just add water to it before eating it the water and oatmeal becomes ‘milky’.
  • Oranges and grapefruit

Practically, any type of salad that is easy to make on the road. The canned fish with oil allows to have an on-the-go dressing so you don’t need to take any sauces or oil with you. Try to avoid any food that gets bad when pushed in a backpack: e.g. no bananas. If you need water or a shop for something you miss: ask people, don’t take out your phone or gps.

In the afternoon of the third day we took our gps to see which railway station we could go to within 2 hours of walking. That’s where we left the GR route behind, walked along the water to the station and railed back to Brussels.

Dreaming of the Snow train

Just before the Corona crisis started to break through we took a train to the Alps. Let’s just dream away to what will be possible again after this is all over.

Leaving Belgium to go skiing was easy. Tickets for the Thalys from Brussels to Paris are sold as from 25 EUR (or 7 EUR with the Izy). Our friends took the direct Thalys from Antwerp to Paris. A nice bed in the night train from Paris to Briançon is sold as from 25 EUR as well… So if you’re really short on cash and flexible in the timing you can get to the Alps for 64 EUR going and back. That’s not bad, right?

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We left Brussels in the late afternoon around 17h starting with an apero in the train. At 20h10 the night train left Paris Austerlitz where we enjoyed our pick-nick dinner and a bottle of wine with friends. The next morning we woke up with the sun in our cabin and the mountains sliding by.

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Arriving in Briançon you end up at a 10 minute walk from the telecabine and the ski slopes. There’s plenty of airbnb and hotel options around so that shouldn’t be a problem either.

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And since Sofie and Bart were there for four days only we hit the slopes of Serre Chevalier the very same morning. If you go for skiing it doesn’t promise to be a cheap holidays: around 50 euros per day for the ski pass and 25 euros for the material.

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The slopes of Serre Chevalier are maintained very well (or we were very lucky with the snow and weather conditions). Only minor point was that “due to the wind”, a crucial ski lift was closed multiple times, so at closure time we couldn’t go back to our starting point without taking the bus.

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This must have been more or less the point where we washed our hands that often to avoid Corona, that it started to hurt.

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With enough sun it was a pleasure to relax on the many chalet terraces. Contrary to the big après-ski scene in Austria or other resorts, we kind of had to stick to the “during”-ski terraces here.

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Even though Brainçon might not be known for the après-ski, it has many good restaurants:

  • Chez Maria (always fully booked, so reserve in advance)
  • Le Pied de la Gargouille (an impressive menu based on local products only, from the close-by vegetable producers, wine makers, cheese makers, …)
  • Restaurant L’Etage
  • Maison de Catherine (Puy-Saint-Pierre, also the place where I stayed last time when I came to Briançon)

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After four days our friends returned home with the night train and we spent another three days enjoying the Alps in a different way: relaxing, reading, hiking and some bathing.

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On day 5 we hiked uphill from Puy-Saint-Pierre, through hiking trails into nature.

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Day 6 we hiked next to a small canal on the hillside. From village to village in the direction of Le Monêtier-les-Bains. Hiking trails can be easily find online and most of the trails on the Komoot application are accessible also in winter. With the snow still there we went quite a bit slower then normal, so we didn’t make it all the way and took a bus for the last part.

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In Les Grands Bains we enjoyed the natural hot-springs with all kinds of outside and inside pools and hammam’s. Three hours of pure relaxing after the hike.

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On day 7 we did a bit of culture: We visited the cité Vauban (the old fortified city center) and hiked over the Pont d’Asfeld all the way up to the Fort des Têtes. If you want to visit the insides of the fortress you have to visit Briançon during summertime, but the just the surroundings and the views are already worth it.

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Inside the cité Vauban you can go up into the Fort du Chateau to catch the last sun of the day before you dive into one of the local bars or restaurants.

Leaving Belgium to go skiing was easy. Taking the night train back to Belgium in Corona times was quite a mental challenge though. We were happy to be back home in our safe apartment. Washing hands. A lot.

We agreed with Tine that we will visit the Alps every single year. The relaxing train trip and nature in the mountains are the perfect mix for our holidays.

Paalkamperen in Belgium & other concepts that make cycling trips better

Next to sharing a cycling route, I want to share a couple of logic principles that I realised while cycling around in Flanders during my last trip. Find the three key concepts at the end of the article.

For this trip I randomly searched a route to go from Brussels to the desolated village of Doel. Then I continued to the closest camping spot and from there the next day to another campsite not too far from Brussels, so I could make it to Grimbergen on time for Christmas evening.

Planning the trip, I soon saw that on day 1 I could follow a very long part of the Schelde river, and on day 2 I could follow the Dender. In between I found the network of old railroads that are now cycling routes.

Day 1: 95km. After leaving Brussels, it takes a couple of kilometers before you end up in the countryside, but as soon as you reach the banks of the Schelde in Briel it’s all nature. You cycle past Sint-Amands on a perfect trail that continues for kilometers.

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Depending on the time you have, you can take a straight route to Doel from Temse, or continue until Kruibeke. Before arriving in the desolated city of Doel, you cycle through the Port of Antwerp, along railroads, cranes and industry. In rainy weather it has something moody but beautiful.

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From far away you see the nuclear power plant of Doel as a landmark on the horizon.

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A couple of kilometers further you enter into the main street of Doel. There you find almost all houses locked up and spooky. This is where a controversial story starts of the extension plans of the Port of Antwerp.

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If you do not know the story, just search for ‘Doel’ in Wikipedia. A long story short (sorry): the whole village had to disappear to construct a new dock for large ships, property has been bought and villagers left. The construction permit was not granted and plans were not executed. Very few people stayed, but some new people live there now, with very low rental prices. Nevertheless, the place is very desolated and looks like a ghost town.

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After visiting the village, I cycled to the camping spot of “Bivakzone Stropersbos”. Just before entering into the woods, I warmed myself with a good diner in De Boshoeve. It had been raining all day, my feet were soaked and in the tent it wouldn’t get any warmer. DSC04519

The campsite is located in the middle of the forest with rivers and lots of water surrounding it. It had been raining for days in a row, so I was lucky to find 2 square meters that were not muddy to pitch my tent. With a good winter sleeping bag I managed to stay warm during the rainy night.

Day 2: 60km. On the second day I followed the old railroad to Sint-Niklaas. From Dendermonde to Okegem, I took the route following the Dender river. This route is at least as beautiful as the one next to the Schelde.

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I camped at the campsite of Neighembos with views over the Dender valley. It’s located in the back of a private garden, but with an SMS reservation you can stay there for free.

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The open air toilet certainly has its charm, but on rainy days you don’t stay there very long.

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Day 3: 40km. It sounds like a very short route, but with ripped plastic bags in my shoes and wet feet for three days in a row, I was happy I wasn’t at the other side of Belgium. Again a good lesson learned: proper gear does help. Either rain covers for the shoes, or rainproof shoes.

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Cycling around in the neighbourhood is fun: villages with the names of “Woestijn” (= desert) and “Drie-Egypten” made me frown, but the place is beautiful.

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On my way back I circled around Brussels to go to Grimbergen.

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Before getting to Grimbergen I discovered one of the most beautiful views on the skyline of Brussels: de Heirbaan in Meise. While cycling through nature you see all the landmarks of Brussels in a tiny version next to you, which makes Brussels look very small.

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To conclude, this was a nice route, getting lost on my tour bike, camping in nature and reading books in the tent while it’s raining and 3°C. I’ll do this route again during the summertime.

The three concepts that can make your cycling trip a blast, no matter if it’s a one day trip or a full week holiday:

1. Paalkamperen: plenty of beautiful nature camping spots spread over Belgium. You can use them for free all year round. If you start planning a cycling-camping trip, it’s a good way to start planning around some good sleeping locations. All of them have a dry-toilet, a dedicated camping zone, some have a fire pit or a bbq. Check out the map on bivakzone.be. A similar system exists in The Netherlands.

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2. Old railway lines: you might have found out yourself already that all over Europe old railway lines have been converted to cycling paths. Most of them cross nature in a safe and efficient way, so if you use them for longer distances it ensures you of a nice trip. Check out this overview for Belgium or if you want to try it out in another country: UK railway lines. If you would rather cross Europe on even longer distances, than make sure to have a look on Eurovelo. You can find routes that go straight from Brussels, over the Alps all the way to the heel of Italy (Eurovelo 5).

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3. Canals: take a map, see if there’s a waterway and chances are big there’s a nice cycling path next to it. I cycled along the Schelde and Dender rivers for hours. It’s fast and it’s beautiful.

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Culture trip to Marseille by direct train

At the end of September we took the direct train from Brussels to Marseille. In six hours we got from rainy Belgium to this lovely port city. We spent 3 days walking, cycling visiting some museums and hanging around.

Marseille is a Mediterranean city full of different influences. A port city with a rough edge. It feels a bit like Brussels but with better weather. A port city with all of its colourfull aspects: diverse cultures, incredible architecture, beaches, restaurants. We could live here!

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Day 1

On our first day we arrived around lunch and registered for the Velib bike sharing system. It only costs 1 euro for seven days. (30 min for free, same bikes as in Brussels, same way of unlocking etc.)

The direct train we took from Brussels to Marseille was rather pricy at our time of the year, so we paid more than 200 EUR per person going and back. The comfort on the other hand is great: you step into the train in Brussels-Midi with a coffee and a nice breakfast, and you arrive in the center of Marseille by noon.

We checked-in in our Airbnb and started discovering at the Escaliers du Cours Julien. Colourful stairs lead to an arty neighbourhood with nice terraces around a fountain where we had Aperol’s at L’escalié.

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In the meantime we joined the local Youth for Climate strike at L’Ombrière to take some photos of their protest and continued our visit of Marseille.

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Afterwards we spent some time around the Vieux Port, the old harbour. It’s a nice walking neighbourhood, but hotels and restaurants around here tend to be touristy (and more pricy).

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For dinner we just strolled into the backstreets around our airbnb and for convenience picked out a good looking Brasserie (similar to the ones you find all over Paris).

Day 2

A piece of impressive architecture of Le Corbusier is the Cité Radieuse. A very special apartment block designed in 1952 that is still inhabited today, mainly by architecture and art lovers.

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When you visit the inside you can observe how different functions were integrated into one building: a supermarket, bookshop, doctor, school, library, … The apartments are duplex’es that are puzzled as Tetris blocks into the building.

After an extensive visit we took a big cycling and hiking tour: From Cité Radieuse to the (foggy) views from the Notre Dame de La Garde, to the MuCem and to Corniche Kennedy.

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For dinner we went to a place next to the sea at Corniche Kennedy. There is quite some restaurants to pick from, but some tend to be very pricy. We went to Le petit Pavillon – nothing fancy, but views on the sea and good seafood without frills: oysters, grilled fish etc.

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Day 3

Our third day we had breakfast in a nice arty airbnb at La Maison du Petit Canard in the Panier neighbourhood. The location is quite good, so this could be a good option to stay for your full weekend.

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We strolled around the Panier neighbourhood, visited the Cathedral La Major and went to MuCEM for the complete rest of the day: the museum of European and Mediterranean civilisation offers on its own is already worth a trip to Marseille. It has a very diverse range of expositions with art, history and science, multiple restaurants and terraces to read a book, a fortress with gardens and a watchtower with views on the old harbour.

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As in Paris, every first Sunday of the month entrance to the museums is free of charge. We visited multiple expositions, joined for part of a tour in the fortress and had a really good buffet lunch in the restaurant on the top floor.

… and from Marseille we travelled on to Corsica with the night boat of Corsica linea.

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After spending multiple days discovering Marseille we felt we could live there. So who knows in a couple of months or years you can come visit us here in Marseille!

Two-day bike trip to Villers-La-Ville

Last weekend we took the most beautiful cycling route out of Brussels consisting of pure nature only. In a little more than fifty kilometres you can drive from Brussels to the abbey ruins of Villers-La-Ville, where we camped.

On the first day we left around noon with our camping gear packed on the bicycles, ready for our big adventure. We were lucky that our friend Thomas had planned the route (GPX map) with almost only roads through forests and fields. To come back he planned another route that is a bit shorter and with different sceneries, but still plenty of nature as well. The 50-60 km route has more or less 600-700 meters of uphill cycling. Nothing impossible but still a bit sporty.

You don’t need crazy gear for this trip: a decent bike (Tine even went on her Brompton), a repair kit (or a Velofixer – Amor in our case) a good picknick with enough food and water and basic camping gear (tent, mattress, sleeping bag).

Chateau de La Hulpe

After cycling through Bois De La Cambre and the Sonian Forest, it takes you less than an hour to get to the La Hulpe castle. That’s where we had lunch before heading to the Lion of Waterloo.

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Waterloo’s Lion

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While cycling out of the forest and into the fields, you soon see the Lion sticking out on its hill. Be aware it gets quite crowded and a simple walk to the top of the hill is not possible without paying a twenty euros ticket that includes a 2 hour tour in the museum as well. So we just admired the Lion from the terrace of the restaurant next door.

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A couple of hours later, cycling through small routes through the forest and fields, uphill… downhill…, we got to closer to our end destination of the day: Villers-La-Ville. As you will see, this is the first picture with Tine having a quirky helmet position… and certainly not the last one 😉 !

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Villers-La-Ville

Once we arrived to the ruins of the abbey of Villers-La-Ville we first had dinner at “Chalet de la Foret”, a good and cosy restaurant, and a perfect place to refill our water bottles and wash the suncream away after our trip. There are no campings closeby, but that should not stop you from camping.
Once the evening started to fall we found ourselves a good spot to put our tent and get ready for the night. A lock around the bicycles, brushing our teeth with a view on the abbey ruins…and ready for bed.

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On the second day we woke up early, had breakfast and went for a walk. Notice that the abbey only opens at 10am on Sundays, so you might already take a hike before.

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The history of the site is impressive and throughout the walk in the gardens and the abbey ruins the history is well explained. The waterworks, medicinal garden, protection walls, etc. date from around 1100…so plenty of stories to be told.

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After the visit we packed our tent and camping gear into the waterproof bags and started to drive back to Brussels. The route took us through plenty of woods and small villages again. This route followed the railroad to Brussels for quite some time, so it’s rather easy to orientate yourself.

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Genval

Halfway on the route back you pass the Genval lake with its relaxed atmosphere: rowing and sailing boats, restaurants around the lake and an esplanade with “Fancy people” that make you think you’re in Knokke.

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Sonian Forest

Once you leave the route around the lake you end up back in the Sonian Forest and back around the castle of La Hulpe. The Sonian forest has so many routes you can pick whatever alternative you want: asphalt, gravel or off-road!

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It was our first cycling-camping holiday, so it was a true learning experience to understand what is important and how to prepare:
– Decide on the best bike for you? (city / touring / offroad with racks for bags) -> Make it as comfortable as possible
– How to plan your route and add a maximum of nature? (e.g. Garmin basecamp, google maps,… decide your highlights and modify the route step by step via green corridors) -> keep it as green as possible
– What to take? (water, food, camping gear, repair kit, sunscreen, spare (warm/rain) clothes,…) -> keep it as light as possible
A really big thanks to Thomas for figuring out this route. Nature all the way!

Snowtrain to the Alps – Briançon

This one will be rather short, so just enjoy the images and scroll down for some practical information or ask me if you want more details on the trip.

Nighttrain:

I took the thalys from Brussels to Paris (25 EUR one way if you book early) and than a nice bunkbed in the nighttrain from Paris Austerlitz leaving at 20h50 to the alps (98 EUR one way, I booked only a couple of days in advance, so I’m sure you can get it cheaper). At 8h30 the next morning you arrive in Briançon, a 10 minute hike away from the closest ski lift of Serre Chevalier.

Note of december 2019: This year we booked a ski trip again to Briançon and managed to buy a one way ticket for 50 euro from Brussels to Brainçon: 25 euro from Brussels to Paris and another 25 euro for the sleeping train with a bunkbed from Paris to Briançon!

Next to that it’s worth checking out the new sleeping train line from Brussels to Innsbruck that will be operating as from January.

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Hiking or ski?

Since I was staying in Puy-Sain-Pierre I had to rent my material in Briançon at the bottom of the main lift. You can just rent your material by the day and get your ski pass for as many days as you want. It’s rather expensive so try to group the ski days together and maybe plan some hiking before and after.

For hiking I did multiple hikes that start in Puy-Saint-Pierre: look on the Visorando website and do (1) (part of) the Notre dammes des Neiges hike in the snow (deep snow hike, requires some material and enough food). (2) Circuit des chapelles, which can be done mainly without hiking on deep snow.

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Sleeping

I can only recommend the exact place I stayed, since it was absolutely perfect: Maison de Catherine. A room costs around 90 EUR per night for 2 people. Don’t worry about not having any other restaurants closeby, because the own cook provides plenty of variation and impressive food for a very reasonable price (normal 3-courses menu for 23 EUR or more gourmet for 30 EUR per person). The picture below was the view from my room.

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Visiting Briançon

Since Briançon itself is at a strategic point in the Alps, it has plenty of military constructions and buildings around. The old citycenter is built within a fortress. Truly worth spending at least half a day visiting. If you go to the office de tourisme they give you a map with a nice 1-2 hour loop and some background information. If you’re cold an looking for gluhwein and pancakes: L’armure (the food was good, service medium friendly).

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