Snow walk in Gedinne

You want to go for a good hike in the woods (with or without snow)? You’re looking for the magic of the first snow in the Ardennes?

Chances of hiking in the snow are bigger the more you go to the South of Belgium. So in January earlier this year we took a train from Bruxelles-Luxembourg, made a switch in Namur and continued until Gedinne. The switch in Namur was just long enough for Carmel, Hanne and Tine to grab a coffee to continue our breakfast on the train while enjoying the view. The route between Namur and Gedinne is particularly beautiful with views on the Maas and Lesse. Even if you would not get off, it’s worth going just for the sightseeing part from the train.

When we arrived in Gedinne we started walking towards the East, following some small paths that were shown on Komoot (hiking app), towards the “Monument pour les morts de Maquis”. We just tracked time and made a random loop in the woods so that we could do a 3 hour hike and get back at the same station afterwards. It’s best to take a picknick, since we actually did not see a single restaurant or shop for the whole hike. If you make your tour bigger you could build in a stop at one of the gites around, but best to check in advance if they serve food at noon.

It’s an easy and beautiful trip. Make sure to buy the weekend ticket or your NMBS Multi card and prepare a nice breakfast and lunch picknick.

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!

Touring by bike in the Black Forest (2/2)

During the second week of our cycling holidays we entered into the woods of the Black Forest. The days were filled with a mix of cycling on mountain routes, some city tripping and a good bit of relaxing and reading.

It was our first time climbing 1000 metres with a fully packed bike. It felt really rewarding to suffer for a bit, before having an impressive view. A long downhill only adds to this positive experience.

Karlsruhe

Spread over a full week we took the following route:

  • Karlsruhe
  • Baden-Baden
  • Freudenstadt (camping Langenwald)
  • Wolfach (Camping Zur Muhle)
  • Freiburg (2-day city trip)
Museums in Karlsruhe – Make sure to check out the ZKM Centre for Art and Media

To spread the trip and keep time for some hikes, we took the cycling very slow. Sometimes we only cycled for an hour or two in a day, e.g. the trip from Karlsruhe to Baden-Baden.

The Trinkhalle of Baden-Baden

Baden-Baden used to be a fancy bathing city where travellers from all over Europe would go relax in the Roman baths. So we checked-in at Hotel Beek and went to the local baths just next door.

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The city has plenty of old architecture, with some old hotels, springs, baths, a casino, etc. so we did take plenty of time to discover and stroll around by daytime, at night and again the next morning.

After climbing up 500m, going down another 500m and slowly climbing 500m again by bike, we arrived at camping Langenwald. It’s a lovely natural camping with the best bathrooms we have ever seen in a campground. The place is great to hike in the woods and mountains, with routes leaving straight from the back exit.

Happy face, sunburnt legs

After spending two nights in camping Langenwald we continued to our next stop, before heading to Freiburg. On the road we stopped to visit a bear sanctuary, which was nice, since they try to give mistreated bears a better life… but, even on a big plot of land, it’s still sad to see captured bears. Therefor I’m not going to promote it here.

On our way to Freiburg we had to do quite some climbing again. But just like all the other times, the views are extra rewarding after suffering a bit. Luckily we took more then 2 litres of water per person with us, since under the bright sun we were sweating a lot.

In general we only stayed one night in most of the places, so it was nice to stay multiple days in Freiburg. The city has lots of both new and historical highlights. The Vauban quarter is a sustainability hotspot with plenty of innovative ways of building, living and circulating. The historical centre and the hill-side view are another must see.

Bikepacking through the Black Forest in Germany. Cycling from north to south.

If the weather invites you to cool down: buy some beers and swim at the wasserterrassen in der Dreisam.

Wasserterrassen in der Dreisam

And since we like to spend more money on food then on hotels, we were happy to discover that Freiburg had quite some nice restaurants as well: Wolfshohle as a fine dining restaurant with a star, The SKAJO rooftop bar, breakfast at Manna, … plenty of nice places to discover.

Our original plan was to cycle back to Belgium through the Vosges region, but COVID numbers made us change our plans, and stay longer in Germany. One week before heading back home, we went to the railway station for some information on how to get back to Aachen, with our bikes on the train… And we discovered every realistic train connection was completely booked weeks before. We decided to go for the adventure of taking 7 trains in a row to get back to Brussels. And surprisingly, there were no delays what so ever. Transfers went smooth and there was plenty of space for the bikes. Sometimes we had to take off the bags to make some space for fellow travellers, but overall it was a positive experience. On top, the views from the trainride along the Rhine were impressive.

We were not alone traveling with our bikes on the train
Views from the train driving along the Rhine for most of the route

This was our first real cycling holiday of more then a weekend, so we didn’t really know how we would feel about it. No need to say more than quoting Tine on the way back: “Hey why don’t we do the same along the Donau, or the Thames”. I’m sure this kind of trip will be repeated.

Very shortly about our gear:

Tine’s bike had two big waterproof Ortlieb bags at the back, I had a bit more space with 5 Ortlieb bags dressed all over my bike. We took all our camping gear, clothing, lots of food and water.

For the Eurovelo 15 you certainly don’t need special bicycles at all, since it’s mostly flat and you just decide what camping gear you want to take along. My Surly did well, and our Schwalbe tires even better: not a single flat tire during the full two weeks.

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.

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!

Hiking through Corsica

Our most impressive trip of 2019 was to Corsica. We took some late summer holidays at the end of September/early October and went by direct train from Brussels to Marseille, and then by boat to Corsica.

Since it was a two week trip, there’s so much we would like to share… but we’ll keep the text a bit shorter and split this post in chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Arrival in Ajaccio
  • Chapter 2: The South
  • Chapter 3: The mountains
  • Chapter 4: The West
  • Chapter 5: Cap Corse
  • Chapter 6: The boat

We did the South of the island by hitchhiking and hiking. We took a train to the inland where we hiked for multiple days, and than continued by train to Calvi. In Calvi we rented a car for a couple of days to visit the West and Cap Corse, which is more complicated in terms of public transport… and it allowed for a bit more efficient travelling than by hitchhiking.

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Chapter 1: Arrival in Ajaccio

We arrived around 7h30 AM by boat from Marseille to Ajaccio. After a good night of sleep we decided we were ready for a good breakfast, a stroll in Ajaccio and some good hitchhiking to Sartène. Ajaccio has a nice small city center with a nice market place and a fishing harbour worth visiting.

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Chapter 2: The south

(Day 1: Ajaccio – Sartène – Bonifacio; Day 2-3-4: Bonifacio)

Contrary to what many people think, it is super easy to hitchhike. The drivers that took us along were each one of them so interesting and lovely that it really added an extra layer of enrichment to our trip. We never had to wait longer than 10-15 minutes and talked for hours with: a writer of police novels, a Parisian couple of pensioned real-estate experts, a theater couple, local kayak freak, … A nice and diverse set of local Corsicans and other tourists that shared tips and tricks and a bit of their life story.

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Sartène is the perfect spot for a stop on the road, a stroll and a good lunch at L’arbousier.

After stopping at some nice tropical beaches on the way, we arrived at Bonifacio. What a city. We camped at the local camping just before arriving at the harbour (not that good) and spent some time visiting the fortified city.

It’s touristy, but totally worth taking a tour at sea to visit some nearby caves and seeing the city from the water. So do spend some money on this.

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The tiny beach (Sutta Rocca – hidden beach) just next to the village is good for a quick swim and some even more spectacular views on the rocks.

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There’s plenty of good restaurants around… but there was one blast that truly amazed us due to the friendliness and the food quality: Lan’k. You need to take a reservation and bring some money (50 EUR/person for a starter, main and desert)… but if you are impressively lucky, like we were, you meet the most friendly people ever that suddenly decide to pay your whole bill without your notice.

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Another good place to recommend, but in a less fancy location next to the harbour, is the ‘Kissing Pigs’. Here we had a great salad lunch. And after lunch we set off walking with all our stuff, to the next village.

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We found this impressive campsite ‘Camping des Iles’ where we stayed for multiple nights.  From there we did multiple hikes, a kayak tour, some swimming, book reading, etc. The kayak tour was a bit rough due to the strong wind, but we did manage to go to the close by island ‘Ile Piana’ and could catch some good waves to surf on with the kayak.

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A lunch at ‘L’efet mer’ is a must do. The food is great and the views on the surfers and sailors on the blue water will entertain you.

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Make sure to take the hikes to the beaches of Petite Spérone and the Grand Spérone. The hike itself is nice, and the white sandy beaches are good to take a swim. Do notice there is no shadow, shops, nor bars or anything. It’s completely desolated.

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Chapter 3: The mountains

(Day 5: Bonifacio to Ajaccio by hitchhiking, Ajaccio to Corte by train; Day 6-7-8-9 hiking Mare e Mare and GR20; Day 9: from Corte to Calvi by train)

We hitchhiked back to Ajaccio, since in off-season there’s close to no busses in Corsica. The train system on the other hand is really good. You can buy your tickets in the railway station and there’s multiple trains per day going from Ajaccio to Calvi and to Bastia (with a transfer in the middle). We chose Corte as the base for our hiking trip and thus got out of the train there.

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After an evening visit of Corte and a good night of sleep we set off in remote nature. Don’t underestimate and make sure you take enough pre-cautions such as food, water supplies, warm clothes, camping gear, good shoes, etc. It’s not just a random hike. We made our own loop by combining the Mare a Mare route withe the GR20 and then back down via the lake of Capitello and Melo lake.

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On the first day we followed the Mare a Mare route to the Refuge de la Sega. A good full day of hiking where we met close to no other people on the trails. There were a couple of wells so we could refill our bottles on the road.

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At the refuge there were very few people since it was at the end of the season. We got the typical mountain food: starter with cheese, salad and bread and pasta for the main course. In the other refuges we also always got exactly the same food… so after four days we were totally saturated of this.

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On the second day we continued until the Bergerie de Vaccaghia where we had a late lunch. From there we continued on the famous GR20 to refuge de Manganu, where we set camp for the night. On the GR20 there’s a lot more hikers, so even at the end of the season the campsite was rather full and we heard that all beds were booked.

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Below you can see refuge de Manganu and the campground around it. This was before most of the other hikers arrived and setup camp.Corsica_LL_47_DSC09564

On the third day we left our tent and heavy gear at the refuge de Manganu, and just made ourselves a daypack to hike to Lac de Nino and surroundings. With a book and a good picknick we had a bit of a more relaxing day.

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On the fourth day we woke up before sunrise to pack our tent and start early for the most technical hiking day. That way we were before most of the other hikers and could take our time and have a bit of space whenever we had to climb over dangerous bits of trail.

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It was sure challenging multiple times and some slopes were rather steep with very deep gorges on the side. So I’dd rather not do this part of the GR20 with heavy rain or snow (which apparently does happen often, even sometimes during the summer!).

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Reaching the mountain pass was impressive, and from there you have a view on the two big lakes far down the mountain: Lac de Capitello and Lac de Melo.

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After four good days of hiking it was nice to go back to civilisation.

Chapter 4: The West

Calvi – Porto – Evisa

We took the train from Corte to Calvi and stayed the night at a good hotel with a nice swimming pool (Hotel Le Saint Erasme). Close by we found a must-go restaurant: U Fanale. The menu was not that expensive and having a candle light dinner under the big tree on the terrace feels like true holidays.

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With our rental car we drove to Porto Ota. There we stayed at another nice campsite Les Olivers. We took another boat trip from Porto Ota to see the nature park of Scandolla. This place can only be visited by boat since it is a nature reserve where no people are allowed in.

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The day after we took a good hike to Capo Rosso. If I’m not mistaken it was 2 to 3 hours to get to the famous Genua tower.

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To then drive to Cap Corse we chose to cross the island and spend the night in the small mountain village of Evisa. We stayed at hotel Aitone… which was as friendly and funny as the Fawlty Towers hotel you know from the old days on BBC.

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Chapter 5: Cap Corse

We saw Cap Corse as a good road trip of two days, where we crossed for Evisa to Cap Corse to Nonza and Ile-Rousse.

On the road it was our turn to take some (local Corsican) hitchhikers and get to know the small villages in the mountains around Sisco. Strolling around we visited the small roads, huge villa-like family graveyards and enjoyed the views on the sea.

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Afterwards we took a bigger hike at Plage de Tamarone and had a good salad lunch at ‘Sporting bar’ under the plants in the harbour of Centuri. We took another walk in the village of Pecorile.

After multiple hours of driving we finished our day in Nonza. We stayed at a superb small bed and breakfast called Casa Lisa. This was by far the most beautiful Corsican house we stayed at during our trip. We had a small sandwich/cheese platter dinner with the locals on the cosy terrace of Cafe De La Tour. During the season the restaurant of La Sassa is supposed to be a good one with impressive views… but that one was already closed for winter at the end of September.

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After breakfast on the terrace of the B&B we continued to Saint-Florent for lunch in La Vista (the city itself is not that special). In Ile-Rousse we did a bit of walking and had some good food at L’Escale.

Chapter 6: The boat

To go back to Marseille the next day we took the night ferry again. The famous Corsica Ferries and Corsica Linea boats go up and down between mainland France and Corsica (and some from Italy). They go extra slow so that you have enough time to take dinner on the boat in the evening, can have a good night of sleep in one of the cabins and have an early breakfast before arriving.

Try to imagine a completely out of date interior, possibly a live bar with maritime copper elements and foreign soldiers drinking cocktails or whiskey at the bar. The impressive charm of long lost days of glory is endless on board of these boats.

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We are still waiting to get a 220 EUR refund of the taxi we had to urgently take from Ile-Rousse to Bastia… They decided to change the hour AND city of where the ferry would leave, because of weather conditions. They send us an email a couple of hours before (that we did not see on time) and they did not call us at all. They arranged a taxi for us that they promised to pay back… but so far they decline to pay back.

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We took some drinks, but preferred our own fancy picknick with good bread, houmousse, olives, cheese and wine over the average but overpriced boat meals. So make sure to buy some good quality food before boarding.

We booked a cabin for 2 with a bathroom and shower…and honestly, you have all the comfort you need. Just make sure to take your earplugs since the boat engines or vibrations can be heard at night.

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Nothing nicer than an early sunrise at sea after a good night of sleep.

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The Sahara in Belgium

Lommel has a piece of nature that has been expanding like a desert and thus  looks like (a tiny piece of) the Sahara. Surrounded by Bosland it is a heaven for cycling or mountainbiking, hiking, horseback riding and hanging around. And if we’re this amazed with cloudy weather, a bit of sun would make it shine even more!

This bit of desert originally appeared in the early 1900’s after sand extraction and a neighboring zinc production plant that made almost all vegetation disappear. The woods were planted afterwerds to stop this piece of desert from expanding. Now it’s a nature park with lots of wildlife.

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Lommel is a 1.5 hour train ride away from Brussels, but the Sahara park is another 15min by bike from the railway station… so taking your bike along certainly makes life easier.

It’s perfect for a weekend away…but camping seems illegal there, so we still need to find a solution for that. You can easily spend a day walking around in the nature park of Sahara and another day cycling around Bosland.

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It’s not all sand. A bridge crosses the canal into different kinds of “Heide” fields, so the hike does not get boring at all.

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The whole Bosland is equiped with cycling lanes like the one below (but also off-road and hiking trails)… so it’s accessible to all, including wheelchairs.

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The watchtower in the Sahara is a must do. We were there in the afternoon on a cloudy day, but next time we want to stay there for sunset. Assured impressive colors and views.

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The artist Will Beckers made multiple installations throughout the woods of Bosland. His purpose is to create art that blends perfectly into nature without using conflicting colors or materials.

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In bosland we did not follow a specific route but started by using the impressively nice cycling lanes through the woods, then ended up on one of the mountainbike parcours… and eventually crossing the woods off-road.

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Mediterranean hike in Spain – GR92

The trip I’m describing in this post dates back from the summer of 2016. But since it was one of the nicest hikes I have done in Europe so far, I still wanted to share it.

The start of the hike is easy to reach by train. If you come from Belgium you can take a high-speed train to Perpignan (probably transfering in Paris or in Lyon), and then a smaller train (or hitchike) to Vilajuiga. When we did the trip we first spent 2 days in Barcelona visiting some friends and then took the train to Vilajuiga. On the way back we hitchhiked from Argèles to Perpignan where we took the train back to Brussels.

This part of the GR92 is a rather easy part, except for the heat when hiking inland. So make sure you always take enough supplies so you can easily spend a full night and day in nature without having to worry about food and water. The heat can be impressive so taking plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat is really needed. For sleeping we made a mix between camping in the wild in the mountains or on beaches, some campings and some small hotel rooms. To be specific: we did not always walk on the GR92 itself but made some variations first to get to the GR92, and later to avoid lost kilometers when looking for a camping spot.

Day 1: Vilajuiga to Serra de Rodes

On the first day we took the time to get from Barcelona to Vilajuiga by train and to do some grocery shopping so we would be well prepared for the hike. In the tourism office we asked a map and best route to start, since the first part is not directly on the GR92. We left Vilajuiga around 16pm so there would be a little less sun for the first climb. After about 3-4 hours we reached the top and took our sunset picknick with a five star view on the sea.

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Day 2: Serra de Rodes to Cadaques

Waking up was impressive: the location where we pitched our tent was actually above the clouds and we couldn’t see the sea, but where we were the sun was shining. By visiting the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery, we split the hike in two parts to avoid walking in the heat at noon. In the afternoon we continued our hike to Cadaques where we spent the night in “camping Cadaques” at the side of the village. It’s worth spending enough time here: very good restaurants, lovely village and plenty of culture since Dali had a house there that is now transformed in a museum.

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Day 3: Cadaques – Cap de Creus

We started the day relaxing in Cadaques, having a very good lunch at Lua with seafood: highly recommended. We rented a sit-on-top kayak for a couple of hours and did a tour in all the small bays around Cadaques. The hiking part only started by the end of the day to avoid the heat.

Nature between Cadaques and Cap de Creus is impressive. It looks like a moon landscape and has plenty of small bays and beaches to relax on. That night, after visiting the lighthouse and the restaurant of Cap de Creus, we camped on a small beach (Cala Fredosa) next to the Cap, since there was way too much wind and thunderstorm expected for that night.

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Day 4: Cap de Creus – El Port de la Selva

The fourth day started very rainy, so we hiked faster to Port de La Selva and stayed in a small hotel (Hostal Sol i Sombra).

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Day 5: El port de la Selva – Colera

Camping Sant Miquel, a nice place with a swimming pool to relax. The village itself is not the most impressive place… but hiking on to Portbou would have been just a little too much.

Day 6: Colera – Portbou

A short walk away from Colera crossing the mountain is Portbou. The views on this frontier city is impressive, mainly due to all the railway infrastructure. In the old days trains had to be switched from the French to the Spanish wheel base to continue their journey.

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It’s in Portbou that we met with David, an old university friend from when we studied in Mexico. It’s a small city with some nice atmosphere and a modern art installation in nature south of the esplanade. We were there when the local festivities were taking place. We stayed at David’s place for the night.

Day 7: Portbou – Cerbère – Banyuls-sur-mer – Collioure

This was a long hike of more than seven hours passing multiple villages and crossing the Spain-France border walking.

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Cities are always harder to camp, but in Collioure we found ourselves a good spot behind the Miradou fortress. Nicely hidden in the bushes.

Day 8: Collioure – Perpignan

On the last day of the hike we started hiking up to Argelès-sur-mère. And after a couple of hours decided that it was time to hitchike to Perpignan. If you make sure to check the timetables upfront you can certainly also catch a train.

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p.s. All images have been taken with an older iphone so the image quality is not always very high

 

Into the wild – Dinant by train

If you need a quick break in nature, take the direct train from Bruxelles-Luxembourg to Dinant. In 1.5 hours you’re in the heart of the Ardennes and ready to go wild on nature. And that’s exactly what we’ve done in the days between Christmas and newyear. We booked a hotel at cycling distance from Dinant and spent 6 days hiking and relaxing.

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Day 1

With a picknick breakfast on the train we left to Dinant on the day after Christmas. By the time we were in Dinant we did some shopping in a local supermarket to have food for our hikes, and after that already felt like a good lunch and went to the Italian restaurant Ostaria La Piave: impressive food.

Twenty minutes by bike and we arrived in our hotel (Castel de Pont-à-Lesse) in the middle of the woods. (you can also take a local train to get closer and then walk to the hotel if you don’t want to take your bike). After dropping our backpacks we did a short walk to the Walzin castle and went off to the spa.

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Day 2

On the Komoot hiking application we found the “Dréhance Freyr” hiking route, fifteen kilometres and a big four hours without breaks. About halfway we passed the restaurant “L’atmosphère côté Meuse” where we had lunch (recommended!) and continued our tour. The evening was filled with spa, reading and chess.

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Day 3

No hike, but only reading and playing chess. That was the plan. But around two o’clock in the afternoon there was an urge to go into nature, so we took a two hour walk in the woods behind the castle. In the evening we cycled back to the L’atmosphère restaurant where we reserved for fondue.

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Day 4

Big hike! The hike called “Twee kastelen”, which took us about twenty kilometres starting from the hotel. By far the most beautiful hike around, with impressive views from the Aiguilles de Challeux.

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Well past halfway, after passing the two castles we were lucky to find a restaurant: Auberge de la Lesse. I’m not sure the auberge itself is nice to stay, but the food is great and the open fire (though not low carbon) brings well deserved heat.

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Day 5

Another relaxing day where we did part of the Dréhance-Freyr walk again and strolled through the woods. Spectacular nature all around.

Sleeping

In wintertime camping will be a bit too chilly for most, but in summer there’s plenty of campings around. We stayed at Hotel Castel de Pont-à-Lesse, which is a rather big hotel with spa facilities and a good breakfast. The restaurant for dinner is overpriced for the quality of food, but the location and spa are perfect!

If you go during the weekend on very hot days you might find the Lesse too crowded, since it’s exactly that part where hundreds of tourists kayak down the river every weekend. So either go off-season or avoid weekends.

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Day 6

On the last day of 2018 we packed our bags and dropped our folding bikes and backpacks in Café Leffe and did part of the city tour “Stadswandelin Dinant” as listed in Komoot. We went up to the heigths of the citadel and around the small streets, before taking the train back to Brussels to celebrate newyears’ evening.

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