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.

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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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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