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!

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!

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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Bicycle flirting with the Dutch border: Hasselt – Maastricht – Heijenrath – Liege

If you are looking for a short weekend escape that requires no planning at all: take your bike on the train to Hasselt and start cycling. Pay 4 Euro per bike and ask the train responsible to open the door for bicycles and you just roll-in and attach your bike in the dedicated spot. Our plan: Hasselt – Maastricht – Heijenrath – Liege.

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Cycling through the historic center of Hasselt is worth it. We left on a Friday evening, so we stayed one night in Hasselt. The next morning we cycled to ‘Wandelgebied Bokrijk/Kiewit’ where you can cycle through the water. What is most special about it is that you seem a lot smaller for the swans and ducks… and they seem at ease to get close or just float along while you are slowly cycling through.

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We did not visit Bokrijk (still on our to-do list), but the woods are fully accessible and nature is stunning. If you’d like to you can easily spend the day just there. But we had a plan to visit the Dutchies across the border, so we continued.

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From Bokrijk to Maastricht the route is rather easy if you stick to one rule: stay on the left side of the Albert canal. Some applications send you to the right side, but on most of the route this side is locked with high fences and obstructions… we ran into them multiple times. On the left side of the canal the road sometimes takes a bit of a detour around some buildings or a yacht club, but overall you’ll find your way. Parts are in nature, other parts are intriguing heavy industry.

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These ships are not necessarily very low emitters, but the below ship transports 156 20-foot containers at once. That means that the same amount of trucks has been kept of the roads. These kind of inland-ships can transport from 50 up to 300 containers at once. So it does play its role in making the transport of goods more sustainable.

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Next to being a lovely sight, the sheep also serve a real purpose along the canal: deplete the soil so that scarce plants can again stand a chance of survival. The feces of too many sheep are helping to deplete the soil faster.

After less than two hours cycling we arrived in Maastricht. In Maastricht we had lunch in the old fire brigade building ‘Brandweerkazerne’. We cycled around to visit some of the highlights such as the beautiful Frontenpark, Bassin, the red Sint-Jans church and square,… and strolled around in the famous bookshop in the church ‘Dominicanen’.

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When the evening started to fall we head on to our final location of the day deep into nature: Heijenrath. A small village surrounded by impressive nature waiting for you to hike, cycle and camp. We stayed at Hotel Heijenrath since towards the end of November the weather is not that pleasing for camping… but there’s a super cheap campsite behind hotel Kreutzer to make it a low-budget weekend. (The campsite does have some holiday homes and sad caravans, but with the sun that should look less depressing).

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The evening brought a good dinner. The next morning brought a morning walk before breakfast and a big hike after breakfast. The village has multiple loops to hike through the forests and hilly fields.

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After losing three hours to repair my bike and tape 5 holes in my inner tier we head off towards Voeren. Sinterklaas and the marching band made our afternoon into a true feast.

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All through the route you criss-cross over the Dutch-Belgian border and see these stone border marks as on the below photo.

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We had dinner in Blackthys Hotel Voeren and saved this location for a next time. Food was really good and the village and surroundings look very pleasing to spend the weekend and go for a hike. After that we cycled back to Wezet where we took the train to Liege and back to Brussels. If we would not have lost the 3 hours we could have easily cycled along the Maas river of the Albert Canal to Liege. In our next trip we would also consider adding a visit to the Eben-Emael fortress.

Traintrip to relax in the Provence

Are you ready to join us on an exclusive trip to the Provence? Earlier this year we took a direct train from Brussels to Nîmes in the south of France. We stayed with a group of friends at Charles’ impressive countryside house to live the good life.

A one way ticket for this direct train was 140 EUR per person, which is not cheap…but given the direct train, it is really a very fast, comfortable and beautiful ride. We find it way more comfortable than going by car or by airplane. We have sushi on the train (sold in Brussels south station) and enjoy a good apéro while sliding through the countryside.

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 Upon arrival Charles and Gagou were so kind to pick us up and take us to their Mas de Bronzet, but if needed you can also easily take a local train or cycle around in the region.

The house is truly impressive and has plenty of history, as it is one of the traditional “Mas” in the region. It has a huge domain with olive trees and a beautiful swimming pool. The house can be reserved on airbnb as well… but in that case you might want to go with the whole family and have your parents pay for it.

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The purpose of the trip was to relax, talk, cook together, visit some villages, go for a morning run,… and that’s exactly what we did. We tipically spend mornings having breakfast and reading by the pool, while in the afternoon we visit a small village.

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In the evening we did multiple group meditation sessions in the chapel next to the house. The old stone chappel gives already a vibe of calmth that gets you immediately into the right mood to spend half an hour focussing on your breath and mind. Once we are all zen, we’re ready for the apero and diner.

Since it can be rather hot in the region, cooling down in the pool is a must to survive. So a daily portion of swimming brings some sports and refreshment.

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After bronzing by the pool, it’s time for some visiting:

Our first trip goes to Les-Beaux-de-Provence (combined with a stop in Saint-Rémi-de-Provence). The small pitoresque village on a rock, overlooks fields with olive trees and vineyards. It’s the perfect place for an afternoon stroll and for watching the green scenery.

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If you had enough sun, there’s also the Carrières de Lumière just next to the village, which is good to visit…but the queue was just too long so we skipped it. Maybe try this out when it’s not high-season.

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For the second trip we take our folding bikes and head off to Arles. A drive of less than an hour, through the fields and next to the Rhône river. When arriving in the old center of Arles you soon understand why so many artists and photographers found their inspiration there.

You can easily spend multiple days visiting Arles. Take a walk around all the historic buildings like the Arenas, the churches and just get lost in the small streets.

A place you must go for dinner is on the terrace of Le Galoubet. You will have to make a reservation, but the menu is really worth looking forward to. Another restaurant option could be Chardon, not far from Le Galoubet.

For the next trip we head to L’isle-sur-la-sorgue. It is significantly further away from Beaucaire, but completely worth the trip if you love antiques. The place has plenty of galeries and shops next to the river where they sell furniture, decoration, airplane parts for your living room, modern art,… plenty of things to keep your eyes gazing around for multiple hours.

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As a last trip, at only twenty minutes by bike from the house, you can go find Beaucaire. The city lays next to the Rhône and is less of a touristy place. It still has its cosy farmers market next to the harbor and a citadel/castle to visit. It’s a good base to go food shopping and just hang around for a bit.

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So, that was quite some visiting and relaxing, wasn’t it?

These were five intense and beautiful days in the provence with a group of lovely people. To be repeated as soon as possible.

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Biketravel from Ieper to Boulogne-s-Mer

Looking for a nice bike trip to the sea? The roads from Ieper to Boulogne-sur-Mer take you through flanders fields, green valleys and impressive views on the sea. We took this trip together with Louis’ cousin Olivier whom grew up in Poperinge.

On Friday evening we took a direct train from Brussels-South station to Ieper. If you take a regular bike you just need to pay a 4 EUR ticket for your bicycle and try to catch the train responsible to see where you could best park your bike. In the newer trains there’s a dedicated spot with a special door for bikes and wheelchairs only, in older trains you might have to lift your bike up high and park it in the entrance of the train.

To go from Ieper to our camping spot on the Kemmelberg we took some detours, drove through the village of Kemmel, the park with the city hall and had dinner on the terrace of De Hollemeersch. We pitched our tent into the wild and enjoyed a good night of sleep (50°46’29.9″N 2°48’05.9″E).

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On saturday morning we bought our breakfast in the old bakery “d’ovetote” in Dranouter, where they still make bread in a wood based oven. And of we went into France: Belle, Hazebroek, Ebblingem, next to the water to Arques, a flat tier and then to Saint-Omer for lunch in the rue Louis Martel.

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After that the trip continued through the fields and woods all the way to the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer via Coulomby and Bournonville. This route was mainly on double roads where you can advance well, but you share them with quite some cars. So for the way back we proposed another (way more calm road).

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A good brake to eat bananas + muesli bars and drink liters of water is of course mandatory. And Tine was enjoying it!

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Since we did not really do a lot of preparatory route planning, we searched on google maps on the way where we could take the smaller routes and enjoy driving through the fields, in between the typical hedges next to the road.

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And while approaching Boulogne-sur-Mer the impressive tower of the cathedral is welcoming you. Just before reaching it you enter the fortified city center into the narrow streets. It’s a beautiful old city center worth taking the time to visit.

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…but since we wanted to camp we did not stay there, but continued another couple of kilometers to camping Phare d’Opale Tohapi. The road google maps sent us to, did not exist, so we headed to the beach to drive (big tires) / pull (thin tires) our bikes to the next road.

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The campground itself is rather a trailer park, so nothing special, but on the side there’s some camping spots with a 5-star view to the sea and village (picture below). Good enough for a safe camping spot and a good shower. After a little more than 110km we pitched the tent, skipped the shower and went for aperitif!

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The village of Le Portel is not the most beautiful one, based on a meters high concrete dyke that could survive every climate change water rise, but it had some good restaurants and nice atmosphere.

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The seafood restaurant to go to is “Le Portelois”, it has a cosy terrace on the dyke and good food! No tourist trap here.

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By coincidence we were there on the evening before the 14th of July festivities, and thus shared the village with thousands of other French people that were celebrating.

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It seems like 14th of July (Bastille day – the French national holiday) is celebrated as intense as new year, with impressive fireworks that lasted way too long.

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On Sunday morning we bought a good baguette and cheese to have breakfast in the old city center of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Tine had her coffee, and so we were well prepared for another 100km back to Poperinge.

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We were expecting google maps to send us back on roads with cars like the day before, but we got a slower and way more beautiful route proposed. It was a blast: small grass and stone paths through fields and valleys, from village to village! In short we took the following route. Passing by Liques, Tournehem-sur-la-Hem, Nordausques, Volkerinkhove, Wormhout, Herzeele, and Houtkerke on the border between France and Belgium.

We celebrated 14th of July with free lunch and beer from the villagers of Tournehem-sur-la-Hem.

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A good drinking / evacuation break once in a while, combined with a short prayer on the road, gave us enough energy to continue.

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We never saw more flemish lion flags than in the North of France, also called “Flandres”. All the villages there have really flemish names. The older local villagers in that part of France speak West-Flemish and French, a very odd thing to discover. And no better place to discover this than with a Picon in the bar of Gisele in Houtkerke. The bar got stuck in time somewhere in the fifties.  The owner is more than 80 years old and only speaks french patois or West-Flemish.

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After a good lemonade we hit the road to Poperinge and finished our trip by taking the train back to Brussels later that evening. A nice and intense weekend. Don’t make this your first bike-tour, but if you’re used to some cycling this is an impressive trip!

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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).

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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!