Les Calanques – Marseille's Hidden Mediterranean Paradise

August 2019.

I had been jobless for a few months, so if I really wanted vacays, they had got to be cheap! So I booked a Flixbus (a European low-cost bus company) and the cheapest (and lousiest) hostel I could find in Marseille, France, and hit the road!

Marseille is only six hours away from my hometown, Turin, and as I mentioned in my previous post, it is a city of contrasts, yet unique and fascinating nonetheless.

However, even though the city has so much to offer, its most precious treasure is hidden just outside its limits, in the “Parc Nacional des Calanques”.

What Is a “Calanque

There is no precise English word that can translate “calanque“. The closest term would probably be “fjord”. Basically, you mix a Norwegian fjord and a Southern European, Mediterranean landscape and voilà, you get a calanque!

How To Get There?

There are several calanques you can visit within the National Park. One of the most popular ones (and the one I visited) is Calanque de Sormiou. There are two ways you can get there:

  1. The boring way

Rent a car, pay the entrance fee to the park and drive all the way to the calanque.

2. The fun way

If you enjoy trekking, go to Sormiou village by car or public bus, follow the track that goes past the entrance to the park (no fee if you’re on foot), enjoy the scenery and take lots of selfies while walking up and down the hills! Don’t forget to bring a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen and plenty of water with you.

Pros and cons

Pros: you will get a chance to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of a rough Mediterranean landscape and its clear blue water. There is a beach where you can relax and a restaurant where you can eat or buy food and drinks.

Cons: the beach is rather small, overcrowded and, just like most Mediterranean beaches, rocky.

Low-cost vacations can be fun. After all, I’m not going after fancy hotels, but rather after fancy sceneries.

Marseille, France – A Masterpiece of Contrasts

Some 10+ years ago my family and I took a road trip to Spain, but somewhere in France we got lost and accidentally got into Marseille.
I didn’t get to see much of it back then, but a few glimpses were enough to fill my hungry nomad eyes with wonder!

Over the years I heard and read contrasting things about this city. So FFW August 2019, I decide to go and explore Marseille by myself.

Notre Dame de la Garde, though not Marseille’s cathedral, is probably the city’s most iconic religious tourist attraction. The basilica is located on a hill, not far from the city center, and offers a bird-eye view of the whole city.

Looking towards the Mediterranean, you can see the upper-middleclass neighborhoods on the left, the Vieux Port and city center on the right, while working-class neighborhoods sprawl out towards the hills.

Marseille is known to be the most socially unequal city in France – hence its fame of city of contrasts – but that has to be read in context. No doubt there is still much work to be done in order to overcome these inequalities, yet anyone who has ever traveled to a developing country would not find Marseille extreme.

Marseille is a city of contrasts, but man, what a masterpiece it is!

PS: Marseille is a beautiful city, yet what I loved most about it were the “Calanques”. I’ll talk about them in my next post.

Goodbye Choo-Choo, Introducing Balù

Hey everyone! It’s been a while, I know…

Six months have gone by since I moved back to Italy from Bolivia and I still haven’t managed to fully overcome the reverse culture shock, but at least I’ve made some progress.

During this time I’ve been traveling locally, so I hope in my next articles I’ll manage to share with you a little bit about the beautiful spots I’ve discovered around Turin, Italy.

But in this post I want to update you one my stuffed travel buddies’ situation!

Bad News

My latest dummy, Choo-Choo Lucky-Lucky, has tragically disappeared! He was last seen on one of the Borromeo Islands of Maggiore Lake, in Northern Italy.

May he rest in peace!

This is one of the last photos I took of Choo-Choo Lucky-Lucky before his tragic end.
You have been an amazing travel buddy and you will be deeply missed!

Good News

I have a new travel buddy!

After losing Choo-Choo, my friends saw my distress, so they introduced me to Luigi Balù (or Baloo). We have recently visited Marseille, France, and he turned out to be a really cool dummy to travel with.

Check out this article if you want to meet all my travel dummies and don’t miss my next post if you want to find out what Marseille, France has to offer!

Sustainable Tourism: Going Beyond the Triple Bottom Line

In my previous article I briefly shared with you my concern over the evolution of the tourist industry and the negative effects of mass tourism.

While trying to understand this issue better, I came across Bruce Poon Tip on YouTube, who has become an inspiration for me. He is a Canadian entrepreneur who in the 90s launched GapTravel (now GTravel) and developed a business model that has a real, positive impact on host communities and on people’s life.

Bruce states that achieving a triple bottom line (financial, social and environmental benefits) is not enough and that businesses should also focus on passion and purpose.

His ideas might not be the solution to mass tourism, but at least they provide a model that can help local communities benefit from it.

Here below you can find a video where Bruce explains what he means by “going beyond the triple bottom line”.

Tourism Must Change!

Hey there! I haven’t been very active on this blog lately and also I haven’t traveled much in the past couple months.

But on the plus side, I have made a huge progress in dealing with the reverse culture shock caused by my return to Italy. Yes, I still feel a bit like a fish out of water and sometimes I want to run away but fish don’t run *sigh*.

Also, my little brain has been thinking over and over about how tourism has evolved over the last decades and it keeps yelling at me: “SOMETHING MUST CHANGE!”

But what’s wrong with tourism?

Quite a few things.

Tourism has increased exponentially in the last 10 years, and it is expected to grow even more in the years to come – which is great, considering that it already represents an important percentage of many countries’ GDP.

But there is a problem: IT IS NOT SUSTAINABLE, not the way it is today and not for the long haul.

Why?

There are volumes and volumes that talk about why tourism has become unsustainable but, in a nutshell, these are the three main issues:

  • mass tourism is destroying our cultural heritage, ecosystems and local cultures
  • many people feel like the high number of tourists visiting their communities are a hindrance to their day-to-day life
  • only a small percentage (about 5%) of the tourism-generated income actually goes to the host countries

Guilty!

I pledge guilty!

I am one of those guys flocking at Machu Picchu, lining up at the feet of the Eiffel Tour, treading the Great Wall of China and causing bike traffic at 5 am on the way from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat.

Is there a solution?

I think there is. There has to be one! But we need to change the way we do tourism.

In my next post I will come up with a few practical ways we can help improve tourism and make it more sustainable (sorry, I’m not a fan of long articles). In the meanwhile, I would love to know what you guys think about this issue and if there is anything we can do to change things.

Prisoner of Hope

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Zachariah 9:12, The Bible

I usually write about travels. I’m a travel blogger… or at least I’m trying to be one. But this post is about life!

This year has been marked by uncertainty from day one. End of May, I’m wondering if things can get more confusing than they are at the moment. But in the midst of it all I learned that I can find perfect peace in trusting God and who he is and I learned that there is hope in his promises and joy in his presence.

When my eyes are set on Jesus, I feel stuck in peace. A prisoner of hope!

Chieri, Italy – Lesser Known Places

Raise your hand if you have ever heard of Chieri!

No, you’re not ignorant. Nobody has heard of it, except people who live there. Yet Chieri is a truly dreamy place and, therefore, perfect for my “Lesser Known Places” series.

Sustainable tourism

Mass tourism is rapidly destroying our world’s natural and historic treasures and I believe one way to make it more sustainable is to promote new places and divert tourist fluxes. And my job, as a travel blogger, is to help you discover hidden gems that deserve a place on your travel wishlist.

Where in the world is that?

Chieri is a small town in the larger Turin Metropolitan Area, Italy, connected to Turin by bus n°30.

Though I had been to Chieri a few times before, I only discovered its beauty recently, when my sister decided to move there and I finally took the time to explore it.

BIG SURPRISE!

I was mesmerized! I did not know that, just a few kilometers from home, there was a small town concentrating untold stories and century-old churches.

Here are a few things you can expect to see in Chieri:

Chieri’s Duomo “Santa Maria della Scala” – an impressive late-gothic church built between the 14th and the 15th century…

Old streets where you can go for a walk and chill…

This arch, built in 1580 and located on Vittorio Emanuele II pedestrian street…

This scenic view…

…overlooked by a baroque and neoclassical church, whose first stone was laid back in 1145.

In downtown Chieri you will stumble upon historic buildings and century-old churches at every turn…

Who can resist the charm of an old Italian town?

Dummy can’t!

Safety in São Paulo

Hey peeps! I’m writing from Turin (Italy), the place that I used to call home for over 10 years and that I have to call home again. *sigh*

I’m between jobs, so I can’t really go anywhere for now, though my nomadic instincts make me want to evade. I guess I’ll just enjoy the beauty of home until I afford to travel again…

But hey, this post is about the mega, beautiful city of São Paulo!

In my last two posts I talked about what I liked about this city and I shared a 24h itinerary. This time I want to address a very important topic: SAFETY!

Choo-Choo Lucky-Lucky in Praça da Sé, São Paulo

PARANOIA

I visited South Africa last year and I got assaulted by a gang on the first day, about 30 minutes after starting exploring Pretoria. Great way to start a journey!

But I came out alive, so I can’t complain. However, this experience made me a lot more cautious when it comes to visiting places known for not being super safe.

So previous to my trip to São Paulo I started looking for information on safety and I got paranoid, since most v/bloggers talk about it like hell on earth.

IS IT THAT BAD?

Here’s the thing: there are NO-GO zones in São Paulo, no doubt about it, and you do have to be aware of your surroundings and use common sense, just like in any big city. But is it really that bad?

NO!

If you are a tourist and your goal is to visit the main attractions Sampa has to offer, you don’t need to worry too much.

So here are a few tips that will help you stay safe and enjoy your journey without unwanted surprises.

SAFETY TIPS FOR TOURISTS

  • Beco do Batman, Ibirapuera Park, Avenida Paulista are safe during the day
  • Avenida Paulista becomes very lively after dark and going for a walk even during late hours should not be a problem
  • The downtown area is pretty safe during the day but I don’t recommend going there after dark
  • Beware of snatchers if you are trying to take photos in Praça da Sé.
  • Though people use their mobile phones in public, try not to flash your expensive electronic devices and/or jewelry too much.
  • Book your hostel/hotel in a safe place. I stayed at a hostel in Jardins, which is arguably the safest neighborhood in SP. I highly recommend it, since it is safe even after dark and close to the center (my hostel was at a 10min walk from Avenida Paulista). Hotel rooms can be pricy here but hostels are affordable.

I’m not an expert on safety but trust me, there’s no need to get paranoid about São Paulo. Just be smart!

24 Hours in São Paulo

Yes, I know what you are thinking: “São Paulo is huge! How much can you really see in 24 hours?”

Indeed, São Paulo is an endless jungle made of concrete, asphalt and human beings, but with a good planning you can carve your way through it and discover the beauties hidden in the tangle.

I spent 3 days in Sampa (as locals call it), but I was there for a fair, so the time I could dedicate to exploring was rather limited. But I was lucky enough to have my “personal guide” for the first two days: a local friend and ex-university colleague, whom I was really happy to hang out with!

So if you happen to visit this beautiful city but you are in a rush, here is an itinerary that can help you make the most of your time.

ITINERARY

1Start from Beco do Batman. If you visit it in the morning, chances are there won’t be many people around and you will be able to get a nice view and nice shots of the main graffitis. This place gets lively at night, since there are many bars and pubs around but, from what I heard, it can get rather crowded. Spend 1 – 1.5 hours here.

2Ibirapuera Park. A beautiful green oasis in the middle of a huge metropolis! This is an amazing place to go for a walk, relax and enjoy both nature and the urban skyline. It’s not far from Beco do Batman and you can either take a bus or Uber (which is pretty affordable in Brazil) to get there. I’d suggest you spent 2-3 hours here. The Afro Brazil Museum is located inside the park. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit it so if you get a chance to go there I’d be happy to know what you think about it.

3Praça da Sé and Downtown São Paulo. Visit the cathedral and the beautiful plaza in front of it. From there you can walk to the main attractions the downtown area has to offer: São Francisco and São Bento Monasteries, Pátio do Colégio, República, Liberdade (the Japanese district). Be aware of your surroundings, especially when you take your phone or camera out to take pictures and try not to go there at night. But don’t get paranoid about safety! Three hours should be enough to visit the downtown area.

4AVENIDA PAULISTA. You can’t miss this one. Enjoy a stroll along one of the most iconic boulevards in South America. If you want to get a really nice view of the avenue and the surrounding area go to SESC Building’s last floor (for free!). I suggest going there late afternoon so you can get both a daytime and nighttime view of São Paulo. Your Instagram followers will thank you!

There is much more to São Paulo than just the places listed above, no doubt about it! Yet you don’t need that much time to visit the main attractions.

If you want to know more about my impressions on São Paulo click here. In my next post I will address a very important topic when it comes to visiting Sampa: safety!

Five Things I Loved About São Paulo

I got to spend 3 days in São Paulo earlier this month (April 2019). I love Brazil, so this was a real treat for me!

Honestly, I didn’t expect much from it since most of the reviews I read were rather negative. Yet I was pleasantly surprised!

I know 3 days are not enough to really get to know the city and the local culture, so my impressions might be a bit superficial, yet if I liked it, there might be other people that would find it interesting too.

So here we go…

1HUGE CITY – While this might be a turndown for some people, it is something that intrigues me a lot! São Paulo, Shanghai, London, Paris… bring them on! I love getting lost in a big city! Skyscrapers everywhere, amazing skyline (especially at night), lots of people and fast-paced everything (except traffic at rush hour)… I’m sold!

2INCREDIBLY DIVERSE PEOPLEPaulistanos are very racially mixed and diverse, so wherever you come from and whatever your ethnic background is, you will not stand out! You can be black, white, yellow, red or green with purple polka dots – you will look paulistano!

3GREAT SUSHI – “Wait, what!?” Ok, sushi might not be a national dish in Brazil, but São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese diaspora, which has been present there for 2-3 or more generations now. Therefore, sushi is not just very common, it also tastes amazing.

4NATURE AND TROPICAL FEEL – As soon as I got outside of Guarulhos Airport I was welcomed by trees and a very green view, which combined perfectly with the hot and humid weather. Yes, São Paulo is a concrete jungle, yet there are pockets of nature around that make you forget about the city’s hustle and bustle.

5NICE PEOPLE – Brazilians are probably the nicest people on planet Earth. Every person I met in São Paulo was really down to earth, friendly and easy going! Kudos Brazilians!

In my next posts I’ll share with you a 24-hour itinerary and some tips on staying safe, so stay tuned!

Have you ever visited Sao Paulo or any other Brazilian city? What were your impressions?