Skiing in Sunny Avoriaz

Skiing in Sunny Avoriaz

When the snow started falling in November, we were sure that we would get a white Christmas in the mountains. However, when we arrived at our Chalet in the sleepy village of La Côte-d’Arbroz, just a 10 minute drive from Morzine, we discovered that barely any slopes were open. Les Portes du Soleil was basking in the sun and no snow was promised any time soon!

And so began our search for snow, leading us up the windy, mountain roads, to Avoriaz.

Avoriaz

Avoriaz is a purpose-built ski resort perched over a dramatic cliff a few kilometres above the well-known resort of Morzine. Its architectural style is peculiar. Wooden 1960’s-multi-story-blocks sprout from the mountain. It sort of reminds me of Monaco, but with alpine textures.

On the bright side, it is entirely free of car traffic. Horse-drawn carriages serve as taxis to get ski-clad visitors from one location to another. The coolest thing about Avoriaz is that if you stay in the village, you can clip on your skis and hop out onto a slope straight our of the hotel lobby.

Skiing in Avoriaz

 

We bought our ski passes online and hired our skies through Alpineresorts.com having them ready for pick up on the same day. They do great offers, where you can get a pass for the entire weekend for 55 EUR! A bargain for the quality of the resort.

Wet get up early, have a rich breakfast and drive up to the ski lifts. At the top, the snow is the same electric-blue as the sky. The pistes are empty. Besides a group of kids who dash down the mountain after their instructor like wild ducklings, there are very few people around.

My skis follow the curve of the mountain and I come out onto a golden plane, where the snow-covered slope gleams like caramel in the rising sun. The crunch of the snow under my skis and the wind singing in my ears are the only sounds I hear as I make my way down the piste. It’s around 9 in the morning and I am skiing on the doorstep of the sun.

Given that there is barely any snow, only 21 out of the 52 pistes are open. You really feel it around 11 a.m. when the families, ski students and hungover groups of friends hit the slopes.  It feels less like skiing and more like running to catch a train in the London underground.

I do believe, with a glimmer of hope to return, that this place is a gem when the snow falls. The lift system is world-class and you can explore several valleys with their wide runs, mostly blues and reds, before skiing back to the village for a long lunch and après-ski.

Eating in Avoriaz

La Brasserie

Head to La Brasserie for comfortable seating in the sun, a buzzing atmosphere and their hearty daily special. The day we went, they served the duck parmentier. My heart sank when the waiter told us that there is a chance they have run out! Thankfully, we got the last two, which we thoroughly enjoyed with a carafe of house red. In no rush to get anywhere, we lunched for two hours, enjoying the sunshine and people-watching, as the sounds of hoofs and bells and clinking glasses rang through the crisp air.

La Crêperie

While skiing, we discovered a Crêperie mid-way down the highest peak. It is owned by a sweet middle-aged man, who generously pours mulled wine as his wife makes fresh crêpes and their daughter runs the till. It is the perfect place for a pit-stop to fill up and liven up after a few hours of skiing.

Les Fontaines Blanches

On the 31st December, we tried the annual festive buffet at Les Fontaines Blanches. The spread complete with oysters, foie gras, a salad bar, a hot-out-the-oven beef wellington and a delicious selection of deserts was a stunner! Another long lunch, accompanied by a bottle of white Alsace. It was an absolute feast!

Fondue At Home

Obviously, no stay in the mountains is complete without a fondue session.

We decided to make the fondue ourselves, in the comfort of our warm chalet. For an easy way to make fondue, try this recipe. Accompany by a side of young potatoes boiled with the garlic clove that you rub the fondue pot with, and pair with a bottle of rich white wine.

Bon apps!

Have you been to Avoriaz? What was your experience?

What are your favourite ski resorts?

Leave a comment below!

Amazon Jungle Top 10 Experiences

Amazon Jungle Top 10 Experiences

 

1. Explore Iquitos on a Motocarro

 

Iquitos is a mad, mad little town. It is the gateway to the rest of the Amazon jungle, and is reachable either by plane (1 hour from Lima) or by boat (4 days from Lima). With a population of 422,000, it is the largest city in the world that is inaccessible by road. The architecture is a blend of colonial and ramshackle housing and each door makes a statement with its individual colour. Motorcycles and motorcarros manically whizz through the streets of the city around the clock. It is an amazing way to take in the manic beauty of this jungle town and get around while sightseeing.

Inquitos jungle
Iquitos jungle
Iquitos jungle
Iquitos jungle
Iquitos jungle

2. Shop at the Artisan Market in Iquitos

 

If you’re anything like me and love to decorate your home with trophies from your travels, you would love to shop at the Arts and Crafts Market in Iquitos. It is full of stalls that sell a variety of handmade articles – from jewellery, to Ayahuasca paintings, to tableware and home décor. The prices are very reasonable and you can get a very good deal if you buy several items.

 

belen jungle market
belen jungle market
belen jungle market

 

3. Go Dancing

 

What could be more fun that dancing in the tropics? From salsa in modern clubs like Noa in Iquitos, to traditional dances with the tribesmen of Yanomami, it is a wonderful way to connect to the culture and let your hair loose!

Iquitos jungle
jungle tribe dance
jungle tribe dance

 

4. Visit a local tribe

One morning we had the opportunity to visit the local tribe of Yanomami and to learn about their traditions of dance, hunting and crafts. The women of the tribe lay out their handiwork – bracelets, necklaces, dream catchers, fans, masks, bowls, rattles, flutes for us to admire and purchase. There were so many beautiful pieces! It was a wonderful opportunity to do buy souvenirs for friends back home in the most meaningful way.

jungle tribe yanomami
jungle tribe yanomami
jungle tribe yanomami
jungle tribe yanomami

 

5. Discover the Jungle

For those who are fascinated with wildlife, the jungle is wonderland. Taking a peak into the abundance of life in the jungle is an awe-inspiring experience. It is also pretty impressive just how much knowledge locals have about their environment – how they can navigate by distinguishing animal calls, create a fan from a leaf with a swing of a machete and spot a horned frog that is so well camouflaged, it is virtually invisible to the untrained eye.

jungle ayahuasca
jungle
jungle plant
jungle heliconia plant
jungle mushroom plant

 

6. Cuddle a sloth

If you think you know adorable, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve cuddled a sloth. In the jungle, families will keep baby sloths as pets for two or three years until they grow up. This saves the little ones from being eaten by predators, and makes the local children have some of the cutest pets on the planet!

 

 

jungle sloth
jungle sloth
jungle sloth

 

7. Swim in the Amazon

“But what about piranhas? The Anacondas?” Actually, piranhas, like sharks, don’t attack people just for the fun of it. Anacondas tend to live inside the lakes of the islands in the Amazon. The current is strong, so you should only go about waist-deep, but the water is warm and it’s really fun to surrender to the mighty flow. The wet clay in the riverbed is a natural product that purifies, exfoliates and rejuvenates skin. So it’s a great opportunity to treat yourself to a de-toxifying mud-bath entirely free of charge!

 

amazon jungle river
amazon jungle river

8. Meet a local Paco

One of the most humbling and eye-opening experiences for me was meeting a local paco, or healer, seeing how he lives and listening to his story. Meeting the real deal makes you understand that being a shaman is hard work. It takes years of practice, self-sacrifice, perseverance, grace and humility. It is a service that the paco provides to his community on top of his day job, which is usually farming in these lands. They live very simply and yet there seems to be a glow about them that many of us with all the comforts in the western world seem to have lost.

jungle shaman ayahuasca
jungle shaman ayahuasca
jungle shaman ayahuasca
jungle shaman ayahuasca

 

9. Taste the traditional drinks

 

Each tribe in the jungle has its own specialty drink. There’s a tribe that makes wine out of bananas (no it doesn’t taste like bananas). In one tribe, visitors are welcomed with Massato – a drink from boiled cassava and the spit of a tribeswoman. After three days of brewing, the drink has the same alcohol content as a beer. After a week, we’re in the spirits territory with a heady 45% alcohol content! The Massato is served in a big bowl, which must be returned upside down. If you return the bowl facing upwards, you signal that you would like a second serving.

 

jungle bananas
jungle rum amazon
jungle massato amazon

10. De/Re-connect

As you can see, there is a tonne of stuff that one can do in the jungle. Nonetheless, it is also a fantastic place to just unwind and reconnect with yourself. As there is no phone signal, you cannot lose yourself in the social media black hole. The jungle invites you to be with yourself. Present, aware and centered. And this, more than anything, is worth the trip out there!

 

jungle amazon peru
Amazon Eco-Lodge – A Jungle Retreat

Amazon Eco-Lodge – A Jungle Retreat

Eco-Lodge Off the Radar

As I sat on a speedboat racing down the Amazon river back towards Iquitos, I felt a profound sadness.

Lost in the roar of the engine, I suddenly felt an urge to jump out into the river and swim back to the tranquillity of the Eco-lodge where we had stayed.

Amazon Jungle

Five days earlier, as I set off to the jungle, I was looking forward to catching a break from emails, social media and the constant push and pull of notifications.

We all know that we’re too attached to our devices. But as with all bad habits, knowing that you have one and quitting it are two different things.

In the jungle though, you go cold turkey on your phone. There’s no signal. Nada. Want a bar? Hang off a tree. But do you really want to be that guy?

Amazon Jungle

Arriving at the Lodge

Once we arrived at Eco-lodge, we were welcomed with a glass of fresh camu camu juice and an introduction to the way of life around the here.

amazon eco-lodge
amazon eco-lodge

The Eco-lodge is built as a network of cabins on the banks of the Amazon river, and operates in a minimum-impact fashion. There is a generator that works to supply electricity during set hours of the day. Outside of those hours, you sink into the eternal hum of the jungle.

With my useless phone and laptop locked up safely away from me, I was able to immerse myself in the beauty of my surroundings.

amazon eco-lodge
amazon eco-lodge

The individual cabins stand on slits in the typical architectural style of the Amazon jungle.

During the rainy season, the river rises up to 10 metres, flooding the banks, and turning the Eco-lodge into a sort of tropical Venice. This area of the jungle is known as várzea (flooded forests).

The lodge also has a pet macaw, named Pedro.

Pedro sits up in the thatched roofs and greets you with Ola! as you walk by.

Occasionally he will join your table in the dinning room and graciously allow you to feed him pieces of fresh fruit.

He is also a massive poser.

amazon eco-lodge

The Rooms

The rooms of the Eco-lodge are furbished with dark, carved wood from the jungle. There is a big rattan fan over the bed, which only works during generator-hours. The back of the room has a hammock area, which faces the jungle through a huge net. This is as close as you can get to sleeping in the jungle without being devoured by mosquitoes.

amazon eco-lodge
amazon eco-lodge
amazon eco-lodge

The Food

 

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served as a buffet. Guests are called to the dinning room by a member of staff sounding a special call that sounds like a jungle bird.

The food was always fresh and delicious. We feasted on river fish, fresh vegetables (avocado heaven), fried plantain and palm heart salad. A jug of fresh juice from exotic fruit accompanied every meal. Every time, I looked forward to the surprise of the taste. Is it going to be pineapple? Passion fruit? Papaya? Or camu camu?

palm heart

Palm Heart Salad – just add a little jungle vinaigrette

fresh avocado
fresh fruit

Camu camu, by the way, is a sort of a jungle plum, only it is packed with more natural vitamin C than any other food source recorded on the planet. It has some serious antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. You can read more about the health benefits of camu camu and how you can integrate it in your diet in this article.

amazon eco-lodge

Activities

 

After stuffing our faces with delicious food, we would usually have a choice between visiting the local area and staying at the lodge and relaxing. Both options were equally as tempting, but I always chose the exploring!

amazon eco-lodge
amazon eco-lodge

I will shortly follow up with a post about what you should definitely see while in the jungle!

Spoiler alert: swimming in the Amazon river is definitely one!

amazon eco-lodge

I absolutely loved staying at the Eco-lodge in the Amazon rain forest.

It was an opportunity to detox my body as well as my mind. I was so glad that I had the chance to disconnect from the outside world and spend a whole five days off the radar. I am definitely going back for a longer stay!

Have you stayed at an eco-lodge in the Amazon? What was your experience? Leave a comment below!

Why You Should Hike Up Mount Machu Picchu

Why You Should Hike Up Mount Machu Picchu

Among the Apus

 

I was sitting on top of mount Machu Picchu, 3361 m above sea level, exhausted and exhilarated from the climb. My muscles were buzzing and my feet brushed the short grass of the landing where I perched to rest. I bit into my apple, as I watched the neighbouring mountain tops glimmer in the min-morning sun. All of a sudden, I noticed a hummingbird fluttering by some mountain flowers, just a few feet away. Filled with joy and admiration, I recognized what the locals say about the mountains. It is a place where we connect to the divine.

For the Andean people, the most important representatives of the Spirit World are the Apus. These are the Light Beings that live on the mountains. The Apus are part of the Upper World, but they are linked to us in this world, and people “talk” to them daily. It is believed that the Apus are of male energy. They are like wise and caring grandfathers who can teach us about the cosmos. Their male energy complements the nourishing energy of the earth, the Pachamama.

Indeed, the energy of the mountains at Machu Picchu is remarkable. There is a deep sense of serenity. It makes you move slowly, calling your attention to everything in that moment – the way the sun rays fall onto the ancient rock; the way the air smells clean and sweet; the way the majestic silence of the mountains muffles the rhythmic footsteps of the visitors.

As you step in, it quietens your mind and instantly fills you with wonder.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

And then there are the wondering llamas…

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

Hiking to the top of Mount Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

As I mentioned earlier, getting to visit Machu Pitchu isn’t exactly a spontaneous affair. It is even less so when you want to climb to the top of the mountain. Besides the effort of waking up at an ungodly hour to get onto the path at your allocated time, it is one hell of a climb. Two hours, 4 kilometers and 199 floors in ancient stairs to be more precise.  Some of the steeper sections are built with narrow stones where you can only put about half of your foot on the step at once!

Machu Picchu

Within the first half an hour you are sweating and taking off all the layers you put on before leaving your room at 5 am. Then you start questioning your fitness habits. Then you begin to bargain with yourself about whether you actually need to make it all the way to the top.

The view from down here is just as good, isn’t it?

Machu Picchu

Trusting the Experience

 

Looking for anything else I could take off, I pulled off my hiking boots and tied them by the shoestrings to my backpack. I felt the soothing coolness of the rock. I closed my eyes and felt the connection to the mountain, feeling its energy passing through me. Eventually, feeling replenished, I got up, brushed off my mosquito-proof pants, and went on climbing up.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

The most imparting thing to remember is to go at your own pace and make frequent stops. This should come naturally, because you will see so many curious things on your way. And then there are the views.

Breath-taking.

Uplifting and humbling.

Truly awesome.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

The wonderful thing about the climb of Machu Picchu is that you will never feel alone. The path will be sprinkled with cheerleaders who already made it to the top and are on their way down. It will be infused with amusing conversations and offbeat acquaintances. It will be filled with humanity and solidarity. That said, this path is typically less crowded than the one to the top of Huayna Picchu, so you may actually find yourself walking for stretches of time without seeing anyone else at all!

It is truly such a beautiful experience, both visually and spiritually. I highly recommend it to anyone vising Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

Have you climbed Mount Machu Picchu? What did you think? Leave a comment below!

How to Get to Machu Picchu

How to Get to Machu Picchu

Like a kid, I was fidgeting with excitement as our train made its way through the jungle towards the town of Aguas Calientes, the seat of Machu Picchu. It was a life-long dream about to come true.

Machu Picchu Train
Machu Picchu Train
Machu Picchu Train
Machu Picchu Train

The journey in the Vistadome is extraordinary. The train offers panoramic views, so you can enjoy the beautiful landscape as you sip on your coca tea.

Machu Picchu Train

Return trips on the Vistadome also offer an on-board fashion show, showcasing baby alpaca textiles, which are all available for sale. Finally, there is an element of surprise, as the staff dress up in traditional carnival costumes and invite passengers to dance!

It was by far the most entertaining and impressive train-ride of my life!

If you are thinking of coming to Machu Picchu, forget about the 5-day treck on “the” Inca trail. For context, there are over 200 Inca trails in these mountains, and tourists get dragged up and down one of them for no particular reason. Save yourself the hassle of sleeping in the freezing cold and take the Vistadome train instead. Tickets get sold out like hot empanadas though, so book them in advance.

Machu Picchu Town

 

Aguas Calientes, which means Hot Waters in Spanish, is now most often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo or Machu Picchu Town. Just 68 miles from Cuzco, it is nestled deep in a valley of the dense mountain range and seems a world away from anything. Not even a century old, its main purpose seems to be solely to provide shelter and entertainment for the passing tourists. This gives the little town a very uncommitted and rather fun feel. There are happy hour signs outside every bar and restaurant. Accents from all over the world spill out into the narrow, winding streets. There is a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air.

In terms of things to do other than visiting Machu Picchu itself, Aguas Calientes offers a vibrant market, full of wonderful brick-a-brack and souveniers. If you will buy one thing here, it should be an alpaca poncho or a blanket. Remember to ask for the percentage of alpaca in the mix of the fabric. A good quality product is Tumi, so look out for this tag.

Baby alpaca blanket tumi

Otherwise, walk up to the famous hot springs and soak in the restorative waters. It is by no means a luxury spa, however it does wonders if your muscles are aching from the hike. The springs are open until 23:00, so you can go and bathe with the mountains and the starry sky as backdrop.

Machu Picchu Town
Machu Picchu Town

Organise, organise, organise!

 

There is a limited number of people who can visit the archaeological site per day, so you need to be very organised if you want to visit Machu Picchu. The main things to take care of are:

  • Booking your entry tickets
  • Booking your bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
  • Making sure you make the times for the bus and the entry
  • Not forgetting to bring your passport!
Machu Picchu Passport

It can seem a little daunting, and this may be the reason why people often visit Machu Picchu in guided tours. If you do not like dealing with logistics and organisation, this may be a better option for you. However, if you are traveling on a budget, or simply want to venture up on your own, flying solo is not undo-able. This great article breaks down the various steps of the process and includes the pricing.

I would recommend that you try to get there before before 8am, or after lunch around 3pm or 4pm. During these times, you are much less likely to feel like an ant amongst the hundreds of tourists and actually get to appreciate the magnificence of Machu Picchu.

If you are looking to do the early morning hike, be aware that you must make your allocated slot otherwise you may not get onto the path! One more tip here, the queue for the bus in the early hours of the morning may take up to an hour, so take that into account when you’re settling in for the happy hour!

But do try to make it! It is a tough climb, but by god it is worth it!

 

Machu Picchu

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