Date: Mid March – Start April 2012
When you think of Belgium, what comes to mind?
Blond beer, fine chocolates, Hercules Poirot?
Well, in contrast to most folk, I’m no beer or chocolate lover, and Agatha Christie’s detective is a fiction, so when Steve & I took a trip to Belgium recently, it seemed we’d have to discover what else the little country had to offer.
The first part of our holiday was spent in the French-speaking south (aka Wallonia) and in the second part, we looped back up to the Flemish-speaking north to check out the Tour of Flanders cycle race.
As we went away for a few weeks, the blog would be pretty long if we mentioned everything. So instead, I’ve distilled the experiences of our first campervan jaunt of the year somewhat…
ARRIVING A DAY EARLY for the ferry to Calais, we had time to kill…
So we biked up to South Foreland Lighthouse at Dover.
The lighthouse has protected many (but by no means all) ships from being sucked into the sand banks around the bay. From the lighthouse, you can see a white house in a distant cove – apparently it used to be owned by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.
Only as we journeyed down to the south of Belgium did we realise our map of Europe was wholly ‘unfit for purpose’. We got pretty dizzy (not to mention stressed) circling the town of Mons several times, but finally managed to escape and find an ‘aire’ to stay on overnight.
In essence, aires are municipal parking places for tourists. Some have facilities for motorhomes such as water, toilets, waste emptying, etc. They are apparently abundant in France, but there are fewer elsewhere on the continent.
From here on in, we did lots of bimblin’ about, so rather than give you a blow-by-blow account of our hols, here are a few photo collages to give you a flavour and show you the highlights:
The forested region of south Belgium known as the Ardennes is rich in limestone caves. Prior research revealed that many are closed, or have limited opening times, out of the main holiday season, so we ‘only’ managed to visit a handful.
No picture can really do justice to the impressive formations which have been created over thousands upon thousands of years. Still, to illustrate what you might find underground, here are some photos taken in several of the caves…
Caves visited: Han-sur-Lesse, Remouchamps, Hotton, Neptune, Dinant and Folx-les-Caves (the latter is a manmade cave with no limestone formations).
Normally, we move from place to place when we’re travelling. But after a busy few months prior to our holiday, we were up for some R’n’R. So when we found the Chateau Dieupart site at Remouchamps (near Liege), we decided to book in for a week…
Our pitch was right alongside the river and there was also plenty of scope for bike riding and walking.
A short drive away was Ninglinspo. Sounds like a made-up tongue-twister or a song by the Goons, but it is in fact the name of a river. The surrounding area is a mix of evergreen and deciduous forest with cycling and walking trails running through it…
… And of course, it was only polite to check out the Belgian fare at the local market and shops. The Aywaille market near Remouchamps may not have been that big, but we found plenty of interest: cheeses with names like ‘dent du chat’ (cat’s tooth…?), breads of a size fit for a giant, and rows of potted flowers that looked pristine enough to rate in the Chelsea Flower Show.
HEALTH & SAFETY GONE MAD…?
Sad as it sounds, we got quite excited with the supermarket’s bread-slicing machine. You just select a bread you fancy, place it lovingly into the machine, and out comes a freshly-sliced loaf baked that morning.
Couldn’t imagine having anything like it in England, what with the ‘Health & Safety gone mad’ theme running… I did get some curious looks from the staff as I took a photo of the machine – nearly backing into an electricity socket poking up from the middle of the floor as I did so. A rather laissez-faire attitude if you ask me! 😉
We also loved the fresh bread “vending machines” dotted round, the fact that they sell frozen veg in boxes and not plastic bags, and obviously, we had to try out some of the patisserie delights…
Well, that just about covers the first part of our trip in south Belgium… and Steve’s Cycle Shorts will be back on the blog shortly to cover the second part of our holiday in the north. So stay tuned for the low-down on Belgian cycling at large, the Tour of Flanders and the infamous cycling museum, the Wieler Museum, in Roeselare.
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