Belgium is a country known for beer, chocolate, moules-frites, European politics, rain and comics.
Let’s try to go beyond these common places and find an alternative side of Belgium!
5 experiences to visit Belgium off the beaten path
Belgium is divided in provinces that can be pretty much be grouped in Flanders (the North Dutch speaking area), Wallonia (South, where French is Spoken), Brussels (the capital) and a small Easter area speaking German, in the Eupen province, that sadly no one ever consider much of.
1 – Flanders: wine tasting in Ghent
Belgium produces beers. a lot of it. And good quality. Every year, many brewers of the best beers in the world come from this small country. Old monasteries and modern industries welcome tourists to make them taste their drink and teach them how.
Instead, I take you to Ghent (Gent in the local Dutch language), a beautiful university town in Flanders, for a wine tasting.
Ona, wine bar owned by a young couple, organizes once a month a themed wine tasting. Wines from the Mediterrean areas, rosé, young wines, from not typically wine producing countryes….. Every time, there are going to be 6 wines to try out.
Nice and well prepared, the two guys tell all the details about production, grapes, taste, background of the land and the winery.
In Dutch.The hosts speak French and English, but the time is limited and not understanding the language might turn into missing interesting details. But considering you’re drinking very good wines, maybe that’s not that much important. Especially after the 5th glass….
Booking is mandatory because there are only about 20 seats and the price is (up to today) 25 euros per person.
2 – Eupen: Free camping in the “bivak” area
In a country where it rains as often as Italians eat pasta, it’s important not to be bothered too much about the weather, when organizing an activity.
There’s a circuit of free “bivouac”, called bivakzone open all year around in every forest of Belgium
In the East side of the country, these places are in the oldest Belgian-German natural reserve, the Naturpark Hohes Venn–Eifel.
Bring with you drinkable water and what you need for the night, reach the bivakzone by walk (sometimes walking few hundreds meters, sometimes pretty far away from the closest road), turn on the barbeque with the woods that the guards gather (or get some yourself) and you’re free to camp!
Some of these areas have running not drinkable water, others don’t (but there might be a nice and clean brook close by). Some have a latrine, others don’t (but there are many bushes everywhere….).
Everything is very, VERY frugal . But it’s also for free, usually quiet and clean (in the naturalist meaning of the word!).
To sleep next to a little river with the sound of the water running by after a good barbeque in the fresh Belgian summer is really nice!
Caution: as many signs point out, follow the the bivouac rules and don’t leave evidence of your passage, only your footsteps!
3 – Border Flanders-Wallonia: Hallerbos, the blue forest
Hallerbos is a forest like many others, with well kept paths and nature lovers hiking, horse riding and walking their dogs. But something magical happens in spring: between April and May it’s bluebells flowering season and the green undergrowth turns into the Smurfs forest.
The town-hall organizes visits following specific paths that guarantee the best view of the bluebells, and it offers maps at the main entrance of the forest.
The show is impressive and it last for about a month. When the temperature rises, the leaves on top branches of the trees multiply and the sun light has troubles making it to the ground. At this point, the beautiful blue flowers leave space to the usual green carpet.
To visit Hallerbos during the flowering season, check the forest website out.
4 – Brussels: Charity climbing day
The gym Itineraires is a children activity centre and climbing & bouldering hall. For the past couple of years, it has organized a fundraising in favour of Rohingya hosted in a huge refugee camp in Bangladesh.
A winter Sunday the centre stays open form morning to evening welcoming climbers and their supporters with extra gears, a raffle, healthy food and drinks.
The funny system for the fundraising is to climb and be supported “by metre”: I climb 10 walls 15m high, for a total of 150m. If my supporters donate 10 cents per metre, they will donate 15 Euro each. With 10 fans, it’s already 150 Euro for a good cause! Easy and fun!
After 5 hours I’ve collected 142 metres, tons of pictures and a great tiredness!!
5 – Chocolate
It’s been fun to explore Belgium in some activities off the beaten path. But on this topic I remain a traditionalist! Entering a Belgian chocolate shop is like entering Tiffany. The prices are very similar too, but it’s totally worthy!