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General Category => Beer Travel => Topic started by: jimmywags on August 09, 2010, 02:36:55 PM

Title: One Week in Belgium
Post by: jimmywags on August 09, 2010, 02:36:55 PM
My wife and I are headed to Belgium (and Ireland) for our honeymoon at the beginning of September. She a beer nerd too and wants to do a brewery tour, hit the beer cafés, and visit one of the Trappist monasteries/cafés. However, she doesn't want all of our sightseeing to revolve around beer and brewing. So, my question to those who have visited multiple Trappist locales: Which is the one to see for travelers who can only see one?

We'd love to hear any other suggestions for things to see or do in Belgium, especially the lesser known ones that don't make it into the travel books.

Thanks in advance.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: MDixon on August 09, 2010, 03:21:38 PM
If ya want spooky and cool head to Velootje in Ghent. Take her to Brugges, she'll love you forever and you can beer it up in all sorts of places - de Garre, Vlissinghe, Brugs Beertje, Cambrinus, etc. She may also love Antwerpen. Personally I would not spend much time in Brussels, just a kinda nasty big city.

I doubt you can get in, but a tour of Rodenbach in Roeselare would certainly make you both happy.

I've not visited the monasteries, so no help there.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: gordonstrong on August 09, 2010, 03:27:49 PM
Orval had the best tour. Rochefort hard to get into. Westvletern impossible.

+1 on Brugge. Go to 't Brugs Beertje to drink. Best dinner in Belgium at Den Dyver. Trust me.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: MDixon on August 09, 2010, 03:43:42 PM
We missed Den Dyver by not having a reservation. Ended up at Erasmus which had great food and horrible service and they were not truthful. If I wanted bad service I would go to Dulle Griet in Ghent. As far as good food, if you go to Antwerpen there is a place extremely close to the train station and around the corner from Hotel Florida which has great food for an inexpensive price. Eetkaffee Monico is the name http://www.monicohotel.be/restaurant.php.

In Brussels a great place for food is In't Spinnopke (reservations needed)
http://www.spinnekopke.be/baseAN.html

EDIT:
You may find this interesting and helpful
http://www.belgiumking.com/top10s.html
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: hopfenundmalz on August 10, 2010, 02:27:40 AM
Bruges/Brugge is a real gem.  The only thing that rivals the beer drinking is the food.  Maybe the sights too.

Get a travel guide and follow it for the sites.  We used Rick Steves back in the day.  The Bassilica of the Holy Blood is worth it, as are the Catherderal with the Michaelangelo statue, and the Bell Tower (try and get up there at just before noon for a good show of rods, cables, cranks and such doing their job).

Den Diver, Vlisshinge, de Garre, and t' Brugs Beertje are all worth a long visit.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: glitterbug on August 10, 2010, 04:07:46 PM
I would go to Poperinge (Westvleteren). Although there is no brewery tour, it was one of our best experiences. My wife constantly talks about going back. There were no tourists, and the journey to the cafe was picturesque (leisurely riding bikes through the belgian countryside, passing the hop fields and being sprinkled by a light shower).
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: theabbot on August 10, 2010, 04:53:07 PM
If your wife is a true beer knurd, take her to Beersel, BE.  Try the Oud Beersel brewery or a stop at the 3 Fountain Brewery and restaurant.

This are two of the finest Lambic breweries in the world.  The menu's at Fontainen is quite extensive and the country is quite unique.
If she is both a history nerd and beer nerd, Waterloo is just down the road.

I will have to agree with the rest of the poster's here that a trip to Brugge is one she will remember and want to relive.  Charming town, nice people and plenty of local wonderful beer establishments.

Just my $0.02 or Euro 0.015
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: joelambic on August 10, 2010, 08:12:25 PM
I've "been" to several of the Trappist breweries: Westmalle, Rochefort, Orval, Westvleteren, and Achel.  I, however, didn't get a tour at all of them so had to make do with a visit to the cafe and perhaps (in the case of Westmalle) a video tour.  Of the ones I had an actual tour of, I think Orval may be the most interesting.  In addition to the brewery one can tour the ruins of the monastery.  Achel, by contrast, is closer to a brewpub with the small, modern brewery behind glass and the cafe service similar to cafeteria style.  Achel does/did have a great shop adjacent though where most/all of the other Trappist beers, glasses, etc. could be purchased.

I'll second the recommendation for 3 Fonteinen.  Not only do they serve one of my favorite beers, they also have an excellent menu with several authentic regional dishes.  They are open for lunch & dinner (closed in between) and  I believe they are closed on Tuesdays & Wednesdays.

The Centrum Hotel across the street from 3 Fonteinen has a cafe that served quite a few of the other (Boon & Girardin are what I remember) lambics.  I wouldn't recommend staying at the hotel during a honeymoon though; it's good but very bare-bones.

If you like saison, I would recommend a visit to the Dupont brewery tap.  No matter how good the Saison Dupont I've had anywhere else, it pales in comparison when consumed across the street from where it's made.  They usually have the full product line available given enough time to bring something up from the cellar and chill in the cooler.  A modest knowledge of French will come in handy as I don't recall how well the lady that runs the place speaks English.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: gordonstrong on August 11, 2010, 02:53:47 AM
I agree with several of these suggestions.

The cafe across the street from Dupont is great.  If you don't speak French, pointing at the tap usually works.

Poperinge is a good stop, if for no other reason than to go to Watou and have the Hommelbier at its freshest.  And if you're there, you should go to the Hommelhof which was Michael Jackson's favorite Belgian restaurant.  I think that was the place that amused me because they served their sparkling water in logo glasses of the sparkling water company (at a proper Belgian bar, apparently it's common for them to ask you if you still want the beer you ordered if they don't currently have the correct glass available--that happened to me several times).

Poperinge is also where they do the hop festival, once every three years. It was a hoot.

I didn't think Westvleteren was in Poperinge, but in West Vleteren. Out in the country and very pretty, for sure. You have to satisfy yourself with having the beer at the nearby cafe (which is usually the case with most of the Trappist breweries).  I found the beers there fairly young and hot, which was disappointing.  Same was the case for Rochefort.  Needed some age.  But the Orval was wonderful.  And they have the Orval Vert as well.  My avatar picture was taken in the cafe outside Orval. Note the proper way of holding the glass so the logo shows...

Oh, and a bonus about going to Orval is that they also sell their cheese there.  Great stuff.  Cute Orval bottle-shaped bottle opener available in the gift shop but they didn't speak English so you had to ask for a "decapsuleur".
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: hopfenundmalz on August 11, 2010, 12:39:32 PM
We went to the hop festival in Poperinge in '99, and it was big fun.

Orval's brasserie was closed the day we were there.  Did tour the ruins and the gift shop.

The food in Belgium is excellent.  Our German friends would smile and say "French preperation and German portions".

Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: passlaku on August 11, 2010, 12:42:49 PM
For more ideas try watching Three Sheets in Belgium [http://www.hulu.com/watch/12651/three-sheets-belgium].  If you haven't seen the movie In Bruge (with Colin Ferrel) you should, the movie really shows off the beauty of the city.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: theoman on August 11, 2010, 02:37:29 PM
Definitely some good tips here, except the one about not spending time in Brussels. If you take some time to get to know the city, you could be pleasantly surprised. I've said this before - for Brussels, get "Around Brussels in 80 Beers". As for other books, "The Good Beer Guide to Belgium" is a must. I live in Belgium and I carry the book with me anytime I go anywhere. Make sure you get the 6th edition.

A note on the Trappists. Westvleteren is in a beautiful location. People rave about the Westvleteren 12 beer, but I think their 6 (blond) is fantastic and underrecognized. 
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: glitterbug on August 11, 2010, 05:14:47 PM
I didn't think Westvleteren was in Poperinge, but in West Vleteren. Out in the country and very pretty, for sure.

We are splitting hairs here. The brewery\cafe is literally a few miles outside of town  ;D
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: kramerog on August 11, 2010, 06:00:17 PM
You could drink beer at a cyclocross race.  Historically, cyclocross race would make several laps through beer tents.  Perhaps, they still do.  I wouldn't call this a must do unless you were a cycling fanatic.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: Dan on August 11, 2010, 06:55:33 PM
Just finished up a vacation in Belgium. Some thought if I had to do it again:

Brugges - Skip the Halve Maan brewery tour. It's nothing you haven't seen and the beers were good but not great. de Garre was excellent atmosphere and my fiance loved the house beer they were serving. Brugs Beertje is closed Wednesday (which happened to be the day we were there) so plan ahead. There was another cool beer bar but I'll have to update the post when I get home.

Brussels - Reminded me of D.C. or San Fran in that kind of gritty way but there were still some good gems. For the largest selection of beer with a college feel head to the Delirium cafe. Just south of the city center is the Cantillon brewery that produces some excellent lambic beers with a tour that includes 2 samples when finished. Skip the beer museum in the Grand Place (horrible tasting afterwards) but hit up the Brewery on the NW corner if you want to sample at the oldest brewery in Brussels. In September the EU starts session so you could head towards the EU buildings at night to take in the spectacle that is government.

Silly - Yeah, it's a silly name but this small town brewery makes a darn good Saison. They don't get many tourists and not many people speak English so you may want to plan ahead. We just happened to stop in and had the good fortune of walking into the town tourism office on a day when a college student from Brussels was working. Though our interpreter, they arranged a private tour of the brewery and face time with the brew master plus lots of samples.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: theoman on August 12, 2010, 07:15:55 AM
A couple more tips on Brussels.

If you can't make it to the Dupont brewery tap (or even if you can), check out Nuetnigenough (25 rue du Lombard). It's a nice bar with decent food and all the Dupont beers on tap. Last time I was there, they still had the awesome dry-hopped Saison.

Absolutely visit Cantillon. It's a cool visit even if you're not into beer.

Just down the road from Nuetnigenough is the new-ish Moeder Lambic Fontainas. It's arguably the best bar in Belgium, at least as far as taps go. It was technically designed to deliver the best quality beer to the glass from the 40-some taps. All the staff is knowledgable and there is only "craft" beer (no InBev, etc.). When I go to Brussels for a beer, I usually go there. They were even going to look into giving AHA discounts.

Not beer related, but check out the area near the North Station. You're suddenly transported to another continent. Head up the hill to Chaussee de Haecht (I think), just behind the St. Maria church. There's a row of Turkish pizza restaurants and bakeries. If you've never had Turkish pizza, go treat yourself. It's dirt cheap and darn good. Our favorite is Kocak. You can get a low-end beer there, too. There's another good one across the street with just as good pizza and it's more traditionally decorated, but it's dry.

I like the Halve Maan brewery tour in Brugge. It's a bit long, but entertaining and you get treated to a nice view of the city from the roof.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: MDixon on August 12, 2010, 11:44:09 AM
I cannot say I agree with going to the North Station. We stayed at the Hotel Albert http://www.hotelalbert.be/ in the heart of what is best described as a crossroads neighborhood and just down the street from St. Marie. If you head in the wrong direction you will be in the red light district which is not a great area. At night there is quite a bit of violence and most businesses close up shop according to the hotel. It is not a great area, nor neighborhood past dark. During the day, no problems, but I would suggest everyone skip that area at night.

FWIW the hotel is inexpensive and clean with a nice breakfast, but very, very small rooms. It's a downhill walk to the station and a horrible uphill walk to the hotel. Not a great place to stay with anyone who is really picky about accommodations or location.

EDIT: This might help in planning, it was where I mapped some places for a trip we took to Belgium in '06
http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=51.020589~3.856995&style=r&lvl=9&cid=EA201F43F82D186D!101 (http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=51.020589~3.856995&style=r&lvl=9&cid=EA201F43F82D186D!101)
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: jimmywags on August 20, 2010, 05:16:00 PM
Awesome! A huuuge 'thanks' to all of you for your suggestions and tips. We've got a couple weeks to sketch up our plans before the long plane ride. I will report back when we return with the beery details of our stops and what we thought of everything. In the meantime, if anyone else has thoughts, do continue to share. I hope this thread can help other travelers in the future.

Proost!
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: snowtiger87 on August 26, 2010, 09:16:48 PM
My wife and I went to Belgium for 10 days last year. We went all over the country - Brussels, Popperinge, Bastogne, Mechelin. We did miss Brugges.

We want to go back and this is how I will plan the trip next time. Fly in to Brussels and spend 1 night there. Stay near  the Grand Place and vist Beer Circus and maybe the Delirium Cafe. There is a huge catherdral right by the Grand Place. My wife spend half a day in there.

Go to Popperinge by train, then rent bikes there. Stay one or 2 nights in the Palace Hotel (great beer bar) - say hello to Olive'. There are a couple other beer bars in town. Tour the Hop Museum. Watou is close by. Spend at least one night in the St Bernardus Bed & Breakfast. Go to the Westvleteren cafe. This area of Belgium was prime WWI real estate. There are plenty of museums and historical areas around to explore and the bike paths in this area are really nice.

Spend the rest of time in Brugges. Other have offered suggestions here. Plenty do do and drink there.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: gordonstrong on August 27, 2010, 03:43:32 AM
Quick pedantic note: it's either Bruges (French) or Brugge (Flemish). Either works, but they speak Flemish there. People in Flanders are nice, but they do tend to get irritated with English-speakers who insist on using bad French with them. I know; they kept telling me that. They speak better English typically than French, so it works well.

If you're around in the area, Ypres (Iepr) was a pretty, if solumn, town. They still have remembrances for the 300K who died there in WWI.

If you can get to Esen, check out De Dolle. Worth a look too.
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: svejk on August 27, 2010, 06:03:48 AM
Speaking of De Dolle, they do an English tour of the brewery every Sunday. If that fits in your schedule, I would highly recommend it. It is a great chance to visit a brewery and share experiences with other "beer-centric-Anglo-types".

One other stop worth mentioning is Kulminator in Antwerp. By far the best beer bar I have ever visited.

Have a great time!
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: MDixon on August 27, 2010, 11:58:49 AM
I'll never forget asking for a ticket to Roeselare and pronouncing it something like Rose-a-lair and getting a very guttural response do you mean Rue-se-larrrrrr. What is interesting is how the spellings of the cities change as you ride the rails from one part of the country to another. As Gordon said, English and a good intentioned try at the name seemed to work.

BTW - IME most of them love the American people, but hate our government. You may want to steer clear of political discussions, much like conversation on this forum. ;)
Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: uthristy on September 03, 2010, 02:35:49 PM
Just rent a car and drive, trains while very nice limit your travels & time. But if driving anywhere near Brussels then do it before rush hour! Its been voted the worst city to drive for a reason- took 1hr to drive 10 miles. The rest of the country is a breeze.

If you decide to visit the Ardennes area  the best place to stay is   Hôtel Panorama in Bouillon (http://www.panoramahotel.be/).

The view from our room> clickable pics

(http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz138/UknowWho2u/th_castleBouillon.jpg) (http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz138/UknowWho2u/castleBouillon.jpg)

and looking up from a street pub(its the building on top)>
(http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz138/UknowWho2u/th_HtelPanoramainBouillon.jpg) (http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz138/UknowWho2u/HtelPanoramainBouillon.jpg)
Sitting on the deck over looking the city at night>
(http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz138/UknowWho2u/th_Panoramaatnight.jpg) (http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz138/UknowWho2u/Panoramaatnight.jpg)

This last trip completes the Belgian province of Luxembourg for us, such a small country but packed with great places.

Title: Re: One Week in Belgium
Post by: jimmywags on October 06, 2010, 10:59:33 PM
Well, we've been back in the States for three weeks, I ought to finally post my summary and suggestions to future travelers to Belgium.

We had a blast. It was an amazing trip. We spent a couple nights in Brugge, a few in Brussels, and one in St Hubert. That night was supposed to be spent in Namur on our way to Orval, but the hotel and Bookings.com didn't agree on the number of available rooms. Oh well. It worked out.

Our first day in Brugge, we stopped into a bar called Cambrinius, just off the Markt. They had a monster book of beer available (a trend we graciously got used to). Tried my first Westvleteren Blonde there. My wife had a Silly Scotch.

Next evening after some pomme frites, we stopped into 't Brugs Beertje. A little café with another huuge beer list. Out waiter was friendly, even with my absolute butchering of the Dutch language. I thought this was the best café we visited in Brugge.

Our last night, we ate at Den Dyver. And thank all of you who suggested it. We were both blown away with the food, atmosphere, and everything. We had a four-course dinner, each course paired with a different Belgian beer. Excellent "real honeymoon" dinner.

Overall, we really enjoyed Brugge. We did the Quasimundo bike tour. Our guide Jos was very engaging and fun. Did a canal tour, and plenty of just wandering. It's a charming little town, even if it's all touristy. We didn't mind it a bit.

We headed to Westvleteren by car from Brugge. We ate lunch at their café, In de Vrede. We each had a nice grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a salad. Since I was driving, I had but one of their blondes. But Jessica was nice enough to let me taste her 12. Both were outstanding. Unfortunately, they didn't have any bottles available in the gift shop that weren't packaged with glasses. We were reluctant to buy any glasses and have them shatter in the luggage, so we left Westvleteren with only the beer we drank.

From there we drove to St Hubert in Luxembourg province. Our goal was to go to mass at the Orval abbey the next morning, but that didn't happen. Despite missing mass, we both loved Orval. If any future travelers want to take the trek down that far south, I highly recommend visiting Orval. The ruins were very cool and quite picturesque. The monks allow visitors to join them for daily prayers. We were able to witness Hours, a 15 minute service in the beautiful church. They chanted and read scripture. My wife, who is Catholic, was quite moved. I am a former Catholic and still thought it was a amazing scene. The gift shop had a wide array of good produced by monasteries and convents for sale, from soaps and shampoos to cookies and cheese. We picked up some cookies made at a different abbey and a hand-thrown ceramic chalice with the fish-ring symbol. We ate lunch at a restaurant down the road, then drove to Brussels.

Brussels is like a lot of cities, full of people and traffic. But I liked it quite a bit. We hit the Musical Instrument Museum and the Magritte Museum and really enjoyed both. Wish we could have had more time in the Magritte, but we got thru all of it. Our beer-related highlights include the tour of the Cantillon Brewery and two famous cafés, A la Mort Subdite and Delirium.

Cantillon was interesting, since it was a self guided tour. They don't brew during the summer, so visitors are able to wander the amazingly small building and see how a spontaneously-fermented brewery works. The guide book was informative. The spiderwebs were plentiful. The machinery was antique. At the end of the tour, we each were given two samples, one gueze and a choice of kriek or framboise. All were excellent. The gueze was significantly more palatable than the bottles I've had here. Still some residual sweetness. I enjoy the complex sourness, but I was waiting for the inevitable recoil from my wife. It never came. She enjoyed them. I was really impressed with the brewery. Other than the tiny, tiny bottling line, nothing looked modern. Or even from the last 50 years.

We went to Mort Subdite after an afternoon in the excellent Magritte Museum. I had their gueze; Jess had their faro. Both were very good. I did like Cantillon's better. The bar is different than any of the other places we visited. "Classier" maybe. Don't have a good description. More expensive, too. We had a sandwich, then headed for Delirium. But it was packed and very smoky, and we were tired. So we saved Delirium for the next day.

The Delirium Café ("Beer Cave") is in the basement of the Delirium Taphouse. I say this because we missed the sign in the alley and were confused for a beer or so. There are about 20 taps upstairs and about 2,000 different bottles downstairs. The place has a college bar atmosphere (without TVs), in a good way. It's loud. You have to order from the bar, which can be annoying. But we drank well. We left happy and tipsy.

All in all, we both loved Belgium. We never had a bad meal (or snack). And many seemingly mundane lunches turned out to be fantastic. If we were to return, we'd definitely expand our meager Dutch and French vocabularies. It was an issue now and again. But never a crippling one.

Thank all of you for your suggestions and tips! It definitely made a positive difference in our adventure.

Proost!

---
I've posted some photos of most of the beers we enjoyed on Picasa.
http://picasaweb.google.com/therealjimmywags/HoneymoonBeer