When sun is out, so are we! The Summer vibes a few weeks ago lead us to Flanders’ greenest province Limburg and what better way to start this two-day trip than in Tongeren, Belgium’s oldest city.
Though we had visited the city of fearless Eburon-leader Ambiorix already in the past this time around our focus was on its green surroundings. A true ‘hike and seek’ in a colourful and hilly landscape dotted with grand castles and small hamlets. Join me as we start exploring?
We used our first day mainly to do some city strolling: market square, beguinage, basilica church, Moerenpoort,…
…and a few stops of course…
On second day we left historic town behind us and took car for a little loop tour to explore the surroundings, stopping whenever we felt like it for a little hike. With my foot problems (and back and MS…) reducing my mobility the hikes were mini ones, though nevertheless, had a fantastic day!
From colourful poppy fields and ‘Goed Van Gothem’ in Heers to ‘Hamal Castle’ in Rutten with Tongeren church in the background to U-shaped ‘Renesse castle’ and surrounding landscape park and fishing ponds in ‘s Heerenelderen. We also stopped in Nerem to admire the former chocolate factory transformed into ecological housing units and the opposite Rosmeulen castle. Hamlets Neerrepen and Overrepen offer great decor for some hiking and we had a delicious lunch in ‘Herberg de Horne’ in Vechmaal. After lunch we headed to the ‘Reading between the lines’ church, the eye-catching metallic art installation loved by both tourists and locals in Borgloon. We ended this little road trip in Mettekoven, a designated ‘greenspot’ with multiple hiking options. With its hills and fruit orchards a well-loved destination in Springtime with fruit blossoms colouring the landscape but frankly a lovely place in all seasons!
(please note this trip was made early February 2020 before Covid-19 restrictions)
Those who follow me here on the blog may have noticed my absence lately. A lingering foot issue combined with the already existing medical issues meant all energy went to healing. A work still in progress…I tried to maintain my daily posts on IG and for a while that was more than enough. I still had to complete the SA series but frankly I found it very confronting scrolling through the album in an attempt to choose some photos with Covid-19 travel restrictions and my own body limits. Though we live in hope; vaccination seems to give us part of our freedom and wanderlust back, though caution and prevention still have to be our number one priority and the personal medical issues, ah well, I focus on the days the pain is controllable and I am more or less mobile, with or without walking stick. But here’s to new beginnings, shall we? And for that we first need to end our SA travel adventures. So do join me on the last part of this SA trip where we explored Franschhoek region.
Leaving Oudtshoorn behind us (you can read up on that here Oudtshoorn: an ostrich a day… SA trip part 6) a four to five hour drive will bring us to final destination of this holiday before returning to Cape Town Airport: Franschhoek.
Following the R62 and passing through lovely little towns we saw landscape slowly change from Karoo vegetation to lush vineyard valleys.
Around noon we stopped and had lunch in Montagu, a town definitely worth exploring! The friendly owner of a deco shop recommended stopping in the Mystic Tin for lunch and that did not disappoint! Lovely outside terrace and garden with succulents and other local plants.
We stayed two nights in Airbnb Klein Dauphine Estate which comes with more than grand views. To fully explore the Cape Winelands region would recommend to stay at least four nights.
Franschhoek is one of South Africa’s oldest settlements and culinary belongs to absolute world top. The vineyards date back 300 years to when the French Huguenots settled in this corner of Africa. Franschhoek’s main street Huguenot Street is like a colourful string of pearls: the art shops and galleries, fashion boutiques, restaurants and bars complement each other and seamlessly fade out into the large wine estates, b&b’s and vineyards before being called a halt by the mountains surrounding the valley.
If Franschhoek alone doesn’t still your hunger its neighbours in the Cape Winelands region are more than happy to welcome you (Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Somerset West) and all this just an hour’s drive from Cape Town.
More into nature than food or wine? Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve is part of the UNESCO-declared Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve. Situated in the Franschhoek Mountains, the reserve offers breathtaking views of the valley. There are 10 hiking trails with varying difficulty, all together over 30 km hiking fun!
On our second day with the list of things to see and do endless and time not on our hand this being our last day we had to be resourceful.
Babylonstoren to the rescue!
Babylonstoren, at foot of Simonsberg, is one of the oldest (1692) Cape Dutch farms in the region. It has a fruit and vegetable garden, vineyard, offers dining possibilities as well as lodging, a farm and gift shop and, oh, let’s not forget the jaw-dropping scenery! With Simonsberg, Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek mountains as a backdrop, Babylonstoren does not disappoint! The immense garden can be explored during a guided tour or you can stroll and enjoy at your own pace. Spending a halve day here is the very minimum!
Could this last day be any more perfect? You bet! Returning to our accomodation we decided to stop at La Petite Ferme: a small boutique wine estate nestled into the Cape Winelands’ vineyards and with thé most incredible views over Franschhoek and the mountains beyond. We were just in time to join an informative and heavenly wine tasting, the kind that is given with passion and sparkle.
The estate’s winery offers a full range of wines from white to rosé and red. Quoting La Petite Ferme: “Each wine delivers on the promise of being an exceptional example of what the Franschhoek terroir has to offer. Bringing forward a perfect balance of wine making skill and farm management. Come and take in the atmosphere while experiencing some of the best hand crafted wines the valley has to offer”
And so our SA Western Cape road trip sadly came to and end and all that was left was to admire that last vineyard sunset, enjoy that last glass of wine and promise each other we’ll be back!
Hope you enjoyed this series! In next posts you can follow some of my local hike & seeks. Coming weekend we have a trip to Tongeren, Belgium’s oldest city planned so definitely more on that. There’s a scheduled birthday trip to Walloon Brabant and if all stays well Covid-19 wise and abroad travel is an option AND if my back and related issues aren’t too much of a spoilsport we’ll head to our beloved Lenk in Swiss Berner Oberland in August. Fingers crossed!
“Travelling, it leaves you speachless and then turns you into a storyteller”
Yep, warning in advance, fifty shades of pink in this post! With Spring in full bloom it’s key to seize the day ’cause nothing so delicate and briefly as those sugary pink cherry-tree flower pop-ups, right?!
Staying local on this ‘hike and seek’ with a trip to Boniverlei in neighbouring town Edegem. Each April traffic on this rather busy road slows down as one can not but admire the fluffy clouds on either side.
Are you ready for your pink shot? Here we go!
Pink…always in season…
On the off chance that you’re getting a blossom overdose, you can recover in nearby park ‘Romeinse Put’ which will set your colour perception and parameters back to normal.
Will you be joining me next time? There’s a trip to Limburg scheduled if my health permits (long story) and we still have to round up on the South Africa series.
As we are all quite ready to leave Winter behind us, let me just look back one more time on some of our most enjoyed ‘hike&seek’ moments of the past three months, all in Antwerp province.
The ‘Hike&Seek’ series (both here and on IG) highlight some of Belgium’s finest or most surprising hiking possibilities: exploring nature domains and rural areas and even some city discovery tours. Covered distance doesn’t matter, goal is to keep moving and in doing so seeking joy and wonder/wander. Wanna join me?
A quick glance at my IG posts tells me we visited the Scheldeland region more than once the past months. To be honest, what’s not to like?! The combo ‘water and green’ is always a golden buzzer and its relative proximity to where we live (less than half an hour by car) makes it quickly and easily accessible as a half-day or just a quick break kind of trip. d’Ursel castle, Marnix de St Aldegonde castle, Lange Dreef or Notelaerdreef make excellent starting points to explore. Already know each corner of Bornem, which is hardly impossible, then opt for nearby Weert or Wintam as alternatives for endless more Scheldeland fun.
This nature reserve in close proximity of historic and culturally attractive city Mechelen lies in what used to be flooding area. Keep in mind its wetland character and wear appropriate walking boots especially in not so dry season. We hiked the shorter, but nevertheless very versatile, AS Adventure trail. Mechels Broek is home to many bird species, Galloway cattle and the typical pollard willow trees.
Willebroek Broek De Naeyer
As the name lets suspect, this former-industrial-zone-now-turned-into-nature-reserve’s characteristics are similar to its above bigger brother, mind your choice of footwear! It lies alongside river Rupel, is a well-known breading zone for cormorant birds and otter and beaver populations can be spotted and may therefore also be a fun hike to consider if you have children.
Antwerp Middelheim ‘beeldenmuseum’/ Park Den Brandt
Art and nature go hand in hand, at least in Antwerp’s open-air museum park. Both above parks are situated south of Antwerp’s historic city centre and do keep in mind weekends can be crowdy. The ‘sculpture park’ is home to around 1800 international works and gives an overview of modern and contemporay art. Ideal to combine with the more romantic Den Brandt Park. The garden combines English cottage garden (behind castle) with more classic French (in front of castle) designs. And on your walk you will stumble onto a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The park is also home to the Jazz Middelheim festival every August (though for obvious reasons not this year). To make your Antwerp green escape complete you can hop into opposite Nachtegalenpark. That’s three parks with just one trip to make, great deal, no?!
Borsbeek fort 3
Obviously our own local touristic region, de Zuidrand, couldn’t be skipped during these months of exploring. With close proximity of Antwerp Deurne Airport this might not seem an attractive hiking trail at first glance, though give it a chance. It is the first, thus oldest, fortress of eight in total built under the Brialmont defense line. You can walk around AND even on the fortress! The underground part is normally not open for visit due to the protected and endangered bat colonies. Oh and if you detect sponges tied onto trees, this isn’t some student or children’s prank, though part of Antwerp University stem research, so ‘leave the sponge alone’! 😉
Grenspark De Zoom/Kalmthoutse Heide
Destination of our most recent trip and with official rating as ‘silence area’ our favourite of this post. The total park measures about 6000 ha and hiking, bike and horse trails flirt with Dutch-Belgian border. Landscape offers a wonderful variation of heath, forests, pastures, pools and dunes. There are different access gates. We explored ‘Squirrel’ and ‘Woodpecker’ trails (access Ruige Heide) near park’s borders in Zandvliet/Berendrecht.
With early Spring vibes chasing last Winter blues away and nature rapidly changing and calling hope the above gave you some inspiration on where to go on your next trips in Belgian Antwerp province.
Feel free to share your most recent hiking t(r)ips!
(Please note we made this trip in February 2020 when world was not yet in the tight paralyzing grip of Covid-19. Stay safe everyone!)
Let’s continue our SA Western & Eastern Cape road trip, shall we? Leaving Addo in direction of next stop Oudtshoorn brings us to town of Kirkwood, located along R75, and mostly a farming community but also home of the Daniell Cheetah Project.
This project was established about twenty years ago and started with just three cats. Their aim is to play a part in the conservation of the cheetah, the re-establishing of pure gene lines, as well as educating the public on the importance of these extraordinary species. They host responsible educational tours and, in return, the tour fees go back into the conservation project. Besides the cheetahs lots of other, big and smaller, cats to admire like servals and caracals and some residents have really funny names: lions Chuck and Norris and a hyena named Bones await your visit and contribution.
Oudtshoorn‘s economy and richness as capital of Little Karoo have always been linked to world’s largest bird, the ostrich. In the past its feathers brought an exotic and colourful touch to European fashion and nowadays the flightless birds are mainly bred for their skin and meat. Full info on town’s ostrich history and Karoo culture at the local C.P. Nel Museum.
For those in search for some ostrich-related gifts or interior ideas DO visit the Cape Karoo Ostrich Emporium. They offer a wide range of ostrich related produce ( dusters, wallets, fashion and interior accessories,…) All items carry the ‘blue ostrich‘ label guaranteeing the ‘precision-crafted and handmade’ trademark. If you want to have a peek into how that turquoise leather bag your eye fell on is made, their workshop is visible as well as accessible. (We bought some lovely colourful feathered keychains and some eggshell earrings)
Oudtshoorn has no lack of bars and restaurants. We had lovely dinners at ‘Bello Cibo’ and colourful ‘Nostalgie‘ where above photos were taken. The historical (since 1880) ‘Queens Hotel’ has a lovely bar and restaurant (The Colony) both also accessible for non-hotel guests. For lunch (or dinner) in a unique setting head to ‘Die Smitswinkel‘. Is it a bar, car and motor memorabilia shop or grill house? Well, all of them actually, and certainly a feast for the eyes while waiting for your meal.
What the region DOES lack is surface water (or just water in general actually). The Karoo name is derived from the Khoisan word meaning ‘land of thirst’.
As a semi-desert region The Karoo is best characterized by its vegetation, which consists of all kinds of succulents and low bushes and driving around you really get to understand the region’s struggle for water preservation.
Nestled along route 62, at the gateway of Klein and Great Karoo, lies small town De Rust, freely translated as ‘The Rest’ which refers to the town’s original function as a stopping place for settlers and travellers before or after passing the rough terrain of Swartberg Mountains.
According to time of the day and amount of sunlight the mountain’s sandstones colour from pitch black to rusty red. Much of the majestic Swartberg range is UNESCO World Heritage site. There are peaks over 2000m and two passes help to conquer this impressive rock mass: the Meiringspoort and Swartberg passes. If you have time DO consider a Swartberg game reserve or visit of the Cango Caves, Africa’s largest show caves and also one of the Seven Wonders of Southern Africa.
We drove part of the Meiringspoort route where the road twists and turns its way through the steep-walled layers of colourful sandstone. After this breathtaking drive in the morning we headed back to charming De Rust and enjoyed some welcoming refreshments at Ray’s Coffee Shop.
Ostriches and sheep are never far away when letting the eyes rest on the landscape.
After a whole day of dust absorbing Kuiertuin (same street as our b&b and Enchanted Coffee) is a welcome colourful rest stop. It features as bar and concert venue and don’t forget to admire the side wall murals!
We genuinely enjoyed our days here: embraced by the colourful feathers of Oudtshoorn and totally at peace (and at pace) in charming De Rust.
Do join me next time as we wrap up this road trip series heading for our final destination Franschhoek.
The ‘Hike&Seek’ series ( both on the blog and IG) highlight some of Belgium’s finest or most surprising hiking possibilities: exploring nature domains and rural areas and even city exploring hikes. Covered distance doesn’t matter, goal is to keep moving and in doing so seeking joy and wonder/wander. Wanna join me?
No better way to kick off this new series than exploring my local hometown Aartselaar, situated south of Antwerp. The solid February cold snap we are currently experiencing has transformed the everyday familar (to me that is) streets and fields into a magical winter wonderland.
The new boardwalk path, within five walking minutes of our home, offers a welcoming platform to explore all this Winter marvel. It runs through fields and offers pedestrians and bikers a safe connection and short-cut to neighbouring village or you can combine with already existing path to create a loop.
Adopt the pace of nature…
Everything looks better and softer under a layer of snow dust, doesn’t it?! Just watch your step and don’t slip on the ice like our son did as touchdown is usually not of the softest kind!
Pareidolia is a situation in which someone sees a pattern or image of something that does not exist, for example a face in a cloud.
Well, I can’t step outside or that pareidolia seems to find me: I noticed a strange looking mushroom on my walk last week and it made me think about how that happens to me a lot…the seeing shapes in things.
Bizarre how the shape of a mushroom can be the inspiration for a blog post or maybe just as proof that I am not making this up! Do you see what I see? I’m curious…
This is how it all started…with a mushroom…or is it an oak leaf? No, definitely a wannabe leaf…
What do you make of this one below?
I see a smiling beluga whale or if you only look at the top brown part a frog…are there any other animals hidden? Perhaps, you tell me!
Sometimes I even encounter long extincted giants…think others noticed him too as he even has a name…
The below one is obvious…
Having fun? Time to throw in a smiley…
Somehow, don’t ask me why (pareidolia, remember) the below tree made me think of Kate Bush. You know, in her ‘Wuthering Heights’ videoclip waving her arms elegantly…you see her too now, admit it…
With Corona travel restrictions we all suffer from wanderlust…nature offers the perfect cure and inspiration: dream now, travel later, for instance to Turkey…have you ever seen or visited the Pamukkale mineral formation? The mushroom below copies the terraced erosion…
Then it hit me, must be all those mushrooms having that strange effect on me!
I had to get out of the woods…a trip to the beach would definitely help to see things more clearly…or not…
Just to say I left my heart in Ostend…
with its beach full of colourful oyster shells shaped like little sea horses…
Wherever you go, there’s no escaping…nature if full of wannabes and copy cats. All you need is a little fantasy…
Let me know which shapes you notice on your next walk!
By the way, are you in a festive mood yet? Nature is…time to decorate the tree!
With last leaves on trees here falling and teaching us how to let go, it’s time to focus on new things or pick up old habits…shall we continue where we left off in the South African road trip blog posts?
Where the previous post left us in Plettenberg Bay it is time to move on. Next stop: Addo Elephant National Park. The first part of the drive leads us through Tsitsikamma NP. If we would have had more time, would surely have planned an extra night(s). It’s where ocean meets jungle, where wild meets wilder and leaves you speechless.
Time to leave Western Cape and Garden Route for now and enter Eastern Cape province. Our accommodation for the next two nights is Gerald’s Gift Guest House in Addo.
Another gem and highly recommendable and, bonus, within a short drive of the NP. But let’s leave that for tomorrow, first up a refreshing swim, garden stroll, lovely dinner, some mingling with the other guests, enjoy the sunset and a good night’s rest (after husband took care of the two giant spiders in the room)
Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa’s third largest reserve and malaria free, is of the ‘self-drive’ principle, though if you pay some extra you can opt for having a trained guide accompanying you in the car. You can try to spot the Big Five there, Big Seven if you include the Southern Right Whale and the Great White Shark at the Indian Ocean coastal belt. Though, as the name suggests, the reserve is most known for the herds of elephants. When the Park started, in 1931, there were only 11 of them, now there are over 600 of these giants! Best place to spot? Near a waterhole, though you will bump into them all over the park.
To spot lions (and/or leopards) it’s best to go early morning or evening (and take a guide with you). Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any.
In total we spent over six hours in the park, just to point out that there’s lots to explore and observe! Stay safe at all time and follow the park’s well-indicated routes and guidelines. Keep distance unless of course some animals choose to observe YOU more closely. The park also offers some hiking trails and picnicking areas.
We had far encounters with elephants and some scary close ones too…
We saw an abundance of zebras showing all hair styles and can confirm they do justice to their name as we often had to stop the car (and enjoy the view) as they were blocking the road…
We saw warthogs and buffalos, wilde- and hartebeest, ostriches, all kinds of birds, and lots and lots of other wildlife.
The park consists out of five different biomes, different ecological areas (like for example fynbos, forest, karoo…) each defined by their typical plants and animals. So many biomes combined in one park is rather unique and offers you as a visitor a great diversity. And, of course, a chance to observe the largest land mammal on our planet in its natural habitat is a wonderful experience.
Join me next time, in the SA series, when we’ll continue our trip and head to Oudtshoorn.
Our most recent staycation trip brought us to Limburg province, Flanders’ green lung and home of Belgium’s only National Park. National Park Hoge Kempen has six access points, each highlighting another aspect of this landscape which had a gigantic transformation after its coal mining past.
Connecterra, the park’s main gateway offers multiple hiking trails and stunning views. Whether climbing up the stairs of the head frame up to a height of 12 meters or to the top of the ‘terrils’ stone heap, it’s here that the mining history and how it effected land and environment can be best felt.
We stayed two nights in MOMO, a lovely interbellum villa in Lanklaar, listed building, and restored keeping as much of the original characteristics as possible.
The owners also have a restaurant Au Nom de Dieu, within walking distance which we can highly recommend. If you stay in MOMO you can also opt for breakfast here. Or, alternatively, you can head to Two Oh Five, The Bakery by Panerex for a full breakfast or brunch experience.
On our second day we explored the NP through gateway ‘Mechelse Heide’ again offering a diverse range of hikes this time through forests, heathlands (blooming in August and September) and longtime abandoned pits.
On our last day, before heading home, we made a quick stop and stroll in Bokrijk with the awarded ‘cycling through water‘ path and nature domain ‘Vallei van de Zwarte Beek‘ in Beringen. Those more into shopping can always head to Maasmechelen Village for some al fresco shopping fun.
With its 12000ha and 220 km of hiking trails NP Hoge Kempen was our main destination during this trip, however region has plenty more on offer for nature lovers.
Little throwback to latest weekend trip where we, that is my friend Kathleen and I, explored the so-called ‘Antwerpse Kempen’, a large natural region roughly situated east of Antwerp, where picturesque towns with monumental abbeys are embedded in a land dominated by forests, wetlands, heath and sandy grounds.
We started our trip at the Norbertine abbey of Tongerlo (which confusingly lies in Westerlo). You can visit abbey and courtyard and/or do the ‘Lindendreef’ hike which is about 2km and takes you around the abbey’s walls. For lunch or diner you can head to opposite Torenhof and the adjacent ice cream and bakery shop explains the always happy buzz at ‘lekwei’ ( or in English ‘lick meadow’ cause that’s the inviting meadow where you enjoy the local yummy ice)
We stayed in B&B Welcome Home in neighbouring Eindhout and that name says it all. The home of Stijn & Stijn breathes that welcome cosy feeling. Rooms are spacious and spotlessly clean, bathroom luxurious and the breakfast is to die for. Make sure you’re hungry before you put your feet under the table. We did a pre-breakfast hike so could enjoy to the fullest! There’s a lovely garden with cosy corners and some animals, so children would definitely enjoy it here too. Oooh and Sam, one of the two dogs is a very cooperative photo model!
The B&B is ideally located for hikers and nature lovers as immediate access to some lovely hiking trails.
We had lovely dinner in the Orangerie garden of Hotel Geerts in Westerlo and for lunch or mouthwatering desserts and ice creams head to Kasteel Kaneel. Desserts and hospitality are great and bonus points for the unique setting. More than approved! Upon arrangement with owners you can opt for lunch and/or dinner in b&b too.
On the second day, after our morning walk and copious breakfast, we drove to Averbode abbey. Another Norbertines abbey, founded in 1134, and lying at intersection of three Belgian provinces. The land surrounding the abbey belonged to the noble family of ‘de Merode’ and was later on sold to Natuurpunt (Belgian nature conservation organization). While visiting church and abbey grounds is worthwile our focus this weekend was breathing in nature. The ‘Bos en heide‘ or ‘heath and forest’ trail showcasts the region’s assets perfectly: dense forests open up in wide sandy and heath covered ( blooming in August) landscapes.
Well deserved treat and closure of the trip! Cheers, see you next time!