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!
No surprise to those who know me that I am always on the lookout for tips for trips close by that also satisfy my need to be in nature. With husband taking some time off work last week we embraced the whole ‘staycation’ mode we’re all in and explored some great hiking trails. So just tag along as we explore three of Flanders’ finest nature getaways.
1/ Hageland: Zoutleeuw – Het Vinne – Linter
Our first trip lead us to Hageland region in province of Flemish Brabant. After a quick lunch in Zoutleeuw we explored provincial domain Het Vinne, home of the largest (and only) natural inland lake in Flanders. Though at the moment no water to be seen as the lake has been drained for remediation works of the soil. Water or not, to my opinion, absolutely still worth the visit! There are five marked nature walks to explore, with great vistas, a lookout tower and bird watching huts. After the walk don’t forget to reward yourself at the domain’s cafe.
Before heading home we stopped in Linter where you can find the stunning ‘Helixagon’ by Frederik Vaes. Inspired by nature and the honeycomb shape it’s an art sculpture that offers a unique perspective on the surroundings, so do climb in and enjoy!
If you are still in hiking mode, opt for the ‘Linterse walk’ a loop walk in the valley of the Large Gete river and for a sweet treat do head to ‘Het Melksalon’ for some pie or refreshing ice cream! Tested and more than approved!
2/ Flemish Ardennes: Zwalm – Brakel – ‘t Burreken
Our second trip brought us to Flemish Ardennes in East Flanders province and with the word Ardennes in it you know you’re up for hikes with a somewhat more challenging character. We explored nature domain ‘t Burreken, where Mother Nature opens up all registers: deep valleys and steep hills, formed by numerous streams. There’s a berry garden, showcasing over 40 inland and local berry varieties. The lush area is home to the fire salamander, also the name of one of the two hiking trails. With the day we visited one of thé hottest this year, we only did a tiny exploring hike and promised ourselves to come back and discover the domain later this year.
We found a lovely lunch spot at ‘Moeder Agnes‘ in Brakel and with renewed energy explored the region some more on the so-called Mine Workers trail.
If you’re a cyclist fan, you can head to the nearby ‘Wall’ of Geraardsbergen: a 1075m steep cobblestoned classic in Flemish (and beyond) cycling and for the more cultural orientated there’s a poetry along the Wall.
3/ Vlaams Brabant: Tervuren – Vossem
For third and final hike in this post we’re back in Flemish Brabant province, this time exploring Tervuren area. Tervuren is known for its Royal Museum for Central Africa and the adjacent parc were we usually take the Warande trail. Broadening our horizon we opted for another path, the Voer trail and were not disappointed. The first part follows the meandering Voer stream and second part opens up in agricultural fields and hills with lovely vistas.
For refreshing local beers, head to ‘In den Congo’, a cafe with outside seating in church’s (12th century) shadow.
So, whether die-hard or ‘easy-does-it’ kind of hiker (I’m the latter btw if you’re curious) hope the above gives you some inspiration on where to walk when in Flanders. Join me next time?
(Note: this trip was made just before Covid-19 travel restrictions)
Let’s pick up where we left: leaving Tergniet and Mosselbaai the next destination on our South African Garden Route trip was hip and trendy Plettenberg Bay, or Plett (as said by those hip and trendy).
When doing a roadtrip though, the driving to your destination is half the fun. The road we took from Tergniet to Plett (N2) lead us via Herolds Bay to Wilderness and yes, the name says it all. When passing through, do not miss the ‘Map of Africa’ viewpoint and ‘Kaaimans River Railway Bridge’. The bridge crosses the mouth of the Kaaimans river and when it was built, in 1952, it was the very first curved bridge in SA. However, Kaaimans River is known for something truly unique: as the river winds and wends its way through this land, it makes the unmistakable outline of the African continent around the foot of the hill. You can only really appreciate this wonderful twist of nature when viewing bird’s eye perspective, so, when nearby, do not skip this lookout point. If you need a coffee stop head to ‘Green Shed Coffee Roastery’ for excellent coffees and lunch or brunch treats.
‘In the backwoods of nature’s soul, I left my wild true heart‘
Just down the road is a KWIKSPAR where you can stock up on beverages and snacks and they have a wonderful small breakfast corner with (according to hubby Bert) sublime Lavazza coffee.
Visiting this region, hiking the Robberg Peninsula (or part of it) is not to be missed. This nature reserve and marine protected area offers great ocean views and, in season, whale watching opportunities.
Always make new friends when travelling…
Plettenberg area has plenty of beaches and nature on offer, one of the main reasons why we, ourselves, preferred it to nearby Knysna, which is slightly more touristic; though I am aware that’s a very personal thing. Just combine the two to have best of both worlds! Both towns also have an abundance of shopping and restaurant facilities so either one of them is surely an excellent choice.
We spent most of our evenings with a cocktail in hand by the beach and if you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll fancy yourself on the ‘Baywatch’ set, with local coastal rescue team having practice.
We loved the beautifully located Bramon Wine Estate where we enjoyed a Valentine lunch with lovely accompanying wine. The estate overlooks the Tsitsikamma Mountains and you can even spot some elephants. The restaurant offers some fine (and vine, ’cause litterally in the vines) tapas-style dining and award winning wines. Their emphasis is on freshness and flavour and the location makes their story and picture complete. The Plettenberg wine route is definitely worth discovering! (and an alternative if you don’t have time to visit that other wine region Stellenbosch-Paarl-Franschhoek)
Now that we are talking food and drinks, as for restaurants, we can highly recommend ‘The Fat Fish’ with predominantly seafood based menu and ‘Barrington’s’. Barrington’s is home to the first Craft Brewery situated within Plettenberg Bay, as well as a magnificent kitchen garden, restaurant, bar and small hotel. And go to ‘Mobys’ to enjoy a relaxing lunch or dinner with ocean view.
In a shopping or souvenir hunting mood? Head to City’s downtown centre and Main Street, the Market Square Shopping centre or Old Nick Village for the more creative and eclectic shops. (And if that’s not enough you can always head to Knysna city centre and Thesen Island). If all that shopping makes you hungry or thirsty we can recommend ‘Café Pure’ in Plett Main St with its healthy breakfasts and lunches (We went twice, because there is just too much yummy food to order when only going once)
Time for some monkey business as we’re heading to local Monkeyland. It is the world’s first free-roaming multi-species primate sanctuary. Its overall mission is to educate and foster larger understanding of our primate (cheeky) cousins and the threats and challenges they’re facing.
At Monkeyland you can enjoy a guided tour of the hidden forest during a a monkey safari on foot which allows you to spot, photograph and/or observe the various species of primates that call the sanctuary their home, such as capuchin monkeys, ringtail and black-and-white ruffed lemurs, buff-cheeked gibbons, squirrel monkeys and black howler monkeys.
If you want some additional wildlife experience you can also combine this with neighbouring Birds of Eden sanctuary.
I believe it’s fair to say Plett has it all: beaches, forests, vineyards, plenty of recreational activities, shops, restaurants, etc…they all contribute to that ‘Plett Feeling’.
‘Die son trek water’
(the sun turning to water, meaning it’s getting late)
Did YOU get it? That Plett Feeling? Hope you’ll join me next time as our route continues to Addo Elephant Park.
…yes, there are still certainties in life! In this locked world, the door to nature remains wide open, whether it’s sticking your nose into the growing herbs on your own balcony or exploring the wildlife in a local park.
You come and go, you come and go
Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams
Red, gold, andgreen
(lyrics Karma Chameleon – Culture Club)
Putting all senses on focus will help to pick up the latest birdie twitters on thé pop-up event of the year, called Spring.
No event is complete without a colourful decor…
…or attendees in fluffy outfits, searching for snacks and, yes, well, some a little overdressed…
Pretty crowded pool party at times, with Egyptian goose, moor hens and the mallard ducks all having babies!
Want to attend a similar event? Just step outside and take a local nature hike. Use this time to explore your ‘close-to-home-world’ and above all:
Live life in bloom!
Hope you enjoyed this Spring pop-up!
Next time some day-trip inspiration, close to home (as I don’t see us travelling soon just yet) and, of course, there’s also SA’s Garden route to continue further, so stay tuned and keep inspired!
(All photos taken at Solhof or de Reukens in Aartselaar, Belgium)
The drive from CPT is around 400 km and many interesting stops are possible along the route. We took a coffee and sweets break (Trends Cafe) in charming Riversdal and had a late lunch in Mosselbaai at trendy Blue Shed Coffee Roastery…
Lovely seaside and beach walks were in very short distance and together with a glass of local wine and some snacks on our outside porch thé perfect way to end first day of our stay here.
Day two and time for some action and see some wildlife.
Reason for choosing Tergniet was actually its proximity to Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. Alternatively you can also opt for a luxurious stay inside the reserve and enjoy its spa facilities, but Tergniet was only a 20’ drive and for us a more budget-friendly option. (Though must say pricing seemed reasonably fair compared to other game reserves)
The 4500 hectare reserve is home to four of the big five (no leopards) and offers a wide range of activities, also for day visitors like us. We opted for a 3 hour guided game drive, where guide Silas safely drove us around and gave lots of intel on the local wildlife.
Sadly no lions showed up that day, but we saw plenty of zebras, giraffes, elephants, springbok (one of SA’s national symbols), the rare black impala etc…… ( there are about 26 different species to spot and over 200 resident bird species).
Had booked a picnic after the drive, which was served on the border of the inner lake, with comfy seating and great views the perfect spot to relax and kill the appetite.
Sleeping outside the domain has its advantages, like in daytime safari-feel, night-time ocean-feel…best of both worlds!
Time to continue this roadtrip! Next stop on our Garden Route discovery will be Plettenberg Bay. So keep an eye out for the next posts! See you then, and in the meantime: stay home, stay safe and above all, stay dreaming!
Recreational domain De Schorre is inevitably linked to Tomorrowland… however, when madness and beats fade, the original function of the area returns: a lush green site where hikers, children, day tourists and locals can exhale and enjoy nature. The 75ha park is also often used for recreational or sportive events. Since last edition of TML some mythical creatures made the domain forest their home: at the request of the festival the Danish artist Thomas Dambo has brought seven giant trolls to life and this using recycled materials.
Together with my friend Kathleen I had a wonderful stroll in the forest, on the hunt for these friendly giants. Ask for a map at the domain’s information point. They are happy to point out the secret locations of the mythical residents, or just let the trail surprise you and discover at own pace…
Located in a former clay pit, the area is now a green oasis of peace and quiet.
With his unique creations the artist hopes to inspire people around the world to recycle and carry our precious planet and nature in their hearts.
Leaving the domain and heading for our on site lunch spot we got treated to yummy surprise gift and totally in line with the green environment: thé most delicious apple tarts, made by local bakery ‘Den oude kneeder’
The art of living a happy, balanced life…they should teach fulltime classes in it…I bet Pascale Naessens would pass all of them with flying colours. For those abroad where the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, she’s the best selling culinairy author in Belgium and for many years has been on a crusade to promote a simple pure lifestyle. Next to pure, simple ingredients and healthy living she’s a passionate ceramics artist, furniture and kitchenware designer and extremely keen on anything outdoors. For almost a year she had set her mind on throwing a huge garden party where all her passions would merge and could inspire others. Partnering up with selected like-minded partners and brands past weekend Kappelen’s Wolvenbos was the perfect green stage to host Pascale & Guests…
together with my friend Kathleen we immersed ourselves in the world according to Pascale…both chronic pain patients we both know how important it is to maintain a healthy body and mindset. We had every fibre, pore, and all our senses open to absorbe the good life…hope below photos give proof we did to the fullest!
Lots of workshops could be followed, some needed pre-registration, some were free accessible like this ceramics try-out…had to post Kathleen’s work of art, mine was a disaster ;-)))
Throughout terrain plenty of cosy corners to relax, follow interesting lectures, have a healthy snack or drink,…
Hoogstraten Belgian tomatoes
Self organic beauty brand
Feeling hungry, time for apero and snack
Stands were implemented into domain with respect for existing green structures and great eye for detail and host and her husband took time to have a chat…
…and if you felt an afternoon nap was necessary after all that fresh outdoor air, nothing beats a Velda bed in open forest, right?!
Biggest wow to us was the ‘Secret Garden’ area, stage for the yoga classes and more zen and nature inspired sessions…we had a relaxing treat in the Rituals corner where hammocks and skilled hostesses awaited us…
Need I say more? We had the most wonderful day and returned home with a big outer and inner smile!
These first days of the brand new year hold lots of hope and promises and looking forward, we can’t help looking back: to remember what’s worth remembering and to quickly dismiss what’s worth forgetting.
Join me on this little 2018 retrospective:
‘The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come’
Similar to nature, the hibernating months…also ‘let’s quickly forget’ months with lots of hospital visits, insecurity on the thyroid matter and ongoing back-related problems. Fast forward, shall we?!
Comes Spring, comes joy…and midweek breaks! We, that is husband and me, visited cosy Maastricht in the Netherlands and vibrant London and in own garden colourful bluebells reign
Refuelled we kept chasing sunshine with a trip to Belgian seaside, local food festivals and wonderful Valletta, European cultural capital 2018, on the island of Malta.
Returning from Malta brought feet quickly back onto the ground: in full Summer mode my inner cruise control broke down and some weird health issues (on top of the existing back problems) surfaced.
Only a short birthday trip to Utrecht, Netherlands, and a lot of trips to doctor’s office.
Son Nick went to Madrid with srps.me and had his wallet stolen on last day, drama, drama, though still mr cool guy here
Approching end of August, and luckily feeling a bit better again, in own country, sun was still spreading glorious warmth though the various tasting festivals at wine estates, and the daily growing in size of our own home grapes gently suggested Autumn was on it’s way.
And house cat Wiskie closely watches them shift colour…or not…those afternoon naps are important too, right?!
Together with shooting partner-in-crime Eddy I explored Tervuren…
…and joined EffenWeg on some inspiring nature walks.
Again most trips were to and from hospital, pain at full force peaking-level.
Had to check calendar, but had one (wow!) sort or less doable weekend/week in those two months, and we used that to explore Flanders Westhoek while staying at marvellous B&B ‘Ons Content’ and another shooting trip with Eddy…when I’m more or less well, or at least something that comes close to that definition in my book, it’s all about making the very best of those little getaways!.
Short getaway nature break to Luxemburg’s inspiring Müllerthal. The below photo might seem idyllic and as far as surroundings and company it was of course but with balance and vision letting me down walking took a lot of effort and often needed a walking stick, fortunately branches à volonté in the woods 😉
Back home finally some answers on the health issues: got MS diagnosis and immediate start-up of the medication to prevent further deterioration.
‘Everything has changed and yet I am more me than I have ever been’
And now what?
…We’ll set course for the good life and navigate around the obstacles as best as possible
no fixed plans yet this year holiday-wise, so all options are open, except for a fun and kinda last-minute trip coming up very very soon (read Febr): hubby and myself will be spending some time in Doha, Qatar, together with my aunt and uncle we’ll be visiting my nephew (their son) who lives there, so that will be a family reunion embraced by loved ones and warmth of the sun, the best kind!