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!
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!
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.
With travel plans cancelled worldwide we turn to what’s right under our nose to re-discover what’s familiar, or at least thought was familiar…close to home destinations will be extremely hot (and probably our only option) this Summer. Come (re)join me on the short visit to Kortrijk we made last year.
Are you living outside Belgium? Then Bruges is probably the first city that comes to mind when thinking of Belgian West Flanders province, right? May this post give you some inspiration on other interesting places in Flanders to discover once we all get the ‘travel go ahead’ again.
Kortrijk (Courtrai) is West Flanders’ second largest city, after Bruges, and just like its big brother knew great wealth in the Middle Ages. The eye-catching Broeltorens are reminders of the medieval defensive structure and offer great photo opportunities.
A river runs through it, being the ‘Leie’. Over the past years it was widened and straightened in order to make it more navigable for larger ships. This gave the city a major facelift as the wider river also came with new bridges, lower banks, walkpaths and park areas and even a little beach in Summer months.
Below the area around city college with the College footbridge and K-tower housing complex.
Kortrijk inspires and innovates, and rightfully earned the title of ‘Unesco Creative City’ (design). Art centre Buda offers a platform for a varity of artists and designers and just walking through city streets already gives a hint of the city’s contemporary character.
I personally liked the quotes and graphic designs in city centre part of the playful ‘here to there’ art installation. And I know spitting is a big NO these days, but hey, don’t we all hope for the best?!
Summer usually brings a lovely terrace just next to ‘Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk’…
…where churches bring us to the peaceful Unesco-heritage beguinage site which dates back to the 13th century. Restoring the housing facilities and renovation of the site as a whole started in 1984 and will be completed by 2021.
So next time West Flanders is on your radar, do take time to visit Kortrijk. If you’re looking for a place to stay, can recommend B&B OYO, just outside city centre, but still in walking distance, and near train station. Of course, Belgium would not be Belgium: lots of restaurants and bars, just ask and your hosts will guide you to the best places in town!
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!
We just returned from our South African roadtrip and already a lot of you, through my IG acount or personally, asked me about the places we stayed at.
So before starting sharing some of our favourite photos and stories a quick overview of the route we followed and places we stayed at.
First things first, I was lucky to win 2 return tickets to South Africa through an IG-challenge I entered last year. (Contest #beinsouthafrica @meetsouthafrica @divimovenl that was only open to Belgian residents). South Africa had always been on our bucket list, more later than soon; winning the tickets was of course like a gift from heaven and no excuse anymore to postpone our plans.
With only limited travel days this year, we had to choose our route wisely. Based upon the shortlist of things we absolutely wanted to do and see, I planned out a route and started my search on Airbnb and Booking.com for suitable accomodation for the two of us.
Route: Cape Town 4n / Tergniet 2n / Plettenberg Bay 3n / Addo 2n / Oudtshoorn 2n / Franschoek 2n / return to Cape Town International
Accomodations: of the six places we stayed at, five were found through Airbnb, and one through Booking.com. All gems in their own unique way, we fellt at home in each and every one of them and were always warmly welcomed.
1/ Airbnb Trendy Loft Apartment Cape Town, De Waterkant, contact Luigi
Perfect location, view on Table Mountain, spacious, lovely trendy interior, shower and separate bath. All that CPT has to offer on foot or short Uber-ride distance.
2/ Airbnb C-the-C, Tergniet, contact Diana
We chose this apartment on ground level of private home (though completely separated and with private entrace) for its proximity to Botlierskop Private Game reserve and the ocean. The owners have a lovely eye for detail and decoration and the outdoor terrace just invites you out to hear the waves crashing, enjoying the last sunrays of the day while sipping from a lovely local wine. Beach and ocean for a romantic sunset stroll easily reachable by foot (or car) Perfect address to exhale!
3/ Airbnb Park House Forest Suite, Plett Bay, contact Paul
What a true find this one was! Doesn’t get much more perfect than this: in both private and shared spaces (kitchen, swimming pool, lounges) you could feel and see the owner’s (who live next door) passion for interior design. the house could easily feature in a magazine and yet, still felt very cosy. oh, and our room even came with a private outdoor shower! Plett offers an excellent starting point to explore all the lovely nature reserves in the neighbourhood and some excellent restaurants too. We, personnaly preferred it to busier Knysna.
4/ Gerald’s Gift Guest House, Addo, Booking.com
Offers multiple rooms, included breakfast and even on site dining, so if you want to just put feet up after exploring Addo Elephant Park the whole day, and mingle wth the other guests, search no more! Lovely garden to stroll in and of course also a swimming pool.
5/ Airbnb Karoo Country Style Guest Suite, Oudtshoorn, contact Sharon
Another gem if you are looking for an apartement with homely feel. Very spacious, again spotlessly clean, lovely outdoor seating porch and terrace and large pool and comfy chairs. If you love reading, you’ll appreciate all the lovely books on various topics in the hallway. Kitchen has everything you need to prepare a quick meal, though plenty of great restaurants, ask Sharon and she will help you make a choice and/or booking.
The estate comes with million dollar views. As for accomodation, again very spacious, clean kitchen with filled fridge to provide for breakfast, etc…and lovely outdoor seating areas to enjoy that view. Indoors some tiny points of attention could easily lift this to the same level as the view. ( Was not a fan of rather old-fashioned and noisy airco and living area has floor mats with curled up ends, which for someone like me who has to take care not to trip are not that great, but am sure if we would have asked housekeeper she would have rolled and stored them)
Last but not least some facts and numbers:
We flew Lufthansa. The 11and a half hour flight out of Germany was, no sugarcoating it, true hell for me as major back pain sufferer, even with the pain medication and muscle tranquilizers and downloaded Netflix to distract.
We hired a rental car through Sunny Their service in general never disappoints.
We spent 15 nights at an average of EUR 78/night and drove aprox. 1600 km, that is solely the above tour, without excursions, I guess grand total it was almost 3000km. All accomodations had secured, on site parking facilities.
In retrospective, would I change something? To the accomodations? No. Would however, if we had had more time, spent an additional third night at the last two stops. In overall this tour gave us what we expected and for us, as first time Africa travellers, a taste to verify if, like the cliché says, Africa gets under your skin…and yep, it did, does, 100% affirmative, so hope in my lifetime to discover some more of what this continent has to offer!
Join me next time when we start off our trip in vibrant Cape Town
Yesterday, 22nd of September, was car free Sunday: a (mostly) sun drenched day were streets in city centres throughout Flanders and Brussels were cleared and cars were banned. We decided to visit nearby Mechelen, where innovation goes hand in hand with the sustainable development goals and targets for a better and more liveable future.
As all exploring requires some starter fuel, first stop: the newly opened neighbourhood cafe Grá
Where ‘Grote Markt’ was the place to be for cultural info and activities, ‘Bruul’ showcased police force’s horsepower and ‘Ijzerenleen’ was stage for sportive demonstrations…
Vismarkt and local pub ‘t Ankertje are always a welcome stop if you need to re-fuel again…
And if your energy tank is really low you can always head to the De Vleeshalle food court that opened this year…
Being in the neighbourhood, the Lamot centre housed the Joker Africa travel event that day, and as we will be visiting Western Cape next year, thé place and time to gather some useful info and tips.
And of course, historical buildings à volonté in city centre…
Events like these (mobility, cultural activities, citizen interaction, etc…) fit perfectly into where city sees itself by 2030, comitting to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.