Entries Tagged as 'Belgium'

The lesser known side of Belgium


Belgium

We’ve come up with a brief guide to the less talked about locations of Belgium. Most people are familiar with the major cities of the country like Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi and Bruges but there’s so much more to Belgium than that. Backpackers and almost anyone who’s spent time in Belgium will recommend you try out some of the less publicised locations.

As the summer heat lingers you’ll notice the crowds around the major attractions such as Brussels’ Grand Place tend to become somewhat of a tourist trap. Part of the attraction of Belgium is the atmosphere, how the locale can make you feel – it’s hard to build a real connection and make lasting evocative memories if your sweaty and bustling for elbow space to take a simple snapshot. So step off the beaten track – get your beer, chocolate and waffles elsewhere; Belgium has far more to offer!

Mechelen

This city is fairly central in Belgium, if you intend to see as much of the country as possible during your stay (and why wouldn’t you?) it would be a good idea to choose Mechelen for your accommodation. The area has been a site of civilisation since the age of Romans and one of it’s most notable features the Cathedral of St Rumbold dates back to the 13th Century. So if you’re hoping to find a hotel with a decent view of the city you shouldn’t be hard pressed, as with a lot of Belgium there are some fantastic examples of architecture to get you up in the morning ready to seek out more. There are over 300 listed heritage buildings in this small city alone.

Mechelen is a great city to visit for its atmosphere. Students of its Carillon School are often practicing bell ringing they also hold weekly one hour concerts. It is home to one of the oldest breweries in Belgium; Het Anker where Mechelsen Bruynen is made a beer said to be favoured by Charles V. The shops are spaced between cafes allowing you to while away your evenings in the dying sun sipping local beer listening to ringing bells in the distance.

Belgium

Each Saturday in Mechelen an open market is held, allowing you to buy local produce. At the end of August Maanrock a free music festival is to be held. This starts late in the day with DJs spinning from dusk till dawn on multiple stages. For a quieter time boat tours of the city are by far the most relaxing way to see the city and they only cost around €6. Mechelen is just a 25 minute train journey to Antwerp and Brussels so even using public transport you’ll be able to efficiently get around Belgium.

Spa

A favourite for some, if you’ve spent the summer in the sun then where better to rejuvenate your skin than the birthplace of all modern spas? This small town was originally host to royal clientele after Henry VIII attested to the curative powers of the natural springs just outside of Lieges.

Spa is famed for its waters and if you can’t wait to get there then you can buy bottles of it here in the UK. There are around 200 springs in the area, whilst we can’t assure you of their restorative nature the journey and environment will certainly do wonders for your soul.

The facilities available in Spa vary from the deluxe centres to more wallet friendly packages. They even have a mother-baby institute if you feel able to travel, they take children up to 6 months old for both parents and babies to get some cleansing relaxation in.

For a completely different experience of Spa this year’s Belgian Grand Prix will be racing in the small forest town late this August. You may also wish to visit the Casino at spa which could offer a bit of excitement in a place geared more towards relaxation.

Belgium

Namur

An hour journey from Brussels, Namur is well worth the journey. This once well fortified town may no longer have the strategic importance it once had but for tourists it is still a bastion of intrigue.

Namur is situated on the Meuse River, it’s battlements date back to the 13th century but originally it held one of the great European Citadels of the ancient world. The battlements are now open to the public and so don’t miss out on the chance to be afforded some of the best views in Belgium.

Namur boasts some great historical architecture and public art as well. Though the weather should still be with any holiday-makers you shouldn’t forgo the museums particularly the Museum of Ancient Art. This displays some truly breath-taking pieces including medieval stained-glass windows, baptismal fonts, textile and armour. Namur also has works from the renaissance period and the 19th Century a museum dedicated to Felicien Rops, contemporary of Baudelaire, who’s influences on the art world are not fully recognised.

There’s lots more to Belgium that we have yet to cover, but you can always go exploring for yourself with P&O Ferries!

Image Credit: Niels Broekzitter , Stephane Mignon , photophilde

Take a trip to Belgium this Easter with P&O Ferries


Zeebrugge

Fancy an Easter break to Belgium this year? You could do far worse than heading to the heart of chocolate on earth to boost your spirits and have a fun get away while the last of winter is gusted away for the onset of spring and summer 2015.

P&O Ferries’ Hull to Zeebrugge service will drop you off on the sandy beaches of Belgium, to be best enjoyed when the weather is on your side of course. You will, however, only be a short distance from to the historic town of Bruges, a great centre for sight seeing and slightly more sheltered activities if winter decides to linger.

There are events aplenty in Belgium this April and May, whether you’re after a cultural tour, looking to party or plotting a weekend at one of the many beer festivals we are sure you’ll find something to make your holiday perfect.

Tournai celebrates easter each Good Friday by hosting their annual Flower Market. A tradition dating back to 1825, Tournai wakes up early as the stalls open at 6AM. The town’s close proximity to France draws a large diverse crowd of horticulturalists who put on spectacular displays. If you are interested in finding out about new species of plants for your summer garden you’re sure to pick up some interesting tips.

Should your accommodation be self catering you can also buy some fresh produce for your evening meal. The Tournai Flower Market erupts in to sound at 4PM as the Municipal Wind Band of Tournai’s Fire Brigade play a concert for the crowd.

Royal Greenhouses in Laeken

For a short period each year the Royal Greenhouses in Laeken are open to the public. In 2015 they will welcoming visitors from April 18th to May 9th. We highly suggest a trip to Laeken if you are in Belgium over this period. The gardens are an institution and landmark of the country, designed for King Leopold II in 1873. This period was a renaissance for greenhouses, as explorers pioneered across the globe searching out exciting and exotic species to bring back home for sizeable fees.

Laeken’s greenhouses have a lot more to offer than your standard flower show. They were originally plotted to be an orangery but now there is a great variety of fruit bearing trees as well as show pieces and endangered species. The greenhouse itself is one of the largest of its kind, and one of the oldest too. As styles have come and gone over the years a lasting imprint has been left at Laeken, you can see the influences from classical to modern in the royal greenhouses’ multitude of sculptures and diaspora of architecture.

Technically beer festival season never really ends in Belgium. It’s favourable to attend during the warmer months though; since a beer garden in the sun is a terrible thing to waste. Throughout April and May there are plenty of outstanding tastings to go to starting with the Great Belgian Beer Dinner on April 23rd. This takes place in Grote Huidevettershoek in the heart of Ghent. Not just aisles of beer vendors you get a sit down meal to help you maintain stamina whilst sampling the finest beers Belgium has to offer.

Next comes the aptly named Night of Great Thirst just two days later on April 25th in Eizeringen just west of Brussels. This event is held once every two years so if you’d rather not wait for 2017 then book now! It all kicks off at 7PM and attendance is free. The purpose of the festival is to spread awareness for all the locally brewed ales of Belgium and get you to sample a few of their distant relatives so there’s plenty of foreign beers on tap too. This Night of Great Thirst marks the tenth year since the festivals founding, they are encouraging peoples international support for beers so bring a flag to help represent your country. If you need anything else to tempt you there will be a free shuttle from the local train station. For more information Click Here

beer festival season

Also celebrating its tenth year is the return of Toer de Geuze on Sunday May 3rd. Geuze is a lambic beer (a blend of younger and older brews). Producers of this famous blend open their doors and invite you on tours which show how it all works behind the scenes, with many a tasting to be had on the way. This isn’t a one stop shop there many breweries to be seen so consider it an orienteering exercise, except finding your way will be easy, you can take your own transport, if you wish, and at each stop there will be someone serving beverages. Sounds grand doesn’t it?

For the Woodstock of beer festivals you’ll want to head towards Leuven, east of Brussels. in Brabanthal, Leuven on the last weekend of April the titan that is the Zythos Beer Festival will be taking place. This event boasts an attendance of over 100 different Belgian breweries proffering an astounding five different different varieties of beer and attendance costs a token 1 Euro. Essentially if getting to Belgium for a foamy weekend is on the cards this is the event to go to. Zythos opens on Saturday at midday and you can take your fill until 11PM then, if you’re up to it, it all starts again on Sunday 26th from 11AM to 9PM.

As previously stated there are beer festivals a plenty in Belgium 2015 we’ll update you later in the year for all the other festivals coming this summer.

P&O Ferries run an overnight service from Hull to Zeebrugge, book now for your Easter break to Belgium

Image Credit: Andre Mouraux , Ajuntament de Vilanova i la Geltrú , (vincent desjardins)

Looking to the New Year in Belgium


Grand Place, Brussels

Christmas may still be yet to come but soon it will be 2015! P&O Ferries takes a look at all that you can get up to bringing in the New Year in Brussels and what not to miss if you find yourself taking the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge in 2015.

If you are planning to ring in the new year with a bit of excitement then why not travel to the continent and live it up for one night only in Brussels? The Grand-Place is the place to be – book ahead and don’t get waylaid by the crowds. A big countdown clock is projected on the Place de Brouckere starting at 6PM to start it all off so get there early and pace yourself!

The midnight fireworks will be fired off from Mont des Arts if the crowds at the main hubs (Grand-Place and Bourse) then at least you’ll know which way to be facing. New Year’s always brings high hopes and to avoid having them dashed plan your journey out. The metro and street cars will be available until 2AM and there’s a night bus service from midnight to 5AM so make sure you get back safe.

If you are focussing on Christmas for the time being then you can celebrate in Antwerp. Their Christmas Market stays open until 15th January 2015, you could miss the big day entirely and still manage get in to the spirit in Belgium. The opening part for the Antwerp Market is on Saturday 6th December and you’ll be able to look for festive fun at Groenplaats, Handschoenmarks, Grote Markt and Suikerrui.

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Beginning late January and open until May 17th 2015 the Museum des Beaux-Arts in Mons will be home to an in depth collection of Van Gogh works, letters and sketches. Normally we would recommend a trip to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam but the Mons museum is being loaned an amazing selection of correspondences between Vincent and his brother Theo, some of which hint at the life he might lead as an artist.

The exhibition is called Van Gogh in the Borinage, the Birth of an Artist.

One of Belgium’s main pleasures for winter tourism is the setting itself. As a relatively small country it is steeped in a historical heritage that so well preserved the major cities themselves are immersive to the casual wanderer. We have spoken before the beauty of cities like Bruges in the winter. The winding avenues and canal network perfect for a brisk winter walk only to be topped off in a cafe with a locally brewed ale. Bruges is home to many world heritage sites, a guide book and a sense of adventure will be the making of your trip. Real joy can be found discovering the small churches with long histories. The city itself is postcard like from wherever you choose to cast your eyes adrift.

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The port city Zeebrugge, where your P&O ferry will land mostly comes to life during the summer when the fish markets are in full swing and the beaches drawn in crowds. For winter travellers though this is the ideal opportunity to see the bones the of the city. Travel the roads that the summer crowds love and Belgium in the heart of winter. It’s a thoughtful time of year, a time to spend with the ones you love the most. Cities like Zeebrugge can draw people together because there’s less of the bustle.

P&O Ferries offer a 2 person return deal with a car from Hull to Zeebrugge, Belgium with an ensuite cabin for just £149!

Image credit: Steven Zucker , Katherine , Wolfgang Staudt

Autumn events in Belgium with P&O Ferries


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There are some fantastic events lined up for those of you interested in taking a P&O Ferry to Belgium this autumn and winter. The ferry will take you from Hull to Zeebrugge in an overnight voyage and you can choose between standard and premier cabins. The ferry to Zeebrugge is a plush ride with bars and a casino if you want to start your holiday off with a bit of easy living. Alternatively P&O Ferries offer multiple dining experiences if so you can choose between a 3 course meal and something a bit simpler.

This October marks the third edition of the Belgian Beer Challenge which this year is to be hosted in Leuven. Before any of you start polishing your luck tankards this competition is for breweries it’s not an international drinking competition. Over 750 beers from breweries around the globe will be putting their suds to the test. This competition takes place between October 31st and 2nd November. Judgement of the beers falls to a panel of 60 internationally renowned beer connoisseurs (a hallowed position indeed) who at the end of the weekend will award medals for a variety of categories.

Leuven is an oft overlooked location given the renown of places such as Bruges and Brussels; but a beer capital nevertheless. It’s the site at which Hoegaarden is brewed, a worthy site for pilgrimage if ever there was one. For a comprehensive look at all the breweries available to see click here Biking tours are also available. Leuven is a mere 16 miles from the capital of Belgium so it would make it an excellent stopping point even if beer isn’t the entire purpose of your trip to Belgium.

One of the best things about the onset of colder weather is that it means Chistmas Markets. Liege upon the Meuse river is a little bit further in to the country but still well within driving distance of Zeebrugge where P&O ferries arrive in Belgium. The Christmas Market in Liege is one of the oldest and largest in Belgium.

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The market opens between 11AM-8PM remaining open for business up until midnight at weekends. Entry is free to visit the 200 stalls offering seasonal produce and Christmas ware. This year will have a Russian inference from special guest artisans. The skating rink takes pride of place, a wonderfully romantic idea if you are taking a weekend trip away with a partner. For the kids there even promises to be a puppet nativity.

If Liege’s Christmas Market opening in November is a bit too early for you to be feeling festive then wait until December and make your way to Mons. This place has been made well and truly tourist friendly after the World War I centenary. With the approach of Christmas the Mons will bear its ‘Snowy Heart’. It’s slightly smaller than the market at Liege with 50 stalls but there are always plenty of artisan decorated chalets with goods on offer and promises of the perfect gift for that person you never quite know what to get until you see it. It is more than just a market though there’s plenty of entertainment on offer as well. Live music from marching bands will be accompanied by juggling and stilt walkers as well as fire breathing.

If passing awe isn’t enough for you and you want to get a bit active there will also be an ice skating rink at the heart of it all a colossal 900 square metres which is a breathtaking view in itself with all the winter shoppers gliding about between purchases. If you are taking kids along then they should be pleased to know that Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas will also be there getting drawn along in a carriage.

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For a touch of winter wonderment you won’t want to miss the Feeries. A production being put on by the Royal Theatre of Mons. It is a musical event with ballet performances lots of glamorous costumes and rousing music early tickets can be booked for just 25 euro.

Running from mid-September to late December is a season of late night culture. Called Nocturnes, in Brussels where major institutions of learning, museums, galleries and exhibition halls are open until midnight. Last year records were set for the number of people who came to the 54 participating museums during Nocturnes. Brussels is a fantastic city to stroll through during winter, architecture compliments the cold setting making cosiness all the more fulfilling. However after a late dinner it would be a shame to return to your hotel or room and if you didn’t fancy whiling away the night in a bar then a museum certainly offers a novel alternative.

P&O Ferries offer a 2 person return deal with a car from Hull to Zeebrugge, Belgium with an ensuite cabin for just £149!

Image credit: george ruiz , Huhnerauge , glasseyes view

Holiday to Belgium this summer with P&O Ferries


waffles

Fancy a trip to Belgium this summer? P&O Ferries can get you and the family their with their Hull to Zeebrugge ferry. The cross channel ferry is decked out with plenty of entertainment, even a cinema and casino for you to really get in to the holiday spirit before landing at Belgium’s port city.

There’s plenty of exciting and interesting events on this summer in Belgium. It’s true the mussel season has just about come to a close but gastronomers will have plenty of traditional fare to keep themselves sated.

The chocolate industry of Brussels is world renowned, for information on chocolate holidays look here. As any true foodie would know Belgium is famed for it’s waffles and is the birthplace of French fries (mistakenly named by Tommies in World War I). So there really is little need to fear that the food won’t pass muster. To cap it all, Belgium boasts some of the finest beers with the oldest brewing traditions in Europe with it’s close proximity to the fine wines of France there’s little excuse not to keep spirits high.

This July is the annually anticipated BrewFest 2014, if you’re struggling to find information about the event it’s very simple – show up in Antwerp on July 5th and make your way to Adriaan Brouwerstraat. Essentially there’s going to be a huge street party complete with DJs live performances and it’s all to be catered by Belgium’s own authentic breweries.

Antwerp is just a short drive from the port in Zeebrugge where your ferry will make berth, one of the great conveniences of a holiday to Belgium is that it is such a compact country that that you can really see it all in just a short time. The more historic sites such as Bruges are deserving of more of your time but if you find yourself in Belgium this July then letting loose on the streets of Antwerp will definitely serve to liven your holiday up. Belgium isn’t all Gothic architecture and canals!

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As well as the centenary of World War I, 2014 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of the creator of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax. Who was born in Dinant a small city south of Brussels, it’s a remarkably scenic place resting on the River Meuse. You can actually visit Sax’s house if you find yourself down that way, there are hourly trains running from Brussels to Dinant.

To mark the anniversary of the saxophone, the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels is hosting an exhibition entitled SAX200. This will be a groundbreaking display, the largest public collection of saxophones will be open to the public with contributions from museums all across the world, London, Paris, Leipzig, Amsterdam, New York and more.

Adolphe Sax created various musical instruments as well as some medical tools as well – the display began this February and doesn’t close until January 2015. To book now click here.

One great way to fill an evening on your trip to Belgium is to take the ghost walk at La Roche the castle of Ardenne. You get fantastic walking tour of the castle and learn a bit about Belgian folklore.

Reported sightings of the ghost of Berthe, daughter of the Count of La Roche in the 10th-century are said to be prevalent during the summer months. La Roche is situated to the south of Belgium so if you find yourself that way prepare yourselves for a spooky evening.

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A Titanic Exhibition

A major attraction for British tourists in Belgium this year is the Titanic Artifact Exhibition. Which opens it’s doors on May 31st and runs through to the close of September 2014 at the Brussels Expo. Everyone is familiar with the story of the Titanic but this exhibition will really draw out your imagination. The cruise liner was the very pinnacle of early 20th century affluence, in a time before the world wars had left their scars across society.

Through rigorous preservation techniques and chemical restoration a large collection of rare and fragile artefacts are to be displayed. These vary from scented vials and porcelain to the machinery of the ship itself, cutting edge in it’s day when technology really began to take a turn for the modern.

You can book ahead for tickets, since queues are to be expected. Your tickets give you an allotted 30 minute window to enter the exhibition without having to line up, so make sure you are prompt. Family tickets cost 50€, 15,90€ for adults and 12,90€ for children, under 4 year olds get in free.

Since the exhibition is in Belgium the stories of the crew focus on the Belgians who were aboard. You’ll get to see the luxury of first class cabins compared with second and third. Mementos and forensics of the final hours of the ship should certainly prove sobering.

There’s also a lot of information about the recovery of these artefacts and the reconstruction and preservation of the ship. The effort that’s gone in to bringing this exhibition about itself is a thing to wonder at, given that the wreck was only rediscovered back in 1985 and many of the preservation techniques that are now common practise were not yet invented.

To finish this post we’d like to draw special attention to one of the WWI exhibitions in Belgium this summer. The FotoMuseum Antwerp: Shooting Range – since this war was the first war to be documented on film it’s unique as the earliest experimentation with photography. Cameras were used for strategic reconnaissance as well as propaganda and anti-war protest. This exhibition presents authentic original film with a contemporary lens so you grasp the full scope of the conflict as a turning point for man.

There’s plenty for you to discover in Belgium over the summer months, many more war services are being held, or you can take to the great out doors and visit the scenic towns such as Spa, the birthplace of fictional detective Poirot!

P&O Ferries offer a 2 person return deal with a car from Hull to Zeebrugge, Belgium with an ensuite cabin for just £149!

Image credit: iris, Don LaVange, Michael

What to do near Zeebrugge


zeebrugge

The weather will soon be turning in our favour and it’s time to start thinking about the first trips to the beaches. If you want to get away to somewhere relatively inexpensive and are willing to put off the tropical holiday until later in the year, then Belgium has plenty to offer for a mini-break.

P&O ferry’s Hull to Zeebrugge service will take you to the coast of Belgium where beach resorts are just beginning to get going for the year. Zeebrugge is bordered by Blankenberge to the west and Knokke-Heist to the east. Both are commonly overlooked destinations but have so much to offer a family looking to make the most out of half term break or just a long weekend. These towns are relatively small, if however you fancy something a little more classically Belgian – then Bruges is just a little ways over, down the N438.

Blankenberge

As well as numerous small hotels, chalets and cafes, many of which look out on to the sea, there is also a number of great places to take the kids for outings.

The latest batch penguin chicks at the National Marine Park Sea Life Centre of Blankenberge. This is a huge centre with over 50 aquariums and over 2500 oceanic creatures. There are feeding shows each hour and you can come face to face with everything from crabs and turtles to nurse sharks. To plan your trip visit their website Serpentarium. The number of terrariums has grown to 150 in the 15 years since this centre opened. You and the kids will have the chance to show just how brave you are and pet the snakes and reptiles there.

For a bit of adult time, or if you’re not taking children with you on your trip to Belgium then Blankenberge is also home to the Middelkerke Casino and a couple of other gambling houses. These are all primely located near beaches, hotels and restaurants, perfect to cut loose for an evening if you’re feeling lucky.

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Knokke-Heist

Knokke-Heist is more of a cultural town in comparison to its eastern counterpart Blankenberge. It has a long history dating back to the middle ages and since it is so close to the border with Holland was often in dispute.

This town is home to more than 40 art galleries you could spend your entire trip looking at fine art and barely have to leave the coast. Don’t judge the town solely by its artistic merit, each July the festival Kneistival draws crowds from all across Europe for a bit revelry and live music. More information about this event is yet to be released but if you’re planning a holiday with friends this is an excellent choice, since you’ll be staying relatively close to the ferry port and won’t have to restrain yourself from partying too much because of a long journey home when the festival is over.

If you fancy a walking holiday Knokke-Heist has a nature reserve called Zwin. It’s a relatively small park but one of the few places where you’ll get to see such a large variety of salt resistant flora. A very unique reserve when compared to the flower gardens and greenhouses to be visited in the rest of Europe. Zwin is coastal site and one of the few places where white storks can be seen, it’s for this reason that there is a small zoo there which specialises in the major domestic birds of the area.

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Bruges

Bruges is a popular choice for tourists in Belgium. The picaresque city is a perfect setting for what you want out of your holiday in Belgium. Whether its gastronomy, you can get fresh mussels, Belgian beer, chocolate and waffles or more sophisticated cuisine in the restaurants. Bruges is also famed for its markets, if you plan to go antiquing or wish to purchase art, markets are hosted there monthly.

History buffs will truly be in their element, a decent tour book will leave you wishing you could stay longer because theirs always more to see in Bruges.

For the more active tourists this city is haven for cyclists, it’s pretty much the main way to get about and is also the starting point for the Tour de Flanders. You can also take canal rides to admire the architecture with tour guides to to point out the finer points of Bruges’ majesty.

If you want to stay in the city, it has hotels ranging from deluxe to highly affordable, you’re well placed to get out and see the rest of Belgium. One popular destination for 2014 will surely be Ypres the site of many major battles in world war one. You’ll be able to visit some of the grandest war memorials in Flanders and have a scenic train ride for contemplation on your way back to the hotel in Bruges.

Nearby in Ostend is the beach resort first constructed by King Leopold II before he laid waste to Brussels. This resort is framed by 19th century villas that have been classified as national monuments. An area of great beauty that has all the fun of the beach rolled in to it. Certainly a brilliant alternative to break up the historical and cultural tours that are expected of most tourists when visiting Bruges.

P&O ferries run a daily service from Hull to Zeebrugge, drifiting along the waves is a fantastic way to arrive in Belgium for a tranquil holiday.

Image credit: M.Andries, cheetaonf, niaaHoo

Family outings in belgium


belgian chocolate

2014 will be a big year for Europe. Though it may seem far off this early in the year we are marking the centenary of the first world war. Belgium and France in particular will have massive displays on later in the year, so before all the tourist areas start getting busy we suggest you take an early trip to Belgium and see the side of it that won’t be dominating the news later in the year.

We’ve drawn up a list of five outings that are sure to be family pleasers. Belgium is a rather small country so if you take your car with you on the P&O ferry you can see a lot of it in just a few days.

Chocolate tourism

Belgium is the spiritual home of the chocolate industry. It was in Brussels where the idea for selling bitesize chocolate in boxes was first dreamed up. The industry is still going from strength to strength and the chocolatiers of Belgium keep on innovating and coming up with more and more tasty treats.

Here’s the main resource for all you really need to know about chocolate tourism.

There are a reported 2,000 chocolate shops in Belgium, so wherever you intend to stay there’s sure to be a chocolate tour near at hand. Most involve an in depth look at how the chocolate is made as well as a bit of history about its evolution. It’s likely your kids will mostly look forward to the tasting but we don’t doubt the chocolatey smell will have your mouth watering too.

Alternatively you could just go to the Museum of cocoa and chocolate for a look around about chocolate heritage.

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Spa – the place, not a resort

This is the birthplace of all modern spas. Spa is a small town in the south east province of Lieges. It’s original clientele were royalty, after Henry VIII applauded the natural springs curative powers nobility started flocking there.

Spa is situated in the Ardennes a beautiful forest region stretching from Belgium to Luxembourg and bordering France and Germany. After a hard days treatment in the resorts a walk beneath the canopy will certainly top off your relaxation.

The water in Spa is famed for its waters and if you can’t wait to get there then you can buy bottles of it here in the UK. There are around 200 springs in the area, whilst we can’t assure you of their restorative nature the journey and environment will certainly do wonders for your soul.

The facilities available in Spa vary from the deluxe centres to more wallet friendly packages. They even have a mother-baby institute if you feel able to travel, they take children up to 6 months old for both parents and babies to get some cleansing relaxation in.

Spa is a wonderful place to receive therapy for respiratory and rheumatic problems. If the long winter has crept in to your bones, Thermes de Spa is a top of the line resort that treats around 35,000 people per year with top of the range heated hydromassage jets, baths of carbogaseous water, mud baths and much more. Thermes de Spa commands an incredible view of the town, gloriously framed by the surrounding hills and forest landscape.

Underground tours of Charles V palace

This isn’t your casual tour of a manor house or general amble around a museum. The site of Coudenberg the former palace of Brussels has had a trying history. It has been damaged to the point of complete reconstruction in the 17th century but much of the old building has remained beneath the soil making this a prime archaeological site.

There are guided tours of Coudenberg or you can make your own way with the Stone, mortar and chisel tour. This is a self guided tour in which you can educate yourself in all the archaeological techniques and historical findings that have made Coudenberg a major heritage location in Belgium.

For children there’s a special adventure to be had. They can go on a treasure trail to find the Golden Fleece. This quest is designed for 5-8 year olds and for just €4 your child will be given a back pack with all the adventuring gear they’ll need from treasure map to flashlight. Their goal to uncover the password that’ll unlock the chest containing the Golden Fleece. Should they succeed they’ll win a small prize and you’ll have given your kid up to an hour and half’s worth of archaeological exploration.

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Belgian Comic Strip Centre

If you and the family aren’t willing to spend your holiday looking through the classical galleries to be seen in Belgium then the comic strip centre is an excellent alternative. As the birthplace of creations like Tintin and the Smurfs, Belgium is somewhat of an authority on comic strip art.

The building is a masterpiece of art nouveau, designed by Victor Horta, the founding father of art nouveau architecture, in 1906.

It attracts an estimated 200,000 visitors a year and has a layout that’s like a cross between a funhouse and the Tate Modern in London.

It’s an excellent place to just have a wander around, with many exhibitions to help educate those not familiar with the ninth art (comics). These exhibits include ‘The Invention of the Comic Strip’ and ‘The Museum of the Imagination’. This is an awesome gallery that speaks to the inner psyche improving your understanding of abstract imagery, which will give you a far better appreciation of comic strips.

There’s a reading room if you just can’t peel your kids (or yourself) away from the BCSC as well as a restaurant and shop for you to bring a little bit of the spirit of the centre home with you.

For a family mini-break to Belgium this year take a P&O ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge
Image credit: kaoru, jackfre2, fmpgoh

Belgian beer festivals


P&O Ferries top Belgian beer festivals of 2013

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Summer is well and truly in its swing. You may have the family holiday to look forward to, but what about going away with your friends?

During the scorching (fingers crossed) summer months the habit of retiring to a sunny courtyard for a glass of cold beer is quite possibly what keeps many of us sane.

Here are three of our favourite annual beer festivals that you could attend with just a short P&O Ferry journey to Belgium. These aren’t Oktoberfest style binges. The sheer variety of beers available at some of these events are staggering. There’s a steep learning curve if your natural beer habit is to get whatever’s on deal on at your local supermarket. Belgian beer is the produce of master brewers, so you’ll have the chance to taste the very best and find out just what you’ve been missing out on.

These are ideal trips if you want to go on holiday with your mates, or partner. The beer festivals in Belgium have more dignity to them than the carnivalesque, heavy drinking in a churned up field somewhere which you may expect of at your common beer festivals. Of course it’s still wise to eat beforehand, but the environment leans more towards the sophistication you’d expect at a wine tasting, with the promise of things getting merry later in the day.

Belgian Beer Weekend

One of the major events is Belgian beer weekend, taking place at the Grand-Place of Brussels and at the Bourse (Stock Exchange). You’ll need to book a day off work to get there for the very beginning on September the 6th. It’s your best choice of festival if you want to sample both the major and smaller breweries’ beers over this weekend. It runs until the evening of Sunday 8th. So, self control permitting, you could in theory get back home in time for work on Monday.

For theistic beer drinkers the opening event is a celebration of the patron saint of brewers, Saint-Arnould, in the Cathedral of St Michel and Gudule. If indeed you have snuck away for a few brews it could hold you in good stead to get a little pious before starting on your weekend. The rest of the festival will assuredly pass by all too quickly. It makes for a grand lads weekender with processions of cars, all the rich grub Belgium has to offer and fantastic beer to keep you satiated.

Beer, bread and cheese festival

This event is being held on the second weekend of September in Durbuy, Belgium.

Let us first state that the combination of beer, bread and cheese for a festival is an inspired idea. Setting it in Durbuy is also a stroke of genius. Durbuy is known as one of the smallest towns in the world, dating back to the 17th century it is filled with idyllic and historic houses.

You’ll also be pleased to hear that it is highly rated for the top quality food served there. Durbuy is well equipped to cater for tourists with many a small hotel or chalet for you to have a well deserved nap after sampling the wares of the Beer, bread and cheese festival.

brassigaume

Brassigaume

Brassigaume is the name given to Belgium’s international festival of small breweries, held in Rulles. Don’t worry you’ll still get to sample a fine selection of Belgian beers and ales, but the cross section of master brewers at your disposal promise a diverse event as many of them are specially invited from around the world.

This event is being held from the 19th-20th of October and will host up to 23 different brewers proffering over 80 different beers to tantalise your palate.

Here is a link to the official website which offers a little more information. This festival is an excellent, no hassle event, catered by Jean-Claude Depeauw – so you’ll have professionally prepared cuisine served up to you.

Rulles is not one of the more well known places in Belgium but it is easily discoverable via train. You’ll be able to get a great experience of Belgian heritage starting at the brewing and then moving off in to the town.

Later in the year

If this is all a bit too short notice for you to arrange then don’t worry. You’d be hard pressed to find a month of the calendar in which there isn’t a beer festival of some sort being held in Belgium.

Much as we all love supping the suds under the sun, it’s undeniable that Belgium’s charm is increased threefold come the winter months. If you’d like to see for yourself then the winter beer festivals will be worth your time. The timing is also prime for you to get some Christmas shopping in at the Yuletide markets or perhaps overlap your beer sampling with a romantic retreat in a secluded hotel.

Belgium’s Christmas beer festival is not yet fully scheduled, but is held mid December in Essen. Last year attendance was 3000 strong and they had a huge selection of over 170 different beers.

To get in to the spirit earlier, Stembert also holds a Christmas beer festival in November.

It’s all too easy to take a boozy holiday to the continent and snag a couple of bottles duty free on your way back. If you’re getting bored of the common supermarket brands, what better way to find out more about your favourite alcholic beverage then to go to a festival, make a few memories and taste some cracking new beers?

P&O ferries Hull to Zeebrugge service will take you to Belgium for a fantastic weekend of beer tasting this summer.

Image credit: Smabs Sputzer, ober.essen

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