A visit to Chateau de Beloeil

Chateau de Beloiel
The magnificent Chateau de Beloiel

I recently had to spend a midweek day off with the children. I offered them a choice between either going to a park or a castle. I thought they would opt for a park but they immediately got excited about the prospect of visiting a castle.

Since there was agreement, we finally decided on the castle to go to since Belgium has its fair share of castles. I had always seen signs of Chateau de Beloeil on our trips to Lille or Pairi Daiza and have always been intrigued especially since it is also famous for its flower show and the yearly classical music concert. The castle opens at 1pm.

Chateau de Beloeil is considered to be the Belgian Versailles and on our visit we discovered that there is a reason for this. The park is very large and forms with the castle a very interesting place to visit away from the crowds.

We were there on a weekday and among the first to arrive so  pretty much had the castle and park to ourselves. The castle has beautiful antique furniture, some unique pieces as well as beautiful tapestries from a once glorious past. It used to be the residence of the Princes de Ligne.

The French garden in the castle grounds offers a harmonious blend of water and nature, shadow and light. It is still maintained to its original design from 1664.

The Beloeil castle is surrounded by its moats and gardens and has been in Beloeil, Hainaut for the past eight centuries. It was a medieval fortress which was eventually transformed into a country home.

The children enjoyed their visit to the castle and were particularly impressed by the library with its over 20,000 books. They also enjoyed the walk in the park as well as the fish in a rather large pond. The castle is also famous for the annual classical music festival which is organised in September. We hope to visit the castle again in September for this event.

If you are heading to the Castle of Beloeil there is a culinary tip that I would like to share with you. On the way to Beloeil or to Brugelette to visit Pairi Daiza, you will come across a very small rural village called Gibecq.

It is well known for its free range chickens. They are called the Poulet de Gibecq and you can stop and buy them as well as other great products from a little farm shop in the village of Gibecq.

The farm shop is unfortunately only open on Wednesday and Friday afternoon (so you need to plan your trip accordingly) or else on Sunday mornings. The good thing is that they are also available in some butcher shops around Belgium so you would do well to ask for them.

The chickens are free range and allowed to grow naturally. They are fed with grains which come from farms in the area of Hainaut. Their feed is even milled in the area. They have a splendid taste unlike more commercial chickens you find in supermarkets. I therefore highly recommend them. The farm shop also has other culinary delights such as exceptional bio yogurt as well as products from the area.

If you are ever in the area, this is really worth a stop.

Chateau de Beloil

Chateau de Beloeil

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Pairi Daiza – one of the best attractions in Belgium

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There is no doubt to my mind that Pairi Daiza is one of the best attractions in Belgium. I would dare to say that it is probably also one of the best animal parks you can visit in Europe such is the beauty of this dream garden of 55 hectares.

Pairi Daiza can be found in Brugelette within the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey of Cambron and is protected from the outside world by a wall that stretches three kilometres. It means enclosed garden in ancient Persian. It is the oldest known name for paradise. This is really a paradise for children and adults alike.

The garden is an architectural and cultural treasure. You will be surprised by the attention to detail that has gone into the development of the park. The architecture of the garden has been created by workers from China, Indonesia, Thailand and Africa adding to the authenticity to the place.

The park is constantly being upgraded so no visit is the same. This year, to receive the pandas, the already massive Chinese garden (the largest in Europe) has been enlarged.

I must confess that I have lost count as to how often we have been to this park. This is the third consecutive year we get a season ticket (if you go twice in a season you are better off getting a season ticket) and we and the children never get bored of visiting this botanical garden and animal park.

This year, there is the obvious added attraction of two Pandas which have been given to the park by the Chinese government for 15 years.

At Pairi Daiza you will find first and foremost nature, with beautiful ancient trees, huge birds of all kinds flying around the park, beautiful ruins of the Cisterian Abbey, flower beds and beautiful  plants coming from across the world.

There is an aquarium within the park which is well worth a visit as well as a huge playground just below it.

The train ride, always a winner with the children is not running this year and will only be ready for next season because the park has been enlarged. It is maybe a pity since this is one of the best ways to view the beauty of this park.

If you have never been to this park (and you live in Belgium) then you might hesitate before getting a season ticket. But it is worthwhile given that the park has now grown to the extent that it has become difficult to view it in one day.

The park is divided into different sections including the Cite des Immortels which includes the pandas and leopards, the Terre des Origines with lions, tigers, elephants, camels, rhinos, hippos, giraffes and zebras among others. There is also the Royaume de Ganesha with a temple and other animals, the terre du froid and two lakes with an incredible variety of birds. There is the Porte des Profondeurs, the area with the aquarium, seals, otters and penguins among others as well as the Porte du Ciel.

Pairi Daiza also has a number of places where to eat. The most impressive is the new Brasserie which serves typical brasserie food and also has a brewery inside where they brew their own beer of Domaine Cambron. Both beers made here are worth trying.

No blogpost can do justice to this marvellous place. I therefore leave you to enjoy some photos of the park.

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The park is open everyday from the start of the Easter holidays through to the end of the All Saints holiday. This year the park will therefore close on 2 November.

Details on the daily passes or annual subscriptions can be found on Pairi Daiza’s website.

 

Winehouse Osteria – a taste of Italy in the heart of Brussels

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The cosy Winehouse Osteria close to Place St Gery in central Brussels

It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I recommend and then test a place with friends particularly if it is relatively new and has very little reviews. But like the best secrets in life, word of mouth is normally a sure bet even if there is always that expectation that something might go wrong.

I came across Winehouse Osteria thanks to recommendations from some friends after I wrote about Caffe al Dente in Uccle. This place just off the Place St Gery area is quite a find. Part wine shop, part coffee shop, part Osteria, the restaurant is extremely small and cosy but worth a visit.

If you are nostalgic about Italy or craving for an Italian experience, then this will not disappoint you. Forget for a while that you are in central Brussels and this osteria/enoteca could easily be in a small beautiful village somewhere in Italy.

The wine list is interesting and reasonably priced. You will find many bottles below 20 Euros which is not common in Brussels with a great selection of wines in the 20 Euros to 35 Euros range (a common price for entry level wines in most restaurants in Brussels). If you decide to just take home some wines, then the price is also listed on the wine list and considerably cheaper. Italy is well covered. Just to give you an example, I even found a wine from Liguria which is not a common sight on wine lists outside this region.

They had a number of wines from the wine list missing when we went, but their recommendations as a replacement were spot-on.

Winehouse Osteria also has a great selection of wines by the glass. The prosecco to start with was creamy and excellent. They also serve Aperol Spritz for those nostalgic about the ‘aperitivo’ in Italy.

The beauty about this place is that you can visit at any time between 7.45am and late in the evening. You can just go for a coffee in the morning, lunch or dinner in the evening or even a glass of wine at any time.

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The aubergine parmigiana and the zucchini parmigiana. Both perfectly done.

This is not your normal Italian restaurant. You will not find pizza or pasta dishes (except for their lasagna). But the food menu is interesting. Apart from cheese and salumi platters there is a small range of interesting dishes. When we went we tried a carpaccio of beef (excellent), a cheese and salumi platter (very good) and grilled peppers. The parmigiana of aubergine was exceptional as was the one made with zucchini. I had the involtini of chicken with guanciale and scamorza seres with a grilled scamorza and tomato sauce and peas. The polenta dish with a cheese, confit onion and lemon was also an excellent combination of flavours.

It was obvious when we were there that the people running Winehouse Osteria are passionate about what they are doing even if they seem to be working miracles form their tiny kitchen which serves this small osteria.

If there was point to criticise it was their desserts. The tiramisu was good but not exceptional and the ice-cream seemed like it was a supermarket ice-cream.

Price for central Brussels is also very reasonable. We paid around 35 Euros per person for an aperitivo, starter, main course and dessert. This is a place to visit if you like wine and want something different in central Brussels.

Verdict: Amid many tourist traps in central Brussels this is worthy of a visit, even for those like us who rarely venture to this side of town to dine. The target audience is clearly locals given most tourists may be tempted to try something more traditionally Belgian in the centre. Nevertheless, if you are craving for comfort food, want to share a glass of wine with friends over a nice cheese or salumi platter or fancy some comfort food, I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Winehouse Osteria: Rue de la Grand Ile, 42, Brussels. Open everyday from 7.45am to 11pm.

 

 

Belgium day trips 2: Gaasbeek and the Waterhof farm shop

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The Waterhof farm

Amid the gently rolling hills of the Pajottenland just outside Brussels lies the beautiful village of Gaasbeek. This is one of our favourite spots just outside the Belgian capital and for a number of reasons.

The first reason is a splendid medieval castle, the Gaasbeek castle which has evolved from a strategic stronghold into a spacious country house. One of its most famous owners was the Count of Egmond.

While on the other side of Brussels you will find the Chateau de la Hulpe, Gaasbeek, to the West of Brussels makes for a great alternative. The castle lies within an extensive park which was already laid out in the 17th century. It has impressive avenues and narrow winding paths as well as beautiful beech trees. From the park you can see the beautiful countryside with numerous cows grazing in the fields. It is indeed impressive to think that this is just a few kilometres outside the city.

You can visit the castle and the museum garden. Moreover, the lands also house the Graaf van Egmond brasserie. Just opposite the castle you can find a brasserie with a great outdoor playground for children which includes a bouncy castle. This is a great place for children to play.

IMG_9163But the hidden secret of Gaasbeek and probably the best reason to return from time to time is a farm shop just outside the village. The farm is called Waterhof and it is one of those places which are so charming that you wish to discover more of them in the surrounding countryside.

Firstly the farm makes its own milk thanks to its more than 60 cows. Given that the artisanal method of producing their products is time consuming, the Waterhof farm have invested in a robot which milks the cows automatically and you can also see this in action when the farm or shop is open. The farm, which is more than 500 years old (with the oldest standing building  dating from 1813) makes superb ice-creams using their own produce. You can also buy butter, cheese, yogurt (excellent), puddings, chocolate mousse and butter milk (lait battu). You can also buy pastries, juices as well as a wide range of potatoes and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

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One of their speciality ice-creams served at the farm, the tiramisu

The highlight is a courtyard where you can try the superb range of ice-creams served. When its cold, there is also space inside. This is really a superb place to take children. Not only do you treat them to excellent ice-cream but they can visit the barns where the cows go to rest after grazing the fields in the hills around the farm. There is also a small barn with calves open for visitors.

Verdict: This place is so good I hesitated before writing about it lest this becomes too commercial.  If you are going on a hot day, make sure to take a cooler bag to transport the ice-cream and other produce. You will not be able to resist the temptation of buying a few litres for home. Drop me a line if you try it and if you know of other similar places in Belgium.

 

Belgium day trips (1) – Domaine de Chevetogne

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The equestrian centre of Domaine Chevetogne

If you are looking for ideas on what to do on a day off in Belgium, then you should really consider the Domaine de Chevetogne in the Province of Namur.

This is an enormous park just one hour drive away from Brussels. In the heart of the Ardennes, this park is a must not only for parents with children (though the number of activities which you can find here is enough to keep them busy for more than a day), but also for those who would like to be close to nature in a really calm and picturesque environment.

Whether you want a place to cook outdoors (there are dedicated barbecue areas), just a walk in the countryside, bird watching, having lunch or dinner in an idyllic environment or else enjoying a day out with the kids, this is a park really worth visiting.

In warm weather, if you are going with children, it’s advisable to take a change of clothes or bathing costume given there is a playground with a sandy pool of shallow water which will keep them busy for quite a while. This is just one of the many playgrounds in different areas of the park all with specific themes and aimed at children of different ages.

There are two lakes where you can either take a rowing boat or an Indian canoe. Once you pay the entrance fee, you can use all the amenities of the park (boats, mini-golf, small train going around the park) for free.

There is a farm for children, a swimming pool, mini-golf, tennis courts, basketball courts as well as a number of places to eat.

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The restaurant Les Rhodos

One restaurant, the Les Rhodos (see photo) has accommodation in the form of a small hotel. But there is also a camping area, family chalets as well as farm lodging. The setting of Les Rhodos is idyllic as it overlooks a perfectly kept garden and the menu looks interesting though we only walked past it in the morning therefore we did not have the time to try it out.

The park also has an equestrian centre for horse riding and even pony riding for beginners and children.

Entrance fee is 10 euros per person while children under the age of 6 go in free.

Tips: 

  • Take a change of clothes for children particularly if its a hot day.
  • Don’t underestimate the size of the park. You will walk a lot and young children may find it exhausting so you can take the train which goes around the park every half an hour.
  • Try the beers of the Domaine.
  • Make sure you check which restaurants are open on the day you visit. The one we wanted to go was closed on the Monday.
  • It is also an excellent place for a picnic or outdoor barbecue with special designated areas.