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

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.

 

Bring on the World Cup

For a Maltese living in Belgium, this World Cup presents a new reality. Away from an island which is obsessed by football but whose national team would be lucky to win one match during the qualifying rounds, the decision as to which country to support as the greatest show on earth is about to kick-off is not a trivial one. Firstly, these are countries not clubs so normally everyone sides for his home country.

But back in Malta, 40 per cent will be routing for England, the other 40 per cent for Italy with the rest supporting teams like Germany, Brazil or the Netherlands. For many years, particularly when I lived in Malta my favourite team during such competitions used to be Germany. The team was more or less a sure bet and I particularly liked their resilience and temperament during major tournaments.

Living away from your country changes your perspective.  So to those asking who I will be routing for this World Cup the answer is pretty simple. Belgium is not my home country, that will always remain Malta. But for nearly nine years, Belgium has been the place I call home, the place where my children where born, where I have made many new friends and where I now feel nearly if not more at home than in my home country.

roi baudoin
The final training session before the long journey to Brazil

So, this year Belgium it will be. The football fever can be felt everywhere in the streets. Radio stations play World Cup tunes, all adverts in the streets are football related as are the adverts on TV stations. People have covered car mirrors in Belgian flags. Wherever you go in shops and supermarkets, people are talking about the Diables Rouges and getting excited about the team’s possibilities. The young Belgian team which is made up of football stars playing top flight football in England, Italy, Spain and Germany will probably not even reach its peak in this World Cup. Most players are still very young and will gain strength from experience.

This morning I went to watch a training session of the Red Devils before their departure to Brazil. The atmosphere in the Roi Baudouin stadium was electrifying. A crowd of over 3,000 people must have turned up to cheer the team before their long journey to Brazil.

Am I expecting Belgium to win the World Cup? No, that will likely be a South American team as has always happened in the World Cup’s history whenever the World Cup has been played in the South America. What I am expecting is for the Red Devils to be among the most exciting teams of this World Cup. With players like Hazard, Kompany, Lukaku, Mertens and Courtois to mention a few names, it is no wonder that expectations are high.

http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/jun/06/belgium-blueprint-gave-birth-golden-generation-world-cup-