A short break

Tourism in general

Sightseeing in Belgium is about the most easy job to do, we will just give you a very general overview. The country is so small and there is so much to do and see you can even drive around unprepared and enjoy yourselves. However some homework will get the max out of your stay. One advantage, you will never have to drive far! The general website is www.visitbelgium.com, another good site is www.belgium-tourism.net.  You will find much more detailed information on tourism in Flanders at www.visitflanders.com, on Wallonia at www.tourismewallonie.be, for Brussels www.brussel.be. Of course all major cities and points of interest have their own website.

The main tourist hot spots in Belgium are the coast and the Ardennes, and of course the historical art cities of Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels. Liège is good to visit when you are in the Ardennes (or Spa-Franchorchamps!), Bruges and Ypres are near the coast.

Let’s start in the West: with a length of only 68 kms, the coast can be incredibly crowded in summer, with not only the Belgians but also the South of Holland, the West of Germany and the North of France invading. Sunny weekends are the worst time to go, massive traffic jams are always around. Ostend is the biggest coastal town and very lively, De Haan is considered as the prettiest town, a lot smaller and not so busy. So you know where not to go if you want to avoid massive crowds, but if you want some peace and quiet go to... the North of France or the South of Holland. Nothing but dunes and wildlife, few tourists but hardly any accomodation to be found, pubs and restaurants are not widespread either. In West Germany there is no coast.

The east then: the Ardennes near the German border are spread out on a very large area and continue in Luxemburg. A stunning countryside and big dark woods are waiting to be explored, famous little towns like La Roche or Durbuy are absolutely recommended but can also be quite busy in summer. The Ardennes are an absolute paradise for walking, horse riding and mountainbiking, and rich in history too, with nothing but cosy villages around. This is Belgium, so there is a massive choice on food and drinks everywhere.

Finally, and more central, you will find Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels lying on a handkerchief from each other, only some 40’ drive between the three, and one can easily spend a week exploring around. Also train connections in between are very fast and cheap, and you will avoid paying for a costly parking space. Beware of very busy traffic in this triangle, rush hour is a complete nightmare and officially the worst in Europe. Brussels by night may sound romantic but you want to stay in the centre then, it can be unsafe in some suburbs.

Tourism and rallying

To link tourism with our favourite sport, we will limit ourselves to what is to be seen in the direct area of the rallies. As we said before, only one hour drive will take you a whole end, but in that case we advise to get prepared via the websites mentioned above. We will only mention the most interesting locations, but there is a lot more to be discovered when you dig a bit deeper.

Rallye Salamandre and Les Boucles Chevrotines

Both events are situated next to each other (1K...). Nearby cities worth a visit are Charleroi and Namur, Dinant is not bad either. Charleroi is a special case, once one of the richest cities in Europe thanks to coal mining, glass and steel industry, it has now become one of the poorest and has become a weird symbol of faded glory, very popular with urbex fans. The city centre is well worth a visit, the old coal mine of Bois du Cazier and the Photography Museum really are not to be missed. Just make sure you get out of town after dark: unemployment, immigration and poverty, we know the story. Namur is the Capital of Wallonia with a very cosy historical centre and a good night life. Next to the centre you must absolutely visit the Citadelle, a gigantic medieval fort alongside the river Sambre. However, if you want to stay in the direct area of the rally, just go to Lacs de l’eau d’Heure, a big natural resort around a dam reservoir, in the direct area Abbaye d’Aulne and the village of Thuin are well worth visiting, petrolheads would want to see the old Chimay racetrack (open to traffic but beware of speed checks) and beer lovers can go to the Abbays of Ciney or Chimay (both Trappist!), Floreffe or Maredsous (Abbey Ales).

On your journey from the UK, you might drive alongside the great historical city of Mons, a place you must stop is the CWGC Cemetary of Saint-Symphorien, weirdly enough a German designed cemetary where you will find the first and the last casualties of WW1, also one of the very rare Cemetaries where German and Commonwealth soldiers are buried. Further along the motorway you can discover  the biggest ship lift in the world at Strépy-Thieu. Very impressive! If you cross the French border in that area, we recommend the city of Le Quesnoy with its gigantic double ramparts, closer to the border you will find a smaller version called Condé sur l’Escaut with the Spanish ramparts, and the nearby lakes, nice for a good walk. 10’ drive further , literally on the border there, are also the woods of Bon Secours. Near Valenciennes, there is the impressive Arenberg coal mine, next to the woods of Wallers. Cycling fans might know this place as the “Trouée d’Arenberg”, or the famous cobbled stretch used every year in the notorious cycling race Paris-Roubaix.

Ypres Rally, Wervik Rally, Monteberg Rallysprint

These events are also all direct neighbours, and Ypres is off course internationally known for its medieval and especially  WW1 history, both in the smart historical town centre with ramparts, and in the wider area. Expect many (British) tourists all year round, since there is a tremendous lot to discover and everything is very well signed and presented. The nearby area of Heuvelland is considered as one of the nicest countrysides in Flanders, and a paradise for walking and cycling. The old Canal area around the Palingbeek woods, only 10’ drive from Ypres, too. One can even walk there via the Zillebeke lake. Kemmel (visit the WW2 commandobunker!), Dranouter, Westouter, Loker,... are all cosy laidback villages ideal for a pit stop, surrounded by great natural beauty. Towns like Poperinge, Langemark, Passendale are just nearby. At only 20’ drive from Ypres, you will find the Sint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, their Trappist beer is generally accepted as one of the best beers in the world! But if you want to stay in Ypres, there is the Kazematten Brewery too. Just across the Fench border you can explore Lille, the 4th biggest city in France. A paradise for shopaholics, the Zoo park (free entry) is really nice and the cosy alleys in the old town (Vieux Lille) are just lovely. Further south, the city of Arras is a great place too, again a lot to visit on WW1 (Vimy), do not miss the underground chalk mine (les Boves)! More to the West, Bergues and St-Omer are cool little towns to visit.

Omloop van Vlaanderen, TBR Rallysprint, ORC Canal Rally

These events are situated around Roeselare and Ingelmunster. The city centre of Roeselare is not bad for a short visit, a meal and some shopping, but the wider area is very industrial and has few worthwile things to offer. However world famous Bruges is only half an hour drive! There you will enter a unique medieval paradise with nothing but romantic alleys and waterways, stunning architecture and great art museums. The city has never suffered from any war damage and has remained virtually intact troughout the centuries. The only problem is that the rest of the world knows this too. Bruges is incredibly busy around summer and Christmas, and not cheap either. Park your car somewhere (free) around the city centre and avoid entering the city walls, there is a good chance you will get completely lost or just get stuck in traffic. Also avoid the tourist traps. Main Square restaurants are ridiculously expensive, the lace or carpets offered are usually Asian imports. Just walk around an get lost, certainly do a boat tour on the canals. Nearby you will find the nice village of Damme, also the surrounding countryside alongside many canals is absolutely great for cycling. There is a very good and cheap train connection from Roeselare to Bruges too.

Hemicuda Rally

World famous Bruges is only half an hour drive! Ostend, just the same. Ypres? Dito. But if  you stay around you will find a quiet rural area and sleepy villages, it’s also a good idea to book accomodation there if you want to do Bruges. A lot cheaper!

Rally Kortrijk

The city centre of Kortrijk is just ok for a short visit but not much more, but if you go a bit further south you will enter the French speaking part of Belgium with the historical city of Tournai just nearby, really worth a visit. The countryside between those two cities is really nice too, and if you follow the canal and/or river l’Escaut from Tournai, you can either cycle/drive into France or go further direction Mons. Well maintained tow paths alongside traditionally attract many cyclists in the weekends. And if you can’t decide: drive half an hour in any direction and you will enter Lille, Mons Ypres, Ghent or Bruges. Easy, right? Both motorway and train connections are very good.