Tour de Flanders

Abbeys, Citywide Beer Pipelines, Cool Ship Fermentation, and Medieval Blue. 

 Home Sweet Home (Time to Go)

As soon as I arrived home from my Plzeň to København Bike Tour I began thinking about my next tour.  Oddly, I was experiencing cultural shook and I wanted to hit the road again. It was only the middle of spring which meant I actually have two more seasons to ride. I went through the usually list, the Florida coast to coast, The Keys, Gap/C&O, Vermont, Alaska. All interesting, but were fillers until I could get back to Europe. What about Ragbrai? Ok, maybe. No, it had to be Europe.

I wanted to revisit the Czech Republic and was thinking of heading south this time into Italy, & Croatia. How about Prague to Paris? Then it hit me. A Belgium Beer Tour, more specifically a Flanders Beer Tour. Experience all four types of beer fermentation in one  tour. I have an opportunity to house-sit for a few weeks in the Netherlands. I would cycle around West Belgium for a week or so before going to Utrecth, Netherlands.

As soon as I began plotting a route, it felt right. Ok, how long shall I take? A week, 10 days? 12? Yep, plan for 12. I would want to take the opportunity to visiting the city and towns a bit more, and of course Belgium Breweries. I could always cut it short and take the train the remaining distance if need be.

A plan started to take shape. Fly to Brussels, take a train to Ghent, cycle west to Bruges, down the coast to Poperinge, follow the French border east, then back to Brussels.  Ok that's the plan I will wing it from there.  

Ghent

It was about a 45 min train ride from the Brussels airport to the city of Ghent. The Ghent train station was medium size, covered but outdoors. After an hour of failed attempts to get an Uber to drive me 20 minutes to my bnb located near the center of town I resorted to reassembled my bike at the station and rode the rest of way. This was a nice ride as it gave me a view of the city from a commuters point of view as well as take in a few of the stages and booths set up for the last night of Gentse Feesten. The room was small but comfortable and my host offered bike storage in their garage which alleviated that concern for the night. It had been about a day and half since I had last slept, but...

As luck would have it my bnb was only a few houses down from my first planned stop Gruut , the city brewery of Ghent. The Gruut Brewery is a small working brewery that is unique in that they use medieval herbs instead of hops in their recipes. The brewery had just open for the day's business with only a few customers, so I had a chance to chat with the bar tenders about the brewery and their beers. I came to find out though the brewery open in 2009,  the founder and brewster (ancient title for a woman brewer), Annick De Splenter, is part of a long heritage belonging to Belgium's brewing dynasty. 

All the ales were very good. My favorite was the Gentse Gruut Brown- A  cuvee style with nutty aftertaste, I also like the Gentse Gruut Amber Ale. Of course the others were also delicious. This is a cool brewery, that would be worth revisiting someday. The brewery has a few different tour options including a boat ride through the city and a beer alchemist workshop.

 

Gruut , the city brewery of Ghent

 Gruut Brewery

 

I wasn't aware when I planned my trip that it would coincide with the last night of the Ghent's annual music and theater festival, Gentse Feesten, but was pleasantly surprised when I had learned that a few weeks prior. to leaving for my trip.  Gentse Feesten was an incredible experience. A cornucopia of live music from every genre on stages spread though out the medieval city.  Ancient churches and castles, the blues, canals, Belgium ales, and lots of pink elephants. I was getting spoiled and it was only the first day of my trip.  

 

 

 

 Beer Keg Urinal

 

The next morning, I awoke anxious to start my ride. but wanted to get breakfast before starting out. To my surprise, there were still a lot of people around a few of the stages.  The bands were gone, but music was still being piped through the loud speakers and the party was going strong. I found out from a Ghent Policeman that the music would continue till 10:00am. Then everyone had to go home!  There wasn't a lot of options for breakfast close to bnb, and I didn't want to pay festival prices for a coffee and sweet snack, so I made do with what I could find and headed back to the hotel to start my ride.

Bruges

I only had about 30 or so miles to ride to Bruges, so I wasn't in any hurry. I followed the canal out of town and head westerly. The canal line trail was relatively flat and well marked.  I was riding in Europe again and I loved it. Along the way I shared a snack and conversation with an older Belgium cyclist. (I know, they all ride bikes). He spoke in Dutch and I in English about our bikes and journey, smiling and nodding over the few words we each understood. 

Once I arrived in Bruges, I found my hotel just on the outskirts of Bruges central area relatively easy. Upon checking in I discovered that the hotel is often utilized by Rick Steve's tours. My room was spaces, and had a old world charm to it. From the window I could look out onto the cobble stone street and the near by cannel.  Just outside my door was a window that I could see my bike locked up in the private courtyard. 

It was a small walk to the center of town.  I grabbed a quick bite at a Belgium fry stand and headed to find the Staminee De Garre to drink their Tripel van De Garre (11%). Wow, yep that tasted good. I was about to leave when I noticed they had 750 ml bottles of barrel aged Triple van De Garre - Cuvée Prestige.  Though the bar tender was willing to keep what I didn't finish chilled until the next day, I chose to share the bottle with others in the bar. 

 Staminee De Garre 

De Garre Triple Barrel AgedDe Garre delivery bike

 

 

2nd day in Bruges.

After a very nice breakfast of fresh breads, croissant, juices, meats, and cheese, I  took full advantages of free city bike my hotel offered for use. My plan was to visit two breweries within the city of Bruges.  First stop would be the De Halve Maan Brewery, brewers of Zot, and Straffe Hendrik Ales. De Halve Maan has been brewing ales for the last two centuries. The brewery tour takes your through the history of brewery using old world equipment and techniques, to today's modern equipment and their one of a kind city wide underground beer pipeline.  The tour also included a roof top view of the city.  After the tour, I enjoyed a complementary unfiltered Zot triple, and purchased a bottle of a wild yeast fermented Straffe Hendrik triple before heading out for to do a little sight seeing. 

I tooled around the city for a bit on the 3 speed bike, riding down cobble stone streets and alley ways lined with century old buildings.  Bruges is a spectacular city with its gardens, parks, and waterways.  My next stop was Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres. I wanted to taste their mixed fermented Flanders Red Ale. A Flemish beer blending tradition where old and young beer is mixed judiciously to achieve a perfect balance. Bourgogne des Flanders Pure is brewed on site in the loft and blended with natural fermented Lambic which has been barrel aged for over eight months. The result: Yum. Nice smooth mouthful, with a very rich finish.  As I write, this I can't help but think I want more. 

The brewery also has a Blond, the Blonden OS (6.5%), and a Bruinen - Bruinen OS (8%)  and a few others selection on rotating taps. 

I followed the canal towards the coast town of Oostende on shores of the Atlantic Ocean. From Oostende I rode along the beach promenade south with the ocean on my right and remnants of WWII era heavy artillery that dotted the Nazi's western sea fortification, know as the The Atlantic Wall open air museum, on my left.  Now, that is a crazy reminder of the juxtapose of war and peace. 

 

Poperinge

It was getting a little late in the afternoon when I arrived at the St Bernadaus' brewery. The air in the valley was filled with the sweet smell of malts. I was excited to finally be in Poperinge, the land of hops. The brewery's roof top Bar Bernard wasn't serving dinner yet, but they had a selection of bar snacks and small plates. I chose the smoke salmon and a dried beef sausage to go along with a St Bernadaus ABT 12 Nitro. 

 

 St Bernadus Brewery BikeSt Bernadus Brewery Bar BernardSt Bernadus Abt 12 Nitro

It’s raining, it’s very windy, and it’s going to be a great day. 

Today, I revisited In de VredeTrappist Westvleteren Saint Sixtus Abbey cafe and tasting room. It was very special to me to cycle out to the Abbey as if I was a local. 

I arrived at the Abbey just as the café was opening for lunch. The last time I was here they had just sold out of the days allotment for carry out, and this time they had plenty. Since I was on the bike, carry out wasn’t an option again. I should have made room!  Guess I need to go back. For lunch I enjoyed pea soup,  a cheese tosti, and a Trappist Westvleteren - Blond

I wanted to then make my way to the Ypre's  Kazematten Brewery, but the weather was nasty so I headed into the town center to grab something for dinner and headed back to the bnb. In hindsight, I should have simple sat at Westvletern for the afternoon. 

I feel as if I have unfinished business in the Popering region, so hopefully I will return soon. 

  

Godewaersvelde, France

Mont des Cats has been on my radar since I started biking a couple of years ago. Not sure exactly why though. Maybe it was the bier, maybe it was the name, or maybe it was just because. Regardless of why, I now found myself standing at the gates to the Abbey. The view from the hill top was amazing. After a quick tour of the Abbey's gift shop, I made my way across the road to the Grand Estaminet of Mont des Cats for lunch and a Mont Des Cats Abbey Ale.   

 Mont des Cats AleMont des Cats SignMont des Cats Abbey - BikeView from Mont des Cats

 LIVE YOUR DREAMS.

 After lunch I rode along the France hill tops towards the city of Lille (France).

Lille is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region in northern France. The historic center, Vieux Lille, is characterized by 17th-century brick town houses, cobbled pedestrian streets and the large central square, Grand Place. 

It was raining most of the day, so for dinner I didn't venture out very far. I found the French micobrewery chain 3Brasseurs  Lille, location near the Grand Place which was also close to the hotel. 3 Brasseurs had a good selection to craft a flights. I 

In the morning, I rode north through Roubaix, France and onwards towards Brussels. Cantillon Lambic Brewery would open again in two days on Monday, and Drie Fonteinen's lambik-O-droom  was open on Sundays for the summer. 

The ride north was a mix of open fields, wooded areas, and trails that cut behind homes and through small villages. I had planned to stop a few hour south of the Lot / Beersel area for the night, giving me a relative short ride to the brewery the next day. I found a hotel with lockable bike storage in Geraardsbergen. I chose a simple evening walking around the town and having a doner kabab platter in a small local restaurant. 

I awoke early and refresh. It was going to another great day. I went downstairs to basement and enter through a bricked arched hallway lined with a fantastic continental breakfast. Dozens of dried meats and salami. Various soft and hard cheeses, breads, rolls, fruits, cereals, juices, and more. They also offer made to order eggs and omelets with bacon. A very nice way to the start the day. 

 

I rode around town a bit before heading towards the small climbs and descents that were going to make up most of my day. The weather warmed up here and there and was mostly dry. Not the sunny day I was hoping for, but all in all it was the beginning of pleasant day.   I was planning on spending the afternoon hanging out in the sun at Drie Fonteinen tasting Lambics, Guezues, and Krieks. 

 

Brussels-Capital Region

As I was getting closer to the Capital Region of Brussels the small villages began getting larger and closer together. Though still a little chilly the  weather was getting clearer the closer I got to the brewery.  I added an hour or so to my ride when I mistakenly rode to the actually brewery, of course located at the top of a small climb, before discovering that the tasting room was back a few miles.

    Drie Fonteinen lambik-O-droom tasting room and outdoor court yard was spacious. Though the sun wasn't out, it wasn't raining and I was drinking Belgium's Ales cheaper than I could buy water.  That is a perfect day.  

    After, spending the afternoon discussing lambics with a few locals I headed out to find a hotel. 

     
    I decided to stay outside of Brussels and take a train into the city instead of riding my bike to Cantillon  the next day. Though a bit of back tracking again and a little bit out on the edge of town and a bit of a walk to the train station, I found a nice place in Halle. They had great food, a good selection of local Belgium Bier, and they accommodated me with a large room so I could keep the bike locked up.

      I am glad I stayed outside of Brussel and left my bike at the hotel when I saw a locked bike frame striped of everything but the frame at the Brussels Zuni’s Station. The walk from the train station to the Cantillon Lambic Brewery was a only few blocks. The staff was friendly and welcoming. They mentioned I could have left my bike just inside the door next time. I would call first to be sure that is still an option before doing so though.  After a self-guided tour of the brewery and a sampling of a lambic, gueuze, and Kriek I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon sharing a bottle of Cuvée Saint-Gilloise with an expat couple, and his parents; he from was from Vietnam and she was from Italy. It always nice when I can share beer with people I just meet. The more  people I meet the more fulfilled my life becomes. 

      Cantillon Mash TunCuvée Saint-GilloiseCantillon

       

      I was planning on cycling onward to Amsterdam over the next two day, but I awoke to a heavy downpour and the weather forecast indicate it going to rain through the day and next., so I opted to take a train to Utrecht and arrive a couple of days early.  

        I feel very blessed to have been able to cycle around Belgium Flanders Region. I visit some of Belgium's oldest, historical, and specialized breweries. To quote the words of a wise Belgium Lambic maker

        Het is niet erg verstandig om met meer dingen te sterven dan waar je tijdens je leven van kon genieten.  Wacht niet op het juiste moment om je dromen waar te maken. Je dromen waarmaken is nu het juiste moment.

        Translation: "It is not very wise to die with more things than you were able to enjoy while alive. Don't wait for the right time to live your dreams. Living your dreams now is the right time."

         Proost!