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Staycation: Take your holiday close to home

18:33 15/06/2020

Did your holiday flight get cancelled? Like many others, you are probably considering your options for a Staycation. And in fact, most of the things you do on holiday abroad can be done right here at home.

Flemish Brabant’s ‘green belt’ is so full of stylish guest houses, medieval sites and fun activities, you really can’t go wrong. Here are few ways to narrow down the choice of where to stay and what to do.

I LIKE … COSY B&BS

For pure atmosphere, it’s tough to beat Amelhof in Meise. Located on a long country road, Amelhof was once a farmhouse but has been impeccably renovated and turned into one of the nicest bed & breakfasts in the green belt.

Amelhof has both charming rooms for two and separate guest houses, the largest of which boasts nine bedrooms. They all make use of the angles and open beams inherent in a 19th-century farmhouse – which in this case is also a protected monument.

What to do nearby: One of Amelhof’s advantages is that it is a few minutes’ walk from the Botanic Garden Meise. One can while away an entire summer day strolling along its 92 hectares of paths, greenhouses and fields. A longer walk will take visitors to the Grimbergen Abbey, a glorious sight to behold. The abbey is not open to the public, but the 17th-century basilica is. It’s well worth a visit.

I LIKE … CASTLES AND CHURCHES

Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, just southwest of Brussels, is home to two stately castles. Coloma Castle is world renowned for its roses. More than 3,000 varieties are spread among several themed gardens, all freely accessible. The 16th-century castle is fully renovated and partially open to the public, as it houses a tourist office. There are occasional exhibitions in the castle as well.

Anyone who has visited Gaasbeek Castle, meanwhile, might have caught a glimpse of the Groenenberg castle; it’s right next door. While the castle is not open to the public, the grounds are freely accessible. Rich with woodland and summer flowers, it’s a lovely place for a walk or a picnic, all under the watchful eye of the late 19th-century castle, built by a wealthy notary from Halle.

Coloma CastleColoma Castle

Speaking of Halle, don’t miss the Saint Martin Basilica. Its light stone, arched ceilings and unique stained-glass windows make for one of the most beautiful church interiors in Flanders. It also houses the famous blackened Madonna statue from 1250. Legend has it that she caught cannon balls in her cloak, thus saving the city from a siege. The cannon balls are here, too.

Where to eat & drink: Sint-Pieters-Leeuw is home to more than one brewer of Lambic beer. Sample a few at In de Oude Smis van Mekingen, a traditional tavern where time has stood still. If you’re in Halle, don’t hesitate to try De Kaai. The chef does amazing things with fish, time and again.

I LIKE … OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

So many of us take to kayaking or zip-lining on our summer holiday, but we forget that we can do it right here. There are two adventure parks in the forested area between Bertem and Oud-Heverlee.

The Shelter offers canoeing down the Dyle or Demer rivers as well as mountain biking trails for beginners and the more experienced. For those new to the sport, Shelter staff offer a training to get you started. Covid-19 is limiting the number of people that can take part in Shelter activities every day, so be sure to reserve in advance.

Canoeing

There are also a number of walking and cycling routes in the beautiful Bertem and Eiken forests, including the signposted Bertembos Walk.

Where to stay: Bertemnatuur is a smart B&B located on the edge of the Bertem forest. The rooms are impeccable and stylish, and, in keeping with the area, it offers packed lunches and rents bicycles.

Flemish Brabant also has a webpage dedicated to unique lodgings in the province, from old mills to railway cars to wood cabins with saunas.

Photos, from top: ©Lander Loeck/Flemish Brabant, courtesy Visit Flanders, courtesy The Shelter