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Winter getaway: Escape to Picardy Wallonia

13:51 24/12/2021

As winter’s dark nights draw in, why not run away for a day or two to this lovely but little-visited spot in the countryside of Picardy Wallonia. Better known by its shortened form Wapi, it’s located between the Hainaut cities of Mons and Tournai. The green and unspoilt region stretches from the Flemish border in the north to the French border in the south. Walking and cycle tracks crisscross forests and nature parks, while folklore-rich Tournai, Ath and Enghien are well worth a visit. Heritage sites similarly abound, notably the grand castles of Beloeil and Seneffe and the magnificent medieval hospital-convent Notre-Dame à la Rose in Lessines. Situated close to the major road and rail artery linking Brussels and Lille, it’s also surprisingly accessible.

Walking & Cycling
Outdoor pursuits are among the safest activities during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the region is perfect for walking and cycling, with more than 700km of signposted trails. Two nature parks, Pays des Collines and the Scheldt Plains, offer short hiking trails and more. While the former is a rural hilly terrain around Ellezelles, north of the region, the latter straddles the French border alongside the forest of Bon-Secours in Peruwelz. Alternatively, take one of the well-trodden artistic or heritage trails in Tournai for some urban exploration. Walking guides and brochures are on sale from the Wapi tourist office online shop. Although it’s not possible to rent bicycles (keep an eye on the website for updates), bike owners can download a free cycling guide, and the Wapi RAVeL network of former railway lines will reopen in spring.

Food & Drink
Every region in Belgium boasts speciality food and drinks, and Wapi is no exception. Quesnoy Patisserie near Tournai station serves palets de dame, apricot-flavoured iced butter biscuits, Clovis cake, a confection of frangipane and apricot jam named after the Merovingian king, and hard black sweets known as ballons de Tournai. Local dishes include lapin à la tournaisienne (rabbit stew with prunes and beer), which is traditionally eaten on Lundi Perdu, the Monday following Epiphany on 6 January. The fertile area also overflows with around 100 craft beers and holds the record as the region with the most microbreweries. Among its famed breweries are Dubuisson, Dupont and Brasserie des Légendes. All three, plus the Pipaix steam brewery, are on the local beer route, available on the tourist office website.

Where To Stay
To complete your winter getaway, consider an overnight stay or longer. Be it in the comfort of a hotel, a secluded gîte or a treetop cabin, escapism has never been so alluring. Accommodation remains open in the region, albeit with some adjustments: meals need to be eaten in rooms and, with restaurants closed, takeaway is recommended. Among the hotels in the area, the boutique Alcantara in Tournai is always a treat, as are the increasing number of secluded and sometimes quirky rural retreats, like a gypsy wagon in the heart of the Pays des Collines. La Petite Roulotte au Pied du Tilleul, in the grounds of the Bleu Marine thalassotherapy centre in Anvaing, is fully equipped and perfectly positioned for excursions on foot or bicycle. And an out-of-the-ordinary experience awaits at Pairi Daiza animal park, where you can sleep alongside bears and wolves. 

This article first appeared in ING Expat Time

Written by Sarah Crew