Belgium is a country that tends to fly under the radar for most European visitors. Given its size, that is perhaps unsurprising – in terms of area, it is around the same size as the state of Maryland. But on the other hand, Belgium is famed for two things, its chocolate and its beer. Surely these factors should place the tiny European country on every epicurean traveler’s bucket list.
Belgium might be small, but that doesn’t mean you can turn up and simply explore the whole country in a couple of days. So sort out your flights, get on to a company like Safetrip UHC to make sure your travel insurance is in place and decide on where to stay.
If you want to base yourself in Brussels, that’s fine, but in that case do it properly. Choose a downtown hotel and you can make full use of the excellent public transport system – there are trams that take you all across the city in a matter of minutes.
That’s perfect for exploring the scores of fantastic bars in and around the city. But if you want to take a look at some of Belgium’s famous breweries, you’ll need to venture out into the countryside.
Breweries of Belgium
There are no two ways about it, you’re going to need a car to get out and tour those breweries. That’s OK if you’ve got a designated driver – Belgium’s roads are easy to navigate and once you get to grips with the fact that the locals treat speed limits as a serving suggestion and nothing more, you will be fine.
But let’s be 100 percent clear on something here – Belgian beer and car keys really do not mix. If everyone wants to sample the fare, then the only real solution is to
hire a driver. That’s not as expensive a proposition as it sounds, but you’ll want to get it all set up well in advance.
Beer might not be as tied to its regions as wine, but you will definitely see some patterns start to emerge as you visit the different breweries. Payottenland, which is the area around Brussels, has a strong association with lambic style beers. This is where you will find brewers like De Cam and 3 Fonteinen.
Venture south into the French-speaking region of Wallonia towards the border with Luxembourg, and you will encounter the classic farmhouse-style ales from brewers like Dupont and Blaugies.
But it is West Flanders, around Bruges, Ostend and Ghent that you will find the classic strong, dark Trappist brews that really put Belgium on the map. One you really can’t miss is the Westvleteren brewery. Tucked away in the village of Vleteren, this brewery is the stuff of legends.
The beer is still brewed by the Trappist monks, and is only available to buy from the door of the monastery by prior arrangement. It is worth making the effort, however, and while every bottle bears the “not for resale” warning, you will find a handful of cafes close to the monastery that are permitted to sell it to discerning travelers.