Tour Diary: Belgian Treasures & Treats from Bruges to Brussels

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In July, guests joined us in Bruges for our Belgian Treasures & Treats Tour, an 8 day holiday by bike and barge that included stops in Ghent, Dendermonde, Antwerp, Mechelen and Brussels. The group also took part in a field trip by bus and bike to the World War I sites in Flanders Fields. The weather was spectacular, unseasonably warm, with brilliantly sunny blue skies, a gift from this small country with a reputation for gray skies, clouds and drizzling rain. The terrain we traveled on varied from bike lanes on city streets to dedicated bike paths and field trails that took us through meadows, forests and pastures. We were treated to a few character-building cobblestones thrown in for good measure. We were in Belgium after all, and they love their cobbles there! All of our travelers were on their first bike & barge tour and from what he heard throughout the trip, they want to travel with us again.

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From Bruges we traveled by bike each day, stopping along the way for sightseeing, picnic lunches, and, since it was a little warm for coffee, we opted for an afternoon ice cream or beer instead! While we rode our comfy hybrid touring bikes, our captain Harrie and his able crew sailed our “floating hotel” to a new city so that at the end of each day’s ride of 20-35 miles, we were greeted by the ship’s friendly staff. They loaded our bikes onto the ship, and offered us cold drinks and tasty snacks while we caught the end of the live daily broadcast of the Tour de France on the large flat screen in the barge’s air-conditioned lounge. After a hot shower (each cabin had its own private bath), we regrouped in the dining room for some lively conversation over a delicious three-course meal prepared by our talented chef Coen. After dinner, guests had the option of joining our knowledgeable and enthusiastic bike guide Ilse for a walking tour of the town.

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Several evenings included unique on-board tasting events featuring Belgium’s best: Bruges Chocolates and Local Ales, and Regional Cheeses paired with Belgian Ales. One night, we even got to experience a Belgian Ale Essence Tasting. Tour Director Stephanie set up glasses filled with the aromas that the beer geeks say we should detect when we smell the particular beer she selected to pair with our dinner of Indonesian Rijstafel. This popular Dutch meal dates back to the days of the spice trade and our version included six traditional dishes served family style. To complement the rich flavors of the barbecued beef, Balinese eggs, green beans with crispy onions, cucumber salad, coconut rice, and homemade Cassava chips, we enjoyed a celebrated saison, also known as farmhouse ale. The beer geeks report notes of fresh-cut grass, elderflower, peach, and black pepper. After a short history lesson on saison Stephanie invited  guests to smell the filled glasses, then smell the beer to see if they could detect the essences on the “nose” of the beer.

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Our first ride outside of Bruges took us along a tree-lined bike path to quaint Damme. From there we continued on to Blankenberge, a delightful seaside resort where a few of us got our feet wet in the cool waters of the North Sea while others strolled along the boardwalk and enjoyed some ice cream and people watching.

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