Belgian day out
Jérôme André takes a leisurely trip through rural southern Belgium – where they love their chips, beers, greenlanes and Land Rovers
Exploring the south of the country
Every time I drive on Belgian motorways, it feels like the US west coast. It’s not the chips, and it’s certainly not the weather. That California feeling is down to Belgium’s penchant for streaked concrete rather than tarmac – just like the North American freeways. This produces a distinctive droning that, typically, a Range Rover will drown out, thanks to its significant sound-deadening.
But ours doesn’t. That’s because it sports chunky mud-terrain tyres, a roof rack with a floorboard and spotlights, a winch, and integral underbody protection. In fact, we get a droning sound no matter what we drive on!
After getting off the Dover to Dunkirk ferry, we’re heading towards Liège on the E40, Europe’s longest road – if we keep driving, we’ll end up in Kazakhstan. At Christian Klein’s invitation, we stop at the Abbaye de Val-dieu brewery in Wallonia, southern Belgium.
Christian is an active figure on the Belgian Land Rover scene and has restored his fair share of vehicles. He is our guide, along with his partner Françoise and fellow British classic car enthusiast, Luc Noville. They greet us with their superb Series Land Rovers in front of the 13th century abbey.
Today it is still occupied by Cistercian monks, and they brew beer following a traditional recipe handed down over many centuries. You can visit all year round but if you want your tour in English you’ll need to book in advance. It costs €6 per adult – and for an extra euro, you get to sample the beer!
Across the road is the Moulin du Val-dieu, a mill on the Bel river that’s been working for 800 years. The main building, now a restaurant, was built in 1731.
Right, time to head for the tracks. Christian reminds us of the basic greenlane rules in Belgium. Most tracks are public as long as they are not bordered by woods or forests on both sides. If the lane has forest on only one side or has fields on both, then it is open to traffic. There are, of course, exceptions, but Christian has known these tracks for decades.
There are no trails where you could travel all day without hitting tarmac. While we’re planning on two relaxing days in Wallonia, you could do the lot in just one day – if you cut down on the beer and chips breaks, that is.
The difficulty is moderate in the summer, but in wet conditions mud-terrains are recommended. Vehicles with roof tents will
‘Most tracks are open to traffic as long as they are not bordered by woods or forest on both sides’
struggle in a couple of places because of low branches, so bring a hand saw or get ready to deflate tyres. In the summer, any stock 4WD Land Rover could do the whole trip.
And we’re off!
Highlight: Tunnel of vegetation
We leave the abbey and drive 500 metres on a main road before turning right on to a track. Things get serious rather quickly, with 200m of dense vegetation. It’s all green here! We even turn the lights on. At the fork, we make a left following Christian and Françoise, zipping away in their superb 88in. Then the track follows a wooden fence to the right, through a farm before hitting tarmac. We make a left and carry on along the N642.
When we see the sign to Jeulemont, we turn right and continue for 300m, then turn left in the direction of Macra, continuing 200m before turning right at a farm. Time for a greenlane again – an easy straight one this time, with no intersections until more tarmac. We then drive 2km and turn right on to the N648 towards Herve, then left before the small church on to the Rue du Tilleul.
It’s fantastic weather. We follow Chris for 2.8km before he turns left, straight into what seems to be a huge bush. There is an opening in this wall of vegetation, but you need to keep your eyes peeled. Drive slowly...
Luc digs a machete from the back of the Series III, while Chris produces an axe. It takes them a minute to trim the thick greenery – they’ve clearly done it before.
The lane crosses gated fields before reaching gravel, then tarmac. This is the only relatively challenging part of the trail, but a standard Freelander 2 driven by a cautious driver would easily cope. The low trees make this part tricky for Defenders with roof tents, though. At the end of a tunnel of trees, we make a left on to National 3 and carry on into Henri-chapelle
and the American Cemetery. Turning right into Rue des Vallons, we go under two bridges, drive 100m and turn left. The track ends and we turn right to Baelen.
Spires and tyres
Highlight: Baelen Pneus
On the main road past a farm we enter another easy track, leading to a superb view over Baelen and its famously crooked church spire. The track ends in a car park, after which we carry on for another 100m then turn right towards the church.
We make a stop here. Chris gives us a quick tour then details what’s left to be done: lots of greenlanes ahead, apparently. In Baelen itself, there’s a bakery, a place to buy snacks a Texaco petrol station, and Baelen Pneus, a tyre shop – you never know… We then drive 1.4km, turn right into the Rue Overoth and follow the main track for 300m before hitting
more gravel. After 400m, we turn left at the fork, then drive 100m and right at the hairpin.
We cross the road and we’re straight back on to the track. After 150m we make a left at the stone cross, then a right before a large pole – one of the boundary stones marking the border between Belgium and Germany during World War 2.
We meet a local farmer, Marc, on his vintage tractor, pulling up tree stumps. Marc is intrigued to find another 1950s vehicle on the track: Christian’s SII. After a quick chat about Land Rovers, Trappist beers and potatoes, we’re on our way along a grassy track.
The fences become hedges, progressively narrowing. The track leads to another green tunnel, this time mainly consisting of sharp dead tree branches, all on an incline. At this point, the temperature reaches 32°C.
Time for a bite
Highlight: Chips and Goé glaces We rejoin the tarmac towards Membach, making a right on the N629 for 1.9 km before turning left towards Limbourg and the village of Goé. This is where the best artisan ice-creams of the region are produced, we’re informed by our guides, and they’re sold at the Ferme du Pré-libeau.
It’s lunchtime, so we head for the Brasserie Saint Georges, in a pretty square of old stone houses. It feels like a different century. The menu offers specialties such as Tête de Veau et Boulets – fist-size tasty meatballs served with, you guessed it, chips. Delicious!
Dam and barrage
Highlight: Picnic and chips After lunch, we aim for La Gileppe dam. Among other things, it supplies the Val-dieu brewery. On the N620, we turn right to Spa/la Gileppe. Just 700m later, we are welcomed by a fantastic view of the dam and its 44ft high sandstone lion sculpture. On the main road we turn left at the Barrage de La Gileppe sign where the 1878-built water barrier and its leisure centre are located.
A multi-storey tower offers an incredible view over the arch-gravity dam and the whole region. There is a lift to a restaurant at the top. Yes, more chips. Exiting the car park we head towards Spa on the N629. After Solwester, we follow the sign to Sart for some more trackwork. We find a nice water crossing and
‘The brasserie offers specialities such as Tête de Veau et Boulets – tasty meatballs with chips’
picnic area. This is an ideal place to go for a paddle on a hot day like today.
Towards the centre of Sart we take a right on the N640, then head towards Eupen, turning right under the motorway bridge for a dirt track then more tarmac. About 800m later, we turn right on a gravel road to find a superb water crossing. The day’s drawing to an end and we don’t need to get across – but we do it anyway – we’re in Land Rovers!
Next, it’s the Francorchamps sign on the N640. After 900m and turning left, we follow the Nivezé sign and carry straight on along the main road. About 800m later it’s right towards Spa and after 100m, left on Avenue Peltzer de Clermont. Shortly, we go left following the Relais de la Sauvenière sign and right towards La Gleize. Here, there’s a fantastic 1.6kmlong forest road leading to the Source de la Gérostène, a pub (with pommes frites) before a quick trip to Spa circuit and the end of our Wallonian adventure.
Tall spires are useful navigation aids here
Fields on both sides... it’s a public track then
Christian shows Jérôme the (mainly green) way
Moulin du Val-dieu – great for floury chips
Defenders with roof racks may struggle a bit
These lanes are far more challenging in the winter
That’s not beer, Jérôme. That’s... water! Santé!
Barrage de la Gileppe – there’s a lot of water here