Bel­gian day out

Jérôme André takes a leisurely trip through ru­ral southern Bel­gium – where they love their chips, beers, greenlanes and Land Rovers

LRO (UK) - - Contents -

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

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