Brussels is bustling and never fails to provide plenty of locations and activities to fill a weekend from beginning to end. But as exciting as the always-moving and ever-changing atmosphere of Brussels can be, sometimes the crowds and traffic can feel overwhelming and a change of scenery is necessary, if only for a couple of days.
Catch some zzz’s: Nooz wellness resort
Escape to a place of ultimate serenity in the Antwerpse Kempen, a place where time ceases to exist and where relaxation is your only priority (and an easy one to achieve, at that). Nooz, a secluded resort about an hour from Brussels in Grobbendonk, offers four living quarters tucked away in the privacy of the forest. The resort offers a range of wellness packages to fit the ideal length and price of your stay. If a few hours away are all you need, enjoy a massage or a soak in Nooz’s Mystic Water oasis, a fire-heated tub in the woods. In need of a weekend-long escape? Multi-day Nooz packages (also offered for week-long stays) include candlelit dinners, private cinemas and saunas among other services. In addition to the spa services, packages often include snacks and beverages, and Nooz offers package options for larger groups.
At the beach: Oostende
Once a small fishing village, Oostende is now the largest coastal city in Belgium. Despite its size, the beach and other coastal activities offered in Oostende are a nice change of pace from the cobblestones and concrete of Brussels. If your weekend plan is to claim a spot on the sand and move only for a quick dip in the water (given that the Belgian weather is playing in your favour), be sure to check the city’s website for locations and hours, as swimming is only permitted in specified areas at certain times of the day. Or take to the sea on a boat trip and capture a view of Oostende as its early fishermen might have; you can even try your hand at catching the local fare on the Crangon, a traditional shrimp trawler. If you’d rather keep your feet on dry land, the city has plenty of museums and monuments to explore, and let’s not forget the restaurants where you can taste the fresh fare, even if you didn’t catch it yourself. www.visitoostende.be
Search high and low: Dinant
Forty miles south of Brussels in the province of Namur, Dinant sits along the Meuse River. Whether you’re looking for a weekend of history and architecture, nature and physical activity or food and beer, Dinant has the something for you. Explore the city from top to bottom, beginning with the Dinant Citadel. Built to fortify the river valley, the Citadel is perched 100 metres above the Meuse and allows visitors a bird’s-eye view of the city after climbing 408 steps, in addition to housing a weapon and history museum. (Don’t let the stairs keep you from storming the tower; a cable car will also carry you to the top, and a parking lot is accessible from the plateau.) After you’ve experienced Dinant from above, take a trip underground to ‘La Merveilleuse’, a beautiful grotto with fine white stalactites and waterfalls. A RAVel route provides cyclists and walkers with a convenient means of touring the city, and Dinant also holds claim to Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, and the 13th-century Gothic Collegiate Church of Our Lady. And every year on August 15th, Dinant hosts the Bathtub Regatta, during which you can witness a procession of makeshift boats – including bathtubs – racing down the Meuse. www.citadellededinant.be
Once upon a weekend: Belgian castles
Perhaps a weekend on par with a fairytale adventure is more your style. Belgium boasts one of the highest densities of castles per square kilometre in the world. Depending on how far you want to travel outside Brussels and in which region of the country you’d prefer to spend a weekend, discovering the castles hidden across Belgium provides an entirely customizable weekend getaway.
Only about a 20-minute drive outside of Brussels, the 15th century Beersel Castle provides a quick escape from the city and a brief return to the Middle Ages. Or travel to Bilzen, where the history of Alden Biesen is based on the history of the German Order of Knights Landcommanderij, dating back to the 11th century. The castle serves as both a historical site and a location for numerous festivals and events in Bilzen throughout the year. Nearly two hours outside of Brussels, Reinhardstein Château was built in 1354 by Renaud de Waimes after he was granted permission by Duke Wenceslas of Luxembourg to build on the site. The castle passed through the hands of numerous families over the centuries, before falling into disrepair and finally being restored in the late 1960s. Reinhardstein now houses period armour, weapons, tapestries and furniture. The Castle of Lavaux-Sainte-Anne and the Maredsous Abbey are just a couple more popular names out of the hundreds of other castles, citadels and manors in Belgium.
Raise your glass: Belgian beer tours
It’s no secret that beer is a passion in Belgium and an important part of the culture. Brasserie du Bocq, located in Purnode in the province of Namur, was founded in 1858 by Martin Belot and remains in the Belot family today. At the World Beer Awards 2013, Brasserie du Bocq’s Saison 1858 won the World’s Best Bière de Garde/Saison. The brewery specializes in high-fermentation beers and offers guided tours of the facility followed by beer tastings.
Other breweries across the country offer similar opportunities to raise a glass to Belgium. The folks at BeerTourism.com, with the hope of showcasing Belgium’s extensive beer history to new audiences, have created an in-depth website that profiles cities, specific breweries and beer styles. From reds to Lambieks and from Nieuwpoort on the coast to Bouillon in the Belgian Ardennes, there are plenty of cities in which to spend a weekend exploring the country’s wide range of beer styles. Find a compilation of travel guides to Belgian cities, complete with tips on beer, food and travel accommodations, at belgium.beertourism.com.
For the adventurous spirit
If a weekend in the fresh air with plenty of physical activity is your idea of a break from reality, head to the Ardennes and try kayaking on the Amblève River with Coo Kayak (www.coo-adventure.com), explore the geological formations of the Abîme Cave (www.decouvertes.be) or take to the tree tops at Parc Chlorophylle, a “recreation forest” (www.parcchlorophylle.com). Other companies throughout the Ardennes region, such as Europ’Aventure (www.europaventure.be), and across the country offer packages and services to accommodate your adventurous spirit from horseback riding to paint ball to rock climbing.