travel visiting belgium & the ardennes

a slice of belgium beauty

travel  visiting belgium & the ardennes

There's More To Belgium Than Chocolate. Jonathan Crouch Takes A Motoring Break Around Spa In The Beautiful Ardennes Mountains.

If you're one of those people who sees Belgium as somewhere you pass through on your way to somewhere else, then it might be time for a re-think. As with anywhere, you need to choose your destinations carefully of course but with a little help, a Belgium break could end up being a better bet. Especially for the British motorist seeking an accessible and affordable short holiday.

Bruges and Brussels tend to be places that spring to mind when you think of this

country but instead, we headed to Spa in the Belgium Ardennes mountains one of Europe's most renowned conservation areas. Here, after all, is a city with almost everything. World renowned health and spa facilities, the oldest casino in Europe and arguably the greatest current race circuit. And that's without touching on the fresh, full forests with their numerous walks and

challenging sporting activities.

Spa sits towards the East of the region of Wallonia, with the cities of Liege and Verviers within easy reach to the North and the German border just a short drive away to the East.

The city boasts a brand new Spa Centre called the "Thermes de Spa", which is linked to the Radisson SAS Palace hotel by cable car. Popular treatments here include mud baths for rheumatism made from peat taken from high up on the Fagnes of Spa (the Fens).

There are 200 natural water springs in Spa, even a Wellington Spa, after the Duke of Wellington who was a regular visitor. The Vauxhall casino was in fact created for the British who went there in droves in the 19th century. Henri VIII who lived in Tournai also visited Spa in the 16th century and contributed to making the town well known for its curative waters. Spa water (available in may supermarkets across the UK) comes from here and is well known for being sodium free and lower in total mineral salts than many other European waters.

Around and about are the beautiful towns and villages of what the Belgians call the 'Blue Ardenne' or 'Pays des Sources' (Land of the Springs). Testimonies to the skills of local craftsmen and builders can be found in surprising and varied places around these parts if you're prepared to do a little driving. The dam on the Gileppe river in Jalhay for example, or the amazing tree-covered walk near Theux. There's the medieval castle of Franchimont, the picturesque main square in Sart, remarkable buildings like the Spa Casino: all sit harmoniously together as part of what seems a very natural environment. We particularly liked the abbey at Stavelot, which has a Formula 1 Museum with a collection of vintage formula 1 race cars

In each season, many traditional and cultural events take place with growing success. There's the unique Francofolies in Spa, the 'unmissable' Festivals of Theatre in Stavelot and Spa, the procession of the 'Blancs Moussis' in Stavelot, the carnivals at Sart, Tiege and Jalhay, the old crafts fair at Sart and the medieval fete in Franchimont. In addition, as we did, you'll usually find a varied tapestry of museums and exhibitions, with rich and varied themes.

The city of Spa itself where we stayed is any easy 90 minutes or so drive form the Channel ports and of course is full of very different accommodation options. We chose the Radisson SAS Balmoral in the leafy Balmoral area of Spa. If you're going as far as this, you want to be able to stay in somewhere you know will be good and the Radisson doesn't disappoint. There's a

relaxed feel to the hotel's 88 guestrooms, which make the place a favourite,

particularly among the race teams who throng the place every time an event takes place

at the nearby Spa-Francorchamps Formula One Circuit.

Testing here was part of our reason for visiting and after a hard day on track, you need

somewhere you can get away and relax. To be able to do so just 15 minutes from the

circuit gates was a bonus. An indoor pool, a jacuzzi, a fitness centre with solarium

and sauna, a tennis court and a putting green all contributed to the experience.

Of course, not everyone wants to stay at a hotel this big - or around such a large city,

however full of attractions. So after a pleasant couple of days at the Radisson,

we pointed our car into the surrounding towns and villages - places like Stavelot and

Malmedy, charming towns you could wander round for hours. Eventually, we

settled on somewhere even smaller - Butgenbach, less than an hour from the

German border. For the night we settled upon the comfortable little Hotel du Lac on

the Seestrasse, with its homely atmosphere and friendly staff.

Don't expect people to speak perfect English in this part of Belgium. In fact, you

might struggle to find someone who speaks any English at all. Instructions at the

Hotel du Lac were printed in three languages, none of which we could understand.

Still that's half the appeal of coming somewhere so close that feels so far away.

All of which kind of sums Belgium up really. A place so near but so far, offering the best of both France and Germany but with its own distinct character thrown in. Before you plan on stopping there on your way to somewhere else, plan on doing a bit more.

Belgium - Travel To Spa

The Facts

Where?: In the Belgian Ardennes, off Junction 8 of the motorway E42

90 minutes from the Channel ports.

Where To Stay?: We tried the Radisson SAS Balmoral Hotel, Avenue Leopold II, Spa

Telephone: 0032-87792141

Info.spa@radissonsas.com

Also:

Hotel du Lac, Seestrasse 53,4750 Butgenbach

Telephone: 0032-80446413

www.hoteldulac.be

For More Information on Southern Belgium: www.belgiumtheplaceto.be

nfo@belgiumtheplaceto.be / 0207-531-0390 / 0800-9545245 [brochureline]