Mol and around: March 2005
Many of us have to juggle our love of Belgian Beer with family commitments. I find that a very good compromise is to take the family to Sunparks holiday resorts in Belgium. These consist of a tropical swimming pool complex complete with water slides hot tubs etc. with restaurants bars and a sports hall. The accommodation is houses for 4, 6 or 8 people with a fully fitted kitchen. Those of you who are familiar with Centerparcs or Oasis will be interested to know that Sunparks are built on a smaller scale but are much cheaper.
We've visited Sunparks De Haan on a number of occasions as it is superbly positioned for visiting Bruges, Ostend and of course De Haan itself, but decided to explore somewhere new this time. Sunparks Mol is about 4 miles from Mol in the Kempense area on the edge of Antwerp province close to the border with Limburg. The region consists of pine woods with a number of large lakes and is thus and ideal place for walking and cycling. The Sunparks village is situated on the edge of one of the largest lakes.
A 2.00 a.m. start on Monday to drive down for a breakfast Eurotunnel crossing. The family is me, my wife Julie, children Tom and Amy. Good thing I'd chosen this route as there have been problems with the cross channel ferries lately due to the berths at Calais being rebuilt to the wrong size! No problems with the roads or Eurotunnel meant that we hit the Autoroute at 9.15 a.m. European time and had soon crossed the border into Belgium.
A quick detour into Deinze to collect some Chimay Doree beer negotiated on eBay. The seller actually works for Chimay and I left with a number of Chimay souvenirs from his garage. Back on the road we arrived at Sunparks at 1.30 p.m. and soon had the keys to our house. We'd been informed in advance that we had been upgraded to a Luxury Villa for 6 people as our chosen house was not ready after refurbishment. This was superbly positioned close to the pool complex and approx. 50 yards from the lake so we were very pleased. Extras in the house included a dishwasher and 2nd bathroom.
The first visit to the pool and it soon became clear that the village was only about 20% full. It transpired that the Belgian schools did not finish for Easter until Good Friday so hose families who were there were mostly Germans. We seemed to be the only Brits. An empty pool meant plenty of space and no queues for the slides.
It was soon time for food and beer and Julie had decided that she wasn't drinking much alcohol that week so we drove into Mol. A reasonably sized town with plenty of bars, however nothing special to look for on the beer front. Thanks to Jimbo for info on the area which I used to check out t'Leeuke which has a small beer list but offers all trappists except Achel. A tidy brown café with a snooker table it attracts what I would call a mature clientele. Unfortunately, the Westvleteren beers were not available (a common theme on this trip) but the hard to find Rochefort 6 made a decent substitute. Across the road to the "Onder den toren" (under the tower) next to the church. This was a very pleasant bright and modern bar again with a small beer list. They do have La Chouffe on draught so 2 of those with Spaghetti Carbonara went down very well. The whole family enjoyed the food here and it would be superb with a bigger beer list.
A we'd already been up 18 hours we headed back to Sunparks and had a quick look in the Sports bar. The lack of holidaymakers manifested itself here as well. Indeed the bar's closing time was 10.00 p.m. all week and the restaurants/cafes on site closed even earlier. As the season progresses the opening hours extend. Anyway, past experience didn't hold out much hope for decent beer, but apart from the usual Inbev offerings, there was De Koninck, Duvel, and Postel Dobbel and Tripel. My nightcap was a passable Postel Dobbel followed by a quick family game of table hockey (a big hit this all week) before bed.
Julie had kindly decided to drive all week, but note that Sunparks has a bus stop outside the entrance. The 307 Hasselt to Lommel via Mol goes via Sunparks just a few times a day, but Belbus 3 follows a similar route and is available all day up to 9.00 p.m. A number of interesting cafés can be accessed this way, and Mol railway station is on the route. The cycle routes are excellent as ever and Lommel can be reached on a straight road in under 30 minutes and Desselt not far away either.
I was up bright and early on Tuesday and drove into Mol to the Hypermarket to stock up on some food essentials. There is a shop on Sunparks but I wanted to get some microwave meals for the evening. On the way back I located drinkshop De Bierbron on the Turnhout road to stock up on supplies to take home - thanks again Jimbo. This was excellent with approx. 150 different beers and a superb gueuze corner. Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Hanssens, Girardin, Boon, Mort Subite Fond were here and not just the common ones. For instance I picked up Fou'Foune and Oudbeitje. They took credit cards too. Back to the house for 10.30 and breakfast we then went off to hire bikes. BTW the weather was superb and it felt more like midsummer than March.
Following the usual superb cycle paths we reached one of the large canals in the area and rode along the towpath for a few miles until we reached Mol Sluis. this a pretty village a few kilometers from Mol centre with 4 or 5 bars. Our choice was Sluyshof, a very nice Flemish tavern with lots of exposed brick work and timber beams and a first floor gallery area. Surprisingly busy for a Tuesday afternoon. The beer list was slightly more extensive and I enjoyed a superb Gouden Carolus Classic followed by a Brigand. Unfortunately, it started raining as we left - the only poor weather of the week - so we headed straight back to Sunparks noting the lovely scenery of the lakes and woods.
Another trip to the pool and then our tea in the house it stopped raining at about 7.00 p.m. We ventured out on the bikes towards Rauwe approx 2K away. Three bars were shut so we went into the only one open. Once I'd stopped choking from the cigarette smoke I found that the beer choice was non existent so a Postel Tripel it was. Note that Postel Abbey is nearby so the Postel beers appear on most menus. The smoky atmosphere caused us to drink up quickly and head back to Sunparks for a pre-booked hour on Ten-Pin Bowling accompanied by a Duvel.
Wednesday dawned warm and sunny and after an hour's run through the woods I was ready to face the day. We had an early visit to the pool, and then drove to Mol station for an excursion to Antwerp. The train arrived on time (of course) and 50 mins later we arrived at the ornate Antwerpen Centraal. I had to prise Julie away from the diamond shops having convinced her that diamonds are ostentatious; at least I think I convinced her. It was only two weeks since my previous visit to Antwerp but the difference was amazing. The snow and ice had gone and the tables outside the cafes were full of people taking in the sunshine. We did a bit of shopping before our first café. The Grand Café Horta serves the unfiltered Palm which was excellent. Julie and Tom went off to browse some more shops, so I took Amy into the wonderful Oud Arsenaal. Not as smoky as usual because the front door was open and all the regulars had bagged the outside tables. A Hanssens Kriek and draught Moinette were well received before it was time to move on. We had excellent value Pizzas at an Italian restaurant close to the Cathedral; eating outside in March! A bit of sightseeing and Easter egg buying left us time for one more café. Pater's Vaetje is usually my port of call well after midnight following the beer festivals. On this occasion I had Ne Flierfluter and a Ter Doolen Tripel after which we caught the underground tram back to the station for the trip home.
Thursday was our final day at Sunparks so we stayed on the complex in the daytime with a couple of trips to the pool and a walk along the lake. We had decided to eat out at Sluyshof and we weren't disappointed. The Steaks were superb and we had to refuse the offer of extra frites. I drank another Gouden Carolus Classic and a Westmalle Tripel. Jeremy is this still a Bob tick? It appears in an old edition of mine. Back to base for a De Koninck and more Canada v USA on the table Ice Hockey.
Friday was leaving day. More leisurely than usual as we had booked the more expensive, but free thanks to the judicious use of my Tesco Visa card, overnight ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull. The plan was to drive to De Haan for a walk along the sea front before spending a few hours in the top class De Torre. However as we approached the coast sea mist rolled in which meant it was too cold to venture out for long. Never mind! it meant that bit longer in De Torre. Lunch and 5 or 6 beers including a 75cl bottle of Gouden Carolus Cuvée van de Keiser which was the highlight. By mid afternoon the sun had burnt through, and sitting outside next to the tram stop was very pleasant.
A short drive to Zeebrugge to the car ferry which again was fairly quiet. After putting our overnight bag into our cabin and a quick recce of the ship we went to the restaurant for dinner. We'd paid for meals in advance (or at least Tesco had) and knew from past experience what to expect. It is a help yourself buffet with a huge choice of starters main courses and desserts. The only thing we had to pay for were drinks. Julie and I polished off a 1½ bottles of Australian Merlot. Tom got through 12 courses - teenagers are a bottomless pit. We had a dabble on the roulette table before spending an hour or two watching the cabaret. A duo called "Foreign Affair" made slightly more bearable by two bottles of Duvel (no proper glasses though).
We had a decent night's sleep and were ready at 6.30 a.m. for breakfast in the restaurant which is another mountainous offering. By now though our stomachs were putting up a fight and this was a bit of a struggle. We disembarked at 8.00 for the drive home via Chesterfield to watch Tranmere Rovers play. I had a few drinks before the match and in my first port of call, Wetherspoons, De Koninck was available on handpump and very good it was too. After the game which was an early kick off a leisurely drive had us home for 6.00 p.m.