A TRIP TO THE VOEREN: TEUVEN AND GENT TRIP REPORT: AUGUST 2004
Click here for photos of the trip
I have long been fascinated by the various enclaves in and around Belgium, so was eagerly awaiting our trip to the Voeren - the part of Limburg province which is entirely surrounded by the Netherlands and Liege province. Add in a trip to the Belgian Grand Prix at nearby Spa-Francorchamps, and a couple of days in Gent, and you have the makings of an excellent long weekend. This is how we got on:
It was pouring with rain as we left the tunnel in Calais; it was pouring with rain as we crossed the border into Belgium, and it was pouring with rain when we hit the coast. The intention was that we'd make an early stop for a leisurely mid morning coffee at Columbus in Middelkerke, however delays getting into the tunnel and difficulty in finding the right part of Middelkerke meant we were very late by the time we got there - nearer lunchtime than mid morning. Anyway, Columbus is a decent little bar with about 35 beers and what is probably a decent sea view on a better day - must return on a sunnier day. Their food also looks pretty serious, though we didn't eat.
Next up we headed towards Brussels, stopping for lunch at the legendary Rare Vos, Schepdaal. This is clearly a superb bar, though we were the only customers at Friday lunchtime hence it was lacking slightly in atmosphere. The house beer - Rare Vos - is from Girardin and came free, courtesy of Bob. Lunch was a very tasty giant house omelette, which is served direct from a giant pan - a great feed which was a challenge to finish.
Getting round Brussels took forever and by this stage we were running way behind schedule, so sadly had to cancel the planned stop at Fantome, which was a shame. Next stop for a quick coffee and a tick was the Carrousel in Hoegaarden. Nice enough café, but bizarrely they said we couldn't have pancakes as they 'stop' at 1700. It was 1708 and the place was empty…..
From here it was full speed ahead on the E40 towards Liege then north towards Maastricht. Just before Maastricht you turn right off the motorway and end up in the Voeren, a superbly quiet, scenic rural area. First village you come to is Moelingen, where we had just enough time to collect our tick at the Berwein. Decent locals bar by the river, but sadly the beer list is down to just 30 beers with few standouts. Not the best or friendliest bar we've ever been in, but my draught Gouyasse was pleasant enough.
Just before 1900 we reached our destination, the small village of Teuven. Our base for the next two days was the Kings Head in Teuven. Apparently this is an 'English' pub/hotel. Apart from the name, the Union Jack flying above the bar, the 'Old London Road' sign outside and the fact that they serve Old Speckled Hen, there is nothing remotely English about this place. In fact I'd say its more typically Belgian - a very quirky place run by a very quirky woman….
In many ways the whole place is very good: the rooms are fine, if with a slightly strange layout; the food was reasonably good - though if you have half board (which we had somehow ended up booking by mistake) you have to eat at 1830, which isn't entirely convenient. This is where the woman in charge comes in: she runs the whole place strictly on her terms, not on terms designed to meet her guests' needs or wishes. For example, the reason residents must eat at 1830 is so that the restaurant could be cleared by 2000 when other, non resident guests arrive to eat from the 'ordinary' (read: expensive) menu. Those residents who have half board only had a couple of choices and the whole menu wasn't half as good as the regular menu available later. In this quirkiest of places, you also get told off if you are late for dinner! After 330 miles driving in torrential rain we had arrived half an hour 'late' for dinner: we were promptly told off and made to sit down and eat immediately - before even being shown our room. On the second day we deliberately arrived late at 1850 to see what happened, and got told off again! It was just like staying with your mum.
Despite all of this, it IS a good, comfortable place to stay, if you are prepared to put up with a bit of madness. Its also very quiet at night as everyone has to be out of the bar/restaurant by 2300 when they shut completely. The only thing that may disturb you is the cows in the field opposite or the thousands of cyclists who whirr past from an early hour.
There is a reasonable beer list, and although it has been reduced down to just 25, it does include Boon Kriek and Gueuze, and Val Dieu Brune on draught. Oh yes, and don't forget the draught Old Speckled Hen.
After dinner we were finally shown to our room, and we were soon off to explore the Teuven night life. Well, night life is probably the wrong word, but we were soon next door at the superb Moeder de Gans.
Again, sadly the beer list has been chopped since the last Tim Webb Guide. Its now down to just 65 - 70, with an additional 15 - 20 on a special beer list which you have to ask for. However, there are still lots of great beers available, including, on the 'special' list, several aged Trappists, including the old Westvleteren 6 red cap, which was stunning as ever. I also had a 6 year old Chimay Blue which was also pretty good. The interior of Moeder de Gans is superb - huge ancient fireplace, cosy nooks, breweriana, wood everywhere - but the ambience was shattered somewhat by the staff clearing up and closing down from the moment we arrived. Well, it was a quiet night in Teuven, but putting chairs on tables from 9.30pm isn't really going to encourage too many customers to come out. After an hour of watching them bang and crash around and make it pretty obvious that they wanted to close, we got chucked out at 22.45. A real shame, as the place really is a gem and apart from tidying up around us, the staff were very friendly and the service was good.
With our options closing up at a rate of knots, we headed for the only other bar in town - the bar that used to be called Oad Teuven, but which has had a makeover and is now called 'Café Modern'. Excellent place which was furiously busy when we arrived - with a total of 16 punters! Again, the beer list has gone way down, to about 20, but as usual there is plenty of decent stuff on the list, and we were happy to spend time there each night.
After a Westmalle Tripel and a Boon Gueuze, it was back to the very quiet Kings Head for an early night.
On Saturday morning it had finally stopped raining, so we decided to head out and see some local sights. Where better to go first than 'Drielandenpunt' - where Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all meet. Amazingly difficult to find, it isn't signposted at all from the Belgian side, and even when you get into the Netherlands its not really that obvious where you need to go to see the spot.
After that it was off to Kaffee Lambert in Sippenaeken, a truly excellent place right on the border of the Voeren but just inside Liege province. As such, its one of those rare Bob bars which is in Belgium but not in Flanders. The friendly owner speaks four languages, and as he is a part time tour guide he really knows his local history. The café has a good selection of all the beers from the immediate local area (Val Dieu, Rick's, Grain d'Orge, etc) even though the list is probably only around 35 in total.
It was lunchtime already so we drove to nearby Aubel and visited the Tim Webb recommendation, Vieil Aubel. Good cuisine a la biere and 45 beers, including the local Aubel Brune and 3 Schteng. The food was excellent, I had rabbit stew (full of prunes and flavour) and Theresa had pork.
A quick spot of shopping followed in a shop called Stassen Vin et Cie, just down the street from Vieil Aubel. Probably around 80 beers available including many local brews, all at ridiculously cheap prices. From here its only a few miles to the local abbey: Abbaye de Val Dieu. The abbey itself is well worth a visit, but the café attached is too refectory like for my taste. Very much on the Achel model, it made me wonder why this is a popular style of café to attach to an abbey? Anyway, we decided to skip the beer and instead headed on to our next port of call, Corman Collins beer shop at Battice.
Smart place, but a disappointing selection compared with other beer stores I've been to previously, for example, Dranken Geers or Hop Duvel. Some of the beers claimed on their website were nowhere to be found. Prices were, however, a real bargain and I picked up a Deus for 9 euros and a 1.5 litre Moinette Blonde for 5 euros!
After this it was up to the main part of Limburg via Maastricht, for two Bob ticks: In de Oude God, Oud Rekem, a superb old café with a lovely garden, but sadly a beer list of only around 20, then 't Dorp, Zutendaal, another decent little café.
Realising we were going to be late for dinner, we decided to take our time and make one final call at De Swaen, in the Voeren village of 's Gravenvoeren. Once more, the list has been chopped, but there are still around 60 beers, including three from St Bernardus as well as many local choices. Another atmospheric café which comes highly recommended.
After getting our expected telling off for being late for dinner, we were soon out to enjoy the Teuven nightlife again, doing the same routine as the previous night - old Westvleteren 6s at Moeder de Gans then over to the rockin' Café Modern for a night cap.
After a quick coffee stop at Berry in Aubel - a very good locals café with about 40 beers, we were soon down at the Grand Prix, where once more I failed to see Herr Schumacher win a race…..
Made a very quick getaway, missed all the traffic and were soon heading for Gent without delay. Just one quick stop on the way - a Bob tick at In de Molen, Bierbeek, and we were soon sitting in Zwarte Fles, Zwijnaarde (Gent suburb) by 6.30pm. Beer list here is about 85 with many good beers, including St Bernardus, Witkap, Ename, Oerbier and Gentse Tripel. Very impressive food and we will eat here again. Stoofvlees was on the menu for me! St Bernardus Prior and a free De Koninck went down well with dinner.
Up to the centre of Gent for our hotel, the wonderful Erasmus, which we would recommend to anyone - all beams, impressive furnishings, and a superb location right in the centre of town. After checking in we were soon ensconced at Het Waterhuis, where we spent the remainder of the evening. As usual, the beer list was seriously impressive, and I had an XX Bitter, a Guldenberg, a Floreffe Dubbel, a De Cam Gueuze and the rarely seen Ambiorix made it a superb evening in a superb venue. Only disappointment was that Achel Extra was listed but not available when we requested it, also no Westvleterens either.
We rounded off the night at Pol's genever bar on the terrace, superb as usual.
For lunch we headed over to the excellent addition to the Gent beer scene: Deus, which has a very good quality beer list of around 200 beers. The food is also excellent, particularly the pasta dishes. Shame about the two blokes sitting 3 feet from us who smoked 8 Gauloises between them in half an hour, in relay fashion, all over us, while we were eating.
From here we headed to St Pieters station where our afternoon excursion via train started. First we headed to Wetteren to visit Andre Paeleman's bar at the Warande complex. Sadly, it was closed. I had emailed them to check the opening hours, but didn't get a reply. I had also checked their website, which apparently was way out of date. The hours had changed completely, so we had no option but to start the walk back to the station.
Hopping just one stop up the line, we went instead to Schellebelle and the bar in the centre of the village called 't Veer, with just under 100 beers. Its quite a safe list but they do serve a superb 'special' from Andre Paeleman, which was so good that I forgave him for not answering my emails, completely changing the opening hours and being shut when we wanted to get into Warande. The beer was called Dubbel Bruin Bellebier and was one of 3 Bellebiers that I believe is a special seasonal beer, and not just something for 't Veer. Anyway, it was superb, especially as it was my free Bob beer. We enjoyed our time at 't Veer and the owner - Joris Bossaer - is a really decent young guy who is really putting a lot of effort into running a good bar.
Back in Gent we got a cab to the front door of the Hop Duvel. We have previously had iffy service here, but I am pleased to report that things were fine this time and we really enjoyed our time here. It was helped by the fact that I had not one but two bottles of the incredible Drie Fonteinen Framboos. Surprisingly, the second was even better than the first. This beer is definitely the best Belgian beer I have ever had. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
From here we wandered back to the centre and headed for dinner at Abajour. This was really very good, the best meal of the trip and I can recommend the food here very highly. I had a superb steak and Theresa had some chicken. The frites were superb.
To walk off dinner we decided to wander down to Trappistenhuis, which is still doing a very good job, still one of our favourite bars in Gent, and where we had a highly enjoyable Fantome. From there we walked back to the centre of town and checked out Dulle Griet. Am I really the only person who has NOT had bad service here, ever? This time it was positively charming and helpful and as usual, and we thoroughly enjoyed a couple of beers here, me having St Feuillien Brune and T having Stille Nacht.
Sadly, the Waterhuis had closed early by the time we got there - around midnight - so it was up to the gantry in 't Galgenhiusje for a nightcap of Rochefort 10, followed by another nightcap in 't Drupelkot (genever nightcap there, of course). Where else would you end the evening in Gent?
After checking out it was the scenic route to Calais via Berlare, Dendermonde and Lokeren. Yes, I can hear you agreeing that it's the obvious route.
First stop was 't Oud Brughuys in Berlare: a really gorgeous place, the sort of bar that I'd love to run. About 60 beers, excellent looking food and a very friendly owner, this place is pretty special - superb décor, old jukebox, lots of breweriana, that sort of thing. Definitely visit if you are in the area.
From here it should have been a very short trip to the Oude Vest in Dendermonde but due to unexpected road blocks par excellence, it was a complete nightmare to get to from Berlare as the bridge over the river was closed and the detour took forever. Arriving very late for lunch and very hungry, we were therefore disappointed to find that they have completely stopped doing meals of any description. This is a pity, as it's a pretty decent place with a beer list of around 180 - 200 beers. However, food called and time was marching on, so we went across the road to a little café. From here it was out to the countryside near Dendermonde to 't Ateljeeken, a good country café where we picked up another tick. Bij de Ezel in Lokeren was next up, another tick in a place where the owners have a strange obsession with little horses. Really.
Racing across East Flanders to ensure we got to Calais on time, there was just time for one final quick tick, at Kameleon in Landegem, decent café with about 40 beers.
Another great trip to lots of new places, lots of old favourites, and with great beer at each step of the way. Especially enjoyable once it had stopped raining!