Belgian Beer & Bike Tour (II)

This tour is the sequel to our adventure last summer, when we went on a bike mission to taste the best brews of Southern Belgium. Part two took us past four Trappist breweries in Flanders and Holland, and several microbreweries in between.

Flanders and Holland have an extensive biking network, which made this trip much easier than its predecessor. You can simply compose a biking route by connecting the “nodes“; these nodes are numbered and serve as guidance on the road. In contrast with last year’s hilly landscape, this region is flat as a board. Without hills and coordination problems, we could really focus on the beer – which in turn created new challenges. In addition to bicycle bags, we also invested in a third musketier. Other than that, the concept remained the same: beer, biking and camping.

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Day 1 | Antwerp » Zundert

We started our beer tour from my homebase Antwerp on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Much later than planned, thanks to our rum tour the night before. Day 1 immediately kept two Trappist breweries in store. After two hours of biking through Antwerp’s upscale neighborhoods, we reached the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle. The abbey is beautifully located, but not open to the public. Worry not, as Café Trappisten across the street offers a menu full of items containing Westmalle in some (weird) way.

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Another two hours of biking took us across the Dutch border to the Abbey Maria Toevlucht, home to Zundert Trappist beer. We biked straight to brasserie « Rustpunt de Kievit », located across the abbey and right next to Camping Internationaal Priem. First time I ever tried Zundert, and probably also the last time. Exhausted from what should have been an easy day, we were happy we could roll from the table into our tents.

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Day 2 | Zundert » Poppel

Back to our old selves, we were ready for some serious biking and beer tasting. In reality, there was going to be much of one activity and little of the other today. The first 40 km would land us in Poppel, where heaven awaited in the form of a beer garden. We traversed the Dutch countryside, passing through small villages on the way. On the hunt for breakfast, we took a random turn to « Café Bij Toontje Schoen ». This turned out to be a lovely terrace coupled to a farm, and even a small brewery! It was too early for beer, but Toontjes koek and coffee turned out to be a great alternative.

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Crossing the Belgian border again, we arrived in Poppel. A small town with little going on, except for the amazing concept De Biertuin.  In a large garden with picnic benches, you can try a wide array of regional beers or “Kempense streekbiertjes”. With still 30 km to go, we planned to stay for a couple of beers tops. But the beers were delicious and the sun was shining. So instead of biking another 30 km, we ended up trying 30 different beers. In return for our generosity, the owners let us be the first ever to camp in De Biertuin.

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Day 3 | Poppel » Riethoven

We woke up to the bad news that the restroom trailer was closed, which resulted in an unusually early start. At 9:00, we we’re already packed up and on the hunt for a breakfast-restroom combo. This was followed by a green ride through the Dutch forest. After an hour of cycling, we arrived at the third Trappist brewery on this tour. La Trappe is brewed at the Koningshoeven brewery in Berkel-Enschot, just across the Belgian border. Apparently the Dutch don’t drink beer before noon, because the gate to the abbey was closed when we got there at 11:00. Seeing the large crowd that was already waiting, our conscience quickly went to a rest. At 12:00, the gate opened to a beautiful terrace in the abbey’s gardens. You can taste all of La Trappe’s varieties thanks to convenient 12,5 cl glasses. A must try is the delicious La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged.

 

A short bike ride brought us to another brewery, of much smaller size than the previous one. Entering « Museumbrouwerij De Roos » in Hilvarenbeek feels like stepping into the 19th century. The microbrewery has four beers on offer, which can be enjoyed in the cozy attic.

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Our never ending thirst led us to one more brewery, at an hour biking of Hilvarenberg. The BEERZE brewery and adjoined Hotel & Restaurant De Gouden Leeuw are located at the cute town square of Vessem. The heavy beers had started to translate into heavy legs, so we were happy to have a long break at their large terrace.

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After one last stretch of road, we arrived at our unique stay for the night. In addition to a campsite, minicamping Heierhof is also an ostrich farm! They even offer a regional “Ostrich beer”. We had reached our beer limit at Vessem town square, so we let this one pass by and went to sleep like babies.

Day 4 | Riethoven » Retie

Just when we thought it would be an easy trip, the Belgian weather decided otherwise. The first hour of biking had us soaking wet, so much that we needed a pitstop to warm up. The restaurant owner was nervously looking at his new leather seats when we came dripping in. Once the monsoon had turned into an average shower, we resumed our journey to the « Achelse Kluis » or Achel Trappist brewery. The smallest of all Belgian Trappist breweries, Achel only produces a blond and brown variant. The cafetaria inside of the abbey offers them both on tap, served with a view of the brewery itself. Truth is we were planning to bike to the next train station and ride home, but two Trappist beers later we manned up and jumped back on our bikes.

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After rain comes wind in Belgium, so that’s what we got for the next two hours. Although it felt like we were going backwards, we eventually made it to Postel Abbey. Since the abbey made it to our tour, one can guess there must be a Postel beer. There is indeed, but it’s not a Trappist beer as production does not happen within the abbey walls. All three Postel varieties are served at “Gasthof de Beiaard”, a cosy brasserie next to the abbey.

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As we had drifted away quite far from Antwerp by now, my dad was going to pick us up in Turnhout. But we were quite fed up with Belgian weather and biking at this point, so we made nearby Retie our final stop. We even got tired of beer, as proven by the bottle of wine we ordered with our last supper. Although we tried many great beers on this trip, my favorites can still be found in the Southern part of Belgium!