Tried and tested: culinary cycling routes in Limburg

Summary

Happen en Trappen in Limburg combines the best of both worlds: bike routes across the fruit region with stops at picturesque local eateries along the way

Divine ice cream; treacherous cobblestones

If there are two things that locals love to do in Flanders, it’s cycling and eating. Even better: cycling through beautiful countryside and picturesque towns, and eating good food in traditional cafes and chic restaurants. If only there was a way to do both at once ...

A Dutch company has come up with a winning combination: a bike route with planned stops for food along the way. At each of five restaurants over the length of the route, you receive a different course – starting with cake and coffee, then proceeding to appetiser, soup, main and dessert.

Happen en Trappen, or “nibbling and pedalling”, first began offering its routes in the southern provinces of North Brabant and in Dutch Limburg seven years ago and soon expanded throughout the Netherlands. In 2011, they offered their first routes in Flemish Limburg. There are currently seven routes, including one in Voeren, the Flemish community bordered by the Netherlands and Wallonia.

Here’s how it works: You make a reservation via the website and pay in advance (€38.50 per person). On the selected date, you arrive at the first restaurant between 10:00 and 11:00, where you receive a set of laminated maps with directions and a handy holder that clamps onto your handlebars. From there, you just follow the route as described, making sure to stick to the guidelines for arrival and departure times at each stop.

A heavy start

In the spirit of journalistic inquiry (you understand), my partner and I recently booked the Happen in Haspengouw route, which begins and ends in Tongeren. It’s 48 kilometres divided into five segments.

The day began inauspiciously, with dark clouds and threatening skies, and by the time we arrived at the station in Tongeren, the rain was coming down in earnest. In the five minutes it took to bike to our starting point, we got thoroughly soaked. However, we were soon warm and dry, ensconced in the beautiful interior of Brasserie Bazilik with its black-and-white tiled floor, bentwood cafe chairs and wrought-iron railings.

Along with our maps and route description, our waiter brought coffee and two big slices of warm apple pie. The pie, although delicious, seemed a bit heavy just before setting off on a 48-kilometre bike ride, not to mention a very filling start to a five-course meal. I would have expected croissants and rolls with my coffee here in Flanders, but maybe they do things differently in the Netherlands.

Luckily, by the time we finished our pie, the rain had stopped, and the sun was shining. We secured the map holder to the handlebars of our tandem and set off through the main square. We soon passed out of the city centre and into the surrounding fields, where wheat and barley were ripening in the summer heat. Haspengouw is mostly flat, so the cycling was leisurely, allowing us the pleasure of enjoying the scenery at a relaxed pace.

Our route often followed the bike path network, so staying on track was a simple matter of following the signposts to the next numbered intersection. That is, it was simple until the directions no longer matched up with the bike path numbering. Several times, we had to adapt our route to changes in the bike path network that had evidently been made after the route was written.

Rising expectations

Our second stop was at Herberg de Horne, a former inn with a beautiful front garden, where we enjoyed our appetiser, a terrine of paling in ’t groen, the classic eel dish in herb sauce, offered as a chilled starter that was perfect in every way.

The next stages of our journey took us through Haspengouw’s orchards, which are the main attraction of this particular route. We had chosen a good time of year to visit the region, as the cherry trees were laden with fruit in glowing shades of red. We also saw apples and pears starting to ripen, and even passed some vineyards starting to bear grapes.

Our third stop was the picturesque Chateau de la Motte, just outside Sint-Truiden. The main attraction at this location, popular with families, Vespa tours and cyclists, is the beautiful castle with its large outdoor patio. Here we were served a serviceable, but not very interesting bowl of tomato soup. I consoled myself by giving the accompanying bread to a mama duck who swam back and forth across the pond to feed her young on the opposite side.

By the time we got to the main course, at Taverne de Klee, outside Borgloon, I wasn’t even hungry. There we had a choice out of several traditional Flemish dishes. I chose the Haspengouw chicken, which turned out to be half a roast chicken served with a rather bland mix of potato, bacon and apple. My partner was happy with his braised pork ribs, served with salad and fries.

Hot and bothered

After eating the heavy meals (and downing two beers each), we soon found ourselves labouring to climb the hills around Borgloon. And then we reached a steep section of cobblestones that was simply impossible to negotiate by bike – at least for us. We dismounted and walked the tandem up the hill. Soon afterwards, we were rewarded for our efforts by arriving at our last restaurant of the day.

By now we were both hot and tired, and I was desperately hoping that dessert would be something involving ice cream. At Bij Mariella, my prayers were answered: a Coupe Aardbei, vanilla ice cream buried under a mountain of fresh, local strawberries and topped with whipped cream – the perfect ending to our cycling adventure.

From there it was just a short ride back to Brasserie Bazilik, where we returned our maps. We’d had such a good time that we agreed to do another Happen en Trappen route soon, and to persuade some friends to join us. It’s just the sort of thing that would be fun to do with a group.

Although Happen en Trappen does not provide bike rentals, each route begins near a rental facility, which can be found on the website. Additional routes in Mechelen, Antwerp and West Flanders are planned for the near future.