Staycation: ’tis the summer to holiday at home
Still waiting for the refund on that cancelled flight? Leave your worries behind on one of our ultimate staycation suggestions
Home sweet home
But where to go and what to do? It could be that the one travel guide you’re missing is the one about Belgium. So here are a few tips for a fantastic Staycation.
So many of us take to kayaking or zip-lining on our summer vacation, but we forget that we can do it right here. Adventure parks offer plenty of physical fun, and there are two in the forested area between Bertem and Oud-Heverlee in Flemish Brabant.
The Shelter hosts canoeing down the Dijle and Demer rivers (pictured above) as well as mountain biking trails for beginners and the more experienced. Over at Bosk, you’ll find tree climbing, rope courses and archery tag. There are also a number of walking and cycling routes in the beautiful Bertem and Eiken forests, including the signposted Bertembos Walk.
Bertemnatuur is a smart B&B located on the edge of the Bertem forest. The rooms are impeccable and stylish, and, in keeping with the area, it offers packed lunches and rents bicycles.
Uitzonderlijk in Dutch means out of the ordinary, and zomer means summer, so the city of Bruges came up with this clever play on words to announce its corona-adapted summer festival. Because there has never been a summer quite like this one. And let’s face it: Fewer tourists means there’s no better time to go to the Venice of the North.
The Uitzomerlijk programme is simple and takes you to the south side of the centre of Bruges, where many visitors never get to. The fairy-like inner garden of the Gezellehuis literary museum is the setting for open-air concerts, readings and talks. Stroll north along the canal in the Kruisvest park (complete with a lovely windmill) to reach Komvest, a short street surrounded by historical warehouses. Some of them are home to the creative collective House of Time, which takes over the street with a blend of concerts, performance and circus acts.
Bruges has plenty more to offer for a holiday, of course, from virtual reality tours that plop you into the medieval past to excellent eateries and loads of shopping. For a place to stay in the Uitzomerlijk neighbourhood, check out Flanders Hotel, which has a nice little terrace for lazing around.
For a more countryside experience, it’s hard to beat De Stokerij in Oudenburg, a homey B&B with rooms of dark wood furniture and antique trappings (pictured above). With a lovely flower garden, restaurant and sauna, you could just spend your entire holiday here. But you’ll also find great cycling and walking options as well as nature reserves in the area. It’s a 30-minute drive to Bruges, but it’s also close to the coast, so an excellent location for a more varied holiday.
Spend the night somewhere weird
Oddball accommodations are all the rage, and Flanders is full of ’em. The Jerom Winery in Borgloon, for instance, has built little round cabins to look like wine vats. They are located right on the vineyard, where it is super quiet and picturesque, and you of course get wine tastings and a tour.
In fact, if you like the outdoors, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautifully situated place in Flanders than Borgloon, smack dab in the middle of the Limburg orchard region. The walking and cycling is excellent, and Borgloon’s centre has several squares, surrounded by trees and cafes. The city’s old fruit syrup factory has been beautifully restored and offers tours, and the area is dotted with castles, some of which can also be visited.
Keeping with the round lodgings theme, East Flanders offers the opportunity to spend the night in a giant rectum. Yes, you read that right: The CasAnus is a large-scale work by Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout in the shape of a rectum, which curves so there’s in fact a bit of colon as well. And on one end is, well, the spot where it all comes out. This all-too realistic sight belies a quite stylish, all-white interior with electricity and, naturally, a toilet. The CasAnus is on the grounds of the Verbeke Foundation, a partially open-air museum of contemporary art.
Flanders’ biggest city quite rightly comes up with the longest list of summer activities. With corona in mind, the Antwerpen Straalt (Antwerp Shines) website has more than 400 tips for fun times day and night.
Pass the morning, for instance, seeking out addresses on its list of little, unique shops in the sea of shopping that is Antwerp. Stop into one of its suggestions in Chinatown for lunch. Spend the afternoon on one of its many cycling or walking routes or in a natural swimming pond. And finally cap off the evening at one of its ‘Sante spots’ – terraces that are super cosy or offer amazing views. The website is searchable according to theme or district, so you can put together whole days in one neighbourhood, or across the city.
Antwerp is the centre of a big province, however, with much more to offer. North of the city on the border with the Netherlands is Kalmthout, home to several natural areas as well as the Kalmthout Arboretum. It is a wonderful place to while away a few hours, with some 150 species of trees, 7,000 kinds of plants, several gardens, ponds and a wealth of summer activities.
The arboretum has also just unveiled the fully renovated Vangeertenhof, the 19th-century summer home of the tree grower who first laid the groundwork for the arboretum. Quite conveniently, the arboretum is right next to the Kalmthout train station.
South of Antwerp, meanwhile, is Boom, home to De Schorre recreational domain. Should you have kids, this is the place to be this summer, with a Magic Troll Forest. To be honest, adults will be suitably impressed by this as well: Danish artist Thomas Dambo created the trolls – each between four and 18 metres high – out of recycled wood and dead trees and branches. They are big, and they are amazing. De Schorre is about a 25-minute walk from the Boom train station, or you can catch a bus.
So … if you stay in Antwerp, the city, there are plenty of options to visit Antwerp, the province. In terms of lodging, Antwerp is not short on options. But don’t hesitate to check out: De Witte Lelie, a design hotel that bursts with funky decor and animal prints, and Au lit, Jerome, a beautifully appointed B&B in a townhouse in the hip ’t Zuid neighbourhood.
While everything on this list will be open this summer, some hours and activities will be limited. Check ahead for Covid-19 restrictions and measures
Photos, from top: Courtesy The Shelter; The Bony King of Nowhere ©Anton Coene; courtesy Stokerij; courtesy Visit Sint-Truiden; courtesy Visit Flanders; courtesy UitmetVlieg