Welcome to part two of our journey. If you missed part one here’s a link: Belgium – Home of Chocolate, Waffles… And Beer. Our Belgian holiday was going way better than expected. We arrived not really knowing very much about Belgium, and scouring the internet before leaving home just to find something to do in the Ardennes Region didn’t result in anything that seemed too exciting or even interesting – unless you love to hike and/or camp. After arriving we found Belgium beautiful and charming – definitely worth taking the time to visit whether on your way to or from another destination in Europe… or even as a destination of its own – just don’t rely on Belgian Tourism to help you along the way. Use TripAdvisor… or travel bloggers like us.
Before we even got to Belgium we needed to find a place to stay. Since we knew very little about the area, we had no idea if any of the hotels were any good – and how would we begin to sort through them? It’s not like in North America where you have your chosen ‘brand’ of hotel chain and just go from there. Over the past couple of years everyone that travels has been talking about Airbnb and since we’re in the travel industry, of course we’ve been hearing about it pretty much from the get-go. With few options on offer for the area we needed to stay, we decided it was time to give it a shot. At this point let’s just say it worked out better than expected. We ended up staying at two different Airbnb accommodations in Belgium – one was just 12 minutes from the race track and the other right in the middle of Dinant. [If you’re interested in trying Airbnb for the first time use this link (www.airbnb.ca/c/gails610) and get a $40 CDN travel credit off your first booking! (you’ll get credited in whatever currency you use)
Our initial destination – and reason for going to Belgium in the first place – was the Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps and the surrounding area to attend the penultimate race on the 2016 ELMS (European LeMans Series) racing schedule. BTW if you are a race fan and haven’t watched the ELMS, you really are missing out on some terrific racing – nothing close to the SnoreFest aka: Formula 1. Racing is covered live, without adverts on YouTube. BTW2 – Entry to the race is free entry for all spectators!!
The Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps (Spa) is one of those tracks that race fans around the world have on their “Bucket List” and we were not disappointed when we finally got there. It is called by many “the most beautiful racetrack in the world” and after spending even a couple of hours there you are left with no doubt – it’s true. We were there in combination with our friend Andreas Wirth – driver of the No. 32 SMP Racing prototype car, so we got to enjoy access that some fans don’t get, like doing a track walk on the Thursday afternoon. We actually got to wander around the track and visit one of the most famous places in all of motorsport – Eau Rouge. As race fans, we couldn’t have had a better weekend as the weather, always tricky in that area, co-operated for the entire weekend.
Since we’d never been to Belgium before, we thought we’d spend some time after the race doing a quick tour of the area. With only about 2 ½ days before we were scheduled to be in Germany, we took in as much as we could in that short period of time… and nobody does speed-touring like us! From our Airbnb we started our “Towning” expedition…
Towning © Iain… is a new made-up word that means “Visiting as many different towns as possible within a given holiday.” In our previous visits to Germany our friend gave our castle expedition the title “Castling” (seeing as many castles as possible within a given holiday) so Towning seems appropriate for this year and last year’s adventure through Germany.
Francorchamps – The town you pretty-much have to drive through going to/from the race track. It leads you to the main VIP entrance and the renowned Hotel de la Source where the rich and famous people stay when in town. There’s a Circuit Shop on the main street that you can pass a dozen times and not see it (we did) that sells memorabilia and souvenirs of the world-famous track. It’s a quaint little town with plenty of hotels, restaurants and shops. The restaurants we tried were pretty good – we got to sample two of them, and although a bit expensive (naturally when in a place like this) the food was very good. L’Acqua Rossa (reservations recommended) is very popular with the race teams as well as the public. Their pizza is very tasty and the ingredients fresh – one of the best and biggest pizzas we’ve ever had. For good steak (good but not fantastic) try Le Relais de Pommard Steak House, again a bit expensive and for some strange reason they put sauce (extra €3) on the steak!! You don’t kill a steak by putting sauce on it!! Who does that?
From our Airbnb home base – just outside the tiny village of Hockai, we set off to do a loop of the area, ending up back to home base. First stop was the town of Spa, only 12 kilometres away.
It’s odd that we always associate the word Spa with the world-famous racetrack, but it’s even more famous outside of racing. First of all it gave its name to every spa in the world (duh), 2nd the first beauty pageant in the world was held at the Concours de Beauté, in Spa on 19 September 1888. Who knew!! And third – and possibly most important to some people – it’s the birthplace of the casino. Built in 1763 it’s the oldest in the world and is still in operation today (open daily from 11am until sunrise). Apparently the Prince-Bishop of Liege (Roman Catholic Diocese/ruler in the region) way back in the 18th century thought of the idea and built one to remove people from their money with great success. The casino sits right in the middle of the town in a nice town square type of setting. Spa is a very nice looking town, however we were more enamoured with the roundabouts leading into Spa with their unique works of art and flowerbeds. Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of time to spend wandering around, but that just gives us another reason to return one day.
Coo – Waterfalls of Coo
After Spa we stopped in at a little village by the name of Coo. It’s a big holiday draw for families during the summer months and it’s easy to see why. With an amusement park front and centre, families don’t have to walk too far to the park entrance. Parking must be a nightmare in the summer, but we had not trouble on a cool September afternoon. In addition to the park – for kids of all ages – there’s waterfalls, hotels and restaurants, along with camping and adventure tours that looked pretty good! If you’ve got kids, they’ll love it here but adults also have plenty to do. One of the benefits of travelling during the off-season is that it’s not too crowded and that was certainly true with our couple of hours in Coo. The waterfalls are a big attraction and the quaint little town is also worth taking a stroll around. If you’re in the region make sure you spend some time in Coo – it makes for a very relaxing couple of hours… in the fall/spring.
Waterfalls of Coo – Address: 4970 Petit-Coo, Belgium
Website: cascades-de-coo.be (once again great marketing by the Belgian – this site is only in French!)
Our last stop before heading back to our Airbnb for the evening is the town of Stavelot – famous…sorta, for the Abbeye de Stavelot – one of the oldest monasteries in Belgium… or a pile of rubble, truth be told. We were really only interested in the Spa-Francorchamps Museum [http://bit.ly/SpaRaceMuseum] after-all, racing cars – that’s why we were in Belgium! But it turns out you have to visit two other ‘museums’ that looked very boring and the Spa-Francorchamps Museum was just a tiny exhibition in the dungeons.. I mean “beautiful vaulted cellars of the abbey.” From what we found on the Google and TripAdvisor – pictures actually do it justice, even a “large scale model and Playstation 4 consoles” couldn’t get us more uninterested than we already were!
Finding the Museum/Abbey during the relatively empty off-season was bordering on an ordeal (thanks to our navigation system) – thank goodness we weren’t there in the summer! We spent more time driving around trying to find the place than actually looking at the Abbey… from the car. After all of about 30 seconds we left and drove right into the heart of the town square (about a minute away). The cobblestone streets around the square are very narrow but add to the “feel” of the town (the whole town is narrow and cobble-stoned, so it should be more inviting than it actually is). In the end we can cross off the visit, but there’s no reason to really visit Stavelot – there are much nicer towns that are less grubby (we were very glad we didn’t end up staying here as originally planned). It’s also the only time in Belgium that we didn’t feel 100% safe and relaxed. We can’t explain why we felt that way – we just did.
Abbeye de Stavelot – Address: Court Abbey, 1 4970 Stavelot // Website: www.abbayedestavelot.be
Price: €7. Visit of 3 museums and temporary exhibition – 1) Historical Museum of the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy [1 ½ – 2 hours] 2) Museum of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit [30 mins-1 hour] 3) Guillaume Apollinaire Museum [30 mins-1 hour]
After that full day, we headed back to relax and pack our bags for our next adventure in a new area of Belgium with a new Airbnb host, a Saxy town by the river and some cool caves. Be sure to catch our next chapter: Belgium – Part Trois. Sax In The City
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Iain & Gail started blogging in order to inspire and motivate people to travel the world from their perspective – specializing in having the most fun while using the least amount of money, travelling on the cheap without sacrificing comfort.
In the end you will only regret the things you didn’t do
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