The move to Brussels is a big step, but big steps are what expats are all about. We’re a pretty fearless bunch, always itching to get out there and experience. That sense of wanderlust is what took me off the beaten path and into Flemish Brabant.
There’s no, ‘Here’s a city, or a nice monument to stop by.’ No – there’s a bucket list, full of fun, sometimes quirky, things to do away from the hustle and bustle of Brussels. It’s your one-stop ticket to discovering Flemish Brabant’s hidden gems, those secrets only locals know.
So how does it work? The bucket list contains pastimes that locals enjoy on a regular basis. Click a bucket-list tile for additional info (Time for the next trip… What strikes your fancy?) or to tick them off your list (I’m one step closer to becoming a local!). It’s perfect for tracking your progress and testing your skill and expertise as a true (g)local.
Naturally, this can’t be done in a single day. Over the course of a year, I’ll be putting my best foot forward to explore as much of Flemish Brabant’s highlights as I can, using the bucket list as my guide. After all, locals don’t become locals overnight… If you’d like to read about my previous experiences with bucket list challenges 1 through 20, you can check them here.
Challenge 21: Grab your camera and snap your perfect fairy tale forest picture
I may have cheated a bit on this bucket list item. How? Well, my favourite fairy tale shots are of the marshes of Zoutleeuw’s Het Vinne Provincial Domain, which – by the way – does have forest! Maybe it’s my love of tall grass, waterfowl and the corduroy roads winding round the lake – or perhaps it’s the wet, earthy smell of marsh. Either way, I can’t help but imagine water sprites zipping way across the lake, marshwiggles hunched among the cattails and maybe a gnome or two lurking amongst the trees.
I also don’t have a single favourite snapshot of this marvellous domain, because it’s so enchanting in every season. On a grey day, it has a wistful magic about it and on a sunny one – no amount of melancholy can take away from with the chirping of crickets and ducks strolling by with their ducklings.
[The lake is currently drained due to remediation works. No worries though, it’s still a magical place to unwind.]
Challenge 22: Taste a traditional Geuze beer
To tell the truth, this wasn’t my first Geuze ever, but I wanted to try one in the only true home of this zesty beer. And where better to do that than – you guessed it – the 3 Fonteinen in Beersel.
Aside from taking a few sips of my husband’s special 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze, which I’ll admit still doesn’t have me convinced with its sour bite, I decided to try a unique take on one of Belgium’s famous traditional dishes: mosselen met friet! (mussels and chips, or moules-frites). And the twist? The mussels were cooked in Oude Geuze! In a funny pink tinged sauce with the classic onions, celery and carrots, the mussels had a fresh kick that I just couldn’t get enough of!
So, if it turns out Geuze isn’t your thing… Don’t give up hope! Belgium has invented ways of winning you over anyway!
Challenge 23: Enjoy a local village market
To get to a taste of a true local village market I went to Gaasbeek, the charming home of a mere 300 inhabitants. I visited just in time for table grape season, so naturally I visited the stand selling deliciously purple grapes nearly the size of my thumb. One truck sold a set of rather strange bed fellows… live chickens and metres-high piles of potatoes! The most intriguing of all though were the cheeses sold by a local goat farmer. Who would have thought that you could buy freshly made halloumi in Belgium!
Challenge 24: Discover the Brussels skyline
I’ve heard that the Brussels skyline is lovely from the vicinity of Meise because you can see the impressive Brussels Atomium and the Basilica of Koekelberg from the distance.
However, as I was a good deal south of Meise, exploring Bruegel’s old stomping grounds, my view of the skyline was rather different. Despite my love of the countryside and the inherent peace that comes with it, seeing the Brussels skyline from a distance is nothing but impressive. If anything, it makes you grateful for the peace you’ve found outside of it and awed at humankind’s endless creativity and drive.
Challenge 25: Spot a world-famous Brabant draught horse
So…what’s better than visiting the fantastic Hof ten Dormaal brewery? Taking a bumpy Brabant draught horse-drawn cart ride through the countryside! The folks at Hof ten Dormaal don’t just brew crazy good beer, they also raise majestic Brabant draught horses. These beautiful beasts are amazingly gentle, despite towering over my tiny 155 cm frame. Gentle enough, in fact, that both of my children got the chance to sit astride one horse’s back, their small legs barely making it over the horse’s flanks.
The cart ride may have involved a few jolts or two, but riding through the fields of green, cringing a bit whenever bicycles tried to pass us, and simply marvelling at the driver’s and the horse’s ability to manoeuvre in tight situations made this experience a mini rural adventure!
Flemish Brabant, a definite to-do on your own bucket list
If it’s not on your list, it should be. Flemish Brabant is full of treasures good for the soul.