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Countryside home-base in Belgium

Hello!

We're planning a 2-week trip to the Netherlands and Belgium in September, 2015. We intend to spend a 3-4 days in Amsterdam on the front-end, and around 5 days in Bruges & Brussels on the back-end. In between, we plan to spend several days in the countryside, and are looking for suggestions for a charming village that could also serve as a home base for exploring.

We're currently thinking that Dinant might be a good choice, but without knowing much about the area, we're not sure. Does anyone have advice? Thanks in advance!

Posted by
2005 posts

I think best is that the place is a bit centrally located for the area you want to explore, so where is more exactly the area or places you think to visit? Can that be mainly the Netherlands and Belgium or is it a larger area?

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks for your reply! We are thinking mainly Belgium and the Netherlands, but we're open to other destinations, such as Luxembourg City, or any sights just over the border in Germany and France. We plan to have a car, and would like to keep distances relatively short--somewhere between 1-2 hours or less, each way.

Posted by
8 posts

I should also add that we're very open to small-town Holland, too. Our first thought was that Southern Belgium would be more centrally located, but if there are other good options further north, we'd love to hear about them.

Posted by
7500 posts

I agree that Belgium is a very rich destination that will reward the time spent there. Your OP sounds like a request for "a B&B in the Costswolds." I don't know if there are any such villages in Belgium. Certainly the bigger the place you base, the worse the morning auto traffic will be. Although Brussels has many historic sights, it doesn't (opinion) have a lot of charm. Antwerp (a nearby example) does, despite being a big city with a lesser case of Amsterdam's ills.

As a previous user, I would suggest that you buy Lonely Planet Belgium, because it goes into so much detail about each city it covers. For example, it says (using U.K. terms), partly metaphorically, (I haven't been there ... ) that Dinant has the aroma of stale french fry grease! (That's a comment about bus tours coming to see the citadel on the cliff.) I have daytripped by train from Antwerp a lot, but we also spent three nights at a luxury manor hotel, La Butte aux Bois. That was expensive, and I'm not prepared to recommend enthusiastically. We chose that location (we like to move every three or four days) to see the medieval centers like Tongeren and Tienen, as well as the Bokrijk open-air (old building) museum. We then spent one night in Leuven before flying home from BRU, which is a very attractive university town, and close to the airport. But it's not a village. I am not an expert, but while there are many lovely medieval town centers with cathedrals, I suspect there is no "Cotswolds" in Belgium! There are plenty of residential developments with (real) thatched roofs, but they are all modern replicas.

We did not have time to hit Maastricht, Netherlands on that drive, but I often read good things about it. You haven't mentioned any of the interesting stops between Amsterdam and Bruges, like Leiden, The Hague, Rotterdam, the Delta Works project. Although I will admit that we drove from Cologne to Amsterdam on our "Netherlands" single-country trip, I really don't think of Amsterdam as being next to the area you are asking about. Highway driving just isn't that interesting.

I have read that there are some attractive (and hilly) hiking destinations in Southern Belgium. But I'm not familiar with them. Dinant strikes me as too much of a commitment to the South unless you are interested in these outdoorsy parks. I recommend that you do not try to include Luxembourg from a Belgian base.

When you choose your destinations, keep in mind that the reason so many people worship Bruges is that it is so substantial and charming a medieval center. It is possible that you don't need to see every medieval center, surrounded by postwar reinforced concrete development, in the country. To put that another way, I often write here that Gent has 70% of what Bruges has, with only 10% of the tourists. Another helpful thought might be that at one time, after the cloth trade declined, Mechelen was the third largest city in Europe. Today, it is an attractive half-day train outing from Antwerp or Brussels-It's so nice I've been there more than once. But it's a small city. It has the "ghost" of a Beguinage, with the original street layout, and some historic stones set in the walls. But most of the buildings are modern. Most posters on TripAdvisor are asking whether the brewery has tours!

Edit: Because you are interested in something like off-the-beaten path, and your trip is in September: Find out Open Monument Day in both the Netherlands and in Flanders/Belgium. You won't find the 2015 attractions listed this early, but maybe you can see if any of the 2014 lists included anything that interests you. (These skew urban rather than rural.) These lists tend to be easier to find in Dutch, but there's always Google Translate.

Posted by
2005 posts

I think too that Dinant is not so attractive as it looks on pictures, I visited it a year ago and the church in combination with the citadel looks nice, but it needs a serious overhaul to become a pleasant place for visiting or staying. The Ardennes is well-known for outdoor activities, but as it is not a wealthy region in general the little towns and villages there still have a sence off decay.
But if you still want to stay somewhere there I think Bouillon with it´s medival fortress and more north closer to Liège tiny Durbuy are more to consider.

Personnaly I would prefer in the region more little towns like Esch-sur-Sûre and Vianden in Luxembourg. This country is definitely wealthier and places are kept clean and in good condition. The country-side north of the capital is also well-known for outdoor activities not directly so spectacular, but more leasurely like walking and to canoe.

In the Netherlands you can think about Thorn, some 50km north of Maastricht. Historical centres of Buren and Elburg in the province of Gelderland, Heusden and nearby Woudrichem in Noord-Brabant, Ootmarsum in Overijsel. The province of Friesland in general worth to consider with cute places like Sloten, Makkum and Hindelopen, several little villages in the province of Drenthe. In the Delta region where I live to recommend are Veere and Goedereede, but a bit far away from France and Germany.

If you stay for instance in Luxembourg you can go to Bastogne, Charleville-Mézières/Sedan, Verdun, Reims (nearby Laon), Nancy, Metz, Trier, Aachen, Köln, river Moesel and Rhine. As many of the mentioned places for staying are not so close to the main roads you will need some more time then the planned 2 hours for the daytrips.

Edit: interesting websites: www.erfgoedlogies.nl and www.mooistedorpjes.nl the latter only in Dutch.