We all fret about the need to make, eat and buy local, but rarely is the need to travel local ever discussed. Indeed, although we salivate over locally-grown vegetables, go out of our way to wave the Made in Belgium flag and tell anyone willing to listen that supporting local producers really is the future you know, come holiday time the majority of us are out of here, going to great lengths to go as far as possible from staying, erm, local. So we put our money where our mouth is and asked our photographer Miles Fischler to pick, picture and profile three little-know holidaying destinations – from canyon to picturesque landscape – right here in good old, very uber local Belgium. Tip.
If you travel to the most southern part of our small country, deep into the Gaume region, you’ll arrive in Torgny, considered one of Wallonia’s most beautiful towns. This little village – with little stone cottages dating back to the 18th century, complete with rounded orange roof tiles – is home to about 200 residents known for donning their windowsills with the cutest of flowers arrangements. Protected from the northern winds, thanks to its positioning on a cuesta pointing towards the south, this Provencal village benefits from a mild micro-climate, which has, rather astonishingly, made vine culture possible on this patch of Belgian territory. Besides its vineyards, the village also has small nature reserve named after Raymond Mayné that stands above it. The former stone quarry, located by the French border, is home to a more Mediterranean flora and fauna, such as a variety of rare orchids, wild thyme, cicadas and lizards. When you reach the other side of the park (which won’t take long) and walk downhill, you’ll bump into the vineyards of Le Poirier du Loup, overlooking the village. Back in town, you might want to sip a fresh glass of white wine (produced on the spot) or apple juice, sitting on the Clos de l’Epinette’s sunny terrace. Before heading home, drive up to Montquintin’s castle ruins and enjoy a picturesque view of the glowing landscape.
Extra tip: Stop by wine shop Vin en Vie, whose owner was named best Belgian sommelier of 2017, for a wine tasting every first Saturday of the month.
Spread over a vast area of 12.000 hectares in the hilly municipality of Viroinval lies Namur’s Natural Park of Viroin- Hermeton. The limestone region is home to canyon-shaped dolines: funnel-like depressions formed by millions of years of water erosion. The most known and dramatic part of this protected natural monument is the Fondry des Chiens, near the picturesque village of Nismes, which was further deepened by 20 meters due to iron ore mining. Neighbouring these rock formations, you can find a lovely grassland, typical to limestone areas, housing unusual flowers, butterflies and reptiles. A nice viewpoint over the valley, sticking out from between the trees, is La Roche aux Faucons, good for a short pit-stop during a hike. In the nearby village of Dourbes, Roche à Lomme, a huge boulder with a cross planted right on top of it commemorates a goat shepherd’s unfortunate fall into the afterlife. From this spot on, far-reaching views of Nismes and its surroundings extend for miles on end. And, besides the rock climbing, the tumbling down canyons (don’t forget your hiking shoes!) and the endless wandering around the plains, an actual steam train operates around the area, taking visitors on a ride back in time through the bucolic landscapes from Mariembourg to Treignes.
Extra tip: Visit the Lac de Virelles, about 15 kilometers east, and rent a rabaska – large canoe originally used by the Algonquin people in Canada – just in time to take in the sunrise over the lake.
A little less dramatic than its African counterpart, Belgium’s desert – aptly named the Lommel Sahara – stretches over 200 hectares, with its vast sands broken up by multiple small lakes that formed following years of sand mining in the 20s. Now a barren area, the original flora let out its last breath after the arrival of zinc factory Lommel-Werkplaatsen in 1902 which would later close its doors in 1940. To prevent further silting of the area, a ring of pinewoods was planted all around. Today, this miniature desert in the province of Limburg, combined with its surrounding forests, moorland and lakes is the perfect place for day-long walks and afternoon spent lounging in a hammock at De Soeverein. If you’re really quiet, you might even spot some twelve-year-olds dressed in white posing for their communion photos, a regional tradition. In 2015, a watchtower rising 30 meters above ground offers a wonderful view over the entire area, and the moorland landscape of the Kattenbos which lies about five kilometres south sees its trees turn completely purple in autumn. Top that off with a prime scoop of artisanal ice cream at Sanden’s in the village, and a quick tour of the 18th century Leyssens mill and well, you wouldn’t think this was Belgium.
Extra tip: Drive over to De Bever in Hamont-Achel and your own bucket of American blueberries.