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In the heart of Wallonia

Wallonia, comprising the five provinces of Liège, Walloon Brabant, Hainaut, Luxembourg, and Namur occupies the southern half of Belgium and is a wonderfully mixed area of ancient forest and rich farm land. It has some of the most beautiful cities, towns and villages of the entire country and yet was in the 19th century one of the most important industrial sectors of northern Europe creating immense wealth which made Belgium a leading power at the time. Today modern Wallonia has combined the best of old and new, with excellent transport networks which enable a visitor from the UK to reach its most hidden corners only hours from the Channel coast by train or car. The range of accommodation on offer is as varied as the landscape, from smart cutting edge hotels to small luxurious family run bed and breakfasts which offer surprising comfort at very reasonable prices. Always close by will be a chance to try the extraordinarily rich Walloon gastronomy ranging from top Michelinstarred venues to cosy small restaurants and cafés. But in recent years an increasing number of young chefs, determined to showcase the hidden Wallonia have opened country restaurants with a small hotel attached, so that visitors can not only experience top quality cuisine in the tranquillity of the countryside, but also stay and enjoy many of the outdoor activities available in the area. Walking, cycling and golf are on offer, with kayaking, rock climbing and even hang gliding for those who are drawn by more strenuous and challenging sports.

In the province of Liège, close to the German border the attractive small town of St Vith (Sankt Vith) lies on the fringes of the Ardennes, that vast area of rolling farmland, deep valleys and meandering rivers which thread their way through some of the oldest forests of Europe. Here, set on the site of an old coach staging inn post, the Hotel Zur Post (Hotel Zur Post Hauptstraße 39, B-4780 St.Vith,Tel.: +32 (0)80 228 027 info@hotelzurpost.be, www.hotelzurpost.be), is a top class restaurant with one Michelin star, which is now run by the third generation of the Pankert family. Dedicated to top gourmet French cuisine, the Pankerts have created a reputation for excellence which draws in guests from all over Europe and especially German visitors who live close by just across the border. The hotel itself has 8 elegant modern bedrooms, and visitors can hire for that special treat a Mercedes convertible from the hotel to follow and explore special scenic routes throughout the area.

South west of St Vith, the pretty valley of the Ourthe which, locals will tell you, is the prettiest river in Belgium, meanders through villages and forest, passing through the historic towns of Houffalize, La Rocheen- Ardenne and Hotton. One of the best ways to follow the river is to a hire a canoe on a hot sunny day and drift downstream, passing dark shaded woodland and thick pastures where deer forage to emerge into the heart of the small towns and villages along its banks. At La Roche-en-Ardenne where fly fishermen cast their lines over the clear waters beneath the high battlements of the fairy tale Chateau, Les Grès de La Roche (Rue Rompré 28, 6980 La Roche-en- Ardenne, Tel. +32 (0)84 41 18 78, www.gresdelaroche.be) has an ingenious multimedia display showing the complex process of making the most well-known and prized gastronomic product of the area, the Ardennes hams. Salted and then smoked above fires of beech sawdust and juniper berries the succulent hams are justifiably famous throughout Belgium and at the little tasting restaurant visitors can try the produce and also buy a ham to take away. Just outside of La Roche-en-Ardenne on the banks of the Ourthe the L'Hostellerie de La Claire Fontaine (Rue Vecpré, 64 (Route de Hotton - N833), La Roche en Ardenne Tel +32 (0)84/41.24.70, http://www.clairefontaine.be/) has an excellent restaurant which specialises in game hunted in the forests close by. With 23 rooms which open out onto gardens by the river, there are a wide range of activities on offer at the hotel, from canoeing and fishing to walking on the trails by the river.

Durbuy, a few miles upstream on the Ourthe, claims to be the smallest town on earth, and is a collection of narrow cobbled streets clustered around a romantic chateau which overlooks the river. A popular tourist destination for Belgians of southern Wallonia it has a surprising number of top fashion shops and fine restaurants side by side overlooking the river, which offer a wide range of cuisines. In the centre of Durbuy, set in an former 18th century inn the Le Sanglier des Ardennes, (14 Rue Comte d'Ursel, B-6940 Durbuy, Tel: +32 (0) 86 21 32 62, info@sanglier-des-ardennes.be, www.sanglier-des-ardennes.be,) has a large wood-panelled restaurant with a wide ranging menu of Ardennes specialities, and the luxurious hotel itself has 12 bedrooms, a wellness centre and a range of activities on offer, from guided walks to golf.

South of Durbuy and still in the province of Luxembourg, Le Château de Strainchamps (12 - 6637 Fauvillers - Tel : +32 (0)63 60 08 12 - info@chateaudestrainchamps.com www.chateaudestrainchamps.com) is set in its own three hectare grounds, with ten bedrooms and a fine restaurant with views over the park surrounding the hotel. The dining areas in alcoves and small rooms are perfect for romantic evenings or family parties. The owner and chef Frans Vandeputte –Lalande takes much inspiration from the choice of products available here in the heart of the Ardennes. Traditional smoked ham, pork and beef, vegetables of the season and mushrooms all sourced in the region, are combined to produce a gourmet cuisine which is fresh and original. The ten luxurious rooms of the 'hôtel du Château’ each have their own modern design theme and gastronomic weekends are very popular with guests here, who can work up an appetite walking in the grounds and paths laid out in the woods, or swimming at the nearby spa and fitness centre.

In la Gaume, Belgium’s southern most point which thanks to its warm climate is known as La Petite Provence by local people, Clément Petitjean has opened the La Grappe d'Or (Rue de l'Ermitage, 18 - 6767 Torgny - Tel : +32 (0)63 57 70 56 - info@lagrappedor.com, www.lagrappedor.com) in the tiny village of Torgny which practically straddles the French border. Clément, who has worked in top French restaurants, is now regarded as a leading talent in the world of Belgian gastronomy and his elegant and entertaining cuisine draws on many influences. He has assembled a young team of chefs and waiters and the restaurant with its small stylish hotel is set in a recently and tastefully renovated large farmhouse of the area. The six course tasting menu of the La Grappe d'Or’s Restaurant Gastronomique uses produce which Clément has sourced himself and he encourages local farmers and small holders to supply the top class vegetables and herbs he needs. The choice of bread baked at the restaurant has become such a favourite with customers that a special pack of a nut and raisin bread, a rose praline brioche and an 800g rustic loaf are available to take home at the end of a meal. The hotel has a range of suites and smaller rooms with a discrete and comfortable modern décor. A popular activity for visitors staying at the Grappe d'Or is to visit the working Benedictine monastery at the L'abbaye d'Orval close by to sample the delicious cheeses and beers brewed by the monks.

Also on a border, the Vertige des Saveurs (1 Roche Percée, 6630 Martelange Tel : +32 (0) 63 60 04 28, www.vertige-dessaveurs.com) is a smart modern small hotel with a fine restaurant set in the high wooded countryside in Martelange not far from Belgium’s frontier with Luxembourg. The gastronomy is international and of excellent standard, the new owners Frederic and Nathalie Bolis putting their long experience of working in a series of top hotels and restaurants to good effect. With 12 rooms the hotel is ideally suited for family activities, with fishing, both lake and river, cycling, canoeing and cross country skiing in winter, when the new network of trails through the woodlands and forest of Anlier recently opened by Belgium’s Prince Laurent, offer plenty of variety for both beginners and skilled skiers alike.

Dominated by a massive 19th century citadel at the strategically vital confluence of the Sambre and the Meuse River, the lovely city of Namur is both capital of the province and of Wallonia. A jumbled jewel of 18th century narrow streets and old palaces, the city has a population of just over 100,000, with excellent hotels, restaurants and a thriving university. Les Tanneurs (13 B Rue des Tanneries ,5000 Namur Tél : +32(0)81 240024, info@tanneurs.com, www.tanneurs.com) is one of Namur’s top hotels, located in an ensemble of eleven 17th century houses just metres from the Meuse. The restaurant here in the old red brick reception hall of one of the largest houses specialises in grilled meat cooked on a large wood fire at the end of the hall with local country sausages and foie gras high on the long list of rich Ardennes specialities on the menu. The hotel has 32 rooms, each of which is unique, and reception will arrange for bicycle hire to explore the beautiful winding banks of both the Sambre and the Meuse.

The Espace Medissey (5 Chemin des seize pieds, B-5170 Bois-de-Villers, Tel : +32.(0)81.40.71.80, espace@medissey.be, www.medissey.be) and its restaurant the EauVive are about 10 kilometres south of Namur, set in an old mill house with walled gardens and a large glass conservatory which gives diners wonderful views over the river Burnot which runs close by. High quality gastronomy is on offer at the Eau Vive and guests at the ultra modern hotel area (where even the colour tone of the guest’s rooms can be changed at the flick of a switch to suit individual tastes) may take part in cooking courses run each month by the award winning chef and owner Pierre Résimont and his wife Anne. There are many other leisure pastimes on offer here, from cycling and golf to guided tours of the many chateaux and gardens in the area.

South from Dinant, in the very heart of the forests of the Ardennes, the Semois river follows a spectacular series of meanders through woods and forests crisscrossed with trails linking small villages of stone cottages which seem not to have changed for centuries. Overlooking the river and perched on a high rocky crag popular as a launching point for parascenders and hang gliders, the Auberge de la Ferme (12 Rue de la Cense, 6830 Rochehaut, Tel:+23 (0)61 46 10 00 www.aubergedelaferme.com) in the heart of the village of Rochehaut is a massive, rectangular house built of local stone. With 15 rooms, most of which have views over the Semois, the hotel caters for visitors who come to the area not only to enjoy the beauty of the countryside but also to sample the hearty Ardennes cuisine, for which the hotel is famous. Gastronomic weekends are on offer with menus based as far as possible on the seasonal availability of produce, ranging from wild mushrooms picked in the forest to wild boar and deer which have been hunted locally. There is however even an Omega three rich menu of sea food to ensure that as many tastes as possible will be catered for! The hotel also has a range of activities for its guests, from guided nature walks in the forest to canoeing and cycling along the river below through some of the most spectacular landscapes of southern Belgium.

To the east of the country, equidistant from Mons and Charleroi L’Origine (Rue de l'Arbre Borne, 2 - 7100 Trivières (La Louvière) - Tel : +32 (0)64 264 264/ +32 (0)494 515 515 - thierrybalzarini@lorigine.be www.l’origine.be) has one of the most unusual settings of any hotel restaurants in the country. Newly opened in a very recently restored tram depot, the dining rooms respect the layout of the old industrial fabric, with gleaming modern furniture contrasting with the graceful exposed wrought ironwork of the original building. Owners Thierry Balzarini and Angelo Licata have created a space which appeals to both those wanting a secluded dining experience, and also business people looking for a quiet place to discuss plans over an excellent gourmet meal. According to Thierry the chef, his menus combine sky, sea and earth, and offer a way to discover new flavours and combinations. He depends heavily on his partner Angelo’s past experience working as a food supplier to top international restaurants in Europe to source top quality and fresh ingredients for his creations. The hotel which is due to open in 2012 will have 12 rooms and will mirror the eclectic design of the existing restaurant.

To the east of the country, in the pretty rolling landscapes of the province of Hainaut Le Prieuré (Rue Lambot, 9 – 6500 Soire-Saint-Géry - Tel : +32 (0)71 58 97 00 – www. prieurestgery.be) is a gastronomic restaurant and small hotel run by Vincent Gardinal set in the 18th century Priory of Soire-Saint-Géry. The building had been closed and neglected for years until it was discovered by Vincent in his quest to find the perfect place for his restaurant and hotel. Carefully restored, with every effort made to expose the traditional materials of stone and brick used in the construction of this graceful building, its vaulted curved ceilings, halls and rooms opening out into the carefully tended gardens form a harmonious backdrop for Vincent’s talents as a chef. One of Belgium’s leading young gourmet cooks, who says that he lives for cooking alone, Vincent utilises as many of the senses as possible in his creations, with taste, colour and form combined in his ultramodern creations. His tasting menu ranges from a spicy bouillabaisse to a delicious roquette pesto on delicate slices of veal and Japanese seaweed or langoustine served with salmon caviar, and he has a wine cellar which matches the extravagance of his menus. The hotel rooms, set in the upper story of the Priory have wide views over the gardens, with the same discrete attention to design sense as the carefully crafted meals in the restaurant below. Vincent organises gastronomic weekends at the Priory, and should his small hotel be unable to offer accommodation there are excellent small B&Bs available in the village or nearby.

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