The Tour of Belgium

Look here for a more in-depth description of each day’s itinerary, or review our hotels on their own websites.

Hotels:

Pre-Tour Hotel Option

Sandton Brussels Centre Hotel ★★★★

Brussels, Belgium

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Hotel NH Brussels Grand Place Arenberg ★★★★

Brussels, Belgium

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Tour Hotels

Novotel Gent Centrum Hotel   ★★★

Gent, Belgium

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Martin’s Brugge Hotel   ★★★

Brugge, Belgium

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Novotel Ieper Centrum Hotel  ★★★★

Ieper, Belgium

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Hotel Alcantara  ★★★

Tournai, Belgium

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Hotel Dream Mons  ★★★★

Mons, Belgium

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Hotel Le Cote Vert  ★★★★

Waterloo, Belgium

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Martin’s Klooster Hotel  ★★★★

Leuven, Belgium

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Post-Tour Hotel Options

Novotel Brussels Airport ★★★

Brussels, Belgium

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The Weather:

Belgium is a country with a typical sea climate.  Precipitation is frequent, but not particularly abundant.  In all seasons it is drier, sunnier and warmer along the coast.  Rainfall, mostly in the form of afternoon instability thunderstorms, increases with altitude and terrain as you move from the coast through the plains and into the Ardennes hills to the South and East.

Average temperatures in September, in the areas we travel through, range from highs in the upper 60s °F / upper teens °C, to lows in the low 50s °F / low double digits °C.

Average rainfall is difficult to specify since late summer and early fall are characterized by late afternoon thunderstorms.  These storms can provide most of the precipitation during these periods.  Total rainfall averages in Brussels, in September through October, are approximately 2½ inches or 64 mm. 

For all of Belgium’s tourist attractions and cities, some sun does wonders.  So May through October are far better than the winter months.  The art cities, including Bruges, Gent, Ieper, Leuven and the rest of our tour destinations, can be enjoyed year round.

The Terrain:

Belgium terrain starts at sea level and stays generally flat. The flat to rolling fields that characterize Flanders are lush and green. In many areas, trees shade the roads and canal side bike paths as you ride our daily journeys.

Short, steep climbs can be found in the area around Oudenarde during one of our early routes in the Flanders Region. We generally avoid those “cliffs” like the plague, but do take you close to some of the most famous.  In the Wallonia Region to the South, hills tend to be longer and a little less drastic but are a nice change of pace during a ride.

The occasional cobbled roads are a great reminder of what streets used to look like. Some are so narrow it’s hard to believe they are more than just a path into a farmer’s field! Hundreds of small, but beautifully paved roads turn out to be an essential network of thoroughfares largely dedicated to bikes.  We would recommend that you outfit your bike with the widest, most cushiony tires you can fit.  Even though we pride ourselves on finding the best possible route, we couldn’t wholly avoid the occasional spine jarring transit of a cobbled path.  Remember, you don’t need those skinny tires for speed on this trip.  Relax and enjoy one of the world’s best cycling destinations.

The approximate distance covered in the course of our 13 day tour is 460 miles/740 kilometers.

Route Guidance:

PennyWise provides a highly praised, comprehensive package of route guidance for our explorers. This package includes a simple to follow, but highly detailed, cue sheet. We also strongly encourage the use of Garmin GPS devices.  We provide a Garmin compatible basemap and highly accurate routing for all daily rides on an easily inserted micro-sd card.  You will also be armed with a multitude of our custom designed, daily ride oriented, detailed mini-maps.

While we encourage you to explore “off the line” from time to time, you’ll have to admit, it is a great feeling knowing that you have a “full quiver” of support dedicated to getting you to your destination.

Check out our Day by Day descriptions:

Day One

Our luxury motorcoach whisks us from our rendezvous point at the Cathedral St. Michael in Brussels, to our first tour hotel in Gent.  The Novotel Gent Centrum is a perfect starting point for our tour as it is smack dab in the center of all the action in this incredible treasure of a city.  The hotel’s large, bright and clean underground garage, or the surrounding paved square, or the nearby grassy park, all provide ample sites for our bicycle reconstruction efforts this afternoon.  Later in the day, we will gather everyone for a brief tour orientation and safety meeting.  Following this meeting, we invite everyone to join us in lifting a glass or two at a reception we are hosting at the hotel.  Eventually, we will move our celebration to the site of our Welcoming Banquet in a charming restaurant nearby.

PW Group Orientation/Safety Meeting

PW Group Reception

PW Group Welcoming Dinner Banquet at a local restaurant

Distance/Terrain: None / Cobbles far and wide 

Day Two

Our loop ride today, to Oudenaarde and back, is an excellent warm up for your exercise deprived leg muscles.  Oudenaarde is of interest to the history buffs, the bike race fanatics and to the brew fiends on our tour.  In the past, Oudenaarde was world renowned, and wealthy, for the unsurpassed quality and artisanship of the tapestries produced by its craftspeople.  The town also serves as a focus for a multitude of major European bike races and has an excellent museum dedicated to this sport.  If your interests lean more to the production and enjoyment of beer, especially one of Belgium’s world renowned lambics, then a stop at the one and only Liefmans brewery is in order.

Breakfast

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 44m/71k, flat 

Day Three

Today is the first of many days we celebrate the canals of Belgium.  Before we leave Gent we hope you enjoy your tour of the city from a slightly different perspective.  When you do finally get upon your bike, you will find that the canals of Belgium, so vital to the movement of goods and products in both the past and present, provide a quick and easy path for our exit from town and through the surrounding countryside.

Two good places for lunch stops couldn’t be more dissimilar.  The first would be the Canadian War Museum outside of Maldegem.  The museum was created as a locally funded tribute to the Canadian forces who liberated this area during the Second World War.  More diverse options for lunch would be available in the lovely village of Damme.  Maybe these sites are not so dissimilar after all, since at one time Damme was a major strong point for Spain’s army in an earlier time of conflict.

Breakfast

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 32m/51k, flat

Day Four

Bruges name comes from its Viking founders and is derived from the old Scandinavian word for harbor.  Settled by the Vikings in the 9th Century, the city quickly developed into an important international trading center.  The city and the surrounding areas rapid growth caused the river Zwin, its main link with the North Sea, to silt up by the 12th Century.  Outports were created, following this debacle, at the current sites of both Damme and Sluis.  While no longer the rich international trading city of its past, Bruges is still connected to the sea by a modern canal with the port now located in Zeebrugge, 10 miles to the north.

We ride out along this canal and eventually wind our way to the original inlet of the River Zwin.  We ride past the Het Zwin, officially a “Wetland of International Importance” as we approach the Netherlands coast.  If you are a bird watching devotee, don’t miss this chance to check it out and perhaps add another species to your list.

Save some time to explore Bruges this afternoon.  If you desire more exercise and a view, climb the 366 steps of the Belfort.  There are museums dedicated to the Flemish Primitive masters, to diamonds, to chocolate and to frites.  Use your time wisely in this excellent destination.

Breakfast

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 43m/69k, canalside, countryside, flat in and out

Day Five

We have a ride option today for our transit to Ieper.  The longer option was created to serve as our tribute to the second important beer brewing style of Belgium – the “Trappist or Abbaye” beers.  

Whichever route you chose, all paths lead through Diksmuide, a town totally obliterated in WWI and painstakingly restored over the last 100 years.  If you desire an additional break off the bike, you should stop just past town and visit the “Peace Tower”.  Here there is another  museum dedicated to WWI.  The tower also serves as the most visible symbol for those Flemish citizens, who in their nationalist fervor, desire separation/emancipation from Wallonia.  

The beer option has two enroute destinations.  If you are a beer aficionado you won’t want to miss the tiny town of Westvleteren.  Since the 16’th Century this town has been the destination for those seeking the clear-headed monkish life.  It is also a pilgrimage site for members of the beer worshiping public who want to sample the purported “best beer in all the world”!  Their very limited production is only available at a nearby inn and by special reservation.  Don’t fret though if the inn is closed on the day you pass through, as you continue the beer alternative ride you will eventually wind up at the St. Bernardus Brewery.  Trappist style beers can be commercialized, and this small brewery held the license to brew the Westvleteren monk’s recipe until 1992, when the monks ceased all commercial brewing.  While not the rare, small batch, monk’s handmade brew, it is still considered to be the “Real McCoy”, just produced on a larger scale and under a different name.  Lucky for you, we have arranged a tour, with tasting and a special parting gift.  The gift shop also has a very cool St. Bernardus brand biking kit for those who lust for that kind of thing.

 

Breakfast

PW Group Dinner at a local restaurant

Distance/Terrain: 40 or 59m/64 or 95k, flat

Day Six

In WWI, the Ieper Salient was a bow-shaped sticking point in the German advance towards ports in Belgium and France.  Close to 500,000 soldiers, from both sides of the conflict, are estimated to have been lost as the two sides battled for mere yards of territorial gain.  Ieper itself was never occupied by the German forces, but was nevertheless flattened by artillery bombardment.  The medieval core has been convincingly rebuilt and restored.  The “Lakenhalle”, which houses an excellent WWI museum, is now considered one of the most spectacular buildings in Belgium.

Think of our ride today as a testament to, and remembrance of, the brave men and women who died on both sides of this monumental battle.  As you ride the modest ridges today, visiting various historical sites, think of the waste of human potential that occurred here, and hope that our leaders never let it happen again.

Breakfast

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 35m/56k, flat to gently rolling

Day Seven

We leave Belgium Flanders today and enter Wallonia.  Flanders was for large parts of its history, oriented towards the British Empire and its trade demand for “Belgian Cloth” and fine crafts.  On the other hand, Wallonia has a definite tilt towards the French.  Flanders was the ascendant economic power in Belgium right through the late-medieval period.  Wallonian took its turn as the dominant region when mining and heavy industry became the engines of economic power in the 19’th and 20’th Centuries.  Today, the tide has turned again, as Flanders leads Belgium into the 21’st Century with a focus on the modern industries of electronics and software; while the coal and steel based heavy industry of Wallonia has been supplanted by more modern and efficiently produced overseas supplies.

Our beautiful ride today goes through the lovely town of Kortrijk.  We know that you will find multiple reasons besides lunch to enjoy your interlude in Kortrijk.  The city has deep Roman roots and has a wonderful Grote Markt or main square.  Take your time and don’t miss seeing the interesting begijnhof or “quiet city with a city” just a block away from the Markt.

Breakfast

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 39m/63k, let’s say barely rolling just for some variety

Day Eight

The City of Tournai is famous for having the most memorable “Grand Place” in Wallonia. It is certainly shutter worthy, with it’s civically funded Belfry at one end and the Eglise Saint Quentin church at the other.  Oddly, the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Tournai, with its unique 5 tower silhouette, one of Belgium’s finest with a World Heritage Designation, is not located on this square.

Our ride today takes those amongst us, who imagine they have what it takes to compete at the pro cyclist level, to the bottom of the path to bike racer heaven.  Even though there is a climb or two on this ride, (finally!), you needn’t worry, we didn’t lose our minds and take everyone up one of these famous, narrow, cobbled, 20+ percent climbs.  If you can talk your partner into it, we can direct you to the foot of some of these legendary climbs used in many of the big international races.  The rest of us salute you!

Breakfast

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 39m/63k, beautiful slightly rolling terrain

Day Nine

We leave Tournai today, using the superhighway equivalent of another peaceful, canal-side bike path.  Our pretty ride through the countryside, and a myriad of little villages, has a midpoint highlight we are sure you will enjoy.  The vast Château de Beloeil has been the ancestral home of the Princes of Ligne since the 14’th Century.  The oldest available records, dating from the 11’th Century and written in Latin, mention the LINIA or LIGNIA family and describe its members as “variant knights”, “men of honour” and “persons of faith and repute”.  The Ligne family has always served the Lords who ruled this province of Belgium.  Down through the centuries, their ancestors fought under the standards of the Counts of Hainaut, the Kings of France, the Dukes of Burgundy, the Emperors of Austria, the Kings of Spain and the Kings of the Belgians.

We have arranged a tour of the castle and the grounds and are hosting a PW group lunch at the Chateau.

Breakfast

PW Group Tour and Lunch

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 39m/63k, flat, lumpy, flat

Day Ten

The City of Mons was once a center of Wallonian mining and industrial activity, but is now a city of considerable charm and beauty.  Maybe that was the reason that the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) is located just outside of town.  Make sure that you take the time to visit the main church, the Collegiale Ste-Waudru, and the ‘Chariot of Gold’ it houses.  The residents are also very proud of the Baroque free-standing belfry and their Gothic Hotel de Ville dating from 1458.  

We realize that there is much to see and enjoy in Mons today.  That is why we kept our ride short, with only two must see stops for you to enjoy.  Our first stop is at the Grand Hornu.  This collection of large and stylish Neo-Classical buildings was actually a very forward thinking and benevolent attempt to both organize and care for the machinery and workers at this 19’th Century coal mining works.  The tour will explain the thought behind the complex, and the techniques of coal mining used at the time of its creation.  The Grand Hornu is also a center for the display of the industrial arts, design and modern art and always has some interesting traveling exhibitions in the adjacent buildings.

Our second stop looks at mining the earth’s bounty at a completely different time and for a completely different resource.  In the midst of beautiful greenery, the SILEX interpretive center allows visitors to understand all facets of the work in the Neolithic or “stone-age” flint mines located at this internationally renowned archaeological site.  

Breakfast

PW Group Dinner at the Hotel

Distance/Terrain: 24m/39k, rolling easy ride

Day Eleven

We leave Mons by the same path we re-entered the city at the end of yesterday’s ride.  That means that you have a second chance to see the SILEX site, if you chose.  Don’t tarry too long though,  there is a plethora of fascinating sites to visit during today’s ride.  

Have you noticed, during our tour, the intricate network of canals that cuts through to all parts of Belgium?  Have you imagined that this system is just a quaint remnant of the “old” Belgium?  Today’s ride will open your eyes to the relevance that the system still holds to the modern economies of Belgium and of the entire EU.  Why else would they have created the massive structures that we see along our route today.

Breakfast

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 45m/74k, You have to conquer, with your legs alone, the same hills that the canals surmount with the aid of massive technology.  All-in-all, your lumpiest day.

Day Twelve

Only the one night in Waterloo, though on our route today, we will make sure that you miss none of the major historical monuments of the area.  

It’s been two centuries since the climactic Battle of Waterloo, when the army of the French emperor Napoleon faced off against a coalition of British, Dutch and German forces in countryside just to the south of Waterloo. The site of this pivotal event in European history still draws visitors, and there’s good reason for that, with plenty to see.

Before you mount your bicycle and leave town, walk down the street and visit the charming little Wellington Museum.  This was the site of the Duke of Wellington’s headquarters.  While this museum is small and intimate, it does hold some interesting artifacts and displays.  The museum pass we supply, will allow you entry into this site and all of other sites of interest in the area.  Make sure you spend enough time at our second stop, just 3m/5K outside of town, where the real story of the battle is told in fascinating detail.

We know you will enjoy your stay in lively Leuven.  Leuven is an ancient capital, a prominent brewing center and Flander’s oldest university town.  In term time, and even during holidays, some 25,000 students give the city an upbeat, creative air. The picturesque core is small enough that you could easily see the sights in a day, but characterful pubs and good-value dining could keep us here for weeks if we only had the time.

Breakfast

Dinner on your own

Distance/Terrain: 30m/48k, A rolling day with a seven mile drop into Leuven

Day Thirteen

Our last ride to Mechelen is a quick, flat dash that should leave you plenty of time for the more odious tasks of the day.  Don’t take a pass on this fun little canal-side excursion to another wonderful Belgian town.  Mechelen is a small and picturesque city that is big on charm and history, thriving with quaint shops and pleasant little squares.  Students from all over the world come to learn to play church bells at Mechelen’s carillon school.  Sitting outside on the terrace of a cafe, sipping a local beer while listening to the bell music coming from the sky, is nothing short of delightful.  The city is also home to one of the last remaining places in the world that restores and repairs antique tapestries, at Royal Manufacturers De Wit.

Return from the ride and prepare your bike for transport.  Remember to breathe and relax.

Breakfast

PW Group Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant

Distance/Terrain: 33m/53k, quick, flat, canal-side romp, don’t miss it

Day Fourteen

We board our luxury motorcoach today for the final segment of our tour.  Sadly, our shared biking adventure ends as we leave Leuven and head to the environs of the Brussels airport.  If you are continuing with your own personal tour, or heading home, this is the perfect place to start the journey to your next destination.  The Novotel Brussels Airport is very conveniently located near the airport if you need to stay in Belgium for one more night.

 

Departure from Leuven – Approx. 10 AM; Arrival at Airport – Approx. 1o:30 AM

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