A Belgian Birthday Bash

7-9 November 2008

Another weekend, another European gastro-fest - this time in the Belgian countryside for Sophie's 30th birthday celebrations.

Stay at:

Le Manoir de la Houte. I am quickly becoming a fan of manor house holidays, and the estate (no other word for it) found by Sophie and Jules in the teensy Wallonian village of Gesves contained all the requisite accruements for a cosy winter weekend: crackling open fireplace, well-equipped kitchen (with plate warmers!), a long wooden dining table and a huge enamel bath overlooking the autumn leaves. It also had a few unexpected extras: a mounted boar's head glaring over the corridor, a scary cellar and resident chooks pecking in the courtyard.


A lot. Sophie and Jules are renowned for their wonderful generosity and hospitality, and the weekend was no exception. We may have been in the wilderness, but there was no danger of starving. The pantry and fridge were overflowing with Pierre Marcolini everything, chocolate tart and quiches from Les Tartes des Francoise, Le Pain Quotidien praline spread, Belgian beers, organic wines and calvados from Calvados. Plus every morning the local boulangerie Sohet delivered fresh bread, flaky croissants, pain au chocolat and the sugar-coated brioche speciality, perfectly accompanied by fragrant coffee and specialty teas.   

L'aubergesves. On a dark and chilly Saturday night, out in the middle of nowhere emerged a gastronomic delight in the cave-like hotel restaurant of L'aubergesves. The interior was like being inside a box of Valentines Day chocolates but the food was never twee. Each of the four courses from the nouveau French/game season menu was gracefully presented and absolutely delicious. We then toddled home for a midnight game of trivia/pass the parcel, with yours truly winning the final prize of....more Pierre Marcolini chocolate!

La Petite Gesves. Every time I visit Belgium I must eat fries, and I think these ones were the best ever - perfectly crisp on the outside and comfortingly starchy inside.

To do:

Visit Maredsous. Our Saturday 'mystery outing' was a very educational and entertaining guided tour through the Maredsous Benedictine abbey, cloisters and grounds. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, and I learnt many things, including the meanings of St Benedict's book and staff, the religious significance of cathedral architecture, the reasons for different words for an animal and the meat (eg cow and beef) and the origin of the word Trappist. The tour was also very good value - 30 euros for the whole group. Finally, Maredsous is famous for its beer, wine and cheese, so I came away with a nice haul of gastro-goods.

Go for a walk. My ever-reliable body clock woke me up bright and early despite getting to bed at 2am the night before, so I thought it would be the perfect time for an exploratory stroll. Luckily the autumn colours and crisp air were perfect for an early morning walk around the quiet fields, with picturesque village church spires peeking up from the horizon. On Sunday morning the whole group went for a walk to the village and the surrounds as it was the weekend of 'Portes Ouverts' which meant lots of the local businesses and buildings were having an open-house. To sustain ourselves during our ramble, we taste tested cakes, pastries, biscuits, frites, apple liqueur and wine.

Getting there:

Eurostar. Oh the joy of Eurostar yet again. Work stress meant that I arrived at Kings Cross station at 5:25pm, which meant I literally had 20 minutes to collect my ticket, check in, go through security and immigration and board the train. I bolted out of the tube like a greyhound, pleaded with numerous people who let me cut in and managed to get on the train ahead of the properly-organised Huy, Michael and Martin (albeit puffed and sweaty). Our Brussels-Namur connection was seamless and our witty and erudite conversation was interrupted only by a strange interlude where a middle-aged man seemed to want Michael to be the Guatemalan president. Our pre-organised taxi transfer from Namur was a little bit hairier, as we scuffed tyres and GPSed our way into some random woods for about 30 minutes before finally being deposited at the manoir.

Le Manoir de la Houte: Rue de la Houte 7, 5340 Gesves

T: +32 83 21 46 33

Boulangerie-Patisserie Sohet: rue Petite a Gesves
T: +32 83 67 72 06 

L'aubergesves: Le Pourrain, 4 - 5340 Gesves
T: +32 83 67 74 17

La Petite Gesves: Chausee de Gramptinne, 5340 Gesves
T: +32 83 68 93 49