The beauty of our yearly little sojourn in De Westhoek, Belgium's delightful west country, is that it is only about 150 kilometers away and we can be there in less than two hours.
This means no getting up at the crack of dawn and, as we have no train to catch or schedules to meet, we can just drive down there at our own pace.
We'd even packed everything, except for some last minute stuff, into the car on Friday so, after a leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning, we waved goodbye to Phoebe and set off.
Arriving at our destination just outside of Poperinge around noon, we were welcomed by our lovely host Johanna, then made ourselves at home in the comfortable little thatched cottage called Marjolein Guesthouse.
Our home for the week is a large all-in-one room above the owner's carport, with a dressing, sitting area, kitchen island with breakfast nook, sleeping area and neat little bathroom.
Off the breakfast nook, there is a large balcony overlooking the domain's large pond and its abundance of wildlife as well as some fields with the West-Flemish hills in the far distance.
Here, it is very peaceful in spite of the busy road out front, leading to the French border about 6 kilometers away.
The first drops of rain starting falling minutes after we'd lugged all our stuff upstairs and were having a bite to eat, developing into a steady shower and drenching the landscape in no time.
Our phone's weather app told us it would all be over at around 2.30, so we decided to wait it out.
Directly opposite the cottage is one of Poperinge's many hop fields. This year, many hop bines had already been harvested, leaving the wires connecting the rows of hop poles bare.
While I was stood looking out and wishing the rain away, a red hop picking tractor and cart arrived to continue with the harvest and, as I had my camera at the ready, I started snapping away.
Soon, the rain diminished and patches of blue appeared in the sky, so we wasted no time driving down to Poperinge. After all these years, we know our way around the town quite well, and walked in the direction of the Grote Markt (Market Place), returning via the park, in order to get our bearings.
In spite of its sleepy appearance, Poperinge is quite a lively little town. It even has a vintage shop, although its prices are exhorbitant.
It is only fitting that Poperinge, which is Belgium's hop capital, has a hop museum and as we'd never visited before, this is where we were headed.
Poperinge's Hop Museum is located in the old Stadsschaal (Municipal Scales). An informative audio tour guides you through four floors of history and culture, leading you all the way from the impressive loft to the ground floor.
Historic documents, photographs, scale models and audiovisuals illustrate both the story of this unique building and that of local hop growing.
Downstairs, there is an extensive collection of about 1900 Belgian beers.
Several local breweries are highlighted, some of them presenting their wares quite artfully.
The next day, Sunday, we were greeted by a hazy landscape basking in the early morning sunshine.
After breakfast, we made our way to Heuvelland, which is the collective name of eight villages lying in the hilly country south of Poperinge, a region of magnificent panoramic views, wooded slopes, nature reserves and farmlands. In fact, the name Heuvelland literally translates as "land of the hills"
Our first stop was the picturesque village of Westouter, lying at the foot of the Rodeberg, one of the area's many hills.
We took a little stroll around the village and visited the parish church, St Eligius, which was rebuilt in 1922-23 after its destruction in the First World War. Next to the churchyard is Westouter British Cemetery containing 98 Commonwealth and 3 German graves.
Lunch was eaten outside, on the terrace of De Zwaan (no prices for guessing its meaning!), which is located in the old village hall.
Then it was time to challenge my vertigo at our next stop.
Cordoba Zetellift or Telesiège - we are, after all, only a stone's throw from the French border - is a chair lift constructed in 1957 by Austrian specialists, and is the only one of its kind in Flanders.
The chair lift connects the hills Vidaigneberg and Baneberg, and the journey takes about fifteen minutes, providing a unique panaroma over Heuvelland and beyond.
Once the chair lift has climbed away from the trees (at one point, our feet brushed the tops of the trees) and crossed the busy road below, the views are breathtaking.
The vinyard we were floating over at one point is aptly called Entre-Deux-Monts (between two hills).
After a safe landing we had a well deserved cup of cappuccino - the Belgian version which is topped with lots of whipped cream - at the nostalgic café.
Just 2 kilometers up the road, on the slopes of the Rodeberg, are not one but two nature reserves, which are interlaced by a network of footpaths.
Via woodland paths and steps, a 80 meter deep ravine, called Hellegat (hell's hole) is reached.
Climbing up again was a different story and we were glad to reach the top where a welcome bench was waiting for us. Here, the view almost rivals the one from the chair lift!
Then it was time to return to our car and make our way back to our cottage to rest our weary feet.