Tuesday 3 October 2023

Heatwave holiday - Part 3

Hello, and welcome to the final installment of this year's September holiday travelogue.

We were Thursday the 7th of September by now and the heatwave wasn't showing any sign of giving up just yet. We woke up to a brilliant blue sky, in which the sun was a searing orb intent on making us wilt at the mere thought of doing anything at all. But we had plans, and as luck would have it, they would require little or no effort from our side.

Back in March I'd received a message from my brother - in itself a bit of a rare occurrence - announcing that he and his girlfriend had moved to Belgium's west country. Intrigued, I messaged back, telling him that we had been spending the first of week of September in the area for many years. Turned out that he was living on an old brewery estate less than 10 minutes from our holiday cottage, upon which we agreed to meet up next time we were there.

We'd passed the imposing complex countless of times on our travels and had in fact already done so a couple of days earlier, when our Satnav directed us to the Belgian coast via France. But although I'd messaged my brother a week ahead of time informing him of the dates of our stay, we didn't hear back from him until halfway through our holiday week. When he finally called me on Wednesday evening we decided to strike the iron while it was hot and meet up the very next day.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Brouwerij Feys - no prizes for guessing that brouwerij if Flemish for brewery - was the country's second largest brewery and it has been a protected monument since 2001.

The monumental building, which had been abandoned and standing empty since the early 1990s, was eventually bought by Hendrik Nelde from Ghent in 2013. Initially appointed to help sell the complex,  he fell in love with this extraordinary building, appreciated its historical value, and decided to give it a new lease of life. 

My brother and his girlfriend, who were initially looking for somewhere similar in France, ended up here by pure coincidence. They are currently renting a cottage on the estate for a mere pittance and their commitment to start an ecological vegetable garden from scratch. 

Judging from the plentiful and varied produce, they succeeded magnificently, their only complaint being that the people living in the "chateaux" - the mansion which is part of the complex and where Hendrik and his family live - do not consume nearly enough vegetables. 

The "chateaux", by the way, also provides lodging for the volunteers coming from all over the world - the so-called "workaways" - who are helping with the project.

My brother proudly showed us his achievements and then we sat chatting in their shady garden drinking coffee and enjoying a lunch of homemade bread spread thickly with delicious, equally homemade, prune jam.

As for their dream of a life in France: the brewery is just a matter of one and a half kilometres from the French border, so that they're actually having the best of both worlds!

It goes without saying that we also received an extensive tour of the brewery complex, where for one thing it was mercifully cool!

While we are looking around, here is a potted history courtesy of the brewery's website.

The complex is located on the Dode IJzer, an old meander of the River IJzer. Initially, it housed a linen bleaching plant, which was completely destroyed during the French Revolution.

In around 1850, a salt works was established here, remnants of which can still be seen today.

In 1883, the entire complex was acquired by Pieter Feys, who established a brewery on the premises. Later, in 1898, the malting plant with its distinctive malt kilns was added.

During the First World War, the brewery became one of the largest in the country.  Due to its geographical location within the River IJzer's flood plain, the brewery's copper was not requisitioned by the German occupiers so that brewing could continue to take place. 

Its best-known beer was Forte Brune, a brown high-fermentation beer which was bottled in brown 75 cl swing-top bottles.

After the war, both the brewery and the malting plant operated at full capacity. Malt was even supplied to other breweries, such as Lamot in Mechelen.

In the 1950s, it became increasingly difficult to keep the brewery profitable, notably due to the rise of lager beers. Sadly, the last of the Forte Brune beers was brewed in 1965.

The malting plant remained active until 1969, when it also stopped filling Lamot beers, of which the brewery was a distributor. Afterwards, the Feys family kept a beer shop on the premises, but this too was discontinued in the early 1990s.

Restoring the complex to its former glory will obviously take time but there definitely isn't a lack of initiative to fund the undoubtedly costly business. Some of the brewery's spaces can be rented out for events, and brewery tours are available most days of the week. There's also the possibility to explore the River IJzer by kayak. 

Additionally, the complex has its own little chapel!

After an enjoyable couple of hours, we bade our goodbyes and drove back to our cottage, where we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with our feet up. 

I'd just started Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, which had me hooked from page one and which I found quite unputdownable. My eyes didn't thank me for reading for hours at a time, though!

The weather forecast for Friday spoke of temperatures well over 30°C inland, but once again promised a more bearable 27°C at the seaside.

A morning fog veiled the landscape that morning, hiding the French-Flemish hills in the distance and wrapping the cottage in an eerie haze.

We took our time getting ready and lingering over a breakfast of soft boiled eggs and soldiers. 

In the fridge, the spoils from my brother's garden were kept crisp and fresh, but I thought I'd show you the intriguing black beans, which sadly do not keep their gorgeous colour when cooked, when they are transformed into a dark green!

En route to the coast, we drove through a sliver of France again. The landscape, which was flat as a pancake, was still blurred by a misty haze lingering on the horizon.

Parking our car in De Panne, our initial plan had been to take the tram to a different resort. However, feeling a bit lethargic as the heat had clearly gone to our heads, we found ourselves trudging along the beach at De Panne instead.

The fierce looking fellow is Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians. We imported him after Belgium became an independent state in 1930 and it was decided that we needed a king. The honour fell to Leopold von Saksen-Coburg, who was born in Germany, but who lived in England at the time. He used to be married to Princess Charlotte of Wales, second in line to the British throne and daughter of the future King George IV, but who died in childbirth after only a year of marriage. 

Leopold arrived in Calais by boat on July 17, 1831, from where he was taken to De Panne by coach. The statue was erected in the spot where he first put foot on Belgian soil.

From the past to the present, and from a king to a princess :-) 

I was wearing my zig-zag patterned skirt again, this time combined with an exotically patterned and frilly sleeved top, last seen wearing here.

The beach might look deceptively empty, but it being a Friday it was a lot busier than it was on our first visit to the town on Tuesday.

The upside was that our favourite restaurant was now open, so that we made a beeline for it by lunch time. Unfortunately, it was now my turn to have my order mixed up by the - again French speaking - waitress. Needless to say I wasn't too pleased about this, particularly since she initially kept insisting I'd ordered the wrong thing. We also had to wait far too long for my correct order to arrive, by which time Jos had nearly finished his steak and fries. In spite of the fact that, after we complained with the owner, the waitress apologized profusely, we will be giving the place a miss in future.

By Saturday, the mercury had climbed to 33°C and we were at a bit of a loss. 

The only thing we could think of to keep us occupied yet relatively cool was another walk in the woods. However, the patches of dark green our walking maps of the area were few and far between.

As those to the south, in the French-Flemish hills, were ruled out as we didn't fancy climbing in these temperatures, we looked north, and happened upon Eversambos, which was promoted as being perfect for a spot of forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, a therapy that originated in Japan in the 1980s.

It took us some time to get there, though, particularly since our Satnav didn't seem to have a clue and got us hopelessly lost.

Once there, we made the acquaintance of a giant hare, then proceeded to walk through a tunnel of trees until we found a rather wobbly bench with a view for our picnic.

Again, my chambray maxi skirt turned out to be my most worn garment of the holiday. On this hottest of days, it was accompanied by my green cotton peasant-style blouse, an old sales bargain from New Look.

Just like we did last September, we ended the final day of our holiday in Helleketelbos, the woods nearest to our cottage. And just like we did back then, we got lost in exactly the same spot, which we are now convinced must be due to the awkward placing of one of the numbered markers instead of our wobbly map reading skills!

But Shinrin-yoku has been taken up to the next level here with the giant sun lounger. Plus, we met several pixies in the woods!

And so another week in the west country had come to its end. With heavy hearts we'd be packing our bags on Sunday morning and making our way back home.

But we'll be back, and what's more, we've already booked next year's September getaway!


  1. How nice to meet up with your brother and his girl-friend. I can see that old brewery becoming a very stylish wedding venue.
    It was such a shame about your favourite restaurant. I like the thought of Shinrin-yoku - eminently sensible. Green is good for the soul.

    1. I was quite envious of my brother, to be honest! xxx

  2. Wow! That is amazing that your brother and his girlfriend were living so close to the holiday cottage. It is so wonderful that you were able to make things work and see him. What a special experience! It sounds like you had such a great time on your trip. The brewery sounds like it was fascinating to see in person and learn more about. I love that it is possible to take brewery tours! Ooh The Little Stranger sounds excellent. It's always nice when a book is hard to put down! I just love seeing your beautiful beach photos as well. I'm glad you were able to visit your favourite restaurant, but how frustrating that there was a mix up with your order. That chambray maxi skirt is so beautiful. I'm glad it served you well during your holiday!

    the creation of beauty is art.

    1. Thank you Shannon! We had a wonderful trip indeed, although it was too hot to do much at all! xxx

  3. So nice that you were able to meet your brother. So close to your holiday home. Great.
    The old brewery has a wonderful, if wistful, romantic charm. I love that.
    And I love the picture of you on the beach.💕 You had really hot weather.😅 With a huge hug Tina

    1. Thank you Tina! The old brewery was a place after my own heart indeed! xxx

  4. totally looove what they do in the old "brauerei"!!
    and your brother is a part oft it! now he should learn to preserve the not freshly eaten garden crops in glass jars :-D
    (my cellar is filled!)
    fab beach shots! and a very chic princess too!

    1. Thanks Beate! I think my brother will be fine with preserving the garden crops, which is something we both remember from our grandmother! xxx

  5. It's lovely that you were able to catch up with your brother, what a brilliant coincidence that you were so close to him.
    The brewery looks absolutely stunning, I'd have spent hours in there. Loved all your photos.
    That top and skirt combo go so well I initially thought you were wearing a dress and that denim skirt was a very wise investment, the perfect travel piece.
    I love Sarah Waters. I think The Little Stranger was made into a film a few years ago. I've just reread The Paying Guests. xxx

    1. Thank you Vix! I'm totally hooked on Sarah Waters, and already have another one by her in my reading pile! xxx

  6. How lovely to meet up with your brother. And what a wonderful place the brewery was. I loved the photos of the old fixtures and fittings and bottles. It's a very worthy ambition your brother has with his ecological vegetable growing. Maybe a cafe might be part of the future plans for the brewery and he could provide the vegetables and fruits? Congratulations to to Hendrik to for taking on the project to restore the brewery - we need more Hendriks (and people like your brother) in the world!

    Lovely outfits and despite the high temperatures you looked cool as a cucumber. I loved the beach scenes and you are a far better looking princess than King Leopold...

    I loved 'The Little Stranger'.

    1. You're absolutely right, Vronni, there should indeed be more Hendriks! Which is what I actually told him in person! xxx

  7. Thank you for your fascinating travelogue. You look like a real intrepid explorer on that bridge.

  8. I'm finally sitting down for a break after going into battle (yet again) with our internet provider. They had locked our email account and 24 hours later, we've just resolved it (primarily thanks to Gareth).
    Anyway, I digress. Lovely to read about your break and the photos of the sea have reduced my blood pressure somewhat.
    I'm glad you were able to meet up with your brother. What an interesting place to live and how lucky to have a surplus of produce too! Preserving might be the way forward.
    Love the pretty green peasant top! xxx
    P.S. I had to smile in recognition when I read about your ongoing problems with the Satnav. x

    1. Oh dear, how frustrating! I'm glad to have been able to reduce your blood pressure somewhat! xxx

  9. I'm glad you got to spend time with your brother, Ann! And I love that you're sharing what book you were reading. X

    1. Thank you Jess, I always try to share what I'm reading, and love to see what other people are reading too! xxx

  10. Your brother has worked hard!
    I love Both of your outfits and was getting a little worried you weren't going to post any! Lol
    I was happy when I saw them both!
    Happy weekend!

    1. He has indeed, Donna! I'm sorry about the scarcity of outfits, though :-) xxx

  11. So great you managed to meet up with your brother. I admire him for accomplishing a garden in such a shirt time. It seems they are getting the most out of their rented cottage. Being so close to France, they really seem to have the best from both words.

    1. Thank you Ivana! They really do, don't they. I am, in fact, quite envious :-) xxx

  12. Great outfits...the green top looks amazing with the blue maxi skirt and red accents.

    1. Thanks Ivana! That green top must be among my most worn! xxx

  13. So glad you managed to meet with your brother and enjoyed a visit to that fascinating place. Lovely to see some industrial heritage, brick architecture and interesting projects going on!.
    And so fab photos, the beach looks really appealing (and your chevron skirt is a favourite!) and looking particularly lovely posing on that bridge!, such fantastic light and landscapes!

    1. Gracias Monica! I'm actually rather envious of my brother. If I didn't have a job to go to, I'd be tempted to move there lock, stock and barrel! xxx

  14. What a lovely trip away - and your brother has found a really interesting place to live.

    1. It was lovely to meet up with my brother, as we don't see each other very often. I'm glad he found such an interesting place to live! xxx