The Montane Featherlite Smock is a wind shirt that’s good for trail running, hiking, and backpacking in cool or windy weather. Wind shirts are versatile ultralight layering garment, usually weighing just a few ounces, that you can wear over a thin fleece or wool pullover to prevent the wind from chilling you. They’re particularly useful …
Hainaut is an area rich with cultural heritage and historic experiences.
This Belgian region has several UNESCO World Heritage listed properties, areas and constructions and also a few historical events on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The areas multiple well preserved historical city centres are also a must visit when in the region. We visited Hainaut to explore the cultural scene and were quite taken aback by the variety and the uniqueness of the area. Since we wanted to explore large parts of Hainaut, we booked a hotel in the city of Mons, hired a car and drove our way through the region in search of a cultural experience.
We were not disappointed!
Here Are Some Highlights of Our Cultural Exploration of Hainaut:
Triobalade and the Le Passenger
To start out our cultural exploration, we started off by doing a guided trip in the city closest to our hotel, the city of Mons. Mons is a great historical city to explore, and what better way to do it than in a private, 3 wheel vehicle? We went for the Triobalade experience! We started our guided sightseeing trip across Mons with the wooden art construction called Le Passenger. Le Passenger is placed at the gateway to the Grand Place, the heart of Mons. Our driver told us about the construction, the history of it and that this edition of the construction was the second, after the first one partly collapsed in 2015, about a year after it first was finished. The construction is created to mimic the flow of the people in Mons, and is painted in strong, warm colors as a wave across the Grand Place main entrance.
During the Triobalade sighseeing trip we criss-crossed through the streets of the city, visiting a lot of the significant places and areas, including the Grand Place with the City Hall and a sculpture of a monkey bringing good fortune if stroking it with your left hand. We also passed by the Civic Museum and ended up at the Dou Dou museum to learn more about this very special, UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event.
The Dou Dou Festival and Museum
The Dou Dou festival is an eight day, UNESCO listed festival that annualy takes place in the city of Mons. It is always held on Trinity Sunday, 57 days after Easter. The festival was held the first time as a religious procession in 1349 as a reaction to the city being touched by the plague. After the religious procession, the plague miraculously disappeared. Over the years the festival has changed and adapted to the changes of times, and it now contains a mix of religious events and entertainment of less religious origin. The Dou Dou festival was not held during the French Revolution, in 1803 and during World War 1 and 2. The Dou Dou festival is on the Intangible Cultural Heritage UNESCO list.
After the guided Triobalade trip we were dropped off and visited, the dedicated Dou Dou museum to learn more about the festival, the events happening during the festival week and it’s origin. The museum is spread over multiple levels and you can follow a trail to inside the museum to watch photos and wide screen videos from the very special entertainment, events, battles and parades held during the week long festival. Even though you get a lot of information about the festival when visiting the museum, you will not understand the full concept without visiting Mons when the real event takes place.
The Grand Hornu
After exploring the historic parts of Mons we decided to learn more about another important heritage of the region, the mining tradition. Hainaut has a very strong mining tradition, and there used to be over 300 mines in the area. After closing down the mines, 4 of them were turned and taken into different use. The Grand Hornu is one of the mines turned into a completely different and new location.
Grand Hornu was not only a coal mining company, but the area also had a company town, constructed with small houses around the mining area for the workers to live with their family. The houses are still there and a lot of families with young children are living in the area as the houses are quite cheap compared to other areas. The whole Grand Hornu area was built between 1810 and 1830 and is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list as one of only four industrial sites.
Today the mining construction is owned by the province of Hainaut and holds contemporary arts exhibitions and events.
House of Giants
After learning about the mining traditions at the Grand Hornu, we headed towards the town of Ath, with a very special museum and festival.
The House of Giants is a museum and it is located in the centre of the town of Ath. It hosts giants from around the world during the winter time. The rest of the year the giants are being used in traditional parades and events. The museum opens the door into the world of Giants, and you can learn about the history of the giants, how they are made and how they are used. The creation of the giants runs in the family, and the art of making the giants is delivered from one generation to the next.
In Ath they have a traditional Giants parade and event every 4th weekend of August. This special event is also on the Intangible Cultural Heritage UNESCO list. The event is divided into different stages and starts with burning of the pants of Goliath, a symbolic gesture that is done to mark the ending of his life as a single person, and stepping into marriage. The second stage is the marriage between Mr. and Mrs Goliath, and the battle between David and Goliath. The festival ends with a huge street parade filled with giants. As with the Dou Dou festival, I don't think visitors can really grasp the whole concept of the festival without visiting during the event week, so if you are into Giants and parades, make sure to visit Ath in late August.
The Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose
From Giants in Ath, we continued our cultural exploration in Hainaut. Our next stop was The Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose located in Lessines. This property is also a part of the Monumental Heritage of Hainaut. It was founded in 1242, and is today known as the last remaining example of a fully-preserved self-sufficient, medieval hospital site. It contains a farm, monastery, hospital, garden with medical herbs and a cemetery. The hospital was dedicated to poor people and all the nuns working there were originally from quite wealthy families. This way they were able to get enought funds to run the hospital for free. The hospital was run for over 650 years and it was only closed down as late as 1987. Today the property is turned into a museum.
When visiting the museum you can see how the treated patients lived during their stay, the medical equipment they used, and learn about the extensive use of medical herbs in their normal cooking as a way to treat the whole person. The property also has a huge selection of paintings, including one of the few paintings showing Jesus with female attributes, as a symbol of being ‘Mother’ of mankind.
Le Canal du Centre
From the century long history at the Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose our roadtrip continued towards a more contemporary cultural site at Le Canal du Centre. Le Canal du Centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hainaut. The system consists of 4 hydraulic boat-lifts located over a distance of 7 kilometres, and represents an industrial monument of the highest quality. Le Canal du Centre with it’s boat lift and canal itself is a well-preserved and complete example of a late 19th century industrial landscape and the only boat lifts from this period still exist in their original working conditions.
The canals and connecting structures were originally created for the transportation of coal from the mines in the area. The construction started in 1884 and the structure was opened in 1917. Each of the lifts covers a change of level of 15-16 metres. The 4 original lifts are now replaced by a new, modern lift for the industry transportation needs on the canals, but the old ones are still in use during the summer season as a leisure offer.
Along the canals there is a nice area for recreational activities. Along the water front there are lots of trees, green grass and there are nice walkways for walking, biking and running. Benches are also spread out along the walkways, so make sure you go for a stroll and just enjoy the view of the canals and the recreational delights the area provides.
Chateu de Chimay
The last stop of our cultural exploration of Hainaut was the small town of Chimay and the Chimay Castle. The Chimay castle was located just by the town centre of Chimay, and has been owned by the Prince of Chimay and his ancestors for centuries. The family still have their home in parts of the castle. Even though the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt lots of times during the past 1000 years (the last time being in a fire in 1935) the castle comes across as well preserved. Reconstruction work is still being done by the current owner and it is possible to visit the castle during most parts of the year, except the winter months.
The castle has a huge art collection, and a fantastic decorated theatre, completed in 1863, where they arrange classical music concerts. The theatre can hold 200 spectators. For children the castle offers tours and half day learning sessions and they can even hold their birthday party at the castle.
Also Learn About the Activities and Food Scene in Hainaut
As you can see, the Hainaut region has a lot to offer for travelers interested in cultural heritage and history and during our week in the area we learned a lot! The experiences took us all over the Hainaut area and in addition to the cultural and historical sites, we also made sure to explore the different activities and the food scene in this exciting region. You can read more about these experiences and watch our interactive videos in these two articles:
Links to the two other Hainaut pages
How about a culinary trip to Belgium?
We spent a week in the Hainaut region trying to find the traditional tastes and dishes - the best local cheese and chocolate and of course the famous beer they produce here. We found them all, and also got surprised by some local produce that we didn’t know was made in this area.
Through meeting lots of the local people in the food industry, we also learnt a lot about the high focus of keeping the locally made, artisan and traditional food and drink culture alive.
Hainaut is a region for food lovers and beer enthusiasts!
During our trip, we stayed in the city of Mons at the Van der Valk Hotel. To make it quick and easy to get around to all the different parts of the region, we hired a car in Mons. Mons is situated only an hour drive from Brussels by car but you can easily get to Mons also by train directly from Brussels airport. Mons is situated in the middle of Hainaut, which makes it the perfect base for exploring the region through daytrips. If you prefer to do a roadtrip with multiple hotels in various locations, you will find a huge selection of cosy villages, historical city centres and more urban surroundings throughout the whole region with a huge selection of hotels.
As we had a full week to explore the region we also included lots of activities and plunged into the culture and history of the area. You can find those experiences in two separate videos from our trip.
But let’s start with our culinary exploration in Hainaut. Of course, you cannot come to Belgium without sampling some of their amazing beer. Everything in the bars and restaurants is local and there is an increasingly impressive craft beer scene (or artisan beer). To get an overview of the beer scene we stopped by the Drink Factory for a lesson in beer brewing and a tasting session.
Visiting the Drink Factory
The Drink Factory was one of the places that surprised me in Belgium, and it made me realize how much they support their artisan breweries. The Drink Factory is essentially a warehouse size off-license (or liquor store) selling all different kinds of alcohol from the region, and even includes an organic shop. At the weekends it opens its doors to local breweries to set up small stands, sell their beers and offer tasting samples to the public. There’s also live music all day and traditional food on sale. We even found a demonstration of a home set up for brewing your own beer, something Scott was particularly fascinated by, as becoming a brewmaster is a long-term ambition of his.
Stopping by the Drink Factory to try some of the local beers was a perfect start of the trip, and it made me wish that we did more of this back home. It had a great social vibe, friendly atmosphere and supports the local community. You’ll find the Drink Factory just outside of Mons, if you head East along Chaussee du Roeuix.
Tasting traditional food at Ces Belges a Vous
Our first stop to really get into the Hainaut food scene was at the Ces Belges a Vous where they serve traditional food - homemade style. In order to get a culinary overview, we decided to test 5 different local dishes, and got them all served in the middle of the table for a tasting session. All the dishes were made from traditional recipes with local produce and ingredients.
The five dishes we tasted included:
- Chicons gratines au fromage à la flamande which is a dish of endives and ham gratinated with local cheese from an abbey nearby. The dish was served with mashed potatoes and was rich in taste. All the delicious melted cheese also made it quite heavy.
- Carbonade de boeuf a la flamande was small pieces of beef and carrots cooked in a gravy made with beer and sugar. This dish was served with traditional belgium fries. The meat was slowly cooked, making it tender and soft, and the ingredients in the gravy made the dish quite sweet.
- Escaveche de Chimay is a dish containing eel pickled in vinegar served cold with a thick white cold sauce on top. On the side there was a mixed green salad. The locals said that this dish was either love or hate, and I kind of fell down on the hate side. It tasted a lot like vinegar, but hey, if you like vinegar this might be something for you to try.
- Boulet de liege sauce lapin was a huge meatball served in a sweet sauce made of beer, carrots, onions and raisins. This sauce was also kind of sweet, yet not as sweet as the Carbonade de boeuf sauce, and served with fries.
- Filet de porc a la bredouille was a dish made of pork filet with tomatoes, estragon, mustard, shallots, white wine and flour. Probably because of the estragon in the sauce, it tasted very similar to a classic bernaise sauce. The dish was served with fries.
The Ces Belges a Vous restaurant is situated in the city centre of Mons, facing the Grand Place.
After a long and tasty food session it was time to move on to learn about, and taste some more of the famous local beer.
Visiting the local brewery Brasserie des Légendes
The first real brewery we visited on the trip was Brasserie des Légendes, in the town of Ath. The name itself is born of two breweries combining to effectively become the ‘Brewery of Legends’, with each beer holding a story from one of the original sites. We were surprised to learn that this an artisan beer (Craft Beer), as it looks too big at first. However, this was explained to us by the Brewmaster himself, Pierre Delcoigne. A craft beer is a brewery that completely controls the process from the ground to the bottle, overseeing and taking control of it all, especially the barley malt. The end result is a totally natural and unique beer, with the care and attention to every detail.
We only visited the Ath site, but we had a complete tour which I highly recommend. Then of course came the tasting, and this beer is amazing! Each beer and variety has its own tale to tell, from the Quintine beer which references the Witch of Quintine who was burnt alive in Ellezelles in 1610. To the Goliath, one of the famous giants in the Ath legend of David and Goliath. They have the perfect blend of blonde beers and dark beers, and a fantastic gift set for loved ones back home. The Brewery is located just outside of Ath, which hosts the famous festival of David and Goliath, read more about that in our article about the culture in Hainaut.
Tasting Moules-frites at La Chimassiette
No trip to Hainaut is complete without having a big portion of Moules-frites, or mussels with fries, and thats exactly what we did in the city of Chimay at the La Chimassiette. Opening the lid of the mussels pot and just inhaling the delicious steam is something you must experience. I guarantee it will make you even more hungry than you thought you were.
Moules-frites is one of the classic Belgian dishes and the mussels are steamed in a big pot together with white wine, herbs and vegetables. Mussels are served in Belgium from July to mid-April the following year these days, but traditionally they were considered as winter food to replace fish during the months of shortage.
Discovering the La Manufacture Urbaine or Lam-U in Charleroi
Our next stop was the town of Charleroi, a former industrial town which has been completely reinvented as part of a regeneration project for the area. It’s been a real success story, with unemployment and poverty decreasing, and tourism and business booming. One of the places we visited was Lam-U, a really interesting bar, restaurant and coffee shop. Here they brew their own beer, roasts their own coffee and bake their own bread! Even more impressively, you can effectively brew your own beer here, giving the brewmaster your conditions, ingredients and of course the name.
The upstairs is open for private functions and parties, so imagine this; your own private function with your own unique beer! Amazing. We of course named one Travel Dudes and sampled a few of the beers on offer. I really liked the trendy laid back atmosphere at Lam-U and could see myself hanging out in a place like this often.
Experience the real Belgian Fries with Mayonnaise
Belgian fries has been mentioned a few times in this article as a side dish to various other dishes, but to really get into the Hainaut fries tradition, you need to enjoy it on it’s own. The real Belgian fries are thickly cut and after being fried once, they have a short break cooling down before being fried once more. This process makes the Belgian fries really crunchy on the outside, while they remain soft on the inside. For a real Belgian fries experience, stop by a fries place or a food truck and get it served the traditional way - in a cone. Also remember that Belgian fries should always be enjoyed with a huge chunk of mayonnaise on top!
During our stay in Hainaut we learned that it’s quite common to go out for a hot portion of fries on Friday nights. The special fries shops and food trucks will normally have a long line of people waiting to get their weekly portion of Belgian fries with mayonnaise just as the weekend begins.
Tasting Belgian cheese at Ferme la Bailli
Belgium is famous for its cheese as well, and to see why, we made a stop at the small cheese farm Ferme la Bailli. Belgium cheese tradition can be explained as something between the French and Dutch traditions of making cheese.
The Bailli farm has 180 cows and has been making cheese for over 30 years using traditional recipes. In case you didn’t know, in Belgium tradition it’s common to add flavours to the cheese during the production. At this farm they are producing a variety of both soft cheese and hard cheese, but to their most famous cheese, the Pave de soignies, they are usually adding flavour by using nuts, peppers, herbs, garlic and even ash to create new tastes and appearance of the cheese. Another specialty developed on this farm is to add flavour to the cheese by washing the cheese wheels with beer or wine in the last two weeks before it’s ready for the stores.
The cheese farm is located in Soignies, only a short drive from Mons.
A visit to the Legast Artisan Chocolatier
No trip to Belgium would be complete without tasting the local chocolate, so we stopped by the artisan chocolatemakers at Legast. Legast is run by the couple Thibaut Legast and Patricia Forero, and they run it like a true 'bean to bar' style of chocolatier. To make sure they get the high quality, sustainable cocoa beans, they are monitoring and in control of the whole process. From dealing with local cocoa bean farmers in Latin-America, to roasting and grinding the beans and getting the finished chocolate ready for the store. The recipe has proven to give the perfect piece of chocolate as in 2018 they won 4 awards in the international chocolate awards, including a gold medal for best European and best Belgian chocolate.
It was a real pleasure visiting the shop and learning about the process from cocoa bean to finished chocolate. And of course, we could taste as much chocolate as we wanted!
Legast Artisan Chocolatier is located in the small town Braine Le Comte around 30 minutes drive from Mons.
Tasting superior sparkling wine at the Chant d’eole winery
Did you know that they produced superior sparkling wine in Hainaut? I had no idea they even produced wine in this country of beer, so our curiosity was very much alive when we went for a sparkling wine tasting during our stay. The vinery Chant d’eole has been producing sparkling wine only since 2010, but with carefully selected grape varieties, a former Champagne wine maker and excellent location for the vines, the winery has quickly become known and loved for their products. To get the right flavours and bubbles they use the traditional Champagne method when making their sparkling wine. We tasted both varieties they produce at the winery, one traditional white sparkling and one rose sparkling, and I must admit, it was absolutely delicious.
The Chant d’eole winery is located just a 15 minute drive south of Mons
On our culinary exploration trip to Hainaut was surprising, educational and very tasty. We expected the incredible chocolate, cheese and beer but we were also surprised about how great the local food was. Also the focus on sustainability and keeping the traditions alive was something we really appreciated.
Hopefully this was just the first in many trips to the region, there's still lots of food, cheese, chocolate, beer and sparkling wine to be tasted!
After seeing Milford Sound, we decided to head south, instead of heading northwest to see more glaciers (like most tourists do).
With the help of the app CamperMate, we found some great spots to camp. On the way to Invercargill, we stopped at Colac Bay and found a secluded free camping spot with a sea view. It’s a pretty spot, but beware that the weather is unstable due to the closeness of the ocean. It can get windy and rainy, but if you are looking for a private spot with a view, Colac Bay is perfect.
On the way to the Otago Peninsula, we stayed at Bluff Camping Ground, a good site with clean amenities and unlimited internet (rare in NZ). The price is around $14 per person per night. It was a quick, pleasant stop before arriving at Kaka Point. There we stayed at Kaka Point Camping Ground. The price is around $12 per person with amenities (kitchen, showers, and toilets). The place was decent, but not super clean. Nugget Point, a viewpoint overlooking the ocean, is the natural attraction in the area. There's a lighthouse at the top of the hill, along with spectacular rock formations and thriving vegetation, with many different species of birds and sea lions.
The gem of this off the beaten path area in the south is the Otago Peninsula, for its unique access to wildlife.
In Dunedin, we stayed at the Dunedin Holiday Park, a good campsite with amenities and unlimited internet. The price is around $14 per person per night.
In the Otago Peninsula, you can join guided tours to see penguins, but we didn’t want to pay for a touristy experience. We wanted to see them in the wild. We did some research and read that you could spot them at sunrise or sunset at Sandfly Bay. They make their way to rest on the beach after several hours in the ocean fishing. We took our chances, woke up at 5 AM and made our way to the beach. After parking, there's a 15 minute hike to reach the beach.
Sandfly Bay is mesmerizing and it became one of my favorite places in the world.
It’s a long wild beach surrounded by sand dunes. Sunrise is magical. There is no one around, and the only sound is of the crashing waves and tweeting birds. We waited patiently for the penguins to show up, and they did. We watched them come out of the water and were fascinated by the sort of dialogue going on between the three of them on the shore.
They noticed our presence and quickly went back into the water. Please remember to keep your distance because if they see you they won’t come out of the water. We were far from them but they are smart creatures and will look around carefully before moving on. We also saw sea lions sleeping on the rocks.
The time spent at Sandfly Bay was special and one of the most vivid memories of our trip.
Okia Reserve is another cool hike in the area. It’s one hour and 30 minutes return (or two hours and 30 minutes loop). You will reach a long secluded beach where you can spot sea lions and wild birds.
Honestly, after seeing Sandfly, it’s hard to fall in love with other beaches. We loved it so much that we decided to wake up again at 5 AM to see the penguins again the day after. Back to Sandfly, we waited for sunrise, but our friends weren’t there to wait for us. The day before we had a perfect moment but this time everything was different.
We didn’t see the penguins, but we were happy to learn more about their habits looking at their footprints.
We made our way back to Christchurch (where we had to drop off our van) via Lake Tekapo because the sky was blue without clouds and we wanted to see the stars. The area is called International Sky Preserve because its deep dark sky makes it the perfect destination for stargazers. There were no clouds that night, but there was a full moon. It’s hard to find the perfect conditions, but the view of the starry sky was beautiful nonetheless. The day after we stopped for lunch at Motuariki Island view by Lake Tekapo. This viewpoint is further away from the touristy ones and we were the only ones there.
I highly recommend adding the Otago Peninsula to your Kiwi trip.
It’s the wild part of New Zealand, facing Antarctica. You can easily spot penguins, sea lions and unique species of birds.