Treasures of Belgium Tour

Flanders, in the northern part of Belgium, is a delightful area for an easy and picturesque cycling vacation. In addition to almost completely flat, winding roads along peaceful canals, rivers, and lovely farms, you’ll discover four of the most architecturally interesting cities in Northern Europe – Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen, and Antwerp. All four are remarkably well-preserved or restored to the look of their mid to late 19th century prominence. Each contains quaint cobblestoned streets, medieval squares, tree-lined canals, gorgeous cathedrals, and friendly cafes for people-watching and sipping some of their world renowned Belgian beers. Bruges is unmatched in its’ medieval, architectural integrity. Ghent boasts 18 museums, 100 churches, and 400 historical buildings. Antwerp, much like the diamonds it is famous for, sparkles with wonderful architecture from medieval to Art Nouveau, along with funky nightlife and an innovative fashion district. We’ll spend one night near Mechelen and two nights each in Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp in 4-star hotels.

Daily Itinerary

Day 1: Bruges – Damme – Bruges – warm-up ride – 18 miles
We’ll meet at 2:00 PM in the lobby of our comfortable 4 star hotel in Bruges. We suggest arriving a day or two early to really explore beautiful Bruges! After a brief orientation meeting we’ll gather for “bike fitting” and a “warm-up ride” to the beautiful medieval market town of Damme. Formerly an outer harbor to Bruges, Damme prospered after the old port in Bruges silted up, thus forcing all the sea merchants, aristocrats and businessmen to move to Damme. We’ll cycle along the picturesque, poplar-lined canal with time to visit some of the former fortresses here (Damme lay on the front line between the Kingdom of Spain and the Republic of the Northern Provinces in the late 16h century). We’ll also see the Schelle Mill, the town ramparts and Damme’s 15th century town hall. After returning to Bruges you’ll have some time to stroll through Bruges’ delightful center but we urge you to arrive a day early so you can visit a few of the outstanding museums in this lovely city at a leisurely pace. Bruges, once the wealthy cloth capital of Europe, is prominently located on the world famous UNESCO world heritage site list and is often considered the most beautiful of all Flemish cities. Its historic center, which dates from the Middle Ages, is almost completely intact. At that time, Bruges was a thriving metropolis and a bustling hub of trade and art. There are still magnificent art collections and architectural treasures to appreciate today. Take your time to stroll through lovely parks, intimate little streets and ancient market squares. There’s also great shopping and the friendly shopkeepers love to explain all the details about their exquisite Belgian chocolate and hearty Belgian beer. Our first, fine dinner together is in a close by restaurant.

Day 2: Bruges – De Haan – Bruges – 32 miles (optional ride)
This morning we cycle along lively canals and through peaceful farm land to the coast. Our goal is the well preserved coastal village of De Haan famous for its many buildings in Belle Epoque style. Here we can enjoy, if the weather cooperates, a stimulating dive into the North Sea or relax a bit at the beach before we return to Bruges. Dinner tonight is on your own in one of Bruges’ many cozy restaurants. You always knew that Belgian beer was special but now you will be pleased to discover another opportunity to sample the tasty the Belgian cuisine!

Day 3: Bruges – Ghent – 34 miles
Scenic cycling through pleasant countryside on mostly car free bike paths takes us today to Ghent, another university city in Western Flanders with a rich past. Ghent had its origins in Roman Times, at the junction of the Leie and Schelde Rivers. This favorable location and a well developed textile industry brought great prosperity to Ghent, which had its peak in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The city center has many surprisingly well preserved patrician mansions. Also noteworthy are the Cloth Makers’ Hall (1425) where textile merchants gathered and the impressive St. Bavo’s Cathedral, built in various periods in a variety of interesting styles. In the cathedral you can admire a number of masterpieces of medieval painting, including the renowned “Adoration of the Lamb” by Jan van Eyck. Our hotel for two nights is the attractive Hotel Harmony ideally located in the heart of the historic city center overlooking a picturesque canal. The hotel has two buildings with a garden in-between where guests can relax or enjoy breakfast when weather permits. There is also a small swimming pool. Before dinner we’ll meet our local guide for a 2 hour walking tour through Ghent to learn more about the history of this exciting city. We’ll end the tour at a wonderful restaurant in an imaginatively redesigned former factory.

Day 4: Ghent Roundtrip – The Leie Region Route – 22 miles (optional ride)
In the morning you have time to visit the historic center of Ghent by foot for some wonderful museum visits, great shopping or just a break from pedaling. In the afternoon you can join us for an especially scenic bike ride through the picturesque region of the River Leie, southwest of Ghent. This area attracted several outstanding painters and poets at the turn of the 19th century and is now the site of many gorgeous homes and gardens. We’ll return to Ghent through a delightfully picturesque area passing by wonderful estates and we’re sure you’ll agree that this is some of the nicest biking possible in all of Europe. Dinner is on your own tonight in one of Ghent’s fine restaurants.

Day 5: Ghent – Bornem – 39 miles
Today we have a longer but still easy cycling itinerary. We follow the meandering bike path along the River Schelde that is part of the Flanders Cycle Route, out of Ghent. Most of our biking is on top of small dikes with a nice view on the river. We’ll cross the river by ferry a few times and we’ll bike through scenic villages and a range of landscapes: extensive polders, moorland, forests, and fruit tree gardens before reaching our evening’s destination in Bornum. Bornem itself is a quiet village with a nice market square, a relaxing spot for a Belgian beer. Dinner in a local restaurant tonight.

Day 6: Bornem – Mechelen – Antwerp – 40 miles
We pedal today from Bornem to Mechelen, a city that was once the capital of the Burgundian Netherlands (present-day Belgium and Holland). Mechelen has one of the highest concentrations of monuments North of the Alps, and is unique in Flanders for being listed not once but four times on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage sites. Here the imposing St. Rombouts Cathedral, towers over the main market square. Mechelen’s city center also offers an inviting range of smaller squares, terraces and shops, all within walking distance of each other so we’ll take our time for lunch and sightseeing here. After our Mechelen visit we continue on to the well-to-do city of Antwerp, the capital of the Province of Antwerp and after Brussels the second largest city in Belgium with about a half million inhabitants. Boasting a remarkable medieval quarter, a superbly healthy diamond trade, and one of the world’s largest ports, Antwerp has much to be proud of. Antwerp is especially known as a city of art: several houses of old masters (such as the painters Rubens and Van Dyck) have been restored and turned into museums and there are many other fine museums including the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art to just mention a few. Other places of interest are the 15th century cathedral and the “Grote Markt”, the market square with its spectacular town hall. The diamond museum and the fashion museum are also definitely worth visiting. And even though Antwerp became an important harbor and cultural center in the 16th century it has managed to keep a relatively small-scale feel about it. The city center is about 2 km across and everything is conveniently within walking distance, a factor that contributes to its cozy atmosphere and liveliness. Our outstanding 4-star hotel is right in the historic center, a very convenient location. Our final dinner together is in a special restaurant on the Grote Markt.

Day 7: Antwerp – guided walking tour and free afternoon
In the morning our local guide will lead us through the fascinating center of Antwerp. The tour will include some of Antwerp’s true highlights: the Jewish neighborhood, the diamond district, the Rubens House, the Cathedral of Our Lady, the Town Hall and the view on the majestic river. After lunch you’ll have time to visit some museums with their masterpieces of painting or do some final shopping and sightseeing. Then when you’re ready, it’s easy to find the way “home” to our hotel. Dinner is on your own tonight in one of Antwerp’s fine restaurants.

Day 8:
Individual departure for home or the next leg of your European vacation after breakfast. The Antwerp train station is a 5 minute walk from our hotel.

Getting There

We meet at 2:00 PM in the lobby of our hotel in Bruges. Direct trains from Brussels to Bruges run every half hour and take about one hour. For last minute train schedules visit the website of the Belgian Railways, www.b-rail.be.

Meals

You will enjoy daily breakfast and four dinners of superb three or four-courses. Lunch is not included in the price; most days we will dine in a local restaurant.

Prices and Dates

Check out our Tour Calendar under “Hotel Tours”

Tour Length

8 days/7 nights

Included
      – 7 nights lodging in three and four-star hotels with private facilities
      – 7 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 3 coffee breaks and 4 dinners
      – Two guided city tours
      – Outstanding, personalized leadership by VGT’s owner
      – 24-speed bike rental
      – Support van
      – Daily route directions
      – Baggage handling
    – All taxes and gratuities for the hotel and restaurant portions of the tour
Bicycles

24-speed hybrid Specialized bikes are included on the tour. Bicycles come equipped with: grip shifters, handlebar bag, bell, cage and water bottle, optional toe clips, optional rear view mirror and rear pannier. It is also possible to replace our pedals with your own “clip on” pedals. Helmets are not included; please bring your own helmet! We do have a few helmets available for rent for $20 for the week. If you wish to rent one, please let us know ahead of time.

Level of Difficulty

Daily cycling distances are 18-39 miles on flat terrain and on mostly separate bike paths. Level of Difficulty is easy. Remember that the van is usually very close by and you can join the “lonely driver” if you need a break from riding!

Excluded

– Airfare
– Alcoholic and bar beverages
– Three dinners
– 5 lunches
– Independent sightseeing
– Transportation other than scheduled VGT transfers
– Other items of a personal nature

Weather

Average daytime temperatures in April and May are 50-60. June, July, and August range from 65-70, and September and October from 60-65. Belgium is close to the North Sea and has a moderate sea climate.

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