Our camper van trip to Belgium was a long time in the making. We first hatched the plan several years ago but then, various things conspired to get in the way of our much-discussed voyage. However, in 2017, the stars finally aligned and we started to plan our trip. Massive credit here has to be given to our friend Shaun who masterminded this complex, family friendly trip over 16 days for 4 vans and 10 people (8 adults and 2 kids). What started as a simple trip to Bruges and surrounding areas expanded into an epic tour of Belgium, Holland, Germany and Luxembourg.
We meticulously packed up to fit 5 of us in our T5. We collected the kids from their summer break school assemblies and headed directly to Folkestone and the channel tunnel. We used the Travelodge not too far from the tunnel by the M25 at Thurrock, which has served us well for previous camper trips abroad. We arrived in decent time, stayed overnight and then headed for the tunnel first thing in the morning. It’s been a while since we used the tunnel and we did have a long debate about this versus other ways such as the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge. In the end, the tunnel won out because of a special offer on crossings making it a cheaper option overall, albeit with a few more miles to get to Belgium and our first campsite at Blankenberge.
We’d booked into the Jamboree campsite, which was really well located to get in to Blankenberge. The campsite itself wasn’t much to shout about, although there was a good boules tournament going on with a few Belgian beers for sale from a pizza van. After sampling the local Belgian beers, we headed over to the main campsite facilities. The restaurant was full and the beanbag area was all wet so we shortly headed back to our vans set up. Aside from the expensive drip of a shower and lack of loo roll, this is a friendly site and kid friendly with trampolines, farm animals and other stuff for the kids to enjoy. The site was the most expensive one of our trip but then Belgium was probably the most expensive country on the whole.
Blankenberge itself is a beautiful little place, with its Art Nouveau architecture and long streets of bars, great shops and interesting buildings and monuments. It’s the seafront, pier and promenade though with it’s never ending beach bars, surfing and other water sports that was for us the main attraction. There are loads of beach bars, all overlooking a glorious stretch of beach with various bean bags, deck chairs, hammocks, palm trees and the coolest tables, statues and features you can imagine. They have a wide variety of food and drinks, which are pretty well priced although kids drinks were expensive. The pop is literally dearer than the beer. Each beach bar has its own attractions for kids also. These include bouncy castles, playgrounds and various other things to keep the kids entertained. In addition, there’s an amazing big pedal go-kart track for little and big kids alike complete with tunnel and petrol pumps.
The campsite is an easy walk to Blankenberge centre, the beach, the tram stop and the train station. On day 2, we jumped on the double decker train to Bruges for a few euros for a 15-minute ride. Bruges is a stunning city, so we walked to the city square where there was a really entertaining brass band playing with the backdrop of the stunning buildings and churches. Chips, mayonnaise, waffles and a horse drawn carriage tour of Bruges are a must, particularly if you’re on a quick visit. You’ll of course pay city centre prices, but the quality of everything in this city is stunning, it’s such a beautiful place! Only in Bruges could you get a Belgian beer in a glass, which is a piece of artwork, and has an image of the church you’re looking at etched into the stem of the glass. We had to go glass shopping later!
On the next day, we did the short walk to the sea life centre tram stop to get the tram into Neighbouring seaside town Knokke. This place really surprised us again with a wide variety of things to do and an amazing, unending promenade. Aside from a bit of wind, the weather had been pretty kind to us so far, so we hired a pedal car to head down the sea front. Later on, we walked around looking at the menus of the seafront bars and restaurants. Eventually, we decided to get the tram back to Blankenberge and found a great place to eat Moules, Salmon and steaks which wasn’t cheap but was plentiful and great quality.
Our time in Blankenberge drew to a close, so we rolled up a wet sheltaPod, strapped it to the bike rack and headed for Holland. Our destination was the stunning city of Delft. There’s so much history here dating back centuries. Delft has historically been an important place and the home of the William of Orange dynasty. It’s also famous for the intricate blue and white pottery, demonstrating its historic links with China. Delft really impressed us. Again, the main square is flanked by incredible architecture including a huge church steeple. Climbing the 376 steps up the Oude en niewe church gives an incredible view over the city and surrounding areas. There was a great little market on with all kinds of Dutch delights. The campsite was perfectly suited for us with excellent facilitiesincluding a small onsite shop. It had a small pool, playground with an elevated bar restaurant looking over it. Kids were pedalling go-karts around the site, which were for hire on reception. It’s a relatively short walk into Delft or around the nearby lake or kids farm. Delft is very much a working city, very friendly and also kitted out for visitors. As you might imagine, there are bikes everywhere and you have to watch your step at times! Beautiful food and drinks await you on every street and we found it to be markedly cheaper than Belgium.
We walked to the other side of delft for the short train ride into Rotterdam. It was the battle of the drums festival, which is part of Europe’s biggest street festival. The different drumming bands boomed their way through Rotterdam with us following the procession to the festival proper.
It was a bit wet by this point, but this didn’t
dampen the enthusiasm of the drummers and their audience. Heading back into the centre of delft in the evening, we bumped into another music festival, but this time for classical music. A stage had been set up in front of the clock tower and the restaurants in the square had their large parasols up sheltering people from the rain. What a contrast from a Rotterdam with its chaotic, exciting, noises, hustle and bustle. It was nice though to end the evening in relaxing style in the square to Vivaldi four seasons performed live on stage.
Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany
We were sad to leave Delft but also excited for the German leg of our trip. We set off in the morning for Rudesheim on the Rhein hopeful for some brighter, warmer weather. Germany delivered. We headed south so we were more or
less level with lands end in Cornwall. The mercury rose to the mid 20’s as we drove on to the car ferry across the Rhein at teatime. We arrived at our campsite Rheingaucamping, which is a nice walk down the Rhein to town. Rudesheim is very well kitted out for visitors, being a stop off for the long river cruise boats moored up over night on the banks. We wanted to sample some of the local delicacies, so we were happy to sample the Riesling at theweinstand in the village square. We then tried several plates of the local sausages, steaks, sauerkraut and several other things whilst enjoying some accordion music and singing from a local entertainer. This was so much fun.
From here, we headed a bit further into town to experience the Drosselgasse road that we’d seen so many pictures of. These streets lead uphill, framed by rows of vines in the background. They have the most beautiful little souvenir shops and restaurant buildings. Each one is ornately painted and beautifully sculpted with intricate detail. You could spend days just wandering around taking photos of things and bobbing in to the shops. Another really friendly place, although we did manage to get in trouble a couple of times for stepping out of line!
One example is the boat trip we booked down the Rhein. There was a dance floor on the boat and the kids got told off for dancing on it. Equally, we all got told off for the barbecue being a bit too smoky. Everything in Rudesheim is kept beautiful and looked after in a meticulously German way!
They do however expect a storm from time to time and this visit didn’t disappoint. We battened down the hatches In Anticipation and then around 2am,the mother of all storms moved in. Once the eye of the storm was upon us, the high winds ripped the sheltaPod from the van, tearing the fabric across in the process. This was a bit of a blow to an otherwise fantastic stay in Germany. We got in touch with the sheltaPod guys in themorning and we were so chuffed to hear that they would replace the damaged part at no cost and even ship it to our next port of call if we wanted. How kind was that!
On the final full day of our stay in Germany, some of our party headed on the cable car, walk and boat tour for a bargain 15 euros. The others headed to the local outdoor pool next to the river, complete with slides and diving boards etc. In the evening we regrouped to check out the pizza restaurant on site. It was a lovely end to our stay, as it looks right out over the river. As we waved goodbye to the mini beaches and the brilliant beach bar with beach soccer pitch, we headed again to stock up on supplies before embarking once more on the river ferry.
Our final German port of call was to Kyrburg whisky castle and restaurant. The castle is set in some stunning countryside and its elevated position creates stunning views of the tree lined hills and cottages in the valleys below. The restaurant outdoor terrace overlooks this. We’d missed the food by 10 minutes but they kindly offered to reopen the kitchen for us. And we were very glad of this because the kids meals,
the steaks, prawns, schnitzels and salads did not disappoint. The food was tremendous and we even managed to try a local beer and a German whisky produced in the region. They very kindly opened the whisky museum in the downstairs for us to see. There were hundreds of bottles and other memorabilia from around the world which was a spectacle even for the none whisky fan. We concluded our visit with a walk to the top of the castle ramparts, which created an even more impressive panoramic view over the whole area. Overall, we were incredible happy with our castle visit and the helpful staff that bent the rules for us to experience the castle at its best.
We set off for Luxembourg; driving through some great countryside to arrive at our campsite Kockelsheuer. This was another great campsite, well located with good facilities including a TV room and a small outdoor bar. We took the short walk to the bus stop to take us into Luxembourg City. The city really impressed us. It’s really green with impressive architecture and lots to do. We took the Sky Ride up 80 Metres above the city, which really gave us a sense of perspective. We sampled the local Bernard Massard sparkling wine in the sky bar village whilst taking in he sights and sounds of the city. Notre dame cathedral is right near the Sky Ride, so we took a walk around this impressive building and lit some candles. The majesty and history really impressed us and we left the city via the old town. Overall, Luxembourg City was really enjoyable and we all felt it was a great day out.
In the morning we packed up and headed over to Ypres in Belgium. Ypres was the site of much of the action in the first World War. It was pretty much wiped out and then most of the buildings were destroyed were rebuilt. It’s a very impressive place, very kitted out for tourists and visitors hoping to pay their respects. The campsite is a short walk into town and the Menin Gate. The gate contains the Hall of Memory, which contains 55,000 names of commonwealth soldiers that lost their lives in the War. Each night at 8pm there is a moving memorial ceremony called the Last Post. This has been carried out every evening since 1928, aside from German Occupation in the Second World War. Ypres also has the In Flanders Museum and the Cloth Hall.
The Cloth Hall was one of the largest medieval buildings, but was wiped out in World War 1 but it has been painstakingly rebuilt. There are the usual array of souvenir shops, bars and restaurants and some real gems hidden away. We all agreed we could have had more than two nights in Ypres to fully discover it.