THERE are two great things about Wallonia in southern Belgium.
The first is the backdrop and the second the beer. What more could you want when you’re on a cycling holiday?
Having arrived off the Eurostar from St Pancras and picked up a cone of frites, I’m looking forward to the three days ahead.
I catch another quick train down to the French speaking half of Belgium – about 40miles from Brussels and have an early night in Durbuy.
By 8.30am I’m in a bustling peloton. As people overtake me, I say bonjour and they say derrière. I don’t know how to interpret this and then I realise they’re saying they want me to “move my behind”. The next words I hear are à droite and à gauche so they can cut in front.
Ooh, I like being a Walloon!!!
It’s hardly the Battle of Waterloo out here but it’s getting a little too competitive for my liking.
I’m with a group of 150 cyclists who have turned out to celebrate 20years of the RAVel cycle network which is made up of disused train tracks and canal tow paths all tucked away from the main roads and traffic.
I’m not much of a cyclist so I’m on an electric bike as we cover 50miles a day. The entire Wallonia Way stretches 830miles.
I’m very happy to stay at the back of the pack yet surprisingly there’s also competition to come last, for those more interested in the scenery.
It takes around three hours to reach Houyet for coffee and a breather.
We stop at a cafe where it’s not even midday yet everyone orders beer and sits out in the sun. Ooh, I like being a Walloon.
I’m sure I’m perfectly fine to get back on the bike.
This time I go faster while the rest of the pack finally settles down as we ride along the Lesse river and valley where we spot dare-devils abseiling down the rocky cliff faces.
We arrive for lunch in the grounds of the colossal country estate Chateau de Freÿr with its 300-year-old orange trees.
The long gravel driveway opens up to a manicured lawn of plush hedges and ponds. Huge dining tables are laid out and I eat my pasta in record time – it was dish licking good – before a lie-down in the sun with my second beer.
The afternoon is a merry sojourn to Mariembourg which holds the title of being a European Tourism Destination of Excellence for its natural beauty.
We end around 7pm for dinner which starts off with a cheese and beer pairing before I pig out on pork and frites. This time I opt for a spritz – Prosecco, tonic water and Aperol – to mix things up before bed.
For two more days I’m as happy as Belgian cycling idol Eddy Merckx, who was five times winner of the Tour de France.
There’s so much to see in Wallonia – it’s an Eden filled with medieval chateaus, abbeys and palaces.
I had to pinch myself. Is this Belgium?
In the mornings, Wallonia is like an imaginary land with low cloud hangings in the forests. It puts me in a trance that I don’t even want to go down to breakfast with the promise of waffles.
Plus, it turns out I quite like e-biking. I don’t even get saddle soar and my face is glowing.
We stop in the city of Dinant – birth place of the saxophone – and take pictures of the Charles de Gaulle Bridge lined with 28 colourful saxes.
We head out to the five lakes of Eau d’Heure where we watch jet skiers and water skiers launch themselves off ramps. I try water golf at Le Crocodile Rouge. Here you attempt to tee off from the shore and aim for the putting greens in the lake. I fail every single time.
Lunch was served at gin distillery Biercée near Thuin and in the afternoon we swung by l’Abbaye de Bonne-Esperance – Abbey of Good Hope – in Hainaut for bubbles provided by Ruffus, which has a two-year year waiting list to buy a bottle.
On day three we cycle along the Canal du Centre stopping at Chateau de Beloeil – the home of Belgian royalty Prince of Ligne.
There’s also stop for ice cream sundaes at the preserved 13th century Our Lady with the Rose Hospital.
My favourite experience is visiting chocolatier Legast. From inside the shop, I can see into the kitchen with its trio of taps running dark, milk and white chocolate into moulds.
By the end, I feel like a proper cyclist. I don’t feel guilty at all using an e-bike and best of all it means I’m not the last at the bar.
Bottoms up or derrières to that!