A present is always double fun when you can give it and enjoy it yourself as well. That’s what Sonia must have thought as well when she offered me a weekend away in the province of Limburg. She knew I had been researching for my photography on the only National Park we have in Belgium, the National Park Hoge Kempen.
The National Park Hoge Kempen
So off we went, end of January, direction Maasmechelen (right on the border with the Netherlands). In the meantime, it had been snowing for the last couple of weeks so nature promised to be pretty white up there. The good news: the weather forecast predicted dry weather, so ideal for hiking. The bad news (photographically speaking), the sky was grey, grey, grey. No worries, good location scouting anyway and good exercise after all the food and drink excesses of the holiday season.
I decided to start straight away with a good walk in the morning. We drove to Opgrimbie to explore the part of the National Park Hoge Kempen east of the E314 motorway. This part has no visitor center and I assume that’s why you hardly see a soul there (and when you do, it’s mostly locals). I had explored this part earlier, so just wanted to take some more time to look into the photo potential of some spots a bit better (last time I had been there until after dark).
It was a great walk, and we only once saw some other hikers. At one point, a deer was on the path just 30 meters in front of us, but swiftly disappeared when it saw us. I forgot this was possible in our small but so overcrowded country.
At noon, we had our first 9 km behind us. I know, I know, most hikers would laugh at such a walk, but I am not exactly an experienced hiker and admittedly, I love a Burgundian lifestyle and that translates in some extra “handicaps”. Talking about the good life, by that time we needed to go in search of food! By sheer coincidence, in fact looking for the nearest restaurant on the GPS, we stumbled over an Italian place, called “Trattoria Novecento”. At first, I wanted to move on as the place we were going to stay – and also dine – that evening also had an Italian restaurant, but hey, it’s usually good food, isn’t it?
What a lucky strike! I tell you, this is not the 13 in a dozen (would be) Italian restaurant. As far as a humble Belgian can judge, we found a truly Italian Trattoria. The excellent menu was put aside when the friendly waitress proposed the special of the day: lasagne with truffles. A very democratically priced Brunello (did not even know that existed) made this a perfect lunch. I already regret it is just too far from home to just hop over for lunch every once in a while…
We took plenty of time for coffee because we wanted to be ready for the next walk in the afternoon. We drove to the “Mechelse Heide”, one of the 5 official entrances to the National Park Hoge Kempen. There were not too many cars on the parking lot, which looked very glassy because of the ice. And it was indeed extremely slippery. Next to us, a young couple arrived, got out of their car, and went straight down. Totally flabbergasted, the couple got up, crawled back in the car, and very carefully drove off. Sonia and I looked at each other, very determined to just do this.
We got out of the car and found some patches of snow that had not been turned into ice yet. The very first part of the hike is a short climb to the ‘highest’ point in Limburg, a mind blowing 104 m above sea level. The way up, however, was extremely slippery, but once there it was like we had the whole area to ourselves – which may well have been the case. Unfortunately, for my photography, still the same dull grey, grey, grey… I am sharing some images but no exciting skies I’m afraid.
Staying at Al Mulino in Maasmechelen
By the time we finished our hike, it was getting dark, and cold, and we were really tired. Time to look for my present:
Al Mulino in Maasmechelen. This establishment, under a windmill, has hotel rooms, an Italian restaurant, a wine bar, and soon they’re also selling typical Italian products. The history of loads of Italians immigrating in Belgium to work in the coal mines has brought a lot of the good things of Italians Cuisine and wines to our country.
The room was nice. The food in the restaurant was once again excellent. I must admit that when my wife gave me the present, I had been looking at the restaurant’s website and discovered they had a fine Sagrantino di Montefalco. We had a real super evening and you know what: I have just taken reception of some of that Sagrantino. My after-weekend research revealed that there is a Dutch couple running a B&B in Italy who also is importing this wine in the Benelux. How could I resist?
It was a wonderful evening, and a great gift (if anyone out there feels an urge to give me a present like this, don’t hesitate). The next morning we had a great breakfast and spent a looooong time enjoying our coffee.
Later on, we went to Maasmechelen Village, self-described as a “chic outlet centre”. Sonia had a lucky strike: she made her first purchase within 20 minutes. My experience with both wife and daughter: if they do not find anything the first half hour of shopping, the day becomes a hell. Now it was perfectly ok. She kept the momentum (as I can still see on the credit card bill). We finally bought some good suitcases (buying cheap ones you need to throw away every year is also not exactly the best deal). Everybody happy!
After an okay lunch at the Village (two out of three is not so bad) we were getting ready to head to C-mine to visit the old mine infrastructure when it started snowing again. Half snow, half rain, that’s no weather to be outside in. So we decided not to stop and head straight home, crash and enjoy a good bottle of champagne. The National Park Hoge Kempen is now in any case on my list of favorite photography locations.
Trattoria Novecento Maasmechelen
Pin for later
The links to Al Mulino are affiliate links. That means that if you book something through them, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me keep Wonderful Wanderings up and running. Thanks!