Where can you get thrust in the air at 50mph, go 60 metres underground and kayak for 13 miles – all in one holiday? Belgium may have been called boring, but recommend the right attractions and you could sell an action-packed break to those who thought the destination was only about beer in Brussels.
Wallonia, the area to the south of Brussels, is packed with an eclectic range of attractions for the family, from space exploration to caving and kayaking, to scientific discovery at Pass, an adventure museum near the border with France.
They would find 10 theme parks, a safari park with giraffes, elephants and rhinos, and Europe’s largest aviary at Parc Paradisio, which also has hippos, giant tortoises, lemurs and more.
To the north of Brussels, in Mechelen, Flanders, is Technopolis – where kids can learn about experiments, watch science shows and demonstrations. Mechelen is also home to Planckendael Animal Park.
Belgium Tourist Office Brussels Wallonia director Françoise Scheepers admitted it is hard to persuade British families to consider Wallonia. “Our tourists are mostly empty-nesters. Families don’t consider other destinations, but the region is just two-and-a-half hours from Calais and offers something very different.
“It is ideal for curious travellers who want an interesting holiday with the children. There are caves, castles, cycling, walking and kayaking as well as the theme parks and other attractions.
“The people are friendly, most speak English and prices are up to half of those in France.”
The Belgian Tourist Office is promoting the region’s family attractions through its website.
“It is the best source of information for the trade as well as the public,” said Scheepers.
Where:Transinne, about 70 miles from Brussels.
Fun factor: one for star-struck kids, this centre takes visitors on a journey through space from the Big Bang to modern day exploration by way of a multimedia tour. Pre-book a group (minimum 12 people) and everyone can become an astronaut for the day, learn to moon walk in a lunar gravity simulator, be spun in a multi-axis chair and make their own rocket. Entrance costs £7.40 per person (£5.35 children six-12). One-day prices start at £16.75 per person.
Sample product:Eurobreak has four nights at Eurostar’s Grand Palace Hotel in Brussels from £266 per person bed and breakfast next year, including travel by Eurostar.
Where: Wavre, about 11 miles outside Brussels.
Fun factor: whether the kids are five or 15, this theme park will have them screaming for more. Thrill-seekers have seven rollercoasters to choose from. Turbine thrusts riders 45 metres into the air at 50mph, stops and then does it again, but backwards. There are also high-speed swings and water rides, while kids can ride the carousel, waltzer and big wheel. There’s also a tropical pool with lazy rivers and slides. Entrance to the park is £20 per person (£17.40 for children three-11).
Sample product: Cresta has four nights at the Novotel Brussels Centre Tour Noire from £350 per person bed and breakfast (children under 16 stay free) including Eurostar return from Waterloo.
Where: Blegny, about 60 miles from Brussels.
Fun factor: it’s a real coal mine that has been saved as a reminder of Belgium’s industrial past. Visitors put on a jacket and helmet, and go down up to 60 metres in a cage – just as miners once did – to see the hydraulic drill used for digging coal as well as the equipment used to get it ready for transportation. Not great for claustrophobics, but it’s a timely reminder of just how tough and noisy working conditions underground were. There is also a mining museum and mini train that goes to the Rural Museum. The mine visit costs £5.50 per person (£3.80 for children aged six-12). A combined mine, museum and mini-train ticket is also available.
Sample product: Great Fun Holidays offers seven nights’ self-catering at La Boverie in La Roche de Ardennes from £645 for a two-bedroom wooden chalet sleeping up to six people next year, including return Dover-Calais ferry crossing and three attraction passes per person.
Grotto of Han
Where:about 60 miles from Brussels.
Fun factor: kids will love the start of this tour – a ride in an ancient tram as it clanks its way from the village of Han, past a wild animal reserve (which you can visit separately on a safari bus) to the entrance to the caves, where guides will be waiting. Tours are in French, but if they know you are English you will be whisked to the front for your own private translation. The tour is easy-going and takes visitors 105 metres underground, past centuries-old stalagtites and stalagmites and alongside the River Lesse as it meanders underground. There’s a break en route for a sound and light show. The grand finale is a silent boat ride out of the caves, from which there’s a short walk back to town. Entrance costs £7.20 (£4.70 for children aged three-12).
Sample product: Hoseasons has four nights at Sunparks Vielsalm in the Berlgian Ardenne for £225 self-catering for a two-bedroom house sleeping up to four people next year, accommodation-only.
Where: the River Lesse.
Fun factor: one for all ages, with a choice of a seven-and-a-half-mile paddle, which takes about three hours, or a five-hour 13-mile trip. Kayaks are hired from Kayaking de Lesse, based near Dinant, which will issue you with paddles, a life jacket and train ticket to get you to the start, where staff will be on hand to get you in the one or two-seater kayaks. Then you are off, through the scenic countryside, past medieval castles and down gushing waterfalls, although it’s a lot calmer in high summer. Expect to get very wet, especially in spring, and take a change of clothes. Prices start at £5.35 for a standard two-seater kayak.
Sample product: Great Fun Holidays offers seven nights’ self-catering at Les Jardins du Golf in Barvaux from £921 for a two-bedroom apartment sleeping four people next year including Dover-Calais return ferry crossing and three attraction passes per person.
The Belgian Tourist Office Brussels and Wallonia has joined forces with Eurostar to offer you the chance to win a VIP trip for two to the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix on September 16 next year. The prize includes return Leisure Select travel by Eurostar complete with three-course meal and champagne, two nights’ accommodation in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes, and a day at the Belgian Grand Prix watching one of the most exciting events in the Belgian calendar.
Simply answer the following question:
Q. In which well-known water town in the south of Belgium does the Belgian Grand Prix take place?
To enter, post your answer to ‘Belgium Grand Prix’ Competition, Travel Weekly, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Smrrey SM2 5AS no later than November 24 2006.
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