The breathtaking Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range defines the Beaumes de Venise winemaking region, with beautiful terraced vineyards clinging to its rugged slopes, spreading down to the four picturesque villages of Lafare, La Roque-Alric, Suzette and Beaumes itself. Around a hundred innovative and dynamic independent vignerons work the rich and varied geological soils brought up towards the surface when the Dentelles rose from the earth, that bring so much of the character to the wines produced here, alongside hundreds of smallholders who still follow the age-old tradition of selling the grapes of their tiny plots to the local Cave Cooperative. While the Dentelles provide shelter from the Mistral winds, the vineyards coexist with a vibrant, protected biodiversity of olive trees, fruit orchards, woods and forests that harbour flora, fauna and insects, all crucial for  sustainable and organic cultivation. And the Beaumes wines are just as impressive as these idyllic landscapes. Vines were first planted here by Greek colonisers around 600BC, and the luscious, naturally sweet Muscat de Beaumes de Venise has a history of world-renown going back centuries. A deadly frost in 1956 that destroyed olive and fruit production for a generation led to the planting of the Southern Rhône’s characteristic red grapes; Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, which today’s winemakers blend into exceptional fresh, fruity red wines that officially became part of the appellation 16 years ago. And in the future, there will surely be a Beaumes de Venise white, as a combination of the terroir and modern cellar techniques produce surprising results both for an aromatic dry Muscat and explosive blends of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane.

Most importantly, the friendly vignerons here give an enthusiastic welcome to visitors, offering not just the chance to taste wines but to explore and understand the vineyards, savour food pairings, and comfortable lodging in winery b&b’s. All of this is detailed on the  AOC Beaumes de Venise website, and below are ten top tips for a wine lover road trip. 

Domaine de Piéblanc

Vineyards in the Southern Rhône characteristically resemble a jigsaw of small parcels of vines, dotted around the countryside imbetween olive trees, wild garrigue heathland, lavender and farming land. Not the Domaine de Piéblanc, a spectacular 15 hectare vineyard that tumbles down the hillside just outside the village of Suzette. It immediately seduced Mathieu Ponson, a new generation winemaker, who recalls, ‘it was wow at first sight. The vineyard was everything I wanted; 300 metres altitude for freshness, certified organic,  a must for me,  hot days and cool nights because of the nearby Mont Ventoux, so perfect acidity. Wine is like real estate – location, location, location.’ Mathieu arrived here in 2015 to start a new life after selling his digital start-up company, declaring, ‘I may have no vigneron background but I know what kind of wines I want to make. So I found the right oenologue and vineyard consultant, set up a temporary cellar in the village of Beaumes and produced my first vintage in 2016. I guess I had no idea what I was doing though I actually think it is an advantage to be ignorant like me. I make less mistakes because I keep it simple.’

Piéblanc is in the part of the appellation reserved solely for red grape vines, with no Muscat, but that suits Mathieu fine because, ‘Syrah is the perfect expression of the terroir here.’ The big next step will be inaugurating his new cellar, where, ‘I can put all my ideas into practice. I love testing, be it terracotta amphorae, cement eggs, barrel toasting levels, grape varieties. I am not looking to make pompous wines for ageing in the cellar because what interests me is the fruit, the juiciness of the grape, so if I open a bottle of wine, then I want to finish it.’

La Ferme Saint-Martin

A meandering route lined with graceful cypress trees climbs high above the village of Suzette, eventually emerging outside an idyllic Provençal farmhouse whose terrace offers a spectacular panorama of vines, olive trees and perched villages, with the Barroux mountains in the distance. Tasting this domaine’s remarkable wines, it quickly becomes apparent that third generation vigneron, Thomas Jullien, while deeply attached to the farm and vineyard his great grandfather bought back in 1955, has instigated a host of surprising innovations. ‘I studied the basics of agronomy and wine making, but my real education was taking off on 2 six month trips in a camping van traversing the whole of France to visit some 300 different wineries.’ His vineyard is a pioneer of certified organic cultivation in Beaumes, while Thomas took the decision to make natural wines from 2005, and ‘today sulphites have been all but eliminated in our vintages as I am convinced that natural wines can be aged perfectly if the conditions of the cellar are good.’ While most vignerons are always looking to increase the size of their vineyard, ‘I have reduced the size of the domaine from 27 to 21 hectares to make it manageable so I can have a parallel life with my wife and our two young children, and  not devote every second to making wine.’ And he is also addressing the problem of global warming and high-alcohol wines by creating intense but accessible cuvées like Diapir, which blend grapes from his wonderful century-old Grenache vines with rare local varieties Terret Noir and Counoise, which mature later with less alcohol than the usual Syrah.

Thomas and his wife Sophie are also committed to wine tourism, with the Ferme hosting art exhibitions, blending ateliers and hypnosis tasting, accommodation in the family gite, and an ambitious programme of open air theatre, concerts and movie screening. All accompanied by their distinctive wines. 


The days have passed when small vignerons could not survive economically without selling their grapes to the local Cave Coopérative, but while today it is generally independent winemakers providing  the creativity within France’s appellations, Beaumes de Venise is fortunate to have a Coopérative that was founded in 1925, but has moved with the times. Rhonéa wrote its own Environmental Charter in 1995 and targets 100% organic by 2030. It aims for quality, from the humble bag-in-box up to award-winning wines. And develops innovative wine tourism initiatives; tastings amongst the vines, wine and food pairing, traversing vineyards on horse, quads or electric bikes, food truck festivals, concerts. It is the most important Cave Cooperative in the Southern Rhône, covering Beaumes and neighbouring Vacqueyras, with some 300 vignerons members – the ‘cooperateurs’.

Emblazoned on their land rovers that take visitors on memorable tasting trips is ‘Artisans Vignerons’, because despite producing a massive 8 million bottles a year, most of Rhonéa’s coopérateurs are smallholders cultivating around 7 hectares of vines. There is a genuine family feel here, typified by its genial President, Claude Chabran. ‘My father was one of the pioneer coopérateurs,’ he relates, ‘and when I came home to the village after 20 years travelling the world as an engineer, it was perfectly natural to stay with the Cave, and I am pretty sure my son will feel the same.’ An inspiring crowdfunding project has seen Rhonéa  buying up vineyard plots from vignerons retiring or with no heir, then renting them out to young winemakers who cannot yet afford to buy their own domaine.

And a groundbreaking survey of the unique geological formation of the slopes of the Dentelles has allowed the Cave to create exceptional premium cuvées, blending parcels of Grenache and Syrah that reflect strikingly different types of soil; Triassic Terres Rouges formed 200 million years ago, Cretaceous Terres Blanches from 90 million years and 140 million years old Jurassic Terres Grises.  

Domaine des Bernardins

Driving through the village of Beaumes you can’t miss the striking sign for the Domaine des Bernardins, though many people stop off for a tasting and cellar visit without realising this is an historic reference point for the famed Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. This unique, naturally sweet Muscat grape has roots here going back 2,000 years; with Roman chronicler, Pliny, writing that ‘Muscat has been long cultivated in Beaumes, producing a remarkable wine.’ But it only received official recognition as an appellation in 1945, after a long and passionate crusade by then owner of Les Bernardins, Louis Castaud.

His estate, run today by his granddaughter Elizabeth, her English husband, Andrew, and their son, Romain,  is proudly traditional, seemingly untouched by contemporary trends, with a long history stretching back to the Middle Ages when Bernardin monks cultivated vines, cereals and fruits here. As Andrew, who oversees the winemaking, points out, ‘our Muscat is a wine for ageing, which may not be fashionable today but that is how we like drinking it at home. With age you appreciate how it evolves, losing much of the initial sweetness. Perfect with Stilton cheese.

Our winemaking is all about tradition, using only steel and raw cement vats, not wood. We respect the environment but don’t feel the need to seek organic certification, and look, the label is exactly the same today as the first appellation vintage in 1945. All winemakers here have their secret recipes, and we believe that using 25% Muscat Petit Grain Noir grapes in the blend creates our signature colour – old gold, amber pinky gold – a unique hue that subtely changes with age. That was how Louis first planted the vineyard, three lines of Muscat Petit Grain, one of Petit Grain Noir, and we see no reason to change.’ 

Domaine de Durban

Henri Leydier climbs off his tractor dressed in working boots, shorts and t-shirt, an old-fashioned, honest vigneron who is just as down-to-earth  once he starts enthusiastically explaining his wines in the cellar.  ‘Don’t expect to see fashionable terracotta amphorae or glass wineglobes in my cellar, as I prefer to trust to tradition, and I am very happy with the quality of my wines by using classic cement tanks for the reds, stainless steel vats for the Muscat, and a tiny selection from large tronconique casks and small barrels for our prestige reds.’ It is quite a drive through steep forests to reach the domaine, which lies right on the border with Gigondas, but a steady stream of faithful wine lovers trek out to this beautifully-renovated 11th century farmhouse and cellar, accounting for over 40% of sales. Henri’s grandfather purchased this isolated property in 1967, and he recounts how, ‘people in Beaumes said we were crazy to buy a property that was  not just miles from anywhere but whose vines were not maintained, while the apricot and olive trees were almost abandoned, and the house was half falling down. Well, now when visitors make it all the way here, they realise they are arriving in Paradise.’

The vineyard has grown from13 to 70 hectares, the majority Grenache and Syrah, producing a wonderful range of reds, but Henri insists that ‘Muscat remains the emblem of the domaine, renowned for its quality.  And we are also producing Fruits de Durban, a dry Muscat – aromatic and perfumed but with no sweetness – that I hope one day will be recognised as part of the appellation.’

Xavier Vins  

Looking out over Beaumes quaint town square it is difficult to resist being tempted into Xavier Vignon’s wine boutique. This bubbling, irrepressible character is the Southern Rhône’s leading wine consultant, but also a new generation rock & roll vigneron who has come under the spell of Beaumes de Venise.

He declares ‘I have always had a special affinity with the Dentelles vineyards, a total belief in the potential of the wines that can be produced here.’ After acting as consultant to numerous local wineries, Xavier has been making his own Beaumes wines since 2017 when ‘several vignerons I knew were retiring and I managed to buy 20 hectares for my own vineyard. Now I plan to create my own cellar where there will be no wooden barrels, cement tanks or steel vats. Instead it will be a Vinarium, where the wine is fermented and aged in the ultimate neutral element, glass, for an incomparable purity.’ To understand Xavier Vignon and his commitment to winemaking you need to understand his personal history, which begins in Northern France, far from the sun drenched vineyards of Beaumes de Venise. ‘I come from a long family of craftsmen stone cutters, entrenched in France’s Compagnons du Devoir, a lifetime association for skilled artisans. I should have been the 7th generation stone-cutter, but I made the momentous decision to opt out and embark on a dream to work in wine. I never even thought about owning my own vineyard because of the financial implications, but diplomas at the wine universities of Bordeaux, Reims and Montpellier set me on he road as a consulting oenologue,  making wine across the globe and France.’ And today, finally a genuine vigneron bombing around the countryside in his designer jeep, Xavier seduces everyone with his total enthusiasm of the possibilities for his Beaumes vineyards to produce exceptional wines.

Domaine de Fenouillet

Fenouillet’s rustic tasting room is hidden away in a shady courtyard in the heart of Beaumes village, and pride of place on the wall is an ornate 1902 Wine Concours Diploma for their Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.

And this is the perfect place for an A-Z explanation of this iconic but mysterious elixir. While the domaine produces a fine selection of Beaumes red wines and an interesting dry Muscat blending Viognier, Bourboulenc and Picpoul with Muscat Petit Grain, the friendly Saorde family have firm views on how to make Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, very different from the days of the 1902 Silver Medal. While traditions are still strictly followed – hand-picked harvesting, stopping fermentation for the ‘mutage’ when alcohol is added to fortify the wine – Fenouillet propose several different twists; a Rose, whose grapes are macerated  to achieve a subtle pinky colour, Selection Ancestrale, with old vine grapes barrel-aged for 6 months, and the surprising Muscat Rouge, 100% Petit Grain Noir grapes, vinified as a red wine, but still with Muscat’s signature natural sweetness. Like many of today’s domaines in Beaumes, Fenouillet was a long term member of the Cave Cooperative, just selling grapes, but then  broke away in 1989 to make their own wines as independent organic vignerons. This break with the past was made by fourth generation brothers, Patrick and Vincent, and just this year, they have handed over the reins to their twentysomething son and daughter, Justine and Valentin.

The dynamic young cousins are officially classified as Jeunes Agriculteurs, and are brimming with plans to modernise the winery and create new wine tourism opportunities.  

Domaine des Garances

Before 2002, this was another of the many Beaumes vineyards that sold their entire grape production directly to the Cave Coopérative. But today, all the wine that Sébastien Logvinenko makes from the 18 hectares is sold directly, mainly to people who cannot resist the roadside sign to his idyllic tasting room, overlooking a panorama of vines and olive groves.

Sitting outside while Sébastien uncorks a bottle, shaded by a lush canopy of vines, sitting at a rickety pastel table beside a wooden barrel and ancient grape press,  you could be on the terrace of a typical Provençal bistrot. This thoughtful vigneron may have roots back in the Ukraine, but he is very much a local boy and single-handedly runs the vineyard that was inherited by his wife, whose family have been in the village of Suzette since 1640. Sébastien oversaw the conversion of the estate to organic, and is tempted to create a zero-sulphite natural wine. He admits that, ‘ I love the period alone in the cellar when I am blending the wines, understanding the effects of our unique geology, from the Terres Blanches and Jurassic Terres Grises soils to ancient Triassic deposits. It is like cooking or a modern form of alchemy, and that is reflected in my wines.’

His production is predominantly red, with 4 different vintages, subtly different percentage blends between Grenache and Syrah, essentially vinified and aged in raw concrete tanks. Each one is named after the lieu-dit, the ‘given name’ of the vineyard plot; Rouyère, La Blache, Pierre and La Faysses, the local term for the distinctive stone terraces here, necessary for cultivating his magnificent parcels of high altitude vines.  

Maison Gabriel Meffre 

A visit to Maison Gabriel Meffre is the opportunity to discover what the négociant wine merchant can do when he decides to follow his own ideas to make a wine from a certain appellation. You will need to take a short drive outside of Beaumes de Venise to visit Meffre’s tasting room and cellar, located at domaine Château Longue Toque in the neighbouring Gigondas appellation. Apart from their Beaumes de Venise wines, you also taste anything from Châteauneuf-du-Pape to Côte Rôtie,  Costières de Nimes to Condrieu, such is the variety offered by the big scale winemaking and purchasing that defines a negociant capable of producing 15 million bottles a year. Meffre are well-known for their flagship line of premium wines, the Laurus selection, that are produced from specific parcels of vines that offer the best expression of an appellation’s terroir, encompassing soil, climate and people.

Beaumes de Venise is represented in Laurus both by a Muscat and a red, and the respected oenologue behind the concept, Véronique Torcolacci, who has overseen Meffre’s winemaking for the last 30 years, explains that, ‘we as a négotiant take on a new innovative role, following cultivation, advising on harvesting, following vinification, sometimes in the vignerons cellar, as is the case for the Muscat, sometimes vinifying and blending in our own cellar as for the red.’ Meffre encourage longterm and complicit relations with their vigneron partners, and for Muscat this has meant working with a single vineyard cultivator for more than 20 years, while the more recent Beaumes de Venise red is shared between two, both on the other side of the Dentelles from Gigondas. Véronique blends Syrah and Grenache with Carignan grapes to create what she calls ‘an opulent but elegant wine, because the Grenache never gets too complex and heavy due to the altitude of the vines, while the Carignan brings freshness and originality.’

Domaine Saint Amant

Many Beaumes de Venise wineries boast specular locations, but to really take your breath away, save Saint Amant till last. From the village of Suzette, a steep road winds up into dense oak tree woods, a favourite haunt of local truffle hunters, before emerging above an amphitheatre of terraced vines, lavender, olive and fruit trees before arriving at in the cellar and tasting room of Domaine Saint Amant.

This is the highest vineyard in the Dentelles at some 600 metres, but the owner and winemaker, Catherine, explains that it was not always like this. ‘When my father first bought the land in 1975 there was nothing here, just a wild shepherd’s hut where our family stayed while he built our house. Then 25 years ago, he met an oenologue who persuaded him this was the perfect terroir to make white wine – the opposite to the reds that everyone else in Beaumes was concentrating on. But my father loved a challenge, a gamble, so slowly he bought existing plots and planted white Viognier and Roussane, building up the estate to 14 hectares. Then in 1995 he built the cellar and produced his first vintage.’

Catherine was then in New York, working as an architect, but was intrigued when her father sent over a bottle. A brief holiday back here followed, that has lasted until today. As a red Beaumes de Venise is allowed to include 10% white grapes, Catherine makes a surprisingly fruity, easy to drink vintage where she harvests and ferments all her red and white grapes together, and next year will see a zero sulphite version. Visitors to the estate can enjoy regular art and sculpture exhibitions, while an even better option is to rent one of the two holiday gites. 

Where to eat

Bistro de Lafare

To rub shoulders with Beaumes vignerons just turn up at this cosy village bistrot. They may be playing game of pétanque, sipping a midday apéritif in the garden or enjoying the hearty cuisine of chef Maria. Surprising mix of dishes from boeuf à la Provençale, to Portuguese-style cod.  Excellent selection of vintages by local winemakers.

Le Dolium

Perfect address adjoining the Rhonéa Cave Coopérative to pair regional cuisine and wines. Affordable dishes of the day or irresistible gastronomic menu featuring courgette flowers stuffed with anchovies, homemade foie gras, roast pigeon, peaches braised in honey, perfect with a glass of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.

Auberge St Roch

Creative young chef Boris Schrader delights diners with his inventive cuisine in the  friendly family bistrot with a surprising gourmet menu. Using local, seasonal ingredients, try the succulent duck breast with a sweetcorn mousse and hibiscus juice or a tangy tomato soup with smoked pork and baby red peppers stuffed with goats cheese.

Where to stay

Le Clos Saint Saourde

The perfect luxury hideaway after a long day of wine tasting, this Provençal farmhouse, at the edge of the vineyards just outside Beaumes village, offers fabulous troglodyte rooms, to-die-for pool and delicious breakfast of cheeses and hams from neighbouring farms.



Flanders has long been famous for its Trappist breweries, with monks in ancient monasteries mastering the alchemy of brewing ales from the end of the Middle Ages. But today there is a craft beer revolution across the globe, and traversing the rural countryside from West Flanders across to Limburg, you can visit not just traditional Trappists and innovative abbeys, but funky, experimental microbreweries producing American-style IPA or exotic coffee stouts, as well a brand new generation of hop farmers deciding to brew for themselves rather than just selling all their harvest to industrial breweries.

On the road you can also stop-off at artisan cheese and charcuterie makers, to discover that the food and wine pairing so loved in gourmet restaurants works just as well for beer pairing, even if it is just a fruity organic white beer enjoyed with a hearty picnic picked up direct from the farm. And if time permits, it is always worth tracking down one of the artisan distilleries that still produce jenever, the most famous spirit invented in the Low Countries. Dating back to the 14th century, complex copper alambics distill first a mash of cereal grains, then a secret recipe of aromatic herbs and botanicals. The key ingredient being the juniper berry, giving the distinctive aroma that became known the world over as gin. Visiting a distillery today is like stepping back in time, the process unchanged over the centuries.   

De Struise Brewery

Begin your beer tour in this revolutionary  microbrewery, in the heart of rural Flanders, just 20 kilometres from the North Sea resort of De Panne.  Time your trip well as De Struise, ‘The Ostrich’, is only open on weekends, though they have a fully-stocked boutique in the nearby village of Vleteren. Craft beer enthusiasts from across the globe make a pilgrimage here, and though there is barely a sign outside, after walking through a long corridor you suddenly enter a packed courtyard of what was once the local school, with towering fermenting vats, where some 24 different brews are on tap, at €2 a glass. ‘We only serve in small 8mm tasting glasses so everyone can still head home sober afterwards,’ says Urbain Coutteau, the rock and roll master brewer and founder  of De Struise.

Urbain has a colourful history, changing  careers from professional photographer to civil engineer in the Congo, then running an ostrich farm and holiday centre right here in the Flemish countryside, before starting experimenting with beer to serve the holidaymakers at the farm.’But everyone loved the beer, Pannepot, an intriguing, unclassable mix of strong ale and creamy stout,’ he recalls, ‘and when it got selected by the ultimate guide, RateBeer, as one of the world’s Top50 beers, everyone said that it was time to open a proper brewery. And then we were suddenly the World’s Best Brewery!’ Today he proposes a mind-boggling, ever-changing portfolio of some 150 weird and wonderful beers – pioneering cask-aged, spontaneous brews, intense cold-fermentation eisbocks. And this is a committed eco-brewery which boasts zero carbon footprint for those drinking on the premises! So have fun tasting the likes of Black Albert, Clash of the Titans, Black Damnation, Tora Tora, and an unforgettable vegan tomato beer, Bloody Mary Sex Magic.

Leroy Brewery 

Though just a few kilometres drive from De Struise, visiting the venerable Leroy is a very different experience. Operating two breweries in the village of Boezinge, just outside the First World War battlefield of Ypres, records show that beer has been brewed here since 1572, and Bruno Leroy is the 11th generation of the present owners.

He relates how, ‘we are neither a craft not commercial brewery, just happy to be independent, family run, and employing 30 people who are almost part of the family!’  His grandfather built the redbrick brewery in the 1920’s after the original was destroyed by the French Army during the Great War, with their family home was right on the premises, ‘and my father was actually born here.’ The family are very keen to encourage beer tourists to visit, and in 2021 they will open a centre for brewery tours and tastings.

The beer to try is  their signature Hommelbier, created in 1981 as a homage to the excellence of hops produced at nearby Poperinge. ‘It is a secret recipe using four different types of hops, just don’t expect one of these fashionable IPA style beers as we pride ourselves an making easy to drink ales.’

Brewery De Plukker

This brewery, ‘The Picker’, offers the unique possibility of understanding the product that is right at the heart of beer culture, the humble hop, as De Plukker is literally located on a Poperinge hop farm. Dressed in bright red overalls, Joris Cambie is clearly a happy man, swelling with pride as he shows visitors his Jack and the Beanstalk hops that climb up almost 6 metres at harvest time. ‘This is the only brewery in the world where everything from  hop to  beer is done right here on the farm,’ he proclaims. ‘Moreover we are the only organic hop growers in Belgium. My family have grown Poperinge hops for breweries for generations, probably since the Middle Ages, and organic cultivation was a natural choice for me, over 25 years ago. ’

His dream of making genuine organic beer on his own farm became real in 2011, when he teamed up with  brewer, Kris Langouche, and they converted the old hop drying barn. They proudly claim that carbon footprint is virtually zero, and the beers are simple but delicious. ‘We are not interested in brewing extreme IPA style, complex, over-strong craft beers,’ says Joris ‘Obviously our ales are hoppy, especially the special range using the freshly harvested flowers, the ‘green hop’, but we always seek drinkability. For me, the perfect beer is the one where you want to open a second bottle straight afterwards.’


Just outside the historic bourg of Poperinge, renowned for growing hops, the ancient farm of the Boeraeve family is undergoing something of a revolution. Bard and his wife Anabel are fifth generation farmers, but the young couple only moved back home here three years ago, giving up the city life in Ghent. And they swiftly decided to increase the cultivation of hops by planting different aromatic varieties and to limit carbon footprint they only sell their harvest to nearby Belgian brewers.

Now they are opening up their farm for tourism with organised visits and foodie events. Part of an old cow stall was transformed into a traditional Flemish wood-beamed Brown Cafe to receive visitors, and Bard recounts that, ‘the natural next step was that we should be able to let them taste and buy our very own farm beer, so working with an old university friend in his craft brewery, we launched a classically hoppy brew, Saison Lokaal.’ Poperinge may be traditionally hop country, but Belhop recently became the first vineyard here. ‘We looked at some fields on a gentle slope that were difficult to farm cereals, so I told my Dad we should  cultivate something permanent, and we have hops, so it had to be vines. In 2020 we planted 1,000 Chardonnay vines that will soon increase to an hectare. The first vintage is expected for 2024, so a little patience is necessary before we can all have a glass’

St Bernardus

This has to be one of the perfect breweries for beer lovers to visit in West Flanders, offering a comprehensive tour and tasting, a tempting boutique, a comfy ten room guesthouse for a longer stay, and a recently opened panoramic rooftop bar, restaurant and open terrace that is nothing less than spectacular, with views over never-ending hop fields that almost become ablaze as the sun sets. St Bernadus is very much an independent brewery following its own path. Producing 18 million bottles a year it is too big to be described as a new generation craft brewery, but it is nowhere near the size of a commercial brewery. It is also neither a Trappist nor Abbey beer, even though it follows their principles of quality and purity. As they favour traditional, drinkable ales, don’t expect to discover hipster craft brews like IPA, gueuze or spontaneous lambics. They rarely launch new beers either, and the latest brew, Tokyo, their first canned beer, was over 10 years in planning.

The original St Bernadus site, which is just celebrating its 75th anniversary, has been carefully preserved, while ultra modern brewing annexes have been added on recently as the charismatic owner, Hans Depypere,  aims to make his beers more popular and relevant to a younger generation. And there is no better place to try them then up on the rooftop terrace, creatively paired with traditionally-inspired cuisine based on local ingredients.

Beauvoordse Walhoeve

Visitors to the Walhoeve farm and dairy are greeted by cheery Lyn Deeren,  a 7th generation cheesemaker in the heart of rural West Flanders. The sandy North Sea beaches and dunes of the Belgian coast may just be 10 kilometres away, but the dairy is set in the midst of bucolic rural countryside, with a herd of 180 Holsteins grazing in the pastures. While her brother Jan and his wife look after the animals, Lyn and her parents have transformed the dairy into a foodie’s Aladdin’s Cave, presenting their 30 different cheeses, yogurts, irresistible desserts and homemade ice creams.

Visitors sit out in the farm courtyard and order a picnic of 100% kilometre-zero produce – not just her cheeses but ham and salami from the local butcher, fruits and juices from a neighbouring orchard, regional craft beer and Flemish wine. This summer their artisan ice cream salon opens with a longer term project of organising guided tours of the dairy where you can see how cheeses are produced and aged, and even watch a bathtub of chocolate mousse being mixed by hand. It is a rare slice of life of traditional dairy farming.

De Gebrande Winning

Over in the province of Limburg, alongside the Dutch border, the picturesque grand square of Sint-Truiden is lined with bustling cafes, bars and bistrots, but to find its most famous restaurant you need to head out to the quiet backstreets at the edge of town. Here lies a shrine to beer and gastronomy that attracts foodies and beer connoisseurs from across the globe. Although only open for 7 years, it has already been awarded the title of World’s Best Beer Restaurant, and genial host and chef, Raf Stimorol, creates a modern take on traditional Flemish recipes using seasonal, essentially local ingredients, complemented by a variety of beers in the cooking.

There is a special beer pairing menu created by the chef himself, and if you are  still looking for something different, more unique, well there are a mere 600 labels on the beer list, all perfectly conserved in the ancient vaulted cellar  – Raf’s secret paradise.

So with dishes like succulent pork braised in rich Bourgogne de Flandres beer, line-fished turbot cooked with fresh hop flowers or crisp shrimp croquettes to dip in a creamy Orval sauce, The Burning Farm, really deserves to be called a Temple of Beerstronomy. Raf has a privileged relationship with many of the world’s most famous independent craft brewers, with some rare ales like the 40° Black Albert oak-aged Eisbock or Antidoot Sauvignac  that may seem expensively priced at over €40 a bottle, but as the chef says, ‘for beer geeks searching the internet they will be happy to track down the same bottles  at over €800!’

Wilderen Brewery and Distillery

The sleepy village of Wilderen, hidden away in the rolling hills and fruit orchards of the rural Haspengouw region, has literally been transformed these last years, into a vibrant  ‘smaak’ – taste – destination showcasing food, wine, beer, whiskey, even artisan ice-cream. All this was sparked by the 2011 reopening of the legendary Wilderen distillery. But this is much, much more than a distillery, as the 2,000 revellers that crowd through the door each weekend will testify. While the distillery dates back to 1743, it was already closed and abandoned since 1939, a total ruin when Mike Janssen bought it. He has lovingly restored the 19th century industrial distilling machinery into a ‘time machine’ museum, alongside a state of the art brewery and modern alambic for distilling.

While he still makes an old-fashioned jenever for tradition’s sake, his craft W Double You gin has been voted the world’s best gin, while there are also Omertà Rum and Wild Weasel Whiskey. On the beer front, Mike brews traditional, top-fermented ales like a fruity cherry kriek, white beers, malts and the whiskey-infused, Cuvée Clarysse. The soaring wood-beamed interiors of the old farm and barns have been transformed into welcoming chalet bar lounges, perfect when the weather stops everyone sitting in the beer garden.

Vanderlinden Distillery

Hasselt is one of the most famous places in Flanders for the production of jenever, the origin of modern gin. But today, many of the small artisan distilleries have been replaced by industrial production. That is until young local businessman, Olivier Vanderlinden, decided to take matters into his own hands to preserve these ancient traditions by founding a craft  distillery. An old shed at the back of the family house was filled with modern copper alambics, and  his first distilled  jenever, trickled out of the still some five years ago, made with a secret family recipe of fragrant herbs, botanicals and of course the crucial juniper berry. 

Aided by a team of 16 enthusiastic amateur tasters, Olivier distills a range of jenevers, including an organic one, and describes how, ‘I enjoy experimenting with different kinds of wood for ageing, using not just oak but cherry. I guess you can call us a boutique distillery right now, but I hope that in the future we will be able to increase sales and production so I can give up my office job and devote all my time to making jenever.’ Come for a tour and tasting and be sure not to miss another local speciality, known as Most Wijn, Malt Wine, which is much closer to a malt whiskey than any wine you have ever tasted. 

De Achelse Kluis

Heading into northern Limburg, beer and cheese lovers should stop at the village of Achel, home of another of the mythical abbeys that Flanders is so famous for.

The Achelse Kluis is a monumental Benedictine Abbey, founded by Westmalle monks in 1846, though the religious site – and beer brewing – dates back to 1648. The monks brewery was actually destroyed by the Germans during World War 1, and their famous Achel 8 only became available when they started brewing again in 2001. Today, although no longer officially Trappist, as the last monks have departed, the Abbey brewery continues to produce its very drinkable blonde and brown ales.

In Flanders there is a proud tradition of pairing the region’s beers with its cheeses, and everyone will tell you that nothing can compare to a plate of Achelse Blawe cheese with a glass of  creamy Achel Extra Bruin.


This buttery, blue-marbled cheese is a serious competitor to either Stilton, Gorgonzola or Roquefort, and the place to taste it is Achelse’s Catherinadal Dairy where artisan cheesemakers, Peter and Bert Boonen, make small batch from the milk of their 100 cow herd.

Where to eat

In de Vrede

Bustling brasserie located right opposite the Trappist monastery that  brews one of the world’s most famous and mysterious beers, Westvleteren.

The cuisine is copious and  tasty – steak frites, big salads, braised pig’s cheeks – but everyone really comes to taste the unique Westvleteren beer.

De Goeste

Right on Poperinge’s picturesque town square, this kilometre-zero foodie homage to regional producers has just opened its doors.

The creative young chef creates delicious dishes like succulent scallops, crunchy salicornes and a creamy mushroom risotto, with pairing suggestions from Heuvelland wineries or local craft breweries

Where to stay 

B&B De Rentmeesterhoeve

The Bailiff’s Farm is actually a romantic manor house, hidden away in its own private grounds, surrounded by a moat and flower gardens. The wood-beamed interiors have been beautifully renovated by welcoming owner Ann Bekaert, who provides a sumptuous breakfast buffet of homemade products including freshly-laid eggs. 



The world of wine is dramatically changing today, with Europe’s cool climate countries establishing themselves as a new generation of serious wine tourism destinations. And Flanders is firmly in the vanguard of this movement, offering travellers, along with enthusiastic locals, the chance to visit dynamic wineries and their cellars, to sit out at picturesque vineyards, tasting surprising, high quality wines and at the same time sampling delicious local cuisine made from seasonal and often organic ingredients. 

Belgium remains one of the world’s smallest wine producing nations, and around half the vineyards are scattered across Flanders. It can be a surprise to learn that wine has been made here since medieval times, disappearing for centuries due to colder climes and the arrival of beer brewing.

But the new generation of wineries today are succeeding in making impressive vintages due to global warming, technical advances in the  cellar, and an open attitude to not just grow well-known grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but to experiment with disease-resistant hybrid clones with unusual names like Solaris and Rondo. Two parts of Flanders are perfect for following a wine trail, and here is a top selection to visit from the rural countryside of Heuvelland in West Flanders across to the lush, fertile fields of Limburg, along the border with the Netherlands. 

Domaine d’Hellekapelle

In the midst of Heuvelland’s rolling hills, this innovative winery is divided into two very different locations. The tiny ‘Devil’s Chapel’ that gives the estate its name, is on the grounds of a sprawling 19th century redbrick farm, a wine tourism B&B resort, with an idyllic natural pond for swimming and sunbathing at the back, adjoining the first vineyard plot that owners Michel and Carine planted in 2009. After running their own garage and petrol station, they came here to start a new life as winemakers but with absolutely no experience. Yet today, they are inaugurating a dazzling new cellar just down the road from the farm, with a designer rooftop bar whose  terrace looks out over the family vineyards. Despite never using a wine consultant, Michel has always known what kind of wines he wanted to make.

‘Sometimes I wonder if I was a vigneron in an earlier life,’ he muses. ‘Even working in the garage, I always loved the grapes and wines of Burgundy, so it was natural for me to plant them here even though it was a bit of an experiment. But as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also the key grapes to make Champagne, I know each year that I can always make a sparkling cuvée too.’ With 2 hectares planted and production at 10,000 bottles year, Michel  manages to produce almost a dozen different vintages, from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Auxerrois to his beloved Pinot Noir, plus a bubbly and rosé. So there are lots of tasting possibilities for winelovers that discover their new rooftop bar, which Michel admits, ‘is just a dream come true for us.’


Before visiting the historic Monteberg vineyard, take a ride up the thickly forested route to the summit of Kemmelberg, marked by a poignant monument to French soldiers who fell here during the 1918 Battle of Ypres. The views are magnificent, but locals prefer to head to Monteberg’s wine bar terrace, where  the landscape changes to the bucolic graphic lines of vines, and a tasting of the latest vintage is paired with local cheeses and hams. The ‘Mountain Winery’ may sound rather grand when the beloved hills of Heuvelland only rise up 150 metres, but this was the first major vineyard in the region and remains the largest and a reference point for many young Flemish winemakers. Founded in 1996 by Jean-Pierre Six, the estate is now run by his two children, Ward and Katherine.

They recall how, ‘this adventure began as our father’s hobby, and locals said he was crazy to plant vines here in Heuvelland.’ Although the initial ambition was not a serious commercial concern, he was greatly encouraged by other Flemish winemakers at a time when wine in Belgium was not seriously recognised. ‘The first vineyard of 500 plants was literally planted in our front garden, and then everything has grown up around that. Today we have 10 hectares, producing 45-50,000 bottles, with zero export, everything sold in Belgium.’ Renowned for its sparkling wines, made from classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Monteberg have also planted new generation hybrid grapes like Solaris, Siegerebbe and Rondo Regent, which are increasingly popular today among Belgian winelovers.

Domaine Entre Deux Monts

There is always a steady stream of cars arriving at the modern cellars of Entre Deux Monts to taste the exciting vintages created by one of the most dynamic young vignerons in Flanders. Above an impressive barrel-ageing room downstairs, there is a serious wine tourism centre, with films, tastings, blending ateliers and a panoramic terrace overlooking the vines, while in summer, a pop-up tent restaurant in the garden serves wines, local craft beers and artisan foods. Martin Pacquert inherited farming land of cereals, tobacco and corn, and started to transform it into a wine estate in 2005 after studying oenology in Montpellier and Bordeaux. ‘I finished my wine studies working in France’s Entre-Deux-Mers vineyards, and thought it a fitting tribute to call my Flemish estate Entry Deux Monts as we are located on the Red and Black ‘mountains’  of Heuvelland.’

Martin started out planting a  3 hectare vineyard that today has grown to an impressive 20 hectares, producing some 120,000 bottles. He is very skilled with his sparkling wines, making a name for signature Brut vintages of bubbly, blending Chardonnay, Pinot Noir  and Kerner grapes. The process follows the classic Méthode Traditionelle made famous by Champagne; double fermentation, including ageing on the lees, turning, sediment disgorging, and adding very little if any sugar. Over 60% of his production is sparkling and Martin insists they are, ‘marked by freshness, purity and tension, a reflection of our cool Belgian climate. These are really juicy fruits with not too much acidity, so all you want is to drink another glass straightaway.’ 


The bustling town of Borgloon is in the heart of Limburg’s famed fruit orchards, but passionate Maxime Guenis is determined that it will also be famous for its wines.

He is the perfect symbol for a new generation of Flemish vignerons; making pioneer natural wines by not adding sulphites, experimenting in the cellar with terracotta amphorae, oak casks and glass demijohns, while respecting biodiversity and ecology in the vineyard. His father Guido, a local police detective, began making garage wine back in 1991, the vineyard planted in the front garden, wine fermenting downstairs in the cellar. Maxime recounts how,  ‘when my father started you could count the number of Belgian winemakers on one hand. Now there are hundreds. For me, many are far too conventional, just wanting to copy the famed Burgundy style. It is a missed opportunity as we have so few rules in Belgium that everyone should be having fun and trying new things.’ Optimbulles’ vineyard is now on the outskirts of town, stretching to 3 hectares, and Maxime has installed his cellar in an old farmhouse where he produces a wonderfully varied mix of 7 sparkling wines, as well small quality batches of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. The total comes to 10,000 bottles, enough to encourage him to recently give up his job as an educator to concentrate 100% on winemaking.

A brave decision that Maxime justifies because ‘more and more people in Belgium are getting interested in natural wines, and we can sell out 100% of our production to this home market, which is good news for our carbon footprint. In other countries, many natural wine producers sell all over the world but I feel that defeats our eco philosophy, so if one day I get a call from someone in Japan, China or Russia offering to buy half our production, then I will just say no.’

Domaine Helshoven 

Another Limburg village where vineyards are beginning to rival to orchards is the picturesque hamlet of Helshoven, which gives its name to a wonderfully inventive winery. Walk through the discrete entrance and you find yourself in a rustic squared courtyard whose 18th century farmhouse and surrounding land have been turned into a paradise for wine tourism. There is a  bicycle café  for  cyclists exploring the peaceful countryside. Another restaurant offers wine-pairing  gourmet dining, while along the edge of a vineyard at the back, a half-a-dozen giant wooden barrels offer a unique lodging experience. All that before you embark on a marathon tasting of Helshoven’s astonishing range of vintages, the Brave New World of Flemish winemaking. Twenty years ago, economics professor and wine enthusiast Geert Houben planted some 20 different grape varieties here just to see what might work, from classic Chardonnay to the extreme of Merlot, to a host of then little-known hybrids.

His son Jeroen has taken up the challenge today, so this is the perfect place to discover just what kind of wines are made from little-known hybrid grapes like Souvignier Gris, Johanniter, Muscaris, Cabernet Cantor. What is more, the winery make not just a daring Orange wine, from skin-macerated grapes,  but what can only be called Beer Wines, a bridge between beer and wine cultures, where hops are added to the final fermentation of a Chardonnay, or where the wine is partly aged in lambic beer barrels. The result needs to be tasted to be understood, but they certainly make fascinating  food pairings. The wine labels are amusing and provocative, with names like Cheeky Devil, Hell’s Angel, The Godlike Monster, but Jeroen also remains true to the heritage of of local fruit farming, producing lambic ciders, sparkling apple, pear ice wine, and even their own gin!

Wijnkasteel Genoelselderen
It is difficult to imagine a more idyllic place to discover Flemish wines than this magnificent 18th century ‘wine château’, set in a romantic landscaped park of  rose gardens, ornamental lakes and vineyards, with tastings, wine ateliers, cellar tours and a homely bistrot for lunch and tea.

Close your eyes and you could be in Bordeaux’s Médoc, while the wines themselves, essentially made for ageing rather than to be drunk young, also mirror a traditional approach compared to more contemporary Flemish wineries. Although records show that there was vineyard here in the Middle Ages, that had long disappeared when retired businessman Jaap Van Rennes bought the property in 1991 and decided to indulge his passion for wine. Thirty years later, three generations of his family still live in the castle, all involved in running a major 22 hectare vineyard of principally Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

His daughter Joyce, who oversees both the vineyard and cellar, qualified as a winemaker in France, and she recalls how, ‘when we started, Belgian wines were a curiosity that everyone thought were bound to fail. But 30 years has seen the market place change, the winelover changing too, and now there is definitely a place for Belgium at the world wine table.  Joyce refuses to follow the current Belgian trend to plant new generation resistant hybrid grapes, arguing that,  ‘I feel they are not yet producing the quality needed to make a good glass of wine. As simple as that. I prefer to be patient for developments that will allow traditional grapes to become naturally more resistant.’

Domaine Aldeneyck

Karel Henckens is clearly an impassioned winemaker, who has transformed his family’s grand country mansion into a cutting edge winery with a chic tasting room and lush shady gardens for wine tourists. The vineyards cover a spectacular landscape that runs down to the Meuse river, with Holland on the other side. It is part of a unique appellation, Meuse Valley Limburg, created in 2017 as the world’s first official wine region covering two countries, Belgium and the Netherlands. Coming from a family of traditional Limburg fruit farmers, Karel reconverted to wine, and from 1998 he spent 6-7 years slowly planting vines,  slowly building up from 1 hectare to the present 11 hectares that produces a serious 75,000 bottles a year. It is difficult to find another Flemish vineyard that can rival the elegance, complexity and finesse of Aldeneyck’s wines, which really live up to Karel’s philosophy of ‘cultivating dreams, harvesting passion.’

He is another great fan of France’s famed Burgundy and Alsace grapes, insisting, as he animatedly points out the stony ground surrounding each vine,  ‘that the grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and of course Pinot Noir make wines that are the perfect  reflection of our unique terroir; a mineral rich, pebbly gravel from the Meuse river. And look, we are 300 metres from the river bank with Holland on the other side. With an elevation of 30 metres, it is just enough to give us a microclimate, the river protecting us from frost.’ Don’t be surprised to see Alderneyck’s vintages on the wine list of Belgium’s flagship two and three star Michelin restaurants, ‘as these chefs and sommeliers have become our ambassadors, and that is far more important for me that winning medals in wine competitions to stick on your label.’

Gloire de Duras

Pieter Nijskens’  modern new wine cellar is located in the middle of an orchard, giving a clue to his origins. ‘I feel I am just a baby in the wine business’, he recounts. But for someone who comes from generations of fruit farmers, he has quickly adapted to the life of a vigneron.

Sipping his latest Riesling he proudly shows off the framed certificates of numerous awards his wines have swiftly gathered, explaining how he is slowly abandoning fruit farming for a new adventure making wine. ‘I began in 2015 with an hectare of vines, and immediately hired an oenologist to advise me. Even after the first harvest he said – don’t go the normal safe route and produce a sparkling from your blend of grapes, but try still white wines instead. I had planted Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois and Riesling. And the big surprise was the first vintage winning a silver medal in the Flemish wine competiton. Since then, well the medals have just kept coming each year, and I have kept planting, so now we cultivate 7 hectares, producing 30-35,000 bottles compared to 1500 in the first year. The estate stretches over 10 plots of vines, all surrounding the town of Sint-Truiden, and pride of place – the inspiration for the winery’s name, Gloire de Duras – is planted in his own village of Duras. It is a rare vineyard, hidden away in the gardens of the Château Duras, a genuine walled Clos that could be in Burgundy, whose microclimate produces a wonderfully aromatic, elegant Riesling. ‘I know this is the best Riesling Clos in Belgium as it is the only one,’ declares Pieter.

Where to eat

Restaurant Sparhof

Cheerful family bistrot serving hearty traditional dishes like marinated Ardennes pork paired with a wine list that features numerous local wineries from the surrounding Heuvelland appellation.

‘t Huis zonder naam

The House With No Name sits alongside the picturesque redbrick chapel of Helshoven, a romantic venue where an elegant dining room opens out onto beautiful gardens. Extensive wine list, creative cuisine mixing Italian influences with Belgian favourites like creamy vol-au-vent

Where to stay 

Hof van Stayen

Just at the entrance to Sint-Truiden, right by the local football stadium, 

this old farmhouse has recently been transformed into a futuristic luxury hotel, with pool, gardens and fun lobby bar with table football, ping pong and pool.