John Brunton’s Antwerp Art City Trail

Antwerp is the one Flemish art destination that that has a genuine big city vibe to it. Still one of the world’s leading commercial hubs, from shipping to diamonds, there is an edgy excitement here, a feeling of pushing the boundaries; be it in the radical redevelopment of its docklands to a restaurant run by refugees, a hothouse for cutting-edge fashion, while even their venerable Fine Arts Museum has been reborn, transformed into a venue that questions and challenges.

Of course, visitors will be transfixed by the breathtaking Gothic guild halls lining the magnificent town square, flamboyant Baroque churches filled with artistic treasures, the romantic mansion that was home and creative studio of Antwerp’s most famous son, the renowned 16th century painter, Peter Paul Rubens. But it does not take long to discover an alternative Antwerp, a hive of creative activity in the worlds of modern art, fashion and design, a goldmine for foodies who can choose between a traditional estaminet bistrot serving hearty Flemish home cooking, an historic brewery that hosts artisan food makers, to a deconsecrated church that now hosts a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant.

Must See 
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

Antwerp’s majestic fine arts museum, known to everyone here by its Flemish acronym, KMSKA, is housed in a statuesque colonnaded building, inaugurated over 200 years ago, but which remained closed for 11 long years until a glittering reopening in September 2022. This massive €100 million renovation took a brave sustainable solution of adapting the old building rather than opting for a new construction. So although the exterior is unchanged, for those who knew the KMSKA before, this is quite simply a totally new, revolutionary museum. A staggering 40% extra exhibition space has been added in an ultra white minimalist new wing, which is essentially reserved for modernist post 1880 artworks, while the famous floors with creaky parquet and rich deeply- coloured galleries remain as before to showcase the unparalleled collection of Flemish Old Masters.

For those looking for enhanced viewing there are tactile, audio and multimedia options all through the museum, and even smart phones are available to read the numerous QR code captions for visitors who are not internet-connected. The team of curators here have been ambitious to create a museum that continually challenges its visitors.

So be prepared to see a signature Brueghel painting in the middle of the Modernist section, or dotted between Old Masters, a video by Bill Viola or one of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s hallmark paintings, then an eye-catching surreal sculpture aligned alongside sombre religious images. You always have to keep your wits about you not to miss something and this all adds up to an unforgettable experience.

Antwerp has an international reputation for nurturing future generations of the world’s fashion designers that has its roots in the spectacular success of the radical, provocative and nonconformist Antwerp Six who put their home city firmly on the map as a global capital of La Mode. The Six were all graduates of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts whose fashion school today continues to produce fashion stars of the future.


For visitors today, there are chic boutiques showcasing designs by the original instigators, the likes of Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and Walter Van Beirendonck, but to put your finger on the pulse of what is happening today in the Antwerp fashion scene, the place to visit is MoMu, a museum housing the world’s largest collection of contemporary Belgian designs.

With two exciting, immersive temporary exhibitions a year, displays from the permanent collection, as well as smaller installations and presentations, MoMu offers both a snapshot of present trends of today’s students, retrospectives of its acclaimed alumni and a global vision with blockbuster shows like ‘Man Ray and Fashion’.

Hidden Gems 
There is always a crowd of tourists milling around the picturesque Hendrik Conscienceplein in the heart of historic Antwerp. The square is dominated by the immense, ornate facade of the city’s most famous Baroque church, St Charles Borromeo. Described as Heaven on Earth and originally featuring a host of masterpieces by Rubens, this is naturally where most people head for. Yet in a quiet corner of the square , there is the far more discrete entrance to the Stadsbibliotheek.

But this is no normal library, as it also has hidden away, the magical Nottebohm Room, only recently opened for individual visits by the general public. This venerable city library incredibly dates back to 1481, and the Nottebohm was created as a ceremonial room to house the most precious editions and rare terrestrial globes.


Spreading over two floors, linked by a spiral staircase, the atmosphere resembles a holy site where everyone speaks in hushed tones, the loudest noise the squeaky creaking of the floorboards.



At the beginning of the 16th century, Antwerp was Europe’s prime trading city, host to some 10,000 merchants. So it was the obvious venue when the world’s first stock exchange was founded in 1531. The Antwerp Bourse has had an eventful history, twice burnt down, rebuilt in 1872 in stunning Neo-Gothic architecture, and today is one of the city’s most surprising discoveries.


Noisy traders no longer buy and sell the world’s commerce here, as the flamboyant wall murals mapping out the world, ornate arches, arcades and an intricate glass ceiling are now open for everyone to visit when an exhibition is being held, as the Handelsbeurs is now one of Antwerp’s most prestigious exhibition and events space. It also hosts the hip Fiera bar and restaurant, which occupies much of what was the trading floor for cargo boats coming through Antwerp.The perfect place to pop in for a cafe or cocktail, lunch or dinner and soak up the atmosphere of this unique building.

St Paul’s Church
While Baroque art lovers touring Antwerp will inevitably head straight for the celebrated St Charles Borromeo church, it is wise to leave some time to visit the quieter yet equally spectacular church of St Paul, located in the old seamen’s quarter near the bank of the Scheldt river.

©Sigrid Spinnox

Rather than the facade, first impressions here are dominated by what is known as The Calvary. The outside of the church is marked by some 63 life-size statues, an early 18th century sculpture garden that could rival any of today’s contemporary art installations, created by Dominican friars to persuade the good citizens of Antwerp to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

©Sigrid Spinnox

The interiors are a veritable art gallery of Old Masters by the revered Antwerp School of Painters, including Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens.

©Sigrid Spinnox

And a quiet moment, without crowds of visitors, contemplating the church’s most famous series of paintings, the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary, there is definitely a different emotional experience in viewing these masterpieces in the original location they were created for centuries before, rather than impersonally hanging on a museum wall.

Local Foodies         
De Koninck

Go into any bar in Antwerp and most people will be sipping a glass of Bolleke or Tripel d’Anvers, brewed since 1833 at the city’s iconic De Koninck brewery.

The whitewashed buildings that house the brewery are open to the public for a fun interactive, multi-media tour which includes videos, a birds-eye view of the brewers at work and ends with a tasting session in their cosy pub. But today the premises are not just for brewing beer as De Koninck have invited in a select band of foodie artisans to set up shop. Begin at Only Cheese, a specialist cheesemonger, with The Butcher’s Store next door filled with tasty charcuterie and sausages. Jitsk creates chocolate pralines and ice creams, while for a proper meal, choose between the Michelin-starred Butcher’s Son restaurant, whose homemade Vol-au-Vent is to die for, or walk up to the rooftop where Black Smoke specialise in barbecues.

Outside the sightseeing centre of Antwerp, a visit to this unique green project is a must for curious foodies. While the label of sustainable ecosystem is easily used today, it is rare to discover a venue that is both genuine and successful. PAKT started out in 2006 when local entrepreneurs turned a derelict warehouse over to artists and musicians.

Today that has grown into a thriving alternative community where locals and tourists can come and drink barista coffee at Racine Pakt or craft ales at Spéciale Belge microbrewery, then discover the healthy plant-based vegetarian and vegan dishes at hip diner Camionette.

Tours are available for PAKT’s groundbreaking projects to transform the warehouse rooftop into an urban farm where over 100 locals from the neighbourhood now grow their vegetables, herbs and raise chickens. You can even book a stay up there on the at UFO Airport, a chalet-style bed&breakfast.

Green Space 
Garden of Museum Plantin-Moretus


The discrete Plantin-Moretus museum, palatial home and business premises of an early 16th century publishing house, is dedicated to the complex craft and technique of printing and typography, and could easily be classed as one of Antwerp’s hidden gems, especially since it became an official Unesco World Heritage site in 2005. But once you have wandered through the intriguing maze of rooms filled with ancient books, a rare Rubens painting, and some of the world’s oldest printing presses, leave some time to enjoy the tiny gem of a garden that has been planted within the ornate century Flemish Renaissance courtyard.


The garden has always attracted visitors even since the 17th century and the plants, herbs and flowers that prosper there today were probably very similar to those first planted 4 centuries ago. Antwerp’s green spaces tend to be quite small, such as the compact Botanicus and Beguinage gardens, but as the Plantin-Moretus garden changes appearance with the seasons, there is always something to appreciate whatever time of the year you visit.

Exotic Market


While fashionista visitors looking for chic vintage bargains may be drawn more to city’s tempting flea markets like the one help each Sunday at the Sint-Jansvliet square, to enjoy an authentic slice of Antwerp life be sure to pass by on a Saturday at the Theaterplein square which is filled with colourful stalls and eateries for the day, known to everyone simply as The Exotic Market. While locals are busy doing their shopping for the rest of the week, visitors can sit out at oyster bars, order creamy shrimp croquettes and sip a glass of Belgian bubbly.


While you can take home Flemish cheeses, smoked ham and sausages, the market also lives up to its Exotic name as there vendors from Turkey and Morocco, Greece and Italy, with stands piled high with olives, fresh mint and coriander, pita bread, tacos and spicy Vietnamese spring rolls.

Out of Town 


A half hour bus ride for Antwerp’s Central Station takes you to the edge of the city at the gates of a verdant public garden where across some 30 acres over 400 artworks are displayed in one of the world’s oldest outdoor sculpture. Middelheim launched a sculpture Biennale in 1951, and since 1989 has been transformed into an open air museum with a stellar permanent collection complemented by eye-catching temporary exhibitions.


Wander through the lawns and woodland, past ponds and streams to discover installations from the likes of Calder, Hans Arp, Henry Moore and Rodin to ‘The Bridge Without a Name’ by contemporary Chinese artist Ai WeiWei. There is also a small botanical garden, Hortiflora, which has a contemporary glass pavilion exhibiting not exotic hot house plants but avant-garde sculptures.
Food and Drink 

The location of this unique dining concept is stunning, set in the heart of Antwerp’s revitalised docklands neighbourhood amidst old warehouses, modern architecture, tall wind turbines. In the worker’s canteen of a former redbrick boat repair workshop next door to an ancient black cargo boat sitting in dry dock.

A project of celebrated chef Seppe Nobels, Instroom offers an integrated place in society to refugee immigrants trying to make their home in Antwerp, who are employed and trained in the kitchen and dining room, serving cuisine that reflects their global backgrounds. So don’t be surprised to see Iranian and Iraqi chefs, Afghani kitchen helpers chopping up vegetables and rolling köfte meatballs, a lady from Guinea deep-frying Jerusalem artichokes.

And each dish is served by its chef who explains the roots of the recipe and their personal story. Down below the dining room, check out the Plasticarium, a recycling workshop to educate kids about ecology and plastic, while on the ground floor there is a funky waterside cafe.

Just four months after it opened last year the surprising Tazu found itself elected best bar in Belgium by the Gault & Millau Guide. It is certainly a unique watering hole, presuming you find the entrance, hidden away down a dark passageway that comes out in a closed medieval courtyard.

Tazu stretches across a series of high-ceilinged rooms of an historic 1462 mansion, once home to the traders of the Hanseatic League, the floors are paved with ancient lithographic printing stones, contemporary art decorates some walls, others left bare and untouched, part of the designer Axel Vervoordt’s concept of Beauty by Imperfection. There is nothing imperfect about the exquisite Japanese cuisine, accompanied by innovative cocktails that include a Flemish Negroni, using local genever gin and exotic plum sake.

Chef Kenny Burssens’s brilliant bistrot is an Antwerp foodie institution, especially one of rare addresses open on a Monday evening when his lively open kitchen counter bar is packed with off duty Michelin-starred chefs and top sommeliers from the city’s chic gastronomic addresses.

Kenny animatedly supervises his brigade of cooks, breaking off to enthusiastically pour a glass from his outstanding selection of wines. The cuisine creatively uses classic Flemish ingredients, like sautéing crunchy Brussels sprouts with intense bone marrow or pairing a chunky steak of line-fished cod with the crunchy salty sea vegetable, salicorne.

Arty Stay 

Few Flemish cities can compare to Antwerp when it comes to choosing a fashionable, artistic place to say, be it a luxurious palace like Botanic Sanctuary, a former convent transformed into the cool August boutique hotel or a hip designer bed and breakfast like De Witte Lelie.

To be close to the newly reopened Fine Arts Museum, Pilar is the perfect address, a stylish white townhouse whose 17 rooms all have their own designs, furnished with a mix of vintage decor and and modern fine art paintings.


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Anvers est la seule ville d’art flamande qui dégage une véritable atmosphère de métropole. Elle a toujours été une des plaques tournantes commerciales du monde, du courtage des diamants au transport maritime, des activités qui donnent une sorte de fébrilité, comme un sentiment de vouloir aller plus loin. Que ce soit le réaménagement radical des docks à un restaurant géré par des réfugiés, une vitrine pour créateurs de mode ou même le fameux Musée des Beaux-Arts, repensé et transformé en des lieux qui questionnent et lancent des défits.

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Les visiteurs seront certainement éblouis par d’admirables salles de guildes gothiques le long de la grandiose Grand-Place triangulaire, les églises baroques flamboyantes pleines de trésors artistiques et bien sûr, l’hôtel particulier romantique qui était le domicile et l’atelier du peintre de Peter Paul Rubens, le citoyen anversois le plus célèbre du 16ème siècle. Mais il ne vous faudra pas longtemps pour découvrir un autre côté d’Anvers, un foyer alternatif d’activités créatives dans le monde de l’art moderne, de la mode et du design, une mine d’or pour les gourmets qui peuvent choisir entre un estaminet traditionnel servant une copieuse cuisine flamande maison, une brasserie historique tenue par des chefs-artisans ou une église déconsacrée dans laquelle s’est ouvert un restaurant gastronomique étoilé au Michelin.

À voir absolument
Le Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts d’Anvers  

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Connu de tous ici par son sigle en flamand, KMSKA. il est Installé dans un bâtiment à colonnades sculpturales, inauguré il y a plus de 200 ans mais est resté fermé pendant 11 ans de rénovations jusqu’à sa réouverture en septembre 2022. Cette massive révolution architecturale de 100 millions d’euros a fait le pari durable et courageux d’adapter l’ancien bâtiment plutôt qu’opter pour une nouvelle construction. L’extérieur parait inchangé, mais pour ceux qui connaissaient le KMSKA avant, c’est tout simplement un musée totalement révolutionnaire. Une nouvelle aile ultra minimaliste totalement blanche ajoute 40% d’espace d’exposition supplémentaire et est essentiellement réservée aux œuvres modernistes post-1880. Par contre, les célèbres parquets grinçants et les galeries colorées ont été conservés tels quels pour mettre en valeur la collection inégalée des Maîtres Anciens Flamands.

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Pour une visite audio-guidée, des facilités tactiles, audios et multimédias sont disposées dans tout le musée, des téléphones spéciaux sont disponibles pour lire les nombreux QR codes à l’attention de ceux qui ne sont pas connectés à Internet. L’équipe des conservateurs a absolument voulu créer un musée qui challenge continuellement les visiteurs.

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Préparez-vous donc à voir une peinture de Brueghel parmi les peintures modernes, un tableau d’un Vieux Maître avec une vidéo de Bill Viola ou un dessin de Jean-Michel Basquiat, une sculpture surréaliste tape-à-l’oeil associée à des images religieuses sombres. C’est une expérience inoubliable à ne pas manquer pour bouleverser toutes les idées préconcues sur les arts.

Anvers a la réputation internationale d’être un tremplin pour les nouvelles générations de créateurs de mode qui trouvent leurs racines dans le succès des Anvers Six. Le groupe de ces stylistes anversois est spectaculaire, radical, provocateur et non-conformiste et a réussi à faire de leur ville natale une Capitale Mondiale de la Mode. Les Six étaient tous diplômés de l’Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts dont la section mode continue aujourd’hui à générer les stylistes-stars du futur.

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Des boutiques showroooms chics exposent les modèles originaux de Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester ou Walter Van Beirendonck, mais pour bien comprendre ce qui se passe dans la scène de la mode anversoise récente, l’endroit à visiter est le MoMu, un musée abritant la plus grande collection mondiale de dessins de mode belges contemporains.

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Avec deux expositions temporaires passionnantes et immersives par an, des expositions de la collection permanente, de petites installations et des présentations, le MoMu offre à la fois un aperçu des tendances actuelles des étudiants, des rétrospectives du travail des diplômés et une vision globale avec des expositions à grand succès comme “Man Ray and Fashion”.

Joyaux cachés
Au cœur du quartier historique d’Anvers, la Place Henri-Conscience attire toujours une foule de touristes. Elle est dominée par l’immense façade ornée de la plus célèbre église baroque de la ville, Saint-Charles-Borromée. Décrite comme le Ciel sur Terre et détenant originalement de nombreux chefs-d’œuvre de Rubens, c’est une destination prisée naturellement par la plupart des touristes. Par contre,dans un coin calme de la place, se trouve l’entrée très discrète de l’inégalable Bibliothèque Patrimoniale anversoise.

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Ce n’est pas une bibliothèque classique, elle a également un atout caché, la salle Nottebohm, récemment ouverte aux visites individuelles pour le grand public. Cette vénérable bibliothèque municipale date de 1481 avait été créée comme salle de cérémonie pouvant accueillir des éditions de livres rares et précieux et de vieux globes terrestres.

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Elle s’étend sur deux étages reliés par un escalier en colimaçon et son atmosphère fait penser à un lieu saint où chacun parle à voix basse, le bruit le plus fort le grincement du parquet !

La Bourse Handelsbeurs

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Au début du 16ème siècle, Anvers était La capitale commerçante d’Europe, fréquentée par des centaines de milliers de traders. C’était alors l’endroit évident pour fonder la 1ère bourse de commerce de l’Histoire en 1531. La Bourse d’Anvers a connu une histoire mouvementée, deux fois incendiée, reconstruite en 1872 dans un style néo-gothique étonnant et devenu l’une des découvertes les plus surprenantes de la ville

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Les traders frénétiques n’y font plus commerce depuis longtemps, mais après 15 ans d’abandon, le Handelsbeurs est devenu l’un des espaces évènementiels les plus prestigieux d’Anvers ouvert à tous lors d’une exposition artistique. Les fresques de mappemondes flamboyantes, les arcs décorés, les arcades et sa verrière complexe ont été magnifiquement restaurés. Cest là que s’est installé Fiera, le bar et restaurant tendance qui occupe une grande partie de ce qui servait jadis de salle de marché commercial pour les cargaisons qui transitaient par Anvers. C’est vraiment un endroit magique où boire un café ou un cocktail, déjeuner ou dîner en jouissant de son atmosphère unique.

Église Saint-Paul
Alors que les amateurs d’art baroque visitant Anvers iront inévitablement voir la célèbre église St Charles Borromée, il est bon de trouver le temps pour visiter l’église Saint-Paul, plus calme mais tout aussi spectaculaire, située au coeur du vieux quartier des marins à proximité de l’Escaut.

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©Sigrid Spinnox

Les premières impressions que l’on a sont dominées non pas par sa façade mais par ce qu’on appelle “Le Calvaire” à l’extérieur de l’église. C’est un jardin de sculptures jonché de 63 statues grandeur nature du début du XVIIIe siècle qui pourrait rivaliser avec n’importe quelle installation d’art contemporain.Il avait été créé par des frères dominicains pour persuader les bons citoyens d’Anvers de faire un pèlerinage en Terre Sainte.

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©Sigrid Spinnox

L’intérieur de l’église est une véritable galerie d’art de Maîtres Anciens de la noble École des Peintres d’Anvers, comprenant Rubens, Van Dyck et Jordaens.

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©Sigrid Spinnox

Trouver un moment de calme, sans horde de visiteurs, pour contempler la plus célèbre série de peintures de l’église, les 15 Mystères du Rosaire, est une expérience émotionnelle différente voir ces chefs-d’œuvre exposés à leur place originale telle qu’elle leur a été assignée depuis des siècles, plutôt que d’être accrochés sur un mur de musée.

Les gourmets locaux        
De Koninck

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Allez dans n’importe quel bar d’Anvers et vous verrez la plupart des gens avec un verre de Bolleke ou de Tripel d’Anvers, bières locales de la célèbre brasserie De Koninck depuis 1833.

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Ses bâtiments blanchis à la chaux sont ouverts au public pour une visite interactive et multimédia divertissante qui comprend des vidéos, une vue aérienne des brasseurs au travail et qui se termine par une séance de dégustation dans leur pub confortable. Mais aujourd’hui, ses locaux ne servent plus seulement à brasser de la bière, De Koninck a invité un groupe d’artisans de la gastronomie à s’y installer et ouvrir leurs boutiques. Commencez par Only Cheese, un fromager spécialisé, avec son voisin The Butcher’s Store rempli de charcuteries et de saucisses savoureuses. Jitsk crée des pralines au chocolat et des glaces, tandis que pour un bon repas, choisissez entre le restaurant Butcher’s Son, étoilé au guide Michelin, dont le vol-au-vent maison est inoubliable, ou montez jusqu’à la terrasse du toit pour trouver Black Smoke, le spécialiste des barbecues.

Hors du centre touristique d’Anvers, une visite à ce projet vert unique est un must pour les gourmands curieux. Si le label d’écosystème durable est aujourd’hui facilement utilisé, il est rare de découvrir un lieu aussi authentique et réussi à la fois. PAKT a vu le jour en 2006 lorsque des entrepreneurs locaux ont cédé un site industriel abandonné à des artistes et des musiciens.

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Il est maintenant devenu une communauté alternative florissante où les habitants et les touristes peuvent venir boire un café de barista à Racine Pakt ou des bières artisanales à la microbrasserie Spéciale Belge et découvrir les plats végétariens et végétaliens à base de plantes bios au restaurant branché Camionette.

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Des visites sont disponibles pour découvrir les idées révolutionnaires de PAKT qui ont utilisé le toit des entrepôts en une ferme urbaine où plus de 100 habitants du quartier cultivent durablement leurs légumes, leurs herbes et élèvent des poulets. Vous pouvez même y réserver un séjour à l’UFO Airport, un bed & breakfast de style chalet.

Espace vert
Le jardin du musée Plantin-Moretus

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Le discret musée Plantin-Moretus, ancienne résidence palatiale et bureaux d’affaires d’une maison d’édition du début du 16ème siècle, est dédié au savoir-faire et à la technique de l’estampe et de la typographie. Il pourrait facilement être classé comme l’un des joyaux cachés d’Anvers, surtout depuis qu’il est a été classé site officiel du patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco en 2005. Mais après une grande ballade à travers un intrigant labyrinthe de pièces remplies de livres anciens, une peinture rare de Rubens et quelques unes des plus anciennes presses d’imprimerie existantes, profitez donc du jardinet planté au 16ème dans la cour fleurie de pur style Renaissance Flamande

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Le jardin a toujours attiré les visiteurs depuis le 17ème siècle et les plantes, les herbes et les fleurs qui y prospèrent de nos jours sont probablement identiques à celles d’il y a 4 siècles. Les espaces verts d’Anvers ont tendance à être assez petits, comme le Jardin Botanique et celui du Béguinage. Le jardin du Plantin-Moretus changeant avec les saisons, la nature aura toujours quelque chose vous à offrir quelle que soit la période de votre visite.

Le Marché exotique

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Les touristes-fashionistas à la recherche de bonnes affaires vintage sont toujours attirés par les marchés aux puces comme la broc dominicale place Sint-Jansvliet. Mais pour goûter à une authentique tranche de vie anversoise, assurez-vous de passer un samedi Place du Théatre – Theaterplein- qui fourmille de stands colorés et de restaurants pour la journée, connu de tous simplement comme le Marché Exotique. Pendant que les anversois sont occupés à faire leurs courses pour le reste de la semaine, les visiteurs peuvent s’asseoir à un bar à huîtres ou commander de crémeuses croquettes de crevettes en sirotant un verre de mousseux belge.

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Vous trouverez également tous les produits locaux, fromages flamands, jambon fumé, saucisses pour les ramener chez vous. Le nom de Marché Exotique vient de la présence de vendeurs de Turquie et du Maroc, de Grèce, d’Italie et d’Asie tenant des stands remplis d’olives, de menthe fraîche et de coriandre, de pain pita, de tacos et de rouleaux de printemps vietnamiens épicés.

En dehors de la ville
Le Musée Middelheim

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Un trajet en bus d’une demi-heure de la gare centrale d’Anvers vous emmènera aux confins de la ville à l’entrée d’un jardin public verdoyant où plus de 400 œuvres d’art sont exposées dans l’un des plus anciens musées de sculptures en plein air du monde. Le Middelheim avait lancé une Biennale de sculpture en 1951 qui a évolué en un musée en plein air en 1989. Il présente maintenant une collection permanente universelle et des expositions temporaires originales en harmonie avec la nature.

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Promenez-vous dans le parc, au milieu des bois et des pelouses, passez devant les petits ruisseaux pour découvrir des installations de Calder, Hans Arp, Henry Moore et Rodin ou encore “Le pont sans nom” de l’artiste chinois contemporain Ai WeiWei. Ce havre de paix renferme le petit jardin botanique Hortiflora, dont le pavillon de verre contemporain où sont exposées non pas des plantes tropicales mais des sculptures futuristes.

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L’emplacement de ce concept gastronomique unique est époustouflant. Au cœur du quartier revitalisé des docks d’Anvers, au beau milieu d’anciens entrepôts, d’architectures modernes et de grandes éoliennes, il est situé dans la cantine d’un ancien atelier de réparation de bateaux à côté d’un ancien cargo noir en cale sèche.

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Projet du célèbre chef Seppe Nobels, Instroom offre une place d’intégration dans la société aux immigrants réfugiés qui essayent de s’établir à Anvers. Ils sont formés et employés en cuisine et en salle pour servir une cuisine mondiale qui reflète leurs origines diverses. Ne soyez donc pas surpris de voir des chefs iraniens et irakiens, des aides de cuisine afghans couper des légumes et rouler des boulettes de viande köfte, une Guinéenne faisant frire des topinambours.

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Chaque plat est présenté aux clients par son cuisinier qui explique les racines de la recette et son parcours personnel. Au sous-sol, découvrez le Plasticarium, un musée et atelier de recyclage pour éduquer les enfants sur l’écologie et le plastique, et au rez-de-chaussée, son café funky donnant sur la mer.

Quatre mois seulement après son ouverture l’année dernière, le surprenant Tazu a été élu meilleur bar de Belgique par Gault & Millau. C’est certainement un lounge unique, si vous arrivez à en trouver l’entrée, dissimulée dans un passage sombre qui donne dans une cour médiévale close.

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Tazu s’étend à travers une série de salles aux plafonds hauts dans un manoir historique du milieu du 15ème siècle, jadis la maison des commerçants de la Ligue hanséatique. Ses sols sont pavés de vieilles pierres lithographiques, certains murs sont décorés d’art contemporain, d’autres laissés nus et intacts, ce qui fait partie du concept de “Beauty by Imperfection” du designer Axel Vervoordt. Mais il n’y a rien d’imparfait dans leur succulente cuisine japonaise, accompagnée de cocktails innovants dont le Negroni Flamand, avec du genièvre local et du saké de prune exotique.

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L’extraordinaire bistrot du chef Kenny Burssens est une institution gastronomique anversoise, et surtout l’une des rares adresses ouvertes le lundi soir quand le comptoir de la cuisine ouverte est bondé de chefs étoilés et de sommeliers en congé ce jour-là.

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Kenny supervise sa brigade de cuisiniers avec enthousiasme, en s’arrêtant de temps en temps pour servir un verre de sa sélection de vins exceptionnelle. La cuisine utilise de façon créative des ingrédients flamands classiques, comme des choux de Bruxelles croquants sautés à la moelle intense ou un épais pavé de morue de ligne associé à un légume de mer salé, la salicorne.


Peu de villes flamandes peuvent être comparées à Anvers quand il s’agit de choisir un hôtel à la mode, sinon artistique, que ce soit un palais luxueux comme le Botanic Sanctuary, ou August, un ancien couvent transformé en un boutique hôtel cool, ou bien un bed and breakfast design branché comme De Witte Lelie. Pour séjourner près du Musée des Beaux-Arts récemment réouvert, Pilar est l’adresse parfaite, une élégante maison de ville blanche où les 17 chambres ont toutes une déco différente, avec un mélange de mobilier et de peintures vintage et modernes.

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To be close to the newly reopened Fine Arts Museum, Pilar is the perfect address, a stylish white townhouse whose 17 rooms all have their own designs, furnished with a mix of vintage decor and and modern fine art paintings.

John Brunton’s Ghent Art City Trail

First impressions on arriving in beautifully-preserved medieval Ghent is that this promises everything you would expect in a classic Flemish Art City.

A romantic waterside walk past the sumptuous guild houses and merchant’s mansions that line the Graslei and Korenlei quays along the Lys river take you back to the days of the Middle Ages when this was one of Europe’s wealthiest and most cultured cities. Ghent’s ancient skyline is marked by two towering landmark buildings that sit opposite each other; the Unesco World Heritage town Belfry and majestic tower of St Bavo’s cathedral, whose treasures within include breathtaking masterpieces painted by the Van Eyck brothers nearly 600 years ago. But eccentric, irreverent Ghent is also an Art City that loves to surprise visitors that take the time to really get a feel for this under-the-radar destination. Track down cutting edge modern art and design museums, contemporary private galleries and vivid street art. Head out beyond the historic centre to discover hip locales opening up in the renewed urban landscape of the old industrial docklands. The city is always at the forefront of new dining trends, ecology and ethics initiatives. Ghent is always ready to surprise.

Must See
Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

Art in Flanders ©Dominique Provost

When people talk about Ghent’s reputation as one of Europe’s renowned art cities there is one masterpiece that immediately comes to people’s mind; The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. One of the world’s most influential artworks, painted in 1432 by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck,

The Adoration stretches over 18 oak panels, forming a monumental altarpiece at the heart of the towering thousand year-old Gothic Saint Bavo cathedral. Standing in awe in front of these evocative biblical scenes has always been emotional. But today, culture lovers can use the modern technology of Augmented Reality to experience a futuristic hour-long multimedia journey. This begins down in the crypt where visitors don futuristic head masks and travel back through time aided by holograms and avatars. Finally, the virtual journey ends in the present as masks are removed and everyone stands silently in front of the unique artwork itself. Over the centuries, The Adoration has been stolen 7 times, transported to Paris, taken by the Nazis on the orders of General Goering during World War Two. But today, you just need to make a booking well in advance to make sure you see the world’s most coveted painting during your stay in Ghent.


Art in Ghent is not just about Old Masters, Flemish Primitives and precious religious paintings in churches. The city has a cutting edge Design Museum, closed for renovations right now, avant-garde private galleries and S.M.A.K., the expressive initials of the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in what was once the local casino. It is well worth the short bus or tram ride out of the centre to discover a museum that proposes a daring, rebellious agenda to showcase regularly changing, provocative temporary exhibitions.

©Visit Reeks

SMAK also possesses one of Belgium’s most important contemporary art collections, with exceptional pieces by artists from movements like Cobra and Arte Povera, and they are awaiting a decision to build a new annexe to exhibit this as well. The SMAK started out life as the contemporary wing of the nearby Royal Museum of Fine Arts, and art lovers must continue on to Belgium’s oldest museum. It is a unique opportunity to view masterpieces spanning 600 years, from the likes of Bosch, Breughel and Rubens to Magritte and Ensor, Delvaux and Rik Wouters.

Hidden Gems
Huis van Alijn

Most of the grand medieval merchants houses that line Ghent’s picturesque Kraanlei waterfront house trendy restaurants, bars and boutiques, but walk through the discrete wooden door of the Huis van Alijn and you head back into a journey into the rich history of the city.

Right above the entrance arch sits an ornate religious carving dating back to 1363 that announces that this was originally an almshouse, where the city’s sick and elderly were cared for.


Today the whitewashed buildings surrounding a sunny courtyard have been converted into wonderfully nostalgic, kitsch recreation of 20th century life, irresistible for kids, great fun for adults. And this being Ghent, the museum includes an authentic ‘estaminet’ pub where you can try local brews and foodie specialities like Ghent’s famous Tierenteyn mustard with cheese and cured sausages.

Graffiti Alley
It is no surprise to learn that Ghent proudly declares itself a graffiti-friendly city, where street artists are welcomed to make their creative mark in selected areas of the urban landscape.

While there are over 500 graffiti creations dotted all around the city, the unofficial open-air gallery right in the heart of the historic centre that runs along the walls of Werregarenstraat is known to all as Graffiti Alley. It has been opened to street artists since 1995, the murals continually reinvented by essentially local Ghentois spray-can artists.

Every few years, the walls are painted white, giving a new generation of graffitists a blank canvas for new designs. There is an official street art tour, Sorry Not Sorry, that visitors can follow, but it is more fun just wandering the streets and finding your own discoveries like The Lion’s Den in Prisenhof street or A Squid Called Sebastian on Sleepstraat.

Ghent’s newest hot neighbourhood is undoubtedly the funky mix of industrial and contemporary buildings around the old docks, a very different world from the historic city centre. Vast industrial factories and warehouses have been converted into microbreweries, theatres, a shopping centre, alongside modern, cutting edge social housing, schools and communities centres. Old cranes surround the port and canal, today the verdant Captain Zeppo park.

©Paul Barsch

And right on the water’s edge, a discrete red brick building, once an old welding factory, houses the innovative 019 project, an experimental centre for a local artists cooperative that combines architecture, graphic design and visual art.

©Lynn Delbeecke

There is also a fun pop-up diner, Eat This, run by artist Stephanie Van der Velds, who describes the space and her kitchen as a continual installation of her work.

Local Foodies
Gin is synonymous with Flanders, where the humble juniper berry was first distilled into one of the world’s most distinctive alcohols some 800 years ago.

But the present fashion for creative handcrafted distillers is much more recent and the city’s iconically named Ginderella was recently launched by the two wonderfully eccentric Heyneman brothers. This really is a gin like no other, created by the impassioned ecologists Jan and Geert Heyneman who are on a mission to transform Ghent’s wild urban nature into a unique gin. What this means is foraging all over the city streets and surrounding countryside for invasive but edible weeds like Japanese knotweed, herb Robert, lesser swine-cress and giant hogweed, then distilling them with a secret recipe classical juniper, botanicals, spices and herbs.


Geert is also Ghent’s City Ecologists, and curious gin-lovers can join him on a unique foraging expedition in the dense undergrowth and vegetable gardens of the nearby Bourgoyen nature reserve. And the surprising tasting at the end includes not just Ginderella but their surprising artisan vermouths.

Het Hinkelspel

Ghent foodies take their sustainability seriously with numerous organic supermarkets, a fun “Thursday Veggie Day” devoted to promoting vegetarian food, and an innovative city Food Council promoting innovative ideas like reuse and redistribution of restaurant leftovers. But the real pioneers can be found at the edge of a sleepy canal in an old textile factory.

This is where Ghent’s very own dairy, Het Hinkelspel, first began making their delicious selection of raw milk cow and goats cheeses in 1984, an organic cooperative still supplied by the same two dairy farmers. Today the premises are known as the Lousberg market, and the cheese makers have been joined by local farmers coming in to sell their kilometre-zero fruit and vegetables, an artisan baker and butcher, and friendly canteen serving daily home-cooked dishes, soups and cakes using market produce.

Be sure to taste the delicious Van Eyck cheese, created in honour of the artist, while the perfect pairing with an aged goats milk gouda is a glass of their craft-brewed Lousberg Blonde Tripel ale.

Green Space

©Alabaster Plume

An imposing high red brick wall runs along Theresia Street, hidden away in a sleepy residential neighbourhood, and few tourists are curious enough to push open an ancient wooden door to discover what lies behind. But the reward is to enter another of the city’s unique locales that have forged Ghent’s reputation as a pioneer for offbeat culture. The sprawling grounds behind the wall house the former Theresia Convent, founded 363 years ago for a silent order of nuns, abandoned from 2007 for 15 years, until it was recently brought back to life as an alternative community venue for visual and performing arts, cinema screenings, workshops and of course eating and drinking.

©Alabaster Plume

The wonderfully wild, overgrown grounds are open from June through till September as a casual beer garden and concert venue, with deckchairs and a tiny deconsecrated chapel serving as the bar, while inside the convent there are art exhibitions, with the kitchens used either for foodie pop-ups or communal cooking by the local neighbourhood.

Sint-Jacobs flea market

This is a city where different markets pop up every day of the week, from the chaotic Friday Market sprawling across the grand Vrijdagsplatz square, whose raucous traders sell local sausages, cheeses, North Sea fish and seafood, to markets specialising in books, birds, flowers, arts and crafts. But nothing compares to the irresistible flea market bargains laid out on the bric-a-brac stalls covering the ancient cobbled square in front of the Sint-Jacobs church every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. The grand medieval church is one of the official stages for pilgrims travelling to Santiago di Compostella, and this bohemian neighbourhood was where the Ghent Festivities first began in the hippy summer of 1969, today a wild 10 day music festival every July.

The market spans expensive antiques like ancient crystal, lace and porcelain, to vintage fashions, retro signs, collectable teddy bears. The square is also lined with designer thrift stores, art galleries and old-fashioned Brown Cafés like Afsnis, perfect for a warming bowl of homemade soup and a foaming glass of Chimay Trappist beer.

Out of Town


Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens
Ghent’s ancient medieval streets are rapidly replaced by the bucolic Flemish countryside during a scenic one hour bike ride that follows the meandering Lys river valley until arriving at the eye-catching minimalist building of glass and white concrete that houses Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens.


This private foundation is housed in a landmark example of Belgian modernist architecture, a built 55 years ago initially to house the founders own private collection of 20th century Flemish art featuring the likes of James Ensor and Gustave and Leon de Smet.


Today, after a recent renovation and extension, the museum hosts cutting edge temporary exhibitions completed by a permanent collection of avant-garde sculptures installed in the verdant gardens, its own historical collection and an active centre for artists-in-residence.

Le Bal Infernal
Another typically eccentric Ghent concept, this cool used book cafe has been a cultural institution looking out on the grand Vrijdagstag Square for over 30 years.

Once a wild late night bar, today the cosy interiors resemble an Ali Baba’s cave of book-lined shelves, where laid back customers browse at their leisure, ordering a Belgian Abbey beer with a fresh vegetable soup, or foamy cappuccino and homemade biscuits. Bring your own book and you can even swop it for a new one.

Dok Brewing Company


Dimitri Messaens loves creating new craft ales, and each of the 150 brews he has created are one-off, single batch creations, never to made again. So when you see crazy labels and distinctive names like Whats Hop Dok, Just Married, My Own Private Idaho or Respect Your Elders, order soon before the pump runs dry. Regulars can rest assured though that Dok’s two signature ales – 13, an award-winning Pilsner and Gentse Pale Ale, their take on IPA – are always on the drinks menu. Housed in a vast industrial warehouse in Ghent’s old docks, the funky microbrewery also serves delicious finger-licking barbecues.


Chef Olly Ceulenaere is the perfect symbol for Ghent’s distinctive eating out scene, a chef who has moved effortlessly from the irreverent, rock&roll Flemish Foodies movement to the ultimate establishment recognition of a Michelin star, without sacrificing any of his principles; sustainability, local kilometre-zero produce, seasonality, minimal waste, informality and above all, originality.

The menu changes each lunch and dinner in his cosy, casual Publiek diner, where dishes range from crunchy cabbage topped with smoked eel and pickled parsnip root or marinated herrings smothered with baby radishes, fava beans and smoked seaweed.

Comic Art Hotel
2023 is very much going to be the year the Comic Strip in Ghent. A new museum dedicated to what locals love to call The Ninth Art, has just opened its doors, offering visitors the chance to discover the secrets of favourite characters like Asterix or the mischievous Smurfs.

And in the same building, a sprawling old school adjacent to the medieval Augustijn monastery, fans can already book a room decorated with bold murals illustrating the likes of Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese or Lucky Luke in the newly-opened Comic Art Hotel.

John Brunton’s Mechelen Art City Trail

The quiet, serene Flemish city of Mechelen is the perfect destination for art, culture and food lovers seeking a secret, under-the-radar haven that is genuinely unspoilt, where there is no need to compete with crowds of tourists when visiting museums or while taking a precious, solitary moment to contemplate a centuries-old religious painting in a secluded corner of an ancient church.

The city has a glorious past stretching back through the Renaissance to Age of Enlightenment, and it is a pleasure to stroll through its cobbled backstreets tracking down a medieval Beguinage, or wander along the banks of the winding Dyle river, stopping to listen to the magical peal of carillon bells. This is a contemporary Art City too, with avant-garde galleries showcasing the local creative scene, and notable pioneering urban initiatives converting historic buildings into modern museums, art and film centres, always with a lively bar or restaurant as this is also somewhere where the locals really know how to enjoy themselves, and entertain travellers that head here off the beaten track.

Must See
St Rumbold’s Tower & Cathedral

No matter where you are walking through Mechelen, there is always the statuesque tower of Saint Rumbolt’s cathedral, defining the city as it majestically rises up above the skyline.

©Visit Mechelen

The soaring vaulted interiors of the cathedral boast a significant collection of old masters, particularly Lucas Faydherbe’s Baroque high altar, paintings by Anthony van Dyck and a curious, enigmatic Black Madonna.

Before leaving, though, most visitors head for the narrow, steep winding staircase that slowly climbs its way up to the top of the Unesco World Heritage tower. The reward is an unparalleled view from the 97 metre high skywalk over Mechelen and the surrounding countryside and often the chance to hear the chimes of Saint Rumbold’s famous carillon bells. Just be aware there is no lift, only 524 stairs each way, fortunately with plenty of stages for stop offs.

Kazerne Dossin
During the Nazi occupation of Mechelen during World War Two, the Dossin military barracks were converted into a transit camp for the deportation of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals to concentration camps.

Today, the barracks are the site of an holocaust memorial, while across the road stands a monumental museum and documentation centre inaugurated in 2012. A stark, austere concrete pentagon, this landmark building addresses not just historical persecution during World War Two in Belgium and Northern France with an intense and educative exhibition of their permanent collection, but also holds temporary shows dedicated to human rights abuses across the globe.

A tour through the four floors is an emotional experience, especially when you witness the reactions of the many visiting school groups, but you end the visit with a unique eye-witness view of what life was like in this wartime era. The visit ends with panoramic views from the open rooftop terrace, a perfect moment for quiet personal reflection.

Hidden Gems
Het Kunstuur
In the age of immersive art exhibitions, virtual and enhanced reality guides, the creators of Mechelen’s Het Kunstuur – The Culture Hour – have succeeded in coming up with a new, highly original idea.


This small, intimate gallery has a regularly-changing programme presenting temporary exhibitions that feature just 20 paintings. The aim is to publicise and promote local Flemish artists, and the visitor is asked to join an obligatory hour long tour. At first everything begins as in a normal museum with everyone putting on an audio guide, but as the group passes from salon to salon, at some point the lights go out, artworks are individually illuminated, and the voiceover explaining each artwork, usually a well-known Flemish personality, suddenly comes to life as a speaking, moving computer-generated avatar.

After the experience most people adjourn right opposite to Het Kunstuur’s funky cafe.

Museum Hof van Busleyden

©Visit Mechelen

To get a feeling for the glory days of Mechelen’s proud history, take a tour of the museum housed in this splendid red-brick palace. It dates back to the 15th century, when the city was immensely wealthy through the cloth trade and the official capital of the Low Countries, ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy, and encompassing parts of modern Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland. The palace once welcomed princes, emperors, and Renaissance intellectuals like Erasmus and Sir Thomas More. Today the building is dedicated to the history of the city. Much of the permanent collection will only be on show towards the end of 2023 when a huge renovation programme is completed, but until the summer, don’t miss the temporary Hidden Gems exhibition.

The palace basement has been emptied to create an open space venue filled with 100 objects illustrating 700 years of Mechelen history – medieval religious paintings, traditional carnival giants, contemporary sculptures, 20th century artworks.

Het Predikheren
In another example of how this city creatively uses its urban heritage architecture, the municipal library is housed in a beautifully restored Baroque monastery.

Het Predikheren refers to the Preachers monastic movement, another name for the Dominican Order, who built a church here in the mid 17th century. The religious complex was closed down during the French Revolution, then used as both a military hospital and troop barracks before being abandoned for 50n years before its present transformation into a contemporary library and cultural hub. Right from the day the doors opened, Het Predikheren has taken a unique place in the town’s life that extends far beyond its collection of books.

This is a vibrant meeting place that attracts curious travellers as well as locals, with a casual bar and cafe that extends out into a cloistered terrace alongside a gourmet restaurant, while the space also hosts art exhibitions, dance and music performances.

Local Foodies
De Vleeshalle Foodmarket

A majestic bulls head marks the entrance to Mechelen’s historic 1881 Meat Hall. Though no longer a butcher’s market, the immense building has today is reborn as a vibrant emporium for cosmopolitan food stalls that has become a firm favourite with locals for a tasty, reasonably-priced lunch. Be sure to arrive at midday as the comfy sofas and chairs surrounding the stalls fill up quickly each day.

Hardly surprising when you can choose from local specialities – oysters, shrimp croquettes, and of course frites – to chefs cooking exotic dishes from Mexico, the Mediterranean, Morocco, South Africa, and even homebaked Irish pies. For drinks, choose from from barista coffee, fruit smoothies, Belgian craft ales and organic wines. After your meal, take the staircase up above the bustling ground floor to discover sustainable boutiques and cool coworking spaces.


The name Schockaert is synonymous with cheese in Mechelen. Founded more that a century ago by the great grandfather of Sophie and Ann Schockaert, the flagship cheesemongers of these two sisters occupies the ground floor of an ancient merchants house right on Mechelen’s main shopping drag, IJzerenleen, and stocks a tempting array of some 220 different cheeses. Originally this was a classic dairy, selling eggs and milk, delivering around town on a horse and cart, but today, they also stock traditional Flemish charcuterie.

Most of the cheeses are organic, and the Schockaert’s have long-standing relationships with many farmers in the surrounding region. Two local specialities not to be missed are Brouwerskaas, where a Mechelen-brewed beer is added to the milk curd, and Mechelier, a cows cheese whose skin is rubbed with a potent Trippel ale.

Saturday Grote Markt

©Visit Mechelen

Every Saturday morning you will find Mechelen townsfolk passing through its bustling weekly market on the Grote Markt, the city’s landmark square lined with elaborate medieval and Baroque mansions, a towering Gothic cathedral in the background, one side taken up entirely by the palatial 16th century town hall and belfry. The market stalls are piled high with a cornucopia of locally-farmed products like endives, sprouts asparagus, and at poultry stands be sure to look out for the Mechelse Koekoek, the famous Mechelen chicken known as a ‘cuckoo’ for its distinctive black and white feathers that you will find on gastronomic restaurant menus all over Flanders. And the Grote Markt is surrounded by lively bars, the perfect place to grab a sunny pavement table try a glass of the signature Gouden Carolus beer made at the local Het Anker brewery.

Green Space
Dyle Towpath
Traditional towpaths run along the bank of a waterway, used in the past by horses to pull cargo barges, transformed today into bike and hiking paths.

©Visit Mechelen

But visitors to Mechelen always get a surprise the first time they see the River Dyle’s futuristic towpath as it literally floats above the water. For the perfect green experience, start out with a walk through the 19th century Kruidtuin, originally the Botanical Gardens, today a verdant public park of lakes and flower gardens, an outdoor venue for a big summer music festival.

©Visit Mechelen

From the park cross the Fontein Bridge onto the floating ramp that follows the river into the town centre. Dipping under the ancient Hoog bridge and past a juxtaposition of contemporary and historical buildings, cross over the pedestrian Lamot Bridge into what was once the old fish market and then enjoy a drink on the waterside terrace of the town’s most genuine Brown Cafe, De Gouden Vis.

Out of Town
Either put on your walking boots for a 4 kilometre hike or hire a bike at Mechelen’s train station to follow the picturesque towpath along the bank of the Vaart waterway as far as the sleepy rural hamlet of Battel.

You can’t miss a sign for the unique Batteliek craft brewery, housed in what was once the local church. All the Batteliek ales, fruit juices and craft gin are made right here, and while the decor follows a fun, surreal Monty Pythonesque theme, state-of-the-art vats are massed at the end, and the kitchen serves up a tasty mix of pizzas and burgers, cheesecake and brownies.

Open barely a year, they have created 15 different beers, with 7 on tap, and enthusiasts can sign up to a brewing workshop while more ambitious gypsy brewers are allowed in to create their own small-batch recipes. While locals love the classic Belgian pilsner, don’t miss more brews like an unusual pastry stout or a coffee porter.

Food & drink
Lux 28
A newcomer on Mechelen’s entertainment scene, the Lux complex opened in October 2021 in an opulent colonnaded 1831 mansion.

Today there is the arthouse Cinema Lumière on the ground floor, while up above is Lux 28, a cool bar that has the feel of a private club, a secret address for local cinema-lovers, occasionally discovered by curious tourists. Apart from serving craft beers, wine and cocktails, accompanied by sharing tapas, this is also a venue devoted to exhibitions by local artists, with plans to host small concerts

The Chick

The Chick is a wining and dining venue that surprises from start to finish. Hidden away in a 16th centre building adjacent to the iconic St Rumbold’s tower, this is a restaurant with no written menu and enthusiastic foodies place their faith in the chef as the kitchen prepares only surprise set menus.

The creative cuisine uses local produce like Namur escargots, North Sea hake and plump lobster cooked in a savoury risotto, complemented by a wide-ranging cosmopolitan wine list. A steep flight of steps heads down to a cosy vaulted wine bar, while cheeses are aged in an ancient medieval cellar.

Het Anker Brasserie

Mechelen’s venerable independent brewery offers a beer tour for visitors, a discreet hotel to stay in, tastings of its ales and the whiskey it distills on the premises.

©Visit Mechelen

And to sample classics of local cuisine there is also the cosy brasserie restaurant, which proposes both dishes cooked with Het Anker’s beers, a beer pairing menu, and both bread and cheeses that are made with beer! Not to be missed are the Flemish beef stew braised in Gouden Carolus Classic beer served with frites and ‘chicons’, braised endives, or Mechelen’s famous ‘Coucou’ chicken, in a creamy sauce with asparagus and potato croquettes.

Arty Stay
Martin’s Patershof

Hidden away on a quiet backstreet just off the Dyle river stands a towering red-brick neo-Gothic church, where surprisingly taxis stop to drop-off savvy travellers who are checking into the most unique place to stay in Mechelen. Now made over a luxury boutique hotel, guests can choose a comfortable room in their modern annexe or splash out on one of the sumptuous suites in the main church building, complete with stained glass windows, carved stone pillars and arched vaults. The biggest surprise comes when you enter the majestic breakfast hall with its opulent altarpiece and religious paintings.

John Brunton’s Bruges Art City Trail

©Jan Termont


It is difficult to imagine a Flemish Art City as seductive as Bruges. Travellers from around the world are drawn here by its irresistible combination of scenic canals crisscrossed by ancient stone bridges, wonderfully preserved medieval houses and mansions linked by cobbled lanes that at times resemble a romantic maze of dolls houses, alongside spectacular public buildings, monuments, belfry and churches that have long been recognised as UNESCO World Heritage.

The city’s rich artistic heritage dates back to its golden era as one of Europe’s richest towns beginning in the Middle Ages, where promoting art and culture went hand in hand with amassing fortunes through trade. But this is also just one face of the city compared to what can be discovered if the visitor takes the time to look behind the picturesque facade and spend a couple of days in the city. Modern architecture is symbolised by the stunning red Concert Hall, but this is just the tip of the iceberg of the eye-catching urban renewal going on throughout the city. To discover these contemporary hotspots around the city, just download and follow the tourist office’s innovative new Route App, Oooh! Bruges. For eating out, beyond the popular cuisine of mussels and frites, Bruges boasts one of the most vibrant gastronomic scenes in Flanders, from Michelin-starred fine dining to funky diners creating contemporary takes on traditional dishes.


While the early rooms take the breath away with masterpieces by Jan van Eyck, Memling and Bosch, there is a genuine momentum to the tour as visitors pass from the unforgettable scenes painted by Pieter Breughel the Younger through the Renaissance and Baroque eras, upto modern 20th century gems by Magritte, Delvaux, Ensor and Rik Wouters, as well as a unique collection of the surreal printed works of Marcel Broodthaers.

Apart from regular temporary exhibitions there are ambitious long-term plans for the year 2025 with the city planning to open BRUSK, an artistic hotspot for young artists, a new innovative exhibition hall, while at the same time making the museum site ecologically sustainable.

Church of Our Lady

As you enter the majestic Church of Our Lady it initially resembles a rather austere, bare Gothic church. An ancient painting depicting the interior hangs at the entrance of the nave and nothing seems to have changed over the centuries. But the tension builds as first you pass early examples of Flemish primitive paintings, then the impressive medieval tombs of Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold, before you approach the subdued corner holding the precious white marble statue of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo in 1504.

It was the only work of the master that left Italy during his lifetime, bought by a wealthy Bruges merchant. Twice the priceless sculpture has disappeared, taken by Napoleon and installed in Paris, then stolen for Hitler’s personal collection, heading for Nazi Germany before the intervention of the Allied Army’s Monument Men team. So once you come face to face with this Renaissance masterpiece it is quite an emotional experience, and although there are always people who go as close as they can to snap photos on their mobile phones, many prefer to sit a discrete distance away, to take their time to better appreciate the intensity and power of this immaculate creation.

Hidden Gems
Concertgebouw Brugge

©Jan Darthet

Built to commemorate the coronation of Bruges as European Capital of Culture back in 2002, this stunning concert hall remains the landmark symbol of modern, contemporary Bruges contrasting with the medieval heritage of the city. While the ultimate way to appreciate this unique concert hall is to attend one of its almost nightly performances, there is also a brilliant backstage tour, the Concertgebouw Circuit that operates most days. Going up and down narrow stairs normally reserved for the staff, you pass what look like carillon bells but are actually avant-garde loudspeakers. There are permanent and temporary exhibitions hanging on the wall, you can sit down and enjoy videos of concert performances, watch a conceptual film on sound, climb high into the roof to peek in on the main hall with a birds-eye view even if a concert or rehearsal is going on.

©Jan Darthet

Then you arrive at the area known as the Sound Factory, where children are enchanted as they touch metal tubes to make musical sounds, or enter the psychedelic Omni room and punch a mushroom-like device to compose a tune using your own choice of instrument. Music is everywhere, even when you reach the open rooftop with a set of carillon bells that you can chime yourself.

The Adornes Estate
Walking along the narrow cobbled lanes running out of the centre of Bruges, you pass the whitewashed walls that hide the idyllic gardens and cottages of the 17th century Elisabeth Zorghe Almshouse – a Godshuis. Then a strange redbrick medieval church tower with a wooden cupola catches your eye that is clearly older than many of the city’s buildings.


Dating back to 1429 this the Jerusalem Chapel, built by the wealthy Adornes family, imitating the Holy Land’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 17 generations later, the same family still own the whole domaine which includes a museum, almshouses, gardens and even a welcoming lounge where visitors can serve themselves a cup of tea or coffee.

Wandering through this peaceful private domaine conjures up images of Crusader Knights in the Holy Land and medieval tournaments the Adornes family used to organise, a tradition that continues today with ancient archery guilds based along the street. And if the guest salon with its tartan sofas seem more Scottish than Flemish that is explained in the museum, detailing how the 15th century Anselm Adornes became as powerful a landowner in Scotland as in Bruges.

Gruuthuse Museum

Entering the noble archway that stands on the bank of the Dijver and coming face to face with the opulent palace created in the 15th century by Louis of Gruuthuse it is difficult to imagine that all this wealth and splendour was financed by the family monopoly of the trade of ‘gruut’ a magic recipe of herbs to flavour beer before brewers discovered how to use hops. The ‘gruut’ was stored here in a warehouse, leading them to change their name to ‘gruuthouse’. Today, walking through the maze of rooms that spread over the palace’s three floors gives the feeling of a privileged snapshot of the sumptuous lives of the nobility in Bruges. Like the great merchants of Venice with their opulent palazzi, the Gruuthuse family used their wealth to promote culture and art in Bruges, and a tour of the house stretches from the 15th to 19th centuries, past lavish Flemish tapestries and delicate lace, Gothic stained glass, porcelain and ceramics, musical instruments and period furniture.

Wednesday Market

Bruges boasts one of the grandest town squares in Flanders, marked by a flamboyant Neo-Gothic government building and the iconic 13th century Belfry that rises almost 100 metres above the city skyline. The square is always vibrant, lined by bustling bars and cafes, but the Grote Markt really comes alive every Wednesday morning when all of Bruges seems to converge here for the weekly market.

Stalls are piled high with a cornucopia of local seasonal produce; fruit and vegetables direct from nearby farms, cheeses, aged ham and smoky sausages, noisy North Sea fishmongers, flowers bursting with colour.

And it is difficult to avoid the temptation to join the line outside the ‘frituur’ – chip stand – for a portion of piping hot frites topped with a dollop of mayonnaise.

Local Foodies
Bourgogne des Flandres
Right in the heart of historic Bruges, with a waterside terrace opposite the Groeninge museum, this venerable brewery was founded back in 1765, named in honour of the era when the Dukes of Burgundy ruled over the city. Still brewed onsite, Bourgogne des Flandres is a unique beer that blends of two very different ales; a Lambic which adds sourness, and the sweeter Brown Ox.

The informative brewery tour, unaccompanied but with an audio guide, includes the chance to chat and ask questions of the brewers themselves while they are working, and afterwards everyone heads for the bar with 7 beers on tap with a simple but tasty menu of Bruges cheeses and charcuterie.

Brew Master, Thomas Vandelanotte, explains that “we are also an experimental brewhouse, always trying new recipes out and making small batches that we try out on the customers that come on the visit, and who knows, they may become one of our future signature ales.”

Diksmuids Boterhuis

Open since 1933, the name of this inviting delicatessen actually refers to the butter made by the founders at their dairy in the nearby town of Diksmuide. The Butter House has changed over the last century, and is run today by the third generation Isabelle Verhelle, a Master Cheesemonger who gave up her high-powered job managing an hotel to run the family business. They no longer just sell butter, and Isabelle’s range of cheeses changes each week depending on the season, with roughly 300 different varieties, showcasing specialities made by local farmers, like Brugge Gold, a creamy cows cheese from nearby Damme, Oudlander, a goats cheese made by the coast at De Haan, aged Old Brugge and a tangy Belgian Blue from Ghent.

She also works with artisan butchers who produce her famous salami-style sausages. And be sure to ask if she has made her famous cod fish salad as loyal customers say it is better than anything you find at the fish shop.

Green Space
Beguinage and Minnewaterpark

Founded nearly 8 centuries ago, the ‘Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde’ to give this Unesco World Heritage site its official name, is a bucolic green oasis in the historical heart of Bruges, perfect for a break from museum sightseeing.

In spring, the simple cottages of the Benedictine nuns who still reside here look out over verdant lawns that are transformed into a giant flower bed of blooming daffodils. From the Beguinage cross the tiny canal bridge to immediately enter the Minnewaterpark, the perfect spot for a romantic stroll, lunch in a castle restaurant or casual waterside picnic by the Minnewater itself, the Lake of Love.

TopLeft©Jan Darthet

The park stretches all the way to the city ramparts and is especially popular in summer as a venue for outdoor concerts.

Out of Town

It is no exaggeration to say that the countryside begins right at the ancient ramparts that encircle the city of Bruges. Hire a bike and follow the cycle paths that begin at the Minnewaterpark and soon you are on your way past waterways, windmills and green meadows towards the ancient town of Damme, once the port of Bruges back in the 12th century.

The 10 kilometre ride runs along the bank of the picturesque Damse Vaart canal that continues all the way to the Dutch border.

Damme is an idyllic village, famous for its bookshops, a giant paddle steamer moored on the quayside and above all its craft microbreweries and cosy gourmet restaurants like the Michelin-starred De Zuidkant, where foodies come from afar for the speciality local dish – ‘paling in’t groen’, succulent eels cooked in a rich parsley sauce.

One of the Michelin-starred restaurants overseen by stellar Flemish chef Gert De Mangeleer, L.E.S.S. may have an odd name – Love, Eat, Share, Smile – but this funky diner succeeds brilliantly in its aim to present accessible gastronomy. The ambiance is cool and casual, with the hottest seats at the kitchen counter watching the brigade of chefs at work.

The menu is created with sharing dishes in mind, be it slices of a Holstein Tomahawk steak, glazed eel, Dan Dan noodles or a Peruvian-style device made with North Sea fish. While the products are essentially local, the influences in De Mangeleer’s cuisine is resolutely global, with influences from his travels to South America and Asia.

Goesepitte 43
Visitors rarely discover this discrete restaurant by chance, an insider address hidden down a narrow backstreet near the Saint Saviour cathedral. Chef Jan Supply creates an affordable gastronomy menu, strong on seasonal vegetables and North Sea seafood.

In the kitchen he often uses a Mibrasa charcoal oven which is especially effective grilling endives, cabbage and leeks as well as his signature dry aged steaks. Excellent wine list, including several Belgian vineyards, and as the minimalist contemporary dining room only seats 20, it is best to reserve in advance.

Books and Brunch
Tucked away in a quiet corner of town just opposite the 16th century St Trudo almshouse, this cosy bookshop cantina has been welcoming foodies and bibliophiles for the last ten years since friendly owners Jos and Tabitha Deroo first opened up. There are some 5,000 second hand books lining the walls, including an English corner and sections devoted to travel, cooking and kids books, but Jos admits that ,”while the books draw people in, it is the food that keeps everyone coming back.

We propose a menu that includes organic, vegetarian, vegan and gluten free dishes so everyone can feel welcome here ” They serve continuously from breakfast through till late afternoon, with a clientele that mixes local families and students with cosmopolitan tourists.

Difficult to resist the salmon bagel or Belgian waffles with maple syrup and bacon, while the Dame Blanche desert is to die for. In addition to barista coffee and herbal teas, they serve craft gin and tonic, Trappist ales and homemade lemonade.

Hotel Portinari

Perfectly located by the Concertgebouw, this friendly hotel is named after the renowned 15th century Bruges cultural patron, Tommaso Portinari, and all their decor follows an artistic theme. Each room features an iconic painting, such as Magritte’s bowler hat and apple portrait, with surrealist creations in the lobby, funky graffiti murals in the breakfast room, while in a nostalgic touch, the lift is plastered with old black and white postcards of the city.

And just next door is the healthy diner, Nomad, which specialises in locavore dishes with kilometre zero carbon footprint.

John Brunton’s Leuven Art City Trail


Picturesque Leuven may be only half an hour by train from the bustling metropolis of Brussels, but it is a genuine hidden secret as far as tourism is concerned, with barely a souvenir shop to be found.

It may have missed out on the chance to be a capital city to Brussels back in the 13th century but the establishment of one of the world’s oldest universities here in 1425 has made it an important centre of learning for science and the arts. Resembling a Flemish version of Oxford and Cambridge, the city’s ancient university colleges remain for the most part closed off to the public, hidden behind their red brick walls, but there is an ambitious plan to open for visits to celebrate the 600th anniversary in 2025. What are not hidden to the public are the 50,000 students who make their temporary home here each year, creating both a lively nightlife scene and a vibrant calendar of contemporary art, music and dance. All this contrasts with the intense sense of history that permeates Leuven, from its grand Gothic architecture to Old Masters from the era of Flemish Primitivism.

Must See

© Rudi Van Beek

Grote Markt
The first thing that every visitor to Leuven does is head straight to its incomparable Grand Square, site of two landmark buildings that both in their way, symbolise this surprising city. While much of Leuven’s architectural heritage was severely damaged during both World Wars, the 15th century Gothic town hall escaped almost unscathed, leaving intact its fairytale turrets and ornamental façade decorated with some 236 intricate statues. The sumptuous interiors are also impressive and while the tourist office already organises regular visits there are plans to turn it into a full-time visitor experience. Right opposite stands the monumental Saint Peter’s Church, whose origins go back a thousand years. While the present building is in the same Gothic style as the town hall, much was rebuilt after
bombing at the end of World War Two.

The artworks though survived damage, a treasure trove of Flemish Primitivism, including an exquisite 1442 sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Nicolaas de Bruyne and a masterpiece interpretation of the Last Supper by Dieric Bouts.

There is an Augmented Reality guide of the artworks, and from October 2023 the exhibition “DIERIC BOUTS. Creator of Images” will showcase paintings by Bouts lent by collections around the world..

M Leuven
It is no understatement to describe Leuven’s cutting edge M Museum as a work of art in itself.

©Robin Van Acker

Right in the midst of a busy shopping street, passers-by find themselves standing opposite a Neoclassical colonnaded entrance arch which is just a front for a futuristic three-floored building of sharp zigzag lines, white Italian travetine stone and glass, created in 2009 by leading Belgian architect, Stéphane Beel. This juxtaposition is a recurring theme throughout the museum which makes extensive use of its massive 58,000 piece collection, spanning medieval paintings to avant-garde sculptures, continually confronting and questioning the visitor.

A kitsch Japanese maneki-neko waving cat stands next to an a religious statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, a minimalist geometric abstract painting hangs alongside a romantic 18th century Old Master by Flemish painter Pieter Jozef Verhaghen. And there are always challenging temporary exhibitions running throughout the year. Be sure to carry on to the rooftop where there are great views over the city.

Hidden Gems
Street Art

Street art in Leuven is serious affair, a long term municipal programme to encourage young local artists rather than the more anarchic graffiti you see decorating the walls of other art cities. Taking a walk to track down surprising street art is the perfect way to discover Leuven on foot, either following the Tourist Office’s detailed map or downloading a recent App dedicated to these colourful murals. There are over 200 creations spread out over the whole city, with 70 eye-catching works concentrated in the historic centre.

Everyone has their own favourite street art mural, but two pieces are definitely worth tracking down; ‘The Red Line’, painted by neighbourhood school students, and the wonderfully surreal Verwarr(m)ing radiator by Leuven’s favourite graphic artist, Bisser, who has now become known on the international street art stage.



Ten minutes from the town hall and St Peter’s church, walking down the busy Naamsestraat you can’t miss the giant PopArt-style letters STUK dominating the façade of a Neogothic redbruick building. This is the home of Leuven’s agenda-setting House for Dance, Image and Sound
known to everyone by its Flemish acronym, STUK, the city’s flagship venue for a vibrant cultural scene that extends to dance and music, exhibitions, installations, theatre and film.

©Joeri Thiry

There is a friendly cafe inside and in any one week you could catch a contemporary dance performance, electronic music concert, a surrealist video installation, a techno clubbing night. Right now the STUK is coming to end of a major renovation, and locals and tourists alike await its grand reopening, scheduled for the summer.

Small Beguinage


A must-see near the top of the list for most visitors to Leuven is the sprawling Great Beguinage, a community of buildings founded in the 13th century for female religious orders and lay workers that became almost a small town itself, a maze of courtyards, gardens and redbrick houses, mostly inhabited today by university students. But curious visitors should also make the effort to head right over to the other side of town to a neighbourhood around the landmark Stella Artois brewery that is currently undergoing a lively urban regeneration to discover the little-visited Small Beguinage, that also dates back 800 years.

A single cobbled alleyway of tiny whitewashed cottages with evocative names like Nazareth runs off the Gothic St Gertrude Church, while a gatehouse suddenly opens out onto St Gertrude’s ancient abbey, a park and the grassy bank of the Dyle river.


Every Belgian city has a mouthwatering selection of chocolatiers, but the most famous artisan chocolate maker in Leuven has also made name for itself for its provocative creations.


In a tiny boutique on the main shopping drag running from the station into the town centre, Bittersweet is part showroom, part laboratory for the handmade artistic designs that push the boundaries of taste, colours and shapes.

A surreal-looking yellow praline resembling a Lego brick is called Heroin, while other popular chocolates are named Skull, Espresso Yourself, Robotski, Corn Porn and Brainfood. Customers seduced by these original ideas for the humble praline can also sign up for a hands-on chocolate making course in the back of the boutique.

Local Foodies
De Coureur

©Nastya Kovalenko

Bart and Ine Delvaux became enthusiastic home brewers of craft ales when living in Chicago, and on returning home to Flanders made a decision to change career and open their own microbrewery in the suburbs of Leuven. It took a year to convert an old car workshop into a funky taproom, hidden behind a colourful graffiti-covered door. Since 2020, Bart has created over 50 different small batch brews – American IPA, sour gueuze, a chocolaty stout, blonde tripel – only served on tap so beer fans have to make a pilgrimage to De Coureur to taste them.

There are always 9 or 10 on tap, and apart from selling tasty sausages made by the local butcher, customers are allowed to bring in their own food for an impromptu picnic or order in from a delivery app.

Green Space
Botanical Garden

©Monique Van Endert

The origins of Leuven’s historic botanical gardens dates back as far as 1738 when the University’s Professor of Medicine began to grow plants and herbs for his research. Today, while the curators of the gardens still cultivate an impressive array of exotic plants, colourful flowers and fragrant herbs, in practice, this peaceful oasis of green space has become the unofficial town park, popular for picnics with locals and tourists alike. Guests walk in through a grand walled arch and wander past ornamental ponds, a tiny lake, educative plots of herbs, the steamy tropical jungle interiors of the greenhouse and temporary art and sculpture exhibitions held in the Orangery.

©Monique Van Endert

The gardens are especially beautiful in March when daffodils bloom, followed by cherry blossoms in April, then wisteria covering the wall of the Orangery explodes into deep shades of purple in May.

Saturday Market
While Leuven’s main food market is held every Friday morning on the huge expanse of the Ladeuzeplein square in front of the University Library, travellers in-the-know will wait to do their shopping till the next day, when a very different kind of casual market sets up its stalls on Mathieu de Layensplein, in the Brusselsestraat and side streets around.around St Peter’s church.

This is a favourite meeting place for locals, either to browse the stands or sit out on one of the many cafe terraces. Bargain-hunters head for the artisan crafts, antiques and bric-a-brac specialists interspersed between bakery and cheese sellers, colourful flower vendors and some tempting food trucks. Difficult to resist a cornet of piping-hot frites smothered with mayonnaise or a warming bowl of ‘escargots’, another surprising local speciality that are actually sea snails or whelks cooked in a tasty broth rather than the more well-known garlicky French-style snails.

Out of Town
Park Abbey

A quick ten minute bus or bike ride from Leuven’s centre brings you into the countryside and the breathtaking Park Abbey. Founded in the Middle Ages by French Norbertin monks, the present buildings are primarily 17th century, surrounded by a sprawling estate of lakes and forests, vegetable gardens and orchards, meadows where a herd of the Abbey’s cows graze. Just 5 monks live here today as the city council has taken over the maintenance of the many buildings, which since last year are now both open to the public and functioning as they were back in medieval times. While families picnic and ramble by the waterside, a tour of the Abbey takes you through silent cloisters decorated with ancient stained glass windows, the monk’s grand refectory, the ceiling decorated with stucco figures so realistic they could be 3 dimensional, the Abbot’s luxurious residence and an ancient library. Contemporary art exhibitions are held regularly as well as polyphonic concerts.

But in parallel to this, a dynamic brewer has set up a craft microbrewery in the abbey, farmers cultivate organic vegetables and make delicious cheeses from the cows milk, a bee keeper produces honey, fruit juices are made from the apple orchard, there is a cafe and brasserie.

This warm, welcoming restaurant offers a seductive contrast of gourmet fine dining cuisine in a relaxed, casual ambiance.

Guests are greeted like long lost friends by hosts Bart and Dorotee, making everyone immediately feel at home before chef Bart disappears into his cuisine while Dorotee flits from table to table enthusiastically explaining the evenings wine pairings. For the full experience, order a tasting menu where the chef produces surprising dishes reflecting his commitment to seasonal products, local cheesemakers and sustainable North Sea fishing. Depending on the changing monthly menu, you could enjoy green asparagus with pork belly, razor clams and cockles or home-smoked eel with radish and caviar.

De Klimop
Perfectly located right opposite Leuven’s train station, kick off of a tour of the town with feast of traditional Flemish recipes at this grand old-fashioned brasserie. While certain favourites are always on the menu – stoofvlees, beef slow cooked in a rich beer sauce, puff pastry vol-au-vent filed with succulent sweetbreads – always check the seasonal specials.

In spring, plump white asparagus with a creamy hollandaise sauce, mussels from the North Sea, and venison, wild boar and hare in the winter game season. The dining room quickly fills up from noon onwards with loyal locals obviously here for the serious home cooking, with the ebullient owner, Pieter Konijn, delightfully explaining to bemused tourists that his name translates as Peter Rabbit.

Cafe Commerce

©Layla Aerts

With its huge student population, Leuven seems to have a bar or cafe on every street corner. The most popular hangout is the grand Oude Markt square where every side is lined only with bars, clubs and restaurants, partying most nights till the early morning. But to experience the perfect slice of local life head to the historic Cafe Commerce which looks out on the city’s iconic University Library. Pretty much unchanged since it opened in 1864, this is a classic Brown Cafe with bare wooden tables; a flashback into the past with no Spotify playlist, no wifi, locals chatting about politics and sport, reading the newspaper or book.

The food is simple, cheap and hearty – homemade soup, spaghetti bolognese, sandwich américain. And the kitchen serves till 10pm while with bar pulls up the shutters at 2 in the morning.

Martin’s Kloosterhotel

Perfectly blending in with Leuven’s medieval redbrick university colleges, the Klooster hotel’s comfortable rooms spread across a modern building and ancient convent cloisters that date back 500 years with turrets, oak beams and lattice windows. There is a cosy bar, while breakfast is served in a sunny glass conservatory looking out over a verdant garden.

John Brunton’s Bordeaux Women Winemakers Trail


Travelling across the diverse Bordeaux appellations to meet women wine makers for this Trail has been a revelation. It is crystal clear that the outdated image of the world of wine being dominated by a male mentality is  far removed from today’s reality, where women are a forceful and successful presence.

Not just those who took the responsibility to run family estates or changed career to start their own winery, but throughout the business; from cellar masters, vineyard workers and highly-skilled tractor drivers to creative marketing and commercial input, expert buyers for Bordeaux’s famed wine merchants, respected oenologues and highly skilled laboratory technicians to environmental experts on organic cultivation, biodiversity and agro-ecology. But this is not something that has happened overnight and each of the vigneronnes who tell their story below offer a fascinating insight into the long, often complex journey they have taken to achieve the same recognition and acceptance that used to be automatically bestowed on their male counterparts. Now it is an equal world for everyone working in the Bordeaux châteaux and vineyards. 

Marie-Hélène Levêque, Château de Chantegrive 

As Hélène and Françoise Levêque stroll through the Italianate gardens outside their cellar it is like watching a defilé of historic women in Bordeaux winemaking. Back in 1967, Françoise and her husband sold the family stamp collection to purchase a tiny 2 hectare vineyard on the border of the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations. She became France’s first woman president of a Syndicat du Vin, while the estate has expanded to 100 hectares. Hélène recalls how “my mother shook up all the old-fashioned vignerons by turning the Syndicat into an efficient marketing organisation to promote the region’s wines.  At 86 she is still living here, helping me with tastings and administration.” Hélène had a career as a hospital nurse before coming back to the family domaine where ”I am fortunate to be advised by a wonderful oenologue, Hubert de Boüard. He is open and listens to me, respecting my ideas, which is not what I have always encountered in the very male world of the wine cellar where vigneronnes are rarely listened to. I think men do not really like being employed by women, being told what to do by women. It was the same when I was a nurse working alongside male doctors, though I should stress that  male winemakers have always been very welcoming.”

She has recently bought an adjoining château with 15 hectares of vines and a  cellar filled with cement tanks and enthuses that “it seems the perfect opportunity to try a different winemaking style.

I always try to be open to change. Here in the Graves we have many women successfully running wineries, and although I am happy when my wines win awards at new vigneronne competitions like Concours Mondial des Féminalise, I just don’t have the time to join official organisations promoting women winemakers. All my efforts have to be concentrated here at Chantegrive.”

Bérangère Quellien, Château Lusseau

Driving through the vineyards of the Graves appellation, just after Ayguemorte, a small side road plunges into thick forest, eventually coming to an end right in front of the gates of Château Lusseau. The present building dates back to around 1800, surrounded by a single 7 hectare vineyard that has been certified organic since 2010. The estate was bought by Bérangère Quellien’s great grandfather in 1870 and she is the third generation winemaker. 

“Here we are women working together with other women,” she says with a mischievous smile. “Myself, Delphine in the vineyard and cellar, our oenologue is a women, even our mascot Great Dane, Prada, is female. Marie-Neige, my mother is 82 now,  living here in the château, and we call her La Dame de Lusseau, still charming visitors when she conducts wine tastings.” 

Bérangère rules over a wonderfully chaotic garage cellar where she produces a mix of classic blended Graves wines contrasting with La Bérue Déglinguée a funky 100% Merlot, picked extra ripe, macerated, not aged in wood and sporting arty labels and an unconventional Burgundy-style bottle. The chai is filled with old barrels, stainless steel vats and cement tanks, a functioning 1926 hydraulic grape press, while dozens of paintings by her father and grandfather decorate the walls. She recalls how, “I grew up with parents who were both doctors and vignerons, working 7 days a week all their life.  When I decided to come home and run the vineyard, I wanted to valorise my parents efforts, to stop selling our wonderful wine in bulk, to become certified organic as soon as possible. And more recently, I am working to protect biodiversity using agroforestry by planting trees and hedges.

I am determined to break Bordeaux codes of winemaking, to show everyone that we can do someone different here, something innovative. So maybe you can say that rather than a feminist I am rebel.”

Angélique Armand, Château La Rame 

The tiny hamlet of Rame sits high above the Garonne river looking down on the vineyards of the small appellation of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, while across the river sits Sauternes and Barsac. They are all part of Bordeaux’s “Liquoreux Land”, appellations prized for their intense and rich  sweet wines.

The very determined owner and winemaker, Angélique Armand, spent 15 years working with her father before taking over, and admits they see wine differently. “He still advises during barrel tastings and for blending, but when we disagree I use a food/wine analogy; his is a generation that loves to eat daube de boeuf, blanquette, cassoulet, whereas today we want ceviche, sushi, veggies. And it is the same with sweet wines – he wants something heavy, explosive where one glass is enough, where I am looking for finesse, elegance, even acidity. And my wine, well, after one glass you end up drinking the whole bottle. That way liquoreux wines can survive in the future.” And her philosophy has been vital for the survival of this 50 hectare estate. “My first move was to stop selling in bulk to merchants and take control ourselves of sales and distribution, especially targeting overseas markets. Here in Sainte-Croix-du-Mont we have a unique terroir where vines grow on ancient oyster fossils, but we don’t have the historic renown of a Sauternes château. So I follow the strategy of exporting to countries like the UK where consumers judge you on the quality of your wine and not your famous name.”

Though self-trained, she  oversees the vine, cellar and blending,  convinced that, “women are maybe better at making a great sweet white wine because we understand the subtlety and complexity that is necessary, because women are more determined, more demanding, ready to take time to be a total perfectionist. Although my father always used to say I was too slow in the cellar!.”

Sandrine Piva, Château des Seigneurs de Pommyers 

Driving through the bucolic country lanes of Entre-deux-Mers it is easy to miss this magical medieval château tucked well back off the road between fields and vineyards.

It is actually a sprawling fortified village surrounded by ramparts and military towers, with a chapel, dovecote and mill, built by  English King Edward I. But when Jean-Luc Piva bought it in 1989 the buildings were all but abandoned. Today the estate is run by his daughter Sandrine, with a 23 hectare certified organic vineyard and a brand new state-of-the-art cellar.  She is quite a feisty lady, who started here as a salaried employee after training as an accountant.

“I have no diploma in agriculture or oenology, so it took time working on the estate before I was ready to take over, after many years being helped and guided by my father. But I actually think it was an advantage not to have studied winemaking, being told exactly what you must do all the time. I am someone very open to people’s opinions, very curious.” Her father recently passed away and after realising his dream of the new cellar, she is now determined in the future to capitalise on the enormous potential of the château for festivals and seminars, marriages and chambre d’hotes.

Enthusiastically opening bottles of their large range of organic wines, she recalls how, “as a vigneronne, my relations with male vineyard workers were not easy at first. But over the years, not only have I won their respect, but many of the older generation  have retired and the new younger generation are much more open to working for a woman. It is just a question of time, being patient and proving yourself as a capable winemaker. You have to be transparent, to prove that you are hands-on running the winery, not hidden away in the office.” 

Claire Buffeteau, Vignobles Buffeteau

Spanning two château properties in the heart of Entre-deux-Mers, Claire Buffeteau proudly states that their 30 hectare vineyard “is a history of women, beginning with my great grandmother who first made the wine here in the 1920’s.” Claire’s father was an oenologist and wine buyer until deciding in 1998 to devote himself totally to the estate while she grew up in Bordeaux, studying medicine.” Just before graduating I decided I was not really cut out to be doctor. My father had just expanded the estate, needed someone at his side, so 8 years ago I joined the winery and we are now finally entering the period of a handover. I have just made my first cuvée,  ready for the challenge to take over. And I know already what changes I want to look at: reorganise our work methods to have more advanced planning, I don’t want to increase the vineyard, but rather look at the idea of reducing the number of vines, and then to see what a biodynamic approach  can offer, as well as the potential of no sulphite wines.”

Claire admits that she has been confronted with some difficult situations as a woman, “for example, when another vigneron comes here and calls me ‘the secretary’, or ‘daddy’s little girl’, which certainly does not please me. Then I pestered my father to teach me everything about driving tractors, but for 6 months nothing ever happened. Then my boyfriend joined our team, and surprise surprise,  he was taught in one week! Well I can assure you that a woman can drive a tractor just as well as a man.” Claire also echoes the thought of several other women winemakers, that, “maybe we do things slower, but only because we are more careful, more perfectionist than men.”

Bérangère Tesseron, Chateau Larrivaux

Just across the boundary from the Saint-Estèphe appellation, Château Larrivaux is an enchanting property, where the same family has been making wine since 1581, always overseen by women.

Since 2005 that woman has been Bérangère Tesseron who trained as a lawyer specialising in the wine business before succeeding her mother and aunt at the château.

She oversees a rambling 80 hectares estate bursting with a natural biodiversity that extends across parkland, woods, fields, quarries and 15 hectare vineyard producing 90,000 bottles of elegant Haut-Médoc a year. “I did not go to a winemaking school,” she admits, “so the technical parts of the work are something that I literally had to learn every day. Fortunately I am not a conflictual person who has to have the last word, so I can ignore people who treat me as an idiot, and prefer to bide my time. You can’t arrive in the cellar aged 24 and start making decisions if you don’t  have winery experience. Today, though, I am happy both driving the tractor or pruning in winter, and tasting and blending in the cellar. In fact, I see myself more as a gardener and the château’s vineyard is my vegetable garden, where I personally take care of each vine.” When Berangere’s mother and aunt ran the estate all the wine was sold directly to merchants while the technical director, Christophe Barbeyron, was basically left to run things as he wanted. “it took a while to forge a relationship with Christophe, but we got through the early problems and he is still here today 17 years later.

We make a great duo, and he says the château is like his own vineyard. Of course I have my little tactics, like during tastings, saying ‘well I know nothing of course’, which annoys my husband. But it is just part of my  daily diplomacy.”

Corinne Chevrier, Château Bel-Air La Royère 

The daughter of a Cognac vigneron and distiller, Corinne Chevrier left her native region for the rural Blaye appellation where she runs a highly innovative 14 hectare organic vineyard. Opening bottles in her tasting room, she is an infectious  bundle of energy and enthusiasm, recounting how, “when I started to run the château on my own in 2012,  well I didn’t even know how to drive a tractor. Up till then, I was seen as just “the wife”. Fortunately people around here knew and accepted me, and today there are more and more women working in the wine business, from female tractor drivers, to oenologists to vineyard workers.


Here the team is 90% female, though it is because of practical considerations not because I think of myself as a feminist.” But she is definitely someone in love with the world of wine, “because I am always innovative, always questioning, not afraid to follow the latest fashion, nor to create my own fashion that others will then fashion.” Apart from her classic Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux range, Corinne has experimented with a Sauvignon orange wine, invested in terracotta amphorae, planted a parcel of the ancient Bordeaux grape Castets, and even created a special Rosé cuvée in honour of the Ukraine refugee family she hosted for 6 months. “I love being a vigneronne because each year is like starting afresh – one year it is wood-aged style, today cement and amphorae, now light wine with less alcohol. And then there is my favourite Malbec grape, which I champion above all else. It has now been upgraded from an ‘accessory’ to  a principal grape in the blending for Blaye wines, and for me this is like the illegitimate child having his aristocratic title restored. So I decided the grape merited cuvées that are 100% Malbec, provocatively  bottled Burgundy-style to stand out.”

Isabelle Chéty, Château Mercier 

Sitting at the long wooden table of Château Mercier’s homely tasting room, Isabelle Chety enthusiastically recounts how her parents were pioneers of wine tourism in the Côtes de Bourg and Blaye region. She and her brother, who together run the substantial 50 hectare estate today, are the 13th generation, and she proudly holds an ancient portrait of a long gone ancestor, Alida, whom she just named her recently-born daughter after.

But Isabelle has made a very strong personal mark on the wines being made here today. “I only came back to join my brother when I was 35, and straightaway  I asked my father to leave running the estate to us. I always follow my passion as I am someone who accepts confrontation. When I was young, I grew up being “ la fille de’ my father, viewed like that by uncles, cousins, my grandparents. That was why I left, and today that is why I create my own style of wine.”

Her innovative cuvées certainly stand out, from her beloved collection of 33 amphorae ageing a Merlot from a vineyard with ruins of a Gallo-Roman villa, to Atmosphère,  a Bordeaux blend without sulphites, or a rare Côtes de Bourg white. Isabelle experienced a whole different life before coming back home, travelling across the globe in the challenging world of luxury hotels and restaurants. She eloquently recounts how, “when you are born into a winemaking family you are both privileged and spoilt. Living in a natural environment, raised by happy parents who follow their passion, eat and drink well, enjoy relative financial security. But this was all too easy for me, so I headed off at 19 to travel the world.” Today though, sitting round the family dining table, enthusiastically talking recipes with her mother, new wine ideas with her brother, she has clearly found her place back in the family winery.

Florence Prudhomme, Château Saincrit

When you first meet Florence Prudhomme it can come as a surprise that in a former life she was a high-powered female executive in charge of a Bordeaux factory that produced 7 million bottles a year of anisette.

Today she is casually dressed in jeans and waistcoat, coming out of her wine cellar followed closely by her faithful dog, Estey. Château Saincrit is a rustic domaine just by the banks of the Dordogne river, producing both classic Bordeaux Supérieur wines and  surprising new cuvées, one without sulphites, another aged only in stainless steel.

The manor house is a comfy family home surrounded by vineyards with an idyllic wooden terrace on the highest point where Florence brings wine tourism guests for tastings and food pairings. She recounts how, ‘I bought the château 20 years ago because I wanted to change my life, to reconnect with nature after living for years in big city Bordeaux. I started small, but took advantage of the friendly winemaking community here by learning to taste alongside my fellow vignerons who are always getting together to discuss their wines. I discovered a real sense of community, which increased when a group of friends founded a woman’s wine association, Les Bordeaux Amazone, to make a statement that women can join forces to sell each others wine without any competition between us. And I am not sure it is like that for men.”

Today, she is intent on becoming more autonomous rather than relying on hired workers who do not always want to let her impose her own ideas. “Having worked with a large male factory workforce I have no complexes of being a female winemaker, but as I was not born into this life, did not study oenology, I  can still have problems getting what I want from my workforce. However, let us be clear, that is because I come from a different world and not because I am a woman.”


Ecluse 52

Driving through the Sauternes and Graves vineyards to where the sleepy Garonne canal flows into the grand river to discover this bustling bistrot along a tree-lined bank moored with barges and pleasure boats.

Chef Dara creates tasty dishes that interpret traditional recipes with a fun creative twist like grilled octopus with a tangy chorizo sauce or foie gras served with poached pear and onion jam.


The latest Bordeaux foodie hotspot, hip Ganache offers a seductive mix of classic and creative cuisine, inventive cocktails and their very own artisan ‘chocolatier’, producing chocolate truffles and pralines, cakes and tempting desserts for the restaurant menu. 


Château de la Tour

Just outside the medieval town of Cadillac, this friendly family-run hotel is a great base for days out wine tasting and sightseeing.

Lovely park and swimming pool, with a dynamic Vietnamese woman chef who offers both subtle  fusion inspired dishes and Bordeaux classics like oysters from Arcachon and a juicy entrecôte steak. 

John Brunton’s Bordeaux Social Initiatives Wine Trail


The Bordeaux wine scene is about to enter a pioneering era with the inaugural year of a new initiative for corporate  responsibility that bears the name ‘Bordeaux Cultivons Demain’. This sets down a guide for environmental, economic and social responses in today’s climate, for everyone from small vignerons to grand châteaux, wine merchants to Caves Coopératives, And those choosing to adhere will be independently audited, eventually leading to the awarding of an official label. But this is just the concretisation, the tip of the iceberg, of a new responsible mentality has been taking root in Bordeaux for many years, be it for protecting biodiversity or worker’s welfare, combating climate change, diminishing not just pesticides but carbon footprint, respecting the soil, flowers, pollinators, bats and birds.

And this concerted ecological impetus has already seen a phenomenal increase in the percentage of Bordeaux vineyards with at least one certified environmental approach – be it organic, biodynamic, High Environmental Value or Terra Vitis – from 35% in 2014 to 75% in 2021. Today, just look at any châteaux winery website and there are new sections dedicated to ecology, biodiversity or agroforestry initiatives, then look around at  the walls of  tasting rooms and there are now a row of serious industry certifications alongside the usual gold medal diplomas from wine competitions. This Trail takes a tour of the 7 of the pioneers of this new philosophy, each one with a different story to tell. 

Château de la Rivière 

This stunning Renaissance château, which dates back some 800 years, is a landmark stop for wine lovers visiting the Bordelais, both for its palatial interiors and wines aged in stunning subterranean grottoes that stretch for 25 kilometres below the castle. Situated in the heart of the Fronsac appellation, overlooking a 65 hectares vineyard and the Dordogne river, the domaine had been overseen for 25 years by its genial director and oenologue, Xavier Buffo, who has long been at the vanguard of implementing social and environmental initiatives.

The château’s 20,000 annual visitors are given an educational explanation of projects like Natura 2000 that safeguard bats, the perfect natural insect repellent, as there 8 rare species nesting in the cellar caves, as well as the protection of biodiversity   through planting hedgerows, fruit trees and leaving swathes of their woodlands wild to attract vital pollinators like wild bees. But his greatest efforts have concentrated on aiding the local community. “I wanted a project that could  involve local villages, businesses and neighbouring wine makers,” explains Xavier, “while at the same time giving widespread publicity to La Rivière.


The solution was Le Confluent d’Arts, our very own festival. The first one was in 2017, headlined by a famous-name musician to attract attention, numerous local bands and singers, street theatre even inside the chateau itself, food trucks and a wine bar showcasing all the winemakers in our commune. We ask schools to participate with a project to decorate the château, and around 60 locals volunteers  help run the festival. It is genuine community effort, drawing 6,500 people”

Château de la Dauphine 

This perfectly preserved 17th century château dates back to 1750 when it was one of the homes of the wife of King Louis XV, hence its name.

Today La Dauphine is surrounded by a 66 hectare certified organic vineyard, producing elegant Fronsac wines, making use of a creative mix of raw concrete tanks and terracotta amphorae. The estate’s director, Stéphanie Barousse, enthuses about their signature, highly original project that perfectly illustrates the three pillars of Bordeaux Cultivons Demain; Environment, Social, Economic.

”We have revived the ancient  tradition of “transhumance”, bringing a flock of 200 sheep down from the Pyrénées, along with their shepherd. They stay in our vineyards from October to May, eating all the vineyard weeds while leaving their natural, ecological manure for fertiliser, while to reduce carbon footprint, we do not use the tractor. From the social side, well the sheep certainly bring a smile to our workers faces, it brings us in touch with local villages who all want to see the sheep in action, while it permits the shepherd economically to work the whole year rather than taking an alternative second winter job. And then there is economic. Obviously we no longer need to buy manure to fertilise the soil, while the breeder saves money as these are young sheep that neither give milk nor reproduce yet, so it stops them being an economic burden. We work with five breeders and this pilot year has been such a success that next year it will be 400 sheep and 8-10 neighbouring châteaux have told us that they would like to participate too.” The château is closely involved with surrounding villages,  trying to recruit young locals as workers while organising regular school visits, alongside a host of simple but important daily actions; raising chicken to save food waste, building bee hives, and improving vineyard working conditions by providing effective earplugs and protective glasses. 

Vignobles Rousseau 

Imbetween  Saint-Emilion and Lussac, the Rousseau family’s modern cellar vinifies and ages wines from 5 different chateaux, spanning Pomerol, Lalande Pomerol and Lussac alongside a large production of Bordeaux Superior, totalling some 400,000 bottles in all. The cosy tasting room resembles most Bordeaux châteaux, with a wall proudly covered with official-looking certificates, but instead of announcing wine competition medals, as is usually the case, these are all recognition of initiatives related to Corporate Social Responsibility.

Winemaker Laurent Rousseau proudly shows of his qualifications for the sustainable measures of  Terra Vitis and HVE, High Environmental Value, as well as Professional Equality and Diversity in the Workplace and one rarely seen in wineries, for  Food and Safety. He explains that, “these initiatives have had a very positive effect on my business. The Food and Safety certificate has literally opened up the United Sates, where I now sell a large part of my 300,000 bottles of Bordeaux Supérior, because an importer there can place them in a major supermarket chain that insists on this regulation.”

The winery is a pioneer in the treatment of its dirty water effluence, used to irrigate a huge plot of bamboo, creating compost and encouraging biodiversity. And on a purely human scale, Laurent has a long history with the local community aiding reinsertion of handicapped people into working life. “The concept,” he explains, “is that handicapped people, mental or physical, from a local centre, are given the chance to be useful in our workplace, allowing them to finally discover some self-respect. So they work in the vine, pruning and harvesting, while in the cellar they help with packaging and labelling. They do what they can, when they can. While one of my workers might take 300 minutes to label 600 bottles, it can take four of them all day. No matter, they have their place in our workforce.”

Château Phélan Ségur 

In the heart of the Médoc’s  Saint-Estèphe appellation, this imposing château is imbued with history since its vineyard was planted by Irish wine merchant Bernard O’Phelan in 1805. While Bordeaux oenologue Michel Rolland still consults on their wines, the day-to-day running of the château has long been overseen by Véronique Dausse and cellar master, Fabrice Bacquey, who for many years have instigated actions both to protect the estate’s biodiversity and develop agroforestry through the planting of hedges and trees.

In terms of social initiatives, Phélan Ségur have enthusiastically participated in Les Vignerons du Vivant, a projects to attract new people to work in the world of wine. After demonstrating simple but essential social skills – punctuality, politeness, respect – candidates must pass a three month trial period to see if they are ready to work and live as a vigneron, then stay for 12 months that combine an immersion in the daily life of the estate, complemented by a series of in-depth meetings with experts in environmental  fields ranging from biodynamics, working the soil and plants, sustainability, nourishing the vine.

Lolita Tyl, originally from Paris, completed the course, received both her certificate and was awarded a job at the château. She reflects that, “it was the perfect way to discover if I liked the life of a winemaker, while gaining knowledge and skill at the same time. For sure, not everyone can handle this kind of work, but I love it and want to stay on here. I enjoy working in the cellar, but my dream would be to become a ‘chef de culture’. That is what was great about the course – it opens your eyes to biodiversity and sustainability, you get to be mentored by amazing experts, and all that is very different from how you are taught at a normal oenology or agricultural school” And  Véronique enthusiastically adds that, “what this project creates is not just a job but a vocation, which is what we need in the wine making industry.”

Castel Frères Blanquefort Bordeaux 

The world of Bordeaux wine is by no means limited to grand châteaux,  independent vignerons and smallholder Caves Coopératives. There are also the historic ‘négociants’ wine merchants, who are responsible for producing and marketing millions of bottles of Bordeaux wine. The family-owned  Castel Frères operates both as a merchant and vigneron, but their vast operation in the industrial zone of Blanquefort is where the company has been active as a founder member of the committee formulating the Bordeaux Cultivons Demain guide.

Chai des Etablissements Castel à Blanquefort.

Some 300 people are employed at the plant, which can process 15 million bottles a year, stocking some 50,000 barrels, while over 200 winemakers  supply them with wine. Stéphane Mischler is responsible for these initiatives and outlines how, “we accompany our  vignerons right from the vineyard to the cellar. Accompany in the sense of the physical presence of our own oenologues giving advice, and as a company by persuading them to work in an environmentally-responsible manner. Concretely, we ask them to adhere to Terra Vitis certification, in our opinion, the only specifically vineyard cultivation certificate, in contrast to classic organic certification which covers to all elements of agriculture. Terra Vitis also addresses the important issues of water  consumption, carbon footprint, and social issues.” For the Blanquefort workforce, the company has set up 4 action groups to develop social ideas. Everyone is a volunteer, ranging from an office secretary, to a worker on the bottling line or a cellar man.

“We call  each one  a Tribu, named after a grape variety,” explains Stephane, “so Sauvignon  tackles the issue of training, while Merlot thinks up ideas to socialise with our suppliers, like inviting 70 of our vignerons for a convivial tasting in the barrel room.

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And Petit Verdot looks at biodiversity in the workplace, which we are increasingly vegetalisizing; growing vines on the rooftop, creating insect boxes, developing a picnic area among the trees growing outside the factory.”

Château Lagrange 

When the Japanese whisky giant, Suntory, bought this signature Saint-Julien château in 2003, they began 40 years of investment and commitment. Today an immaculate 142 hectare vineyard is entirely harvested by hand while virtually each individual parcel is vinified in its own stainless steel vat before blending. The dynamic young director, Benjamin Vimal, testifies that Suntory is a company that has always respected its corporate social responsibilities. “But taking part in developing the Bordeaux Cultivons Demain guide has made me rethink many things, allowing  me to learn collectively from people running other wineries, such as one that is expert at managing the consumption of water.”

Reportage test d’exosquelette au Château Lagrange

Benjamin has prioritised the classic problem of chronic back pain of vineyard workers, describing how “we recommend physically warming up muscles in the morning, like a sportsman, and now propose Exoskeletal jackets, that may resemble Robocop but really support the bottom of your back. The vest costs us around €1000, but there is much less sick leave.” Lagrange is also one of the founding Médoc châteaux for the Ecole de la Vigne, the Vineyard School, project. Benjamin reiterates the problem cited in every vineyard, “that it is  always difficult to find people to work on a wine estate, and the School has been a very successful solution. We specifically targeted the local community, people who might never have thought about working at a wine château. A 2 year commitment offers the chance to learn skills, to get a certificate, and most importantly to get a job at the end.”

One of Benjamin’s present team, Julien Charbleytou, comes from the School’s programme. “I worked as a stone mason in Bordeaux and now I am a qualified tractor driver out in the vineyards. They even let me help out in the cellar as well, so who knows where I will end up in the future.”

Château Luchey Halde 

Most people living in Bordeaux have no idea there is a genuine château vineyard right inside the city limits, but then this is a winery unlike others for many reasons. The château was producing wine back in the 18th century, but was acquired by the military in 1920, who pulled up the vineyard. A century later, with the land still officially in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, local community pressure stopped plans for building redevelopment, and the estate was purchased by the Ecole Sciences Agro of Bordeaux. They replanted a 23 hectare vineyard, used today both as a living laboratory for their students and commercial winery.  Pierre Darriet has been the director since the beginning, and stresses that, “our vineyard is in the centre of the city, but we have only been here since 2000 and are the newcomers, arriving after the creation of a modern urban development. So our immediate aim was to communicate and interact with the local population.

Just look out of the window from the tasting room – the view is directly onto the vines where neighbours are always walking their dogs, jogging or hiking. Everyone has a genuine access through the vineyard. We email locals explaining our plans for sustainability, and put up warning flags well before we start doing vineyard treatments.

And we will soon create a vegetable garden providing quality food for surrounding kindergardens, and work alongside a local conservatory to protect the local breed of Landes ponies by putting aside 4 hectares for them to graze on. And let me stress, this is no greenwashing project created for photo-opportunities, as we plan a long-term association with the conservatory by adding goats, donkeys and sheep to our polyculture.” Pierre is clearly concerned about future environmental problems, and admits that “my biggest concern for the future the unsexy issue of controlling and diminishing our consumption of energy. So I am proud that we sell 40% of our production locally in the Gironde area. So no huge carbon footprint like exporting to USA or Japan.” 


Casa Gaïa

More than a restaurant, the Casa Gaïa is whole project devoted to sustainable, organic, seasonal cuisine; a genuine ‘locavore’ philosophy where the kitchen works directly with local farmers, fishermen, cheese and wine makers.

This relaxed cantina in the centre of Bordeaux  proposes an ever-changing menu with dishes like wood-roasted  locally-fished octopus served with a creamy chickpea purée.


One of the top new foodie addresses to open in Bordeaux, the relaxed ambiance of this casual diner belies the research the chef Romain Corbière has done to create dishes that can work perfectly as sharing plates and also are perfectly complemented but the sommelier’s wine pairing suggestions; stingray and caper salad with a fruity Bordeaux Blanc, a to-die-for chocolate dessert and a luscious glass of Loupiac.  


Le Château Roquefort

In the heart of the Entre-Deux-Mers vineyards and forests, this ancient fortified château dates back to the 13th century. But the present owners, the Bellanger family, could not be more modern when it comes to welcoming wine tourists to their home.  Apart from tastings, wine and food pairing experiences, cooking classes and a guided naturalist tour, you can stay overnight in their luxurious guest suite, La Maison de Léo.

John Brunton’s Bordeaux Agroforestry Trail


Many winemakers in Bordeaux are examining possibilities of how to go further in sustainable cultivation in their vineyards. And the answer increasingly seems to lie in the philosophy of agroforestry, bringing trees, shrubs and hedges closer together again to the vine, a bold step to look beyond a grape monoculture that for so long has dominated the landscapes of the world’s wine producing regions.

This really is a new evolution, transforming a vineyard by planting fruit trees alongside a line of vines, surrounding different parcels of the vineyard with hedgerows to protect the grape, position flowering shrubs and bushes imbetween two vines to attract a new a vibrant biodiversity of insects, birds, bees and even nature’s alternative to chemical pesticides, the predatory bat.

This return to an environment of active agro-ecology, with cereals planted in the vineyard, weeds left to grow wild, the ground no longer disturbed by mechanical ploughing, can all contribute to an energetic regeneration of  the soil while fortifying the vine at the same time. This new agriculture ecosystem can induce a lower carbon imprint, create microclimates that combat global warming, and encourage biodiversity.

How does it then effect the quality of the wine? Well these are early days, but below are some of the pioneering agroforestry Bordeaux vignerons to both visit and see the dramatic visual impact on the landscape and then enjoy a tasting of their wines. 

Château d’Esther 

A narrow country road leads through fields and vineyards and it is only when you turn off into the drive of Château d’Esther that you see the bank of the mighty Dordogne river. The front garden is filled with camper vans, people sitting outside enjoying an alfresco breakfast while chickens run wild.

This small 5 hectare vineyard is the perfect place to begin to understand just what agroforestry is all about. Thomas Bastian and his wife Eva, purchased the estate in 2001, completely changing career but with very firm ideas and ambitions on how they wanted to run their property. “When we bought the domaine everything was in ruins. Since then we replanted 70% of the vineyard and purchased an extra 7 hectares, where we have no intention of extending the monoculture of grapes. When we began, no one used the term agroforestry, but what shocked me was I found there was no life left in and around the vine, and we have spent 20 years trying to change that. So apart from immediately implementing both organic and biodynamic cultivation, we started  planting trees, hedgerows and cereals. Between each line of vines we plant sunflower and buckwheat, not for commercial reasons, as we do not even harvest, but to bring life back to the soil. There are 250 fruit trees in the midst of the vineyard, along with hedges surrounding each side.

And finally we have placed 170 wooden birds nests inside the vineyard.” When asked what is the point of all this he replies immediately that, “I have a common thread that determines everything I do; to encourage a renaissance of life. And I am talking about general  ‘floraison’, flowering, rather than the grape to make wine. Everything begins with insects and then birds, beginning from January to March when the shrubbery and hedges are in flower. Once these blooms die the insects need something else for nutrition and move on to the fruit trees which are in flower from mid March to mid June. So there is a migration from the hedge to the tree and that is when the birds arrive. They nest in the tree boxes we have placed, start their families and nourish them with insects. Then, when the fruit season is over it is the cereals planted imbetween the vines that continues this cycle of ‘floraison’. And of course it also attracts bees to pollinate, owls and bats, both useful predators. So finally we achieve a year-long ‘équilibre’, a natural balance, which ends with the maturation of the grape on the vine and then the harvest. What does this équilibre bring to me, the winemaker?  The answer comes from our customers who tell us that our wines give a certain joy that they cannot find elsewhere. That is enough for me.” 

And his work does not stop here, as Thomas and his team are forever picking up dead leaves and plants to make alchemy-like infusions  to fortify the vine every two weeks.

In fact, the back of the garden resembles a sorcerer’s laboratory, with bunches of leaves drying beneath the eaves and huge blue plastic vats filled with the leaves soaking in water, slowly brewing like tea.

Vignobles Bardet

Arriving at the cellars of Vignobles Bardet is quite breathtaking as it sits on an ancient quayside overlooking a dramatic bend in the fast-flowing waters of the Dordogne river. As he sits on the waters edge looking across at a shifting sand island, Philippe Bardet nostalgically explains his family’s long attachment both to the water and the vine. “You have to imagine that up to the 19th century there was a bustling port right here, specialised in the water transportation of wine as far as England. My family were vignerons, wine merchants and ‘gabares’, running sailing boats along the river and out to sea. But it was a world that was turned upside down by the arrival of train transport, and since then we concentrate solely on producing wine on our 50 hectare Saint-Émilion estates.”

Rather than going the route of certified organic cultivation, Philippe engages in what he calls agro-ecology, and is the founder of Bordeaux’s SME, a collective of over 1,000 likeminded vignerons. “In 1998 I started planting hedgerows to bring back biodiversity. For sure, for the first few years the vineyard looks terrible, yields diminish, but you just need patience. I don’t use compost, peat or chemical fertiliser, creating a healthy vineyard where soil is alive, regenerating itself, while the vines are even more resistant to the effects of global warming. And for the last 2 years I have stopped ploughing the soil to protect the biodiversity, though I have not followed the agroforestry trend of planting fruit trees. But this year is the first ever that we will be digging up certain parcels of vines, and instead of replanting the same monoculture we will replace the vine with bushes and trees.”

Château des Annereaux

Sitting in the heart of the prestigious Lalande-de-Pomerol Appellation, Château des Annereaux is  pioneer of sustainable, responsible winemaking.

A single vineyard covering 23 hectares, this château has been owned by the same extended family for some 600 years. Benjamin Hessel represents the present generation, a dynamic, pensive young winemaker who took over from his father, Dominique, who converted the estate to organic cultivation back in 2007. Benjamin though intends going further, insisting that “organic agriculture is just a first step because a vineyard monoculture is not enough on its own. For a genuine balance the vineyard must be surrounded by a genuine biodiversity, and I would call my philosophy agro-ecology.”

Benjamin is planting over 1.5 kilometres of new hedgerows, putting up wooden boxes imbetween the vines to provide a habitat for birds and bats, while cereals and vegetables are planted between each line of vines, “because there is no use bringing back birds if they have nothing to eat. We don’t harvest these plants as they are just there to regenerate the ecosystem. And our beehives are not here primarily to make honey, but to bring these crucial insects back into nature’s cycle to pollinate.

This year we have planted 5 parasol pines and another 100 fruit trees, whose cherries and apples will either be eaten by the birds or fall to the ground and feed the earth. In the vine I have stopped ploughing the soil to respect it more, with no more weeding, though not many people who drink wine know that all this comes at a price, as a domaine’s production drops by around 20% with organic cultivation.”

Château Bournac

This intriguing Médoc wine estate is run by two single-minded brothers, Guillaume and Thibaud Secret, a new generation of Bordeaux vignerons. They come from a family of crop farmers in northern France, who actually planted cereals here when they purchased the estate in the 1970’s. Although they quickly and successfully turned to planting vines, today the Secret brothers are actually looking to return to polyculture, buying new land but to plant sunflowers for their honey production.

Guillaume philosophically explains that, “if you cultivate something like vines and grapes then you must not deviate from that to be successful. So that is what we do for our wine. But recently it is what goes on around the vine that interests me; a landscape that must move on from monoculture. We already have a lot of forest and fruit orchards around the vineyard, but I now have a project to plant 800 metres of hedges which we hope will protect the vine from frost. This single hedgerow will divide 30 hectares of vines into two, so that fauna returns here for the biodiversity but nests in the hedge and not the vines.” But walking through a parcel of vines he cautions against thinking that agroforestry is the answer to all their problems, explaining that, “just look at these trees I planted right alongside a line of vines. I need to be careful that they do not become so tall they take away sunlight and use water that the vine needs.”

And although he is passionate about apiculture, he insists that the first priority behind encouraging wild flowers to grow without pesticides “is essentially to safeguard an environment that attracts all pollinators – bees, bumblebees, butterflies, certain birds and bats. Then, when the flowers come back, the bees can do their work, and I can make my honey.”

Château d’Arche 

Arche is one of the Cru Classé 1855, with a history of wine production going back to the 16th century. This large domaine encircles the picturesque village of Sauternes whose church steeple rises out of the vineyards. Oenologist and technical director of the estate, Mathieu Arroyo, is a local boy whose grandfather still has a plot of vines in the village. He presides over a state-of-the-art eco wine cellar, complete with vegetal roof, while Arche’s grand manor house is being converted into a luxury wine resort that will respect and blend into the surrounding environment. Mathieu came here from France’s wine research institution, INRAE, and is already converting the large 75 hectare estate to certified organic, alongside a host of agro-ecology ideas for the future. “We have planted 2 kilometres of hedgerows this year, a four-sided ‘clos végétal’ of shrubs and trees around our vineyard. Between vine lines I am creating a permaculture by planting the likes of potatoes and sunflower, and I actually intend to harvest and use what grows.

In winter, a shepherd brings his herd of 80 sheep into the vineyards, and we have 4 work horses who plough 10 hectares of the vineyard – a genuine project and not for promotional snaps.  And my most important initiative will be planting a one hectare plot of new-generation resistant grapes that need no treatments at all. I worked on these experimental grapes at INRAE but even today, no one dares to plant them. Well I will. The parcel will become a haven of peace, encircled by  aromatic shrubs of thyme, lavender, even juniper”

Château Passe Craby 

Passe Craby means Passage of the Deer in the local Fronsac patois, and Jérôme Boyé relates how nothing has really changed here since the family arrived in the 18th century, as just a couple of days previously he saw a deer running right outside the château. Jérôme is the 7th generation vigneron, still aided by his supposedly retired parents.

Their 30 hectares of vines are bordered by 5 hectares of forest and small lakes, and his father was an early advocate of agroforestry beginning to take action ten years ago,  increasing the size of the forest, planting hedges and  fruit trees; cherry, apple, apricot, pear, peach. “We keep our 3 kilometres of hedgerows at the same height as the vine,” explains Jérôme, “so there is no competition between them. Today, almost all our parcels of vines are surrounded by hedges, and we let everything grow wild between the vines. You see more game – deer and boars – but also far more species of birds, and I can feel that a different  biodiversity has established itself. People ask me if this affects the quality of the wine. Well, I honestly don’t know, but I think that what is important is that we are making an effort to respect the environment. We also have preserved the ponds and wetlands because of the kaleidoscope of biodiversity that gather there – a nightly concert of frogs croaking, insects, butterflies.

And we are also planting flowers to attract bees with 13 hives on the estate. The next step is to find a shepherd to work with, so that in winter his herd of sheep can keep the vineyard clean, but only until the first grapes appear, otherwise the sheep will just eat everything.”

Château de Piote 

Driving up to the rambling farm buildings of Château de Piote you quickly realise this a unique winery. Sheep graze imbetween the vines, chickens, ducks, geese and peacocks wander around the grounds.

At midday a loud bell is rung announcing the communal lunch, where vineyard and farm workers sit around a long table alongside owner Virginie Aubrion and her son Corentin, who works full time on the estate. 

Corentin is a distinctive figure and describes how, “today we are looking at increasing the diversity of Piote by breeding cows and pigs, planting a vegetable garden, using a herd of 12 sheep for crop cover control in winter, and we also intend to start planting fruit trees, both in an orchard and inside the vineyard. So we have already achieved a degree of self-sufficiency, like ancestral farming.  Since 2012 we have had a programme to plant hedgerows, not just to increase biodiversity but to use the hedges and shrubs to protect the vines against frost and mildew. We are interested right now in purchasing the adjoining property, 15 hectares of woods and meadows. That land could then be planted with appellation grapes, but we would never do that, preferring natural diversity to vine monoculture. I was 5 when my parents brought the family here and I have grown up on the farm and in the vineyard. I genuinely believe we are constructing something responsible and respectful of nature.”

Virginie oversees their rock&roll garage wine cellar, a mix of old barrels, cement and steel vats, and a potpourri of different shaped terracotta amphorae that she often buys second-hand and then repairs. The wines are as unique as the domaine, certified organic and biodynamic, proudly proclaimed as ‘natural’ with barely any sulphites added.

Château Carsin

Imbetween the bucolic villages of Cadillac and Rions, Château Carsin has had a rollercoaster history since it was was purchased in 1990 by Finnish wine businessman Juha Berglund.

Running the estate today, his feisty daughter Nea was born the year he bought Carsin and she grew up spending summer holidays, then grape harvesting and now has settled here calling it her home, “ where I am accepted as a local, part of the family that is this wonderful winemaking community.” She recalls how, “the property was unliveable at first, with leaks everywhere, and wine had not been produced for over 15 years. So my father restored the buildings and created a modern cellar equipped with state-of-the-art tanks and machinery from Australia. The vineyard rapidly grew from 14 to 60 hectares and we were producing half a million bottles a year.  Well the world has changed a lot since then. Today we are back to a 18 hectare vineyard – as well as 6 hectares of fallow fields and woods.”

Inspired by an agroforestry course, Nea is now  busily planting trees and bushes with the clear aim of “enriching our biodiversity but also diversifying our production rather than just making wine. Changing a monoculture is not just about the landscape but your economic model too. So I want to make and commercialise jams, conserves, honey and pickles, bubbly organic fruit juices, balsamic vinegar, maybe a range of fruit beers. And with the extra production I want to be selling fruits and vegetables within the local community to restaurants and at markets.” Nea’s bubbly enthusiasm for biodiversity is infectious. She insists she has fun making her offbeat wines,  declaring that, “I am genuinely enthusiastic about nature, and in some ways, vineyards are actually unnatural, fashioned and formed by man. So it is important that the the vigneron pays more attention to what surrounds the vineyard, the landscape, flora, fauna and insects.”

Château La Peyruche

You do not discover Château La Peyruche by chance, as it is hidden away high above the bustling winemaker village of Langroin, at the end of a dusty dirt road that weaves through thick woodland before finally coming out in a panorama of vineyards, fruit trees and a grand 17th century castle and chapel. Bertrand Weisgerber and his son Charles bought the property in 2017, and are implementing an adventurous agroforestry programme. La Peyruche has never been just about  wine making as this was a genuine working farm growing cereals, breeding dairy cows, with extensive orchards whose fruits were sold directly in Bordeaux’s famous Capucine food market. Today the estate stretches over 50 hectares, whose  21 hectare vineyard is surrounded by a vast natural biodiversity of woods, meadows, a pond and fruit trees. Charles recounts how he and his father looked at vineyards in several different regions of France before settling on Chateau La Peyruche where “it was clear that the soil had suffered from decades of chemical treatments.

So initially,  rather than increasing the vineyard, we planted 300 trees, shrubs and hedgerows, immediately converting to organic cultivation.” They have attracted bees back to the land both to pollinate and produce honey, and have surprising plans for the local bat population!

“We discovered that there is are underground galleries of an ancient quarry beneath the château which is home to a large colony of bats. Our ambition to get the bats to come into the vineyard where they are the ultimate predator for insects. With their limited vision, bats need trees planted at a distance between 50-100 metres to be able to move around. So our plan is to plant a Bat Highway along hedgerows and trees leading from their nests in the cave to our vines, an ecological corridor. And don’t forget, every night a bat eats something like 3,000 insects.”

John Brunton’s Bordeaux Wine Tourism Trail


Bordeaux wines may be renowned across the globe, but increasingly, international wine lovers are planning trips right here in the picturesque vineyards and ancient château cellars where unique vintages have been made for over 2,000 years. And each experience is different. You can to choose to stay in a rustic vigneron’s bed&breakfast and join the winemaker at sunset as he pulls the cork of his latest vintage of Bordeaux Supérieur and slices up a tasty saucisson for a simple but delicious pairing. Or choose the pomp and splendour of the historic châteaux of the Médoc, where a wine expert will lead you through an extensive tasting of different years on one of the original Crus Classés 1855, followed by an exquisite gourmet meal in a gastronomic Michelin-starred restaurant.

These are just two examples of a hundred different possible adventures that Bordeaux offers today. Fly in a small plane with the winemaker piloting you above his vineyards, take part in a blending atelier to understand the qualities of different grapes, book a wellness session of vinotherapy, grape massages and beauty treatments, sleep in a luxurious medieval château or enjoy a fun glamping night in a converted giant barrel. Everyone’s journey starts in the city of Bordeaux, one for the most exhilarating world wine capitals, where a day spent in the futuristic Cité du Vin museum is the perfect introduction to the world of wine and the possibilities awaiting in the Bordeaux region. There are a host of organised tours to choose from, where experts will plan every step of your trip, from exploring the vineyards to tasting with cellar masters. But there is another way to make your own discoveries. Hire a car, be sure to make winery reservations in advance for a visit, and head off the beaten track following your very own Bordeaux wine trail, with a selection of some of the top addresses below. 

Château Monconseil Gazin 

The ivy-clad medieval gateway of this rambling 14th century château is the entrance to a whole new world of wine adventures thought up by the inventive fifth generation owners, Jean-Michel and Françoise Baudet. They have a 30 hectare vineyard producing annually over 150,000 bottles of Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, and aim to sell as much as possible direct from their cellar,  coming up with a host of ideas to attract people here.

Inspired by his father, who was one of the first Blaye vignerons to offer cellar tasting, Jean-Michel recalls how, “wine enthusiasts today are always looking for something new. As well as tasting, they want to be entertained, educated and discover the countryside. So we began in 2000 with our Initiation aux Vendanges, where visitors join the wine harvest and enjoy a meal and tasting afterwards. Then we started hosting wine dinners in the château, ateliers for cheese pairing, blending workshops. And in 2018, we launched our own Escape Game, inspired by Emperor Charlemagne who fought a famous battle just nearby. We had a big empty cellar and barn, learnt about the Escape Game concept and thought – why not? The experience is bilingual, lasts an hour and is led by a Game Master – my wife Françoise. The theme of course is our Blaye wine, but with lots of enigmas that must remain secret.

Finally, this year we launched the Wine Olympics – the 12 Tasks of Bacchus – with two teams competing in crazy outdoor events like barrel rolling.”And Jean-Michel is philosophical when he advises other winemakers that, “the key to wine tourism success is that everyone must be welcomed with the same enthusiasm, because a client may buy just 2 bottles but then become a regular for 20 years, while the one who buys 24 bottles you may never see again.”

Château Lagarde

 Paul-Henry Nerbusson has arranged an elegant tasting room inside his grand 18th century château, but admits that, “to be honest, if a couple of wine lovers pass by then I am just as relaxed to invite them into my sitting room, decorated with my favourite artworks, to  open a bottle to share and explain our different cuvées. Here in the Blaye vineyards of Bordeaux, it is easy to produce a young, drinkable wine, but that  is not why I came here. Since I bought the estate 20 years ago my ambition has always been to make quality, aged wines, increasing the vineyard from 2 to 12 hectares, investing heavily in the cellar with new oak barrels, giant wooden ‘foudre’ casks, and terracotta amphorae for the special cuvées named after my children.” This attitude is typical of the personal touch he puts to a series of wine tourism initiatives. “We have a gîte on the estate where people can stay, organise art exhibitions and events in our luxuriant garden for up to 50 people. And recently I had the chance to buy a traditional ‘carrelet’, this is the name of the square net that is lowered down from the tiny wooden cabins along the bank of the Garonne river. Once in the water,  you just wait for the fish to swim in!

But I did not buy if for fishing, rather as the perfect location to taste our wines. It is a lovely 5 minute drive along the river from the château. We pack a picnic to accompany the wine – simple sharing plates of local cheese, charcuterie and fruits – and a wooden walkway takes you across the water into the cabin which stands on stilts. I think with wine you must make people dream to appreciate the bottle and watching the sun set over the river in the Carrelet is the ultimate dream.”

Château de Reignac 

Arriving at this historic domaine is an emotional experience as you drive down a romantic tree-lined avenue to come face to face with a magnificent 16th century château, surrounded by manicured lawns and an ornamental lake, then vines as far as the eye can see stretching over 77 hectares. Since 1990 it has been the home of Yves and Stéphanie Vetelot, who over the years have renovated the château, meticulously cultivated the vineyard and created a state-of-the-art, thousand-barrel cellar under the watchful eye of world-famous oenologist, Michel Rolland. Yves remembers Rolland telling him he had bought an unbelievable terroir, “and we have used wine tourism to the maximum to draw people to our château to fully understand what goes into our marvellous wines.”

So today, the château’s  delicate greenhouse, designed by Gustave Eiffel, is planted with a fragrant olfactive herb and plant garden, while an ancient dovecote has been transformed into a unique tasting room, where carafes mysteriously descend in a metal cage  from the roof, and wine experts seated in a circle begin a blind tasting.

In addition to vineyard tours, picnics and fun after-work aperitifs, there is a unique emphasis on child guests, taking place in fun wigwam tents with educators leading playful but responsible games explaining ecology, sustainable development and the environmental impact of wine. And today, with their children no longer living at home, privileged wine tourists can even rent the Vetelot château as an exclusive place to stay.

Les Caves de Rauzan

The Entre-deux-Mers region has some of the most active Caves Coopératives in the Bordelais, and Les Caves de Rauzan has distinguished itself from many of its neighbours with a wine tourism programme aimed at promoting biodiversity and sustainability. While the numbers may sound large – 300 vignerons cultivating 4,000 hectares, producing an equivalent of 28 million bottles – Rauzan is very much a friendly, community-orientated cooperative rather than an anonymous big business. While visitors can stop off any time for a free tasting at both their main cellar and two shops, every Friday there is a pop-up café outside the cellar offering an evening aperitif, while their historic event is La Récréation Gourmande, a 6-7 kilometre hike through the vineyards with stop-offs for wine tastings, oysters, musicians and a BBQ grill of classic entrecôte steaks. For the locals, no one misses this, and the Coopérative also actively promotes the charms of the picturesque village of Rauzan with its grand château and the subterranean Grottes Célestines.

But their most important new initiative is the Parcours de Diversité, taking the visitor on an educative walking tour through the different ecosystems within and surrounding the vineyard. It traverses the properties of  half a dozen different vignerons, with informative panels along the way explaining the local  biodiversity. The Cave produces essentially Entre-deux-Mers, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur and Crémant de Bordeaux, with every bottle proudly displaying a label declaring it as Sustainable Wine. 

Château Paloumey

Martine Cazeneuve and her family purchased Château Paloumey back in 1989, and she oversaw not just the replanting of the vineyard and restoration of the château, but the Médoc’s earliest initiatives to attract tourists.

Today, there are some 5,000 visitors a year, attending diverse events like Afterwork en Médoc, a popular evening aperitif with tastings, food trucks and music, Atelier Vendange to experience a slice of life in the day of a harvester, picking and eating the grape, tasting early fermentation from the vat, and of course a convivial lunch, contemporary art installations, tasting workshops and blending experiences. Martine’s son Pierre, is now the exuberant winemaker, and his  infectious enthusiasm is best experienced when he takes visitors round on his latest project, ‘Nature et Futur’.

“I would say this is a mix of Slow Tourism and Environmental Awareness,” he excitedly claims, “a theme to make people Look Up, inspired by Leonardo di Caprio’s ecology film, where we explain our eco-stance for the future for Paloumey. During a 45 minute walk through the property we show what we have already done. These are  concrete acts like experimenting across 4 hectares of the vineyard, where every 25 vine lines we have dug up two and planted different types of trees – maple, lindens, acacia, Holm oaks. In ten years time there will be a lines of trees completely changing the vignoble’s landscape. When the group comes back to the cellar I show how the roof is now covered with solar panels, enough for self-sufficiency during the day, and who knows maybe we will have enough one day to power electric tractors ourselves. I call it the winemaking of tomorrow”

Château de la Vieille Chapelle 

Embark on an adventure to find this hidden jewel, as a narrow road meanders through tiny villages, meadows and vineyards of the Fronsac region, with the car’s GPS apparently leading you to the middle of the Dordogne river.

Fortunately, this rambling domaine stops right at the water’s edge. Frédéric Mallier and his wife Fabienne spent 10 years travelling around France looking for the perfect domaine  to make wine responsibly and sustainably. Their dream has taken form here around an 11th century Roman chapel, its rustic outhouses converted into B&B rooms, and a single 7 hectare vineyard producing certified organic and biodynamic wine.

Frédéric explains that, “the estate actually stretches for 22 hectares, with large swathes of forests. For me mixed landscape is crucial for biodiversity, especially as I also make honey. We have a greenhouse to grow vegetables and a nursery for new vine shoots. 

I have planted over a 100 fruit trees, let the forest run wild, and sometimes using a horse to plough the vines.” He is adamant that, “without the B&B revenue we would never have been able to pass to  certified bio cultivation, because that automatically means an immediate loss of about 30% of your wine production. And no one can increase the price of their wines by 30% to compensate.”

His economic model is far removed from grape monoculture and to create income. Fabienne cooks meals for guests and offers Ayurveda energy massages, and most recently they are hosting a magical outdoor guinguette, Les Amuse-Gueules, promoting their wines, sharing platters of local organic cheeses, vegetables and charcuterie, a barbecue and jazz concerts. It is the perfect occasion to discover Frédéric’s highly original wines; natural cuvées like Amis & Associés made with a unique gigantic 170 year-old pre-phylloxera vine of the forgotten Bouchalés-Merlots grape, or Les Merlots de Baudet, made from a 1940 parcel of Merlot vinified and aged in raw concrete vats. 

Château Boutinet 

Driving through the picturesque countryside between the Fronsac and Cadillac Appellations you cannot miss the dramatic façade of the ruined castle of Boutinet.

Take the side road that leads to the château and you quickly discover that this grand 18th century building may be in ruins but it is far from abandoned. Carefully tended plots of vines surround the property, and the entrance is marked by a giant white yurt tent, while one wing of the Château has been restored as the home and wine cellar of vigneron Jérôme Depoizier and his wife Nathalie. She explains how, “we met at a winemaking school,  both of us ambitious to produce our own wine, our own label. When we bought Boutinet and its 12 hectare vineyard we realised that wine tourism was the one way to achieve this dream, to finance an initial project of 12,000 bottles of our very own bottles.”

Nathalie was already an experienced educator at Bordeaux’s Ecole du Vin, while Jérôme had followed in his father’s footsteps as a cellar master but had never owned his own vignoble. “The first project was Rando Tapas, a trek through our vineyard, experiencing the whole biodiversity of the estate, followed by a tasting and tapas. We call it Walk, Wine and Dine. Then, to be able to operate year round, we invested in this immense yurt, where we can do wine pairing with products from local farmers, and host events and dinners for 80 people. I also conduct my blending ateliers here as well as classes that  combine yoga and wine.” While the bulk of their harvest is still sold to the local Cave Coopérative in the neighbouring village of Villegouge, future plans to convert part of the château into a B&B should allow them to increase production of the wines Jérôme experiments with in their garage cellar.

Château d’Arsac 

Although the splendour of Château d’Arsac sits perfectly alongside the grand domaines of Margaux, its owner, Philippe Raoux is not a typical Bordeaux vigneron. Arsac may have a distinguished history stretching back to the 12th century, but when Philippe bought the estate in 1986, “everything was abandoned; the château in ruins, only 4 hectares of vines, and somehow the owners had let pass the opportunity to enter the Margaux Appellation when that was created in 1955.

So it has been a long journey, restoring this fabulous manor, recreating an 108 hectare vineyard. And in 1995, we finally took our rightful place in both the Margaux Appellation and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionel. Amazingly, we are the only winery in France to have been upgraded in this way.” But Arsac is not just exceptional for its wines, as Philippe has put it on the world’s art map too as a unique exhibition venue. He tells the story of how, “our adventure began in 1988,  when the curator of the fine arts collection of the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation asked us to host a huge exhibition of their works in the château and its grounds. It was a great success, but when it ended and they removed all the artworks, well I felt bare and almost robbed. So I decided to organise our own exhibition each year, alongside putting aside a budget of 1 franc per vine to fund our own permanent collection. Well, we have 600,000 pieds de vignes, so it gave me a budget of €100,000 a year, and today the collection consists of over 30 monumental sculptures exhibited in our Jardin des Sculptures, across the Château’s cellar, vineyards and park.”

In addition to this unique Art and Wine tour, visitors can now also experience Songs of Arsac, a musical sound and light extravaganza screened in the barrel-ageing cellar, recounting the 1,000 year history of the château. 

 Château Bardins 

In the heart of the Pessac-Léognan Appellation, this fairytale château is set in a romantic landscaped park that has been in the hands of Stella Puel’s family since 1898. Producing predominantly elegant, red organic wines, the 10 hectare vineyard is surrounded by a natural biodiversity of woods, meadows, orchards and marshy wetlands.

Stella is a fifth generation vigneronne and recounts how, “we have always welcomed visitors here since the day I took over 25 years ago, when I just wanted to be able to meet wine lovers personally over a tasting in the cellar. Today  this part of our business has expanded enormously, and our numerous projects are handled by my close collaborator, Pascale Laroche.

She is a sporty wine lover and offers a guided tour by bike that begins here,  carrying on past half a dozen Pessac-Léognan châteaux before returning for a tasting. We also have tours of the estate by foot, including orienteering games and a wine quiz, and if it rains, well everyone decamps to the cellar and continues with a digital game using iPads. Pascale also runs blending ateliers, with regular  art exhibitions in the cellar. And I organise musical events 3 or 4 times a year in the château, concerts that have featured French and international musicians, performing piano recitals, chamber music, lyric performances, jazz bands and slam poets. The venue is right  here in the living room of my home for a limited audience of 50 people, followed by a tasting afterwards.  So we may have a pianist here who the week before was performing in Carnegie Hall in New York. I think they know they are well treated when they hold a concert in Château Bardins.”

Where to eat

L’Auberge Saint-Jean

In a picture postcard location by a bend on the Dordogne river, this ancient stone auberge has been tastefully renovated  while the refined cuisine of chef Thomas l’Hérisson is recognised by a prestigious Michelin star. The other side of the bridge, stop off at Cabestan, where David Durand, one of the Dordogne’s last professional fishermen, sells jars of the Lamprey eel that he catches in the river,   cooked in a delicious rich red wine sauce, à la Bordelaise.

Le Jardin

This romantic Jardin is the garden restaurant of Château Petit Faurie de Soutard a 200 year-old winery just outside the village of Saint-Emilion. The sunny terrace overlooks both vineyards and a vegetable garden where chef Stéphane Casset grows ingredients for his recipes like tuna served with a green pepper gazpacho and grilled fennel

Where to stay

Château La France

Just outside the wine making town of Fronsac, this magnificent 18th century chateau is surrounded by an immense vineyard, visible from miles around by its giant 12 metre high silver cockerel statue, Le Coq. Cottages by the cellar have been tastefully transformed into cosy B&B accommodation, with a spa and jacuzzi, wine tasting and casual dining area. For a really special occasion, it is possible to rent the entire château itself.

What to do

Rétro Tour Bordeaux

For wine tourists looking for a quirky, highly original guided tour around the vineyards of Bordeaux, rather than heading off independently, it is impossible to beat Rétro Tour who drive adventurous visitors in the sidecar of their retro motorbikes, discovering the chateaux of the Médoc and Saint-Emilion.