Looking for an opportunity to explore a different side of Belgium? Then the Zenne Valley is the place to be. Nestled just a few kilometers from Brussels’ tourist hotspots, the towns comprising the Zenne Valley area offer a wonderful opportunity to experience local culture through historic sites, delicious Belgian cuisine and a taste of the traditional Lambic beers. Best discovered by car, follow these suggestions to create your own itinerary to explore this pristine region.
Best known for its carnival celebrations (one of the biggest in the country), the small city of Halle boasts a rich history, dating back to the Middle Ages. When visiting the picturesque city, stop by the Basilica of Saint Martin, an impressive Gothic Church whose ornate façade is as beautiful as its detailed interior. Take the time to explore all the nooks and crannies of the church, which displays interesting architectural features and historic icons, including a famed Black Madonna. Afterwards, enjoy a stroll past the historic Town Hall and head further into the center for some shopping. In between visiting the numerous quaint shops, have a coffee or tea with a slice of fresh cake at Vandaag.
Whether you’re a beer aficionado or looking to brush up on your knowledge of Belgian beers, the Zenne Valley is a very special place to discover one of the country’s classic beers, lambic, which is brewed in the area using local resources. The lambic brewing process requires more spontaneous fermentation, giving this particular beer a very distinct taste that ages well over time. Visitors can truly experience this regional delicacy through a tour of the Lambiek Visitor Centre, which showcases the traditional craftsmanship behind renowned specialties, such as Oude Geuze and Oude Kriek. The center will show you how the lambic beers share strong historical and cultural ties to this particular region of Belgium. The sensory tour of the museum ends with a tasting session, where visitors can choose from a top selection of local lambic beers.
Opening hours: Fri-Sat 11am-6pm; Sun 2pm-6pm (by appointment and at least six weeks in advance), outside opening hours by appointment. Closed in January.
Gemeenveldstraat 1, 1652 Alsemberg, Beersel, Belgium +32 2 359 1636
Featured in one of Belgium’s most beloved comic book series, Suske en Wiske, Beersel Castle is a significant site, as it once served to protect Brussels. With its brick walls, narrow staircases and looming tall towers, this 13th century fortified castle strategically surrounded by a pond will transport visitors right back to medieval times. Explore the premises and learn about key historic moments for the castle, such as the siege of 1489. Don’t forget to check out the adjacent museum, which also gives an overview of the castle’s history, restoration process and a number of special archaeological objects found on site, including large cannon balls.
When looking for a place to try Belgian cuisine in an authentic atmosphere, head to 3 Fonteinen in Beersel. Once a café, the restaurant/brewery is well known in the beer community for its traditional house-brewed Oude Kriek and Oude Geuze. Order a typical Flemish dish featured on the menu or, when in season, a heaping portion of Belgium’s national delicacy, Moules Frites. Pair the savory meal with one or two of 3 Fonteinen’s lambic beers and relax in the company of locals.
Opening Hours: Mon 12pm-3pm and 6pm-9:30pm; Thur 12pm-3pm; Fri 12pm-3pm and 6pm-9:30pm; Sat-Sun 12pm-9:30pm.
Herman Teirlinckplein 3, 1650 Beersel, Belgium +32 2 331 0652
While it’s certainly no surprise the Zenne Valley is considered one of Belgium’s greener spaces, the village of Sint-Pieters-Leeuw takes this title to the next level with its Coloma Park. Once a getaway for the rich, Castle Coloma and its surrounding estate now host an international rose garden which is home to over 3,000 varieties of the blossom from 25 different countries.
Regarded as one of the most esteemed rose gardens in Europe, visitors can take a stroll through the carefully styled hedgerows and garden chambers to explore themed sections that range from local breeds in the Flemish Garden to a carefully curated Japanese Garden. Be sure to take some time to admire Coloma’s International Garden, which contains an extensive number of roses from around the world, not to mention it’s the perfect place to while away the afternoon on one of its many secluded benches.
Opening hours: May 15th-October 31st; Tues-Sun 10am-8pm (in October 10am-7pm).
If you happen to be in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw on a Friday, visitors can check out the local farmer’s market located just across the street from Coloma Park. Browse the colorful fruit and vegetable stands for fresh produce or opt try to one of the select cheeses for an evening snack.
For more information about the Zenne Valley and its surrounding region, check out the comprehensive brochure Discover Flemish Brabant.