France: Mayor hits out at farmer who 'enlarged' Belgium
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The fantastic hotel has recently been renovated using materials local to the region, creating a very intimate and authentic atmosphere, perfect for the Ardennes. Mercure Han Sur Lesse hotel is located just a stone’s throw away from the world-famous Caves of Han-Sur-Lesse, which I luckily got to experience first-hand. The hotel’s facilities were just brilliant, with a heated swimming pool, on-site lounge bar, and private parking.
The hotel’s restaurant Merlesse offered my party and I locally sourced cuisine each night we stayed, including local cheeses made in the Ardennes as well as Trappist beer.
On the night we arrived, we were greeted with a private dinner, organised by the Merlesse Restaurant by Benoit De Witte.
For a starter, we enjoyed smoked leek with goats’ cheese, followed by scallop with red radish. The scallop was particularly tasty as it was accompanied with lemongrass and pandan oil, giving it a slightly Asian flavour.
The main course was Venison, locally sourced from a deer farm in the Ardennes, which we got to visit the following day.
For dessert, we enjoyed parsnip with yoghurt and caramel, which was a combination I had never tried before, but enjoyed very much.
The following day, we visited a deer farm that was run by a Dutch farmer, Henrik van Beuningen.
Henrik was originally from Rotterdam, however, his parents moved to the Ardennes in 1987 as it was the “shooting capital of Europe”.
His farm is just 50 hectares, which means he cannot make a huge amount of money from farming but enjoys it as “a hobby”.
Due to EU regulations, Henrik said there were just six slaughterhouses in Belgium, and the nearest one to him was 200 km away. They also cannot kill animals in their own stables, as regulations require farmers to transport the animals alive to the slaughterhouse, which Henrik said made things “difficult”.
After exploring the deer farm, Henrik invited our party inside for a slice of cake and some Dutch coffee, which I kept asking for more of as it was so good.
The Ardennes region is in the southeast of Belgium, with beautiful, aesthetic mountain landscapes to enjoy. Han Sur Lesse is famed for its cave systems, which are considered some of the most beautiful in Europe.
On the third day of our visit, I was lucky enough to experience the Caves of Han-Sur-Lesse, which I was so excited about. The caves were created in 1895, and so are the oldest in Belgium.
They experience 350,000 visitors a year, mostly from France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The caves are 13 degrees once inside, therefore were warmer than outside as we visited in November, but during the summer our tour guide said the caves would be a “cool down”. Once deep inside the caves, there are 60 metres of rock above your head.
Some of the rocks on the walls had turned black, which our tour guide explained was left over from the pollution during the 1800s. This was because there was no electricity then, and visitors had to use torches of fire and walk on earth and rocks before concrete was laid down on the ground.
The original tour took five hours and visitors had to bring water and sandwiches with them because it was so hard to navigate without electric lights.
The caves are so spectacular that even weddings can take place there. Two decades ago, there used to be a pub inside the caves, however, now the space is used for events such as weddings and concerts.
I would recommend tourists visit the world-famous brewery Abbaye Rochefort Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy and sample the local Trappist beers, which for me was an unforgettable experience.
My party of six, including myself, visited a local Belgian brewery in the Ardennes, Brasserie de la Lesse, where we learnt about the process of making beer.
In Belgium, they enjoy strong beer, and the minimum alcohol percentage will usually be six percent. In neighbouring countries such as Holland, they enjoy a lot of blonde beers, I was informed.
Mercure Han Sur Lesse bookings start from roughly £73 per adult for a classic King room.
For more information on staying at Mercure Han Sur Lesse Hotel in Rochefort, Belgium, please visit https://all.accor.com/hotel/B7R5/index.en.shtml.
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