TRAVEL Q&A

What's Brewing in Belgium

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 22, 2007

Q. My husband and I are planning a trip to Belgium, and we'd like to tour some breweries. We will be based out of Brussels but would like to take some day trips and short overnights. Any suggestions?

Elizabeth Madigan, Potomac Falls

A. "Belgium has the best beer in the world," says Johnny Fincioen, a Flemish beer importer who also runs the Global Beer Network ( http://www.globalbeer.com/), which is based in Santa Barbara, Calif., and specializes in Belgian beer and travel.

Fincioen explains that the country's history of hops has made it a prime destination for brew aficionados. For example, since prehistoric times, the country has been producing the Lambic style of beer without interruption, and centuries ago Belgian monks discovered that adding yeast to beer keeps it fresh. Additionally, Belgian brewers are known for tossing spices, such as coriander and fruit, into their beer. (At one point, Germany outlawed such additives.) Today, those same flavors, and the brewmaker families who made them, are still around.

Belgium has more than 450 varieties of beer and about 125 breweries. Many of the operations are set in rural villages, but because of the country's small size (equal to Maryland), most are only an hour or two by car from Brussels. Fincioen's top picks include Van Steenberge (011-32-93-44-50-71, http://www.vansteenberge.com/) in Ertvelde; the family-run Roman Brewery (011-32-55-45-54-01, http://www.roman.be/) in Oudenaarde; and Silly Brewery (011-32-68-55-16-95, http://www.silly-beer.com/) in (laugh if you must) the village of Silly.

Brussels does not have any breweries per se, but venture to the outskirts of town for the Cantillon Brewery (011-32-25-21-49-28, http://www.cantillon.be/), which also houses the Gueuze Museum.

For sightseeing between sips, day-trip to Bruges, a city with canals, cobblestone streets and museums covering everything from chocolate to diamonds to Flemish art. When you need a pint, head over to the Brewery De Halve Maan, which dates to 1564 and is open for tours and tastings. Info: Tourism Bruges, 011-32-50-44-46-46, http://www.brugge.be/.

The Belgian Tourist Office has information on breweries, beer tours and museums, and boozy events around the country, such as Beer Passion Weekend in June. Info: 212-758-8130, http://www.visitbelgium.com/.

My husband is going to a conference in Istanbul. Is it safe for me, an American woman, to tour the city alone during the day?

Kathy Sudworth, Severna Park

For solo female travelers, Istanbul is similar to many other major cities around the world: It's safe, with caution. "It's a concern if you are not culturally correct," says Evelyn Hannon, editor of Journeywoman.com ( http://www.journeywoman.com/index.html), an online travel resource for women. "Do your research, dress appropriately, and observe other females and try to behave the way they do." Regardless of sex, know which areas are safe and do your best to blend in. Journeywoman.com posts clothing suggestions from other women who have traveled to Turkey: "The long-sleeved outfits were also good for touring. . . . Also, ankle-length skirts are another modest choice that didn't seem to cause difficulties," writes Shannon from Arlington.

Besides the usual urban ills, you may experience aggressive male behavior: Men might be curious to talk to an American woman or wish to sell you their wares. If you are concerned about such interactions, ask your hotel to suggest a private guide, or join a group tour. You may even make a new travel buddy you can pal around with.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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