Last month, I was lucky enough to spend five days in Wallonia, Belgium, exploring everything the region has to offer. We started and ended our trip with a few days in the quirky, cool city of Charleroi (pronounced “shar-le-wah”) and had a couple of days in Lacs de l’eau d’heure which is a complex of five artificial lakes which form the largest lake area in Belgium.
Charleroi is a city south of Brussels that has a lot of heart. Google “Charleroi” and you may well be put off from visiting by the sensationalist headlines of it being dangerous (seriously though, what city isn’t considered dangerous if you find yourself in the wrong part?) and unattractive. Historically, Charleroi is an industrial city, with a large industrial site just a short walk from the main centre.
It would be fair to say that Charleroi isn’t winning any awards for being a beauty spot any time soon, but what makes it such an interesting, quirky place is how proud the Carolo (people from Charleroi) are about their beloved city’s heritage and uniqueness. They’re actively campaigning to preserve the industrial site as it is, and are doing what so many industrial cities have done before which is to turn old warehouses into event venues and clubs. The street food scene hasn’t quite reached Charleroi yet (I personally think it’s missing a big indoor street food market in one of the industrial buildings), but it has a booming music and nightlife scene, with people travelling from all over Europe to go to the famous Uzine festival which is held in a derelict factory.
Our schedule was packed with activities, tours, museums, dinners, tastings (wine, beer & chocolate!), and parties. I was invited along as a guest of @ryanair and the Charleroi tourist board @charleroiprincipale @walloniabelgiumtourism and wow did they look after us! We did so much in five days, I’ve not really known where to start with sharing what we got up to – which is why it has taken me so long to finish writing this. I’ve compiled all of the best things that we did that should make it on to your hit-list, and put together a recommended itinerary to really get the most out of a trip to the Wallonia region.
Fly in to Charleroi – Ryanair flies to Charleroi from Dublin, Edinburgh and Manchester, multiple times a week (and you can get some super cheap flights!)
1-2 nights in Charleroi city, enjoy some great food and soak up some local history and culture. I’ve detailed a few of our favourite places to eat in Charleroi below, along with the sites I found to be the most interesting, though this is by no means an extensive list of all there is to do in the city!
Pick up a hire car, quick stop off in Thuin to stretch the legs and wine-tasting in the hanging gardens. Head on to the lakes. If you’re into water-sports and outdoorsy activities, you could easily spend three full days here. There’s so much to keep families busy here.
Chimay for a day. Visit the Trappist Brewery and Chateau de Chimay.
Where to stay
Stay at Novotel in Charleroi city centre and enjoy making your own fresh Belgian waffles for breakfast. The best hotel in the city by all accounts and very well located.
Stay at Golden Lakes Hotel in Lacs De L’eau D’heure. This is a fantastic hotel and I regret not getting a picture of our lovely room, right on the water front! We had two nights here which were wonderful, if jam-packed.
Where to eat
In Charleroi City Centre:
LaMu – both the fancier restaurant La Table and the brewery casual restaurant L’Atelier are wonderful and I highly recommend the meatballs at L’Atelier.
Quai10 – great for brunch, lunch and dinner. Also has a cinema that shows english language films.
Pot-au-Pho – Delicious casual Vietnamese cuisine, ideal for lunch.
Mine de Rein – Italian near the Bois de Cazier, another ideal lunch spot.
In Lacs De L’eau D’heure:
Le Tri Marrants – a slightly fancier lakeside bistro serving local cuisine in a contemporary way.
La Brasserie de Lacs (hotel restaurant) was always busy and seemingly good value, though we didn’t have an evening meal there.
What to do
In Charleroi City Centre:
Museum of Photography The largest photography museum in Europe is really impressive and immersive. I highly recommend this to all.
Street art tour –
Bois du Cazier The mining museum and Unesco world heritage site which was the scene of a major mining disaster in 1956, in which 262 miners (largely Italian immigrants who had been invited by the Belgian government to work) died.
If you want to get your blood pumping, climb to the top of the Bellfry for a panoramic view of the city. Or head to one of the many man-made grassy hills formed of coal. These hills make the landscape in Charleroi quite unique.
Chateau de Chimay – The beautiful chateau pictured below is still home to Belgian nobility today, and is open for tours. It holds a wonderful surprise inside it’s walls – well worth a visit!
Chimay Trappist Brewery – Monks have been brewing Chimay beer since 1862.
Hanging gardens, visit the vineyard, walk through the little cobbled passageways, do a guided tour if history is your thing.
In Lacs De L’eau D’heure:
Wakeboarding at The Spin Cablepark. Incredible! We had so much fun doing this activity, but it left us feeling like we’d been hit by a bus for at least three days afterwards. It was worth it though as we had such a laugh. A must do activity for any groups of adults.
Espace Fun kayaking and stand up paddle-boarding. We didn’t do this but others in our group did and had a wonderful time.
Borrow or hire bikes (we borrowed electric ones from our hotel), and ride around the beautiful lake on the path.
Natura Parc – A bit like Go Ape where you get to Zipline across the lake. A lot of fun and a must do for families with dare-devil kids!
Hot air balloon ride at sunrise or sunset. This was an incredible experience and I cannot recommend this enough! Floating above the treetops as the morning mist started to clear and the sun burned through was a truly beautiful experience and one I’ll never forget.
View this post on Instagram
#gifted Drinking wine in a family owned garden vineyard in Belgium on a warm evening is a sweet travel memory I won’t forget! . I was lucky enough to spend last week in Wallonia, Belgium, exploring everything the region has to offer. Our schedule was packed with activities, tours, museums, dinners, tastings (wine, beer & chocolate!), and parties. I was invited along as a guest of @ryanair and the Charleroi tourist board @charleroiprincipale @walloniabelgiumtourism and wow did they look after us. We did so much in five days, I’m going to put my full recommendations in a blog post over the weekend, but here are the highlights in brief… Our Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride with @montgolfiere.be was magical and I highly recommend this (as long as you’re not afraid of heights). Floating above the treetops, watching the morning mist slowly disappear, and seeing horses in the field freak out at the sight of our big yellow balloon was an incredible experience. We visited the medieval town of Thuin and were given a guided tour by @tourismethuin. We ended the short tour with wine tasting in the hanging gardens. There’s a tiny, family run vineyard there called Clos Des Zouaves who make the most delicious, natural red dessert wine. I love dessert wines so this was a highlight for me. This sweet little town has loads of history, and a microclimate. Chimay Trappist beers @bieresdechimay was a huge hit with our group. it is brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery by monks. They’re one of only a few trappist breweries in the world. As someone who doesn’t like beer (I know, blaspheme in Belgium) I can only tell you that everyone else in the group loved this. We had an incredible stay in a room with a view @goldenlakeseaudheure. We rode electric bikes around the lake (I love riding electric bikes, ate an incredible meal @letrimarrants on the riverside, and had SO.MUCH.FUN @naturaparcbelgique climbing amongst the treetops and ziplining over the lake! The cherry on top was waterskiing @the_spin_cablepark 🙌 so much more to say but I’ll save it for the blog post! #overandout #charleroimetropole #visitwallonia #travelblogger #travelblog #travel #charleroi #belgium
Ryanair fly to Charleroi from Dublin, Edinburgh and Manchester; I’ve seen some flights as little as £13 each way!!
Who should go to Wallonia?
Couples wanting a long weekend somewhere off the beaten track. If you are short on time, head straight to the lakes as there’s more to do there, and Chimay.
Considering that Charleroi is a slightly unusual choice, a family holiday during the school holidays would work out pretty reasonable. Cheap, short flight, a short drive to the beautiful lakes, princess castle, more fun water sports and outdoor activities – think Centre Parcs but you don’t need to remortgage to afford it.
Groups perhaps on a stag but don’t want to go anywhere where there’s boozy brits. Between the Trappist breweries, micro breweries, meatballs on every menu, outdoor activities and water-sports, it really is a great location for an active stag-do.
For more information on the region, head to https://www.cm-tourisme.be/en/, the tourism board website.