There are some towns in Belgium that just don’t garner much attention from the outside world and seem completely content to only be appreciated by the locals. These places thrive on being the hidden gem. You can find endless blog posts about Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent. These just re-pave the same road over and over again, and I include myself in that. But when you really look back on your travels, what are the moments with which you feel the strongest connection or sentimentality?
They are the places that you don’t see all over Instagram. Places that were an afterthought in your planning, a waypoint, a mere curiosity. With international travel limited, I have had the opportunity to find some of those here in Belgium over the last several months. Huy was a good example of a place that had this impact on me recently. Who ever goes to Huy? In my 10 years living in Belgium, I had never heard of one single person talking about their visit to Huy. Aarschot was another one. I wrote a blog post about both. And now I can add Sint-Truiden to that growing list.
Sint-Truiden is in the middle of a region in Belgium which is actually no secret to the Belgians. It is one of the best cycling areas in one of the most ravenous cycling countries in the world. It is called the fruitstreek or Haspengouw. It is where Belgium grows its renowned apples, pears, and cherries. At the end of this region is the oldest city in Belgium, the former Roman outpost called Tongeren. In between these two towns is an agricultural masterpiece of art. Rolling hills, castles, row after row of fruit trees, and, just outside of Sint-Truiden, two pretty awesome breweries.
This area is beautiful to bike any time of year, but if you want to see the fruit trees in full blossom, the best time would be the first week of May, plus or minus. If you miss the May blossoms, June is a great month to see the red poppies in full bloom. The route that I will present in this post is a figure-8, butterfly-shaped route, which is the best of the 3 variations that I have done. The figure-8 puts both breweries in the final segment of the ride. Near the intersection of this route is one of my favorite cafes in all of Belgium.
|Starting Point||Brouwerij Wilderen|
|My Moving / Total Time||2h43m / 4h07m|
|Eating Place||Chateau de la Motte|
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
If you are like me and not really doing any cycling over the winter, this is a good ride to put your legs to the test in the Springtime. There are two or three hills that will get your heart pumping, but these are mere pimples for the average Belgian cyclist. This ride also has a lot to see. I am never one who is riding to accomplish a long distance in a certain amount of time. I am quite content to stop and take pictures while swarms of cyclists in colorful matching biking gear zip by me like I am some kind of oddity. Who rides a bike and stops to take pictures? And look, his shoes don’t lock into his bike pedals!
The ride starts near the Brouwerij Wilderen and arrives very quickly in the center of Sint-Truiden. Sint-Truiden is worth a quality afternoon of hanging out. Most everything interesting to see is situated around the Grote Markt. The town gets its name from St. Trudo who founded the abbey from which the town grew up around since the 7th century. A tower and crypt from the abbey still exist.
The most famous abbot of Sint-Truiden Abbey was Adelardus, who naturally has a line of beers named after him from Brouwerij Kerkom.
An Adelardus and Bink sighting at Moeder Lambic in Brussels.
Beers brewed by Brouwerij Kerkom.
While Abbot Adelardus has a beer name and St. Trudo has the city name, they may not actually be the most famous resident or religious figure associated with Sint-Truiden. To find out who that is, stop inside the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk and check out a 1915 painting by Georges Baltus. Meet Christina Mirabilis, otherwise known as Christina the Astonishing (or Christina de Wonderbare).
Christina was born just outside of Sint-Truiden in the town of Brustem and “died” around the age of 22. Well that was what the priest and villagers all thought when they were performing her funeral mass. To everyone’s surprise, she rose up out of her coffin and lived another 52 years. She became a saint and died for real while living in a monastery in Sint-Truiden. For a more eclectic recounting of her life, one simply needs to bare thru a really quirky song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
After leaving Sint-Truiden, the first place that the ride comes to is Brustem, the actual birthplace of Christina the Astonishing. Brustem is also known for De Burcht. This tower is all that is left of a 12th century castle. Between 1178 and 1489, Sint-Truiden defeated the castle four times leaving the tower as a friendly reminder as to who the big boy was in the neighborhood.
Once you are past Brustem, the scenery takes over.
The Red Poppies
Reading Between the Lines
This church-shaped structure was built in 2011 and has become one of the most popular tourist spots in the Haspengouw. At just the right angle, the see-thru church lines up with the distant spire in the town of Borgloon.
Chateau de la Motte
This is a beautiful terrace cafe and a must-stop on this ride. They have two special beers worthy of the visit alone, a house beer and a beer named after the nickname of the WWII German fighter pilot who prowled the skies over Sint-Truiden, Spookvlieger (or Ghost Flyer).
Brouwerij Kerkom is known for their Adelardus and Bink beers. The terrace is in the courtyard of an old farm.
Brouwerij Wilderen has extensive terrace seating and a great shop where they sell their various beers and liquors. The flagship beer brewed by Brouwerij Wilderen is the Tripel Kanunnik, which looks and sounds like it derives from a Native American word but is actually Dutch for canon.
This is really one of the classic bike rides in Belgium. There is so much going on in those 60km, that it is one of the few rides I have done where the distance accumulates almost without realizing it. The photos do not adequately represent how gorgeous the scenery is when the trees are in bloom. With all due respect to Christina, the Haspengouw is what is astonishing. For anyone living in Belgium as an expat, I can confidently say that this is one of the top 3 rides you must do during your time in Belgium, without any thought of what the other two are. I have already done the ride twice in 2021 and it is still calling me back. It could be the beer, the blossoms, or the blooms. But in my heart, I know it is the butterfly.