ANTWERP - I am on a culinary journey from the source of De Koninck to the banks of the Schelde. Having enjoyed a freshly drawn ‘bolleke’ in the shadow of the brewery, I am tracing the upstream course of the river Scheldt towards Temse.
Resting on one of the dykes, I enjoy the fabulous interplay of wind and clouds above the river finish my feast with a healthy helping of eel and vegetables, locally known as ‘paling in ’t groen’. How much more ‘Antwerp’ can you be?
I have to come clean. For many years, I have been a fan of the refreshing and freshly drawn ‘bolleke’, with a frothy collar at least two fingers thick.
This beer, with the ‘handy’ trade mark, is an excellent thirst quencher and always leaves one wanting more.
De Koninck (5% alcohol) appears amber in the glass. This high fermentation beer has a zesty and slightly bitter taste with a velvety soft aroma and a full creamy head. De Koninck uses hop cones from Saaz and a mixture of pure malts for their 'Bolleke', without the addition of maize or other brewing sugars.
I am walking along the Oude Schelde, an arm of the river Scheldt that was cut off from the river’s main flow when it changed its course in 1240. Before the 13th century, this branch was the main course of the stream, but the river silted up, cutting off this tributary. At the entrance to Weert village, near the Temse bridge, you will find the oldest ‘sas’, or lock, in Belgium.
This lock used to connect the ‘old’ with the ‘new’ Scheldt. The orphaned arm of the river is now one vast fishing paradise. On very rare occasions, when the water is covered with a thick layer of ice, you can put your skates on and enjoy a fairly tale landscape with Bornem castle in the background.
Ever since the popular TV series “Stille Waters” was broadcast, day-trippers have been rediscovering the banks of the Scheldt. A nice sunny day will see the terraces in Hingene, Weert, Sint-Amands and Mariekerke flooded with walkers, cyclists and bon viveurs. Away from the river, there are other worthwhile views.
The vast panoramas from the dykes of the Scheldt give way to more intimate landscapes with fishing ponds, swampy forests, reeds, marshes and wet meadows in a natural reserve hardly touched by human hand. Ancient homes and farms, once inhibited by fishermen, clog makers or basket weavers have been transformed into cafés or restaurants.
Until just after the First World War, fishing for eel was an important economic activity in Scheldt villages such as Mariekerke, St-Amands and Weert. However, with the increasing pollution of the river, this harvest died a silent death. Enjoying eel by the banks of the Scheldt remains a folkloristic activity.
Mariekerke’s annual eel festival attracts hundreds of people during the Pentecost weekend. And the quality of the waters of the Scheldt increases a little each year. However, if you want to make certain of the quality of your eel, you are better off going for imported or farmed fish.
“Paling in ‘t groen” is the outstanding regional dish in this small area of Klein-Brabant. It translates literally as “Eel in the green”.
The recipe uses typically medieval herbs: aniseed, marjoram, chervil, watercress, thyme, bay, garlic, sorrel, spinach, tarragon, parsley, pimpernel, green sage, white nettle, watercress… These are the wild herbs found by the fisherman next to the pond where he landed his catch of eels.
I drive on to Sint-Amands, where I find restaurant ‘t Ebdiep, located next to the grave of local poet Emile Verhaeren. From the most beautiful terrace on the Scheldt, I enjoy the view over the still waters and the excellent paling in ‘t groen.
There are 13 walking trails in Bornem and its associated villages of Mariekerke, Hingene and Weert. Most of these walks are signposted. Distances vary: 6 km, 10 km, 14 km, 20 km…A handy folder with maps and local attractions can be picked up from Toeristische info Scheldeland.
My favourite destinations are: Café d’Oude Poort, d’Ursel castle and the hunting lodge De Notelaar in Hingene, het Buitenland (Bornem), Bornem Castle, the Schelde dyke walk from Hingene to Branst, the view over the Scheldt from Mariekerke and Sint-Amands.
Try and visit Bornem Castle You can take in the castle without an appointment every 15th of August, on the last two Sundays of August and the first two Sundays in September from 1.30pm to 1pm (admission: €6 per person). In addition, you can visit by prior arrangement from 15 April to 1 November (a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 20 people per visit).
The dykes of the Scheldt and their car-free towpaths provide an excellent cycling experience. Also, the ferries make it easy to ‘cycle’ to the opposite bank. You can use the services of the ferryman (or woman) every day of the year.
The countless locks and bridges – such as the handy bridges for cyclists across the Nete and the Dijle, the legendary Mira bridge in Hamme and the imposing iron construction across the Scheldt in Temse - will also get you across in the blink of an eye.
The new cycle path network of Scheldeland completes the regional cycling experience. The network has 570km of new tracks plus 100 additional ‘nodes’, or junctions, where you can switch from one numbered route to the next.
These can also be found in the provinces of Antwerp (400km), Oost-Vlaanderen and Vlaams-Brabant. What’s more, the cycle tracks are signposted in both directions.
The network brings you safely to your destination in the Scheldt region, Antwerp, Mechelen (Malines), Lier and het Dijleland.
You can also book a cycling holiday that takes you to the locations of the “Stille Waters” television series, or the culinary cycling tour “Fietsen en genieten in het Scheldeland”, on which you can enjoy the gastronomic delights this region has to offer.