Fun and fine food makes for fantastic way to see in New Year

Looking for ideas and inspiration for a nice day out to see in 2020?

If so, Vielsalm, less than two hours' drive from Brussels in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes, is just the job.

You can go for a hike in the woods and, just metres away, also pay a visit to Aqua Mundo, a terrific indoor swimming pool which makes for a good option if - as is always possible in Belgium - the winter weather turns nasty.

Part of Centre Parcs Les Ardennes (Rue de la Grotte, Vielsalm), it’s open for residents and also day visitors.Environmental-friendly (very little chlorine is used in the pools), the temperature is maintained at about 29 celsius throughout the year – just the job on these chilly winter days.

It boasts a sub-tropical pool with wave and outdoor pools, jacuzzi, two new slides, including the “duo racer” and a pool area reserved for the little ones (upgraded and expanded).

The whole complex is set among quite wonderful Ardennes scenery, with some lovely walks nearby, and is well worth checking out if you’re in the area.

After a bracing walk or dip in the pool, what better way to sate an appetite than some terrific, wholesome Ardennes cuisine? In this area, there’s got to be no better than La Ferme de la Reine des Pres (https://www.lafermedelareinedespres.com)

Situated just up the road from Aqua Mundo, this is wonderfully atmospheric place to eat that, for some, will evoke fond memories of traditional dining out.

It’s a real family affair having been run by two generations of the same family for many years.

Jean Minguet, a “typically hard working Belgian”, rebuilt what had been a long abandoned mill (dating back in the 18th century).

Jean’s son Jean-Paul and wife Sonja took over and have run this fine restaurant since September 2002.

Located just off a main road, it overlooks tranquil forest and a small lake. If the setting is delightful so too is the cuisine, a responsibility evenly split between Sonja, who comes from St Vith, in the German speaking province of Belgium, and her Maastricht-born husband.

They offer a lovely menu but the “star attraction” is still the trout and what a choice there is with people travelling very long distances just for the dozen different preparations.

The trout used to come from an old lake opposite the restaurant but, these days, is sourced from fisheries in Ligneuville nearby which has earned the area the “trout capital” of Belgium.

The reason is due partly to the “extraordinarily” clean local waters where the trout are bred.

The couple offer no less than 12 different trout-based preparations and it is served with everything from a buttery sauce to almond and raisins and port to seafood and white wine.

Sonja and Jean-Paul ensure that the trout is never more than 2-3 days old when served and the couple also make good use of this fish in lots of other ways.

Trout has been a mainstay of this restaurant from its inception even though lots of other seasonal dishes are served throughout the year (the main card is rotated every 2/3 weeks).

The starters include a tartare of salmon while the mains choice currently features a duck with orange, sole and dear. There’s a nice selection of deserts, including locally sourced cheese, and an equally impressive wine card. One course costs €22.50, a starter and main is €28.50 while a main and desert will set you back €26. If you include wine then you will pay €39.50 for two glasses, one red and one white.

There is a 3 course menu costing just €32.50, very good value indeed. If you include wine then you will pay €39.50 for two glasses, one red and one white.

Trout, though, remains a customer favourite and it’s easy to see why some diners come some distance for it. Considering the high quality, the prices are also very reasonable indeed, not least when compared with those in Brussels.

This lovely restaurant is set for a big change in the coming two years or so as Laurent, 22, and his brother Vincent, 26, the two sons of the owners, are set to take over as their parents enter their well earned retirement.

As neither Laurent or Vincent have any formal cooking skills or experience they are minded to turn the business into a large gite catering for groups. In a sense, that is a shame because it may herald the end of a wonderful culinary journey.

But, on the other hand, Laurent and Vincent represent the next link in a fine family tradition, one that they believe will take the business to the next level.

For now,then, enjoy this marvellous eatery while you can!

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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