I love Belgium!  The people are friendly and it seems like everyone runs or cycles.  On my morning runs I get lots waves, nods and “Goedemorgen!” (“Good morning!”)

Belgium isn’t necessarily known for it’s food, but it should be!  Here are some of my favorite dishes:

  • Stoofvlees - Carbonade FlamandeStoofvlees (also known as Carbonade flamande / Vlaamse karbonade).  Flemish stew is my favorite dish!  It’s stewed meat, cooked in beer and it has a slightly sweet-sour flavor.  It’s hearty and cozy, especially in the fall.  Often, it’s served with another of my favorites – Stoemp.
  • Belgian StoempStoemp. This is such a simple dish, but so tasty!  It’s mashed potatoes mixed with a seasonal vegetable.  Often it’s carrots, leeks, peas, cabbage or spinach.  Again, it’s filling and warm for a cool fall night.
  • Moules frites - musselsMussels / Moules-frites. If you are fan of mussels, you MUST get this in Belgium – it’s the national dish!  You’ll likely have a few options on the menu of different flavors, but for me it’s the traditional white wine with parsley & butter.
  • Belgian Fries - fritesBelgian fries / frites. I can’t get enough of the frites! Whether it’s with stoofvlees or mussels or just in a “cone” from a road-side stand, the fries are a must.  And, NO KETCHUP!  You have to try them with mayonnaise like the Belgians – so good!
  • Cheese CroquettesCroquettes (cheese or shrimp). I’m partial to the cheese (because I’m a cheese-aholic).  Grab a Belgian beer and some croquettes – it’s a perfect afternoon snack or happy hour appetizer.  Crispy on the outside and hot, gooey, cheesy inside.  YUM!

Yes, I know I forgot chocolate! (Some of the best in the world is from Belgium.) But, my wife, Jessica, has a whole post about finding the best chocolate in Belgium. Stay tuned!

There is so much to love about Belgium, and beer is at the top of the list!  Our running tours to Belgium would not be complete without tasting a few (or, maybe a few cases) of the best beer in the world.  Belgium has over 160 breweries and more than 1,100 beer brands.  Some pubs in Belgium have over 400 beers available — they break out the “Trapper-Keeper” when you ask for the beer list!  I have had people tell me that they “don’t like beer,” and to me, that is like saying, “I don’t like food.”  With over 700 taste profiles, you are bound to find a beer you love (and, maybe even some you don’t!)

Below, I’ll give you a quick primer on Belgium beer.  Some of the information is a bit “beer-geeky”, but you’ll need to join us on a tour to taste for yourself how amazing and unique some of these beers really are!  (But, you don’t need to be a Beer Geek to enjoy it!)

The Beer GlassBelgian Beer Glasses

The Belgians take their beer very seriously.  Each beer has it’s own glass, which is meant to enhance and highlight the beer’s particular qualities.  The glass may be wide-mouthed, tall, or fluted, with or without a stem, tulip-shaped or straight – and, it will be branded with the name of beer you are drinking.  If, for some reason, a bar doesn’t have the correct glass available, they will ask you if another glass is acceptable, or if you would like to order a different beer — that’s how important the correct glass is!

In Belgium, don’t insist on ordering a “tap” beer.  Many brewers “bottle condition” their beer (this means the final fermentation happens in the bottle) and other small producers (such as Westvleteren) package their beer only in bottles.

What the heck does “Trappist” mean?

A Trappist brewery has a strict legal definition.  This has nothing to do with the style of beer, but rather it is about who made the beer – Trappist monks.  The designation “Trappist” on a beer label guarantees the following: the beer was produced at the monastery, monks manage the brewery and production, and the profits benefit the community and social services.  Therefore, these monastery breweries are not out to maximize profits — the proceeds must only be for the monastery’s upkeep and the monks’ social services.  (But, I think  keeping our taste buds happy is a very worthy social service!)

The six Trappist breweries are: Westmalle, Chimay, Rochefort, Orval, Achel and Westvleteren.  (You can also find two Trappist breweries in the Netherlands, and one each in Italy, Austria and the U.K., and even one in the U.S.A.)

An Abbey beer is similar to Trappist, but it does not have as strict of a definition.  The beer may be produced at a monastery, but not a Trappist monastery (for example, it may be produced by Benedictine monks), the beer may be produced by a commercial brewery in partnership with a monastery, or it may even be a commercial brew branded with the name of a defunct abbey.

Belgian Beer Styles

Kwak Belgian BeerThere are no strict beer styles in Belgium – two beers may technically be the same “style,” but they may have completely different taste profiles.  (So, be prepared to taste lots of different beers to find your favorite!)  But, below are some general guidelines for the beers you will taste in Belgium.

Belgian White Ale (Witte / Witbier)

Brewed with wheat, this beer has a unfiltered, hazy and very pale color – giving it it’s “white” name.  It is often brewed with orange peel and spices.  It’s a great beer for a warm summer day. (Alcohol – 4.5% – 5.5%)

Dubbel

The name is said to originate from the beer requiring twice as much grain as a “regular” beer.  This style has been brewed by monks and secular breweries for centuries.  Dubbels are typically dark brown in color and it’s flavors are malt-driven — dried fruit, chocolate-caramel with very little (or no) hop bitterness.  (Alcohol – 6% – 8%)

Tripel

As with the Dubbel, the Tripel required three times the grain of a “regular” beer.  Even though the Tripel is higher in alcohol than the Dubbel, it is much lighter in color (a yellowish, golden color versus the dark red or brown of the Dubbel).  The flavors will be spicy with bright fruit with tons of carbonation.  The alcohol is often not very detectable in the flavor, so be careful with this one!  (Alcohol 7.5% – 10%)

Strong Blond Ale

Duvel Belgian BeerThis beer is similar to a Tripel, but it is a little less sweet and more bitter.  It will have some fruity and spicy flavors and dry finish.  This is what most people think of when they think “Belgian beer.”  The name is often a give-away for this style — Duvel (meaning “Devil” in Flemmish), “Lucifer” or “Delerium Tremens.”  (Alcohol – 7.5% – 10.5%)

Strong Dark Ale

Westvleteren Trappist BeerA Belgian strong blond ale may be a close cousin to a tripel but a Belgian strong dark ale is not closely related to a dubbel. One important distinction is that the strong dark ale often uses roasted malt, which achieves a darker color and more toasty flavor than a dubbel. The flavors are  rich, sweet, bready,  and caramel-like with dark fruit notes like prunes, plums or fig.  This style includes the Westvleteren 12 which many beer connoisseurs describe as the best beer in the world.  (Alcohol – 8% – 12%)

 

Sour Beers

Belgian Lambic BeerSour beers could be a complete article by themselves!  Sours are made with spontaneous fermentation – the beer vats are left open to wild yeasts in the air.  This produces unique flavors and sometimes very sour flavors.  There are a couple different sub-types:  Flanders Red and Brown Ale are generally aged in oak barrels where the microorganisms help to create the sour, almost vinegary flavors.  Lambics, Geuze, Oud Bruin & fruit beers – these use open fermentation and are mostly brewed near Brussels.  These can range from sour to mild and are often blended to achieve a balanced flavor.  The fruit lambic beers are blended with strawberry (Framboise),  cherry (Kriek) or other fruits.  The fruit lambics can be sweet or slightly sour — some people compare them to a dry champagne.  (Alcohol – 5% – 7%)

Warning!

Most of the Beglian beers have a relatively high alcohol content.  Be mindful of this and make sure you don’t over-indulge!  Those cute cobblestone alleys can get a bit tricky after a few 10% beers!

Taste for Yourself!

We will be tasting many Belgian beers on our Great Breweries Marathon & 25k Tour and the Great Bruges Marathon & Half Tour.  You’ll get to see our favorite pubs in both Antwerp and Bruges, plus there will be ample time for you to explore bars & breweries, and, finally, we will head out to the countryside to visit the Westvleteren Trappist Abbey tasting room where you get taste the famous Westvleteren 12Cheers!

anthony bourdainBack in 2005, Anthony Bourdain’s first episode of “No Reservations” was entitled “Why the French Don’t Suck.”  (You can watch the late, great chef & TV personality here.)  Anthony’s first episode was a little strange at times, but we connected with his love of travel, his passion for food & drink, and his dark sense of humor.  And, we 100% agree that the French don’t suck!

 

The French Aren’t Rude

This is the first thing we hear from Americans who have traveled to France, or who are contemplating it.  But, it is a myth!

First, we need to pause and realize that the American culture & French culture are very different.  Things that we accept as the norm (like free public toilets, a waiter checking on our table every five minutes, smiling at strangers) are strange to the French.  So, the #1 thing to do when you think someone is being rude to you in France (or, any foreign country for that matter), is to pause and ask yourself if you are expecting something to be exactly the same as home.

Paris cafeA couple quick tips:

  1. It would be rude for a waiter or waitress to interrupt your meal every five minutes asking you if everything is ok.
  2. You can sit at that dinner table all night nursing a coffee or a glass of wine.  The wait-person will not bring your bill to get you to move along.  Just give him or her a wave when you want your bill.
  3. If you are at a very busy restaurant in a touristy area, your server will be busy – curt service is expected.  (And, in these touristy areas you may actually find some rude people – that’s why we frequent establishments with a more “local” vibe.)
  4. Politeness begets politeness.  The French always greet each other – when entering a shop or café, say “Bonjour” and when you leave, pause for a second and say, “Merci” – even if you are saying it into the void of a busy establishment – someone will respond back and appreciate your politeness, as it is expected in French culture.
  5. Not everyone speaks English.  And, even if they do, they may not speak English to you.  Our French friends have told us that this is another part of French culture – self-consciousness.  If they don’t feel that they can present perfect English to you, they will stick with speaking French.  They are NOT being rude!  They are just as nervous to try and speak English as you are to try to say something in French!  (By the way, all of our guides, drivers, hotel personnel & recommended restaurants speak English!  And we speak a little French ourselves.)  However, the French are extremely tolerant of your attempts to speak French and extremely appreciative as well.  We’ve been able to get a smile from strangers just from our attempts to go beyond what is expected and to actually speak French!

We have had some great experiences that completely dispel the myth of rude French – random people stopping in Paris and asking if we need help finding our way… Waiters speaking very slowly to us so we can practice our French… and, so many more.

The French Food & Wine is the Best

paris cheese board and wineThat first episode of “No Reservations” is a great introduction to French food & wine.  The French take their food and wine very seriously.  Can you say “non-pasteurized cheese?”  Can’t get that in the US!  How many cheeses are there in France?  There’s an old saying that there are as many cheeses as there are days in the year, but, truth be told, there are so many more.  We like cheese in this house, so we want to be anywhere that loves cheese that much!

Wine…need we say more?  French wine is amazing and our favorite.  Whether it’s a First Growth red or a house glass of rosé at a café, enjoying French wine is always delightful and a voyage for your senses.

Pastries, that’s what Jess goes for.  She always brings money with her on her morning runs, so she can head straight to her favorite patisserie.  The options are astounding and range from basic and delicious to elegant and mind blowing.  And the baguette…any place that has reverence for something as simple as the baguette, we want to be there.  Did you know that French law states that traditional baguettes have to be made on the premises they’re sold and can only be made with four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can’t be frozen at any stage or contain additives or preservatives, which also means they go stale within 24 hours.  As if they’d last 24 hours in our hands!

There is so much more to French food: steak frites, boeuf bourguignon, croque monsieur, the list goes on, but you get the idea.  You’re going to want to eat when you’re in France!

The French Have Life Figured Out

Paris - relaxing by the SeineWe Americans are always “go! go! go!”  And, when we only have a limited amount of time for a European vacation, we definitely want to see all the sights.  But, don’t miss out on the relaxation.  Be like the French and sit for hours at a sidewalk café with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and watch the world pass by.  Or, stroll leisurely along the Seine (and, maybe stop for a glass of rosé at a riverside bar.)  Linger for a few of hours over a four-course dinner — and, finish it off with an espresso, like the French always do.  Then follow up dinner by window shopping and taking in the Eiffel Tower twinkling on your way back to your hotel.  Take your time & see the real France.

Experience all the amazing experiences that France has to offer – check out our running tours in France here!

We are so excited about our D-Day Landings Marathon & Half Tour (plus Paris!) and we are can’t wait for you to experience it with us.  (June 14 – 21, 2019 or June 14 – 23, 2019 – click here to learn more.)

We’ll cut straight to the chase – we love France! I mean, really love it, and we love this race. And, we know that you will love this tour. Whether you’ve been to France before or it’s your first time, this will be an experience that will always stay with you.

D-Day Memorial

Normandy is beyond amazing. Not only will you see the beauty and hear about the history, but you will feel so much more. You will feel how much the French appreciate the sacrifices that American men and women made in the fight for freedom. You will feel what it must have been like to live or fight in this place during that time as your guide transports you back to 1944.

 

The race just adds to this experience by running through the French countryside with so many villagers cheering you on with “Allez!” and “Bravo!” Not to mention being able to start on Pegasus Bridge for the half marathon – the first bridge liberated by the Allies or running along the beaches for the full marathon. The cobblestone streets then lead you to the finish line to a roaring and enthusiastic crowd and French-inspired post-race snacks and Normandy delights.

Speaking of delights, in addition to igniting all of these senses, you will certainly ignite your sense of taste! Normandy, known for butter, Camembert, cider and Calvados, will have you reaping the rewards of your run. And moving on to Paris, you will, of course, enjoy the rest of what France has to offer with wine, more cheese, and pastries that are almost as religious of an experience as visiting Notre Dame.

Paris at nightAnd your time in Paris will not only offer you all the tourist things you’ve always wanted to see, but private experiences that you haven’t even considered. You will experience the capital city on a personal level with your local guide, eat at friendly, quaint restaurants and get to know what Paris is below the surface and beyond just a big city.

 

Book this once in a lifetime experience and come run with us!

Questions? We’d love to answer all of them. Feel free to call or message us.  Call Jessica at 970-445-0968 or Dan at 970-368-2326.

Check out the itinerary of this tour and get the specifics of all of the amazing experiences you will have.  Or, watch our video chat about the D-Day Marathon & Half Tour (plus Paris).

We are so excited about our Prague Marathon tour and we are so excited for you to experience it.  (May 3 – 10, 2019 – click here to learn more.)

Czech Republic - PraguePrague is unique to say the least. It’s an awe-inspiring city complete with jaw-dropping beauty. Everywhere you turn is a photo op as the architecture offers up brilliant colors, unique buildings and the feeling that you’ve been dropped in a medieval world. Prague is referred to as “the City of a Hundred Spires” and it has no doubt earned that recognition. You’ll feel compelled to take a photo of every one of them.

Why Prague? There’s just something different about it… maybe it’s due to the fact that it’s had such a tumultuous history and yet it now welcomes the rest of the world with open arms. The people are friendly and want to share their culture with you. And that culture includes food that is as hearty as it gets, and like nothing you can find anywhere else. The beer is pretty amazing too. It’s the 4th most visited city in Europe. There’s a reason for that!

Prague MarathonAnd the race – the 25th Edition of the Prague Marathon. It’s popular, it’s fast and it gives you a great opportunity to experience the city in one amazing gulp over the course of those 26.2 miles. Bringing it home on your way to the finish line at the center of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an exhilarating feeling. (And the chance to run across Charles Bridge without tourists!)

Book this once in a lifetime experience and come run with us!

Questions? We’d love to answer all of them. Feel free to call or message us.  Call Jessica at 970-445-0968 or Dan at 970-368-2326.

Check out the itinerary of this tour and get the specifics of all of the amazing experiences you will have.  Or, watch our video chat about the Prague Marathon Tour.

 

We are thrilled to have our amazing Great Breweries Marathon & 25k tour to offer you!  (May 10 – 17, 2019 – click here to learn more.)

antwerp belgium squareWe firmly believe that Belgium is underrated. Beer, chocolate, fries and waffles alone are a good enough draw. And a great reason to burn off some calories at the beginning of your trip! But seriously, Belgium is fantastic. The Belgian architecture is so unique and detailed and the Belgian’s are full of pride to share their country with you.

You will get to experience the city of Antwerp before and after the race and this city has so much to offer. It has an amazing history of being a port city for commerce and for those departing from Europe in and around WWII. Not to mention it has an amazing shopping and fashion community, being home to one of the oldest fashion academies and most renown fashion colleges. There are other things to do if shopping isn’t your thing…check out the many amazing pubs, visit the cathedral, tour the Ruebens house & museum if you are interested in art. The, list truly goes on and on.

Great Breweries Marathon 2017
Great Breweries Marathon 2017

But the race… the Belgians know how to enjoy their brews. The race runs through three top breweries in Belgium. And it finishes at one of those breweries where the celebration commences after the race. Tee shirt… check. Medal… check. “To go” box of a beer from each of those breweries… check. Three complimentary beers in, of course, the correct Belgian glass… check. So much fun and an amazing experience…. definitely, check! (Oh yeah, and there’s loads of fries & waffles post race as well.)

Bruges Canal and TowerThen we visit Bruges, quite possibly the quaintest town you’ve ever seen complete with more beer, more chocolate & canals everywhere with more amazing architecture. Nothing of Bruges has changed since at least the 1500s. So you can imagine how unique it must be. On top of all of that, you will visit the monastery where they make the best beer in the world!

Run your heart out and then enjoy the laid back culture (despite all the things to do!) that Belgium has to offer!

Book this once in a lifetime experience and come run with us!

Questions? We’d love to answer all of them. Feel free to call or message us.  Call Jessica at 970-445-0968 or Dan at 970-368-2326.

Check out the itinerary of this tour and get the specifics of all of the amazing experiences you will have.  Or, watch our video chat about the Great Breweries Marathon & 25k Tour.

Lucerne, Switzerland is stunningly beautiful!  It’s a fairy tale setting in the old town and surrounded by breathtaking mountains full of all sorts of activities.

We have so many amazing adventures in store for you during our upcoming tours (including the Swiss City Marathon & Half Marathon this fall).  On our own “runcation” to Switzerland, we started with a leisurely afternoon to get over our jet lag.  We always try to stay awake upon our arrival to Europe and push through until bedtime.  (Check out our “Jet Lag” posts here.)  We got outside and walked a bit to perk us up, and then had a glass of wine in the hotel bar before walking to dinner.  Staying active really helps to push through the “fog” that comes with a long day of travel to Europe.

On the first day, we try to find a casual place for dinner.  First, a casual option is usually open for dinner at an earlier hour — some places in Europe don’t open for dinner until 7:30 pm.  We know we won’t last too long after dark, so an earlier dinner is very helpful.  Second, a casual spot makes for a quicker dinner.  More formal restaurants have a slower pace, possibly with multiple courses.

We held out until about 9:00 pm before crashing into bed.  That gave us about ten uninterrupted hours of sleep and that’s exactly how you get over your jet lag quickly.

Day two was a bit rainy, but our private guide knew of many options that could keep us relatively dry, but still give us a taste of the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Switzerland.  So, we set off on a short train ride to the Aare Gorge.  The hundreds of feet deep gorge is cut through the mountains by a fast-moving river.  There are waterfalls, rapids, and sights galore!  The tunnels and rock over-hangs kept us mostly dry before the sky cleared up a bit for the remainder of the day which included lunch (we’ll tell you about the yummy flammkuchen in a future post) and a bit of hiking.

Mount Pilatus

Asparagus is fresh and local in early May, and it was on all the menus.  So, we dined on asparagus at a restaurant recommended by a friend.  We love getting recommendations of spots away from most of the tourists so we can feel how the locals live, and this cafe was perfect.

Day three was sunny, so we hit Mount Pilatus for the spectacular views.  The trip to and from the mountain is almost as fun as hanging out on the peak!  We started with a boat trip on Lake Lucerne.  You can grab a glass of bubbly and enjoy the lake and surrounding views of the Swiss Alps.  Then, we climbed Mount Pilatus on the steepest cog train in the world.  After a lunch enjoying the breathtaking views, we hopped on a tram down the other side of the mountain, followed by a relaxing gondola ride to the base of the mountain.  With our guide, we also have the option of hiking part way down the mountain.  We will get away from all the tourists and see how the Swiss do Mount Pilatus.

Day four was a day to explore Lucerne in running shoes!  We set off on our early-morning run along the lake, and in addition to the spectacular mountain views (I know, I just can’t stop talking about the views), we passed a castle, vineyards, Swiss cows (with their famous cowbells ringing), inviting park benches, and more.

We finished off the evening at our hotel’s partner restaurant.  We didn’t even look at the menu, as the chef created for us a custom four-course tasting menu with local wine paired.  It was out of this world!

Our final day was, again, with our private guide.  We visited an outdoor museum showing the history of Switzerland.  It was educational, but not like a “sterile” museum.  You can buy fresh made bread and cheese (made by hand, using the traditional methods).  With you as our guest, we can also bring our own brats, sides and beer & wine and grill out over an open fire. Plus, it was a nice way to work out some of the soreness of our long run.  We followed that up with a tour of some of the highlights and history of the town of Lucerne.  We had the perfect ending to the tour at the local brewery.

Lucerne & Switzerland have so much to offer, but here’s just a sampling of things to do:

  • Private chocolate tasting and chocolate-making class
  • Private cheese tasting of local, artisanal cheeses
  • Hiking the Swiss Alps (with a traditional Swiss “wurst” and beer/wine as our reward!)
  • Boat tour on Lake Lucerne
  • Visiting the amazing mountain vistas on one of the nearby peaks.  (Plus, an option to hike part of the way back down the mountain, if the weather and leg muscles allow.)
  • A drive through the “Valley of 72 Waterfalls”
  • A leisurely afternoon on a paddle boat
  • A run along the lake with some of the most gorgeous views imaginable.

Check out the Swiss City Marathon & Half Marathon this fall or contact us for a trail running week in the Swiss Alps.

Lake Lucerne from run

 

Normandy is beautiful, but there are also many WWII historical sites where we will learn the personal stories (sometimes triumphant, sometimes tragic) of those who helped to win freedom for France and the World.  The D-Day Marathon & Half Marathon take us by many of those historical sites.  You may not be a history buff, but the D-Day stories will give you goosebumps and the rest of our tour will give you time to relax and enjoy Paris!

Paris is our favorite city in Europe!  Paris has many must-see sights, but it also has so much more for those of us who like to immerse ourselves in the neighborhood culture.

If this is your first visit to Paris, we will give you time to visit some of the iconic landmarks: impressionist art at the Musee d’Orsay, Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre… the list goes on and on!

But, we will also slow down and give you a feel of the “real” Paris – cute neighborhood shops, the many parks and gardens where you can just relax with a baguette for lunch, or the outdoor cafe where you can sit with a glass of rosé and just watch Parisian life go by.

 

The run is obviously unique!  If you have done the Marine Corps Marathon, this marathon must be on your bucket list.  The marathon takes us along the famous beaches and battle sites of the Normandy Landings (Juno and Sword Beaches, the Casino d’Ouistreham, Pegasus Bridge, etc.) making your way to the finish line in Caen.  The Pegasus Half Marathon, named after the famous bridge from which it sets off, was the first bridge liberated by British soldiers from the 6th Airborne Division.  You will wind your way through quaint villages and the idyllic French countryside to the finish in Caen.

Click here for the full running tour itinerary and details for the D-Day Landings Marathon & Half Marathon.

Our running tour runs from June 1 – 5, 2018 or June 1 – 7, 2018.  We will be staying in Bruges, Belgium, the quintessential medieval town.  Bruges is one of our favorite European towns!  It’s brimming with quiet cobblestone lanes, romantic canals, grand market squares and soaring towers, this Unesco World Heritage site has another photo opportunity around every corner.

We think Belgium is one of the underrated and overlooked destinations in Europe.  The people are friendly, the art, history, and beautiful architecture are plentiful, and the food and drink are amazing!  Some specialties we will have the opportunity to enjoy are mussels, Belgian waffles, the “to die for” chocolate, “Belgian fries” (not “French fries!”), and the world-class beers.

The race is definitely a unique one!  We will run through three of Belgium’s top breweries and the idyllic Belgian countryside.  After the run, we will get a taste of all those amazing beers!  (Or, if you walk the route, you can taste along the way!)

In addition to beer, Belgium is home to some of the best chocolate in the world.  In our private chocolate tour, we will nibble our way through Brussels’ chocolate boutiques and wander past some of Brussels top sights.

Finally, we will all have time to slow down and enjoy all that Bruges & Belgium has to offer!

Get the full running tour details and itinerary for the Great Breweries Marathon & 25k!