You hopefully will have read my post yesterday featuring the St Bernardus bed and breakfast hotel Brouwershuis, which is situated about a mile out of the village of Watou on the aptly named “Trappistenweg” road.
Watou was the surprise gem on this trip, a stop off point that was really planned in to take advantage of Sint Sixtus Westvleteren and St Bernardus. I had been to Watou before in very similar circumstances last year and it was closed… Seriously we hardly saw a soul as we wandered about at around lunchtime, the odd shop, a dog and a bronze statue of a brewer, this time we went on a hot Monday Summer evening and the place was buzzing.
After a seemingly endless walk along the Roman straight Trappistenweg road we arrived in the towns main square at around 7:30 PM and set to looking around for somewhere to eat. There are several bars and restaurants dotted around which may seem surprising for such a small village, but when you consider the proximity to such famous breweries and Belgium’s “Hop Capital” Poperinge not so much so. We settled on the obviously popular ‘t Hommelhof as this had been recommended as being top quality, but also because it looked so inviting and quite frankly the plates of food being delivered to tables looked awesome.
“T Hommelhof specialises in no-nonsense Belgian style dishes made with Belgian beers. There are a few set menus priced at different levels, but we opted for just dinner and a beer. The wife and I opted for fried cod, with baby vegetables and bacon in ‘t Kapittel Abt and sorrel mash, this was delicious. However, our two friends opted for the leg of ham in ‘St-Bernardus tripel which was simple, huge and stunningly well cooked.
I have to add that although we only ordered a main course, as we waited, bread, olives and the most beautiful pâté I have ever tasted arrived at the table. Made in-house with (I believe) St Bernardus beer it melted in the mouth like really slow cooked pork whilst retaining some of it’s original texture, it really was so good, in fact remained the talking point of the meal for the entire evening. If you visit Watou, please, please plan in a visit to Hommelhof.
We then moved to a lovely little place across the square called Gastof De Eendracht, quiet and unassuming compared to our former location, but with outside space and a real local feel. Beer choice was limited as was communication as our hosts spoke almost zero English, luckily Marc (one of our fellow trip-ees) spoke reasonable French which helped massively.
It was here we spent a few hours just soaking up the local vibe. The square was buzzing with people eating, drinking, laughing and generally having a good time. A couple set up an obviously regular barbecue and were cooking sausages that smelled delicious and all around the square men of all ages were engaged in a sort of street version of crown green bowling.
I’ve since found out that this is called “Baanbolling” or “Rolle Bolle”, the basic rules being that teams (or individuals) take turns to roll their Bolle (sort of 6 inch stumpy wheel with a weighted bias on one side) at two discs screwed into the street at about 30 paces. This was half on cobbles half road but I think that was down to current location rather than a stipulation. It was all good-humoured and barmen and women scurried across the street to refill glasses as the night wore on.
Once the game finished I wandered across to try and understand what the game was about and was told that it happened most Mondays and was just friendly rather than inter village etc. I even managed to have a couple of efforts myself too.
We also made friends with a couple of local characters here an old guy called Emile and his lively little dog Carbon 14. On arrival a small black scruffy but cute looking dog was sat on a bar stool in the bar, on his own apart from the hoteliers pottering around. But after a while he was retrieved and brought back outside by his owner Emile a really nice fella as we were to find out. Of course being a youngish dog Carbon 14 was a little “lively” which of course encourages infectious conversation with fellow dog lovers. This proved difficult as Emile had obviously had a few and spoke almost no English, with Marc again coming into his own in a sketchy French meets Flemish, Dutch drunk hybrid affair. From this we gathered his and the dogs name, plus the facts that he’d moved away and moved back again and that Watou was beautiful (we think…). We agreed and bought him a drink as we left.
I very much doubt he’ll ever read this but if he does, CHEERS Emile, you are a top man.
We finished our evening at Ood Gemeentehuis (which I think means Old Town Hall), this was really a locals pub and was really lively for a Monday night, lots of families sitting outside and a buzzing but pretty much spit and sawdust style interior. Although clearly outsiders, we never felt threatened or unwelcome and enjoyed several beers before heading back up the long moonlit road to the hotel for a St Bernardus nightcap.
As I said when I opened, Watou was a real surprise for us, nothing fancy but a little bit of a back country Belgium gem. Don’t come here for huge elaborate beer lists, come for a genuine Belgian experience and bring a torch..