Well. The 16 hours of travel, featuring a massive pile up on the M25, a man trying to throw himself off a bridge over the A34, my credit card getting pinched in a service station of despair near Bruges, causing me to make my eldest son cry inconsolably with my shouting and panic, followed by the now traditional Attempting To Get Back To Brussels ''This Defies All Sense Where The Fuck Have You All Come From There Are Not This Many People In The Whole of Belgium' Traffic Jam, were perhaps sub-optimal, particular since the dog got up in a panic and put its balls in my face every time we slowed, but otherwise our weekend at Tetanus Manor was a delight.
The sun shone. There was cake. I saw neither children nor dog for most of the time we were there, since they were busy respectively chasing balls and looking for dead stuff/re-enacting 1970s public information films in rivers under the ahem, watchful eye of my father. Easter's dead stoat (or ferret, pace Elsa who is scary when it comes to long bodied, rodenty things) had long decomposed, but there were a few compensatory dead rabbits.
Here is one of my children in my dad's vegetable garden, which was looking amazing:
Do not write and tell me that none of those things are vegetables. You may well be right. As far as I am concerned vegetables come pre-trimmed in cellophane wrapped packages from Marks and Spencer and I do not need anyone to spoil that magic. The children ate lots of the nasturtiums, anyway, so I am sure that counts.
Now the children are at their enviable zoo activity week, where they get to wash giant tortoises and cut lemurs' toenails and the like, leaving me sweating jealously in my bra in the attic and catching up with all the work I have been putting off; whilst ignoring the various looming administrative menaces that hang over my head.
Things to do in a hot attic: stay very still. Fiddle with the shutters. Spray Caudalie Eau de Beauté regularly. Moan to M on gchat. Stand in front of small fan. Things not to do in a hot attic: look for important missing pieces of paper whilst feeling sick with panic. It is really very hot up here, several degrees hotter than anywhere else in the house and there is a phantom smell of burnt toast that I really hope isn't come from my brain. I am not ruling it out.
Anyway, I have been doing various bits of Belgian lifestyle (HA) writing and I thought I could fill the small number of you who actually live in Belgium in on Good Stuff I Have Seen or Done Recently. This may take a couple of posts. Sssh. It won't take long. Go away and come back in a few weeks if you have never had any desire to go to Belgium and have no interest in hearing about it. There is no stigma attached to that. I am totally fine with it.
All gone? Good.
First: The best place to stay in the whole of Belgium ever, honestly. I promise, it is even better than that hotel in Spa I told you about ages ago, and that was pretty bloody amazing. I am not being paid to say this or anything, I just thought it was the loveliest place I had ever been. I stayed for free for a magazine piece I was writing, but I am going back there in November with my own money, if I can ever locate any. Sssh, don't tell them I haven't got any money. I'll sell something if necessary. I can't even send the owners a link to this post and hope for a freebie because the first three paragraphs are about sweating and traffic jams and dog testicles. I am so great at this lifestyle blogging lark, jah, jah.
It is called the Domaine de l'Ardoisière; and ok, this place is not for you if you are really allergic to the country. I am fairly allergic to the country, as well-documented on these pages, but sling a few horses into the picture and I am easily swayed. I am a sucker for a velvety muzzle and some sturdy hooves.
The Domaine de l'Ardoisière which is about a million Belgian Miles* from anywhere in the middle of a remote bit of Ardennes forest scored very highly on this score because as we drove into the the driveway, this is the sight that greeted us:
These? Oh, these are just a few of the owner's beautiful CAMARGUE HORSES AND THEIR FOALS.
I realise this is only exciting for me and a handful of others, but I am unrepentant. FOALS. FOALS ON TAP. Once I had been forcibly prised away from the horses, this is what it looked like from the front:
And this is what it looked like when you sat on your terrace and drank wine and ate charcuterie, which is what you do most of the time:
And this, my friends, is what it looked like from the BATH. Oh yes.
It is beautiful. Stupidly, stupidly beautiful. Ludicrously, fairytale grotto beautiful. I am desperate to go in autumn and see and smell all the leafy, autumnal, bosky gorgeousness. Jesus, I am concerned I may be starting to like the country.
Anyway, there are five suitey, cottage type things and they sleep up to 7 people. Everything in them is new and beautiful and white and stylish, but not so much that you are scared of leaving dirty fingerprints, and all the bedrooms have cleverly placed windows so you get a massive eyeful of beautiful forest. Look, like this:
(Our suite was 'Hamptons', hence the flag. They are all 'themed', which is the kind of thing that strikes terror into the hearts of all right-thinking people, but the theming was really quite light. There were a few plaid cushions and the loos were papered with amusing vintage American magazines. No one force-fed you Ralph Lauren. I might think twice about 'Wonderland' which is a bit loopy and has a bubble gum pink kitchen, but the others were all just beautiful).
They are all shiny and well-equipped and they have wifi and coffee machines and Molton Brown stuff in the bathrooms and masses of fluffy towels and all that kind of thing. They have a TV too, but it only shows the FR2 série de l'été, as far as I could ascertain, which is not something anyone should ever have to watch, even if they are French. You should, if you ever go, disdain the TV and concentrate on sitting on the terrace and drinking wine and eating your aperitif which is delivered to you by an angel (in the form of what appears to be a mute Belgian cowboy). It looked like this, and nearly made me cry hot tears of grateful joy:
The Ardennes are very good at sausage and sausage like things. There was also smoked duck and black pudding and that thing at the back is a sort of delectably flaky puff pastry pizza, a bit like a Thomas the Bakers "Yorkshire Pizza", but BETTER. The green thing was a cold soup made from local herbs. It was all stupidly delicious.
If you insist on doing something other than sitting eating sausage until your face bursts, you can do all manner of outdoors type stuff if you so insist. Cycling. Walking. Canoeing or Kayaking or something, as if I would know the difference. I went for a ride on one of those beautiful Camargue horses. It was the first time I had been on a horse since my accident 2 years ago and a very kind, very patient horse called Anouble and I went for an extremely slow amble through the forest and across the bracken moors. Here is Anouble, My Lovely Horse:
There is even a swimming pool at the Domaine, with barking mad 1970s mythological murals, clearly painted by someone who had picked the wrong kind of mushrooms one autumn:
The prices are scary when you first look - a two night weekend stay is €625 - but think about it: that's €300 a night for SEVEN PEOPLE, which works out at something like 44 quid per person per night. Go! GO! Or don't go. Let me go instead. I'd cheerfully move in there forever and get grotesquely fat on charcuterie until none of the horses could carry me any more.
Oh, you can go and look at it here (no, I do not know what "schist rocks" are. Ask a geologist), if you wish.
(*Belgium is so small it requires its own unit of distance measurement)