Because going south is not the same as going north…
Our easter roadtrip from Brussels to the Black Forest
So for Easter, my friends and I decided to pack our bags and head on south for a 4 day roadtrip weekend! Well, the southern part of Germany that is (which is not really that much south tbh).
Deciding where to go
We planned 4 days of holidays so we could go a bit further than usual (read: outside of Belgium), but not ridiculously far that we would be too pressed for time. We initially thought to go to the area of Munich, but saw it was way too far for 4 days. We decided to go a bit closer and ended up with the Black Forest area around Baden Baden.
As we were going to be 9 people in the end, we figured it would be easier to move around and get to Germany by car. Despite the fact that Belgium and Germany are neighbors, it’s not that direct and easy to actually get beyond border towns in Germany from Belgium. Also unless there’s a sale, trains to Germany can cost you a pretty penny.
Renting a van for 9 people
So first thing was trying to find where to rent a van that huge. While most rental agencies will show you this option, not all of their agency branches will have it. I’ve found that in Belgium, pretty much the only sure place that you will get a vehicle for more than 5 people is either in the airport (Zaventem) or in Bruxelles Midi (FR)/Brussels Zuid (NL).
*Note: Bruxelles Midi and Brussels Zuid are the same station. Midi is for francophones, Zuid is for Dutch speakers.
It was a bit difficult to find an agency that allowed for unlimited kilometers (most of them only offered like 300km), but I was able to finally get an option for unlimited kilometers in Europcar.
We decided to get the car from Brussels Midi just because taking the train to Brussels Airport Zaventem costs more because of the airport fee.
Car Pick Up in Bruxelles Midi (FR)/Brussels Zuid (NL)
Europcar’s office in Brussels Midi is conveniently inside the station (unlike most rental locations which say they are in the station but normally turn out to be outside of it). It’s found right past the Eurostar terminal (where you have to check in if you’re going to London by train).
Pick up was quite easy. Everything was prepared and I only had to sign some minimum amount of papers and show my identification. I had the contract and paper ready in like 10 minutes.
Note that there is a policy that if you reserve it and pay for it online, you will be the assumed primary driver. If someone else will drive the car, you have to make sure you pay for an extra driver and register them. I think normally if someone else drives the car and is not registered as a driver, if you get into trouble/an accident, insurance will not cover you.
Once you get the contract (and parking ticket), you have to go down the elevator, to the basement parking of Midi station. There should be a guy there who will show you your car and give you your keys.
As I was the one who reserved the car, I was primary driver. So despite the fact that I rarely drive, here I was about to embark on a 400 km drive through 4 countries, in a huge van.
Needless to say I have a lot of confidence in myself.
Off to Bouillon!
I’ve never driven inside of Brussels before and let me tell you – getting out of Brussels was the most difficult part of the whole driving experience.
I felt like it took an hour before we even got on the highway to the south.
As we had to pick someone up in Luxembourg a bit late, we had some time to kill before heading straight to Luxembourg. We picked some random town a little on the way, and we ended up with Bouillon.
Brussels to Bouillon is about a 2 hour drive from the highway (I’m not counting all that time spent trying to get out of Brussels).
Bouillon – The town, not the soup
Bouillon is a small city in the Belgian Ardennes, situated in the Luxembourg province of Belgium (not to be confused with the actual Luxembourg country – though Luxembourg province is the Belgian province next to Luxembourg country).
The Belgian Ardennes is quite a beautiful area to explore if you love nature. There’s a lot of small little cities like Bouillon with picturesque medieval villages/chateaus perfectly situated amidst running rivers and dense forest-y areas.
Bouillon was exactly like this. It was a tiny city centered on a river, with a huge chateau on a hill by the river.
We found a free place to park, right beside the river (just in front of the restaurant Il Padrino).
On the other side of where we parked, we found a grassy knoll with some benches. It was the perfect place to go and have a lunch picnic.
One of our friends brought along a frisbee, so we played that for a bit, all the while thinking that this frisbee is going to end up in the water sooner or later.
It happened sooner.
In the end we were able to retrieve the frisbee by following it downstream and by borrowing a kayak from the rental stall to pick it up!
After that quick adventure, we decided to check out the town. The most famous thing in the town is of course the chateau.
The town itself is super small that it’s not that difficult to find the route to the chateau. It is a bit of a hike as the Chateau is up a hill. You can also get there by car, but it doesn’t really make sense if you already parked somewhere else. Plus the views going up is also quite nice.
From the top (chateau level), you have a really nice view of the town and the Semois river.
So because we are cheap ass people, we didn’t go inside the Chateau (it was paying). We just decided to go the other way and explore a bit more the town.
It was honestly quite interesting as they had a nice church with this weird knight statues and I really loved this small town cinema.
Finally after an hour or so of walking around, we decided to take one final advantage of this stop and drove over to a huge ass Colruyt (supermarket) just within the city.
With that final stop done, we were now off to Luxembourg!
Final note: I highly recommend taking the time to check out this city if you are exploring the south of Belgium.
Bettembourg Station – Luxembourg
The border crossing from Belgium to Luxembourg was a bit shitty. There was some construction being done so traffic on both ways were quite bad.
Ok tbh – we really didn’t do anything in Luxembourg except pick someone up at Bettembourg station.
It’s a great place though to pick someone up if they’re coming from Lux city. Lux city apparently is also notorious for traffic, so we were able to avoid all that. Plus Bettermbourg had a big parking lot outside the station and toilets – so win win.
From Bettembourg, we drove straight on to Germany.
*Pro Tip: Gas is way cheaper in Luxembourg than Belgium, France or Germany. Fill up in Luxembourg if you have a chance to stop by a gas station
Getting Tolled in France
While it’s the fastest way, it also does involve some tolls if you go through the major high ways.
The fastest way to our booked apartments in the city of Bad Peterstal-Griesbach in Germany is through France.
*Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany do not have tolled high ways.
Anyway sometime it’s worth it to spend for the toll as you lose more money with gas by going the long way.
On the way, we stopped for a toilet break in some random station somewhere in Lorraine with this awesome sign.
Crossing the Rhine to Germany
In case you didn’t know (like I did), there is a certain part of France and Germany that is geographically separated by the Rhine river.
We got off the highway and into periphery of Strasbourg, crossed a bridge over the Rhine and ta-dah, we were in Germany!
Coming from a country with no land borders, I still find it amazing to be crossing countries so easily, without any sort of distinguishable border.
It’s like blink and the language is suddenly different
Final Destination – Black Forest, Germany
We still had to drive about an hour or so before finally reaching our apartment. We were initially looking at staying in Baden Baden, but one of our friends found a really great cheap apartment that could hold all 9 people a bit further south in the city of Bad Peterstal-Griesbach.
I honestly have no idea how to pronounce it but the apartment’s names was Ehrenmättlehof Faißt. Click on the name to be directed to the Booking.com link.
This area, btw, aside from the Black Forest, is famous for its baths. Most of the cities with the word “Bad” in it usually means it’s a place where you can find some sort of Spa. There was also one in the city we stayed in Bad Peterstal-Griesbach but didn’t have the time to check it out.
We had a bit of a difficult time trying to find the entrance to the apartment as it was dark and we had to go up a small side street which we missed a couple of times. Anyway obviously, in the end we successfully got ourselves up there.
We booked 2 apartments, both of which could have up til 5 people. The 2 apartments were massive. It was completely equipped with everything from kitchen utensils to kid’s games. There was also a huge wrap around balcony and access to a small garden where you could barbecue.
At the time we arrived, it was already around 9pm and we were ravenous. We took just a couple of minutes to settle in and started preparing to eat!
Thankfully we were prepared with our dinner and had brought a raclette set and all the required ingredients (cheese and potatoes) to pull it off.
And so finally after going through 4 countries in one day, it was time to sleep and be ready for 2 full days of going around the Black Forest!
More on the Black Forest on my next post!