The Gulpener Beerhike
This third walk from the yet to be published booklet The Best Beer Walks in the Benelux is set in Southern Limburg, that beautiful and very unDutch-looking part of the Netherlands. It is as if our country has tried to dig deep into Central Europe in order to get its fair share of hills and half-timbered houses. As a side result, also a few interesting beers were dragged within the national borders.
The map can, as always be zoomed and panned; click here for a larger version.
The history of Limburg is fascinating. In fact, the province could just as easily have become a Luxembourg-like mini-state or a part of Belgium or Germany, if things had developed a little differently. In fact, in the nineteenth century, Limburg was briefly under Belgian rule and then for three decades it was part of both the Netherlands and the German Confederation. It was not until 1867 that it officially became a province of the Netherlands. But a long weekend in Southern Limburg still feels like a foreign holiday.
The 19.2 kilometer walk starts in Slenaken, or Sjlennich, as it is called in the local language. Half a century ago – we are getting old – I spent a summer vacation here with my parents and sister. But since then I had never been to Slenaken again. My mistake, because the village is located in one of the most beautiful places in the Limburgian hills, just half a kilometer from the Belgian border.
Up and down
The route first climbs steeply, into the Groote Bosch (Great Forest). Well, steep, by Dutch standards that is. When we leave the forest, which is actually rather small, we first walk over a plateau and then gradually descend again. The rolling landscape is rather varied: forests, fields, meadows, villages and sweeping views.
Just past Epen we cross the river Geul, after which we follow its valley for a couple of miles. No more climbing and descending for a while; the path follows the river and is therefore quite horizontal. And for that reason it’s also quite popular; we are not the only hikers here.
At Mechelen, after 8.2 kilometres, we are almost halfway our hike; time for a catering break. There are various pubs in the village, we settle down at De Paardenstal on the Hoofdstraat. By the way, this Mechelen should not be confused with the town of the same name in Belgium; that is certainly worth a visit as well and may be the destination of a future beer walk.
After a tour around the church we return to the Geul, which we follow for a few more kilometres. After we have crossed the river, there’s a steep climb and an even steeper descent: the Gulperberg (157 metres above sea level). That fits perfectly with the concept of these beer walks: lots of exercise to compensate for the calories supplied with the beer.
After 12.5 kilometers of hiking, Gulpen is the largest place we visit today, although with its 4000 inhabitants, it can still be called a village. But nevertheless a village for which the French have come up with their own name: Galoppe.
The main claim to fame of Galoppe is the Gulpener beer, which is exported far beyond the provincial borders. The brewery was founded in 1825. In the past, the company also produced vinegar and mustard and used other names such as The Crowned Lion and The Black Rider, but nowadays mainly beer is brewed in the Gulpener Brewery. The company uses the slogan The Free Brewer; Gulpener is a family business that is not part of one of the major conglomerates.
Like De Leckere, the goal of our previous beer walk, Gulpener excels in corporate social responsibility. The brewery sources its sustainably grown barley from farmers in the region; the hops come from their own garden. Renewable energy sources are used as much as possible and a five-hectare forest was once planted near Gulpen to compensate for the CO2 that was still emitted despite all the effort. In other words: well done!
The brewery is located in a complex of buildings in the middle of the village. Part of it holds public functions: a shop with a very wide range of products and the Brouwlokaal, a nice café with a large terrace in the courtyard. The choice of beer in the Brouwlokaal is of course overwhelming; we opt for a Rogge Tripel and a Gerardus Dubbel (because also Gerardus Wittems Kloosterbier is brewed here). Of course, this asks for a snack platter, on which, in addition to a number of beautiful cheeses, we also find asparagus.
Despite the temptations, it is advisable to limit the number of beers to two because it is still seven kilometers back to Slenaken. The route is for the most part quite flat because after the Geul we now follow the valley of another river, the Gulp. Although I have to confess to my shame that we accidentally made a left turn one trail too early, after which our legs had to endure another strenuous ascent and descent. Fortunately, thanks to regular practice, we can handle that.