History & Culture

Discover Poperinge, Flanders’ hidden gem

The next time you roll off Le Shuttle at Calais, why not set your sights on Poperinge, a pretty Belgian town just an hour’s drive away?

Poperinge is the perfect weekend destination for any beer connoisseurs, battle history buffs and lovers of the great outdoors, or as an overnight stop on the way to Bruges.

The history of Poperinge

During World War I nearby Ypres was a focal point of the front for long periods of the war. As a result, today this former garrison town has become a popular spot for those paying their respects while visiting the many WWI battlefields, cemeteries and monuments in Flanders.

A man and a woman enjoying a stroll around Poperinge’s cobbled streets.

In Poperinge itself we’d recommend a visit to Talbot House (also known as Toc-H). During WWI the house was rented by a chaplain, named the Everyman Club and became a safe haven for exhausted, war-weary soldiers in the midst of the fighting. Today it’s a living museum which has preserved its traditional feel, and you can also book guest rooms and stay here.

Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

If you’re planning a visit and you’re keen to get a sense of the sheer scale of remembrance, then a trip to the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery is a must. As you’d expect from the second-largest Commonwealth war cemetery in Belgium it’s an imposing sight, from the huge iron gates you pass through at the entrance, to the relatively new visitor centre (built in 2012) where groups are briefed before touring the cemetery.

The entrance arch to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, flanked by trees.

Heaven for hopheads

Welcome to ‘hoppe stad’, which translates as ‘the Capital of Hops’. It’s also known simply as the Kingdom of Beer. The locals are proud of Poperinge’s reputation for great food, but it’s their astonishingly-good beer which is arguably the best in the world.

The fields around Poperinge supply 80% of all the hops used in Belgian beer and the town itself is home to the national Hops Museum (as a rule, you know you’re in a beer-loving country when it has a national museum dedicated to hops). Being just an hour from Le Shuttle makes this a perfect spot to fill up on some of Belgium’s finest exports.

A tray full of glasses of Westvleteren beer.

On your bike (or in the car)

This part of Belgium is blessed with plenty of quiet, flat country lanes that make touring the surrounding countryside on two wheels a pretty accessible option for even the most pedal-shy.

Some of the most famous breweries in the world are to be found in this part of the country. The 100% organic craft ale farm brewery of De Plukker and the renowned Sint Bernardus brewery with its stunning new rooftop bar, ‘Bar Bernard’, are just a few of the must-visits we’d recommend on any cycling ale trail in the countryside around Poperinge.

Some of the most famous breweries, like the famous Trappist Abbey of Sint Sixtus at Westvleteren, are working monasteries that just also happen to make some of the best beer in the world. The abbey does, however, have its own bar in the village called In de Vrede and this is where you’ll find a drop of the legendary beer Westvleteren 12°.

Get the blood pumping

Adrenaline junkies can get their fix too, in the shape of the Outside Adventure park that lies just outside Poperinge, where you can go quadbike racing, paintballing, go-kart racing, rope climbing, wakeboarding... the list goes on.

People climbing the aerial assault course at the Outside Adventure Park.

Check out the festival(s)

Back in the town, you’ll be pleased to hear Poperinge loves to celebrate its famous beer so much it has not one festival, but two. The first is an annual beer festival, usually held in the last weekend of October.

Far bigger and more ambitious is the triennial Beer and Hop Festival. The highlight of the weekend is the parade, in which a ‘Hop Queen’, 65 community groups, 1400 extras and 12 floats take part.

Poperinge Hopmuseum

This is a must-see for the beer drinkers amongst you, and even if you’re not it’s an interesting look at the history and story of this part of the world. The museum itself is set over three floors of what was formerly a hops warehouse.

Best of all there’s the chance to taste some of the local speciality afterwards! If you take the self-guided audio tour it’s an ambling two-hour walk round the museum and back in time, to learn about everything from the cultural role brewing has played, to its oft-forgotten religious importance (something most beer lovers will agree with).

The national Hop Museum used to be a hops warehouse.

So... the next time you roll off Le Shuttle at Calais, why not pop to Poperinge, just an hour away? Book your tickets here.

Poperinge

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Top image credit: Toerisme Poperinge