Some cities have famously vibrant bike cultures. You might suspect that you’re in one of them if you see the following signs: a fitter-than-average population, prominent bicycle lanes complete with bicycle stoplights, art installations involving spokes and chains, bike parking lots, bike valets, the strange cuffing of single pant legs, and moving constellations of tiny flashing lights after dark. Car loyalists beware — bike friendliness in these places is contagious.
Then there are cities that have famously refined craft beer scenes. Signs that you’re in an enchanted place for beer include: a portlier-than-average population, pubs with confusingly many taps, and a general aversion to anything mass-produced. In these places, it is considered polite conversation to inquire about the health of others’ home brewing, and preferences run strong about things like hoppiness.
What if there were places with the best of these two worlds? Imagine a society where beer calories and bike commutes cancel each other out, and where sophisticated microbrews are just a leisurely pedal away. These places are not the stuff of fantasy. There are three that come pretty close to the ideal:
Flanders is a region of northern Belgium where scenic country roads carry bicyclists from one beer wonder to the next. The beauty of these roads isn’t just the little villages you’ll pass through, or the old farm houses you’ll cruise by, or even the traffic-free bike lanes that run alongside the many canals of rural Belgium. The real beauty is that the roads use a navigational system that is easy enough for even a buzzed foreigner to figure out. It’s a number-coded system called "fietsroute." Just note the number on the "feitsroute" map (available online or at any tourist office) and the corresponding signage is everywhere.
Belgium has made a place for itself on the beer map of the world through a centuries-long history of beverage fermentation. As any true beer fan knows, some of the finest styles of beer trace their roots to Belgium. It’s the birthplace of the Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, Wit, Saison, Lambic, and the Gueuze, to name a few. "Whether you’re looking to tour a large production brewery, sample beers at a small village’s nano-brewhouse, or sit down at a bar with 2,000 beers on the menu, you’ve come to the right place," says Evan Cohan, founder and guide of beercycling tours. "A trip to Belgium will surely open up your palate to new levels. Just remember 'Proost!' (Cheers) and you’ll make many friends." (Photo courtesy of Flickr/John & Mel Kots)
A highlight of Belgian beer tours is a visit to the "Trappist Abbeys" where local Belgian monks brew delicious craft beers according to age-old traditions. Only seven breweries in the world can designate themselves as authentic "Trappist" and six of them are in Belgium, including Chimay, Orval, and Rochefort.