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Discover Wallonia: Tourism destinations that combine business with leisure
Business travel and events form the backbone of the tourist industry. Wallonia is not only a top destination for family tourism, it’s now excelling in facilities for this lucrative market.
While major venues can host conferences and offer corporate hospitality, companies are also choosing to pit their skills in Wallonia via an array of innovative team-building incentives.
With the power of the collective mind and effective teamwork considered one of the greatest forces in a business environment, businesses can harness this via flight simulators, sporting and adventure challenges, food workshops and nature. As Wallonia expands its digital landscape, many local enterprises reflect the changing face of tourism through content for smartphones and tablets.
In response to the demand for business travel, the Walloon government has developed a programme called meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. Nadine Verheye from the region’s Commissariat général au Tourisme (General Tourism Commission): “It may refer to business hotels or other accommodation such as holiday villages or gîtes with meeting rooms. Wallonia also has prestigious and offbeat venues such as castles, museums and industrial sites that can welcome private events and are equipped with the latest technology.”
For Verheye, the region’s nature is its main calling card. “Wallonia is one of the best-preserved regions in Europe,” she says. “It’s an enormous garden, which perfectly suits outdoor activities. It’s a region filled with history and with an extraordinary architectural and archaeological heritage.”
Each province has a convention bureau that provides a free service for any business considering organising a work trip in Wallonia, to help them find the perfect venue and activity.
Justifiably proud of the quality of its tourism services, the region launched the Wallonia Quality Destination label to improve facilities. The campaign has three goals: to enhance the value of companies providing tourism services; to accompany them in improving their services; and to reward by promoting the label to tourists.
More than 220 tourism professionals participate in the venture. They include restaurant owners and managers, hotels, self-catering accommodation, museums, cultural event organisations and tourism offices. In the charter, they promise to place clients’ needs at the heart of their business and to represent Wallonia’s quality label. In return, the businesses benefit from support in developing their services in the form of training courses. They also receive a publicity boost.
Conveniently situated in the heart of Wallonia, the city of Namur serves as the region’s capital. It is also the site of the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre. Water is one element of the province’s strategic tourist plan, along with gastronomy and cocooning. Nautical activities include cruises, and restaurant and event barges, including the BelRive, are among the fleet of boats tied alongside the quays. La Capitainerie runs events for the public and businesses as well as a restaurant and bar; the Jambes mooring is the perfect place to watch the sun set behind the citadel.
Soaring above, Namur citadel is a medieval fortress and starting point for many an adventure with its underground tunnels and public space. They include exploring life in the Middle Ages, guided historical tours, wild plant walks, concerts, theatre, and descending the fortress on a Segway to explore the town. Gastronomy features strongly in the region; the renowned hotel school is based at the citadel and is part of the restaurant hotel Château de Namur, which also hosts seminars and team-building events.
Namur is forging a reputation for its smart city credentials, with numerous digital companies starting up in the city. Vigo Universal runs team courses in drones, electric skateboards and robotics, specialising in historic reenactments and pyrotechnic shows. For another historic setting, Château Ferme d’Arche in the village of Maillen is available for seminars with gîtes accommodation. Lying 15km from Namur, the castle farm is perfect for receptions. Château de la Poste, near Courrière (like Château de Namur, it carries the Destination Quality label) is a luxury hotel set in parkland, with space for seminars and team-building events.
Travelling south down the Meuse, Dinant Evasion has an inviting programme of team-building and family events, from treasure hunts, laser game and paintball to day or night-time gourmet treks, adventure challenges and cruises aboard the MS Sax, recently refitted to host events.
It may be the smallest province, yet Walloon Brabant offers rich pickings for companies. Its most famous site is the battlefield of Waterloo, which for its 200th anniversary in 2015 saw the opening of a new interactive museum and renovated sites. The Mont-Saint-Jean farm has a microbrewery and suite for meetings and tastings. The former military hospital offers a large event space (La Grange) and restaurant, L’Orangerie du Prince, with a menu reflecting the brewery’s tipples. Other Waterloo team-building activities include The Revenge in which you can rewrite history by planting your flag on the Lion’s Mound after a military-style escapade of rifle shooting, jousting and movement of troops. Alternatively, use teamwork to break out of a lakeside house in Escape the Villa at Genval. The nearby five-star Château du Lac de Genval is a gastronomic hotel restaurant with a business centre, seminar rooms and a reception area with capacity for more than 1,000 people.
At the heart of the university town Louvain-la-Neuve, the Aula Magna is a multipurpose congress centre and theatre. The contemporary glass structure in the Grand-Place overlooks a scenic lake. Fully equipped, it can stage large-scale events, receptions and shows, as can another event hub in the square, The Cinescope. The Cercle du lac on the edge of town hosts networking and business activities. For an original setting, you can’t beat the world of Tintin. The Musée Hergé is available for receptions, conferences and screenings.
The Bois des Rêves park near Ottignies is a popular place for families. It’s open all year and there are four rooms for meetings and seminars with a variety of catering options, from barbecues to gastronomic menus. In Limelette, 3 Square Club Justine Henin is a sports club and business centre with an international outlook. Another green setting for business opportunities is Louvain-la-Neuve’s three-star Ibis Styles hotel and meeting centre.
A province of contrasts, from industrial heritage to folklore and abbeys, Hainaut is on the move. A raft of new and renovated museums opened for Mons 2015 European Capital of Culture. Its tagline, Where Technology Meets Culture, referenced many creative and digital projects. The provincial capital has a high-tech Libeskind-designed congress centre: MICX.
As the former coalmining capital, the Borinage region is full of industrial sites that have been refurbished as cultural centres. One such is Canal du centre and its Unesco-recognised boat lifts at Strépy-Thieu and Ronquières. During the tourist season, sip a cocktail on a personalised cruise, after discussing business in one of the many meeting rooms.
In the province’s westernmost corner, Comines, test your skills at Ice Mountain, an adventure and alpine park. Unique in Belgium, it offers indoor skiing, snowboarding and skydiving (freefall simulator), as well as paintball. Away from the slopes, there are multi-purpose meeting rooms and restaurants. Flight simulators are among the activities at Charleroi Brussels South Airport. Dare to freefall at Airspace or pilot a Boeing 737 at European Flight Simulator, where you can fly at a speed of 200km/h in a glass tube. Catering and meeting services available.
For cultural rather than adrenaline-fuelled activities, enjoy the corporate facilities of contemporary visual arts museum BPS22, or Comédie Centrale theatre. Les Musicales de Beloeil offers starstudded classical music at the castle at the end of August. Du Biez Traiteur caters for private and public events at local castles and other stunning locations, including Biez and Bougogne.
Familiarly known as the boot of Hainaut, the rural area south of Charleroi is home to gastronomic delights (Chimay Abbey, Biercée distillery), and the extensive Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure. The top tourist destination in Wallonia and largest lake in Belgium has holiday village and wooden chalets, while activities range from nautical and nature to adventure and relaxation. A bike park was inaugurated in the spring and business tourism packages will soon be available.
The provincial capital Liège is the largest tourist destination in Wallonia, with a vibrant cultural and artistic heritage. Many of its flagship venues can be reserved for private events, including the sumptuous opera house Opéra Royal de Wallonie. Other cultural jewels with corporate programmes include the Curtius Museum, Cité Miroir and the Archeoscope. The Diamant Conference and Business Centre is a high-tech space for meetings, seminars and dinners. A fun way to discover the city’s folklore is to join the teambuilding tour Qui a kidnappé Tchantchès? For city-centre accommodation, the Crowne Plaza, is one of only two five-star hotels in Wallonia. The sensitive renovation of two aristocratic townhouses offers an urban resort with gastronomic restaurant, spa centre and full business facilities.
A strategic transport hub within the Euregio Meuse-Rhine area, Liège Airport is also home to the Fly-In skydive centre, the largest freefall simulator in the world. Big Airbag offers thrill-seekers the chance to jump from the building on to a giant cushion. There are meeting spaces on site. The airport’s Park Inn Hotel offers meeting facilities and events organisation.
South of Liège lies the picturesque town of Spa, famed for its thermal waters and Formula One race track. A business complex runs services on and off the circuit. Tour the area on a Vespa with V’Spa and in summer, events such as Francofolies and Festival de Théâtre provide al fresco entertainment. The nearby Stavelot Abbey houses three museums plus space for seminars, receptions and team-building among the grounds. Weventures runs the game La taupe de Manderscheid in the abbey, based on the blancs moussis folklore characters. Linked by a private funicular to the thermal spa, is the Radisson Blu Palace Hotel Spa. Hotel Verviers is a stunning transformation of a 19th-century railway station.
Visit the capital of the German-speaking eastern cantons, Eupen, for contemporary arts centre Kloster Heidberg. The former convent has well-equipped seminar rooms that retain ecclesiastical features. Its multilingual staff organise team events in the convent and surrounding area, including the Haute Fagnes nature reserve. Catering services are available with accommodation for more than 70.
Home to green undulating hills and forests, the jewel of the province is the Ardennes, a rural area famed for its nature, rivers, regional heritage and gastronomy. It’s ideal for sports enthusiasts. As well as river activities such as kayaking and paddle-boarding, there are adventure parks, horse riding, hiking and cycling trails and ecotourism projects. Forest activities are the speciality of X-Cape’s team-building at Florenville. Or don your clan’s tartan for Highland Games with the Avenature agency. Get the chance to toss the caber, shoot archery bows and down a dram of whisky.
The Forêt d’Ardenne nature project organises walks, sport and overnight and residential trips across the region, including Saint-Hubert. Recreation project Chlorophylle park, near La Rocheen Ardenne, runs nature activities. Harnessing the strength of the province’s famed shire horses, Forest Jump is a team-building activity in the woods of Vielsalm. Conveniently situated on the E411, the Euro Space Center at Transinne has activities for families, schools and businesses. Experience life as an astronaut by joining the Space Squad Competition. A reception area caters for up to 400.
Libramont’s flagship event is its annual summer agricultural fair. The site has a business centre, Libramont Exhibition & Congress, with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Heading towards the French border, along the Semois valley, discover the historic town of Bouillon and its impressive fortress castle. Orval Abbey brews one of the region’s famous Trappist beers, with a restaurant off-site available for events.
Bastogne War Museum was renovated for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in 2014. The complex has seminar space for up to 80 people. Next to the site, the Mardasson memorial commemorates thousands of American lives lost in the bitter winter battle. L’Auberge de la ferme at Rochehaut consists of a hotel, seminar area, gîtes and an animal park.
Gastronomy in the region centres on game and charcuterie in particular. Local gourmet restaurant-hotel is Michelin-starred La Table de Maxime, where prodigious young chef Maxime Collard also invites seminars. He has opened a second establishment, Les Terrasses de l’Our, offering 14 rooms, a brasserie and seminar space, all wrapped up in bluestone rustic charm.
At Les Chocolats d’Edouard chocolaterie in Florenville, workshops teach you how to make pralines. In the Saint-Hubert region, the Auberge du Sabotier is a three-star hotel with seminar and reception space. In addition to fine dining, explore the local countryside, either on foot, in a horsedrawn carriage or aboard a vintage jeep. For gourmets, there are cooking classes and wine workshops.