The Boots & Bowtie Manifesto

icon-bootsThe Boots and Bowtie walker is someone who, like us, enjoys a good walk in beautiful country (the boots), accompanied by great food and drink (the bowtie). That’s it in a nutshell.

If an overnight stay is involved, we take light backpacks and stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast (chambre d’hôte), not necessarily the Ritz but not camping. Maybe pack something clean to go to dinner in and you have the bowtie bit sorted. The food can be a picnic put together from a market or a restaurant meal but we like it to be special somehow, especially the artisanal products you won’t find in the supermarket. We’ll clue you in to some treats you might not encounter otherwise. 

European Long-Distance Paths

The walks often follow one of the many long-distance footpaths in the European network (known in French as “Sentiers Grand Randonnées” and in Dutch “Lange Afstand Wandelpaden”). This brilliant system – more at – can take you everywhere in Europe from Scandinavia to the Adriatic. For the time being, though, we’re sticking closer to our home in the Netherlands.

Why spend our vacation walking?

icon-packIf you are coming to Europe for the first time, you probably want to see the sights, and we don’t want to stop you. But if you want to slow down, even for just a day or two, a Boo&Bow walk is an immensely satisfying way to experience the countryside. The places we’ve explored all have a wealth of cultural and culinary traditions and  walking means you can relax and smell the flowers. Slow travel allows you to go deep instead of wide, let’s say.

This is not the cheapest way to travel, but it doesn’t have to be terribly expensive and can be very good value for money. When all you really need is to wash, eat, and fall into bed, a simple place will do just fine.

Our usual pattern is picnic lunch and dinner out; it cuts the monotony, and in theory eating only one restaurant meal a day makes eating less expensive. But play it by ear: you may hit a town on market day, or find that the restaurant you were planning on going to has closed. It makes sense to look at your options on line these days (and take a baggie of trail mix just in case).

Why Benelux, and what does it even mean anyway?

“Benelux” is a typical Northern European kind of acronym formed from BElgium, the NEtherlands and LUXembourg, who are kind of economic buddies. We’re writing this mostly for people who will be traveling in this. part of the world and want a few days off from cities, or for the English-speaking expat living around here who would like to see a bit of countryside but doesn’t know where to start.

The Benelux countries are visitor-friendly in terms of terrain, language, accessibility, and budget.

icon-mapYes, Holland and Flanders are largely flat, but there are hills and woods and charming monasteries away from the main cities where people make fabulous food and drink. (Fun fact: The Ardennes is Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden in “As You Like It”). The whole Benelux region was pushed up by glaciers long ago. This area offers some lovely hiking, usually not requiring more than sturdy walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing.

Most people speak at least a smattering of English, even in small villages.  If you have a smattering of French or German it will help you recognize signs and menu terms (though menus have increasingly been adding English sections lately).

Towns and villages are close enough together here that you can walk from one place to another easily. Often you can stop for a morning coffee or an afternoon beer before moving to the day’s final destination. Sometimes it requires a little planning – do check opening times etc. on the internet so you don’t stumble into a town expecting lunch on the day its single cafe is closed. (And please note that “accessibility” for us means by foot.)

Starting points for almost all of these walks can be reached by public transit, while others are better reached by car. A few regions, such as the south of Holland’s province of Limburg, have an extensive bus network that caters to walkers. And as of 2020, all public transit in Luxembourg is free. Like, free. No tickets, no passes, you apparently just get on and off. If you can for a particular walk, leave your car and its attendant worries at home. If you’re used to car travel, leaving in time to catch a train, say, may sound complicated, or annoying but you can get used to it quickly.

There’s a range of accommodation in most places. We tend to be somewhere in the middle but if you prefer camping or luxury hotels, be our guest.

It’s not Italy or France – is there really anything to eat?

Belgium in particular has a fabulous culinary tradition, firmly rooted in French classics yet more willing to experiment. The Netherlands, a country whose cooking has largely been regarded as something to get you through a cold winter, to put it kindly, has a lot more to choose from than even a few years ago. And Luxembourg has the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita (due to its banking traditions). There is more vegetarian food and influence from other cultures now too, though vegans may have a tough time in some places. Plus, excellent small breweries and even winemakers are springing up like mushrooms.

We’re busy now collecting information about the various walks we want to present. These will include part of the Achterhoek (in the east of Holland; we’ll be explaining it all in the book), a route near Arnhem, one near Nijmegen, the Voerstreek of Belgium, south Limburg, the area around the Belgian town of Spa, and a ten-day walk from Maastricht to Luxemburg City.

We started out wanting to put together a book. Then we both got too busy. If there ever is one, we’d love to hear from you. Or if you have additions/subtractions, comments, or criticisms about the routes or food-and-drink-related entries, please let us know.

Anne Hodgkinson         Mitchell Sandler