This was to be our final weekend trip of the year before the Kerstbierfest in Essen, so we had decided to visit Cassel in French Flanders. Accommodation is limited in town to one very small 8 room hotel, De Foch. This however, would give us the flexibility to enjoy the bars and restaurants of the Grand Place and the renowned Kasteelhof. A previous visit had indicated that the town can get very busy and with its narrow streets parking can be an issue.
This was an unseasonably warm last weekend in October with temperatures touching the low 20s. Our plan, based on previous readings on French beers, was to depart via the tunnel and stop at Pitgam “Mare aux Bieres” beer shop, then stop at the Thirieux Escqelbecq brewery before parking the car in Cassel for the evening.
Unfortunately, the opening hours of both places caused difficulties. Beforehand, we couldn’t find the shop’s opening hours. To confirm, the beer shop opens 9-12:30 and 15-19 at weekends and the brewery closes between 13 and 14. Unfortunately, we arrived at the beer shop at 13:00. We then decided to travel on to Esquelbecq but at 14:20 the brewery was still “Ferme”. Never mind, back to Pitgam, and an enjoyable shared bottle of 3 Monts in the small bar in Pitgam allowed us to pass the time with the friendly barman. Finally, we entered the well stocked and presented shop, where the beers were given as much prominence, as the wines and soft drinks. There was a sizable selection of French and Belgian beers, all at around (1, 88 – 3,27 euros). The most expensive was the Hommelpap at 4,15 euros. Our aim was to concentrate on getting as many French beers as available. We eventually settled on a wide cross section of 35 75cl bottles for around 90 euros. A quick run back to Esquelbecq found it now open and left with a one six-pack of Blonde and one of Etoile du Nord. Over the weekend, we noticed the spread of the Esquelbecq beers, even in the pizza restaurant in Cassel, where we ate later that evening. Although Cassel’s Grand Place has many restaurants and cafes, it can get very quiet in the evening when the visitors depart and there is limited choice. It is interesting to note that at least in Northern France, that Happy Halloween is apparently untranslatable. Earlier, we had visited the Kasteelhof for an enjoyable soup and local meats/cheeses planchette and the house beer. This really is a magnificent bar and the views spectacular in the sunny late afternoon.
Over the weekend, we came across at least 5 good shops selling quality French beers within and near Cassel :
Pitgam – Mare Aux Bieres
Casteel – Racines (2 Rue Bollaert, ŕ l'angle de la place Vandamme) with an excellent Cave a Biere
Casteel – Traditions en Nord (Commerce de Produits du Terroir, Gallerie d'Haluin, 32 Grand'Place) – local products as well as a solid beer choice.
Casteel – Kasteelhof shop
Hondeghem - Estaminet de la maison Commune has a new shop selling regional products as well as beer. An excellent restaurant as well, but as we found fully booked at lunchtime (one for the future – so, advisable to book at weekends).
Outside of the Kasteelhof, the Kerelshof is the best choice in town for beers although the choice is mainly Belgian with a list of around 60, plus 11 specials which included XX Bitter, Hanssens Kriek and Hercule Stout. This bar had a nice beery atmosphere and we loved it. How many other French bars would quality for a full TW listing, if they were the other side of the border?
Other things we liked about Cassel was the fact that it is definitely a French town; some very hardcode café-tabac bars still in existence, as well as the café-restaurants to cater for the Belgian visitors, cyclists and bikers. Also the street condom vending machine outside the chemist was worthy of note. The Grand’Place was also the Grote Markt.
Next day after breakfast, we explored further within town, before heading off for an abortive stop at Hondeghem. The second option was the excellent In Den Goedendag in nearby Bavinchove. Here they felt no need to translate from the Flemish. This was a friendly estimament, with the excellent Angelus on draught and Flemish cuisine. Over the weekend, I probably heard more bagpipe music in the bars visited than my tolerance can take.
We had a quick stop at Noel’s beer shop over the border in Belgium to drop off some empties and fill the crates then back to the A25, Calais and home.
31 October 2005