After picking up the car in Brussels, I took off on the E40 towards Ghent and Bruges. Although I write about the automotive industry, I have to admit this was the first time I actually got to have what I call a “Clarkson” moment. (Top Gear fans will know what I am talking about.)
EyeSight serves as an extra pair of eyes that assist drivers in monitoring the road ahead.
After figuring out the keyless “Start” button ignition (a tricky one for us older traditionalists who still use keys to start their cars), I put the Subaru on cruise control and checked out the EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology, which monitors the traffic, optimises the cruise control and warns you when you are swaying outside your lane. The Subaru Impreza also offers two other EyeSight safety features, pre-collision braking and pre-collision throttle management: both definitely provide an additional peace of mind – even though they obviously weren’t used during our summer-time road trip from Bruges to Breskens.
I have to admit it took me a couple of minutes to get used to the fact that the Subaru was practically driving itself. The EyeSight Adaptive Cruise Control automatically keeps a safe distance from the car, camper or truck in front of you. And surprisingly enough, I could really tell that the Subaru was adjusting its speed by a few kilometers per hour to maintain a safe driving distance. Honestly, I thought it would be annoying, but even in the heavy traffic getting out of Brussels, I was quite content with how well the Subaru kept a safe distance and a smooth, well-controlled ride.
It wasn’t until we were almost past Ghent that I had the first glimpse of the EyeSight Lane Keep Assist and Sway Warning feature. This excellent safety feature monitors your position on the road by following the lane markings. It will alert you with a beep if you stray out of the lane too much, which it did immediately when I swayed a bit too much into the right shoulder lane after passing a truck. Well-done Subaru Impreza!
I guess you could say that the EyeSight system is sort of like having an extra set of eyes on the road. This makes sense since EyeSight is actually a set of dual-colour cameras unobtrusively placed near the rear-view mirror. These cameras constantly scan the road for unanticipated movement and danger that you as a driver might not see.
So with the car practically driving itself, the hourish drive north was just a pure pleasure and surprisingly comfortable with lots of room for me, the production crew and the photographer’s camera equipment. Before I knew it, we were pulling into Bruges.
The Venice of the North
Now I will be honest: Bruges is best seen on foot so if you plan on spending a few hours and seeing the sights, it is better to park your car. There are several underground parking lots within easy walking distance of the town centre.
But we were in Bruges to drive and I definitely wanted to test the Subaru Impreza’s ride and handling on those famous Belgian cobblestones. In case you don’t know, automotive manufacturers actually test their vehicles for noise, vibration and handling issues on test tracks featuring Belgian cobblestones or Belgian Brick, as it is typically known in the industry. But since we were in Bruges, which is full of real cobblestone roads, I decided to give the Subaru Impreza a real-life test run along the canals.
First things first, the Subaru Impreza handles really well on Belgian cobblestones, which can be slick and really bumpy. The interior was pleasantly quiet and even though the car has quite a sporty feel to it, the ride was surprisingly smooth. The Subaru Impreza just rolled over the bumps with no jarring or rattling. I also might add that the car’s visibility is excellent. This is a plus considering you need to watch out for locals flying along on bicycles as well as rambling tourists strolling in the street.
But the day wasn’t going to be all about Bruges, so with our Belgian Brick road test checked off the list, we ducked out the 13th century Blacksmith's Gate or Smedenpoort and headed towards Lissewege.
The white chalked houses of Lissewege, Belgium, near Bruges.
An artistic village famous for its white chalked houses, Lissewege is known as one of the quaintest villages in Flanders – and with good reason. It is lovely. Every house seems to be spotlessly clean and brimming with flower boxes, and the main square is buzzing with local cafés. Perfectly preserved, it is not surprising that Lissewege has served as the setting for television series like the BBC’s The White Queen amongst others.
After a quick stroll through the village, we took a drive past the ruins of the Ter Doest Abbey and stopped to check out the Boudewijn Canal. But it was time to get serious about driving again so we headed for the Dutch border and the coastline.
Solidly built, the Subaru Impreza has a surprising amount of pep and hugs the road nicely. This is handy since this area is pretty much just narrow bridges and winding canal roads. As a driver, you can appreciate the car’s sporty handling and with the extra security features, like the EyeSight Lane Keep Assist and Sway Warning feature, you can be sure that the car stays on the road – no matter how narrow it is.
De Brak windmill outside the Dutch village of Sluis.
With the Subaru STARLINK™ multimedia system including an advanced navigation system, the Subaru knew exactly how to navigate all those curvy country roads as we crossed into The Netherlands. We could even upload a playlist of favourite songs from one of our smartphones via the Apple CarPlay™ or Android Auto™ apps. And punch in the location of a spectacular historical windmill so typical in this part of Holland: there is a spectacular one -- De Brak -- that is open for visits on the outskirts of Sluis.
As our day was coming to an end, we drove towards the sea along the narrow roads past Sluis, known for its Sunday shopping hours, and headed toward Breskens and our final destination: the Panorama road and iconic iron-cast lighthouse.
Even with some storm clouds on the horizon, we decided to take a well-deserved break at a typical Zeeland beach pavilion and watched the giant container ships sail in towards the port of Antwerp and pleasure yachts cruise out to the North Sea. It was rather calming and hypnotic. You can easily see why people would spend the day there – just watching the tides ebb and flow and the intense blue-grey of the North Sea blend with the rolling clouds overhead.
But before we got soaked, we said goodbye to the Dutch coastline, zipped past the Breskens’ famous black and white lighthouse and took the winding canal roads back to Ghent and grabbed the E40 home to Brussels – wishing we could linger a little longer.
The white houses and courtyard of the Begijnhof in Bruges.
Tour the local brewery dating back to 1564. Today, De Halve Maan is famous for its underground pipeline that transports beer between the brewery in the centre of town and the bottling plant on the outskirts of town. Don’t believe the locals if they tell you they get beer piped into their homes. (This is just a taste of Belgian humour.)
Typical to Belgium and parts of The Netherlands, these secluded villages within towns were the home of single or widowed women who opted to live pious lives outside of a convent. Known as the quietest place in Bruges, it is the best place to escape the other tourists and take a restful and silent stroll.
Explore the scenic views and medieval buildings of Bruges from the water.
The only real way to experience the canals is via a boat trip. There are numerous ones on offer all around the town centre.
If you have to opt for one museum, try the Groeninge Museum. Even though, the Flemish Primitives are the highlight, you can marvel at top 18th and 19th century neoclassical pieces, masterpieces from Flemish Expressionism and post-war modern art.
Lunch: at the De Pepermolen in Lissewege. (www.de-pepermolen.be)
Stay: Enjoy a warm welcome at the B & B Pronkenburg, a lovingly restored bed and breakfast in an 18th century manor. (www.pronkenburg.be)
Hike: the 6.3 kilometre Ter Doest walking route around the Ter Doest Nature Reserve.
Bike: Bring your bikes and bicycle along the Boudewijn canal.
Cheese: Get some famous Holland Gouda in Sluis at the Vermeire Delicatessen, a local favourite in Sluis.
Explore: Check out the garden and ruins of the Ter Doest Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey dating back to 1106.
Windmill: Visit the historic “De Brak” windmill in Sluis and grab some refreshments at the stylishly refurbished Molen van Sluis Brasserie onsite. (http://www.molenvansluis.nl)
Visit: the lighthouse in Breskens. (http://vuurtorenbreskens.nl/nieuws/)
Relax: Enjoy a sunset “apero” at the Loods Tien beach pavilion in Breskens. (www.loodstien.nl)
Snow Patrol “Don’t Give In”: My driving song of the summer.
Oscar and the Wolf “Runaway”: Acclaimed Belgian artist and another driving favourite.
Johnny Cash “Ring of Fire”: Classic. It popped on the radio just as the sun came out in Lissewege.
Whitherward “Cover of Drive My Car by The Beatles”: Cool American indie-folk. See the Whitherward interview in this issue for more info.
Florence and the Machine “Ship to Wreck”: Just because I adore Florence Welch as an artist.
Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run”: Because our photographer Dirk is a mega-fan.
Jacques Brel “Le Plat Pays”: Brel’s homage to Belgium. It still matches the landscape perfectly.
Tracy Chapman “Fast Car”: Another classic that fit the day.
Over the past twenty years, Jenn’s written pretty much everything from Norwegian aquaculture newsletters and telecom annual reports to automotive lifestyle magazines. When she is not test driving a Subaru, she edits Siemens Simcenter News, a magazine that covers the international automotive and aerospace engineering business. Jenn lives in Hamme-Mille, Belgium with her husband and two children.