The ‘Hike&Seek’ series ( both on the blog and IG) highlight some of Belgium’s finest or most surprising hiking possibilities: exploring nature domains and rural areas and even city exploring hikes. Covered distance doesn’t matter, goal is to keep moving and in doing so seeking joy and wonder/wander. Wanna join me?
No better way to kick off this new series than exploring my local hometown Aartselaar, situated south of Antwerp. The solid February cold snap we are currently experiencing has transformed the everyday familar (to me that is) streets and fields into a magical winter wonderland.
The new boardwalk path, within five walking minutes of our home, offers a welcoming platform to explore all this Winter marvel. It runs through fields and offers pedestrians and bikers a safe connection and short-cut to neighbouring village or you can combine with already existing path to create a loop.
Adopt the pace of nature…
Everything looks better and softer under a layer of snow dust, doesn’t it?! Just watch your step and don’t slip on the ice like our son did as touchdown is usually not of the softest kind!
Our most recent staycation trip brought us to Limburg province, Flanders’ green lung and home of Belgium’s only National Park. National Park Hoge Kempen has six access points, each highlighting another aspect of this landscape which had a gigantic transformation after its coal mining past.
Connecterra, the park’s main gateway offers multiple hiking trails and stunning views. Whether climbing up the stairs of the head frame up to a height of 12 meters or to the top of the ‘terrils’ stone heap, it’s here that the mining history and how it effected land and environment can be best felt.
We stayed two nights in MOMO, a lovely interbellum villa in Lanklaar, listed building, and restored keeping as much of the original characteristics as possible.
The owners also have a restaurant Au Nom de Dieu, within walking distance which we can highly recommend. If you stay in MOMO you can also opt for breakfast here. Or, alternatively, you can head to Two Oh Five, The Bakery by Panerex for a full breakfast or brunch experience.
On our second day we explored the NP through gateway ‘Mechelse Heide’ again offering a diverse range of hikes this time through forests, heathlands (blooming in August and September) and longtime abandoned pits.
On our last day, before heading home, we made a quick stop and stroll in Bokrijk with the awarded ‘cycling through water‘ path and nature domain ‘Vallei van de Zwarte Beek‘ in Beringen. Those more into shopping can always head to Maasmechelen Village for some al fresco shopping fun.
With its 12000ha and 220 km of hiking trails NP Hoge Kempen was our main destination during this trip, however region has plenty more on offer for nature lovers.
No surprise to those who know me that I am always on the lookout for tips for trips close by that also satisfy my need to be in nature. With husband taking some time off work last week we embraced the whole ‘staycation’ mode we’re all in and explored some great hiking trails. So just tag along as we explore three of Flanders’ finest nature getaways.
1/ Hageland: Zoutleeuw – Het Vinne – Linter
Our first trip lead us to Hageland region in province of Flemish Brabant. After a quick lunch in Zoutleeuw we explored provincial domain Het Vinne, home of the largest (and only) natural inland lake in Flanders. Though at the moment no water to be seen as the lake has been drained for remediation works of the soil. Water or not, to my opinion, absolutely still worth the visit! There are five marked nature walks to explore, with great vistas, a lookout tower and bird watching huts. After the walk don’t forget to reward yourself at the domain’s cafe.
Before heading home we stopped in Linter where you can find the stunning ‘Helixagon’ by Frederik Vaes. Inspired by nature and the honeycomb shape it’s an art sculpture that offers a unique perspective on the surroundings, so do climb in and enjoy!
If you are still in hiking mode, opt for the ‘Linterse walk’ a loop walk in the valley of the Large Gete river and for a sweet treat do head to ‘Het Melksalon’ for some pie or refreshing ice cream! Tested and more than approved!
2/ Flemish Ardennes: Zwalm – Brakel – ‘t Burreken
Our second trip brought us to Flemish Ardennes in East Flanders province and with the word Ardennes in it you know you’re up for hikes with a somewhat more challenging character. We explored nature domain ‘t Burreken, where Mother Nature opens up all registers: deep valleys and steep hills, formed by numerous streams. There’s a berry garden, showcasing over 40 inland and local berry varieties. The lush area is home to the fire salamander, also the name of one of the two hiking trails. With the day we visited one of thé hottest this year, we only did a tiny exploring hike and promised ourselves to come back and discover the domain later this year.
We found a lovely lunch spot at ‘Moeder Agnes‘ in Brakel and with renewed energy explored the region some more on the so-called Mine Workers trail.
If you’re a cyclist fan, you can head to the nearby ‘Wall’ of Geraardsbergen: a 1075m steep cobblestoned classic in Flemish (and beyond) cycling and for the more cultural orientated there’s a poetry along the Wall.
3/ Vlaams Brabant: Tervuren – Vossem
For third and final hike in this post we’re back in Flemish Brabant province, this time exploring Tervuren area. Tervuren is known for its Royal Museum for Central Africa and the adjacent parc were we usually take the Warande trail. Broadening our horizon we opted for another path, the Voer trail and were not disappointed. The first part follows the meandering Voer stream and second part opens up in agricultural fields and hills with lovely vistas.
For refreshing local beers, head to ‘In den Congo’, a cafe with outside seating in church’s (12th century) shadow.
So, whether die-hard or ‘easy-does-it’ kind of hiker (I’m the latter btw if you’re curious) hope the above gives you some inspiration on where to walk when in Flanders. Join me next time?
With travel plans cancelled worldwide we turn to what’s right under our nose to re-discover what’s familiar, or at least thought was familiar…close to home destinations will be extremely hot (and probably our only option) this Summer. Come (re)join me on the short visit to Kortrijk we made last year.
Are you living outside Belgium? Then Bruges is probably the first city that comes to mind when thinking of Belgian West Flanders province, right? May this post give you some inspiration on other interesting places in Flanders to discover once we all get the ‘travel go ahead’ again.
Kortrijk (Courtrai) is West Flanders’ second largest city, after Bruges, and just like its big brother knew great wealth in the Middle Ages. The eye-catching Broeltorens are reminders of the medieval defensive structure and offer great photo opportunities.
A river runs through it, being the ‘Leie’. Over the past years it was widened and straightened in order to make it more navigable for larger ships. This gave the city a major facelift as the wider river also came with new bridges, lower banks, walkpaths and park areas and even a little beach in Summer months.
Below the area around city college with the College footbridge and K-tower housing complex.
Kortrijk inspires and innovates, and rightfully earned the title of ‘Unesco Creative City’ (design). Art centre Buda offers a platform for a varity of artists and designers and just walking through city streets already gives a hint of the city’s contemporary character.
I personally liked the quotes and graphic designs in city centre part of the playful ‘here to there’ art installation. And I know spitting is a big NO these days, but hey, don’t we all hope for the best?!
Summer usually brings a lovely terrace just next to ‘Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk’…
…where churches bring us to the peaceful Unesco-heritage beguinage site which dates back to the 13th century. Restoring the housing facilities and renovation of the site as a whole started in 1984 and will be completed by 2021.
So next time West Flanders is on your radar, do take time to visit Kortrijk. If you’re looking for a place to stay, can recommend B&B OYO, just outside city centre, but still in walking distance, and near train station. Of course, Belgium would not be Belgium: lots of restaurants and bars, just ask and your hosts will guide you to the best places in town!
…yes, there are still certainties in life! In this locked world, the door to nature remains wide open, whether it’s sticking your nose into the growing herbs on your own balcony or exploring the wildlife in a local park.
You come and go, you come and go
Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams
Red, gold, andgreen
(lyrics Karma Chameleon – Culture Club)
Putting all senses on focus will help to pick up the latest birdie twitters on thé pop-up event of the year, called Spring.
No event is complete without a colourful decor…
…or attendees in fluffy outfits, searching for snacks and, yes, well, some a little overdressed…
Pretty crowded pool party at times, with Egyptian goose, moor hens and the mallard ducks all having babies!
Want to attend a similar event? Just step outside and take a local nature hike. Use this time to explore your ‘close-to-home-world’ and above all:
Live life in bloom!
Hope you enjoyed this Spring pop-up!
Next time some day-trip inspiration, close to home (as I don’t see us travelling soon just yet) and, of course, there’s also SA’s Garden route to continue further, so stay tuned and keep inspired!
(All photos taken at Solhof or de Reukens in Aartselaar, Belgium)
Yesterday, 22nd of September, was car free Sunday: a (mostly) sun drenched day were streets in city centres throughout Flanders and Brussels were cleared and cars were banned. We decided to visit nearby Mechelen, where innovation goes hand in hand with the sustainable development goals and targets for a better and more liveable future.
As all exploring requires some starter fuel, first stop: the newly opened neighbourhood cafe Grá
Where ‘Grote Markt’ was the place to be for cultural info and activities, ‘Bruul’ showcased police force’s horsepower and ‘Ijzerenleen’ was stage for sportive demonstrations…
Vismarkt and local pub ‘t Ankertje are always a welcome stop if you need to re-fuel again…
And if your energy tank is really low you can always head to the De Vleeshalle food court that opened this year…
Being in the neighbourhood, the Lamot centre housed the Joker Africa travel event that day, and as we will be visiting Western Cape next year, thé place and time to gather some useful info and tips.
And of course, historical buildings à volonté in city centre…
Events like these (mobility, cultural activities, citizen interaction, etc…) fit perfectly into where city sees itself by 2030, comitting to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Walking discoverer or discovering walker, call me what you want…always great exploring a familiar city with a new set of eyes. That city is Mechelen, situated south of Antwerp, Belgium, and when I mention ‘guided city tour’ some of you probably start to sigh…now hold it, not just any random dull tour. It’s called the ‘fun tour’ ( plezante wandeling in Dutch) for a reason…
Ferre and Rudi are experienced city guides, when you have been enthusiastically guiding people around for more than 30 years, I think you’ve earned that title, right?! The ‘fun tour’ is normally only open to groups however each year some days are reserved for individuals, as was yesterday evening and together with my friend Birgit I joined in.
In about 2,5 hours Ferre and Rudi take you around their city, with covered distance limited (1,5km). Their approach mixes street theatre, cabaret, poems, jokes and documented stories, everything told/sung in juicy local dialect.
‘As gao paost da dɘ paos an ao paost’ (local dialect, the fun factor would go lost in translation, sorry)
Without giving away too much (in case you want to take part in a tour yourself) you’ll learn more about why St-Rombouts cathedral has darker colour on top, the link between Charles V and pub ‘Den Beer’, the odd sculptures on city hall facade and why locals eat sweet pastry called ‘Astridjes’.
As the charm of the tour consists of the fact of it being in local dialect, it is not offered in English. However, as often, when stepping on foreign soil, some words in local tongue are always appreciated, so start practising 😉 Need help to get familiar with the local sounds and how to keep your driver’s license at the same time? Dialect Mechelen
Did you know there are even special courses to learn the dialect?
How about where you live? Is it encouraged to speak local or regional language?
Until 11th of November the former Panquin barracks at Tervuren, Belgium, near Sonian forest, are transformed into a World War I memorial and peace site.
Landscape architects Sven Vangodtsenhoven and Hans Tuerlinckx of Art-Ex designed a 100-metre long path that consists of two parallel walls of stacked wood logs. All this with the intention to create the impression of a trench when walking through. Both ends of the logs are painted vibrant red with a little black dot, referring to the remembrance poppy and symbolising the many victims of the Great War.
Into the niches between the logs, messages of hope and peace can be put, though we didn’t see that many at our recent visit…did they get blown away by the wind…who knows? Still two and a half months left to fill up the blanks with messages!
Eddy, my travel companion for the day and fellow photographer
At ‘Hoefijzerplein’ (the square has the shape of a horseshoe) the path is surrounded by a mowing field of grain and ‘popping-up’ poppies, a mix of styled artificial ones and the real ones. At the end, the path is slightly elevated overlooking St-Hubertus chapel and the ruins of the former ducal palace as well as Tervuren’s park and ponds.
Fyi, four years after the barracks were abandonned the site will get a new destination: the buildings of architectural and historical interest will be respectfully restored and integrated in a multi-functional zone: housing units, hotel, green area and room for cultural events,…
As the site borders Tervuren park and ponds you have an excellent excuse to have that short, or longer, nature walk…
Fall is not far off…
Proximity of the Royal Museum for Central Africa is an asset. The site has been under restoration for years but we’re near the finish line as it will re-open its doors 9th of December 2018. Until then, no one keeps you from admiring the stunning neo-classical style building and adjoining gardens!
Hope you enjoyed this little stroll through Tervuren, where nature meets city, past meets future and green meets red 😉
ps Special thanks to Eddy, @edandhiscamera on IG, my travel companion for the day and fellow photographer.
This weekend Antwerp’s hip and trendy ‘Eilandje’ neighbourhood offered thé perfect and sunny scenery for the 10th edition of the Water-rAnt festival. The city’s oldest docks welcomed around 115 historical ships and put nautical heritage and tradition in the spotlight.
Highlights: the 2km stroll along the historical vessels, some of them open to board and explore, tours with old steam tugs or other historical ships, ambiance à volonté and couleur locale, musical performances, demonstrations and no festival without food stands of course!
MAS museum centerpoint and in full glory and for once maybe could be re-named MASt
Inhaling life on the water makes hungry as a horse, no worries, different food stands kept every wannabe sailor satisfied, think oysters, mussels, sea food platters, smoked eel and lots of sweet treats and drinks of course.
Not just an ordinary street band, contagious enthusiasm, happy vibes and funky beats are their trademark, with success, resulting in lots of cheers and smiling faces!
Draft horses and their ability to pull weight up to 3 ton each were an enormous asset in port’s history. Belgian heavy horses are among the strongest of the heavy breeds. You can still spot these power beauties when making a city tour with the horse-drawn streetcar. Keep an eye on them and make sure they are well taken care of and get to drink regularly. The way our driver spoke about his beauties showed his passion and love for them.
The new ‘Londenbrug’ bridge opens up to welcome sailing boats and yachts into the inner docks and offers open view on Port Authority house, one of the last completed designs by Zaha Hadid.
Did I awaken some nautical vibes with you? See you next year then or check the eventspage below to find future interesting festivities!