When sun is out, so are we! The Summer vibes a few weeks ago lead us to Flanders’ greenest province Limburg and what better way to start this two-day trip than in Tongeren, Belgium’s oldest city.
Though we had visited the city of fearless Eburon-leader Ambiorix already in the past this time around our focus was on its green surroundings. A true ‘hike and seek’ in a colourful and hilly landscape dotted with grand castles and small hamlets. Join me as we start exploring?
We used our first day mainly to do some city strolling: market square, beguinage, basilica church, Moerenpoort,…
…and a few stops of course…
On second day we left historic town behind us and took car for a little loop tour to explore the surroundings, stopping whenever we felt like it for a little hike. With my foot problems (and back and MS…) reducing my mobility the hikes were mini ones, though nevertheless, had a fantastic day!
From colourful poppy fields and ‘Goed Van Gothem’ in Heers to ‘Hamal Castle’ in Rutten with Tongeren church in the background to U-shaped ‘Renesse castle’ and surrounding landscape park and fishing ponds in ‘s Heerenelderen. We also stopped in Nerem to admire the former chocolate factory transformed into ecological housing units and the opposite Rosmeulen castle. Hamlets Neerrepen and Overrepen offer great decor for some hiking and we had a delicious lunch in ‘Herberg de Horne’ in Vechmaal. After lunch we headed to the ‘Reading between the lines’ church, the eye-catching metallic art installation loved by both tourists and locals in Borgloon. We ended this little road trip in Mettekoven, a designated ‘greenspot’ with multiple hiking options. With its hills and fruit orchards a well-loved destination in Springtime with fruit blossoms colouring the landscape but frankly a lovely place in all seasons!
As we are all quite ready to leave Winter behind us, let me just look back one more time on some of our most enjoyed ‘hike&seek’ moments of the past three months, all in Antwerp province.
The ‘Hike&Seek’ series (both here and on IG) highlight some of Belgium’s finest or most surprising hiking possibilities: exploring nature domains and rural areas and even some city discovery tours. Covered distance doesn’t matter, goal is to keep moving and in doing so seeking joy and wonder/wander. Wanna join me?
A quick glance at my IG posts tells me we visited the Scheldeland region more than once the past months. To be honest, what’s not to like?! The combo ‘water and green’ is always a golden buzzer and its relative proximity to where we live (less than half an hour by car) makes it quickly and easily accessible as a half-day or just a quick break kind of trip. d’Ursel castle, Marnix de St Aldegonde castle, Lange Dreef or Notelaerdreef make excellent starting points to explore. Already know each corner of Bornem, which is hardly impossible, then opt for nearby Weert or Wintam as alternatives for endless more Scheldeland fun.
This nature reserve in close proximity of historic and culturally attractive city Mechelen lies in what used to be flooding area. Keep in mind its wetland character and wear appropriate walking boots especially in not so dry season. We hiked the shorter, but nevertheless very versatile, AS Adventure trail. Mechels Broek is home to many bird species, Galloway cattle and the typical pollard willow trees.
Willebroek Broek De Naeyer
As the name lets suspect, this former-industrial-zone-now-turned-into-nature-reserve’s characteristics are similar to its above bigger brother, mind your choice of footwear! It lies alongside river Rupel, is a well-known breading zone for cormorant birds and otter and beaver populations can be spotted and may therefore also be a fun hike to consider if you have children.
Antwerp Middelheim ‘beeldenmuseum’/ Park Den Brandt
Art and nature go hand in hand, at least in Antwerp’s open-air museum park. Both above parks are situated south of Antwerp’s historic city centre and do keep in mind weekends can be crowdy. The ‘sculpture park’ is home to around 1800 international works and gives an overview of modern and contemporay art. Ideal to combine with the more romantic Den Brandt Park. The garden combines English cottage garden (behind castle) with more classic French (in front of castle) designs. And on your walk you will stumble onto a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The park is also home to the Jazz Middelheim festival every August (though for obvious reasons not this year). To make your Antwerp green escape complete you can hop into opposite Nachtegalenpark. That’s three parks with just one trip to make, great deal, no?!
Borsbeek fort 3
Obviously our own local touristic region, de Zuidrand, couldn’t be skipped during these months of exploring. With close proximity of Antwerp Deurne Airport this might not seem an attractive hiking trail at first glance, though give it a chance. It is the first, thus oldest, fortress of eight in total built under the Brialmont defense line. You can walk around AND even on the fortress! The underground part is normally not open for visit due to the protected and endangered bat colonies. Oh and if you detect sponges tied onto trees, this isn’t some student or children’s prank, though part of Antwerp University stem research, so ‘leave the sponge alone’! 😉
Grenspark De Zoom/Kalmthoutse Heide
Destination of our most recent trip and with official rating as ‘silence area’ our favourite of this post. The total park measures about 6000 ha and hiking, bike and horse trails flirt with Dutch-Belgian border. Landscape offers a wonderful variation of heath, forests, pastures, pools and dunes. There are different access gates. We explored ‘Squirrel’ and ‘Woodpecker’ trails (access Ruige Heide) near park’s borders in Zandvliet/Berendrecht.
With early Spring vibes chasing last Winter blues away and nature rapidly changing and calling hope the above gave you some inspiration on where to go on your next trips in Belgian Antwerp province.
Feel free to share your most recent hiking t(r)ips!
Little throwback to latest weekend trip where we, that is my friend Kathleen and I, explored the so-called ‘Antwerpse Kempen’, a large natural region roughly situated east of Antwerp, where picturesque towns with monumental abbeys are embedded in a land dominated by forests, wetlands, heath and sandy grounds.
We started our trip at the Norbertine abbey of Tongerlo (which confusingly lies in Westerlo). You can visit abbey and courtyard and/or do the ‘Lindendreef’ hike which is about 2km and takes you around the abbey’s walls. For lunch or diner you can head to opposite Torenhof and the adjacent ice cream and bakery shop explains the always happy buzz at ‘lekwei’ ( or in English ‘lick meadow’ cause that’s the inviting meadow where you enjoy the local yummy ice)
We stayed in B&B Welcome Home in neighbouring Eindhout and that name says it all. The home of Stijn & Stijn breathes that welcome cosy feeling. Rooms are spacious and spotlessly clean, bathroom luxurious and the breakfast is to die for. Make sure you’re hungry before you put your feet under the table. We did a pre-breakfast hike so could enjoy to the fullest! There’s a lovely garden with cosy corners and some animals, so children would definitely enjoy it here too. Oooh and Sam, one of the two dogs is a very cooperative photo model!
The B&B is ideally located for hikers and nature lovers as immediate access to some lovely hiking trails.
We had lovely dinner in the Orangerie garden of Hotel Geerts in Westerlo and for lunch or mouthwatering desserts and ice creams head to Kasteel Kaneel. Desserts and hospitality are great and bonus points for the unique setting. More than approved! Upon arrangement with owners you can opt for lunch and/or dinner in b&b too.
On the second day, after our morning walk and copious breakfast, we drove to Averbode abbey. Another Norbertines abbey, founded in 1134, and lying at intersection of three Belgian provinces. The land surrounding the abbey belonged to the noble family of ‘de Merode’ and was later on sold to Natuurpunt (Belgian nature conservation organization). While visiting church and abbey grounds is worthwile our focus this weekend was breathing in nature. The ‘Bos en heide‘ or ‘heath and forest’ trail showcasts the region’s assets perfectly: dense forests open up in wide sandy and heath covered ( blooming in August) landscapes.
Well deserved treat and closure of the trip! Cheers, see you next time!
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?
Last weekend we found ourselves immersed in Flanders’ fields, in the green region that stretches out from the North Sea coast, over the Flemisch hills and all the way up to the French border. A region where the landscape is silent witness of its sad, loud and violent past, where poppies colour the fields and the wind gently rustles through the hop bells…welcome in the Westhoek!
We started off our two-day break at the newly opened Bar Bernard brewery St-Bernardus Watou offering a 360 degree view on the surrounding landscape and a range of heavenly bears of course.
As it was almost lunchtime, a little snack was allowed…
Next stop: Poperinge with at the time of our visit the culinary festival ‘Lekker Westhoeks’ to promote regional produce…hop all around of course!
Time to check out our place to stay for the night which we booked through Vlaanderen Vakantieland where to stay…Nicely tucked away in the fields of peaceful village Krombeke, part of Poperinge, lies ‘Ons Content’. A true gem: the room has everything to offer you could possibly need and more, the views are amazing, the hosts welcoming with a warm genuine smile and open heart, garden full of life and colours and the breakfast beats any breakfast I have ever had before! One of those places one would rather keep to themselves, so, shhh, not too much advertising 😉 Ons Content
We had a lovely dinner in local restaurant ‘t Hommelhof. Chef Stefaan Couttenye is one of Belgium’s pioniers when pairing beers to gastronomy and he proudly uses local produce whenever he can.‘tHommelhof
Time to lay feet up and head to rest,…
…You can’t stop birds from singing: I’m a morning person, even on weekend breaks…after a good night’s rest this early bird had a short morning walk, though long enough to watch sunrise and see some hares playfully chasing each other in the nearby fields.
Good thing I had that morning walk as, remember, there was that 5-star breakfast waiting with a wide range of sweet and savoury goodies! Needless to say we took our time to enjoy to the fullest!
After our goodbyes, we’ll be backs (without a doubt) and some top tips from our hosts we set off to provincial park Palingbeek (near Ypres) and land-art installation ComingWorldRememberMe by Koen Vanmechelen. Tourism Ypres Palingbeek
During four years thousands of people spread over Flanders and the rest of the world joined forces and together made 600.000 sculptures out of clay. Each sculpture representing one of the 600.000 victims who lost their lives in Belgium due to WWI. There is a walkpath up to the Bluff and a viewpoint over No Man’s Land…you are standing on land representing some dark pages of history…This unique memorial installation can be visited until 11th of November. You can read more about the project and artist’s vision hereCMxRW
Almost noon and we decided to head to Ypres…our visit coincided with Flanders Fields Triathlon and Car Free Sunday resulting in a very lively city. We went from cheering on the swimmers on the ramparts…TourismYpres
…to thumbs up for all those who biked their way to the top rewarding them with the best views on Ypres’ Lakenhalle and Market square.
No visit to Ypres without a walk on the ramparts and stop at the Menin gate…
This memorial was placed here in 1927 and is inscribed with the names of over 54000 soldiers without a grave…they passed through this city entrance, where the gate now stands, never to return…makes one silent no? In remembrance of those men, the Last Post, by local buglers, sounds every evening at 20pm.
Making it time for our last stop on this weekend break and we are staying in the ‘quiet’ zone…Tyne Cot which is the largest British war cemetary on mainland Europe with almost 12000 tombstones…
The Westhoek left a great impression: surrounding nature soothes what lies in its past, though never forgotten…