Today, Liz and I decided to walk up the Wijngaardberg (literally: vineyard mountain) outside Wezemaal. As it’s located in Flanders, it’s not really a mountain of course, but there are some interesting climbs nevertheless and some great views over the surrounding countryside. Here’s a map: Wijngaardberg map. The walk we followed – 6>62>63>65>74>64>61>6 – was 7.5 km. It’s not suitable for children’s buggies or wheelchairs, but older children will probably enjoy it. It’s a lovely walk through fields and woodland, alongside and even through vineyards and fruit orchards.
The Wijngaardberg is an example of the petrified sandbanks of Hageland. Millions of years ago, sandbanks developed in the sea which flooded the whole of Lower Belgium. The flooding of the sea reached the vicinity of Diest. When the water receded it left sandbanks behind – what are known as the Hageland hills. These sandbanks contain large quantities of iron, and exposure to the air caused this iron to oxidize or to rust and petrify. The resulting iron sandstone was used for building and can still be seen in old buildings and churches. An example is the church at Wezemaal. On the Wijngaardberg you will find the remains of three abandoned quarries.
The Wijngaardberg is an excellent location for growing grapes due to its microclimate. The southern flank of the hill can be up to 5 degrees warmer than the northern flank. This gives rise to the fact that Hageland wine is the most northern wine in Europe. It means that the pinot-noir, pinot-gris and chardonnay, all varieties of wine from the Elzas, get sufficient light and warmth here.
Wezemaal is called the “wine village” and hosts the Hageland Wine Visitors’ Centre which is housed in the old town hall. Admission is free, and you can find information on the history and current wine-growing in Wezemaal. You can also taste and buy local wine there.
Walking through the vineyards and orchards of the Wijngaardberg is a great way to spend a few hours.
Places of interest on walk
- The wine wall – a stone wall extending over 1,546 metres along the crest of the Wijngaardberg and made of loosely stacked iron sandstone. It was originally 1.7 m wide and in some places as high as 2 metres. It was built around 1815 to protect the delicate vines from the cold north wind.
- Monumental Sculpture of the Sacred Heart – On the site of the former Wezemaal windmill, the parishioners of Wezemaal erected an impressive monumental sculpture of the Sacred Heart in 1926.
- St. Martin’s Church, Wezemaal – The chancel and sacristy date back to the 13th century, the south transept to the 14th century, the tower to the 15th century and a new sacristy to the 18th century. The church was built entirely of iron sandstone, and the tower of white sandstone. It has a rich collection of art treasures and may be visited on request. It is a large church for such a small parish, because Wezemaal was once a place of pilgrimage. Pilgrims came to pay tribute to St. Job and drew water from St. Job’s well.
- Parsonage – A 17th century Norbertine parsonage (1624) surrounded by a moat, and built largely of iron sandstone.
Here are some photos of the area: