Still suffering from the greyness of March? Itching for some colour? Then get yourself over to Haspengouw, an area in the south of Limburg province. An annual spectacle of colour will surely lift your spirits and help you forget the long cold winter. It really is spectacular. In April, millions of apple, pear and cherry trees blossom simultaneously, washing virtually the whole of Haspengouw in swathes of pink and white. Whether it happens in early or late April depends on many factors – principally the temperature in March. And we all know what that was like! So a sensible guess would be to make your trip later rather than sooner. Check out this site and you get a real-time view of the state of the orchards. Below are some ideas to make the most of your trip.
If you are interested in historical craftsmanship of the highest quality, then an event taking place in Maaseik on Tuesday evening, 19th March might interest you. Members of the “Pearls of Craftsmanship” will be exhibiting their work from 17:30 to 22:30. They include a wood carver, art restorer, painter, tailor, furniture maker, portrait artist and marble decorator, who will each be talking about their crafts. Guides will also be available to give short tours through the centre of Maaseik, and there’s also an open air play to watch. It takes place in five historic buildings in Maaseik. Registration (12 EUR) is at the town hall (Markt 1, 3680 Maaseik) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Here’s a short video to whet your appetite.
When a town promotes itself as the oldest in Belgium, it’s tempting to wonder how much evidence of this claim is still visible. Visit Tongeren, and its credentials are right in front of you: city walls that date from the first century; a Roman archaeological site from the fourth. Moreover, this attractive town in Limburg is clearly proud of its antiquity. Streets have names like Caesarlaan and Pliniuswal. A car park is called Praetorium. So you don’t need a guide book to tell you that Tongeren dates back to the time of Christ, and that it takes great pride in its connections to the Romans.
My previous post introduced you to an area (Mollendaal Forest) that is ideal for young children. However, I do not recommend Mechels Broek for young children, nor is the terrain suitable for buggies, push-chairs or wheelchairs. It’s an area of wetland at all times of the year, and particularly in the winter many of the paths are very muddy.
Walking in the Mollendaal Forest, south of Leuven, is highly recommended for families with young children. Once you enter the gated area just after the car park, the forest is totally car-free. Many of the pathways through the forest are stone or concrete (so are dry, un-muddy and therefore easily navigable at this time of the year). There are two children’s play areas, interesting wooden sculptures to marvel at, and quite a few picnic benches.
The words “Flanders” and “glass” don’t usually sit comfortably together. Our neighbours have a much stronger glass heritage: think of the Val Saint Lambert glass factory in Wallonia or the major European glass museums in Leerdam, the Netherlands; Frauenau, Germany; and Sars-Poteries, France. But actually Flanders is firmly on the glass map, thanks to the Flemish Centre for Contemporary Glass Art, otherwise known as The Glass House, in Lommel, Limburg province.
The 86-kilometre long River Dijle rises near Nivelles in Wallonia but soon crosses the language border a few kilometers south of Sint-Agatha-Rode. Here the river drunkenly zigzags through the fertile Flemish fields before sobering up and straightening up as if in reverence to its next ports of call: the cathedral towns of Leuven and Mechelen.
Located only a short car ride from Antwerp (or 20 minutes by train from Antwerp Central to Heide station), the Border Park De Zoom-Kalmthoutse Heide extends over six thousand hectares. Its combination of heaths, forests, dunes and pools makes it a great place to walk and recharge your batteries. The park is neatly bisected by the Dutch-Belgian border (hence its name), although not on an east-west axis as you would imagine. (Nothing about borders in Belgium is quite that straightforward!). Buy a map from the De Vroente visitor centre and you will see that the border lies diagonally north-west to south-east, with Flanders holding the eastern side. This means you can walk to the northernmost tip of the park where you will be still be on Flemish soil, yet will be able to gaze south over the Netherlands!
The Hoge Kempen National Park to the north of Genk is accessible via five local ‘Gateways’. At each one there is a car park, a café and an information board, while some have visitor centres. Each offers a good starting point for your hiking, cycling, mountain biking and horse riding activities, but each one also offers its own ‘flavour’ and unique experience of the national park.
Being a nature lover and keen hiker, the Mechelse Heide Gateway is my favourite gateway. It doesn’t have a visitor centre so a quick trip to the Maasmechelen tourist office is advisable, to pick up an excellent map of the area for 2 EUR. No fewer than nine paths are laid out through this part of the National Park. All are colour-coded and excellently signposted. Here are my suggestions for three walks, depending on the time you have available.
If you like exploring pretty villages, then Oud-Rekem, near Lanaken in Limburg, is one you may enjoy visiting. It actually won the 2009 “Prettiest Village in Flanders” accolade. A good starting point for your visit is the church of St. Pieter’s. It dates from 1722, and also serves as village museum, concert hall and tourist office. It sells a very useful guide book which describes a 2.5 kilometre walk through the village.
Gerardus Mercator was a geographer, cartographer, scientific instrument maker and mathematician. Born on 5 March 1512, his mapping technique, the Mercator projection, changed the way people looked at the world. The quality of his maps was the envy of generations of mapmakers. His legacy, his projection of the world globe onto a map, is still used today for navigation purposes, on sea, in the air and for GPS car, cycling and walking navigation applications. To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Mercator’s birth, SteM, the urban museum of Sint-Niklaas, is organising an eye-catching exhibition, a series of lectures, and an international cartographic conference.
The centrepiece is the Mercator Digitaal exhibition, which opens on 4 March. The highlights are Mercator’s original earth globe from 1541, his celestial globe from 1551, and a series of his atlases. Seven kiosks bring a digital presentation of various aspects of Mercator’s life and work into a contemporary context. The 51 constellations of his celestial globe are illuminated one by one, and the secrets of the world famous Mercator projection are explained.
If you want to visit the key World War One battlefields around Ypres, you can always do it yourself, but enlisting the help of one of the many specialist tour guides available is a good idea. Not only do they know the best places to visit and when to visit them, but they can also help bring this unforgettable time in world history back to vivid life with their knowledge and enthusiasm. Here’s a personal pick of some WW1 battlefield tour guides in Ypres.
I love the name “Erps-Kwerps.” It’s just a great name for a village. I used to live in the Netherlands near a village called “Ohé en Laak”, which was also memorable. But nothing beats Erps-Kwerps for sheer absurdity. As you can probably imagine, Erps-Kwerps was formed through a unification of two villages, Erps and Kwerps, although each still has its own church, village center, bakers and cafés. And knowing Flanders, each probably has its own dialect too. And it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that people from Erps don’t talk to the folk from Kwerps!
Have you ever been by car to Tienen in the autumn? If so, you have probably got stuck behind a slow-moving tractor pulling a trailer loaded to the brim with large, white, carrot-like root vegetables. They are sugar beet. Next time it happens, you might like to dwell on a startling statistic. Six million tons of sugar beet are transported on the public roads around Tienen every year. Tienen – the Sugar City – is therefore the place to go to find out about sugar, and specifically, its Sugar Museum.
The Mollendaalbos just south of Heverlee is a great place to walk, especially now with the leaves beginning to turn. I recommend parking in the car park on the E25 Naamsesteenweg where it crosses the Weertsedreef. The car park is indicated clearly. The turn-off is at the wooden bridge over the N25. There is a large information board which displays all the footpaths through the forest. It’s always good to take a map with you of the Mollendaalbos footpaths. Here’s a slide show of a few sights of the forest.