The Haspengouw is an area of Belgium that is renowned for its fruit industry, due to the combination of fertile soil, a suitable climate and decades of fruit-growing experience.
About 75% of Belgian fruit originates from this fairly small area. Every year the Haspengouw produces around 360,000 tons of pears and 280,000 tons of apples, along with significant volumes of cherries, strawberries and soft fruits. Total turnover is around 300 million euros. The main fruit-growing municipalities are shown in this map:
Mid-September is the peak of the fruit harvesting season in the Haspengouw, so I thought it would be good to see these vast fruit orchards for myself.
And could there be a better way than by bike?
When I saw that cycling club De Marathonfietsers of Donk, Herk-de-Stad, was organizing a 70 km “fruitoogstrit” (fruit harvest cycle ride) I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. Especially when they described the route as “a beautiful ride through the country lanes and orchards of the Haspengouw.”
So at 9.30 on Saturday morning I presented myself at the registration desk in the village school hall in Donk, paid my 4 euros, and headed off.
I have to say that it was an absolutely super day. The weather was perfect: blue skies, dry, and very warm at up to 27°C, but with a slight, cooling breeze. The route was perfectly signed. And, as promised, it took me along delightful country lanes and through small villages and largely avoided any major roads.
And the orchards! Wow!
I didn’t realize the full extent of the Haspengouw fruit industry. It is huge. Fields and fields were covered with apple and pear trees, absolutely dripping with fruit. There must be millions of trees, and in many of the orchards the fruit farmers were clearly extremely busy with their harvesting work.
I spoke with one fruit farmer and asked him if this year had been a good year for his business. Yes, he replied, but told me that “September is too hot and sunny. The fruit is ripening quicker than we can harvest it. So we are rushing to try and complete the harvest before the fruit becomes over-ripe.”
It’s difficult to convey the expanse of the Haspengouw orchards as the area is pretty flat, so you can’t get a view of the whole area. So you just have to believe me that in a shot like this, the orchards just stretch way into the distance:
And to give you more of a close-up impression, here are a few photos of the apple and pear orchards:
Aside from taking me through the orchards, the cycle route went along some lovely winding country lanes:
Another surprising source of sustenance!
Regular readers might remember the ice-cream vending machine that saved me from exhaustion while walking through the Voerstreek on a sizzlingly hot day. Towards the end of today’s 70k, with my energy failing, I came across this interesting sight:
I wasn’t particularly interested in the fresh fruit for sale, but my attention was certainly caught by this on the bottom shelf:
I quickly paid my two euros (excellent value for a whole litre!) and there it was!
I drank most of it, and filled up my water bottle with the rest, to finish at the end of the route. Which I was now able to complete with a lot more energy!
Repeating my route
If you want to follow in my footsteps, or my tyre prints, this is the complete route:
You can download it here on RouteYou.
Alternatively, if 70k is a bit too long, you can mix and match by using the cycle network in the area:
The fruitoogstrit started in the top-left at number 353, but you could choose to start anywhere you want in this area, and make a cycle route that is as long or short as you want.
As for me, I will definitely be returning to this area in Spring, to repeat this route when all the fruit trees are in full bloom. That promises to be equally spectacular.