A surprisingly scenic walk on the outskirts of Brussels
This walk is ideal for anyone interested in a bit of exercise and fresh air, but there are two groups of people who I thought might be particularly interested in it.
First, people living in Brussels who might fancy a few hours in the open countryside but don’t have a car or the time to travel far. Second, people living in or around Tervuren who are bored of walking around Tervuren Park and would like to stretch their legs by walking somewhere different.
For the first group, simply take tram 44 from Montgomery to Tervuren Station. Turn right, past the Bandundu Water Jazz Band on the roundabout:
and head down to the Tervuren market square.
For the second group, there are plenty of buses to Tervuren, or you can park your car in the underground Moestuin parking for 4 EUR a day Monday to Saturday, or 2 EUR on Sunday.
From the market square, make your way to the start of the park by the first lake. There used to be a cozy café here where you could drop in for a coffee and a sandwich after a stroll around the lakes. Now it’s been upgraded and looks awfully posh. It’s called Bistro Mille and has an upmarket menu at upmarket prices (cheapest: a starter of 2 cheese croquettes for … 14 EUR!).
Anyway, instead of following the crowd along the big lake, turn right and find your first numbered “knooppunt”:
A great Belgian invention
If you’re unfamiliar with these signposts, they make up a wonderful network of footpaths through much of Flanders. I reckon it’s one of Belgium’s great inventions. You go from post to post, following the directions indicated. For example, on this walk you start from post no. 4 (left photo). In this photo you can see that the next post, which is indicated as straight on, is post no. 41. As you walk along you will see signposts like the one on the right pointing you in the direction of post no. 41.
Keep a sharp eye out for the signposts (delegate to the kids?) and you won’t get lost (if you do, don’t blame me!).
For the purpose of this walk, you will follow the posts with numbers 4, 41, 42, 43, 44, 410, 409, 408, 407, 504, 206, 509, 508, 51, 52, 53, 54 and 55. The total walk is 16 km. So you can jot these down or print off this map:
As you can see, you start from Tervuren at post no. 4 marked with the green flag bottom left, and follow the blue route to Bertem at the top right. You will also see the great advantage of this network, which is that you can work out your own unique path to follow, to match the time available and your energy levels.
A Bit of History
Tervuren is named after its river, the Voer (“ter Vure” means “on the Voer”). At the end of the 12th century, Hendrik I, Duke of Brabant, built a castle in Tervuren. You can see what it used to be like from the information board:
and you can just about make out a few remains by the lake’s edge:
In the 18th century, most of the castle was demolished – but two bits were left standing. One is the Hoefijzer (horseshoe), now used as a military barracks:
The other building that survived the demolition is the Saint Hubertus Chapel:
Say Hi to Hubertus
Hubertus (born 656) was the son of the Duke of Aquitaine and was addicted to hunting. One Good Friday he was chasing a magnificent stag in the Belgian Ardennes when the stag turned and Hubertus saw a crucifix between its antlers. At the same time he heard a voice saying “Hubertus, unless you turn to the Lord and lead a holy life you will go to hell.”
Well, he wasn’t going to argue with that, was he? So he immediately gave his wealth to the poor, studied for the priesthood, and later became Bishop of Liège. It is believed his heart is buried in Tervuren. Here’s the little fella:
On the last Sunday of October the annual Saint Hubertus ceremony is held at this chapel, when local people bring their pet animals to be blessed. The next one is due to be held on Sunday 28th October 2018. Children might especially like to attend. It’s quite an extensive and well-attended event, as you can see from this video of the 2014 ceremony.
(As an aside, I must admit I have problems with any Church, Catholic or Protestant, that is happy to bless horses, dogs and cats, but won’t bless two people who love each other and are deeply committed to each other, just because they are of the same sex. But don’t let my little rant put you off your enjoyment of the Saint Hubertus event).
After bidding Hubertus goodbye, continue through the woods until you come to these:
Like a Rolling Stone?
It could be, couldn’t it! The Belgian King Leopold II (1835 – 1909) may have thought so. He paid a local farmer the kingly sum of 150 Belgian francs (3.75 EUR) to have it brought to Tervuren Park (now his own park) as decoration. There is a suggestion that it’s a fragmented meteorite. Or something dating back to the druids. I haven’t seen any final conclusion. If you have, let me know.
The Cruel and Despicable King
However, any mention of King Leopold II gets my blood boiling. Want to know why? Read this previous blog post of mine about King Leopold II and we’ll get angry together.
Where the stones are located is called the Zevenster. It’s where a number of straight forest avenues intersect. The huntsmen used to position themselves at the Zevenster while the beaters drove game into the avenues, sector by sector. These panoramic views give a rather distorted view of the concept:
The woodland you are walking in is part of the Sonian Forest, which covers more than 43 square kilometres, although that’s nothing compared to its original size. 80% of the trees are beech.
By this time you will have arrived at the end of Tervuren Park, and can sit on a bench and enjoy the view of Vossem Lake:
This is where you Tervurenaars will be sorely tempted to follow your customary route and circle around the lake and back to the Bistro Mille. But don’t! It’s time to leave the familiar behind and explore the unfamiliar. At post 43, leave the park by the brick gateway and turn immediately right in the direction of post 44. This takes you along the side of the park, which is hemmed in by a long brick wall:
Continue and you will steadily climb up until you reach open countryside:
You can now spend a few hours in the heart of the lovely Plateau of Duisburg which stretches from Tervuren to Bertem and south to Huldenberg. It’s a rich agricultural region built on a type of clay fairly unique to this area.
The amazing thing is that you are only about 10-15 km away from the centre of Brussels, and about 8 km from the centre of Leuven. Yet you will feel as if you are much further away from civilization. There are no villages, no roads and only a few isolated farmhouses. But there is plenty of fresh air and solitude. In other words, it’s highly recommended for you Brusselaars and Tervurenaars (and anyone else of course) to get away from it all for a few hours.
And that’s our objective, isn’t it!
“But how do I get back to where I started?”
By bus. Entering Bertem, you will be following the signs to post 55. However, when you see this signpost directing you to go left, go straight on:
Carry straight on and turn left at the Delhaize supermarket at this junction:
And there on the opposite side of the road is the Bertem Oud Station bus stop.
Of course, you need a bus ticket, but it’s a doddle to get one. Just send the text message DL to 4884 and you will get a return SMS; that’s your bus ticket. Then catch the next 317 bus back to Tervuren where you can return to the tram station or pick up your car. (You’ll have to show your phone with the SMS message to the driver).
So there you are: in my view an excellent excursion to shake off the city dust and enjoy some fresh air and Flemish countryside.
For you techies who consider a list of numbers or a printed map too Last Century, here is the route on RouteYou that you can download.
Of course, from Bertem you could always walk back to Tervuren by following the map above and the signposts. This is also a lovely walk that goes alongside the River Voer.