Every Spring, thousands of people flock to a forest just outside Brussels to witness a breathtaking natural spectacle. It’s the transformation of the Hallerbos from a sea of green into a sea of blue.
What makes the Hallerbos turn blue?
Bluebells. Millions of them. It’s a sight not to be missed. It’s magical, enchanting, beautiful, … words fail to do it justice: you have to go and see them for yourself. And if you go on a hot sunny day the sweet scent will waft towards you long before you see the first bluebell.
When is the best time to see the bluebells?
That’s what everyone wants to know. You don’t want to go too early and just see leaves, nor too late and just see dead-heads. A rule of thumb is the middle of April. However, the precise flowering season varies with the weather. If late March is unseasonably warm, then they could be appearing in early April. And who knows what effect climate change is having on them? My recommendation is to keep an eye on this Bluebell Webcam. It’s not actually a webcam (I’ve just called it that to pique your interest), but short videos that appear daily to keep you informed of the progress of the bluebells. The English version that I linked to above is sometimes updated a bit later than this Dutch version.
How big is the Hallerbos?
Currently it’s 542 hectares or 5.82 square kilometres or 2.25 square miles. But whatever the number, it’s plenty big enough to find somewhere to wander away from the crowds. Unless, that is, you go on a hot Sunday afternoon when it’s as crowded as a seaside promenade (but without the seagulls and ice-creams).
Who owns the Hallerbos?
Now it’s the Belgian State, but the forest has been passed from owner to owner like scouts around a campfire throwing a hot potato to each other. Its first known owner is probably the Abbey of St. Waltrudis in the 7th century. By the 13th century the forest had become the property of the Lords of Brussels, and in the 17th century most of it belonged to the Duke of Arenberg. The forest at that time extended to over 1125 hectares.
Ownership passed to the French Republic after invasion by French troops in 1794; to the Netherlands in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon; and then in 1831 it returned to the Arenberg family. Unfortunately, during the First World War, the German Army decided that they owned it, and proceeded to cut down all the big trees, leaving the Hallerbos virtually ruined.
In 1929 however the Hallerbos (now reduced to 569 hectares) became property of the Belgian State and between 1930 to 1950 it was completely reforested, which explains why it looks fairly young.
Is it a nature reserve?
Part of it is. Four separate areas covering around 100 hectares are designated a forest nature reserve. Here, interesting wild flowers grow, such as wood spurge, spiked rampion, wild orchids, golden saxifrage and herb Paris. Non-native plants and trees have been removed to give the natural flora and fauna the best possible chance to thrive. Trees that die are left to fall and rot, as they form excellent habitats for mosses and fungi and all sorts of creepy crawlies.
Are the trees in the forest used for timber?
Some of them are. A strict forest management plan is implemented to care for the forest and ensure a sustainable woodland for years to come.
Why do bluebells grow here and not in my local forest?
A carpet of bluebells is a sign of an ancient woodland. The Hallerbos is part of the ancient carboniferous forest that stretched over most of this part of Europe.
How do I get to the Hallerbos?
Where do I walk?
Can I walk anywhere through the forest?
No. Bluebells are fragile, so all visitors are requested to keep to the paths and not wander into the forest to look at the flowers in close-up.
Can I pick some bluebells?
I am sure that all Discovering Belgium readers are well aware that picking wild flowers is not only foolish (you’re basically just killing them) but illegal. But this might be something to mention to your children, should they get the idea.
For you Pinterest pinners, here’s a pin: