Belgium’s Beautiful Blue Forest

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.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell wood

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.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell wood
(The close-up photos of bluebells are not my own)

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.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell wood

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).

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell wood

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.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell woodIs 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.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell woodAre 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.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell woodWhy 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.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell woodHow do I get to the Hallerbos?

Here are the instructions to get there by car and by public transport.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell woodWhere do I walk?

You can use this general hiking map of the Hallerbos. To go right through the heart of the bluebell area, follow this Bluebell Walk map.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell woodCan 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.

Hallerbos, Belgium: bluebell woodCan 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.

Bluebell child
(Photo from Pixabay)

For you Pinterest pinners, here’s a pin:

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45 comments

  1. Beautiful Denzil. I’m sharing this link with my parents to encourage them to check it out this year. I love that last photo of the child walking “among” the flowers! I assume by the end of May, the bluebells will be history…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How adorable, such an amazing blue carpet among the trees. I first ‘met’ the
    bluebells when working in the UK. Millions of them were blossoming on the hills I walked trough with my friend. It was amazing. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, I needed to “chime in” and join the chorus exclaiming over these pictures – – just beautiful. On rare occasions, I’ve seen patches of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in New York State, but never a whole forest full of them, quite a sight!
    Once, walking along the Genesee River, I thought there must be ground fog, or a small fire smoldering in a far away grove of trees in a river bend — when I got closer, the bluish haze resolved itself into a spread of these flowers. A very nice surprise.
    Very nice photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your photos and your well organized writings. Thank you! (I laughed when I read what you said about webcam. You did trick me 😉
    Have a wonderful day. Your photos will be in my dream tonight….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a stunning sight – your photos are gorgeous, Denzil. I’ve only seen bluebells once, at a garden in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney but it was just one bed, not a whole forest. I love your last photo. Is that cute little person your grandchild?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. These are exquisite! Thank you for sharing! Isn’t it amazing that people want to possess them?
    My children are both Montessori kids and they were taught to observe nature but to leave it as they found it; no picking up or plucking! LOL!!
    Thank you Denzil 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think you just took me to the magical forest of fairies and elves – what an exceptionally gorgeous place. The forest is so – no words equal its beauty. Thank you for all the photos, each more wonderful than the last. It’s no wonder you are so in love with Belgium, Denzil.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Sharon, it certainly is exceptional, although there are concerns, as with every place like this, that the amount of human traffic will have an adverse effect. This year I see that the authorities are introducing volunteer guides to lead people along the paths and make sure they don’t actually stray into the woodlands and trample the flowers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Always a difficult balance between allowing access so people can enjoy the great natural beauty of exceptional places and preventing them from destroying it in the process. The kind of commercial ventures happening at the Grand Canyon are worrisome – huge platforms extending over the edge of the canyon to allow viewing, airplanes flying overhead, burros traveling up and down the trails, all of them straining and changing what is so extraordinary. I hope the guides help prevent the forest from being trampled.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes it’s not easy is it Sharon, especially when commercial interests come into the equation, and especially when they are short-term interests and not ploughing the profit into the preservation of these places.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello Denzil!
    What a magical post, thank you! Your images are stunning and so enticing for a photography student! Pure beauty.
    How sad to read the trees were cut down but thankfully the forest looks back on beautiful track now. 🌟🌟🍃

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Denzil – another wonderful post. Thank you for sharing the beauty and history of Belgium with all of us. In Oregon we celebrate balsam root (yellow) and trilliums. It really is a wonderful time of year. Especially after all our snow this year. I wonder if any of your readers are from the SW of the United States? They are experiencing what they call a “super bloom” – its an incredible phenomenon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Amy, glad you enjoyed the post. I had to look up Trilliums as I didn’t know them. It seems they form wonderful carpets, in this case white, across the forest floor. That must also be quite a sight. And balsam root: from the pictures it looks like a desert or meadow flower, is that right?

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