Cool for Kids

Belgium’s Beautiful Blue Forest

Coming soon to a forest near Brussels! The bluebells of the Hallerbos


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.

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.  

There is also a free bus service during the peak flowering weekends.

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:

 

108 replies »

  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…

    • I hope they manage to go there Liesbet, and on a sunny day too. Yes, by the end of May the forest will be back to its normal shades of green

  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!

  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!

  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….

  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?

  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 🙂

  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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • A few weeks ago, my husband and I took our two older grandchildren to see the last of the spectacular wildflower bloom here in Southern California. We walked up a small canyon to see fields of yellow, purple, orange, and white flowers that haven’t bloomed in decades because of the drought. The scent was intoxicating, the view mesmerizing, the kids so appreciative. The flowers are quite delicate and it’s illegal to pick them in most areas. I’ve heard stories from friends of finding cars abandoned alongside roads, and looking up to see hillsides covered with flowers and dozens of people walking among them. Isn’t it wonderful to see people transfixed by flowers? Give me a garland of wildflowers over a diamond tiara any time.

            • Wow that must have been some sight Sharon, and amazing that all those seeds lay dormant just waiting for the moisture to arrive that would enable them to burst into bloom. I’ve never fancied a diamond tiara myself, so the comparison is somewhat lost on me, but I would certainly choose a garland of wildflowers over a bunch of often over-bearingly colorful hothouse flowers!

  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. 🌟🌟🍃

    • It’s amazing how resilient the bluebells were to survive such a potential disaster. I gather that although the trees were cut down, the ground itself wasn’t completely ruined.

      • Beautiful nature, Denzil. A magical place… even more reason to add Belgium to our travels… very enticing blog ✨✨

  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.

    • 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?

  10. I remember walking through the bluebells as a child in England. Southern California, no bluebells as far as I know! Thanks for the memories!

    • Hi, thanks for stopping by and reading, and I’m glad you went away with positive memories! Have a good day over there in south California.

  11. I’m from Belgium, living in Northern Ireland now, and embarrassed to say I’ve never been to the Hallerbos! I’ve seen quite a lot of blog posts about it lately, so it looks like I’m definitely missing out! Sometimes we are too busy to explore the world that we don’t appreciate what is/was so close to home… My next visit to Belgium is in a couple of weeks, hopefully the bluebells will still be there!

    • Hi Els, thanks for dropping by. Yes it’s amazing how we often miss what’s close by. I think your visit will be perfectly timed for the peak of their displays!

  12. What a beautiful location to visit on a weekend. I had no idea that bluebells were a sign of ancient woodlands. That’s a fascinating piece of fact. Imagine the Instagram appeal of this place!

  13. I love bluebells so this would be the perfect place for me. The woodland looks so beautiful what a wonderful place for a walk.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jo. Maybe you will get the chance? It’s only a quick trip over on the Eurostar? And plenty of other places to visit!

      • Yes my husband lived in Belgium for a while so I have spent some time there but never been to the Blue Forest. A reason to return!

  14. Such a wonderful post. I LOVE the Bluebell woods.. and have several I know of near by.. I once bought a packet of seeds of Bluebells as I wanted some in my garden.. I sowed them but they never took.. And I forgot about them for years..
    Then a few years ago.. A small clump of Bluebells pushed their way through the gravel around my pond.. And they are nicely producing green shoots as I type..
    End of April and early May is when they come out here, dependent upon weather conditions throughout Spring.
    You may wish to see a few pictures of the Wood I visit as I adore Blue bells..
    I totally Loved your post and Thank you for all of your Links.. a very Beautiful Forest..
    Many thanks.. 🙂 Sue

    https://suedreamwalker.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/the-bluebell-wood-poem-and-story/

    • What a lovely surprise it must have been to see those bluebells popping up after all those years, especially as you had forgotten all about them. And thanks for the link to your delightful story poem, on which I have commented. Enjoy the Spring weather this week Sue!

      • It was, and the stranger thing was, It was not where I had planted the seeds, they were in a totally different part of the garden.So I like to think perhaps the fairies had a hand in it. 🙂 😉 And I so thank you for your kind visit to my post and lovely comment 🙂

  15. These are absolutely beautiful and your pictures are amazing!! I had no idea this even existed but it has just been added to my bucket list! I’ll have to plan it strategically in order to go in the middle of April at the perfect time!

  16. Hi Denzil, What a beautiful post! How rare it is to see blue flowers, and a sea of them is even rarer. I checked the webcam, too. What a gorgeous place to visit. 🙂

  17. Lovely post and pictures! Love to hear about off the beaten path sights and I saw this blog has plenty of them. Maybe I should consider another visit to Belgium, don’t know anything apart from Bruxelles and Les Ardennes

  18. I’ve never seen so many Bluebells in one place! It really is like a sea of flowers! Just beautiful – I can totally understand why people flock to the forest to see this!

  19. Het is inderdaad een schouwspel in blauw om nooit te vergeten.Ik ben er al verschillende jaren een kijkje gaan nemen.Ik heb er zelf ook een massa in de tuin staan.Het hallerbos moet men minstens 1 keer in je leven gezien hebben

  20. Thank you for your sharing.
    I am so attracted and touched by this beautiful bluebells. It is the wonder of God’s creation.

  21. This is quite beautiful, indeed! The history of it is fascinating to me – although it has passed through the hands of MANY people, it’s still coming back to what it once may have been. I would say the state has done a fantastic job with it!!

    • Yes every year the authorities seem to introduce new walks and picnic sites etc. Mind you, they have to as it becomes more popular every year.

  22. How beautiful! We have a number of bluebell woods near us too, it’s been so cold lately they may be late this year, but when they bloom they are glorious.

    Enjoy yours! Lovely post

  23. Stunning when you see bluebells fully out under a forest or woodland floor Denzil. There was a wood where I grew up that had a fantastic amount too. Sadly the world has changed there now, the wood has shrunk and the system shows signs of change now.

    Nice touches with the history of this one too and brilliant to hear there is regeneration of the habitat. Young it may be, but it’s very positive to see some bad changes can be undone if the will to do so is there. Pity that can’t be applied to other walks of life too.

    • Hi Gary, I think we are very fortunate with this forest that it wasn’t picked to death last century. And you are right, it’s a good example of restoration and protection in practice.

      • I’m a firm believer most things can be restored. Sadly I’m not as convinced the will to do it by those in charge is as high on the agenda as it should be. I’ve often thought about doing posts on ecology and stressing people need to take more personal collective responsibility might help spread the message. More so if us bloggers had a collective group inspired to promote it.

    • It is indeed a marvellous spectacle, particularly early in the morning when the light is so much more intense

  24. Bluebells and snowdrops are my favourite flowers- our bluebells haven’t arrived yet here though. Strange weather etc. Love the images in this post. Stumbling for others to enjoy too.

  25. What a beautiful and sacred place! I can see myself wandering for hours. There is nothing like the color of flowers carpeting the forest floor or the side of mountain slope. 🙂

  26. I LOVE bluebells. I think bluebell season is one of my favourite things about the UK, but the Belgium version looks lovely too!

    It can be really hard to take photos of bluebell woods that capture their beauty, so well done on your stunning photos!!!

    • Thanks Josy, I am amazed that this place still has so many bluebells, considering how close it is to a major city, and within easy reach of easy pickings

  27. Great info and tips. Gorgeous pictures. You must have been asked those questions many times to have done such a good job of anticipating which questions to include.

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