Looking for somewhere to go walking this winter break? What about “De Maten” nature reserve in Limburg?
De Maten is a nature reserve of about 5 square kilometres, located in the province of Limburg. It extends over the municipalities of both Genk and Diepenbeek. It’s a mix of grasslands, sandy heaths, patches of woodland, and more than a few ponds. And it’s a very attractive area to walk around!
Several well-signposted footpaths take you around the perimeter and through the centre of De Maten. They start and end at three car parks. Depending on the time you have available you could just take a short walk of an hour or two (3-4 km), a medium one (6 km) or do the whole circle of about 10 km. The longer one will also take you through a few residential streets that back onto the nature reserve.
The name ‘maten’ can be equated to the English word ‘meadows’. Back in the 16thcentury De Maten consisted of water-meadows, which were created by irrigating grasslands. This was to increase hay productivity. Even now there is a lot of agricultural activity, particularly around the perimeter of the nature reserve.
35 ponds in the past
The ponds were created by damming the local streams, the Stiemersbeek and the Heiweierbeek. Rich with fish, they provided an excellent all-year-round source of food for the locals. And for the fish-eating waterbirds.
The White Wives
The frequent occurrence of spooky morning and evening mist banks, from which blood-curdling shrieks were heard, gave rise to the belief in the “witte wieven” (the white wives). These are female ghostly apparitions that haunt the reedbeds and call to each other.
You can still hear them today! Thankfully we know that they are not ghosts but waterbirds called water rails. Listen to this and you can understand the source of the legend.
The bittern also occurs here. You might be lucky enough to spot one skulking through the reeds, but you will need to look very closely as it is so well camouflaged.
A good place to look out for bitterns – and other waterbirds – is from the bird observation overlooking the ‘Augustijnenweyer’ pond.
However, the bittern is quite shy and secretive, so you have a greater chance of hearing one than spotting one. Once heard, never forgotten, as the bittern’s “song” resembles a foghorn!
The trails also take you through some delightful wooded areas that are criss-crossed with streams.
And that’s my quick overview of a number of different and very pleasant walks around and through De Maten. Here is a map, on which I have indicated the three car parks:
- Slagmolenweg 76, 3600 Genk (top right)
- The sports centre on Kneippstraat, 3600 Bokrijk, behind the St. Jozefsinstituut (top left)
- Diepenbekerbos parking on the Havenlaan, 3600 Genk, just past the lock on the Albert Canal (bottom left)
It’s not particularly easy to access by public transport, unless you live locally. But I can help you with your bus and train plans, should you need some guidance. Just drop me a line, mentioning your starting point.
For more details, nearby accommodation, places to eat, and a downloadable route, check out my page on De Maten on RouteYou.