Author Topic: Visiting Belgium  (Read 1882 times)

boogyman

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Visiting Belgium
« on: May 10, 2014, 02:46:50 PM »
On popular request  :) I will gladly write a few posts about our country. Or, to be more precise, about my own suggestions for those visiting Belgium. Please note that I give my personal opinion in this thread, so it might be contradicted by others (and especially by publicity).

Two things that I must not forget.

First, there is no such thing as "rights of way" in Belgium. Pay some attention to where you walk - as in "is this path open to the public or not". However, I often use paths of which I am not sure whether they are open to the public, and I have only once been thrown off private property (to be clear: it was a huge wooded domain and there were no fences nor signs). The landlord was really polite and not at all agressive.

Second, if at the entry to a forest there is a sign notifying that a hunting party takes place, don't go further. Contrary to (for example) France, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts are allowed in the woods in a mutually exclusive way. Therefor, hunters won't expect walkers in their line of fire. Needless to point out the risk huh?

From a purely administration point of view, Belgium is divided in three regions, namely the Flemish region, the Walloon region, and a third region called Brussels-Capital. In a first post the focus is on the Flemish region. The Walloon region will follow - it certainly holds a more than a few cards for outdoor enthusiasts.

boogyman

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Visiting Belgium - the Flemish region
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2014, 03:16:00 PM »
Roughly, the Flemish region is flat, so there is nothing which can be compared to hillwalking  :( If you fly over Flanders from the center of Belgium towards the coast, you'll notice a transition from dense construction with green in-between (midland), to a wider agricultural landscape (near the coast). That gives you a first hint on what to expect if you go visiting places in Flanders.

Let me mention the Flemish cities which I believe are worth a visit:
- Antwerp: bigger but cozy city; their website
- Ghent: a bit smaller, more charged with history; their website
- Bruges: even smaller, a lot more touristic; their website
- Ypres: small city, focus on its history during WW1; their website
There are of course a few other cities with their own tales, but as said I list my own preferences.

As a consequence of the ever-increasing population and hence construction, a lot of green areas disappeared and many more were threatened. Luckily there's an NGO called "Natuurpunt" which does a wonderful job. From their website: Natuurpunt is the largest Belgian NGO working on the protection of nature. The long term protection of important habitats, species and landscapes is their main goal. To achieve this the organisation is protecting the remaining nature in Flanders through buying and managing land, studying species and habitats, by raising awareness and introducing educational programs for a general and specific public and lobbying local and regional governments.

When I go walking, I prefer tracks (routes) with as much countryside/unpaved as possible. A few remaining large forests, and an increasing number of natural reserves owned by Natuurpunt certainly help to achieve that. Moreover, even if it is not one of their explicit goals, Natuurpunt preserves the historical and architectural values located on the land they own. Often those constitute an additional value for a walk. In the paragraphs here-below I mention a few interesting sources for walk(er)s in Flanders, I refer some tracks that I find particularly pleasant walks, and I end with a concrete suggestion for a short stay axed around the theme "World War One".

Sources for nice walks in Flanders (such a pity that most are published only in Dutch):
- the GR paths or long distance paths (they exist for walkers and for bikers) are exactly what their name suggests. You could compare them to for example The Pennine Way, Hadrian's Wall, etc. Nonetheless, the Belgian long distance paths often connect to paths in the neighbouring countries. A well-known example is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Way_of_St._James . I sometimes walk a (one-day) part of such a long distance path. They use a mix of paved and unpaved paths, and they often go through villages where you can buy provisions.
- circular walks, 20 to 25 km, making as much use as possible of GR paths. These walks are published in printed topoguides, one topoguide per Belgian province. The satnav tracks are downloadable (for free) from the website. I have walked several of these, they are recommendable - of course you have to select what you like most from their offer.
- a variation on the above: instead of circular walks, these are line-walks starting and ending near a train station.
- originele wandelingen (by Gert Sonck) deserves a statue. The walks are very well documented, make very little use of paved paths, and some contain parts outside any paths, where you have to use orientation techniques. As said before, those parts are not guaranteed to be "legally allowed", but I have never gotten into trouble when walking them. In fact, I have never encountered anyone else on those parts. Maybe not that many compatriots like this type of walk.
- and then there is this, also available as app on iPhone and Android; handy if you want to go for a walk but had no time to prepare it

Examples of walks in the Flemish region that I like (or: what to expect if I suggested it):
- A circular walk based on groteroutepaden:
  + the track
  + the pics
- A walk by Gert Sonck near the BE/NL border:
  + the description
  + the track
  + the pics
Brand-new walks in the making:
  + no tracks available yet, they are still being adjusted
  + pics #1
  + pics #2

My suggestion for a short stay in Flanders is inspired by Callum's interest for WW1 and WW2. That interest triggers me to suggest Ypres. A few things to mention:
- The Last Post, every evening at 20:00 at the Menin Gate -- must do !
- In Flanders Fields Museum -- if you visit just one museum on WW1, this should be the one
- Flanders Fields route by car -- handy if:
  + you want to visit several sites in one day
  + the weather is bad
  + you want to get an overview of the different "districts" that existed here during WW1
- Circular walk from groteroutepaden with some WW1 history:
  + http://www.groteroutepaden.be/item.php?itemno=1531&lang=NL
- A shorter walk, but specifically focused on WW1 -- I have not done it but this would be my choice:
  + the track
  + the pics
  + the walk exists of two loops, one through the German and one through the British sector
  + visiting several points that were of strategical importance
  + many of these points are documented in a booklet
  + I have the EN version of the booklet (PM me if you want to know more about it)
- A station-to-station walk giving an impression of the littoral:
  + http://nl.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=6390265
« Last Edit: May 10, 2014, 03:26:22 PM by boogyman »

Callum

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Re: Visiting Belgium
« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2014, 01:30:48 PM »
After reading your brilliant overview, of where to visit in your country Boogyman and walks all I can say is “Belgium is a Hidden Gem”.

It is totally different to where we live, with its mountain peaks, massive lakes and loads of rain, yet its history, during the two great conflicts of the last century puts it right at the heart of Europe.

I have read about Ypres so many times, with its inextricable link to WWI and your recommended circuit which takes in old fortifications and the wonderful memorials to that conflict looks spectacular, and all set amidst beautiful nature. I was not aware of the last post being played every day at The Menin Gate, a small yet remarkable tribute.

Following your great guide Boogyman we have decided to take three days in our trip to visit Flanders, particularly as it is an important year this year in commemoration of WWI.

One question – are beers regional in Belgium? For example, in the Lake District, we now have around 40 microbreweries and the beers are very distinctive and varied.

Thanks for a great review Boogyman :)

Pete McK

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Re: Visiting Belgium
« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2014, 12:17:16 PM »
Thanks from me too Chris :) A really comprehensive guide to start exploring your country with. Like Cal, enough to encourage Emma and me to make the effort on our holiday in mainland Europe this summer.

You should sell this to your Tourist Board?

Cal, I was reliably informed, by a micro-brewer, last weekend that there are now 44 micro-breweries in The Lakes:)

Lyle Brotherton

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Re: Visiting Belgium
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2014, 10:50:12 AM »
I too think that you have found your second career Chris!

Great write up and recommendations. I am travelling to France to visit my grandfather's brother's WWI graves this year, and will now make the effort to come across into Belgium and visit the monuments here too. The recent history of your country, and that of your neighbors, is incredible and all the more so since there are still some people alive who were part of it and witnessed it, especially WWII.

Thank you for the info Chris, much appreciated :)
“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance” - Plato

Callum

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Re: Visiting Belgium
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2014, 02:19:22 PM »
How did you set about finding out where they were laid to rest Lyle? My Dad had a cousin, who was aircrew and brought down over France during WW2 - it would be good to find him.

boogyman

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Re: Visiting Belgium
« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2014, 06:13:54 PM »
Hi All,

Glad that you like "the sound of it". And of course I really hope that those who are coming over to visit Flanders will enjoy it. If I can be of any further help with your prep (for example by translating descriptions), just ask.

Also, if anyone of the forum members feels like it, I would certainly (try and) meet you over here, if the plannings fit.

And for the "amateurs", yes we have some microbreweries. Some are known outside Belgium, some are known only locally, and some are kind of in-between. Like this one for example.

Best regards,
Chris.

Lyle Brotherton

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Re: Visiting Belgium
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2014, 07:52:56 AM »
Belgium has everything a visitor could need and more!

I checked out your recommendation if the Brouwerij Het Anker and it is much more than a  brewery:



Subsequent to your Post Chris we are going to tag another 5 days onto our planned trip to France, to give us time really visit the countryside of Belgium, having really only spent time before in  Leuven and Brussels.
 
« Last Edit: May 17, 2014, 07:58:37 AM by Lyle Brotherton »
“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance” - Plato