Lost ports of the Zwin route

A refreshing bike ride between Bruges and the Zwin Nature Park, via picturesque Damme, polders, inland dunes, fishing villages and nature reserves. Along the way, various virtual reality points throw you back to the Middle Ages.

Lost ports of the Zwin route




Start: Brugge, die scone

Our bike ride along medieval treasures starts in picturesque Bruges. Where else? At the time, the city was one of Europe’s most important trading centres. The grandeur still echoes between belfry and cathedral, in alleyways and canals and over the squares. We can feel it when we hop on our two-wheeler on the Jan Van Eyckplein. We will be back here later, but first we are going into the wide wide world. Via the reien, the picturesque canals of Bruges, we end up on a wonderful cycling route along the water. 


From Damme to the fishing villages

Half an hour later, we arrive in Damme, a cosy town with almost 1,000 years of history. This will be the first of many enjoyable stops on our journey. We climb the 206 steps of the Our Lady Ascension Church. The fairy-tale view takes our breath away. We see the star-shaped outline of the city, the Bruges skyline, the straight Damse Vaart and countless natural areas.

After our first stop, we hop on our horse of steel once again. We direct it towards the picturesque Damse Vaart, a 200-year-old canal, and a wonderful environment for walking and cycling tours. On our left, a piece of unspoilt nature emerges: the Romboutswerve. This protected nature reserve is an important breeding ground in winter for many bird species such as the northern lapwing, common kestrel and little owl. The viewing hut on the edge of the domain gives us a wonderful view.

From there we continue towards the former fishing village of Monnikerede. That's where we find one of the many VR points on this cycle route. A virtual reality viewer shows us never-before-seen images of the lost Zwin ports. The viewer draws you into a 360° simulation of long gone times.

We say goodbye to the virtual medieval landscape and pedal on. Graceful dykes with stately willows and poplars take us to the St. Donatian polder. This meadow bird reserve welcomes us with open arms, an experienced hiking guide will be happy to take us on a tour.  


Exploring the boundaries

After another natural gem, we continue our journey towards the Belgian-Dutch border. We cross the charming border town of Sluis and cycle through the Dievegat. Via this picturesque grassland with pools, reed swamp and rare amphibians we arrive in a special place: the Zwin Nature Park. This is a unique nature reserve with an exceptional abundance of fauna and flora. The area is connected to the North Sea, so the tides have free reign here. This 345 hectare area, where thousands of birds hibernate each year, is alive. The beautiful hiking and cycling paths give us wonderful views. Two VR viewers take us on a virtual bird flight through the evolution of the Zwin landscape. We would be mad not to take a little break here.


Repose in the Zwin

After a well-deserved rest, we start off on the journey back. Via the dunes of the fashionable seaside resort of Knokke we pedal through Oostkerke, once the mother parish of all Zwin villages and still a gem today. This is how the trip takes us back towards Damme. Here too we find a VR point. It takes us back to the year 1299. At that time, this city was a major port of transhipment in the region. The 360° film immerses us in a medieval activity.   


Taste of forgotten flavours

In the meantime, the meter on our steering wheel indicates more than 50 kilometres. A good time to regain some of our strengths: eating and drinking. The Lost Ports of the Zwin cycling route also has a culinary component. Food archaeologists dived into the storage cabinet of the medieval Zwin region. The ingredients form the basis for contemporary creations that we can taste in different places along this route. In Damme, Proeflab Mout gives us a taste of those forgotten flavours.

Gruuthusemuseum Bruges 20 © Sarah Bauwens

Finish: Brugge, die scone

With enough power food in our bellies, we set off on the last part of this route. Via the majestic Damse Vaart – a wonderful place for walkers and cyclists – we return to our starting place. Via the slightly winding Langerei, a symbol of prosperous Bruges for centuries, we cycle to the historic city centre. A new VR viewer takes us through the glorious times of medieval Bruges. At the end of the journey we can also see that in the here and now.  

Once in Bruges, we bring out a toast to a wonderful bike ride. We have more than enough to talk about. Our bikes can rest for a while, so can our legs. Cheers! 




We cycled this route with Bruges as the start and finish place, but you can also use the Zwin, Sluis or Damme as a base. 

  • Parking: 
    Parking Biekorf, Parking Station, Parking Centrum 't Zand
  • Public transport: 
    Station Brugge
  • Bicycles for hire: 
    Blue Bike, Bruges Bike Rental, De Ketting
  • Nodes:
    This route is not fully located on nodes. Follow the Lost Ports of the Zwin signposts or use the GPX.