Sonian route

The Sonian Forest, a huge remnant of an ancient forest, is the backdrop for today. It is part of National Parc Forests of Brabant. We cycle over the gravel, between stately beeches. We take a trip to Tervuren Park, pop into AfricaMuseum and get acquainted with the Grape region.

Sonian route




Start: Hoeilaart

In the charming town of Hoeilaart, we get off the train, bike in hand. From the platform, the green surroundings immediately catch the eye. We can already smell the forest. The urge to cycle overwhelms us, so we head straight to the backdrop of the day: the Sonian Forest. And that is not just any old forest. This forest, on the outskirts of Brussels, covers an area of no less than 4,400 hectares and it has been in existence since well before we counted time. In fact, it is a remnant of a primeval forest whose oldest known structures date back to the Neolithic period. That era ran from about 11,000 BC to about 3,000 BC. In other words, the Sonian Forest is not a particularly young forest. 


World heritage

Today, we are exploring this historic green opulence on two wheels. A couple of minutes later, the first tall treetops appear on the horizon. A few pedal turns later, we find ourselves in the middle of the so-called beech cathedral. A perfectly straight gravel path leads us through the trees that seem to reach to the heavens. After about fifteen minutes, we navigate two right-hand bends. The path leads us to the Joseph Zwaenepoel forest reserve. This is one of five parts of the Sonian Forest recognised as world heritage goods by UNESCO. This pristine piece of nature offers us a window into what the European virgin forests looked like long, long ago. The stately beeches inspire awe.

The Sonian Forest offers us both unspoilt nature, as well as beautifully maintained pieces of forest with convenient facilities. We cycle past several cosy spots with picnic benches. There we also see other cyclists, mountain bikers and gravel enthusiasts taking a break. We decide also to stop for a moment. We rest our legs, eat a healthy snack and then move on again. Then we turn, twist, meander and undulate further. 

Park van Tervuren

Tree Garden and AfricaMuseum

First we pass the Geographic Arboretum Tervuren, an impressive tree garden of about 100 hectares. Suddenly we are standing face to face with an American redwood, an extraordinary sight in a European forest. After about 20 kilometres, we leave this magnificent forest behind us. We arrive at Warandepark, also known as Tervuren Park. That was once the hunting ground of the Dukes of Brabant. Today it is one of the gateways to the Sonian Forest which is part of National Parc Forests of Brabant. It is also a wonderful setting for walking and cycling with the necessary extras. Then we go through the park itself. This is how we finally end up at our cultural stop for the day: the AfricaMuseum. This sketches a picture of contemporary, emancipated Africa. We are introduced to an impressive museum complex, a turbulent past, extraordinary collections and hope for the future. 

Fietsvakanties_Vlaanderen_Brussel_Africamuseum-22 © David Samyn

Home of the grape

Our visit to the museum, reopened in 2018, impresses. Then we are on our way again. We leave the park and cycle south, along a beautiful path through the open fields. The landscape is again delightfully green, but a touch different. Along this path, we make our way to Overijse, the beating heart of the Belgian grape region. We pedal past some of the dozens of greenhouses in which the table grape is lovingly cultivated. And we then get another opportunity to learn more about that. For that, we pause for a moment at Dru!f, the visitors’ centre for the grape. 


Finish: Hoeilaart

An instructive stop, after which we see the end of this journey approaching on the horizon. Via a safe, separate cycle path along the IJse river, we head back. Final destination: Hoeilaart, where the train is waiting for us. For a few kilometres more, we can enjoy the lovely green belt on the outskirts of Brussels. And by now we are sure: this was not the last cycling adventure in this region.


  • Parking:
    Parking station Hoeilaart (intersection Albert Vanlaethemstraat and IJzerstraat)
  • Public transport:
    Station Hoeilaart
  • Nodes:
    79 – 2 – 1 – 48 – 47 – 43 – 32 – 31 – 30 – 44 – 49 – 60 – 61 – 46 – 45 – 8 – 57 – 25 – 29 – 40 - 86 – 41 – 42 – 79