Hilly Flanders: discover a story behind each hill

De Kemmelberg

When you walk through Flanders, keep your eyes and ears open. After all, the landscape tells many stories. Because one view of a witness hill, a spoil tip or a tumulus can say more than a thousand words. Discover the stories behind the hills of Flanders.

Flanders has a wealth of natural beauty, thanks to the polders and dunes, stream valleys and rivers, fields, forests and - last but not least - hills. These hills give the Flemish landscape its undulating character and make it an ideal walking backdrop. During a walk around the region, you will learn more about the stories behind these hills.

Witnesses of history

The so-called witness hills are geological formations created by long periods of soil erosion. They are as it were a true witness of how Mother Nature transformed the landscape over the centuries. You will find some beautiful examples of them throughout Flanders.

In the south-west of that region you will find the aptly named Heuvelland, which means “hill country”. Indeed, since the First World War we also know this area as Flanders Fields. Stiff climbs such as Kemmelberg and Zwarteberg are some other typical witness hills.

Some 65 kilometres east of Heuvelland lie the Flemish Ardennes. This region is known as the setting for the spring classics in cycling. This cycling festival derives its character from, among other things, witness hills such as Kluisberg, Hotond and Muziekberg. A little further east, you will find similar hills in the Hageland, the region around the central city of Leuven, and the Pajottenland. You may know this region as the cradle of Lambic and Geuze beer. Rolling landscapes dotted with orchards and historic castles are a paradise for walkers.


Coal mines characterise the landscape

Limburg is the capital of cosiness. The people are friendly and the landscapes are beautiful. These panoramas also refer to this place’s past: mining. Mining played an essential role in this province for most of the 20th century. There used to be seven coal mines spread across Limburg. Although they have now been closed for at least a quarter of a century, they still characterise the landscape. That’s because spoil tips formed in the vicinity of each of these mines. These are artificial hills near former coal mines. They consist of an accumulation of debris and waste from mining activities.

Today they are all overgrown by nature and have become part of the landscape. You can discover this yourself in the Hoge Kempen National Park. One of the seven entrance gateways to this landscape of mountains and lakes has been given the name “Terhills”. There used to be a coal mine here. A beautiful walk leads you from here over the old spoil tip and takes you from one beautiful panorama to another.

Hoge kempen

A 2,000-year-old nod

Whilst the spoil tip is a nod to a recent past, the tumulus (plural: tumuli) takes us back much further. Back to the Gallo-Roman era to be precise, which began over 2,000 years ago. Like the spoil tips, these hills have also been created with human power.

The burial mounds were made for and used as cemeteries above the cremation grave of a high-ranking figure and his or her family. To this day, these tumuli are striking beacons in the landscape, especially in the south of the province of Limburg. On the loamy soil of Limburg and Brabant you will still find some examples of these stately burial mounds.


In the meantime, it’s clear: a hill is never ‘just a hill’. Each of these hills symbolises a wealth of stories. Stories which will only enrich your enjoyable walks.

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