The birds are singing louder every day and sunshine is gently starting to replace grey clouds. Spring has arrived. This is the perfect time to soak up some fresh air in Flanders' many natural assets. Come and walk and cycle with us – we will welcome you with open arms just as soon as it’s possible. Below are a few gems to remember for when you next visit Flanders.
Take a breather on the outskirts of Brussels
You may not immediately associate Brussels with relaxing nature walks. Instead, you probably first think of a vibrant, buzzing city full of art and heritage. But Brussels can offer both! Situated on the outskirts of the capital are some wonderful oases of tranquillity,
such as the excellent and historic Sonian Forest This 4,400 hectare area just outside of Brussels is the remnant of a primeval forest, the oldest known elements of which date from the Neolithic period (ca. 11,000 B.C–. ca. 3,000 B.C.). Five large areas of this primeval forest are protected by UNESCO as forest reserves, although there is still plenty of space to enjoy nature. There are innumerable routes where hikers, cyclists, horse riders and mountain bikers can unwind and enjoy the surroundings.
One of the entrances to that grand forest is called Park van Tervuren. A stately avenue dotted with ponds, flower beds and artworks forms the green carpet to this beautiful park. In the middle of the beautiful nature is the Africa Museum: a beautiful neoclassical building which exhibits an ethnographic collection from Central Africa.
On the other side of the capital, in the Brussels Periphery, lovers of green spaces can find exactly what they are looking for. The Meise Botanic Garden is one of the world's largest botanic gardens. It is home to some incredible natural treasures: there are no less than 18,000 different plant and flower species distributed throughout the gardens in the open air and in stately greenhouses. Stroll through the immense rose garden, or give in to your wild side and take off your shoes to explore the barefoot path.
Heritage and nature, hand in hand
Flanders has an extensive, rich and centuries-old cultural heritage. You will find evidence of it in our cities, but also certainly in our green areas. Throughout Flanders there are magnificent historic castles, surrounded by equally breathtaking parks and gardens.
Groot-Bijgaarden Castle is a primary example. The grand building, which dates back 500-years, remains one of the genre’s showpieces to this day. Around the castle, complete with its wide moat, you will find 14 hectares of beautiful park for walking. The park is also the setting for Floralia Brussels this spring, which celebrates the beauty of flowers and plants.
Another fine example is Gaasbeek Castle. This massive structure, the predecessor to the current castle, was built as far back as the 13th century as part of a belt of defences constructed around Brussels. Today, it is regarded as a stately beacon in a beautiful park with a complementary Museum Garden – a contemporary Garden of Eden and the ideal spot to sit back and relax.
Ooidonk Castle is a third example of where nature and history meet. This monumental castle was already an outpost in the defences constructed around the city of Ghent in the 14th century. The building, which has been destroyed more than once, was reconstructed in the 17th century in the style of the Renaissance. It still adorns the Ooidonkbos, once a hunting ground for the nobility and today, a fairy-tale deciduous forest.
Flanders has an inexhaustible wealth of natural beauty, but the list is simply too long to mention everything. That said, we don't want to deny you two more modern classics. Spring is the time when we exchange winter grey for a bright colour pallet, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Hallerbos forest. Sometime in mid-April, millions of bluebells bloom, unfurling a dazzling blue-purple carpet of flowers. This is an unmissable natural experience in Flanders that never ceases to amaze.
One final tip is take a visit to Flanders' very first national park, the Hoge Kempen National Park, where you can walk or cycle through no less than 12,000 hectares of untouched nature: from vast pine forests and purple-blossomed moorland, to sprawling dunes, large lakes, and high peaks that afford magnificent views. Why not rent a bike on site and discover this wonderful landscape while enjoying the sensation of the wind in your hair.
Welcome any time
The mild Flemish spring is the perfect setting to shake off the winter cold, whether you're visiting fairy-tale flower carpets, or centuries-old castles, peaceful oases on the edge of a bustling city, or Flanders' own National Park. We welcome you (figuratively, at the moment) with open arms, for a generous dose of walking and cycling pleasure.