Pedalare tra gli alberi nel Limburgo - Bjorn Snelders

Cycling in a unique place: Limburg

Ride through enchanting landscapes, works of art, quaint towns and cultural heritage while discovering local gastronomy. How many times have you heard this invitation to discover an area by bike?

But have you ever been invited to ride through trees? What about looking through a church? You read correctly. Not “inside a church,” but “through.”

Pedaling through the trees in Limburg - Bjorn Snelders
Pedaling through the trees in Limburg – (c) Bjorn Snelders

We bet very few times. For this reason, the time has come to discover Limburg, the eastern region of Flanders, west of the Meuse River. Bordering the Netherlands, it laps the provinces of Liège to the south, Flemish Brabant to the west and Antwerp to the northwest. Its most important city is Hasselt, a creative hub with several museums, eccentric street art and irresistible boutiques in addition to being surrounded by green streets, wide grasslands and river valleys.

What is Limburg like?

Limburg’s landscape is rolling, relaxing, dotted with castles, mining sites converted into attractions and farms. Grasslands, bodies of water and rivers enrich the basket of ingredients that make this region so fascinating.

Flanders - Limburg © Provincie Limburg - Robin Reynders
Limburg landscape, © Provincie Limburg – Robin Reynders

But not only that. The northern part is characterized by lush forests, while in eastern Limburg, where the Meuse River forms the landscape, ancient villages and water-rich landscapes follow one another. To the south, however, is Haspengouw, the fruit region. When the fruit trees are in bloom, cyclists and hikers are enveloped in clouds of flowers as toward summer the trees are filled with colorful, juicy fruit for picking.

Artistic inspirations and unique places to ride

We said that in Limburg it is possible to look through a church. But what is it all about? We are talking about a work of art that dialogues with the place in which it is placed. A church that allows views through its structure. It’s called Reading between the lines and is located in the Haspengouw region (the fruit region, to be clear), where the architecture plays with the landscape. Created by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, a duo of Belgian architects (Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh), Reading between the Lines is a 10-meter-high steel plate structure modeled after the shape of a small church in Loon.

Flanders Reading_Between_the_Lines_van_Gijs_Van_Vaerenbergh_Kristof_Vrancken
Flanders Reading Between the Lines by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, Kristof Vrancken

Also in the orchard region, it is possible to encounter several contemporary artworks perfectly integrated into nature.

For example, one can climb an installation created by artist Frits Jeuris with dozens of fruit trees felled after a disease. Helsh(ea)ven is in fact a platform from which there is a privileged view of the surrounding landscape.

Limburg (c) Enough Cycling
(c) Enough Cycling

These two installations are found along the last stretch of the 459 kilometers of the Hilly Route, the one that engages cyclists among the climbs and descents of the southern part of Flanders.

Then there are three unrivaled experiences that give cyclists the opportunity to ride in enchanting, but most importantly, unexpected places. Let’s find out together.

The three unexpected experiences to have by bike in Limburg

In Bokrijk you pedal across the water. One does not have to ford a river, nor is there any diving involved, because a bicycle footbridge has been built to connect the two banks of Bokrijk Pond. The uniqueness of this route lies in the fact that while you are pedaling the water is at eye level, very close.

Limburg - Pedaling on water in Bokrijk © David Samyn
Limburg – Pedaling on water in Bokrijk © David Samyn

Trees, height, beauty of nature. Here are the three elements of Cyling through the trees. But in what sense? You pedal 700 meters at a height of 10 meters, right through the treetops. Safely, you find yourself looking down on nature from above, along a double loop that immerses cyclists in the magic of the forest.

A 4-kilometer bicycle path and a 300-meter-long wooden bicycle and pedestrian bridge allow visitors to admire the splendor of the heathland in Belgium’s Hoge Kempen National Park. From the highest point of the bridge you can admire the surrounding landscape.

Limburg Flanders Heathland Gravel Limburg (c) Flanders Classics
Hoge Kempen (c) Flanders Classics

The park is located on the Kempen Route, 213 kilometers (213 miles) from Antwerp to Maasmechelen, among forests and wide moors, Sahara-like dunes and lakes.

Along this route you can also learn more about the area’s mining past and explore sites such as C-mine. Once a coal mining site, it is now a multifunctional hub immersed in a unique atmosphere of industrial archaeology, where you can admire works of contemporary art or rediscover mining activities by participating in the C-mine expedition, for example.

Flanders Limburg Genk C_Mine © David Samyn
Genk C_Mine © David Samyn

The Meuse Route

There are as many as 2,000 km of paved, marked, safe and mostly car-free bicycle routes in Limburg, and in addition to the sections of the two iconic routes described above. Those who enjoy the tranquility and magnetism of river landscapes can experience the Meuse Route.

We are along the river that is the border between Belgium and the Netherlands for about 40 kilometers, from Maastricht in the Netherlands to Kessenich in Belgium. There are no cars along its banks, so you can take your time to visit the square in Maaseik or what is considered the most beautiful town in Flanders-Oud-Rekem.

Cycling in Limburg - Flanders (c) Bram De Vrind
Cycling in Limburg – Flanders (c) Bram De Vrind

Pedaling, we cross the Maasvallei River Park, a landscape park with a varied landscape, characterized by an intertwining of old river arms, levees, canals and gravelly sands, connected to a few well-defined residential areas and unique ecosystems.

A route that does not have to remain ineluctably on the Flemish shore, because if you want to cross the river, just take the President Willy Claes Ferry at Ophoven-Ohé en Laak. And with a crossing, one can set foot, or rather, wheel, in the territory of the neighboring Dutch.

The Iconic Routes: to know

All of the routes mentioned are rideable both ways and can be divided into stages to suit your ability and time. At flandersbybike you can see how to cross them together and build your own bike trip in Flanders.

Fiandre Itinerario in bici delle città d'arte

Bike trip to Flanders: where and why in 2024

Some know them for the Tour of Flanders and the cobblestones, some for art cities like Bruges and Ghent. Someone else thinks of beers and chips, while some dream of seeing the artworks of Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens. The beauty of Flanders is precisely that it can offer all this at the same time.

No excuses are needed to plan a trip to one of Europe’s most developed regions for cycling tourism-between services, routes and bike paths it undoubtedly ranks as one of the best destinations for a cycling vacation.

Flanders art cities bike route

If the beauty of nature and cities and the ease with which they can be traversed were not enough, be inspired by the Iconic Routes to Bike – the one Coastal and that of the Cities of Art – and this year’s selection of this year’.

Triennial Beaufort24 and Ensor’s art: biking the coast and immersed in art

With the Beaufort24 triennial and celebrations dedicated to the painter James Ensor (1860-1949) taking place simultaneously, 2024 offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in beauty and diversity along a route that embodies the essence of Flemish creativity and local lifestyle. To be discovered, of course, with a bicycle trip.

Beaufort24

Cycling along the magnificent coastal bike paths, carefully selected from the Iconic Flanders Bike Routes, visitors have the opportunity to admire not only the nature of the coastline, but also the many outdoor contemporary art installations that blend harmoniously into the natural landscape.

Flanders Coast Beaufort © Piet De Kersgieter
Sculpture Park Beaufort © Piet De Kersgieter

Beaufort24 is the art event now in its eighth year, which will be held from March 27 to November 2, 2024. This year, 18 artists creatively explore the Flemish coast, varying the theme the“Fabric of Life”(Fabric of Life).

The installations, set in the landscape of the nine coastal towns, are not all temporary; in fact, eight of the works in this edition add to the collection of the Beaufort Sculpture Park, an open-air museum that sees Belgium’s 60 kilometers of North Sea coastline dotted with art installations.

The iconic coastal route to ride a bicycle

A focal point of coastal cultural life, Ostend is a creative, dynamic and contemporary city renowned for its rich cultural and gastronomic offerings. Ostend represents the ideal starting point to travel alongthe Kustroute, the 85-kilometer route that allows you to explore the Flemish coastline.

Proceeding eastward one comes across picturesque locations such as De Haan, famous for its elegant residential area dating back to the Belle Époque, known as the Concessie. This area is characterized by charming villas overlooking the sea, including the Villa Savoyarde, where Albert Einstein stayed in 1933. From the Concessie it is easy to reach the beach, where one of the permanent works of the Beaufort Sculpture Park is located: Eternity, a contemporary Poseidon dominating the sea horizon.

Flanders Coast Blankenberge 12 © Toerisme Blankenberge
Flanders Coast Blankenberge © Toerisme Blankenberge

Continuing along the coast to its eastern end, we reach Knokke-Heist, located on the border with the Netherlands where the Beach Castle installation is located. Knokke also boasts the precious Zwin Nature Reserve, with its wild dunes and brackish lagoons, offering an immersive experience in the unspoiled beauty of nature, amid unique colors, smells and sounds. In the opposite direction, passing Ostend to the west, one arrives in Westende, where one can admire other iconic coastal Sculpture Park works such as Olnetop.

Beaufort OLNETOP © Westtoer APB
Beaufort OLNETOP © Westtoer APB

To add intriguing activities to the trip, consider that in Oostduinkerke you can participate in the ancient tradition of horse fishing, a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage site. During the months of April to October, fishermen venture into the water with their draft horses to catch the prized North Sea gray shrimp.

Flanders Coast -Oostduinkerke Shrimp fishermen © Westtoer APB
Flanders Coast -Oostduinkerke Shrimp fishermen © Westtoer APB

Ostend and James Ensor

Ostend is not only the centerpiece of the iconic coastal itinerary, but also the heart of James Ensor’s celebrations.

Iconic coastal route Flanders Ostend

Ensor, a modern Flemish master known for his whimsical and sometimes somewhat disturbing figures, spent much of his life in Ostend, which in fact celebrates him 75 years after his death with a citywide festival full of events and exhibitions. This is where much of the artistic program dedicated to the painter is developed, and it is here that unrepeatable exhibitions and initiatives can be found. Summer and fall await visitors with three exhibitions: Self-Portraits (through June), Ensor’s Imaginary Paradise (through October) and Satire, Parody, Pastiche (through January 2025).

The city’s cultural institutions, from the Mu.ZEE museum to Ensor’s house-museum, also collaborate withThe Crystal Ship street art project to help visitors discover the city’s less conventional corners. An opportunity really not to be missed.

Het James Ensorhuis 4 © Toerisme Oostende vzw - James Ensorhuis - Nick Decombel Fotografie
Ensor House © Toerisme Oostende vzw – James Ensorhuis – Nick Decombel Photographs

Not only exhibitions, but also installations in public spaces, music, performances and projects for children. The“Elle adore le noir” project, for example, represents a circuit to be traveled by bicycle or on foot among Ensor-related artworks placed in or near commercial establishments.

James Ensor in Brussels and Antwerp

Flanders Antwerp Port House by Zaha Hadid
Antwerp – Port House by Zaha Hadid

In the spring, the capital city of Brussels also joins in this celebration to rediscover the work and talent of this Modern Master. While after the summer, celebrations move to Antwerp, with leading exhibitions in many of the city’s cultural institutions, from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts KMSKA (where the world’s largest Ensor collection since the 1920s is located) to the Fashion Museum, passing through the Plantin-Moretus house-museum.. A truly curious exhibition is opening Sept. 28 at MoMu-the Antwerp Fashion Museum-which plays on Ensor’s ideas about disguise, (false) coquetry, the grotesque and the ephemeral.

Cycling along the route of the cities of art

Flanders Iconic Cities of Art Itinerary

Ensor’s featured cities of the year are all located along the art cities route, which is particularly fascinating for those who enjoy exploring urban centers. It is probably the most iconic of all Flemish routes, because not only is it one of the longest (332 km), but especially because it passes through all the cities of Flanders. This route allows you to discover, at a slow and sustainable pace, Brussels, Leuven, Antwerp, Mechelen, Ghent, Bruges and Ostend, uniting centuries of the region’s history and art in a single route.

There is no shortage of immersion in greenery and nature on this itinerary either, as in between cities we pass through spaces of countryside, follow waterways, and admire the relaxing landscapes of the Flemish territory.

Contemporary art en plein air in Bruges

In this 2024’s ideal journey through Flemish nature and art, one cannot miss Bruges, perhaps the most recognizable city in travelers’ imaginations.

Located on the Cities of Art Route and only a few kilometers from the coast, it is not only a beautiful town to visit, but also an ideal place for lovers ofcontemporary art en plein air because it hosts the Bruges Triennial.

Flanders Bruges by bike

The Bruges Triennial(April 13 to September 1, 2024) focuses on the link between art and place and highlights the lesser-known and lesser-used corners of perhaps the most famous city in Flanders. The historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thus becomes a magnificent backdrop to contemporary installations.

The theme“Spaces of Possibility” is a reflection by twelve artists and architects from around the world on how to deal with change in a city where the concept of “not building” represents a vision of the future. The goal is to challenge people to think collaboratively about the future of Bruges and, in broader terms, cities in general.

Flanders Bruges

One of the art installations will even bring temporary change to the Bruges skyline. The Thai architecture firm Bangkok Project Studio is in fact creating. a contemporary clock tower, a wooden viewing platform that will highlight a less-visited area of King Albert I Park. Visitors will be invited to discover this little-known green corner and admire the view from a new perspective, as well as the classic three medieval towers that characterize the city.

Flanders by bike: all the iconic routes

These are nine iconic cycling routes for a cycling adventure in Flanders. Each iconic route connects the wonders of Flemish landscapes through fascinating thematic bike paths. All of these routes have signage in both directions, allowing cyclo-travelers to freely choose which direction to ride and where to start or end the journey.

Flanders by bike: choose your route

How do you imagine cycling in Flanders? To this question, the answers can be very different. Slowly follow a stream through the green countryside, or push on the pedals to conquer the cobblestones and reach the top of one of the legendary walls of the Tour of Flanders. Pass through the orchards of Belgian Limburg, or towns with historic centers dotted with centuries-old buildings. Tackle the slopes of the Flemish Ardennes or relax along the North Sea coast. Pedaling lapping the treetops, or below the water level.

What is the right answer? None, because they are all valid.

Flanders, iconic itineraries
Flanders, iconic itineraries

In Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, cycling is culture that lives on in the daily lives of the inhabitants and those who visit them. The dense network of bicycle paths, whose intersections are called “nodes,” makes an excursion of a few hours or a multi-day vacation an easy and varied experience. Different lengths, different gradients, endless combinations: whether it’s your first biking vacation, or you have hours of training in your legs, you’ll find the road in Flanders that will satisfy you.

To help you choose, the Iconic Cycle Routes, or the iconic cycle routes of Flanders (at www.fiandreinbici.com all the information, includes GPX tracks). These routes connect the best of the region and have different lengths and difficulties, from one to three. So they are suitable for everyone, modular if you don’t want to complete them completely or if you want to take detours, and they carry signs in both directions. You can then choose which direction you want to ride, where you want to start or end, like those who have been there before you.

The easiest routes: waterways

Water distinguishes the four simplest iconic Flanders bike routes, with difficulty level one. The coastal route, 85 km, takes you along the beach overlooking the North Sea, through dunes and forests, and explores the vast flat polder landscapes, discovering the history of coastal life. Sixty-three, on the other hand, are the kilometers, partly pedaled on the banks of one of Europe’s great rivers, of theMeuse route, where you can meet migratory birds and animals in the wild, and visit picturesque villages. Nature and iconic architecture also alternate along the 181 km of theScheldt route, the river that connects Ghent and Antwerp and is crossed several times by ferry along the way, offering moments to rest the legs but not the eyes. And finally, the water of the bathing lakes touched by theKempen route, with extremely varied landscapes: moors, forests, desert dunes and ancient mining sites. But the real treat along this route is the possibility of pedaling suspended from the ground, at the height of tree canopies.

Flanders, the waterways
Flanders, the waterways

The intermediate routes: through history

The iconic routes with difficulty two are those that best tell the story of Flanders, starting with the Flanders Fields, the territories that were the scene of World War I. Bunkers, trenches, craters left by bombs, underground tunnels, but above all the touching silence in military cemeteries: the 100 km of the’14-’18 itinerary are a ride through memory. Theart cities itinerary on the other hand, is significantly longer, 342 km, but it is one of the most attractive iconic itineraries for first-time visitors to Flanders: the cities of Brussels, Leuven, Antwerp, Mechelen, Ghent, Bruges, and Ostend in one route rich in art and culture.

Flanders, Leuven
Flanders, Leuven

The most challenging routes: gradients and lengths for those with legs

The gentle landscapes of the Flemish countryside may fool the mind, but not the legs. Hills and slopes create unique vistas that must be mastered. The green belt route surrounds Brussels with 126 km of continuous ups and downs, through Bruegel and hop country, past castles and stops for a beer geuze. The 459-kilometerHill Route reflects the name: a challenging ride through southern Flanders, from east to west to the famous Flemish Ardennes of champions, always dotted with tasty stages. Last, but first in length, the
Flanders route
: 962 km from the countryside to the sea, passing through cities of art and small historic villages, is the long-distance route that combines the iconic bicycle routes throughout Flanders.

Flanders, the coast
Flanders, the coast

Accessibility

Flanders has the ambition to be a destination for pleasant vacations suitable for everyone: from the youngest to seniors, for tourists with or without disabilities or those who need special attention. A cycling vacation is no exception: bike paths can also be the destination for those with special needs, for a complete experience of Flemish culture!

REFERENCES
To learn more visit VisitFlanders’ website www.visitflanders.com/it