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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Belgium’s greatest nationwide parks and nature reserves: a brief information to its wild aspect

Belgium’s wild locations present the right counterpoint to its medieval facilities and historic sights. Coniferous forests, biologically wealthy wetlands, and the foggy moors of the uplands are among the many numerous settings the place you’ll be able to expertise the stunning great thing about this small European nation. 

Whether or not you’re after nice mountain climbing, biking, birdwatching, and even winter actions like cross-country snowboarding, you’ll discover some excellent locations in Belgium. And the nation’s comparatively compact measurement means you’ll be able to pack a number of selection into even a brief getaway. Right here’s a rundown of the highest three nature reserves in Belgium to place in your journey itinerary.  

The wind-swept moors and misty peat bogs make the Hautes Fagnes a magical nationwide park to go to © Shutterstock / r.classen

Parc Naturel Hautes Fagnes, Wallonia

Greatest for botany lovers

One of the stunning areas in Belgium lies tucked away within the far east of French-speaking Wallonia. Right here, the wind-swept moors and misty peat bathroom evoke an otherworldly panorama, whereas additional south lies the equally enchanting Higher Eifel area with its forest-covered hills, shimmering lakes and flower-fringed valleys. 

A part of a nature reserve that spreads between Belgium and Germany, the Excessive Fens – Eifel Nature Park has been round since 1971, and its 72,000 hectares (with one other 100,000 in Germany) lengthen throughout twelve Belgian municipalities. The park is dwelling to Belgium’s highest level, the 694m Sign de Botrange, and among the nation’s most uncommon vegetation, from the sundew (a carnivorous plant) to the uncommon bathroom asphodel with its star-shaped yellow flowers.

Each season brings its personal rewards. In spring, you’ll be able to stroll among the many improbable wildflower blooms when daffodils blanket the hillsides. The golden leaves of birch timber make for equally photogenic rambles in autumn. Within the warmth of summer time, you’ll be able to get pleasure from cool walks beneath the darkish forest cover. Because the temperatures plummet and the primary snows arrive, winter lovers head to Sign de Botrange for cross-country snowboarding over the frozen hills.

Visiting Parc Naturel Hautes Fagnes
4 villages on the outskirts of the park make the very best bases for overnighting within the space: Eupen, Montjoie, Spa, and Malmedy. Most guests arrive by automotive or bicycle. If coming by public transport, bus 390 runs between Verviers Gare Central prepare station and Elsenborn Siedlung and stops at Sign de Botrange. Bus 394 operating between Eupen Banhof prepare station and Sankt-Vith additionally stops there.

A superb first cease for exploring the park is the Maison du Parc-Botrange. Atop Belgium’s highest level, this data workplace and museum is the place to begin for trails throughout the excessive fens, and employees fortunately dole out data on walks and different actions within the space. You should definitely try the small kid-friendly reveals that delve into the natural world of the Hautes Fagnes. You may hire bikes from spring by means of fall and rent cross-country skis within the winter. It’s also possible to buy maps and knowledge guides. After a stroll, you’ll be able to have a meal on the Maison’s brasserie. 

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Green countryside and purple heather flowers in Hoge Kempen National Park near the town of Maasmechelen
Hoge Kempen’s various terrain offers journey choices for each kind of outside traveler © Dado Daniela / Getty Pictures

Hoge Kempen Nationwide Park, Limburg

Greatest for adventurers

Within the northeastern area of Limburg province, Hoge Kempen Nationwide Park encompasses 12,000 hectares of heathland and forest interspersed with marshes, streams, and even the odd sandy patch. The park stretches throughout six completely different municipalities and is the biggest reserve in Flanders. Whereas missing in elevation (like all over the place else on this vertically challenged nation), the park has distinctive magnificence. Pine-scented forests, golden-lit purple heathland, and glowing lakes make a memorable setting to attach with nature. Hoge Kempen additionally boasts spectacular biodiversity with over 7000 plant and animal species. 

The mountain climbing right here is excellent with over 80 signposted loops totaling 220km of strolling trails. Two excellent trails begin in Pietersheim, together with an 11.4km red-signed path that takes you previous a moated fort, alongside elegant beech-lined lanes, and thru salamander-filled brooks and woodlands. These looking for a bit extra problem can tackle the park’s multi-day long-distance hike, tenting alongside the way in which. The so-called Nationwide Park Path, which was prolonged to 100km in 2022, takes in fens, moors, dunes, and ponds over 4 or so nature-filled days. 

Mountain bikers are spoiled for alternative in terms of park adventures. Ten completely different trails provide various terrain from difficult ascents up rugged slopes to scenic, easy-going pedals alongside the Meuse Valley.

Horse riders can head off on 140km of tracks made for quadrupeds and horse-drawn autos. These routes solely hardly ever overlap with strolling or biking paths and supply the prospect to journey throughout fields and thru leafy forests. There’s much more using simply past the park – Limburg province has a staggering 550km of tracks. 

If you happen to’re touring with youngsters, the park has loads of sights aside from mountain climbing. Terhills has an aquapark, an commentary tower that’s enjoyable to climb, and an enormous playground. Pietersheim has a moated fort, pony rides, and a petting farm. The curious Blotevoetenpad (Barefeet Path) in Lieteberg takes you throughout wooden, grass, stone, sand, and water on a sensory-filled tour that’s distinctive to the park. In Kattevennen, you’ll be able to play mini-golf or try astronomy exhibits within the Cosmodrome. On Saturday nights in winter, you’ll be able to peer by means of telescopes on a guided viewing of the night time sky on the observatory there. 

Visiting Hoge Kempen Nationwide Park
9 completely different gateways present entry, and every provides a unique aspect of the park. Hoge Kempen is best to achieve by automotive alongside the E314, taking both exit 32 or 33. If coming by prepare, go to Genk Station. From there you’ll be able to proceed to the park (Kattevennen entrance) by way of buses operated by De Lijn. Bikes are additionally obtainable for rent at Genk station, or you may make the leisurely 3km stroll to Kattevennen. Within the park, you’ll be able to rent bikes at Kattevennen, Lieteberg, Pietersheim, and Station As.  

Paths are well-marked, however it helps to have a regional map whether you are mountain climbing, mountain biking or horse using. You should purchase one from an data kiosk for about €8. 

A dirt path cuts through grassland and leads down to the water at Zwin Nature Park, in the North coast of Belgium.
Deliver your binoculars to spy the ample birdlife of Zwin Nature Park © Manuel ROMARIS / Getty Pictures

Zwin Nature Park, West Flanders

Greatest for birders and households

Close to the Netherlands border in West Flanders, the Zwin attracts such a formidable vary of feathered creatures that it’s often known as the “worldwide chook airport.” Amid mudflats, salt marshes, and scrub forests, over 350 chook species have been noticed. The character reserve was created in 1952, making it the primary such protected space in Flanders. Though diminutive in measurement, this 150-hectare website is certainly one of Belgium’s most vital wetland habitats. 

Throughout the spring and fall migration, you’ll be able to count on to see an astonishing number of birdlife, from breeding white storks and customary shelducks to osprey and Eurasian oystercatchers. Varied strolling trails within the Zwin present positive views over the various habitats, and you can too ascend a panorama tower for 360-degree views throughout dunes, the Zwin plain, and polders (land reclaimed from the ocean). Commentary huts, together with a number of with free-to-use telescopes, dot the cabin path, and guides are additionally readily available to provide extra perception into the world’s fauna and flora.   

The Zwin is an enormous hit with households. Interactive exhibitions within the customer middle delve into the science behind flight, avian biology, and the unbelievable journeys made by migratory birds. There’s additionally a feeding hut the place you’ll be able to see birds up shut, a laboratory space for viewing insect specimens underneath a microscope, and a listening station for studying to establish completely different chook calls.  

Visiting the Zwin 
The character reserve lies 12km east of Knokke prepare station within the small metropolis of Knokke-Heist. Bus line 12 operated by De Lijn offers useful entry. The reserve can be simply reached by bicycle with devoted bike lanes coming from city. 

Admission to the park is €14 for adults and €6 for kids (admission is free for these underneath age 6). It can save you a few euros by reserving on-line not less than someday upfront. The customer middle and the hut path are wheelchair and pram accessible. When starvation strikes, head to the self-service bistro, or convey your personal meals and luxuriate in a meal on the picnic terrace.   

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