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Lockdown shmockdown: 6 outdoor spots to get you through the spring
Planning on doing a little shopping this weekend? Hope you made an appointment! If not, we have some fresh ideas on how to spend your free time over the next few weeks – outdoors, where it’s safer. Not to mention sunny: Temperatures are heading up to 20°C next week, and there’s not much rain in sight.
1 Vrijbroek Park and its talking tipi
Vrijbroek Park in Mechelen is a well-kept secret. Its location outside the city centre means most visitors never get to it, but it’s only a 20-minute walk from the main train station. And a pleasant one at that, along a tree-lined canal. Its 65 hectares is home to walking paths, a fishing lake, ponds, an off-leash area for dogs and extensive gardens, including one of Belgium’s nicest rose gardens. Fairly new to Vrijbroek Park is the Mechelen Tipi, a beautiful wooden hut that offers poetry to those who step inside. In fact, it’s an ode to Mechelen’s expats, with poems offered in all the languages spoken in the city.
How to get there: Vrijbroek has an extensive car park at Mechelseweg 60, and is a 20-minute walk from Mechelen’s main train station
2 The ruins of Villers Abbey
Everyone who visits the abbey ruins at Villers, just 30 kilometres south of Brussels, wonders how they could never have been before. What’s left of the massive 12th-century abbey that was once home to monks of the Cistercian Order makes for one of the most hauntingly beautiful sites in Belgium. Normally buzzing with all kinds of events and activities, corona means your visit is focused on the abbey and its many gardens – which is no bad thing.
How to get there: Villers Abbey has a free carpark. Or from Brussels, take the train to the Villers-la-Ville station, transferring in Ottignies or Charleroi. From there it’s a 2-kilometre walk or bike ride to the abbey
This recreational park is just the start of a gorgeous walk through forestland in West Flanders. Start off among ponds and weeping willows as the 9-kilometre signposted Bulskampveld walking route leads you along majestic beech trees, high azalea bushes (which should just about be in bloom right now) and heathland. The castle visitor centre, wagon museum and herb garden are closed right now (boo), but a pop-up bar allows you to reward yourself at the end of your journey. Tip: They barbecue a mean burger.
How to get there: One of Bulskampveld’s big parking areas is closed, so choose Parking Drie Koningen. Follow the signs from Reigerlostraat in Beernem. By public transport from Brussels, it’s best to take your bike along. Take the train to Beernem station, transferring in Ghent. It’s then less than 10 minutes to cycle to the Aanwijs parking area. It’s closed, but you can park you bike and pick up the signposted walk there
4 Annevoie Gardens
It’s hard to get more idyllic than the Annevoie castle and gardens in Anhée, south of Namur. Dating to the 18th century, it has been meticulously maintained and expanded ever since. It is a water and sculpture garden, with spurting fountains, cascading waterfalls and clear streams of water upon which swans while away the day. You’ll find Italian, French and English-style gardens here, as well as a philosophy of letting grass grow long and natural plants grow wild. The site’s brasserie is open for self-service.
How to get there: Annevoie Gardens has a free carpark. Or take the train to the Godinne station and take a 20-minute walk over the Meuse river to get to the grounds
5 Verbeke Foundation
You’d be forgiven for driving right past the Verbeke Foundation, thinking it was a junk yard. Industrial art and heritage welcomes you at the entrance of this open-air contemporary art museum in East Flanders. Head in a bit further, and you’ll find some fantastic large-scale art dotted around this green, overgrown property. One can’t help being excited happening upon a glass house made up of window frames or a silo weaved from strips of metal. There’s not quite anything else like it in Belgium. Right now a temporary exhibition features work by the 20th-century Belgian artist Albert Szukalski, with more than 100 sculptures, drawings, paintings and collages.
How to get there: It’s easiest to reach the Verbeke Foundation by car; there is free parking available. Public transport from Brussels is a bit of an adventure: First take the train to Sint-Niklaas, transferring in Ghent. Then hop on either bus 41 (heading to Moerbeke) or 42 (heading to Hulst). Get off at the Drieschouwen stop, then walk a kilometre to the entrance. The whole trip will take about two hours each way
6 Land art trail
Sentier d’Art en Condroz-Famenne is a new walking/cycling route that spans more than 140 kilometres in Namur Province. Large-scale land art is scattered across the route, carefully selected to fit into the landscape in natural or surprising ways. The route takes in Ciney, Gesves, Hamois, Havelange, Ohey and Somme-Leuze, so there are plenty of options to create a walk of different lengths. Ciney has a train station, so that might be a good place to start. Check out the website for maps and information on the artworks.
Photos, from top: ©Les Jardins d’Annevoie, courtesy Vrijbroekpark, ©Villers Abbey, courtesy Brugse Ommeland, ©Les Jardins d’Annevoie, courtesy Markant, ©Sentier d’Art