Splashdown: Where to enjoy safe open-air swimming in Belgium
From outdoor pools to natural ponds and lakes, The Bulletin takes a dip in the places around the country where water babies can enjoy the joys of safe outdoor swimming whatever their age.
Unlike other major European cities, the capital remains without a permanent outdoor swimming pool. Summer is around the corner, and the city still has only sporadic plans to rectify the situation.
Meanwhile, Pool is Cool – a local organisation campaigning to change this sorry state of affairs, is gearing up for its fourth season of FLOW. Albeit quite small (17m x 7m), this free pool (pictured) allows Brussels dwellers the chance to swim outside. The charming home-made pop-up piscine on the Anderlecht canal has a summer bar and also entertains with a social programme, from fitness classes and swimming lessons to films.
The nonprofit spearheaded ‘Expedition Swim’ last year. Under this project, but for only one weekend, you could take a dip at Anderlecht’s Neerpede ponds, Boitfort’s les Pêcheries and the Bois de la Cambre lake. However, some locals were critical, fearing that their natural beauty spot would become overrun, and it is not certain that a similar scheme will take place this summer.
Meanwhile, the group’s crowdfunding campaign ‘Je Veux Nager’ wants to raise €60,000 for a permanent open-air swimming pool in the capital. The abattoirs/slaughterhouse site at Curegem is one proposal.
Until then, residents and tourists have only sports clubs such as Aspria’s Royal La Rasante; the fitness group also has plans for a new outdoor pool. Otherwise, hotels like the Jam Hotel in Saint-Gilles and Jardin Secret in Ixelles (pictured) – both sporting bijou outdoor pools – are also an option.
Among options close to Brussels are Bloso Domein’s picturesque Hofstade beach; the Kessel-Lo domain near Leuven – although the recreational pool is not very deep; and De Nekker’s extensive sports and swimming complex, a short walk from Mechelen-Nekkerspoel station.
Wetteren’s retro former Olympic pool, is part of the De Warande domain in East Flanders (pictured), and is open to the public during the warmer season. More traditional outdoor options, each with 50m heated pools are in Hamme near Sint-Niklaas and De Molen in Antwerp. Boekenberg’s beautiful chemical-free pool in Deurne is another spot near the port city.
Many Flemish towns now prefer to concentrate on natural areas, rather than renovate existing indoor and outdoor pools. Popular choices include the albeit often overcrowded Blaarmeersen Lake near Ghent (pictured, main image) with its giant water slides and small sandy beach; De Ster, a green oasis with a 400-metre swimming zone minutes from Sint-Niklaas (also in East Flanders); and Rotselaar’s delightful Domein ter Heide in Flemish Brabant – which again gets busy at weekends.
A popular spot in Brabant Walloon for bathers is Rénipont beach near Rixensart (pictured). As well as swimming, visitors can enjoy games such as volleyball and pétanque. In fine weather, the large outdoor terrace of its restaurant also draws the crowds. Other alfresco possibilities in the province include Waterloo, which opens the roof of its indoor pool Nausicaa in the summer.
In Hainaut, Mons’ has a modern Lago complex, offering lake swimming with endless slides and whirlpools. And picturesque, lido-style options are available at Trois-Ponts (mainly afternoon bathing) in Liège province.
Best of all, albeit rather remote, is the gorgeous outdoor pool in Ocquier (pictured), 12km from Durbuy. This idyllic village makes the most of its key asset, holding a “fête de la piscine” every year. Other bathing zones in the province, include Robertville lake near Malmédy, which even boasts an aquatic trampoline.
The region also has endless domain swimming options, such as Wégimont in Liege province, the stunning Chevetogne – a green holiday paradise with an outdoor pool – near Ciney; and the charming Bambois Lake at Fosses-la-Ville (Namur province) that has a dedicated zone for swimmers as well as sunbathing and beach facilities.
In addition to Mons’ Lago, in Hainaut, you cannot miss the largest lake area in Belgium – les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure (Cerfontaine) – which also oozes water sports and Red Crocodile rides (pictured). You can also swim in the lovely Godarville lake, part of the Claire-Fontaine domain between Charleroi and La Louvière.
Note: some domains and pools require prior reservation.
Photos: Jardin Secret Hotel (c)Mireille-Roobaert