Gordelfestival: Cycle, walk or run around Brussels' green belt this coming week
It's become an end-of-summer tradition: one last chance to get out and explore before heading back to the office or classroom.
While coronavirus has forced the organisers of the Gordelfestival to rethink their plans, the show must go on - and this year's revised format makes it even easier to get involved.
So what is the Gordelfestival? At its heart is the Gordel Classic - a 100km bike ride around the Vlaamse Rand, the Flemish periphery surrounding Brussels. Last year 28,000 people took part in some way: cycling, following a walking or running trail, or just cheering on the participants and enjoying the live entertainment.
But for this eighth edition you will not see a mass of cyclists peddling around Brussels' green belt at the same time. Instead, the Gordelfestival has been spread out over a whole week, from 31 August to 6 September, so you can pick the day and time that best suits you to enjoy a bike ride or walk, at your own pace, among family or the friends in your "social bubble".
"It is not possible this year to attract tens of thousands of people to the green belt on the same day," says Flemish minister Ben Weyts. "But we are still inviting people to come and explore our beautiful, green region. We will still be cycling - even if it has to be spread over time and in more limited groups."
For serious cyclists, the 100km route that makes a complete loop of Brussels is still there, waiting to be tackled, either in one go or split into smaller stretches.
Three shorter family-friendly cycling routes - 30km each - are on offer throughout the week. Starting in Vilvoorde, Huizingen or Overijse, the routes take in some picturesque scenery, including parks and fields, the Sonian Forest and the hills of the Pajottenland, the so-called "Tuscany of the Low Countries".
What began as a cycling event has become increasingly popular with walkers in recent years - and this edition is no exception. Setting off from the same starting points as the cycle routes, you'll find three signposted 8km walks, again with some impressive views along the way. The areas surrounding the capital might seem like an extension of Brussels to those who commute every day, but to their long-time residents, they are proud Flemish Brabant towns.
There are two good reasons to register before taking part in any of the trails. You’ll be entered into a prize draw to win a weekend break in Flanders, experience vouchers, cycling gear and beer gift hampers. What's more, by taking part you will be helping make the green belt even greener - the Bûûmplanters citizens' collective will be planting a tree for every cyclist, walker or runner who follows one of the routes during the week.
Because the rides and walks can be done at any time over the week, it is worth remembering that the roads will not be closed - so take care around other traffic - and there are no stewards or medics. Flemish Brabant province requires everyone to carry a mask with them at all times, and to wear it wherever safe distancing cannot be guaranteed.
Gordelfestival, 31 August-6 September, around the Brussels periphery. Top and middle photos: DigitalClickx. Bottom photo: James Arthur