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Pedal power: Cycling around the Green Belt in 72 hours
Explore the verdant Green Belt by cycling the lush loop encircling Brussels. This 126-km bike route is full of enticing vistas, sweeping landscapes, elegant castles, rich agricultural land, rolling hills and majestic forests.
You might feel the strain on those inclines, but the effort is more than worth it with picturesque Bruegelian landscapes and exciting views of the Brussels metropolis. Craft breweries and cosy pubs are another attraction of this route. It’s going to take three days to complete the circuit, so treat yourself to some of the region’s refreshing geuzes and krieks along the way.
Day 1: Grimbergen to Lennik (38 km)
Grimbergen Abbey Basilica towers above the town centre as a monument to its rich past. Follow the tower to discover Grimbergen Abbey, where the Norbertine monks have rekindled the time-honoured craft of brewing beer. Welcome pit stops include abbey restaurant and brasserie, the Fenikshof. Visit the new experience centre and stroll through the rich history of Grimbergen’s abbey brew.
Hop back on your bike for a 15-minute ride to Meise Botanic Garden. With 92 hectares brimming with 18,000 different plant species, it’s the largest botanical garden in the world. Take your time to mosey from one climate zone to another in the Plant Palace and discover plants from the desert, savannah, rainforest and other unique habitats from around the world.
Past Meise’s upmarket neighbourhoods, the landscape morphs into rolling fields and charming groves. Girardin Brewery’s copper brew kettles in Sint-Ulriks-Kapelle herald your entry into geuze and Bruegel country, the Pajottenland. With his easel tucked under his arm, Pieter Bruegel set out to roam the countryside in the 16th century, immortalising churches, villages, and water mills along the way. Glance around you and note that little has changed since his day.
Tasty tips: The Pajottenland and the Zenne river valley are renowned for their unique lambic and geuze beers. The scent of wild yeast pervades the air of this open landscape populated by Belgian draught horses and water mills. It’s the yeast that produces the singular flavour of spontaneously fermented beer. Pop into one of the breweries along the way for a taste!
Today’s bike-friendly accommodation: B&B St Hubert in Lennik.
Day 2: Lennik to Overijse (50 km)
This might be the most beautiful stage of your journey, even if it’s also quite a workout. Warm up your calf muscles to make it up the tough slopes to come. Your day starts with a famed landmark, Gaasbeek Castle. The romantic getaway was where Marquise Arconati Visconti welcomed politicians, writers, and scientists for long, lively and sometimes heated discussions. The staunch medieval exterior belies a whimsical, enchanting neo-Renaissance interior.
Drop in at St Martin’s Basilica in Halle for a glimpse of this centuries-old pilgrimage town’s miraculous Our Black Lady of Halle statue. Next, it’s time for a lunch break in Beersel. The lambik-O-droom overlooking 3 Fonteinen Brewery’s vat room and the Oud Beersel Geuze alehouse are two recommended spots.
Fortified by a tasty pint of lambic, you’re ready to cycle through the ancient, majestic beech lanes of the Sonian Forest towards Hoeilaart, Jezus-Eik and Tervuren.
Tasty tips: Say hello to the grape region. Hoeilaart has also been dubbed ‘The Glass Village’ due to the municipality’s prolific glasshouse vineyards. Overijse is also the location of the Dru!f Visitor Centre, where you can learn all about the origins and history of the Brabant table grape. Hop off your bike to visit one of the glasshouse growers and taste their scrumptious grapes.
Reserve a room and bike storage at Joly Tiny House in Overijse.
Day 3: Overijse to Grimbergen (43 km)
The Sonian Forest segues seamlessly into another gorgeous oasis of tranquillity: Tervuren Warande Park, once the hunting grounds of the Dukes of Brabant. These days, it’s an elegant park for a stroll with a neoclassical French garden, ponds and ancient beech and oak trees. It’s bordered by the regal and recently remodelled AfricaMuseum that’s celebrating its 125th anniversary. It opened at Tervuren’s Colonial Palace in 1898, but the impressive collection soon outgrew its venue. A range of special activities and experiences are in the pipeline for the anniversary celebrations.
In the nearby village of Steenokkerzeel, a different adrenaline rush awaits. Aircraft landing at Brussels Airport zoom so low you could almost reach out and touch them. Platforms along the flight paths are always occupied by a handful of eager spotters, attempting to snap a shot of that one special plane.
The last stretch of your journey ushers you through Melsbroek’s Floordam Forest along the Zenne and Vilvoorde’s Verbrande bridge. The Grimbergen Abbey Basilica will reappear on the horizon. Get ready for a slightly bumpy ride as you cycle the long cobbled path to the Tommenmolen. This hoary old mill is part of the MOT, the Museum of Old Techniques. Even if the terrace beckons, don’t forget that the Fenikshof and Norbertine microbrewery also await.
Tasty tips: The area northeast of Brussels is the home of Belgium’s ‘white gold’, where farmers grow the country’s quintessential local produce, asparagus and Belgian endive. In the mid-20th century, Belgian endive was grown in every street; no back garden was complete without an endive shed. It may be less prominent now, but endive remains a star culinary product. Sample the heavenly ‘white gold’ along the way!
Want to extend your stay? Park your bike at B&B Den Biesthoek in Grimbergen.
These day trips are simply suggestions. Where you start and what you take in every day is up to you. The entire Green Belt Route is signposted with user-friendly green and white signs. Grimbergen’s car park (Abdijstraat 20) is free and located about 600m from the signposted cycling route.
Photos: ©Visit Flanders; cyclists visiting brewery© David Samyn