Escape city life and discover a whole new side of Belgium this year with a trip to one of its renowned nature reserves. From stunning hilltop hiking trails to expanses of salt flats stretching further than the eye can see, the country boasts a rich and diverse geography, and offers up surprises at every turn. If you’re looking for a new place to explore, we’ve put together a few of the best spots to visit in green Belgium.
Hoge Kempen National Park
East of Genk, Hoge Kempen opened in 2006 as Belgium’s only official national park, and its abundance of flowering heather and dense pine forests have become a real treat for hikers, mountain bikers and horse riding enthusiasts. Situated within the Limburg province, extensive redevelopment work has seen this former coal mining region totally transformed, and Belgium have submitted it to UNESCO for consideration as a world heritage site. Today, visitors can find stunningly clear lakes and rolling hills alongside elements of the old industrial heritage, as well as panoramic views across some of the Flanders’ most impactful natural expanses.
There are six entrances to the park, each with its own visitor centre to ensure you get the most out of the area. At the Lieteberg entrance, you’ll find a fascinating Insect Museum, Bee Centre and the colourful splendour of the Butterfly Garden – hosting 30 species. Further north and just east of Genk, the Kattevennen entrance is home to the park’s Cosmodrome. Gaze in wonder at the night sky through a telescope and imagine yourself in an astronaut’s shoes whilst marvelling at a 360-degree projection of the stars and planets.
High Fens – Eifel Nature Park
The High Fens – Eifel Nature Park stretches from the Liege province in eastern Belgium well into Germany. The area is famed for its varied landscapes; the wetlands in the Hohes Venn still show remnants of the last ice age more than seven thousand years ago, making the Upper Eifel’s soaring hilltops and wooded areas a great contrast. Take a walk through the changing scenery and keep an eye out for the moorland’s inhabitants, including wild boar, roe deer and black grouse.
The park also has a number of cycling trails, and in winter cross-country skiing is extremely popular. At the edge of the Fens sits the Nature Centre and the soaring Signal de Botrange, the highest point in Belgium at 694 metres. A great starting point, the centre offers visitors helpful information on the best walks in the area.
Zwin Nature Park
Located on the north sea coast at the Belgian/Dutch border, the Zwin came to life as an old estuary that connected Bruges to the sea, helping it to become one of the foremost medieval ports in Europe. Het Zwin is now home to more than half of all the bird species observed in the country, from silver plover to snipe, and this rich diversity makes it hugely popular with twitchers.
At the entrance to the reserve, a new tourism centre opens in June 2016, giving visitors the chance to learn more about these incredible migratory creatures, along with an observation centre perfect for spotting individual species. If visiting during the summer, prepare to be blown away by the splendour of Zwinneblomme, as the ground is covered in a sea of blossom. Walk barefoot along the plain and feel the different types of soil between your toes in this outstanding area of unspoilt natural beauty.
If this has inspired you, check out our adventure guide for more ideas.