Think of Belgium holidays like a box of its fine chocolates – full of flavours, some of which you didn’t quite expect, and always oozing with quality. Ideally, there is also more than one layer to explore, and Belgium cycling tours are a way to ensure that you look under the country’s covers to see what other treats are lurking. You pass through the regions of both Flanders and Wallonia when cycling between Amsterdam and Paris, for example, with the medieval marvels of Antwerp and Ghent en route.
Liège deserves a layer all of its own on our Belgium bike tours, which is why you spend two days in and around this ancient city on the River Meuse on our Tour d’Europe circuit of three countries, which also includes the entire International Meuse Cycling Route. It’s not all cities in Belgium’s box of beauties, however, with Hoge Kempe, the country’s only national park packed with cycling trails that are infused with more than a hint of fresh pine and heather.
Where to go
Antwerp is a modern city with cool architecture, great food scene and some gorgeous galleries. It’s also a great place to spend a night about a third of the way into a cycling holiday from Amsterdam to Paris. An ancient port city, it’s historical and hip, foodie and fun, with highlights including the now iconic Museum aan de Stroom in the dockside area of Eilandje, Grote Markt in the heart of the Old Town with its ancient guild houses and coffee houses, and Rubenshuis, where collections include work of the esteemed Flemish artist Peter Paul Reubens, to whom the gallery is dedicated, as well as a Renaissance garden. The Red Star Museum of emigration is also a fascinating and thought-provoking spot and a worthwhile stop on our Belgium cycling tours.
Liège is a lesser known Belgian city, which is surprising given its medieval charm, museums and galleries. It is Belgium’s third largest town in terms of population and one of the best ways to take it in, when you arrive on your European circuit cycling tour, is to park up and step up – literally climbing 430 steps up Montagne de Bueren. From the top, head to nearby Parc de la Citadelle where the view is fantastic, across this busy Belgian city in the French speaking Wallonia region. The Musée de la Vie Wallonne is another top spot to learn about Wallonia’s cultural heritage, as is the city’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie.
Ghent is gorgeous stop on our Belgium holidays and even more so when you arrive after a day of cycling from Antwerp en route to Paris, pedalling past dykes, castles and the peaceful waterfront wetlands of the River Scheldt. In Ghent itself, you’ll see a city that has revitalised itself from a little bit sleepy classical to contemporary cool. The classics will always revere the great Gravensteen Castle, St Bavo’s Cathedral, or the famous coffee bars and roasteries, Mokabon or De Draak. Ghent is also good on markets such as Groentenmarkt which is a foodie fest on Fridays (and a craft one at weekends) or in the Sint-Pieters quarter on a Sunday. You could always take your picnic to the Leie, or Lys river which runs alongside the city’s ancient buildings.
Hoge Kempen National Park
On our Belgian bike tours around the Flemish beer route, cycle through Hoge Kempen National Park, with more than 440km of walking and cycling trails through open heather-covered heathland or mature pine forest. This is Belgium’s only national park, and one of its highlights is the 300m long wooden bicycle bridge, with views across the country’s luscious lung. Hoge Kempen is an example of excellent forest and heathland management, and there is a strategic plan to keep expanding the protected area. At present, stewardship of the land and growing indigenous tree species is given a helping hand by sheep, Polish Konik horses and Angus cattle.
Things to do
- Belgium bike tours have many green gems along the way, but this one that goes through the province of Limburg takes you to another level. Literally, with a cycling trail that is elevated within the forest canopy. Cycling through the trees in Bosland is ‘velo-vert’ at its finest, a beautiful creation that enables you to cycle at an elevation of 10m amongst the trees, on a 700m circular track that you can saunter round at your own pace. Located on the Limburg Cycle Trail, in the heart of the coniferous Pijnven woods, this is a wonderful addition to a protected and well managed piece of Belgian forest.
- Belgium may be flat, but its breweries are always bubbling. There are over 400 breweries in Belgium, producing over 1,500 different beers and so drinking beer is not compulsory Belgium holidays, but it’s almost rude not to! You have a chance to visit several breweries on our Belgium cycling tour of the Flemish beers route, as well as the landscapes where these beers are produced, such as in Leuwen, where the the Artois family started brewing their now world renowned beer in 1708.
- You can’t resist eating chocolate in Belgium and it’s everywhere too. Praline was invented here (albeit by a Swiss chocolatier) in 1912 and, from that point on, Belgian chocolate was booming. Brussels’ Grand Place is home to the cocoa kings like Godiva, Mary, Neuhaus and Leonidas, with Antwerp boasting some crème de la crème chocolatiers such as Pierre Marcolini, Burie and Elisa Pralines. Check out Antwerp’s The Chocolate Line whose founder, Dominique Persoone made his mark with some fun quality chocolate products, including chocolate lipstick and massage cream. Pourquoi pas?
Responsible travel tips
- Belgium bike tours are a breeze by train, with the three main cities of Brussels, Antwerp and Liège, all on Europe’s high-speed rail network. Eurostar services from London run to Brussels and Thalys operates high-speed trains to Paris from all three cities. So, you could easily take a train at the start and finish of our Amsterdam to Paris cycling tour, although you need to hire a bike as Eurostar doesn’t carry them at present. We will organise any bike rental for you, of course. And in terms of your carbon footprint, a return flight from London to Brussels emits 101.56kg of CO2 compared with just 3.83kg when travelling by train. You could even make the most of being in Europe and add another cycling tour in neighbouring Germany or France into the mix.
- Pack your pannier with local goodies from local markets when possible. Some top markets to look out for include Antwerp’s Exotic Market, with everything from Turkish pancakes to Moroccan dried fruits, and of course plenty of homemade waffles, every Saturday in Theaterplein. In Liège, head to Marché de la Batte on Sundays, for a salt of the earth street market on the Meuse River, dating back to the 16th century. And in Ghent, the small Lousbergmarkt food market is worth a visit, Monday to Saturdays, but so is their daily flower market in Kouter square, with coffee stands and brass bands on Sundays. In addition, Groentenmarkt has plenty of street food on Fridays and check out the Sunday organic market in Sint-Pieters.