The pearls of North Flanders
8 days / 7 nights | Self-guided cycling tours
A wonderful cycling holiday through the northern provinces of Belgium: Antwerp and Flemish Brabant. It goes without saying that the major cities of Antwerp and Brussels hold great appeal. But let us surprise you with some smaller towns such as lovely Mechelen (Mechlin), Leuven (Louvain) and Diest. The non-urban areas you will traverse are a promise of peace and quiet: the Campine region; the path along the Albert Canal; the woods and nature reserves. The alternation of culture and nature, combined with the Good Life of Flanders, make for a fantastic cycling holiday.
Level 1: This is an easy cycling trip on relatively flat terrain, suitable for people with little or no cycling experience. Daily cycling distances span roughly 30–50 km. A 3-gear bike should suffice.
Day 1: Arrival in Mechelen
It is up to you to organize your journey to Mechelen. The old part of town is compact and well-preserved with many authentic historical buildings, many of them Catholic. Listen out for the harmonious chimes of carillon bells and browse the specialty shops for lace and tapestries.
Day 2: Mechelen – Antwerp (Cycling 38 km / 24 miles or 57 km / 36 miles)
Your first cycling day and…. it’s back to school! In the town of Sint-Kathelijne-Waver, at the Ursuline Institute, a boarding school run by nuns, an exquisite surprise awaits. The convent/school complex, Our Lady of Wavre, is a successful blend of art nouveau, neo-Gothic, neo-Empire and art deco. Best of all: the winter garden! Feast your eyes on a masterpiece of art nouveau, an ode to nature, springtime and light! Back outside, it’s decision time. For those of you who need plenty of time to sightsee Antwerp we have devised a shorter route. Passionate pedallers should cycle the full 57 km. The short route passes through Duffel on the River Nete, Mortsel and Berchem. If you are into military heritage, stop off in Mortsel to visit Fort no. 4 of the originally eight Brialmont Forts (1860-1864) that made up the defensive line of Antwerp. It is built in brick with sandstone decorations and stands on an island surrounded by a ditch and glacis. If you take the long route, explore the historical town of Lier on the River Nete and check out the newly renovated art museum. Crown your day in Antwerp, a city with a long beer tradition and countless cafes. Discover the beautiful Old Town or go shopping for antiques and curio’s, home deco, vintage fashion finds or diamonds!
Day 3: Antwerp – Herentals or Geel (Cycling 42 km / 26 miles or 58 km/ 36 miles)
Just after leaving the built-up area of Antwerp metropolis, you will plunge into lovely, leafy Rivierenhof park, boasting a river and two castles. Next, proceed on an excellent cycle path along the Albert Canal to Herentals, birthplace of Rik van Looy and historical capital of the Campine region. Depending on where we find you accommodation you will spend the night in Herentals; or follow the Herentals-Bocholt canal to Geel.
Day 4: Herentals or Geel – Diest (Cycling 56 km / 35 miles or 40 km / 25 miles)
This leg of the tour is a peaceful journey along the water and through the countryside of Flanders. You will pass tranquil villages such as Meerhout, Schoot and Engsbergen. In the afternoon, pedal into the woods at Gerhagen nature reserve, with at its center a 19m-high panorama tower. The town of Diest is a delight. It boasts a beguinage that counts as one of the oldest, most beautiful and best-preserved in Europe. Paths for pedestrians and cyclists, steps, seating, even a boardwalk, invite you to spend some time by the river Demer, which flows through town once more after it had been covered up since the 1960s.
Day 5: Diest – Leuven (Cycling 65 km / 41 miles)
The basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel is a place of pilgrimage and of many sevens. In a heptagonal enclosed garden stands a heptagonal domed church. The dome, decorated with seven-point stars, is supported by seven pillars and surrounded by seven chapels… Apparently Mary had a thing about sevens: She had seven sorrows and granted seven graces. In the neighbouring town of Zichem, climb the 14th century tower, Maagdentoren, to enjoy a nice view of the surroundings.Continue to the town of Aarschot, a good place to have a break - at the town brewery perhaps? Subsequently cruise through the rolling landscape of Flemish Brabant to Werchter, venue of a famous rock festival. In the evening, have a taste of the good life in the lively university town of Leuven.
Day 6: Leuven – Brussels (Cycling 39 km / 24 miles)
Cycle through the hills of Brabant and through the Sonian Forest to Brussels. Alternatively, catch a train to have more time in Brussels. You can’t really explore Brussels in a day, but the beautiful market square, the Grande Place, with the Town Hall and town history museum, is a great place to start. If you have worked up an appetite, local specialties include muscles and chips, waffles, chocolates and of course beer.
Day 7: Brussels – Mechelen (Cycling 53 km / 33 miles)
After one last tour of the Grande Place it’s time to leave the city behind. Cycle through the suburbs to Grimbergen, known for its abbey with a baroque basilica that was never completed. A sequence of diverse landscapes will pass you by, with trees, water and vast cropfields. Finally you will reach the town where you started this bike holiday a week previously: Mechelen.
Day 8: Departure from Mechelen
After breakfast, your holiday will come to an end.
Please note: All cycling distances stated above are approximate only.