“What is so great about Belgium is its variety. So, I can be strolling in the flat, sandy heaths of Limburg one week, and then puffing and panting up a steep hillside in the Ardennes the following week.”
The blog Discovering Belgium helps you discover interesting and sometimes out-of-the-way places to visit in Belgium.
The creator of the blog, Denzil Walton, encourages readers to discover Belgium on foot or by bike. He tells us more.
What inspired you to start the Discovering Belgium blog in 2011?
I used to write a regular column in a Belgian magazine, featuring a walk or a cycle ride somewhere interesting in Belgium. When that newspaper folded, I wanted to continue sharing my discoveries, so I started up a blog. I tend to focus on the lesser known areas of Belgium (“off the beaten track”), rather than the traditional touristic areas.
Over the years, I have expanded it a little, so that in addition to doing walking and cycling, I also cover topics like history, events and famous Belgians.
Do you create all the content yourself?
Ninety-nine percent of the blog posts are my own experiences, but now and again I will publish an article from a guest blogger, if he or she has something interesting to share about Belgium.
What surprising facts have you discovered about Belgium because of your blog?
So many! I’ve written a lot about the First World War and uncovered some fascinating stories about the courage and heroism of Belgian people during the occupation and afterwards. For example, although we know how horrendous the events in Flanders Fields were, we don’t realise what it was like for Belgian people to return there after the armistice, when it was totally destroyed and full of dead bodies and live ammunition!
Researching that article was quite an eye-opener. I’ve also written about the Flemish cloth industry in the Middle Ages and the history of the Royal Greenhouses, and covered some amazing religious festivals, such as the Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges and the Cats Parade in Ypres. And I’ve walked and cycled through some superb areas of natural beauty and interest.
What is your favourite region in Belgium, and why?
What is so great about Belgium is its variety. So, I can be strolling in the flat, sandy heaths of Limburg one week, and then puffing and panting up a steep hillside in the Ardennes the following week. Or I could be deep in a thick forest in Wallonia, looking at a black woodpecker through my binoculars, followed the week after by jostling in a crowded street market in the busy coastal town of Ostend.
So, it’s difficult to pick a favourite region. However, I have a soft spot for the hills, forests and pretty little villages of the Ardennes. On the other hand, I love the city of Ghent!
Belgium is known for its chocolates. Where are the best chocolatiers in Belgium?
They are literally all over the country. You don’t have to go far before you come across a chocolatier making their own fancy chocs, or a shop selling the big names like Godiva, Leonidas, Neuhaus, etc.
Where do you like to walk or cycle in Belgium?
One of the greatest inventions coming out of Belgium is the Walking Route Network (wandelknooppuntennetwerk), or the Cycling Route Network (fietsknooppuntennetwerk). The system originated in the Limburg mining industry. Underground junctions were numbered, and arrows indicated the tunnels leading to the next numbered junctions. It was first transferred to cycle routes, and then expanded to walking routes.
The concept has gradually spread throughout Belgium, and has also been extended to many areas of the Netherlands. The crux of the system is that it allows you to cycle/walk from one numbered junction to the next one. At each junction, a signpost points you in the direction of the next two or three junctions. This leads to a much more flexible way of cycling/walking around the countryside than by following stipulated routes.
Now, you can mix and match to create your own cycling/hiking route. Obviously, before you set out, a little preparation is necessary. Cycling and walking network maps are available from tourist offices, town halls and bookshops. Or you can go online at www.fietsnet.be or www.wandelknooppunt.be.
What does your schedule for a typical week look like?
I am a freelance technical copywriter, so I am generally busy all week working for my clients. I write website content, white papers, press articles, etc. I am also a conference reporter, so spend some time in Brussels attending and then writing reports on conferences, workshops and seminars.
My trips around Belgium for the blog are usually confined to the weekends. However, if the weekend weather forecast is poor, I will sometimes work on a Saturday, and go walking or cycling on a fine weekday instead.
Any tips for potential visitors?
Don’t be afraid to look beyond the usual touristic sights and places to visit. There are many unusual, lesser known places to visit and sights to see, some of which I describe in my blog. It’s the same with museums. It’s great to visit the big fine arts and history museums in the country, but there are hundreds of small museums, sometimes run privately or as a hobby, that are well worth visiting. I would also encourage visitors to use the excellent public transport system, or to hire a bike to explore the country.
- Photos: Pixabay.com, unless otherwise stated.