Belgium and the quest for riding pleasure!

We had planned some very cool rides for this year. Some close by, others further away.

We had France, Iceland and Croatia on the calendar. Alas! Covid 19 came into our world…. This tiny virus put a halt to free movement. And with all this, had our plans canceled.

Sitting still however was no option. Motorcycle-Diaries finds its origins in the idea that riding pleasure is often found around the next corner. So we decide to look for it in our beloved Belgium. In a way, you could say that thx to this virus we went back to our roots.

However, Belgium is a tiny country. Where to find riding pleasure? If you have ever been riding through Belgium you know this is not easy. Nevertheless, we came up with a plan. We drew the longest possible straight line from one side of our country to the other - without crossing any borders - and then wove a route around that line. It gave us a 3 days trip with a lot of variation.

We start our trip at the North Sea, more precise in De Panne. You used to be able to walk freely over the beach to neighbouring France. During the confinement period this was no longer possible. So, the wide stretch of beach was just deserted. Another reason for us to like this place. And in wintertime you’re allowed to let your dog run freely here, so that’s a double plus.

Anyway, we’re here to ride so we head into the land just beyond the dunes. Flanders Fields this area is called. Just over 100 years ago thousands of young men lost their lives here, fighting for what they believed in. 4 years long this small piece of land was a battlefield.

Total destruction there was, but some places, like Veurne, were spared by the bombs. Here you can admire the old Belfrey build in 1623, Veurne was always in Belgian hands and the old monuments of the city served as hospital. 

A little further in Nieuwpoort we have another memory of WWI, the monument for Albert 1, then king of Belgium. His statue stands just next to a complex of locks. Some genius opened those locks during high tide so the lower land behind it got flooded, and with this, the advance of the enemy troops halted.

We follow the river Ijzer that formed the frontline. Here they fought each other hard and long. Now there is silence, cyclists fisherman and hopefully the awareness that it was all for nothing. The ride here flows on, just like the river, passing villages, farms and windmills. It all looks peaceful, but when you look around it is hard to not see the results of that horrific war. 

Cemeteries are scattered along our ride. English, Canadian, American, French, Belgian… Germans … buried side by side, there and there:

‘Today there’s no more bombs, no more war, 

though in Flanders Fields the poppies still blow. 

Between the crosses, row on row…’

(In Flanders fields - poem by John McRae)

Just south of Ypres the flat land becomes sloping. Some people say we live in a flat country, but hey there’s some hills!!

We climb the Kemmelberg, with its 156m ‘towering’ over the flat land. It is surreal that we name this hill ‘a mountain’. 

And it is not the only one to come as some more parts of Flanders are hilly, like in the Flemish Ardennes. 

We climb the famous Koppenberg, the Taaienberg and many others. During the weekend this region is the playground of thousands of cyclists. The cobblestone climbs in this area are renowned by the early season classic cycle races 

If you wish to broaden your knowledge about the latter don’t forget to visit the Tour of Flanders Center in Oudenaarde. Here you learn all about the legends of the Flemish roads. You can admire historical gear and wonder how they did all those kilometres on those vintage bicycles… 

We stop on the linguistic border at La Houppe where we enjoy a succulent meal, made with the finest local produce. Did you know this tiny country has the most kind of beers per square km in the world? If you want to taste them all you’re in for a long, long night. Luckily there’s a lot of B&B here. So we can stay over.

After we wake up we first we flirt a while with the linguistic border, go up and down through a part of the beautiful Pays des Collines, and pass ‘Art in the Fields’ before heading to the Wall of Geraardsbergen. This very short but fierce climb is many cyclists’ Waterloo. It used to be a race decider of the Tour of Flanders, but since several years the wall is not included in the route anymore. Also the wall is closed for motorised traffic nowadays, but still worth a stop, if only for the view. 

We follow the linguistic border a bit longer before we are spat out from a forest into Wallonia. Some say all here is different and politicians from both sides bid us to fear each other. We see no reason. 

Nothing points to a difference. No change of air, houses, people, nor landscapes. There is ugliness also here. The triangle, Mons-Charleroi, Nivelles doesn’t bring us much joy. Apart from a few hints, there are still no roads really worth mentioning. 

Except maybe some very, very bad cobblestone stretches.

Hainaut has some very interesting engineering craftsmanship. Look at the inclined plane of Ronquières. It is an ingenious construction of concrete and steel, pulling ships in containers over a mile to bridge 70m difference in altitude. Brilliant and impressive. And is not the only way we have to flatten our rivers. 

Barely 25 km further away there’s the world’s second tallest ship lift of Strepy. This massive elevator serves also as a monumental landmark. Especially compared to the century-old predecessors a little further. 

Still, between all this history and landmarks we don’t find real riding roads. A change is about to come with the approach to Les Lacs d’Eaux d’heures. Finally, some decent asphalt and real bends!  We pick up the pace but drops start to fall, we’re in Belgium after all…

A little further than the lakes there is Chimay and its’ road circuit! We remember this legendary road circuit used to be 10km of a very fast public road.  Today the revised chicane infested rectangle is covered in mist and rain, so no records to gain here

From Chimay we plunge south. We ride along the French border for a while and go back up north. We avoid Couvin and Givet as not the nicest parts of Belgium. Instead, we pass via Villers en Fagne, Vodelée, Rosée, Stave, Ermeton and back to Hastiere. 

Riding pleasure, you ask? Finally Found it!  

On the tones of a funky sax we’re following the Meuse to Dinant. This cute little town plays the Adolphe Sax-card to the full. Even though the inventor of the instrument was only born here. Anyway, the colourful saxes and a beautiful little city make you happy.

The citadel sits above it all, the ambiance is cool. 

After the jazzy tunes, we halt at the Abbey of Chevetogne. We know, there are many more monasteries to be found in the Ardennes worth a stop, still we think this one is special. It’s the only abbey we know that unifies the Byzantine and Latin cults. 

Who says different cultures can’t harmoniously live together… We admire the frescoes, skilfully executed by Greek and Russian monks. There are hidden altars and crypts, the sober Roman church

After Chevetogne we head for some really good riding roads. And with these last series of heavenly corners we stop for a well deserved night sleep 

The quietness of the soft rattling river down our cabins has us ready for our last stretch of meandering roads. Our last day of riding gives us really what we were looking for. We free all horses in the fast twisting corners. We snake along the Semois with viewpoints. We follow the river till Bouillon and admire the castle on top of the rocks.

After Bouillon we really find riding pleasure. Our heaven is located between Dohan and Herbeumont. Don’t tell anyone but here lays the best corner in Belgium. We ride it several times, Just because we can...

We’re heading back south to St Cecile, Florenville, Pin and Orval. The main attraction is the Cistercian Abbey, world famous for its beer. The monks settled here in 1070. In 17th century they became part of the order of the Trappist and brewing beer became a tradition. Although the old abbey was destroyed by the French troops during the French revolution, they managed to rebuild a pretty impressive new one and brew one of the most sought after beers in the world. 

We ride through pine forests and follow nameless roads up and down the hills. We pace to the end of our trip a little more northeast in Martelange, a village unknown to the rest of the world but for Belgians a symbol of cheap fuel, cigarettes and alcohol! 

In the past 3 days we covered about 800km, within the limits of our own country, from the coast till the mighty Ardennes;

The route may not really have lived up to our tagline, but as we said at the beginning: it learned us some new things about our country. 

There’s beauty if you look and some pretty good corners, a great deal of history, tasty food and fluid gold. 

And after all that is a pretty good bargain in strange times like these. 

Download now the GPX file and see it with your own eyes!

 


 

 

 

#FORYOURRIDINGPLEASUREONLY

 

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