Most morning’s, the mist in Hasselt settles so thick your eyes barely make out the shape of a tree a few metres ahead of you. This specific October morning proved to be no different. If the weather is in your favour, you’ll witness this and later bask in the record breaking Belgian sunshine. What makes this all the more cinematic, is a bicycle.
The Limburg Cycling Route Network is a cleverly widespread web that connects villages to towns to cities. Whether you’re testing your will power and going long distance or have a morning to spare, you’re bound to encounter magic somewhere along the way. Hasselt has 71,520 inhabitants, and has everything you’d need from a big city, while retaining the irreplaceable feeling of a small town.
Once you leave the inner city, the bike lanes become more obvious. Cycling under glistening trees and past soothing streams, it’s hard not to fall in love, until you pass by a family of ducks and you fall even deeper. The Japanese Garden in Hasselt, the largest in Europe, is a great place to begin, and will allow you to avoid busy roads.
The routes are increasingly easy to navigate, and Genk being the next point of interest, lead you past the Albert Canal that is unavoidable but a sight to see nonetheless. On another day the Albert Canal might not look as beautiful, but coming out of the abundant nature surrounding Hasselt, places you in a clear mindset, and convinces you that this canal, is the best canal you’ve ever seen.
The canal was built in 1930 and took 12,000 people to dig, with the intention of creating an economical pass through that connected Antwerp to Liege and vice versa. The bike lane passes right besides the canal — the road ahead, gradually fading in the fog. Eventually you’ll start making out the shape of a cable-stained-bridge that will envelope you with grandeur, the closer you get to it.
Built 50 years after the canal, it preceded the concept of a road that would connect Hasselt to Genk. After the bridge was built and construction on the road was imminent, locals expressed their disapproval of a road passing through the De Maten nature area. The road was never built, yet the bridge still managed to connect Hasselt to Godsheide, a hamlet of Hasselt.
The further you go, the more likely you are to stumble upon cycle cafe’s. These are evenly dispersed, and almost magically appear when you’re craving a warm mug of classic Belgian hot chocolate, or rather “warme chocolademelk”.
To avoid busy roads, passing through Bokrijk park presents you with peaceful lanes and tunnels of trees — all of it, almost mirage like. Nestled in the park is Belgium’s largest Open Air museum with authentic rebuilt Flemish farms and city houses from the bourgeoisie period, as well as an expo on the infamous ‘Sixties’.
Deeper into the nature area, and past curious-looking swans, is Bokrijk’s modern take on the classic bridge. A walkway through one of the 1001 ponds (De Wijers) in the Limburg region. This bridge is an architectural marvel; unforgettable and original. A relatively recent project, the bridge is known for allowing you to ‘cycle through water’ as well as providing you with a unmissable photo opportunity.
The construction of these bicycle trails went hand in hand with many nature preservation and conservation projects in the surrounding pond area known as ‘De Wijers’. Because of this, you’re likely to encounter amphibians in their natural habitat, such as, the green, almost fluorescent ‘tree frog’. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see ducklings floating close to the edge of the bridge, dipping their heads into the calm water.
These sights are a mere strand in the large interspersed web that is the Limburg Cycling Route Network. A 22 km bicycle ride can expose you to an array of marvels, from subtle light coming through tall trees, windy paths with falling autumn leaves, and to mega structures, both modern and historical. The beauty is vast, and inevitably met with.
An online route planner is also available, once you enter your destination it generates the cycle nodes that you should follow. In case you’re interested, this specific route follows cycle nodes: 97–98–243 –91–95–96–97.