With the current Belgian COVID regulations permitting “reasonable” travel to “visits of nature”, I decided that a 33km drive fell under the definition of reasonable. I previously featured the Averbode Abbey in my Beer & Bike: Tongerlo and Averbode post from 2016 (!!!). Has it really been that long ago? That was my first year of blogging and to this date, it only has 9 views. So this is my shameless plug to anyone reading to click the above link and make me feel happy.
But what that bike ride didn’t reveal to me was the immense forest and hiking possibilities which surround the abbey. So what better way to break free from the self-quarantine for the day than explore the area known as the Averbode Bos & Heide, which translates to Forest & Heather. This nature area around Averbode is over 1000 hectares or about 2500 acres.
The forest is covered in coniferous trees and the forest bed gives off a glorious scent of weathered pine needles. The very organized array of trees betrays the fact that they are not native to the forest. Turn back time 300 years and the trees would mostly be deciduous. The same goes for the ponds of various sizes which color the landscape. These are the remnants of the fens (or swamps) that would have pervaded the area before they were drained for the benefits of creating controllable fishing spots.
There is no single set trail to follow and the one I organized gives a wonderful overview of the area. There is only one small section which passes thru the small village of Okselaar, but the majority of the 13.2km is thru the forest and heather. As is my habit, for some reason, I followed the hike in a counter-clockwise direction leaving the highlight of the hike, in my opinion, at the end which was the forest of ferns just to the west of the abbey. The trail itself is mainly hard packed dirt but with a few stretches which are very sandy.
- Starting Point: Averbode Abbey Parking Lot
- Ending Point: Roundtrip
- Distance: 13.2 km
- My Moving Time: 2h 39min
- Eating Place (during COVID): ice cream stand outside abbey
- Eating Place (no COVID): Afspanning Den Eik
I have not spent a lot of time actually hiking in Belgium so this hike essentially put Belgium hiking on the map for me, and I can confidentally say it is a very worthwhile hike. In this part of Belgium where it is flat, I could hardly imagine one that would be consistently better.
The area just outside the abbey was packed with people, including cyclists in groups of 8-10, a ridiculously long line at the ice cream stand, and teenagers, extended families and motorcyclists gathering in groups of 4-6. The only thing different than a normal sunny day was the lack of an open fietscafe. I realize that we are all tired of the social distancing but it was hard not to be frustrated with what I was seeing, yet at the same time feeling that I was partly to blame just for being there myself albeit to take a hike thru the forest, not to socialize. For the record, the forest itself was not crowded. There was the occasional couple seated on one of the scattered benches, but otherwise it was total blissful solitude. It will be nice one day to enjoy these kinds of experiences with a fully clean conscience and a good feeling about the overall state of societal health.