On a numbers trail in the Belgian province of Limburg
September 9, 2008 Leave a Comment
Belgian’s province of Limburg has a compact network of cycle paths with over 2,000 kilometres in all. Cyclists do not have to pore over maps to find a route as 20,000 blue, numbered signs across the network makes finding your way easy.
A sign reading “96-97-98-91-71″ may resemble a telephone number, but it is in fact a list of junctions along the cycle path that lead from the provincial capital of Hasselt to Belgium’s largest open air museum in Bokrijk.
The network was laid out in the mid-1990s in a region once dominated by mining.
Today, just a few grass-covered old pit heads and spoil heaps remind people of Limburg’s industrial past. Mining was also the inspiration for the number system that cyclists use to navigate the network.
“The mining engineer, Hugo Bollen, asked himself whether the number system used by miners would also be useful above ground for cyclists,” recalls Marc Verstraten from the local tourist office.
There are over 300 guesthouses and cafes in Limburg that have been given the quality symbol of “Bicycle Friendly Establishment”.
They not only welcome cyclists with repair facilities, they also cater to guests who bring their own food supplies.
The cyclist-friendly atmosphere is also helped by a free phone hotline (0800/969 67) for anyone who finds a pothole along the paths.
The best time to go is between April and October. Flat routes take cyclists along the Meuse River, while in Haspengau where it gets hilly, the paths become a bit tougher.
Most excursions begin in Hasselt and one of the most popular destinations in Limburg is the open air museum in Bokrijk.
The museum opened in 1958 and is home to a collection of over 100 Flemish houses. It also contains a few buildings that were once part of Antwerp’s old city centre.
The attraction also includes rare examples of antique furniture and visitors can discover how previous generations of Belgians wove, spun, cooked and baked.
“Many of the houses were almost in ruins. The open air museum helped preserve a piece of Flemish culture and history that existed between the Middle Ages and about the year 1910,” says Liesbeth Schepers, a museum guide.
Another popular attraction is Alden Biesen castle in Rijkhoven. The castle was built in the 16th century but its origins date as far back as 1190.
Alden Biesen is one of the largest castles between the Loire and Rhine rivers and for centuries it was the local headquarters of knights in the Teutonic Order.
But the original structures that were destroyed in a fire in 1971 were restored and the buidlings appear relatively new.
Source: DPA via Earth Times, 9 September 2008