Ah, Brussels. It’s the beating heart of Europe, the city that rarely sleeps, the place where so much is possible. The city where a hundred different languages seem to blend in the background, a place where business and pleasure live side to side. But, as is so often the case with capitals, the big downside is the lack of nature. Of course, we can’t complain with the many city parks and the countryside that’s not that far off but every now and then, when you live in Brussels, you’re in need of a real break, a real breath of fresh air. And there’s no better place to do so than in a national park.
Even though the exact definition of natural or national parks differs from one country to the other, the gist of it is always pretty much the same. It’s a region where nature reigns, where human activity is greatly controlled, where it’s still possible to walk around without seeing too much signs of modern society – apart from the walking app on your smartphone of course, making sure you don’t get lost. Or not too much anyway.
In the world, there are many national parks worth visiting and even more natural parks. But if you’ve only got the weekend, you don’t want to have to travel for hours on end in order to reach your destination. It’s supposed to make you feel relaxed and it’s difficult to do so if you’re on a race against the clock. Luckily, within a couple of hours from Brussels, it’s still possible to find that relaxing spot you’ve dreamt of for weeks. The place you can go to for just a day or a weekend and return to as much as you want over the years. Where to go, you ask? Well, we’ve listed 3 national parks within a 2 hour drive from Brussels – and you don’t even have to cross any borders. Now it’s up to you to choose (or not).
This national park is located in the province of Limburg, right against the border with the Netherlands, and is the only national park of Flanders. Historically, the river Maas played an important role in the formation of the landscape, which is nowadays defined by coniferous trees and heath land. Interestingly enough, because of the mining history of the region, that natural habitat gets interrupted by mining relics every now and then, giving it a sometimes estranging character. Thanks to the 200 kilometres of hiking trails, there’s always something to be discovered, even if you’ve visited a lot over the years.
Contrary to the Hoge Kempen National Park, the Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse isn’t defined by one geological entity. Instead, it’s a combination of several different geological entities on the border of two Walloon provinces, Hainaut and Namur. The landscape of the park is what you’d call typical Belgian and is often interrupted by small cities and villages, whose church towers are noticeable from far away. If, just like us, you’re not only a nature lover but you’ve also got a sweet spot for beers, you’re in luck. Chimay and Florennes are just a few of the famous beer-making hotspots located in the area, perfect for a stop when you’re tired of walking and you want to rest your feet for a bit.
The last Belgian national park we have to talk about today is the Vallée de la Semois. As the name suggests, this park is built around the Semois valley, stretching between the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg. The park mainly consists of woodlands, speckled every now and then with agricultural land and villages.
Thanks to those preserved surroundings and the efforts of the national park, wildlife in the region is booming and you could easily spot some shy deer, a magnificent wild swan or even a cheeky otter on your walk across the park. If that’s not enough to your taste, the rich history and folklore of places like Bouillon should certainly get you enthused about a visit to this Belgian national park, that’s only just been recognised as such last year.