This is a guest post by Ingrid De Graeve.
Reason #1 Best cycling networks:
Belgium has some of the best networks for cycling in the world, offering paved, accessible, well-signed and maintained routes throughout the country. Yes, throughout the country! Cycling is one of the few true Belgian national values, though of course, even in this regard there are some regional differences to get to know.
Immediately upon entering Belgium, cyclists are recognized and protected by well-defined bicycle lanes. On roundabouts, the cyclist has his own lane marked on the perimeter of the motor vehicle lanes, and dedicated cyclist traffic lights tell him when it is safe to cross exiting spur roads. The realization that, yes, a road engineer has specifically planned for your presence and thought about your safety as a cyclist, is reassuring. Even though larger vehicles are there, you feel that you are legitimately recognized and have your space on the road.
All cycling routes are signposted in both directions and are all identified by a name and number. On the Flemish side, the entire region is now covered by a network of routes navigated by junction number. It is a much more flexible system than route numbers.
Reason #2 Towpaths:
If you like to ride on good pavement but away from car traffic, the towpaths of Belgium offer some of the best cycling in the world. You can ride across the country from north to south or east to west with only occasional concerns about cars or trucks.
Much of the way is through pleasant farmland or nature preserve, with the loudest noise bird songs or the engine of a barge. The network totals a little over 2,000 km (1,200 miles), of which more than 1,600 km provide fine riding for any kind of bicycle. Many of these paths follow the waterways in Belgium (and logical extensions into France and the Netherlands), which are or were within the last few centuries navigable and where it is physically possible to ride along or reasonably close to the water.
Along the way, you will find bike-friendly camping sites and lodgings, providing facilities for you as well as your bike (hose-down area, repair kits, bike shelter).
Reason #3 Belgian Culture
The country can be split into three distinct regions – Flanders in the north where the main language if Flemish, Wallonia in the south where the main language is French and the central region around Brussels which is bilingual. A small eastern territory is German speaking. English is widely spoken.
Belgium may well have a staid reputation based on its political status but is arguably one of the most underrated countries in Europe. The nation is home to some of the best-preserved examples of medieval architecture in the world.
Most cities have quaint medieval squares, cobblestone streets, tree-lined canals, gorgeous architectural facades, world class museums and friendly outdoor cafes perfect for people watching and sipping on the local brews. And the Belgian’s passion for the arts, music, fine food and excellent beer is virtually unrivalled.
The central part of the countryside is predominantly rolling plains, painted with soft green hills and winding roads dotted by black heather and bordered by proud farms and peaceful canals.
Reason #4 Belgian Beer:
Belgium is known for their extensive list of over 450 different varieties of beer. Here almost every little village in every region has its own beer. Belgium has enjoyed an unparalleled reputation for its specialty beers since the Middle Ages. Connoisseurs favor Belgian beers for their variety, real flavor and character.
There are almost as many beer styles as there are breweries in the small kingdom of Belgium. The choices are endless when you consider raspberry beer, white beer, chocolate beer, geuze beer, cherry beer, brown beer, trappist beer and of course the beer that Belgium is most famous for – the lambic beer. Lambic beer is made with an ancient style of brewing, depending on spontaneous fermentation to produce a bone-dry, profoundly tart, and naturally effervescent drink that improves with years in the bottle – much like wine.
By European Union regulation, it can be produced only in a small area in Belgium. Trappist beer is brewed by monks in abbey breweries using traditional methods that date back to the seventeenth century. The beer is produced and sold to support monastic life, a key element of which includes remaining closed off from the general public.
Reason #5 Belgian Chocolates and Waffles
Belgium produces 172,000 tons of chocolate per year with more than 2,000 chocolate shops throughout the country. A beautifully sculpted chocolate shell conceals a center of filling which explodes with a surprising texture and flavor in your mouth. Many chocolatiers still make their chocolates by hand. Every town and even small villages have chocolate stores with luxurious delicacies to sample.
Waffles have been an important part of the Belgian diet for centuries and are an epicurean encounter which can only be experienced in their natural habitat. Aside from the delicious recipe, the authentic Belgian waffle is unique because of the special waffle irons used to bake them, which give the waffles their signature crunchy-golden outside and fluffy inside. In Belgium there are two types of waffles, the Brussels and the Liege waffle.
Guest author Ingrid De Graeve is a cycling enthusiast from Belgium.