what to do in Waasland

A perfect weekend in Waasland: hiking the polders between Ghent and Antwerp

There are not many places in Belgium that I haven’t visited before, but surprisingly Waasland was one of them. Why? This small region on the border with The Netherlands didn’t catch my attention before, until now. Little did I know that there were so many beautiful hiking trails, stunning natural landscapes, and amazing culinary experiences hidden here!

In this blog post, I’d like to take you on a weekend I spent in Waasland recently. The region surprised me so much and I’m sure it will surprise you as well. Be prepared to learn about the most beautiful hikes and other peculiar outdoor experiences. There’s just so much to discover!

Note: this blog post was sponsored by Toerisme Waasland. Of course, I only share my own authentic experiences!

What to do on a weekend in Waasland

Explore the polders of Waasland

The best way to explore Waasland is without a doubt on foot, on one of the many walking trails. The region is known for its wide stretching views of the polders, long boulevards of birch trees, and some cultural gems hidden in this very same landscape. No better way to see all of this than on foot! The two routes below are a small selection of the most beautiful ones, which I personally tried out and loved.

The Saleghem walking route

This 7.6 km route takes you through the polders and over the dykes in Meerdonk, close to the Dutch border. Its landscape was formed centuries ago when the land was flooded as a defense against the Spanish in the Eighty Years’ War. Right now, what remains is a beautiful route past creeks and dykes!

The majority of the route is on unpaved paths so be sure to wear good hiking boots as the trails can be muddy after a bit of rainfall. The start of the Saleghem route is at the outskirts of the village of Meerdonk. Just park your car in the village, and start the walk at the crossing of the Dijkstraat and Turfbankenstraat.

You’ll start walking past fields when you encounter Ponoma Voedselbos, a nice initiative where locals can come pick their own local products like berries, nuts, and other kinds of fruits & veggies. It’s fun to walk through and discover plants you didn’t even know grew in our regions! Further down the trail, you walk over the Krekeldijk, in a forest-like area that gives you a stunning panorama in autumn. Next to it, you’ll find the Sint-Jacobsgat, a creek that is home to a wide variety of fauna and flora. Make a stop at Natuurhuis Panneweel to learn more about this little piece of heaven.

The remainders of the walk continue over dykes and alongside canals, such as the Grote Saleghemgeul, where you can even see some cute green fishermen’s houses. Right before the finish, you find a last photo spot in the form of a gigantic W, the logo of Waasland! While enjoying the view, you get more info about the polders as well.

Fancy a snack along the way? Make sure to stop at Ijshoeve De Boey for artisanal ice cream or at CoffieClets for some warm coffee and cake!

Niemandsland walking route

This 11.2 km walking route takes you across the border with The Netherlands, through beautiful pieces of forest, just like smugglers used to do almost hundred years ago during World War II. The highlight of this interesting walk is without a doubt the Niemandsland tower that stands exactly on the border of the two countries. Why is it called Niemandsland (or ‘no man’s land’)? Because during the Second World War, this land belonged to no one, being a smugglers’ route between the death wire that the Germans put up when they conquered Belgium to separate it from the neutral Netherlands.

Today, a brand new tower not only grants you an amazing view of the two countries but also gives you a bit more info about the smugglers and the history of the region. This place really impressed me a lot so take the time to go up and enjoy the view!

Besides the interesting history behind the place, the route also takes you past beautiful natural areas such as the Waterwinbossen and Clingse Bossen. These forests are a protected area where water is won from the underground, providing drinking water for the people of South Holland. So don’t be surprised to encounter many ditches in the forests. But above all, it’s a peaceful place to calm your mind and admire the red-white mushrooms that decorate the leaf-covered ground, especially in autumn.

After your walk, don’t forget to take a look at Klingspoor, an initiative where you can learn more about the smugglers, crossing the border, and the old train track & station, of which you can still see an ancient steam train here! Hungry or thirsty after 11.2 km? Then have a meal or beer at café (Ou)de Statie. This is also the place where you can park your car before starting the hike. Just park in front of the old train and walk straight up to the border to start the route.

Visit the ghost town of Doel

Doel, the abandoned village close to the harbor of Antwerp, is one of the most interesting places to visit in Belgium. Certainly if graffiti-coloured walls, boarded-up windows, and abandoned streets make your heart beat faster!

But how come this village is completely abandoned? Some decades ago, the Flemish government made plans to extend the harbor of Antwerp, but because the area was already quite packed, there was no more empty space. So they decided that the village of Doel had to disappear in order to make space for the harbor. Of course, this led to a lot of protests from the local inhabitants, and plans were changed quite a lot of times until 1998 when the government decided all inhabitants should move.

Almost all of them eventually sold their houses to the government and moved, except for a few inhabitants who are still there and continue the protests. So far, the village still exists and it looks like it will keep on existing. Right now, it went from a lively community to a ghost town, where all abandoned houses are sealed, streets are covered by graffiti and entrance is only possible upon showing your ID card.

These days, it’s mainly a place for artists to express themselves and tourists to soak up the atmosphere. You can freely visit the village from 6 a.m. till 6 p.m. on weekdays. At any other moment, you have to present your ID card to enter the town by car. Of course, you can always enter on foot via one of the walking routes that pass through the village.

I found it definitely super interesting to enter the town and drive/walk around. In the background, you can also see the nuclear power plants of Doel. One of the elements that makes this abandoned town just that tad more fascinating. As it attracts many tourists, it’s best to visit on a weekday. When going by car, make sure to present your ID with the chip on the upper side and have some patience. The machine will work eventually. 😉

Spots in Doel you should definitely see:

  • the old gas station when driving into the village
  • the old mill with the nuclear power plants in the background
  • the view of the harbor of Antwerp
  • the piano in one random street

In the end, Doel is only a few streets large so it’s fairly easy to just walk around and see all the noteworthy spots!

Admire contemporary art at the Verbeke Foundation

Verbeke Foundation is not your regular contemporary art museum. It’s located in a protected natural area which makes a perfect setting for large installations and industrial art pieces. Verbeke Foundation is a private art site that was opened in 2007. Until today they collect the most extraordinary modern and contemporary art in an unusual setting. Inside their exposition hall, they portray exhibitions of collages and assemblages, but also outside you can admire enormous installations, from a gigantesque helicopter to an anus where you could sleep in.

You truly cannot imagine it until you actually see it! The art itself is beyond impressive and also utterly bizarre at some moments. Make sure to calculate a few hours to go through both the inside as well as the outside. If you want to see everything, make sure to visit for at least half a day. Although half of the installations are inside, it’s best to visit when the weather is nice, because a lot of impressive artworks can be found outside.

Where to eat in Waasland

Hippodroom restaurant Waasland

When I researched places to eat I had a hard time choosing because there are just so many excellent restaurants in the region (for which you better make a reservation beforehand!). During my weekend, I tried out Eetcafé Hippodroom, actually the restaurant of the riding school QC Stables, which means that you can see them practice with the horses while you’re eating. The food was absolutely excellent and the meat was beyond tender, so I would absolutely recommend it! But only if you can stand the odor of horses of course. 😉

Here are some other suggestions depending on your budget and preference:

Where to stay in Waasland

During the weekend, I stayed at B&B Domein Den Buiten and couldn’t be more impressed! Denis and Dirk really managed to create a little oasis of peace in their domain. When booking one of their 8 rooms you can be guaranteed to have a spacious, luxury room, home-made breakfast, and relaxing wellness experience. Upon arrival, I was welcomed with a warm cup of tea and a friendly chat with the owners. They literally invite you into their house and bake you pancakes in the morning! Can it get any better?

Yes! During your stay, you can enjoy the outdoor pool (in summer) or book the hot tub in the middle of their garden for ultimate relaxation. And if you’re a horse lover, go say hi to the many horses or book a horse coaching session. They truly go above and beyond to make your stay as memorable as possible!

Ready to plan your weekend?

If the answer is yes, go take a look at the website of Tourism Waasland. Because they have so many more suggestions on what to do in the region. More into castles? Go visit Castle Wittekerke. Do you prefer cycling? Check out one of the many cycling routes in Waasland. The region is a true paradise for nature-lovers and I hope you will discover this too!

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