Cycling

Cycling In Belgium

My journey across the continent continues… I have already posted planning notes on cycling through Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Here are my planning notes for Belgium after which only France and Spain need to be considered before I set off from Tarifa in Spain shortly after Easter. Comments, as always, are welcome.

Compared to the other countries, the route that I will be taking across Belgium is relatively short. That said, it will be an interesting one as I have never really cycled in the country. Back in 2010 when I cycled along the vague route of the Eurovelo 5 from southern England to Brindisi in southern Italy, I decided to unceremoniously chop of the Belgian part of the route that would have seen me cycle into Brussels from the west and then south in the direction of Luxembourg. At the time I wanted to put some distance on the clock in the first week or so of the trip and get past what I considered to be perhaps a fairly uninteresting section of the route. The route that I did follow was along the Franco-Belgian border and at times I entered Belgium but it was never for more than a few kilometres at a time and all my overnight stops were in France. In 2015 I have a chance to get a better look at Belgium and prove myself wrong that actually there is much to see in the Kingdom of the Belgians. Hopefully…

So, here is the route. Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 13.18.06It’s a simple case of cycling from Maubeuge in France (where I stayed overnight back in 2010) to Charleroi, Namur and Liege in Belgium itself and then finally to Aachen in Germany. The official Eurovelo 3 route description has the following to say:

“Belgium is not so well covered with cycle routes, but the southern part, Wallonia, do have some nice routes, which we follow through Gemmerich, Liège, Huy, Namur, Charleroi and Erquelinnes. The distance is 201km and mainly free from cars. The first part uses a disused railway and then continues along the rivers Meuse and Sambre partly using towpaths. In Namur the church St. Jacques reminds us of the pilgrim theme.”

Remember that this is written from the perspective of someone cycling from Germany to France and that I will be travelling in the other direction but the ‘mainly free from cars‘ bit sounds promising. The rivers aren’t marked on the map above (or indeed on the Eurovelo overview map) but the Belgium segment on the Eurovelo site does give the following track:belgium

As you can see from the key, none of the route is ‘realised’. The Eurovelo site does however give a couple of links; one to RAVel, the ‘slow movement network’ and the other to Rando-velo which is more specific to cycling. “EuroVelo 3 follows RAVel 3 from the French border to Charleroi, and RAVel 1 onwards to Namur and Liège” according to the ECF. There are detailed route maps for each of the RAVels here. Rando-velo route 8 links Charleroi to Liege then Rando-velo 4 links Liege with Aachen. Are the RAVels and the Rando-velo routes the same? It does seem rather confused…

David Thomas did contact me earlier in the year with the following general comments about cycling in Belgium which are worth noting:

“Re: Belgium, one of your next planned routes seems to pass through it. I love Belgium, its an odd country no doubt, but none the worse for that, they are funny, make the best beer and chocolate and are almost embarrassingly considerate to cyclists. Their roads, however, are a national sin…

Re: “green routes” there are two issues first of all: like everything in Belgium there are two totally separate systems and in no way over-lapping between Flanders and Wallonia. That can make it hard to find info sometimes. I recently did a short weekend tour Charleroi-Namur-Brussels-Charleroi which was great and I bought some maps from here and here is a map of the routes. The maps are very good, the routes can be lovely, but the signage not always great, unfortunately. The maps are 1:50,000, loose leaf, with the cycle path marked out, plus (French) directions written on the back. Each sheet is 18cm x 14cm. There is also the RAVel network, (there is an ‘interactive map’ on that site) I bought their 1:300,000 map of the whole of Belgium, which I found less useful, although might be nice for the long-distance over-view.

In Flanders, I believe the network is more extensive and very well signed – here is a site.  

I hope that information helps a little bit if you plan Eurovelo 3″

One other question which is worth posing: should I take a detour to Brussels? I’m tempted. It would be interesting to pay the people at the European Cyclists’ Federation a visit… I’ll decide nearer the time.

4 replies »

  1. You would be very welcome at ECF Andy and you could keep most of the general direction you are heading by detour to Brussels on Ravel 1 and then East on the round Flanders Cycle Route.

    But the routes along the Sambre and Meuse are good too, but perhaps a touch less varied if I am honest. One thing is for sure – point bike along riverbank and pedal is the easiest navigation possible!

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  2. I’ve cycled in Belgium 3 times, but each time I was in the North-West so I can’t vouch for cycling in most of the country. What I did see of Belgium I liked a lot though. Bruges is very beautiful but so packed with tourists that visiting it can be a less than wonderful experience. However, there are lots of other quaint towns in the same area that have similar architecture and ambience. The people are relaxed and friendly and they have mastered the art of making the perfect chip. Their beers are wonderful too. What more could you want? Probably Europe’s most underrated country.

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  3. Hello Andrew. As a cyclist and cycle-tourer who has been based in Belgium for over 5 years now, perhaps you’ll allow me to pass on some thoughts to you? This rather long article on my blog:
    https://monveloetmoi.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/a-tale-of-two-halves/
    will give you a few ideas about what Wallonia has to offer for cyclists. Essentially, although they mean well, Wallonia’s cycle authorities seem to have left the paths to their own devices for a long time and cycling along them can be a little rough and ready, to say the least. You need to be prepared for poor signage, lots of diversions (some necessary, some there just to annoy cyclists) and some pretty industrial scenery at times. However, the locals are particularly friendly and, as you speak French, you’ll have a great time.

    As for whether to visit Brussels I think it’s a must! It’s not an immediately gorgeous city but it has some lovely parts and the ECF seem a friendly lot. You could follow the canal all the way from Charleroi to Brussels which is flat but maybe a tad boring (and definitely very bumpy/potholed) or you could take the gorgeous RaVel route up from Namur to Brussels which is 75 km, well signed (even if the signs are tiny and often spotted in unusual places) and goes through lovely undulating countryside. If you need accommodation in Brussels, you can find me on warmshowers and I have a bike room where Reggie could relax and make friends with my bike, Tricky.

    Sorry for the long response and hope at least some of it is of use.

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    • Hi XXX (sorry, you don’t give your name). Thanks for this – it’s very useful! I have been to Brussels before so I know what I am missing if I choose not to go there. It’s not too far away from my route so whether I do or don’t is still up in the air. Like I said above, it would be nice to pay a visit to the ECF but I’ll decide nearer the time. If I do, I’ll look you up on Warmshowers (if, that is I can find you without your name…)
      Cheers
      Andrew

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