As Belgium’s major cities (Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent) receive the lion’s share of this small Western European nation’s visitors, the country’s other destinations, towns and regions remain virtually unspoiled by mass tourism.
One particularly noteworthy region is Haspengouw, known as Hesbaye in French and Hesbaie in English. Located in the Dutch-speaking province of Limburg, in the northeast of Belgium, Haspengouw is bordered by the Meuse River to the east and the Kempen region, Campine in English, to the west.
Fertile rolling hills characterize the landscape of this peaceful region; a region that is the fruit basket of Belgium and the largest fruit growing region in Western Europe.
The region is split up geographically into two parts—dry Haspengouw and humid Haspengouw. Dry Haspengouw’s soil is excellent for growing grains, flax, rapeseed, chicory and sugar beets. Humid Haspengouw’s higher water table results in many life-giving springs and streams, which makes it an ideal place to grow fruit. Although fruit grown in Haspengouw includes mainly apples and pears, the region is also home to the northernmost vineyards in Belgium.
Visit Haspengouw’s Orchards, a Perfect Spring Destination
It’s those orchards and vineyards that attract the majority of visitors to this peaceful rural region. Especially in spring—right now, in other words—the rolling landscapes burst out in color as the fruit trees begin to blossom. These blossoming fruit trees are a phenomenal sight, particularly when seen from a higher vantage point.
If you’re traveling around Western Europe this time of year, absolutely make sure to visit Haspengouw and explore the region on a bicycle—hands down the best way to get around.
There’s an extensive network of bicycle paths, which are oftentimes separated from the main roads and cut through the heart of orchards. Cycling in Haspengouw in spring is, I think, one of the greatest activities to do in Belgium.
While, if you’re after flowering bulbs, you should definitely head to the gardens of Keukenhof in the Netherlands in spring, if you’re happy with the white flowers of fruit trees, Haspengouw is where you need to be. Of course, these two destinations aren’t too far apart and can easily be visited within a couple of days’ time.
When you’re done cycling around, through and past spectacular orchards, make sure to pay a visit to one or two of the region’s cities as well. The city of Sint-Truiden lies in the very heart of the region and is well-known for its syrup, jam and jelly production—as are other towns in the region, for obvious reasons. Sint-Truiden is home to a 17th-century belfry and a historic béguinage, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Another significant city in Haspengouw is Tongeren, the oldest city in Belgium. Dating from Roman times, the star attraction in Tongeren is the superb Gallo-Roman Museum. Additionally, just like Sint-Truiden, Tongeren also has a belfry and béguinage, both part of the same two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Visitors are advised to base themselves in one of these cities or, alternatively, in one of the truly wonderful B&Bs in the region’s typical square farmhouses that dot the countryside. Again, make sure to rent a bicycle and go for a ride.