Did you know I used to live in Limburg ? Some deviations of my parents brought the remains of the family De Pauw to Helchteren and Zolder. Four years later I graduated cum laude on the examination of Limburg accents without any problems.
However, the same little family from the big city of Antwerp had experienced a pretty rough time. Due to twists of fate and capricious heart beats, we were relieved to move back and we still keep on lingering nowadays on some annoying memories of our Limburg era. So, everything with a touch of Limburg will be put in the background when making plans for the weekend. So, Maasmechelen has to put her best foot forward for my weekend getaway.
Because yes, the most recent offspring of this Antwerp family decided three years ago to become a world traveller. You do not always have to show people faraway or tropical pictures to encourage them to go exploring. A weekend getaway in Flanders somewhere nearby is also a bit of travelling. The sea is beautiful, the nature in Maaseik had already pleasantly surprised me, so why not try a weekend of Maasmechelen ? About time to visit the famous Limburg world citizens for a weekend to relax.
So, Maasmechelen it is. Ah, you are going on a shopping spree ? No, I have specifically asked Visit Maasmechelen to send me into nature with its beautiful heath areas, lush woods and lively lakes.
Weekend of Maasmechelen:
Connecterra, gateway to nature and a terrific starting point for beautiful hikes in the National Parc of Hoge Kempen
Of course, I wandered by accident into Maasmechelen Village , but no panic, I turned left and before I realized, I was at the edge of the National Parc of Hoge Kempen: Connecterra. You read it well by the way, a national park. You do not have to fly to the other side of the ocean for that, we have got it also in Belgium. The natural reserve extends over and exceeds 5700 hectares, covering Dilsen-Stokkem, Maasmechelen, Zutendaal, Lanaken, Genk and As and is for this reason one of the big boys. Did you know this is the only national park of Belgium?
Connecterra: the most beautiful panoramic view of Flanders
The name of Connecterra is not a playful and imaginative name, but means literally gate to the earth. You pass underneath a huge wooden construction to enter the park. The gatekeeper will ask in a ging-gang-gooly-gooly style a few symbolic euros to cross to the other side : gentle hills, grassgreen heath meadows and kilometres of hiking fun.
On the way you will pass the abandoned mineshafts of Eisden, you will climb the slag heaps (hills shaped by stone debris out of the mines), you will pass Ecotron, a high-tech research laboratory, almost a lookalike from Stranger Things, and if you keep on climbing you will end up at the most beautiful scenic view in Flanders: overlooking the meandering Meuse and views reaching Liège, Germany and the Netherlands. Yes, hello, and you wanted to go shopping ?
Visiting the Vesuvius of Limburg with a ranger during a guided nature walk
When our guide – with her very applicable name Lieve Weetjens – showed us from the top of the mine tower a hill defining it as the Vesuvius of Limburg, we most certainly did not believe it. But a quick Google search proved us wrong. This reddish slag heap also blows out sometimes her smoke clouds into the air. Her belly filled with stones is on fire because of a chemical reaction inside. This hill is not accessible to the public, except for twice a year, if you dare. If you want to climb it, anyway, contact then Lieve Weetjes and her rangers.
Hiking in the Mechelse Heide (Mechelen Heath Area), Maasmechelen
It is not only unique, but also other nature areas in and around Maasmechelen are exceptional gems, for instance the Mechelse Heide (Mechelen Heath Area), moulded and shaped by her mine past, but then reinstated during the last years. The storks bill, the bell heather, the all-consuming American oak. So go with a ranger and treat yourself to a magnificent biological adventure. It feels like the old days, on class field trips with the biology teacher, when I stayed behind the rest and kept on shouting how boring it was, but secretly I used to listen to the interesting trivia.
Walking alongside the Meuse & hugging wild horses and fluffy cattle
Sam Gooris has known it for a long time, it is called ambiance, ambiance, ambiance is in Leut. Perhaps not like gas in As or a fresh pint of beer in Lint, but wild animals! And they are not even very hidden. You can enter their territory alongside the Meuse river banks, while you forage around ponds and heath bushes. And even before you know it, they show up right in front of you : a herd of wild horses and cattle, grazing quietly until they notice you and stare curiously at you.
If you are lucky, you will also see the Galloway cattle grazing quietly the Meuse area. They look a lot tougher than they are, but do not be fooled by their fluffy curls. You can make a selfie with them, but I would not risk to ride on their back. They might just make a steak out of your juicy walking calves.
When our guide showed us from the top of the mine tower a hill defining him as the Vesuvius of Limburg, we most certainly did not believe it.
The past glory of the mines in Maasmechelen
You cannot ignore our grey history of miners and shaft complexes in Maasmechelen. In this way, the mine shaft of Eisden rises above the foliage and draws the skyline of this village in Limburg. The garden borough of Eisden built to accommodate miners is most definitely worth a visit. Suddenly, you think you are in another world, of British avenues, so unlike the little miner houses in the movie Daens, but rather charming little villas with beautiful gardens and perfectly trimmed bushes. The houses are still packed two by two resulting in playful situations if one house is already renovated while as the other is not.
The borough gives us a great view of our interesting mine past. Everything breathes the miner and his well-being. Wellbeing with a tail, for instance the roads were broadened so the police could patrol and nip revolts in the bud. But a real pool complex was built as well as an impressive cathedral-like church and also the famous soccer team Patro Eisden originated here. Soccer, to see to it that the miner crawling daily for hours in the dust, would still get enough oxygen and exercise.
Visit the mines in Limburg
Did you come with a group of friends to Maasmechelen ? Well, you have to book a visit to the museum of the miners house. I tend to think fast, museums, nonsense, but this is pleasant. An old codger from the cité filled with lots of stories and memories from the thriving miners era. He tells straight from the heart some spicy anecdotes and jolly stories, but also the plain truth and sadness. The museum in its turn is filled with typical objects of that time : embroidered sheets in all possible languages, coal stoves, Sunkist soaps and even some fleshy rabbis right next to the well-kept herb garden, as it used to be at that time.
What to do in Maasmechelen? Tips for a nice weekend getaway.
Hiking in Connecterra
Staring for hours to the nicest scenic view of Flanders. Try certainly to experience a sunset or sunrise
Learning about the effect of global warming on our nature and flora in Ecotron
Eating Topburgers at Ellis Gourmet Burgers
Wandering over the Maasmechelen heath
Cycling through the borough of Eisden while passing cathedrals, soccer fields and miners houses
Go on exploration with a Meuse ranger and listen to stories about trees, plants and impetuous princesses
Spotting wild horses, this is also possible on other spots near the Meuse.
Closing the day with – what else – pizza at Giuliano
Staying overnight in one of the many charming B&Bs. We stayed at B&B Vuchterhof.
To assist and experience a match of Patro Eisden
Going to a movie or shopping in Maasmechelen Village
Visit the market on a Saturday
Reading Niels blog about his adventure in Connecterra
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