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Chances are you’ve never heard of this town, but despite its lack of fame, Geraardsbergen has a lot to offer such as historic sites, delicious pastries and wonderful places to go walking or hiking. Surrounded by the little forests and fields of the Flemish countryside, this city is an oasis of peace and quiet.
Surrounded by fields and forests, Geraardsbergen is a quiet town that’s ideal for people who like to take a walk or ride a bicycle through the Flemish countryside. Well-connected to Brussels by train, only 40 minutes away, Geraardsbergen is the perfect getaway from the busy capital.
The city is built on the hills of the so-called ‘Flemish Ardennes,’ resulting in many steep little streets that are charming to look at and which add a challenge to your walk through town. Being small in size, you can easily explore Geraardsbergen in less than a day, and still have time left to rest in an old café or try the local pastries called Mattentaarten.
It wouldn’t be Belgium if there wasn’t a local delicacy to assault your cholesterol level. Mattentaarten is a famous product of this little town. Soft and light on the inside, yet crispy on the outside, it’s not hard to see why this sweet and filling snack is well loved throughout the country.
The secret of mattentaarten, are the rich green fields that surround the city. The high-quality grass results in happy cows and high-quality fat milk, which the locals use to make these sweet, round cakes.
A very popular place in town to enjoy a mattentaart is Olavs Mattentaartenhuis. The founder is quite famous in Geraardsbergen. Though he no longer works in the little coffeehouse, the business is in the capable hands of his sons, who all share his obvious love for the city.
The main street is simply named Grotestraat, which literally translates to ‘Big Street’. It crosses the lower part of town, climbing up towards the main square. There, surrounded by many old cafés, is a sight that will remind you of Brussels. In front of the Neo-Gothic Town Hall is a statue of a little peeing boy. It’s unclear whether the Manneken Pis of Geraardsbergen is older than the one in Brussels, resulting in a friendly rivalry between both cities.
Before setting foot on the main square, you might leave the main road to discover a park. Located within that expanse of green are the Saint Adrian Abbey and the Coach House. Built in 1096, the Saint Adrian Abbey is surely a piece of history worth visiting. The nearby Coach House used to house coaches and stables, explaining the big double doors.
If you keep following the road upwards past the main square, there’s an abundance of architectural beauty and history to see. Passing the statue of a young elephant, for Belgians who died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a golden Jesus, the road will take you up towards a unique landmark.
The Muur, literally and quite ominously, translates to The Wall. It’s an incredibly steep road, paved with cobblestone and overshadowed by a surrounding forest. The Muur used to be a part of the Tour of Flanders, luring many cycling enthusiasts. The steep road might not longer be a part of the Tour, but it’s still a popular spot for cycling amateurs and professionals alike. You can either go up by bicycle or take an alternative route for pedestrians. Besides rewarding you with a breathtaking view on top, you can grab this opportunity to burn off the mattentaarten you enjoyed earlier.
Established in 1060, Geraardsbergen can easily be called one of the oldest cities in Belgium. It still has many historic festivities, such as the krakelingenworp. With its rich history and many traditional events, it’s amazing that there are so few tourists in the region, but ultimately, that adds to Geraardsbergen’s charm. There is so much to see, yet so few people to obscure your view, and you’re always within walking distance from Flanders’ knotty trees and lush fields.