Despite its name, the 5,700 hectares of terrain that make up the Hoge Kempen (‘High’ Kempen) is mostly flat, with ample pine forests and large lakes, making for stunning panoramic views from the few hilltops that are present. Once a large swath of coal mining land, the artificial national park is now the largest forested area in Flanders. Over 200 kilometers (124.2 miles) of walking paths have been laid out for hikers, and the scenery differs drastically depending on which one of the six gateways you choose to enter. Opt for the Mechelse Heide to surround yourself with purple heathers at dawn or the Kattevennen to explore nature on a mountain bike, horseback, or even on a pony.
Hoge Kempen, Maasmechelen, Belgium, +32 89 65 56 65
Whenever at the Belgian seaside, ‘t Zwin is an essential stop for not only the nature lover but also the bird-watcher. Before these marshy plains received their status as an international bird airport – thousands of migratory birds use it as a rest stop before heading off or returning from warmer African pastures – the inland waterway they formed turned Bruges into medieval Europe’s wealthiest port city. Its eventual silting also led to the town being cut off from the ocean, but valuable mudflats and salt marshes remained to create a unique biotope. In 1952, the Zwin became Flanders’ first nature reserve, and today, its white stork families, dune-crossing cycling tours, and its sensational barefoot walks are nationally beloved.
The Zwin, Knokke-Heist, Belgium, +32 50 60 70 86