IN a chain reaction to being cooped up indoors during lockdown, Britain has experienced a cycling boom with bike sales rocketing by 60 per cent in recent weeks.
But as Europe slowly reopens for tourism could the nation’s favourite new hobby influence our choice of holiday this summer?
The government’s “air bridge” list of 15 countries we can visit from the UK includes cycling haven Belgium — reached easily by Eurostar if planes still don’t appeal.
An hour from the capital city of Brussels you’ll find Limburg and 2,000km of car-free cycle trails.
But these aren’t your average cycle trails. In this stunning Belgian province — beautifully flat for cycling — you can hop on your bike and circle the top tiers of trees feeling like ET or zip through the middle of a huge glassy pond without getting wet.
The cycle path called Cycling Through Water is three metres wide, 1.5 metres deep and over 200 metres long.
It cuts through a body of water in a 550-hectare nature reserve in the beautiful De Wijers area near Bokrijk, part of a unique wetland of 1001 ponds.
It’s part optical illusion, part bike path — only your head can be seen gliding above the water level of a pond that’s home to kingfishers, surfacing fish and families of swans.
This unique path was built in 2016 and is a popular spot for tourists and locals wanting to take in fresh air and views of the breathtaking surrounding landscapes.
A botanical garden with one of Belgium’s largest plant collections, a children’s playground and an open-air museum with historical buildings can also be accessed from this path.
“Cyclists can connect with the splendid natural beauty of Limburg in a unique way.
"I love to watch the floating heads glide by over the surface of the water,” says chairman of Visit Limburg Igor Philtjens, who is the mastermind behind this cycle network.
Nowhere else can you cycle between rolling hills and vast sandy plains in the north all in one day and without leaving the tracks or getting off your bike.
The trail is so long it would reach from Belgium to the South of France and back again.
A second cycling experience called Cycling Through The Trees opened in June last year.
This is a 700-metre path that coils upwards from ground level and loops towards the canopy of towering pine trees until you are at the top cycling 10 metres high.
Igor says: “As you get higher you grow with the trees – like a climbing squirrel – and feel part of the forest. You can smell, hear and feel the forest.
"Cycling here always gives me a wonderful sense of peaceful freedom and it’s a great way to clear my head.”
Both experiences were designed to be built in harmony with the elements — water, air and earth (no fire!) — allowing cyclists to interact with the landscapes.
And both are watertight on safety. Wide paths and one-way systems create an easy flow of cyclists even on the busiest of days — making it the perfect post-pandemic escape.
Igor says: “After a long period of lockdown, people need open-air experiences and Limburg is the ideal place for making up lost quality time outdoors enjoying nature.”
Each trail is signposted, with cyclists able to map out their route beforehand or on the go and switch easily between paths.
There are 12 bike hire centres across Limburg and prices start at 10 euros a day and 25 for an electric bike.
Just north of Cycling Through The Trees in a peaceful country setting outside of town is Le Refuge B&B.
A quiet space to relax between rides, the large house boasts spacious rooms and well maintained grounds.
GETTING THERE: Trains from London to Limburg via Brussels are from £97.90 one way. See trainline.com.
STAYING THERE: One night’s B&B at Le Refuge B&B is from £48.50pp based on two sharing. See lerefugekiewit.be.
MORE INFO: See visitlimburg.be
So it turns out Britain was not alone in its bike boom. Limburg’s cycle routes remained open during lockdown and saw a 72 percent increase in cyclists during this time.
Two new experiences — Cycling Underground and Cycling Through Heathland — are currently under construction in the area and due to open in early 2021.
Igor says: “The large majority of our guests come from around Belgium, but of course everyone is more than welcome here in Limburg!”
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