The Marshes of Turnhout
Last week, I spent a few days in Belgium and cycled to the Turnhouts Vennengebied. The name Turnhouts Vennengebied loosely translates into the Marshes of Turnhout. The incredibly diverse natural area consists of fens, heathland, grassland, (agricultural) meadows, marshes, and forest. The grassy fields are characterised by large pools of shallow water, which form natural habitats for an abundant number of species. The heathlands are particularly beautiful in late summer, when the heath blooms and the fields turn purple.
The Campine: Roman Empire History
The Turnhouts Vennengebied is situated in the European Campine region. I visited the Dutch Kampina portion of the area last year. The region used to be populated by the Eburones, a northern European people that lived in the southern potion of the Netherlands, eastern Belgium, and the German Rhineland (part of Gaul). When Julius Caesar conquered the region, the Campine was called Toxandria. The Germanic Eborones were mercilessly defeated by the Romans and the Toxandri people settled in the area instead. Prince of Eborunes Ambiorix became a legendary figure for leading the (unsuccesful) rebellion against Julian Caesar.
360° Panorama Tower
The Turnhouts Vennengebied is a wonderful hiking area, but cycling is also a great option. I cycled along the Bels Lijntje (Little Belgian Line), an old railroad from 1867 that connected Belgium to the Netherlands. The railway closed in 1973, the rails were removed in 1986, and the tracks have since been replaced by a bike path. Along the Bels Lijntje also stands a tall observation tower. The tower was built in 2009 and offers an amazing 360° panorama of the Marshes of Turnhout.
Local Hotspot: Farmer Ice Cream
The Dombergstraat near Turnhout is a countryside road that is connected to the Bels Lijntje. This is where you’ll find a hidden ice cream hotspot that you definitely won’t want to miss: Holstein Farm. It was one of my best ice cream experiences ever, and that’s saying something. This ice cream hotspot is a pimped out caravan to the side of a farm. The dairy farmers own the meadow and cows next to the ice cream shop. I devoured that curvy beauty while sitting next to the cows who supplied the necessary milk to make it. Talk about local! The pink scoop was made from local berries. The flavour’s name “Lobelia” refers to a rare flower that grows in the Turnhouts Vennengebied.
The natural region is one of the most diverse biotopes of its kind in Europe, but also very delicate. That’s why the Turnhous Vennengebied is also part of the LIFE Project by the EU. LIFE is an organisation that financially supports environmental and conversation efforts throughout the EU. You can find out more about the LIFE Programme on this website. The Marshes of Turnhout belong to the Natura 2000 network of protected places, which includes more than 18% of the EU’s land area and nearly 6% of its marine territory.