The Tour of Flanders by bike – Part 1

Aurélie and I left for Flanders (Belgium) last October on a bike scouting trip for our new production. At Le Vélo voyageur, we’ve been thinking about the tour of Flanders by bike for some time now, so we left France to Belgium. This is the log of our journey…

Day 1

It’s 10 in the morning when we arrive fully packed at the train station of Montpellier. We have packed all of our lives in two bicycle bags and feel a bit like mules. To travel to Europe’s capital, we have decided to take the TGV. It’s as fast as a plane (all connections and waiting times considered) and you travel from one city center to another.

The commute in Paris is obviously hectic, but from Paris to Brussels it’s less than 1,5 hours by train and at a quarter past 5, we disembark in the heart of Brussels, walk to the hotel and have our first encounter with a true resident from Brussels : Manneken Pis. Being in Belgium also means we taste our first Belgian beer and we have a typical dish : meatballs in Liège sauce. A real treat !

 Manneken Pis, Brussels
Manneken Pis, Brussels

Day 2

We need to get up early, as we have a meeting with a local partner for the bicycle rental. Aurélie has chosen an E-bike for the next 10 days, I picked the travel bike, without any assistance. We want to test both types to discover the Flanders by bike. Leaving the city center on a bicycle sounded tempting, but we discover that Brussels has become a true cycling destination. Cycling lanes everywhere ! Our first stop is the world famous Atomium, built for the World Expo of 1958.

Then, we discover the so-called “cycling streets” : streets in which cyclists have absolute priority over cars. A car cannot take you over, even if there is enough space to do so. They must stay behind and are not allowed to annoy you in any way. Why hasn’t every country in the world installed this?

Then, the scenery changes drastically when we leave the agglomeration. We’re cycling along canals and on the countryside, always on secure cycling lanes until we reach Mechelen (Malines). This would normally be the first stop, but as hardcore bicycle travelers we have decided to add the itinerary to Leuven (Louvain) and we continue along the canal on amazingly comfortable and wide bicycle paths. Six cyclists could cycle side by side. It’s the end of the school day and we see hundreds of kids getting home on their steel steeds.

Finally, we arrive in Leuven after only 86 km, mostly flat, and generally fantastic bicycle paths. In Leuven we must taste the local speciality : Stella Artois, brewed in Leuven in one of the biggest breweries worldwide. We find out that you can visit the brewery (and have a tasting session!) every weekend. 

Leuven Town Hall
Leuven Town Hall

Day 3

Today, we’re cycling back from Leuven to Brussels. Most people don’t know this, but Brussels has been built on 7 hills. That means when you leave Brussels, it’s downhill, when you go back however… 

Leaving Leuven is – again – a real treat for a cyclist. Wide and comfortable cycling lanes, and we even discover another cycling invention : the “bicycle highway”. Wide cycling lanes with hardly any intersections or interference with motorized traffic, where commuters are allowed to cycle on their high speed E-bikes (speed-pedelecs, up to 45 km/h). 

After a short while, we reach the Zoniënwoud (Sonian forest), one of Flanders oldest forests with trees up to 300 years old. Cycling in the Zoniënwoud is fantastic. We have picked the best day : the weather is smashing and we cruise on small roads, over cobblestones and even a few short gravel sections. It’s not for the faint-hearted when you are traveling at high speed over a single track dirt road, but my traveler bike (derived from a gravel bike) was built for this work and I behave like a small child in a candy shop : thrilled !

Flanders by bike, Sonian forest
Zoniënwoud (Sonian forest)

Getting into Brussel on a bicycle. It sounds like the title of a B-rated horror movie. In reality we discover that one of the huge boulevards has been turned into a pedestrian and cycling zone. The last few kilometers, we are cycling in the middle of a 4 lane road, joined by hundreds of others. Without any effort, we reach our hotel.

With 53 km on the counter, we still have some time to visit the city center and end up in exactly the same restaurant as the first night, where we eat gratinated “chicons” and “moules marinières”. We have been able to track an amazing short cycling holiday in and around Brussels and we feel very chuffed. So far we’re having a blast discover the Flanders by bike!

To be continued…

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