Throwback Travel || Cycling The Belgian Coast

This post has been sat in my drafts for about a year, which is just a testament to how fast time is moving. I was saving it for my A to Z of Belgium series, but since our Belgian travels have been stuck on holdI’m going to share it now. Plus, what better way to get back into the swing of blogging than by sharing one of my favourite trips from last year.

During our pre-bicycle days we, rather optimistically, decided we wanted to walk the Belgian coast. Those were dark times. Still, we were sure it would be possible, at about 70km from the town nearest the French border (De Panne) and the town nearest The Netherlands border (Knokke), walking seemed feasible over a long weekend. A very long weekend.

Well, we just didn’t get around to doing that. It might have had something to do with the thought of walking 70km or more and all the blisters that would result from that, but who knows.

Then the bikes entered our lives and we upgraded our plans from walking the coast to cycling it. Somehow going the same distance by bike seemed far less daunting. That and by the time we decided to do it, we were a little fitter and knew that we could cycle that kind of distance.

So on the last weekend in the summer of ’16, we packed up our panniers – new, fancy, travel ones, not those €10-lets-all-the-rain-in-and-pulls-randomly-to-the-side ones that we used for that shin destroying cycle to the Ardennes – and off to the beach we went.

Life As Unusuals | Lifestyle and travel blog. A to Z of Belgium cycling the kustroute or coastal route, cycling the belgian coast Life As Unusuals | Lifestyle and travel blog. A to Z of Belgium cycling the kustroute or coastal route, cycling the belgian coast Life As Unusuals | Lifestyle and travel blog. A to Z of Belgium cycling the kustroute or coastal route, cycling the belgian coast Life As Unusuals | Lifestyle and travel blog. A to Z of Belgium cycling the kustroute or coastal route, cycling the belgian coast Life As Unusuals | Lifestyle and travel blog. A to Z of Belgium cycling the kustroute or coastal route, cycling the belgian coast Life As Unusuals | Lifestyle and travel blog. A to Z of Belgium cycling the kustroute or coastal route, cycling the belgian coastLife As Unusuals | Lifestyle and travel blog. A to Z of Belgium cycling the kustroute or coastal route, cycling the belgian coast Life As Unusuals | Lifestyle and travel blog. A to Z of Belgium cycling the kustroute or coastal route, cycling the belgian coast
{Side-nerd: so I’m thinking that bird in the centre is a Great black-backed gull, what do you think?}

Originally we were going to follow the cycle-node network that we usually use, but we saw a sign for the “kustroute” and decided we’d follow that instead. Now, if there’s one thing Belgium does well, it’s cycle paths and cycle routes. Sometimes the signs are hidden in the bush, or on the other side of the road, or just not there, but most of the time, it’s pretty easy to pick your path and follow it. If I’m giving gold stars for something, that’s going to be it.

The recycling service on the other hand: no gold star for you. Or the town hall. Or Sunday bus services…

We started our trip in De Panne. We took the train from Leuven to De Panne with the bikes (easy-peasy and relatively cheap, €12.50 and €10.50 each with the bikes), from there we found the route and off we went. Our plan was a two-day trip, cycling most of the coast on the Saturday, camping somewhere for the night and then finishing the route and going to visit the newly-refurbished nature reserve, Het Zwin, on the Sunday.

We had a nice relaxing lunch on the beach. We bird-spotted. We almost ran over a few dogs/children/old people/other cyclists, you name it, it was on the cycle path and we had to ding it. But it was a really good ride. The majority of the route is flat since it’s the coast – that and Belgium is notoriously flat to being with – , it takes you past the sea, inland a little to the sand dunes and then through some coastal towns (a few that I’d like to return to see properly at some point) and it even takes you on two ferries.

We thought Google was joking about the whole “at this point, you must take a boat”. Apparently not. At Ostend and Zeebrugge, you get ferried across the port by a small passenger boat. And it’s free! What a win.

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We decided to call it a day at around 60km and picked a campsite just south of Blankenberge. A bargain €9.50 for the night, I was happy to pay that.

And my gosh did it rain that night! Torrential rain! And so much wind! Luckily our body weight held the tent down and we were so tired from cycling that we slept through most of the noise. The rain did let up in the morning, the wind? not so much. Have you ever tried to put a tent away in gale force winds? It’s not so easy, the dude across the field from us can attest after his took off from the ground whilst he still had hold of the corner.

We played it smart – and smug – by not taking the tent pegs out all at once and doing it bit by bit as we rolled it up (#smugcamping).

After packing up the tent, we continued on the coast route all the way up to Het Zwin on The Netherland’s border, to feast our eyes upon birds, birds and more birds. But that’s for another blog post!

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That first photo up there, the one with all the black birds, I’m sure that was an entire beach of cormorants! I was hoping once we got over the port we’d be able to see them better, but the cycle route took us behind all the buildings instead. Shame, I would have loved a closer photo of them all.

That’s it for this adventure! And damn, I want to do this trip again. Soon. What do you think? Can I interest you in excessively long cycle rides and a little bit of sun burn? It’s good fun! Trust me. 

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Belgium || It’s A Long Walk To The Beach at Knokke

 

Every year we take a trip to the beach and despite this summer being a little too busy, a free weekend finally arrived last month. Each year we pick a different beach and this year we decided to head to Knokke on the Belgian coast. Knokke, the only word I know, that begins with “Kn” to actually pronounce the “K”. Mildly problematic for my poor English brain. As well as the beach, we also decided to visit the nature reserve up that way too.

The train took around two hours to get there and then we took the bus up to the nature reserve, The Zwin. The Zwin sits right on the border between Belgium and The Netherlands. There is even a bicycle route that goes along the side of it to take you between the two countries, which I thought was pretty awesome and oddly busy considering we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

In our minds, the plan was to go for a hike around the park and the sit down for a picnic. We knew the tourist information centre was closed for renovations but we weren’t looking for any information so that was no bother. Turns out, the nature reserve is entirely enclosed by a fence and access to it is through the information centre.

Plan B. Let’s just walk to the beach then.

Knokke Lifestyle Travel Blog Belgium Belgian Coast Beach Dunes Europe Pelican

Knokke Lifestyle Travel Blog Belgium Belgian Coast Beach Dunes Europe Het Zwin

Knokke Lifestyle Travel Blog Belgium Belgian Coast Beach Dunes Europe

Oh the sweating… and teeny tiny bugs in my face!

It was a long walk! Very scenic with beautiful weather, but very long. In the end, it must have taken around an hour of solid walking and then we had some stops along the way to eat our picnic. It was nice to just stop and watch the wildlife even if we had to bundle ourselves into the bushes to get the tiniest piece of shade.

Eventually, we made it to the beach! We climbed over the sand dunes and the view was perfect. We were nowhere near to Knokke so there was no sign of hotels or holiday makers. Just us, the beach and about five other people. Perfect.

Knokke Lifestyle Travel Blog Belgium Belgian Coast Beach Dunes Europe

Knokke Lifestyle Travel Blog Belgium Belgian Coast Beach Dunes Europe

Knokke Lifestyle Travel Blog Belgium Belgian Coast Beach Dunes Europe

Knokke Lifestyle Travel Blog Belgium Belgian Coast Beach Dunes Europe

We sat on the rocks and finished our picnic. The water was so clear and even a tiny bit warm. Or my feet were just that hot and didn’t notice the cold! There was no sign of clouds and just enough sea breeze to keep us cool in the +30 degree heat.
To end the day, we walked, shoes in hand, down the beach and on to the station. Only took us 2 hours to get there! I guess we deserve that for being in the middle of nowhere. After about an hour we’d reached the outskirts of Knokke. We decided to head out of the sun and into the town for a more direct route to the statin and a little bit a shade. Sort of.

Knokke Lifestyle Travel Blog Belgium Belgian Coast Beach Dunes Europe

If we weren’t so hot and tired I would have spent more time taking photos of the town. It was really beautiful and quite picturesque. Oh how the other half live! I would quite like to practice taking photos of buildings and houses, I’ve yet to work out how to make them as lovely in a photo as they do in real life.

So that’s another summer, another beach. I think this is probably my favourite beach we have been to. Next time though, I think we’ll head to the French border.
I did discover that, according to Google, you can walk the entire Belgian coast in 12hrs. I’m thinking a little camping adventure might be in order now!

But tell me, have you been to the beach this summer? Where did you go? 

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