Trail running is a wonderful way of letting go and letting off steam. Let's not beat about the bush, in Belgium we don't have mountains. But does that mean that trail running isn't possible in Belgium? There are even whispers that unofficial trail races lasting several days take place in our flat country, known for their difficulty due to the damp and mud.
Here are the top 6 places to go trail running in Belgium
Napoleon's nose at Robertville - 6 km
This forest trail is located in the province of Liège, in the Ardennes. It offers a fine combination of wooded trails, high views and riverside paths.
The walking route starts at the car park next to the Robertville dam and is marked with green rectangles. The undulating path takes you up to a rock formation known as the "Nez Napoléon". It offers exceptional views over the Warche valley. It climbs through shady woodland paths and descends to the river, ending at the spectacular Robertville lake.
Reinhardstein Castle (sometimes known as Metternich Castle) takes centre stage right from the start. It stands out against the trees.
The basic walk is 6 km long. However, you can extend it by continuing along the GR 56 trail through the Bayehon valley to the Signal de Botrange. This is the highest point in our flat country.
You can also leave the path briefly to see the country's highest waterfall, which plunges 60 m into the Warche valley, right next to the castle.
The Vertigo Trail at Rochehaut - 5 km
This trail is for experienced runners! Also known as the "ladder walk", its official name is Promenade 84 - this is the number to keep an eye on along the trail to make sure you're heading in the right direction. Walk 43 is an alternative route that you can also follow, with very similar characteristics.
The Ladder Walk starts from the town of Rochehaut in the province of Luxembourg, not far from the Franco-Belgian border. It is just over 5 km long, but takes around three hours to complete.
Some say it's the most spectacular hiking trail in Belgium, offering a breathtaking view of the Semois.
The reason you can get such extraordinary views in such a short time is due to a series of ladders that cause the path to gain and lose height rapidly. These ladders were built in the 1930s as a secret route to a war shelter. There are four in total, two going down and two going up.
The terrain is quite difficult and not for the faint-hearted. Good footwear is essential. The route starts at the top of the Rochehaut plateau (from the church), then descends to the Semois, then climbs back up and returns to Rochehaut.
Definitely one of the most beautiful trails in Belgium!
Trail on the Promonade Kordaal in Geraardsbergen - 6 km
In the south of East Flanders lies a superb hilly region known as Flemish Ardennes. This walk near the town of Geraardsbergen follows a circular route through idyllic local villages, perfect forests and picturesque castles.
The route is 6 km long and follows a fairly easy map. The walk begins in the centre of the picturesque village of Nokere, in Kruishoutem. The trail then enters the beautiful forest of the Kordaal nature reserve, interspersed with babbling brooks. It passes the Ruffo de Bonneval castle and Nokere castle.
Trail in the Zwin at Knokke - 12 km
Trail runners who love nature will certainly enjoy this hike. The Zwin nature reserve has been nicknamed "the international bird airport" for its incredible diversity of birds. It also boasts an astonishing diversity of fauna, flora and landscapes.
The walk is 12 km long and follows an easy loop that starts at the Zwin Visitor Centre. It is also marked out by hexagonal signs through polders, dunes, small wooded areas and marshes. You'll eventually come to the sea, where you can see the old dykes. This site has not only braved the elements but has also been the scene of many historic battles.
There are also a number of good viewpoints over the Zwin plain. On your walks, keep an eye out for white storks (one of the only places in Belgium where you can see them), herons, egrets, curlews, kestrels and hundreds of other birds. The combination of salt and fresh water means you can spot rare flora such as sea lavender and salt marsh samphire. Don't forget your binoculars!
Trail in the Soigne forest - 5/10/20 km
Well-known to the inhabitants of Brussels, the Soigne forest offers the perfect setting for a trail on the edge of the city. This wild area separates the capital from Flanders and is prime hiking territory for those wishing to escape the city for a while. Tons of well-maintained paths of varying lengths criss-cross this primeval forest, which is home to a variety of wildlife, including almost 40 different species of mammal. One exciting creature to look out for is the wild boar, rediscovered here in 2007! It's best to find your own way around, rather than planning hikes on a map in advance. You'll be running through beech and oak trees, and you won't be disappointed! There are several car parks dotted around the forest. Belgium has plenty of trails, even in its capital!
Trail in the Westhoek at De Panne - 10 km
Like the Zwin, the Westhoek is a nature reserve on the Belgian coast. It lies close to the French-Belgian border.
Covering an area of 450 hectares, it is the largest dune massif on the Belgian coast, making it a popular spot for trail running.
There is a 10km loop which starts at the De Nachtegaal ("the nightingale") visitor centre and then follows the hexagonal path signs through the Calmeyn forest, then the Krakeel dunes and finally in and around the Westhoek nature reserve.
Start trail running
These walks offer a first approach to trail running in Belgium.
If you want to discover trail running in the mountains in a supervised way, DiscoveRent is offering a three-day introduction to trail running in the Vosges, supervised by a professional in the discipline. It's a great way to get into trail running safely and at an appropriate pace. The expedition can be found at via this link.