Presentation of the destination
Houthalen is a small town in eastern Flanders in the Limburg Province, nearby the province’s trendy capital Hasselt. It is often referred to with its neighbouring town as Houthalen-Helchteren and is best known for its tranquil forest and holiday parks. Houthalen is a serene place to relax, and on days when you’re seeking excitement and culture, the nearby towns of Hasselt and Genk are only a few minutes’ drive away. Houthalen was once a mining town, but reinvented itself after the colliery closed with a renewable energy project that turns landfill into power. The town is surrounded by parkland, and nature reserves, so it is fitting that it also be a centre for clean energy. The Ten Haagdoornheide Nature Reserve on the town’s south is a recreational space to enjoy hiking in forests and grassy plains, and amidst grazing sheep! The picturesque Limburg Golf and Country Club nearby is a great place for a few holes amongst the trees and flowering heath. Stop in for a tasting at Ter Dolen Brewery, where the beers are brewed within an historic 16th century abbey. Head fifteen minutes south to Hasselt to discover Limburg’s historical buildings, art galleries, Japanese gardens, one museum of gin history and another of fashion. There is an endless variety of entertainment in Hasselt from luxury shopping, chocolatiers, hip cafes and al fresco dining, to theatre performances. Tastes of Limburg not to be missed include its cheese, thick cut potato fries and vlaai – a cream filled pie.
Points of interests / things to see
Just fifteen minutes’ drive from Houthalen, trendy Hasselt has it all – chocolatiers, museums and historic sites, art and culture, al fresco dining, hip bars and luxury boutiques – and it’s all easy to get around on the free public bus system. The city is planned in a circular shape, with most of its attractions quite central and a ring road surrounding the central city blocks. Much of it is car-free and perfect for pedestrians. Orient yourself and get a bird’s eye view of the lush greenery of Limburg on an hour long hot air balloon ride around sunrise or sunset. Horse and cart rides or boat trips along the canal are also fun ways to get to know the city! Discover Herkenrode Abbey, first constructed in the 12th Century, surrounded by aquaculture, an apiary and beautiful gardens to stroll through. Walk amongst the tranquil streams and cherry blossoms at the Japanese Garden, or discover the creative topiaries and crafts such as weaving and mosaicking at the Hasselt Nature & Culture Park. Trend-setters will love the Fashion Museum, which documents the history of fashion from the perspective of designers, photographers and artists. If you’re itching to try out some new fashions, head to the boutiques in the central blocks of the city. Don’t miss the gin tastings at the Jenever Museum, and check out the folklore and culture of Hasselt at the Het Stadsmus Museum.
Once a Roman city, Tongeren is Belgium’s oldest city, where part of the old Roman wall and aqueduct can still be seen. Medieval buildings, museums and antiques markets, are surrounded by the fruit-bearing trees of the Haspengouw region. Only a half hour drive from Houthalen, this historic area is well worth discovering! Your first stop should be the Gallo-Roman Museum, where you’ll gain an insight into the very early history of the area and see the 170,000 artefacts dug up in excavations, from pottery and jewellery to swords and even pieces of ornate architecture! Hire a bike to tour around the vast array of historic architecture. The 18th Century Town Hall, the 15th Century gothic-style Basilica which boasts a grand collection of religious art and sculpture, the 12th Century Romanesque Cloister, the protective medieval and Roman walls are all worth a visit. Discover an unusual part of religious history at the Beguinage, a cloister-style collection of buildings where Christian women who wanted to live an unadorned life lived, cared for the sick and worshipped. Unlike those who had taken orders, the Beguines were free to come and go as they chose, and did not lock themselves away from the world. At Tongeren’s 13th Century Beguinage and the Beghina Museum you can discover more about these fascinating women, which some say were early feminists!
Enjoy the juxtaposition of medieval history and vibrant café culture, industrial architecture and green nature parks, in this trendy city on the Albert Canal. Genk is a multicultural city, and the many nationalities and ethnicities of its residents add to the interesting diversity of restaurants, fashion boutiques, festivals and art culture. Take in the history of Genk’s coal industry as you sip coffee beneath the towers of an old mine shaft, or visit the C-Mine, once a mine, but now a hub for creativity, performance art, music and cinema. Explore C-Mine’s underground tunnels and shaft towers and learn about Genk’s mining heritage with interactive projections. Wander through the Molenvijver Park and see why this area so inspired visiting artists. See some of their work in the Museum Emile Van Doren. Don’t miss the picturesque historical buildings dotted around the city including the cloth mill on Stiemerbeek creek, a 19th Century painter’s cottages around Molenvijver Park, a Turkish Mosque, Ukranian Churches, and the neo-classical town hall. There are cultural events and festivals all throughout the year in Genk, from Carnival in February, spring festival on May 1st, Genk on Stage music festival in June, jumble-sale markets every weekend throughout July and August, and a winter village with markets around Christmas.
Enjoy Belgium’s gin history, and taste at this gin museum in the centre of Hasselt, just fifteen minutes’ drive from Houthalen. The distillery is located within a 19th Century farm building, where distillers create grain-based gins to a historic recipe, often with a juniper berry twist! The museum presents a working 19th Century combustion plant, which you can see in action as it works to produce traditional gin. Try the house-made gin in the tasting room, as well as about 150 other gins from all over Belgium. Over 25,000 items from Belgium’s gin making history are housed within the museum, from a steam engine and wooden grain mill to glass, stone and ceramic bottles and jars, and even early advertising posters and labels. Take a sniff test and try to work out the different ingredients used in flavouring gin. Tales from the time of prohibition, letters and papers from the distillers give this museum its historic credence. After your visit, take the guided walk through the town to see historic buildings involved in gin production. There is even a bronze fountain depicting a very merry man pouring gin from a barrel into a cup. During Hasselt’s Gin Festival held in October, real gin flows from the barrel! Note: The National Jenever Museum is closed to renew its exhibits and will reopen in autumn 2014.
Z33 is a hip gallery of up-to-the-minute art and design. It is housed within an historic Beguinage from the 16th Century and an architecturally designed gallery from the 1950s, purpose built to display modern art to its best advantage. Z33 remains cutting edge by housing only temporary exhibitions, rather than having a permanent collection, so there’s always something new to see. From painting and design to film, sculpture and performance art, Z33 has it all. Stop in for some art-house cinema, get an art education at a lecture or workshop, awaken your senses with interactive sound, light, and climbing installations and go on an exploration with the artists of what it means to be human in the world today. Get an understanding of where design and architecture is headed in the future, why nature matters in a technology-focussed world and the power of creativity when combined with science! Z33 is an invigorating invitation to reimagine the world through creative eyes, and will delight everyone’s inner artist, poet and philosopher! Not only is there art inside, there are also installations in the Beguinage gardens, and Z33 also organises public art displays throughout the city, so keep an eye out for art as you are exploring Hasselt. Z33 has free entry and is open Tuesday to Sunday.
Discover what life was life in Flanders in 1914 as you travel back in time at this open air museum. The museum showcases over a hundred historic buildings filled with thousands of everyday items, tools, art and craft, and textiles from the past. Re-enactors give you a sense of village life and the agricultural techniques practiced here over the centuries. Then visit (or re-visit) the swinging sixties, where you’ll be given a virtual identity with which to explore the interactive exhibits. Hire a bicycle at the museum for a ride around the lovely grounds or continue on the Limburg Cycle Route, which runs through it. You can even try your hand at fishing in the ponds here!
Discover the Hoge Kempen National Park at the Kattevennen Gateway in Genk, fifteen minutes’ drive east of Houthalen. Before you begin your discovery of Flanders’ largest national park, head to the Cosmodrome to learn about the night sky at a show in the planetarium theatre, and spot the stars through the huge telescope in the observatory. Take a hike or cycle through the pine forests and colourful heath, where deer frolic, frogs croak, and even the occasional wild boar can be seen. You can ask for a ranger-guided walk to gain more insight into the natural history of this beautiful landscape.
This brewer of popular Flemish beer is located within a 16th century abbey in Houthalen-Helchteren. Guided tours are taken through the brewery and abbey on weekends, and English language tours can be prearranged. In the cosy pub adjoining the old building you can taste blond, dark, triple and kriek, a Belgian beer brewed with sour-cherries. During the summer you can enjoy a beer outdoors in the orangery courtyard, or warm up by the fireplace in winter! The forests of the abbey grounds are a great place for a nature walk, and trail maps can be found in the pub.
This nature reserve is a tranquil place to enjoy a hike, or a cycle amongst the heather and woodland. It’s located right by the Henglehoef holiday park, a great place to stay if you’re looking to explore Houthalen’s natural surrounds. There is also an information centre here where you can get tips on where to walk. During the warmer months the heathlands are brilliant with purple hues, and dragonflies hover above the ponds. Keep an eye out for deer and woodpeckers, as well as the sheep who graze here, helping to keep down the grasses and weeds so the heather can thrive. In the winter the snowscape is beautiful, the bare trees forming
Vacation rentals in Houthalen-helchteren (Flanders)
How to get there ?
Fly in to Maastricht Airport in the neighbouring Netherlands, and hire a car from the airport for the half hour drive to Houthalen. The journey by bus takes you through the towns of Bilken, Diepenbeek and Hasselt and takes about 2.5 hours. There are also car hire facilities located in Hasselt. The Limburg region is easy to get around on bicycle as it is quite flat, and is crisscrossed with bike paths in the cities and towns, and long rural paths which are numbered for ease of navigation. Picturesque paths lead along the waterways and through the fruiting trees of the Haspengouw region. Many of the areas around Houthalen are navigable on foot in the city centres, and there are plenty of hiking paths and nature walks. The historic centre of Hasselt has a pedestrian only area perfect for discovering Limburg’s delights on foot. De Lijn runs busses throughout Limburg, including to and from Houthalen’s surrounding town and cities including Tongeren, Genk and Hasselt. You can get day pass or weekly pass tickets for all buses and trains run by De Lijn throughout Flanders, but the best ticket for your money if you’re planning on exploring the region is the Euregio Ticket. This daily ticket covers transport across Limburg, Maastricht in the Netherlands, and the Aachen region in Germany, and on weekends a family (2 adults, 3 children) can travel on the cost of one ticket.
Houthalen-helchteren city hall
Hotels in Houthalen-helchteren (Flanders)