Kempen

Escape the busy city life with this road trip through De Stille Kempen. This peaceful region in Belgium is known for its varied nature, beautiful landscapes and many abbeys which will undoubtedly provide you with the necessary rest. But, the Kempen will also boost your energy level with foam collars and pastries, lively cities and crazy water adventures. The route takes you along the pearls of the province of Antwerp, including the nature parks Kalmthoutse Heide and the Molse Meren. During the first part of the route, the border with the Netherlands is never far away, then we move more to the south and explore Turnhout, Mol, Herentals and finally, via the Lierse Polders, we end the trip in picturesque Lier.

Antwerpen

We start our road trip through the Kempen with a day of sightseeing in the capital of the province: Antwerp. You will undoubtedly not be bored in this vibrant city! Antwerp offers you a fun day full of fashion, shopping, gastronomy, culture and architecture. It is one of the largest cities in Belgium where you will go from one surprise onto the next. Antwerp has several districts, each with its own character. You can hardly miss the historical centre. There, you will find the legendary Steen, the Grote Markt, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Cathedral, the Rubens House and the only museum on the Unesco heritage list: Museum Plantin Moretus. On the left bank, you can enjoy panoramic views over the city, the port and the Scheldt. In the area around the Central Station - which is also worth a visit - you dive into the world: from chic to popular, from historic to contemporary. Next to the station is the Zoo and also the diamond district is nearby. Vintage and haute couture can be found in Sint-Andries. For many Antwerp residents, the Zuid is a major attraction. Be enchanted by the stately mansions, wide boulevards and beautiful squares. Finally, don't miss Zurenborg. It is not immediately the best known district, but perhaps the most beautiful one of the city. In this district, you can expect beautiful belle epoque grandeur.

 

Would you rather dive straight into the nature of the Kempen? Then feel free to skip this stop and start your road trip in Brasschaat.

Brasschaat

We continue our route to Brasschaat, the ‘Versailles of Antwerp'. In the municipality of Brasschaat, you will find many beautiful parks and valuable nature reserves. The municipality has no less than 2600 hectares of greenery, half of which is forest. Brasschaat also has a lot of cultural heritage. Thus, the park 'De Mik' was laid out in 1830 as an English landscape garden. This also includes the construction of the Torenpoort, an entrance gate with a drawbridge. Also take a stroll along the Castle of Brasschaat. It was built in the 19th century according to the French model and is indeed very reminiscent of Versailles. On Sundays, you can even have brunch there! Finally, there is also the Fort of Brasschaat, built just before the First World War. The fort is part of the defensive belt around Antwerp. Unique walks can be done on the military domain 'Klein Schietveld'. This 900-hectare contiguous piece of nature with wet heathland, fens, dry heathland, land dunes and sparse grasslands has been opened to the public. The next stop on our route is also a green oasis. No less than three-quarters of Kapellen's territory is green. In the forests and nature reserves, it is pleasant to cycle and walk. Villa-parks, exclusive country houses and castles underline the residential character of Kapellen.

Kalmthout and the Kalmthoutse Heide

An absolute must on our road trip through the Kempen is Kalmthout and the Kalmthoutse Heide. The Kalmthoutse Heide is one of the oldest and largest nature reserves in Flanders. The 'backyard of Antwerp' is a rare remnant of the once vast European heathland landscape. Put on your walking shoes and let yourself be surprised by the numerous rare animal and plant species that can be found in this Kempen gem. After a walking or cycling tour through the purple heathland, you can visit the world-famous Arboretum or draw your own comic strip in the Suske and Wiske Museum and dive into the world that Willy Vandersteen created. For even more greenery, you can drive further to Essen in the far north-west of the Kempen. Here you can relive Kempen village life. Via the countryside of Wuustwezel we drive further to Hoogstraten.

From Hoogstraten to Ravels

You see, on this route, the border with the Netherlands is never far away, and that also applies to this stop. Hoogstraten developed along the stately Vrijheid. This street, lined with lime trees, refers to the status of 'freedom'. This status was acquired by the market town of Hoogstraten during the Middle Ages. Nowadays, Hoogstraten is a pleasant town with a varied range of shops and restaurants. Be sure to pass by the Beguinage. Kempens Landschap de Wortel-Kolonie has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 2021. During the time of the United Netherlands 7 Colonies of Benevolence were founded, the Wortel-Kolonie being one of them. Poor families and vagrants could stay at the colony while they worked the wild moorland. Today, Wortel-Kolonie is a protected silence area where cyclists, hikers and horse riders can enjoy the unique landscape. You should definitely drive to Baarle-Hertog, as nowhere in the world are the country borders as capricious in their course as in Baarle. The border villages of Ravels, Weelde and Poppel are also worth a visit. Expect an oasis of peace and greenery. The biggest eye-catchers there are the imposing Gewestbos, beautiful mills and prehistoric burial mounds.

Turnhout & Dessel

Turnhout is a very nice city with numerous attractions such as the Marina or the Castle of the Dukes of Brabant. A day in Turnhout is certainly a nice change from nature. On the way to Dessel, we drive past the Provincial Park Prinsenpark, where you can stop for a picnic and a nice walk. Not far from there, you will also find the Hooibeekhoeve, one of the authentic farms where you can relive life in the Kempen in times gone by. Between Dessel and our next stop Mol are the Kempen or Mol lakes, where you can certainly spend a day. There is the Sas4 tower at the intersection of the three canals Bocholt-Herentals, Dessel-Schoten and Dessel-Kwaadmechelen. Since 2007, you can even climb the lookout tower: a magnificent view is guaranteed. The white beaches on the lakes were created when the canals were dug. The sand was dropped carelessly on the shore, but turned out to be quartz sand, sand of the highest quality! There are many walking and cycling routes around the various lakes. After Antwerp, it is undoubtedly one of the most important tourist attractions of the province of Antwerp.

Mol

Mol attracts many visitors each year, mainly to explore the Kempen lakes and their surroundings from there. Every summer, the Zilvermeer (Silver Lake) also attracts thousands of tourists who come to enjoy the sun and the wooded surroundings on the snow-white sand. Between Mol and the Dutch border lies woody Postel, where the Premonstratensians have inhabited the imposing Postel Abbey since the 12th century. They attach great importance to hospitality and have been practising forestry, agriculture and cattle breeding for centuries. The 'white farmers' - so called because of their white robes - are self-supporting, brew beer and make cheese. No matter how busy it may be in the abbey, you will be overwhelmed by a remarkable peace. The surroundings are also beautiful for walking or cycling.

Geel & Herentals

The city of Geel is also known as the 'Barmhartige Stede' (Merciful city) because it is known worldwide for its care and unique way of caring for the mentally ill. Besides their good care, Geel is also known as a lively, rural town. The biscuit of the city: the Geels hartje, a delicious biscuit that gives every walk or bike ride an extra energy boost. In the centre, you will find the well-known Sint-Dimpakerk where the bones of the town's patron saint are kept. For culture, there is the sculpture garden of Art Center Hugo Voeten, a unique art collection. For nature, the Grote Nete is the place to be; the river meanders languidly between the fields in nature reserve Malesbroek. By the way, did you know that you can find impressive sand dunes there. They alternate with coniferous forests, heathland and the rough stream valley with reed beds and swamp forests. It will not surprise you that this place is not only an attraction for numerous bird species.

 

From Geel we drive on to Herentals, the 'historical capital of the Kempen'. The city owes this title to its rich past and beautiful historical monuments. It's also the right place for outdoor activities: explore the dunes of the Kempense Heuvelrug and the babbling Kleine Nete.

Tongerlo & Westerlo

Westerlo is rightly described as the Pearl of the Kempen. In Tongerlo Abbey, the Norbertines still live, pray and work. It is an impressive site, which you walk into along the centuries-old lime tree lane. Within the abbey walls, you will find blissful peace and... the most faithful replica of 'The Last Supper' by Leonardo da Vinci. The original work hangs in Milan, but in 1545 an abbot bought a duplicate to decorate the abbey church of Tongerlo. The canvas was attributed to one of da Vinci's pupils. It is not excluded that the master himself also worked on it. Nearby is the Beddermolen that was once connected to the abbey. Today, the mill still turns when there is enough wind. As in the rest of De Kempen, wooded nature is not far away. Impossible to forget are also the castles of the de Merode family. Not far from the castles are the Beeltjens and Kwarekken nature reserves. The Beeltjens are also called the backyard of Westerlo where you can fully enjoy nature. When in Tongerlo... although the Tongerlo abbey beer has not been brewed in the abbey since 1990, it is well worth sampling.

Lier

We conclude our road trip through De Kempen in the small and picturesque town of Lier. But, there is certainly plenty to do! In Lier you can seamlessly combine cultural history, museums and a nice bike ride on the polder dikes. Walk past the monumental bluestone gate of the protected beguinage and let yourself be inspired by the city, just like writer-painter Felix Timmermans. Timmermans created the lively main character Pallieter, who is also the nickname of the people of Lier. On the Grote Markt, you cannot miss the gothic belfry and the town hall. By the way, did you know that a corner of the town hall - the former cloth hall - serves as the needle of a sundial? When this meridian line coincides with the division between light and dark, the sun is at its highest. Take a walk to the Zimmer Tower. The original tower dates from the 13th century and was then called Cornelius Tower. The Zimmer Tower was part of the defensive belt around the city. Since 1930, it has also housed the Jubilee Bell and the Astronomical Studio. Lier does not have any suburban areas, but there are three winding Netes along which you can walk or cycle for hours. Explore the Lierse Polder or take a stroll on the City Fortress. In short, Lier is the ideal end to this road trip through the Kempen.

As you can see, the Netherlands are never far away on this route. You can easily extend your holiday with a road trip through Dutch Limburg, but also a road trip through Belgian Limburg can be perfectly combined.