A year or so ago, a friend (Thank you, Robin!) sent me an article with an extended list of beautiful places in Europe. Somewhere around 37 of 50, I came across the “Blue Forest” of Belgium. Despite all the time I’ve spent in Belgium and France, this was new to me. When David and I agreed to housesit again in Antwerp, I was thrilled to see that we might be in Belgium for the wild bluebell bloom that turns Hallerbos into the Blue Forest for a couple of weeks a year, usually in the last half of April.
I calendared when I should start monitoring bloom reports from the Hallerbos website and began religiously checking it at the allotted time. Spring started out so warm and sunny that I figured the bloom would surely arrive before our scheduled departure from Belgium on April 21, but a late cold spell slowed things down. Then, we had to dodge the crowds at Easter and fit in Keukenhof and avoid the rainy days that had begun to pop up randomly…but today was the day and we lucked into a fair bit of sunshine and a spectacular natural display of wildflowers!
Bloom time is entirely dependent on nature, of course. The flowers only bloom under Hallerbos’ deciduous trees before they’ve leafed out and shaded the ground, when sunshine can reach the soil to warm it. Cool weather slows things; warm weather pushes up the bloom time. White forest anemones precede the bluebells and they are beautiful, too.
No flowers bloom in the shade under the few groves of large pine trees scattered through the forest. Hallerbos forest management does a good job of posting updates on the seasonal changes in the forest with new videos appearing every 2-3 days as bluebell season approaches.
We drove to the forest and found ample convenient parking on this non-holiday Tuesday, exactly what we were hoping for. We were able to park in “Parking 8″ close to the start of the bluebell walk outlined on the Hallerbos website. We spent just under 2 hours hiking 3.5 miles, taking our time and taking way too many photos. There were other hikers, but no crowds and we had long stretches to ourselves to take in the beauty of the flowers and trees and birdsong.
The paths through the forest are gravel and dirt. Recent rains made it a little muddy in places, but not at all bad.
The paths could stand to be better marked. It’s not like you can get to lost, but several unmarked crossroads found us meeting up with other hikers pondering which way to turn as we peered at maps on phones. It was chilly, so layers were nice. Some paths are marked for horses and bikes as well.
Hallerbos simply means the forest of Halle, which is the name of the nearby town. It lies a short distance to the southwest of Brussels and just shy of an hour by car from Antwerp. Buses run to the forest on workdays and special shuttle buses run weekends and holidays when the flowers are in bloom; check the Hallerbos website for more information on those if you need to rely on public transportation. If coming by car, follow directions on the Hallerbos website and GPS. Parking is free and there’s no entrance fee to the park. In peak season, weekdays are best to enjoy the peace and beauty of the forest minus crowds. The wild bluebells at Hallerbos should be at their peak for at least the next week.
written April 18, 2017