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Wild and wet: Where to find the best natural swimming spots in Belgium
The adrenalin rush of immersing your body in cold water can be addictive. If you live near the coast you can take the plunge all year round - apparently you can acclimatise your body by swimming at least once a week in cold or even freezing water. But for most of us, it’s a rare summer treat. Many of the rivers in Wallonia, such as the Semois, Lesse or Ourthe, are accessible for an illicit bathe, but for family-fit places, here are some of Belgium’s best lakes and ponds to take a dip.
Somewhere between a pool and a pond, Boekenberg Park has been called the world’s most ecological swimming pool. Once truly a pond, the small body of water found just outside Antwerp in Deurne is today a natural, chemical-free pool. The water is a pleasant green, reflecting the trees of the surrounding park. It’s a nice place to swim that is easily accessible by public transport from Antwerp. Entrance is free, but at busy times swimming is limited to 15 minutes.
Lakes of Eau d’Heure
For those looking for a proper day - or weekend - in the countryside, the Lakes of Eau d’Heure are a beautiful place to dip your toes in the water. This system of five artificial lakes near the French border lies an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Brussels between Charleroi and Chimay. In addition to all kinds of water sports, including sailing and windsurfing, the lakes also boast over 100km of walking trails, cycling paths and many other activities. Accommodation possibilities include a holiday village and lakeside home rentals.
De Ster calls itself an oasis of green outside the town of Sint-Niklaas. A large lake has been made into a water recreation site, including a 400m swimming zone. One of the best things about De Ster is the cleanliness of the water. It’s regularly tested for safety and is clear enough that you can see the bottom even in some deeper parts - a rarity in small lake swimming.
Just beyond Ghent’s historic centre you’ll find the Blaarmeersen. It’s not exactly an untouched piece of pristine nature, with its four giant waterslides and crowds of picnicking families, yet it’s still a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. The swimming section has a small sandy beach and large grassy area to roll out a towel and sunbathe. There are also pedal boats to rent as well as camping sites for those who want to stay a while.
Domein ter Heide
A popular spot in summer is the Domein ter Heide in Rotselaar, near Leuven. The artificial lake was created in 1975 following sand dredging to build the E314. Other recreation options include sports and walking. Swimming is only permitted when the green flag is flying. Open from May until mid-September.
Robertville-les-Bains, to give it its full title, is an artificial lake near Malmedy in the eastern cantons. Set in a beautiful region near the Haute Fagnes nature reserve, the lake dates from the 1920s when a dam was built to control water flow and prevent flooding. For swimmers there is a grassy bank, sandy beach area, diving board and aquatic trampoline. Open weekends and public holidays in May, June and September; daily July and August. Tired of swimming? Consider renting a canoe or a kayak. Best visited by car.
Grand Large, Mons
For the first time in many years, swimming will be authorised at the city’s lake this summer. Up to now bathing has been forbidden due to the danger of passing boats and barges. Extensive facilities at the site include a marina, renovated club house and indoor and outdoor pools. Alternatively, one of the best places for freshwater swimming in Hainaut province is Godarville lake at Chapelle-lez-Herlaimont, between Charleroi and La Louvière. Part of the Claire-Fontaines domain and relaxation centre, it offers a range of water sports and is a paradisiacal spot when the sun shines. Both sites are accessible by public transport.
Bloso Domein Hofstade
Forty minutes’ drive from Brussels, next to Mechelen’s Planckendael Zoo, the 172-hectare Bloso Domein Hofstade nature reserve offers a wide, sandy beach on a tree-lined lake. Lifeguards are on duty along the 650m stretch of sand, which links to hiking and biking trails. Bloso is most easily reached by car, as public transport would take a good hour and a half.
This article first appeared in The Bulletin Best of Belgium 2016