Cycling, walking and beer: Gordel Festival explores Flanders ‘belt’

Summary

This year’s edition of the annual late-summer festival features a cycling friendly, family activities and a tasting tour of local breweries

Nature in focus

De Gordel started in 1981 as a cycling event staged in the Flemish municipalities dotted around Brussels. The event was meant to raise awareness about the language situation faced by these municipalities, which had become home to a large number of French speakers, and defend them as Flemish territory.

The first edition of the 100-kilometre cycling tour in what the Flemish refer to as de rand – or belt – around Brussels, drew thousands of participants. Over the years, the event grew even bigger, reaching 112,000 cyclists at its peak in 1993, and becoming synonymous with the end of summer. 

But to many French speakers, the Gordel (which also means “belt”) was also synonymous with Flemish nationalism. Occasionally opponents of the event would show up to spread tacks around to burst bicycle tires or move signs to throw cyclists off the path.

In 2013, Gordel organisers changed their approach, largely abandoning the political angle and putting an emphasis on expanded activities and the natural areas surrounding Brussels. The politically charged Gordel became the more tourism-friendly Gordel Festival

This year, the festival has partnered with Cycling Vlaanderen and the Vlaamse Wielerschool (Flemish Cycling School) to turn the iconic 100km loop into an event featuring pace motorcycles, ambulances, pilot cars and more.

The route begins and ends at the cycling village in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw’s Coloma Park, with stops in Overijse and the Grimbergen Airfield. The race is non-competitive, with groups of 125 cyclists leaving the starting point every 20 minutes. Each participant is provided with snacks and drinks to ensure they have enough energy to complete the route. 

There are also cycling routes called Proef de streek (Taste the Region). Stretching 20, 40 and 60 kilometres, the routes include stops at bars and breweries serving local geuze and kriek. The absolute must-see is the iconic bar In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst (Insurance against a Great Thirst), voted Belgium’s best bar earlier this year.

Other activities include family-friendly and wheelchair-accessible walks and thematic and mountain bike tours that show off the picturesque scenery of the hilly Pajottenland and the Zenne river valley – dotted with castles, an old paper factory and a rose garden. 

In addition to the cycling village, there is a bigger festival site at Huizingen provincial park, with workshops and activities for all ages and a market featuring regional products. Both sites also host concerts by popular Flemish artists, including Stan Van Samang and Natalia.

3 September, 8.00-19.00, across Flemish Brabant

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