Every year in April, tourists and locals alike flock to the Hallerbos in Belgium as if the forest can only be visited two weeks a year. Of course, that's not the case, but it is so that for only two weeks a year (give or take a day or two), the Hallerbos turns into a blue forest with grounds covered in bluebells.
Hallerbos: when to go
The best time to visit Hallerbos to catch the blue carpet is different every year and depends on the weather. The sooner the temperature rises, the sooner the flowers bloom. But it's a race against time as warmer weather also means that the trees get their leaves back, depriving the flowers of sunlight, which makes them turn greyish.
When the Hallerbos flowering season approaches, around the start of April, the website of the Hallerbos starts posting daily updates (during the week) about the condition of the bluebells. That way photographers and other visitors know whether it's still too early to go, or whether they should hurry up.
In general, the 10 days following when the bluebells start to bloom are the best to go. During this bluebells flowering time, the sun rays can still reach through the canopy and touch the blue carpet, creating a beautiful play of light and purple.
There are different walking paths spread throughout the Hallerbos and visitors are urged not to stray from them, so that the flowers are protected. People who want to film or organize a photoshoot during the blooming season need to ask permission to do so, but it's no problem if you just want to take your camera (and tripod) to get some shots of the flowers.
There are several free parking areas around the forest, and at every Hallerbos parking ground, there's an information sign indicating the walking routes through the Hallerbos, but if you want to follow the bluebells route, you need to download it from the website.
That route combines parts of the other walking routes to talk you along the places where most of the bluebells can be seen, but you can spot the flowers in other parts of the Hallerbos as well.
I parked at P1 and walked toward P8 where the bluebells walk started. I took a different route on the way there than on the way back and both times spotted quite a bit of bluebells. These photos were taken on in a part of the blue forest that didn't even include the bluebells route:
As you can see, there were plenty of bluebells to spot even off the route and so I took my time. I think I spent over an hour just walking from P1 to P8 photographing the bluebells along the way and diving into different paths.
I'll link to that map at the bottom of the post because it is really handy to have with you. I saved it on my phone and found it much easier to navigate using the map than depending on the info signs. I also saw a bunch of people who'd printed this map, or who'd gotten a walking map of the Hallerbos at the Tourism Office of Halle.
When to go to the Hallerbos
If you can, I suggest you visit the Hallerbos during the week and preferably not on a Wednesday afternoon (kids don't have school then). As the blooming period of the bluebells is so short, lots of people visit the blue forest during the same two weekends. That's not a huge deal if you just want to go to watch the flowers and walk, but it can be problematic if you want to get some bluebell photos without people in them.
I went on a Wednesday morning/noon and while there were already lots of cars when I arrived, it wasn't too busy in the Hallerbos. The blue forest is 552 ha big, so it's not as if everyone is walking in the same little area.
The best time of day to go is in the early morning so you can catch the sunrise through the trees, or in the evening when the sun goes down again. I actually visited at the worst time possible, as I arrived mid-morning and took most of my photos around noon when the light was the harshest.
The thing in Belgium is that you have to take into account traffic and when I drive to the Hallerbos, I need to go along the busiest piece of highway we have where there are traffic jams practically all day, so I knew that if I'd go early in the morning or in the evening, I'd be stuck in traffic for over two hours whereas the drive now “only” took me little over an hour.
The bluebells route
But back to the bluebells! I obviously also took some photos that I'd like to share with you.
Practical information on visiting the Hallerbos
Timing and routes
If you don't want to wander around aimlessly, down the maps on the Hallerbos website. Make sure to get the special map for the bluebells walk. And to find out if the bluebell season has started yet, check out this page.
The Hallerbos is the easiest to reach by car. If you want to get a paper map from the Tourism Office, enter “Vlasmarktdreef Halle” into your GPS system. If you use Google Maps, go to “Bosmuseum Halle”.
If you want to park at the same spot I did, take exit 20 “Huizingen/Dworp” on the E19 Brussel-Bergen, and go left if you're coming from Brussels, right if you're coming from the other direction. This is in the direction of Dworp.
Go straight until you see a Ford car garage on your right and turn right just after the garage. Follow the road until you reach a bridge (it's a few minutes). Right in front of the bridge, there will be a small arrow saying “P Hallerbos”, so turn left right in front of the bridge to get to the parking, which basically means parking your car alongside the road.
By public transportation
During the week
Take the train to Halle train station. From there, get on bus line 114, operated by TEC to halte “Vlasmarkt” on the Nijvelsesteenweg. From there you can walk to the entrance of the Hallerbos.
Facilities at the blue forest
There are some picnic tables at the Hallerbos, but that's about it, so make sure you go to the toilet somewhere before starting your walk (I so needed to pee at the end of mine) and bring some water and maybe some snacks as well. You'll have to keep your trash with you as there are no garbage bins. There's one bistro to the north of the forest, but there are no food and drink stands inside the Hallerbos
Visiting the Hallerbos is a bucket list item!
Tourism Flemish Brabant has put together a bucket list of fun and quirky things to do in the province as a local and visiting the Hallerbos is on it. Each item has information on where you can go to check it off and once you've done it, you can also literally check it off on the website and keep track of your score. And if you share your progress on Twitter or Facebook, you can win a weekend break.
Pretty cool, right?
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