The Kalmthoutse Heide is a park extending over the towns of Kalmthout and Essen in the province of Antwerp, Belgium next to the border with the Netherlands. The park doesn’t just stop at the border, but it does get another name there: De Zoom. Together the parks are known as the Cross-border Park De Zoom-Kalmthoutse Heide, extending over 3,750 square kilometers.
“Heide” means “moor” or “heather”. It’s a semi-natural landscape in that it would bewilder if people didn’t maintain it to keep it in its current form.
During periods of warm weather and drought access to the Kalmthoutse Heide is often limited or forbidden because of the risk of a fire breaking out. The last great fire at the Kalmthoutse Heide was in 2011. My friend Elise, who still lived in Kalmthout at that time, knows several people who were evacuated because of that fire. It destroyed 4,5 square kilometers of heather, but except for a few firemen, nobody got injured.
The Kalmthoutse Heide in winter
Elise is the girl I went on my first trip to Berlin with. It was so freezing cold there in February! She’s also the girl I later visited when she went off to do an international master in Milan, Groningen and Berlin (it was warm this time). At the moment, she’s researching language acquisition (interesting!) at the university of Utrecht and she only comes to Belgium once in a while to visit her family.
Now, Utrecht isn’t all that far from where I live – about a two-hour drive – and yet I’ve only gone to visit her once. It’s not better the other way around: she hasn’t even seen my apartment yet and I’ve been living here for over three years now.
This might seem strange as Elise and I were pretty close during our studies and have done several trips together, but it actually isn’t. We both have work to do and even if the distance to drive isn’t that long, we know it’s not doable after work hours. An evening is just too short to drive back and forth.
Of course, we could see each other during the weekends, but you know how it goes: there’s always something that comes up.
However, we’ve always kept in touch and after a long overdue Skype session, we decided that it had taken long enough. Elise would be with her family in Belgium for Christmas and we would grab the opportunity with both hands to meet up and go for a walk in the Kalmthoutse Heide, close to where her parents live. It was the end of December and pretty cool, but we didn’t let that get to us and enjoyed the wide views over the heather while catching up.
The Kalmthoutse Heide in summer
Half a year later I headed back to the Kalmthoutse Heide to meet Antonette, the Dutch blogger behind We12travel. We met at the information center and chose one of the routes to follow. The routes around the park are indicated by little wooden poles with colored symbols on them. There are maps at some point as well and it’s pretty easy to switch from one route to another and create your own walk just by keeping an eye on the signaling poles.
Again, we walked and talked all afternoon. Only this time, the weather was a bit more pleasant an the Kalmthoutse Heide looked a bit greener.
Make sure to bring enough water and some trail mix or another snack. Sunscreen is important too. There’s shade in some places, but you’ll mostly be walking out in the open.
The Kalmthoutse Heide can be accessed at many different points, but there are four official entry gates:
- the main gate, where the educational and visitor center De Vroente is located (Putsesteenweg 129, Kalmthout, Belgium)
- the Volksabdij (‘Abbey of the People’, Onze Lieve Vrouw ter Duinenlaan 199, Ossendrecht, Netherlands)
- Hemelrijk (‘Kingdom of the Heavens’, Moerkantsebaan 50, Essen, Belgium)
- Ravenhof/Moretusbos (‘Ravens Garden’/”Moretus Woods’, Oud Broek 4, Stabroek, Belgium)
There are parking lots and bars or small restaurants near all these entry points. It’s also possible to take the train or bus, but those will almost always take longer.
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