DID YOU KNOW BELGIUM ALSO HAS A SAHARA?
A hike through an exquisite nature reserve in Belgium
The Westhoek nature reserve – Although it may not be the Sahara you had in mind, it is worth including in a day trip when coming to the Belgian coast. Due to the fact we cannot leave the country for the moment, this can be an ideal staycation tip for all Belgian readers.
Nature reserve The Westhoek is found within the upper West of Belgium in ‘De Panne’. The reserve is not that big, and one day is more than enough to discover the entire area. Therefore, we made a 10 km hike through the reserve and this took us about 3 hours. A few hours is all you need to have a general impression of the reserve. Makes sense, given the fact the Sahara solely features a surface of 3,5 km2. However, if you’re not a frequent hiker, we also advise not to push it for yourself. The walk is 10 kilometres long but more intensive (compared to a forest walk f.e.) since you will be walking through loose sand and dunes.
How to get to the reserve
Important to realize, not a lot of parking areas are provided around this nature reserve. We advise you to take the parking spot at the Duinhoekstraat 174 (details below). This is also the place wherever you’ll be able to begin the walk (there are more places where you can enter the reserve, however, this is a quiet and calm place to start). By the time you enter, you will end up at the ‘border path’, that undoubtedly failed to steal its name. This path goes through the nature reserve, and you will be walking on the border with France. Sadly in France, it is allowed to build on this precious land, in Belgium it is preserved and thus forbidden. For this reason, you will see this distinction pretty clear whereas walking down the path, because on the French side the visuals are a bit ‘ruined‘ by a large camping place.
Once again we were lucky and chose a beautiful day to make this hike. Fully dressed as if we were going for a winter hike (sounds logical mid-November) we started our hike. By the time we climbed the first dune, we found out our caps, gloves, jackets were unnecessary. Above all expectations, it turned out to be 15 degrees and there was absolutely not a slight breeze of wind. This is uncommon for our Belgian coast, the wind is generally a part of the furniture here. On top of this, the sun came out the entire day, which made it a very strange but pleasant November day in the Westhoek nature reserve.
The Belgian coast
To give you more perspective, we made a visual of our walk on the map below. Starting at ‘The border path’, going straight to the sea. Because we had not seen our own seashore this year, we just wanted to check if the sea was still there. Luckily, he was on post as always… Never disappoints.
We walked down the beach to the other side of the nature reserve, to enter again at the main entrance (located on the map). By the time we arrived at the main entrance (had to be around 14h, after our lunch), visitor numbers clearly augmented a lot. To be honest, the morning was quite calm, and we definitely prefer this to the mass we saw in the afternoon. For nature lovers who like to relish the peace of nature, we advocate starting your walk early enough (as always).
The fun thing concerning this walk is that you may spot some highland cattle and Konik horses in this nature reserve The Westhoek. Together with some insects, birds, and other small animals, they are part of the environment and keep the area and the flora in a good shape. Sadly for us, we failed to see any cows or horses. We are still trying to work out if they’re placed into stables for the winter, or simply terribly shy. But given the fact the reserve is not that big, I thought it would be difficult to miss them. Guess I was wrong here.
Taking care of nature reserve The Westhoek
At the moment you might find something unexpected in the middle of the reserve; an excavator. A little pity to see these kinds of materials in a nature reserve, but it is for the best interest of nature. The excavator is used to restore the natural flora in the nature reserve. Due to climate change (less cold winters and more rain), and the lowering amount of rabbits in the dunes (and some other reasons), the dunes are fully overgrown by vegetation and ground cover plants.
This is detrimental to the original state of the dunes and devastating for the balance in this area. That’s one of the reasons they want to restore the original state of the sand dunes. In order to restore them, they need to scrape off the first layer of vegetation and humus, so the sand will be the top layer again. This is a must if they want to restore the original fauna & flora in the reserve such as different kinds of insects and fungi.
Nevertheless, it was worth driving 1,5h to the seashore on this day. It absolutely was an ideal getaway-for-a-day!
Park: Duinhoekstraat 174 (there are about 35 parking spots available if you arrive early enough). The good thing about this parking space; there is a Leonidas shop (Belgian chocolates) next to the parking space. Obviously, we could not resist it after a good walk!
Hike: The hike starts next to the parking places, next to the restaurant ‘Au Val d’Or’.
Official website of the reserve