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If you’re interested in cycling holidays in Belgium, you’re one of a special breed of cyclist. The kind of cyclist that doesn’t mind a bit of weather, that’s actively seeking to test themselves on Belgium’s legendary roads and cobbled climbs.
The likelihood is that you’re a cycling connoisseur.
Perhaps you’re an Eddie Merckx fan, perhaps you’ve been following the Classics for years, perhaps you’re drawn by Belgium’s Medieval towns – but in any event now it’s time to visit Belgium, the home of cycling.
In this article Ken Roubedou from Bergs & Cobbles Cycling Travel shares his tips for planning a cycling tour in Belgium. He tells us why Belgium is the place to come throughout the year (not just for the Tour of Flanders and the Classics).
Banner photo: copyright www.milo-profi.com via Visit Flanders. All photos credited to or via Visit Flanders in this article are used under licence and with their kind permission. We have cropped the photos for use in our article.
Sponsored by Bergs & Cobbles Cycling Travel
1. Why pick a Belgium cycling holiday?
Belgium might only have a population of 11 million, but I think most of them are cyclists!
From the iconic Eddie Merckx, to the Tour of Flanders, Tour de France winners and the country’s legendary cyclo-cross scene, cycling here is a national pastime. For cyclists looking for a holiday, you can find everything from flat routes along canals to cobbled streets and forests. And of course at the end of the day, you can refuel with an enormous plate of frites and a couple of Belgium’s notoriously strong beers!
1.1 Which part of Belgium to visit?
The first thing to say is that while Belgium is a relatively small country, it is in fact home to three quite separate regions:
Flanders is more populated while Wallonia is more the rolling hills of the Ardennes combined with some MTB and gravel routes. Brussels is very central located and a hub for both destinations and a very lively city.
1.2 Why go to Flanders?
Of the three areas of Belgium, Flanders is the most famous because it’s dotted with cycling facilities, legendary routes and beautiful, lively towns and cities to enjoy after your ride.
Flanders has a lot of flat terrain but it’s dotted with steep short climbs (aka Bergs). Famous bergs include the Koppenberg, Taaienberg, Paterberg, Muur and Kwaremont.
The majority of people in Flanders have grown up with cycling around them; from father to son from mother to daughter, in every family you’ll find a bike racing fan(s) and a link with cycling. It could be a family member taking part in their local Sunday club ride or going to watch the pro races or even a family member who is a local legend in one the local criterium races.
Flanders is the heartland of cycling culture and of course it is also home to one of the greatest cycling classics on the pro cycling calendar: the Tour of Flanders. Every year more than half a million spectators are lining the roads during the first Sunday of April.
But it’s not only the traditional cycling roads that are important when considering a cycling holiday in Belgium. The different lively, historic towns make a trip to Belgium the special thing that it is. Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp are all stunning cities, offering excellent food and hundreds of local Belgian beers.
2. What are the best areas for a cycling holiday?
In my view there are three areas of Flanders that stand out for me as being the best cycling destinations for Belgium cycling holidays:
2.1 Omloop region, south of Ghent
Omloop is not an official name for this area, but I name it after the first cobbled classic at the end of February. Omloop usually starts in the indoor track of ‘t Kuipke in the centre of Ghent.
Here you’ll find different cobbled sections such as the famous Haaghoek, Jagerij and Molenberg. For example Haaghoek is a cobbled section for 2km going downhill over the first 250m rapidly changing into a steep section uphill for the next 250m; it’s like a rollercoaster ride but on cobbles!
This region is famous for its mills on top of small hills. One of them is called Molenberg and is a short but steep cobbled climb followed by a slight uphill flat section into the wind ending at the mill of the Molenberg. This is always one of the crucial sections in the Omloop race.
It’s quite easy to access the Omloop region from the Medieval city of Ghent. You can just head south out of the city, along quiet country lanes near the river Scheldt. It’s also really popular with pros (and future pros) in between races in Flanders.
Here you can ride the famous climbs of the Tour of Flanders, like Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg on the same roads as the pros do.
But don’t let that intimidate you; this cycling tour can be done by any kind of cyclist whether you are beginner or advanced. It just depends how fast you tackle it!
It’s one of the most impressive rides you can do anywhere on the cycling planet.
If you’ve got a little more time, you can easily also add a second day of riding and doing lots of other lesser known climbs like Foreest, Rampe or why not even go all the way to the famous Muur of Geraardsbergen.
2.3 Ypres and the battlefields of the first World War
This region is one of the less populated regions of Belgium where you find winding climbs amongst dozens of Commonwealth graveyards and small Flemish towns.
The classic Gent-Wevelgem goes through this region and if you want, you can tackle the notoriously steep Kemmelberg.
Kemmelberg is the highest point of the region and is looking from one side towards France and towards Ypres from the other side. You can tackle this climb from two sides. The side with the French cemetary (Ossuaire) is the most famous (and steepest with gradients up to 23%). At the foot you’ll find the small village of Kemmel with some foods stops and a nice cycling café.
The region is famous for its wide variety of locally brewed beers. Hops are grown in the fields around Poperinge and two of the most famous beers in Belgium and around the world are brewed in the region: the monk beer of Westvleteren and also Saint Bernardus beer. Both breweries have excellent visitor centres as well.
3. Tell us your dream itinerary for a Belgium cycling holiday?
My perfect trip would look like this:
I would base myself in Ghent, just north of all the exciting and famous roads and climbs.
Ghent’s historic centre is full of historic buildings and beautiful, cozy family-owned hotels. Perhaps a hotel with a view over one of the many canals meandering through the city? Some of them have secure bike storage, bike washing and other cycling facilities too.
3.2 Day 1: Omloop
The first ride would be starting from the hotel going south, celebrating the roads from the first classic of the year, Omloop het Nieuwsblad. This is a loop you can start from the centre of Ghent.
You ride easily and safely from the traffic free centre of Ghent, along the Scheldt canal before tackling the first climbs and cobbles sections such as Molenberg, Haaghoek, Jagerij and other small roads and bergs in between Ghent and Oudenaarde. It’s a perfect introduction to the best cycling Flanders has to offer.
3.3 Day 2: Oudenaarde
On the second day we would make a short transfer (30 minutes max) to the region of the Tour of Flanders, more specifically in Oudenaarde. We would tackle the Grand Finale of the Tour of Flanders classic; one for the bucket list aficionadas!
This ride would involve all the famous climbs during the final of the tour of Flanders like Taaienberg, Kruisberg, Hotond, Kwaremont, Paterberg and last but not least we end off with the Koppenberg just outside of Oudenaarde, where a recovery shake, beer or fresh Belgian frites await you.
3.4 Day 3: Ypres
The last day would take us on a transfer to the historic city of Ypres and cycle along some of the iconic sights of the First World War.
I would always suggest including the off road section of Plugstreets named by the British Soldiers during WWI after the nearby village of Ploegsteert. This section also passes the Christmas truce memorial and passes through some small villages and even vineyards on the south facing slope of Kemmelberg.
We would have a final climb towards the brutal Kemmelberg.
Combining all of these regions, staying in Ghent, one of the most beautiful art cities of Belgium, and cycling on the roads known from the classic races is a once in a lifetime experience for every cyclist around the world. It’s a perfect combination of trendy cities, good food and beer and cycling heritage.
Just give me a shout if I can help you make this dream itinerary a reality for you!
4. What are the best times of year to visit Belgium?
4.1 Tour of Flanders
The most popular time to visit Belgium and Flanders is the week before and after the Tour of Flanders race (early April) because you can combine both the classic race and the sportive event the day prior to the race.
On the other hand, bike rental during that period is almost impossible to find and you’ll need to book early to get a good hotel.
4.2 Spring and summer
I usually advise cyclists to visit later in the year – in spring or summer. At that time, the temperature and setting are perfect for cycling. Often it’s perfect temperature here in Belgium when other parts of southern Europe are just too hot.
4.3 September to November
Even in September and October the weather is very nice for cycling in Belgium.
You should also consider a cycling trip to Belgium in November! The grand finale of the season is in early November – you can combine the Ghent Six Day track races with some outdoor cycling or cyclo cross events like the Koppenberg race or the famous cyclo cross beach race in Koksijde.
I’d stop short of suggesting you visit Belgium in the winter though – March to November is best!
5. What are your packing tips for cyclists visiting Belgium?
If you’re visiting at the end of March or in Spring, prepare for all types of weather. You can expect anything from cold and wet winter-like days to early summer short sleeve weather! Always have a light rain jacket with you as well as leg and arm warmers.
A compact crank 50/34 combined with a 11-32 or even 11-34 are perfect to tackle the brutal climbs of Koppenberg and Paterberg
Bigger is better in Belgium, so a tyre between 28 and 32mm is the ideal combination for the northern cobbles; the more cushioning the better.
6. What are your best tips for someone’s first cycling tour in Belgium?
6.1 Rules of the road
Remember to cycle in Belgium on the right hand side of the road.
If there’s a designated cycle path, it’s obligatory to cycle on it. However, if you are in a group of 15 persons or more then you can choose whether to use the cycle path or the road.
6.2 Route planning
You must avoid cycling on the bigger national roads (N roads) which link two smaller cities with each other. They are filled with traffic and are very unpleasant to ride on.
6.3 Getting here
There are international airports in Brussels, Ostend, Antwerp and Chaerleroi. You’ll find a Eurostar and international train stations in Brussels and the ports of Dunkirk and Zeebrugge too.
Belgium has a great network of roads and rail, so getting around is quite easy once you’re here. Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp all have domestic train stations.
6.4 What’s the best way of experiencing Belgian beer?
Belgium is known for its café culture. Head over to one of the many beer cafés where you can choose between literally hundreds of different types of beer (washed down by a plate of frites of course).
Make some time to visit the ‘Waterhouse at the beerside’ = Waterhuis aan de bierkant in Ghent. It’s one of the best known cafés in town, serving over 175 beers, with 20 on tap! In summer there is a big terrace in front of the café just next to the river and opposite is one of the charming hotels we work with. Don’t miss the iconic café ‘De Karper’ owned by the Keisse family, with a broad selection of cycling beers and a selection of retro cycling shirts on the ceiling as well.
Or check out our Belgium cycling tour that links different breweries from different cities with each other! Of course we provide the bikes, gpx files, luggage transport and hotels! More info here. Contact us for more information on this tour and the possibilities.
7. Do you need an organised cycling tour of Belgium?
Of course an organised cycling holiday is not essential to explore Belgium.
However there are some things you get on a tour that might ensure you have a better trip.
When going on an organised trip you get lots of extra details which are difficult to find anywhere else. It’s not just which hotels are best suited for cyclists in the specific location you want to stay in. It comes down to the fact that we use our local information and ensure the trip is tailored to the experience you want to have.
We offer tailor made cycling holidays adapted to your wishes and budget.
We are not bound to a city, hotel or cycling brand so we can offer you everything you desire for within your budget. We can offer a full package included hotels, transfers, guided tours and bike hire or just the hotel and transfer of your luggage.
You choose because it’s your cycling holiday!
Lots of routes can be found online but a guide can offer you local knowledge of the best routes for your experience level.
For example we can ensure your itinerary includes the right combination of flat routes, bergs and cobbles for what you want. Plus you can ensure your route is on small traffic free roads, incorporates the best climbs or cobbles, cycling coffee stops and restaurants.
If the classic routes/the routes you want to ride aren’t close to your hotel, you’ll need a transfer. Organising a transfer to the route for you and your bike can be a hassle. The same goes for transfers between different towns and airport transfers. We can do these things for you.
7.3 Bike hire
Bike rental in Belgium is hard to come by. If you go on one of our trips, you’ll find we are well networked into the local community in order to provide you with quality rental bikes ranging from rim or disc brake to Shimano 105, Ultegra and electronic shifting. E race bikes or mtb are possible to rent as well.
7.4 Other experiences
For anyone that wants some non-cycling experiences in Ghent, Bruges or Brussels, we can put you in touch with local guides who can offer the best local excursions.
In summary, an organised tour lets you get the best out of your cycling holiday. You focus on your stay, your cycling and the many hidden gems Belgium has to offer.
(More info on our trips here!)
8. Tell us more about your Belgium cycling tours
We offer tailor made cycling holidays adapted to your wishes and budget.
We are not bound to a city, hotel or cycling brand so we can offer you everything you’re looking for (budget dependent of course!).
8.2 Throughout the year
We organise and plan cycling holidays in Belgium from March until the beginning of November – unlike others, we are here nearly all year, not just during the Spring Classics at the end of March/early April.
8.3 Every cyclist
Our cycle tours are for every type of cyclist from beginners to the more advanced. We like everyone to get to know this beautiful cycling region; the famous climbs are hard but manageable for every rider, it doesn’t matter what your pace is.
8.5 Find out more
To find out more, head to bergscobbles.com or send me an e-mail with your cycling plans for Belgium and together we can create your best cycling holiday!
In short we take care of you and we arrange you the best cycling holiday depending on your wishes, fitness level and interests.
A big thank you to Ken for sharing his insights
More About Ken
My name is Ken, founder of Bergs & Cobbles Cycling Travel. I was born and raised in Ghent, Belgium, which is still home today.
I have worked for over 25 years in the tourism industry. Before setting up Bergs & Cobbles Cycling Travel, I spent ten years organising cycling holidays in Southern Europe.
Now it’s time to show everybody the hidden cycling gems of Belgium and Flanders!
Have you had an amazing cycling holiday in Belgium?
Tell us all about it in the comments below!
Got a question? Add it there or drop us a line.