Averbode Abbey – Maagdentoren – Basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel – Webbekoms Broek Nature Reserve

Nature and culture meld into one at the southern end of the Merode landscape park. The Demer River merrily meanders its way through nature, as the Citadel, a UNESCO heritage beguinage, a basilica, and an abbey stand as sentinels of a vibrant past. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of things to do in the region today, and some of its finest treasures are within cycling distance of each other. Get ready to combine a few of the region’s highlights, including Averbode Abbey and the Basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel, on a 30-km day trip through the Hageland countryside.

ROUTE

For those arriving by train, the journey begins at Diest Station (cycle node 32) or Zichem Station if you go on foot. If you’re arriving by car, the Halve Maan Provincial Domain is a good place to park (cycle node 88, Omer Vanaudenhovelaan 48, 3290 Diest).

By bike

There are several options for getting your bike to your destination:

  1. Hire a bike at the Diest Station bike rental point or the Halve Maan bike rental point.
  2. Take your bike along on the train (this requires a small surcharge and an extra ticket) or with your car.
  3. Get a cheap Bluebike subscription and pick up your rental bike at the station for a day out.

Next, follow the nodes to the abbey, basilica, and the nature reserve:

Cycle nodes:32 – 31 – 85 – 84 – 83 – 25 – 18 – 25 – 83 – 58 – 59 – 93 – 92 – 91 – 38 – 34 – 88 – 33 – 32
Distance: 33.4 km 
Print or download the route here

Still not satisfied? The Reynvaert Cycle Route packs each of these sights into a circuit of 42 km.


By public transport and on foot

Get off at Zichem Station.
The nodes below will take you on a 15-km walk past Averbode Abbey, the Maagdentoren, and Scherpenheuvel’s basilica.
When you’re ready to head back, take bus 35 at the basilica towards Diest (17 min).
Don’t forget! This bus only runs every two hours at the weekend; so, be sure to get your timing right!
Looking for something a touch less strenuous? Cut your walk short at 10.4 km (Zichem Station) and take the train to Diest.
Don’t forget! This option means skipping the Basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel.

Walking nodes: 246 – 60 – 298 – 175 – 57 – 145 – 384 – 107 – 98 – 100 – 90 – 295 – 58 – 411 – 61 – 246 – 374 – 208 – 138 – 136 – 140 – 120 – 244
Distance: 15 km 


MUST-SEE SIGHTS

STOP: Averbode Abbey

Between cycle nodes 18 and 25 and walking node 100

abdij-averbode-foto

Three different Belgian provinces intersect here in Averbode.
Averbode’s Norbertine abbey was built here – at the crossroads of Limburg, Antwerp, and Flemish Brabant – in 1134; and lucky for us, it’s on our side of the border!
You can visit the expansive courtyard and peaceful reflecting pool during the day, along with the abbey church. The abbey’s interactive experience centre awaits at the far end of the site – Het Moment.
This is also the perfect spot for your lunch break. Just pick up some fresh bread baked by the monks, or their other local Averbode products such as abbey beer and cheese, from the abbey shop. Feeling a bit peckish? Grab a bit to eat and something to drink at the adjoining café.
For the icing on the cake, make your way over to the Lekdreef (Ice Cream Lane!). Is it sunny out? You’re likely to see at least ten different ice cream vans on the lane up to the Averbode entrance gate and at least five times as many happy faces!

Address: Abdijstraat 1, 3271 Scherpenheuvel-Zichem
Opening hours:
Shop: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Mondays.
Café – 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.


STOP: The Maagdentoren and Demer River Rendezvous Zichem

Near cycle node 59 and walking nodes 374 and 246

maagdentoren-foto

The Maagdentoren has stood on the banks of the Demer in Zichem since the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, this fortified tower has served many a purpose, from prison to cowshed, and during the Dutch War of Independence, it groaned beneath the round shot of Spanish cannons.
The tower has been protected as a monument since 1962; however, after years of neglect, a quarter of this old sentinel still managed to collapse in 2006. Fortunately, the tower has been restored to its former glory, and now offers majestic panoramic views of the Demer River Valley from atop the 26-metre-high viewing platform.

GPS coordinates: N 51.002745°, E 4.991562° (Google Maps)
Opening hours: 15/03 through 31/08 every day of the week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
1/09 through 1/11 on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


demertrefplaats-foto

To get to your next stop, just cross the street! One of the five Demer River Rendezvous were built at the Hemmekes. It’s a special, converted flat-bottom boat, anchored the way boats once were on the Demer in days of yore. For a unique picnic experience, just cross the footbridge at the dike and enjoy a cosy bite ‘on the water’.

Addresss: Ernest Claesstraat 34C, 3271 Zichem (Scherpenheuvel-Zichem)
GPS coordinates: N 51.004851°, E 4.985744° (Google Maps)



STOP: Basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel

Cycle node 93 and walking node 244

basiliek-foto

Scherpenheuvel is home to the Basilica of Our Lady, which remains the most highly frequented pilgrimage site in Belgium.
The time-honoured and beautiful Stations of the Cross and Mary’s Way of the Cross behind the basilica offer an original walk. There’s also a charming historic well to visit and a votive chapel where you can light a candle in memory of someone dear.
Neatly lined along the stretch in front of the basilica, you’ll find several traditional stalls spilling over with knick-knacks to be sold. Statues of saints, sweets, votive candles, and toys are all for sale, along with fair-trade and regional products, recently added to their range.

Address: Isabellaplein z/n, 3270 Scherpenheuvel



STOP: Webbekoms Broek Nature Reserve

Cycle nodes 34, 88, 33 Start your walk at walking node 9 (FKP 88)

webbekoms-broek-foto

A lovely piece of nature lies not a stone's throw away from Diest's charming centre and its quaint, picturesque beguinage – Webbekoms Broek.
This 240-hectare wetland is scattered with reed beds, meadows, and grasslands, with marshland, reed collars, and poplars teeming with life. From atop the historic ramparts, you can gaze out on the marsh and the town of Diest.
An interactive exhibition at the visitor centre underscores the significance of this area, as a retention basin for the floodwaters of the Demer in the event of torrential rains.
Have you got time to spare? Seize the opportunity to delve into this breathtaking, natural treasure with this handy walk fact sheet.

Address: Omer Vanaudenhovenlaan 48, 3290 Diest


GOOD EATS & THIRST QUENCHERS EN ROUTE

Het Moment - Averbode Abbey

Cycle node 18, near walking node 100
Address: Herseltsebaan 2, 3271 Averbode, +32 13 69 99 34
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hof Van Zichem

Near cycle node 58 and walking node 246 (Maagdentoren)
Address: Ernest Claesstraat 67, 3271 Zichem, +32 13 66 66 42
Opening hours: every day from 11 a.m., including public holidays.

Stamineeke

Right before cycle node 34, drinks only
Address:Oude Baan 135, 3290 Webbekom, +32 13 22 01 13
Opening hours: from Monday to Friday from 2 p.m. Open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.


OVERNIGHT IN DIEST AND COMBINE YOUR DAY TRIP WITH...

A Diest city trip

Discover Diest’s rich and vibrant past on a walk through the Citadel and beguinage. Finish with a local Loterbol beer – blond or dark!

Tourist information and regional products
Address: Koning Albertstraat 16a, 3290 Diest. +32 13 35 32 71
Opening hours: 1 April through 30 September: every day from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (closed on Mondays)
1 October to 31 March: closed on Mondays, Sundays, and public holidays.


A profound encounter with nature in Webbekoms Broek

Chances are good that there won’t be enough time to thoroughly experience the Webbekoms Broek Nature Reserve after a bike trip. Fortunately, there’s a satisfying 9-km walk to richly acquaint you with the full tapestry of this wetland habitat.

Webbekoms Broek Visitor Centre
Address: Omer Vanaudenhovelaan 48, 3290 Diest. +32 13 35 86 58
Opening hours: open every Sunday between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. (1 April - 31 October), or by appointment during office hours.


A fun-filled day out at the Halve Maan Provincial Domain

It’s the perfect family day out, with multiple playgrounds, an outdoor swimming pool lined with a sandy ‘beach’, miniature golf, pedalos, picnic spots, adorable animals, and more!

Address: Omer Vanaudenhovelaan 48, 3290 Diest. +32 13 31 15 28
Opening hours: open every day of the week:
1/10 – 31/3: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
1/4- 30/6: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
1/7- 31/8: 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The swimming pool is open from 1 May through 15 September. In the event of bad weather conditions, the domain closes earlier.