Luc will be our guide today. He was born and raised in Meise, on the north-western outskirts of Brussels. Luc loves his hometown and plays an active role in town life. As a neighbourhood clean-up coach and ambassador for the cycling and walking network, he does his bit to make his cherished home region a destination that visitors can enjoy themselves in.
[Luc:] In my opinion, this route stands out because it has something for everyone. For cycling enthusiasts, there are a few cobbled streets and a handful of exhilarating calf biters (There's a good reason behind this route having been named after Belgium’s cycling legend, Eddy Merckx!). After having made it over (recovered from!) these climbs, you can also cycle along the many scattered country roads, surrounded by the lush greenery and far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You'll find places to clear your head and relax – it’s heaven!
[Luc:] Despite the route amounting to just under 40 km, you'll have the opportunity, as a recreational cyclist, to look back with pride on an athletic day out.
[Luc:] The route is named after Eddy Merckx. When we mention our world-famous cycling star, we always say ‘den Eddy’ [Dialect for ‘Eddy, the one and only’]. You know, it really is something to cycle on Eddy Merckx's turf, where he lives and regularly takes his bike out for a spin. It’s also where he founded his famous bicycle factory.
[Luc:] If you start in the vicinity of node 37, you'll find yourself in the picturesque village centre of Sint-Brixius-Rode. It’s home to Eddy Merckx and is also the spot he chose to start up his bicycle factory.
From there you cycle southwards and in no time at all you'll find yourself at the Meise Botanical Garden (between nodes 40 and 41). This botanical garden is one of the world's biggest at 92 ha and contains an impressive 18,000 different plant species. I can’t recommend taking a quick break from the bike trip to visit this green oasis highly enough. The beautiful 19th-century Bouchout Castle in the middle of the domain adds even more to the prestige of the botanical garden. The glasshouse complex is one of the most beautiful in Europe! Has your stomach already started rumbling or are you thirsty? You can stop by the Orangery for a light meal.
[Luc:] Time to hop back on the bike! We'll make our way from the botanical garden onto the Bosweg, which we’ll continue along for a while (after node 41). There's a lovely old farmhouse at the start of this narrow road. If you look closely you can still spot a watermill, the ‘the Amelgem watermill’, next to the farmhouse.
[Luc:] From this point on – at least for the more sports-inclined of us – things get interesting! At the bottom of the Bosweg you should be sure to massage your calves because from here on out, the road is a steep climb. Normally, once you reach the top of the Kaarlijkstraat you follow the route straight on to the Klepperstraat. It's worth turning left off the path momentarily and onto the Heirbaan to take a load off after that workout. It’s an old Roman road that you’ll follow into the middle of the fields where you have a view of the Brussels skyline. Among others, you can see the Atomium and the Basilica of Koekelberg. Further up the Heirbaan there’s a bench and a picnic table where you can take in the views for a little while.
[Luc:] Once back on the route it won’t be long before you pass the charming village of Oppem (near node 56). For those interested in an overnight stay in the region, there are a few unique accommodations to be found in the village, such as B&B Het Sterckxhof and B&B Amelhof. There’s a wonderful 17th-century baroque chapel (the Amelgem Chapel) tucked away in the side garden of the last B&B I mentioned. During your stay, be sure to stroll over to Saint Stephen's church in Oppem.
[Luc:] Follow the road towards Wolvertem (between nodes 56 and 60) where you'll pass the statue of Eddy Merckx. I deliberately altered the route to be sure that you, as a cyclist, would definitely pass by this statue. A related fun fact is that this statue’s sculptor has his own sculpture garden further along the route (slightly past node 69). The artist is happy to show you around, but make sure to make an appointment ahead of time using the form at www.paulgregoir.be/kunst/contact.html.
[Luc:] When you reach node 61, you’ll have made it to the Palm brewery (located in the centre on the market square). Palm Breweries is the only brewery in the world that brews according to the four traditional fermentation methods and carries out these time-honoured practices in three historical brewing sites. Behind the brewery and on the Diepensteyn Castle grounds, draught horses are bred. So, it's no coincidence that the beer bottle's famous logo features the Brabant draught horse. [Sadly, it’s not possible to visit the brewery on your own. Groups are welcome by reservation only.]
[Luc:] Cycling along the railway (from nodes 25 to 28) is one of the treats of the northernmost part of the route. Follow this road until you reach the Brussels–Scheldt Maritime Canal at which point you can continue the route to return via node 34 towards the starting point in Sint-Brixius-Rode. It’s no wonder that this is the perfect place for ending your trip, because at the centre of the village you'll find the 'Crèmerie' Brixius ('s Herenweg 3'). After all that cycling, you’ve definitely earned an ice cream!
[Luc:] The Heirbaan (overlooking the Brussels skyline) is an incredibly tranquil spot where you can relax all year round. Well, with one exception: New Year's Eve! Around midnight, loads of folk congregate here to enjoy the fireworks set off in the heart of Brussels. It’s a special occasion on which everyone toasts to a happy new year, with the booms and whistling of the fireworks (and the popping champagne corks!) in the background.
[Luc:] I think the route is nicest in June because that’s when everything is in bloom. And the wheat fields are also at their most majestic then. September is also definitely worth going out of your way, but, the crops are already a little higher, which may occasionally keep you from the gorgeous views.