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Sint Maartensheide nature reserve, Limburg province

Walking near Bree

Discover the delights of the Sint-Maartensheide nature reserve near Bree in the province of Limburg. Three walks of varying distances.

I’ve always wanted to visit Bree. It’s the most westerly settlement of Men in all of Middle-Earth. Indeed, the only area of Middle-Earth where Men and Hobbits dwelt side by side in peace. Moreover, it’s the location of the famed Prancing Pony tavern. I quite fancy dropping in for a chat with innkeeper Barliman Butterbur, or perhaps listening to him talking with the locals in the strange Westron language. Or maybe I’ll just sit in the corner with a pint of pumpkin ale and a menacing stare, like Aragorn, and wait for Frodo Baggins to appear.

I may have a long time to wait. Disappointingly, Tolkien’s village of Bree wasn’t inspired by the town of Bree in the Flemish province of Limburg. Instead, it was loosely named after a village in Buckinghamshire, England. I do think however that Bree, Belgium has missed a marketing opportunity. Come on guys where’s your entrepreneurial spirit? If ever there was a place to call a pub or café The Prancing Pony it’s Bree!

But I guess when your town is the birthplace of tennis-star Kim Clijsters and Real Madrid and Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, as well as the place of residence of Grand-Prix driver Max Verstappen, then you don’t need any more fame.


Enough of hobbits! It’s time to go on your own quest. The Sint-Maartensheide nature reserve is an excellent place for a good walk in the nature. It’s a 40-hectare area of ponds, reedbeds, copses, streams, and the excellent valley of the Abeek, a tributary of the Maas. You will bump into more than one watermill. And you will experience invigorating open landscapes. Importantly during the current pandemic, I doubt if you’ll meet many folk. I walked for three hours and only met two dog-walkers and one hiker!

In the spring and summer the area is renowned for its vast numbers of dragonflies. Over 50 different species of dragonfly have been identified here. Apart from its sports stars, local residents include the green tree frog, the red-backed shrike and the purple emperor butterfly. What a colorful place!

As if to emphasize this point, a couple of gorgeous kingfishers flashed by me on my walk. I also saw good numbers of orange tip and brimstone butterflies. Less glamorous but equally striking were hundreds of wild geese grazing in the meadows. I think I identified them as graylag geese and white-fronted geese, but I’m no goose expert.

You can start in the Mariahof which is open on Sunday afternoons 2-5 pm (once COVID restrictions are lifted). There are a number of walks around the place of varying distances. All the paths are very well tended and signposted, making it an excellent place to bring children.

On one side of the Abeek you’ll be in Belgium; on the other side in the Netherlands

I’m going to give you three routes of different distances. All of them start from Mariahofstraat 57, 3960 Bree. There’s plenty of car parking space here. Unfortunately, it’s not easily accessible by public transport, which shows you just how off the beaten track this place is.

Walk #1: 7 km family-friendly

This is the shortest of the three walks. It’s ideal for children. You can take a few breaks in some bird observation hides which look out over the lakes and reedbeds. Below is the map which you can click to enlarge or download here as a PDF. The GPX track is downloadable from my RouteYou page.

Stop off at one of the many bird observation hides along the route

Walk #2: 11 km along the border

This is slightly longer. You can see that it covers some of the above route, but extends it to take you along the Belgium-Netherlands border. Below is the map which you can click to enlarge, or download here as a PDF. GPX route is downloadable from my RouteYou page.


Most of the walks are well laid out and signposted

Walk #3: 24k to smeetshof

Fancy a whole day out in the open and fresh air? Try this 24 km hike! It starts again from the Mariahof but then heads off south-east to check out the village of Opwinkel before turning around and passing through the Kempen Broek and Stamprooierbroek. It then heads north-west along the BE-NL border to visit the neighboring Smeetshof nature reserve. You will walk through some small forests and alongside swamps, meadows and streams. Viewpoints and bird observation hides along the way will give you a unique look into this vast and nature-rich network of cross-border wetlands. You know the routine by now. Click on the map to enlarge it, download it as a PDF, get the GPX track from RouteYou.


Time to practice your balance as you cross the Abeek

I hope you enjoy one of these walks around Sint-Maartensheide nature reserve near Bree and the surroundings. Any questions or comments, just drop them below or here.


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