2017 update: Some of the information below is no longer valid. For two more recent articles on the Haspengouw fruit orchards, check out Cycling through the orchards of the Haspengouw and Biking amid the blossoms of the Haspengouw.
Still suffering from the greyness of March? Itching for some colour? Then get yourself over to Haspengouw, an area in the south of Limburg province. An annual spectacle of colour will surely lift your spirits and help you forget the long cold winter. It really is spectacular. In April, millions of apple, pear and cherry trees blossom simultaneously, washing virtually the whole of Haspengouw in swathes of pink and white. Whether it happens in early or late April depends on many factors — principally the temperature in March. And we all know what that was like! So a sensible guess would be to make your trip later rather than sooner. Check out this website and you get a real-time view of the state of the orchards. Below are some ideas to make the most of your trip.
The Blossom Lounge
These Limburgers certainly know how to relax. From April 1 to May 1 a huge marquee is erected in the middle of … nowhere. And nowhere is just the perfect place, because here, uncluttered by buildings and roads, you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of blossoming orchards in all directions. Just sit down in a comfy seat, listen to pastoral music, enjoy a fruity drink, and simply chill out. The Blossom Lounge is open every day from 11 a.m. to sunset — and even later at the weekends. It’s located in Jufferstraat in Velm. Park in the centre of Velm and walk there (10 minutes). You can’t miss it.
Journey back to the days of Dick Dewy and Fancy Day and enjoy a Thomas Hardyesque picnic under the greenwood trees. But without the hassle of preparing it yourself! Simply order a picnic lunch for two (three days in advance). You’ll get rolls, butter, cheese, chocolate spread, jam, apple juice, cutlery, plates and glasses, a selection of hiking, cycling and car routes, and some tips for the most isolated, secluded and romantic picnic sites imaginable. And you can keep the backpack afterwards as a souvenir. It costs 50 EUR for two people. For only an additional 15 EUR you get two rental bikes for the day.
A candlelit evening walk
Still feeling romantic? On every Wednesday and Friday evening in April, starting at 7.30 p.m., you can enjoy a pleasant walk in between the fruits trees while candles flicker and braziers point the way ahead. Now and again you will be invited to sit or lie on the grass, count the stars and be regaled with “fruit stories” old and new. Intrigued as to what a fruit story is? Then sign up and pay your 7.50 EUR, which includes a bowl of hot soup.
A guided walk
Every Friday in April, starting at 2 p.m. at Stationsplein in Sint-Truiden, there is an exclusive guided walk amongst the orchards. The total distance is ten kilometres, but you won’t be left without sustenance. Halfway around you will visit the Van Wilderen brewery and distillery for a taste of their produce. Cost: 8 EUR, which includes refreshments.
Just for the kids
Take your children on a fruity treasure hunt! A 24-kilometre cycle route has been designed for “young knights and ladies”. The guidebook is packed with local legends, and will take you to the castles of Rijkel, Brustem and Ordingen, and the chapel and gallows at Helshoven. You are given the first piece of the puzzle and a key to unlock the first treasure chest you find, but after that it’s up to you to find the other treasures along the way. It’s free for children, but Mum or Dad will have to cough up 4 EUR for the instructions.
Visit a fruit auction
The Belgian Fruit Auction (Belgische Fruitveiling) is the largest organisation of fruit-growers in Belgium. This cooperative has 1,500 members and a turnover of around EUR 145 million per year. Its headquarters are located in Sint-Truiden and there are branches in Glabbeek, Zoutleeuw and Hannut. It deals mainly in apples, pears, strawberries, cherries and other berries, and some vegetables. Its quality labels are Truval, Sira and Mega Truval. If you want to discover how the Belgian Fruit Auction works, then now’s your opportunity. Sign in at Montenakenweg 82, 3800 Sint-Truiden every Thursday in April at 11 a.m. for a free tour of the facilities.
Visit a fruit farm
Many Haspengouw fruit farms are open during April and would be delighted to give you a free tour of their facilities — and invite you to purchase some of their fruity products. One great place is Domein Truilingen. Veerle and Piet would be delighted to show you around their ecologically responsible fruit farm and demonstrate how they convert their apples and pears into tasty Porreye and Pipo organic fruit juices. Free tours take place every Wednesday in April at 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Register at [email protected]
Unless otherwise indicated, registration for all activities is at Sint-Truiden tourist office.