Even in summer, it is not often warm enough in Belgium to swim in the open air but if it is, not many lakes around Brussels are suitable and attractive to dive in for refreshment. The official summer beach in the capital is called Brussels by Water –it is a sandy stretch by the tent-green and grey canal where nobody would voluntarily dip a foot. The sand is brought to the promenade to create a beach-like atmosphere and you can lie in a deck chair and have a drink or snack. Summer festivals are held in the neighbouring area as well.
I do know two open-air bathing spots outside the town, though. One is in Hofstade near Mechelen and the Planckendael zoo, and the other one a free time domain called Ter Heide by the town of Rotselaar. Both offer reasonably clean and clear looking water, a sandy beach and facilities you would expect at similar places.
The Flanders is a densely populated country with preserved “nature” spots to be enjoyed by people in their free time. Everything’s usually meticulously maintained, organised, marked and reserved for: fishing/not swimming, swimming/not fishing, surfing/not fishing nor swimming, bathing, walking, cycling. Pictograms explain all very clearly. The dogs allowed with the exception of the beach/swimming area – always leashed. I understand. I accept: nobody’s going wild, neither people, nor their pets. When I see joggers passing by I silently ask: Where can my muscular dog run about in this country? Sniff? Disappear in bushes and reappear a good part further? I know the dogs are sometimes too much for too many people. I now think that I will never get a dog again when this one is gone, to be freed from omnipresent prohibitions. Maybe there the policy aims at: to cut down the number of dogs kept in towns and their surroundings. I understand people, who are bothered, who crave for the silence, for the cleanliness.
Now in April the weather is changeable and the province domain is calm, nearly free of anybody. Expecting what is it to come. I spot occasional weekend runners, a lonely surfer, few fishermen. The sand is wet and feels cold to bare feet, the changing rooms are locked and deserted, but the spacious restaurant by the beach is already open.
A few hundred meters from the swimming area is the backyard of another bar and tavern which has its main entrance from the town street: Café Gaspershoeve. We’re the only customers who take the seats at the table outside under the overcast sky on this Saturday lunch time. The service is super friendly, food is generous and tasty: a very good Flemish standard. I love the before- and after season when everything keeps still expecting the change soon to come…