Day 6: Geraardsbergen - Leuven

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If you only look at the map today, you quickly conclude that the absolute highlight of the day is early on the route. If there is one climb in Flanders that is famous, it is the Muur van Geraardsbergen. But instead of saving the best for last, we start on the Muur when the morning is still shrouded in sacred light, which hangs diffusely over the streets of Geraardsbergen. We take two ‘matten’ cakes, to eat when we get to the top, salute that other Manneken Pis, and before we know it, we are standing in front of the chapel on the Oudenberg. It is satisfying, especially when we pass the last sharp bend in front of café ’t Hemelrijck. Like the Last Post, climbing the Muur on the bike remains special. Whether you are doing it for the first time, like Lowie, or have done it many times before. But there is more than just the Muur today. The Bosberg that follows it also deserves a mention, with its cobblestones glistening in the sun.

And even as we leave the Flemish Ardennes behind, almost without noticing, the Flemish countryside continues to display its most beautiful side. We entered the Pajottenland, land of fruit and gueuze beers. ‘You can only find this beer in this region,’ explains barman Roel van Drongelen of Fiets- en Wandelcafé Paddenbroek in Gooik, during a break for lunch in the sun. The Dutchman, who ended up in the Pajotteland because of love, pours one and explains: “Beer is normally brewed, but gueuze beer is not, it is distilled. Fermentation happens spontaneously and the yeasts with which this happens are in the air here. That makes the beer unique, truly a regional product. And its fresh acidity makes it the champagne among beers, ideal also as an aperitif.’

We continue further eastwards, picking up another themed route and we now follow the Green Belt Route. From the Alsemberg, we can see Brussels. Another world that we can almost touch. If we change course for half an hour, we could cycle under the Atomium, or join the crowds in the Grote Markt. But we stick to the route. Through the Sonian Forest and Overijse, until we reach the endpoint of the day in Leuven. Where we can still immerse ourselves in the city’s summer cheerfulness.