The Belgian school half term looms (28 October-1 November) and you may be among those scratching your head wondering what to do with the kids?
If so, why not consider one of the country’s best holiday parks – and also do your bit for the environment?
Park Molenheide, in Limburg, the eastern most part of the country, is known as the most child-friendly holiday park in Belgium and for good reason.
Any stay here includes unlimited access to the indoor playground and swimming pool with lots of other kid-friendly attractions such as indoor mini golf, endless woodland walks and cycling.
Molenheide is a past winner of prestige THEA Award for outstanding achievement worldwide and offers something of a unique appeal for environmentalists everywhere: it generates all its own energy.
All organic waste is collected by the park’s farming neighbour. Biogas is then released from this shredded waste and stored in giant balloons.The gasses drive motors that produce electricity for the park.
Using underground pipes, the water used to cool the motors then warms the swimming pool and heats the park’s central buildings. All residual waste is re-used as agricultural fertiliser.
The park, apart from being self-sufficient, actually makes a great base for discovering this delightful part of Belgium or just to stay and chill for a short break at any time of the year.
At the indoor play paradise the kids (ideal for those up to the age of ten) can enjoy climbing, scrambling, sliding and jumping while “Aquapolis” boasts 4 spacious swimming pools plus, for the smallest guests, a “gnome” pool with play equipment. Temperatures are kept at a pleasant 32 degrees – just the job with the colder weather now with us.
Limburg is a cycling paradise so, naturally, you can get on your bike can explore the area on 2 wheels – Molenheide is located on the well-known Limburg cycle route network. There are various options, including bike hire at Molenheide itself or “the900shop” at nearby Eksel.
Another possibility is hiring cycles at Bokrijk, Belgium’s famous and award-winning open-air museum, just a short drive away.
Whatever you opt for you really should not miss a couple of very unusual cycling experiences: cycling “through water” and “cycling through trees”.
The former is a sunken cycle bridge on a 2019 list of the “World’s Greatest places” no less while the latter is an elevated cycle track set amongst, well, trees!
While cycling around on the fantastic bike paths, look out for a fascinating German military cemetery – the largest in Western Europe (situated between cycling nodes 255 and 265) and, in Lommel, “The glass house with augmented reality.”
Other local “landmarks” include the Belgian/Limburg “Sahara” (yes, you’ll find lots of sand here too) where you may come across a magnificent 30ft tall watchtower called the Giant of Bosland.
Back at Molenheide and the various types of accommodation are just as impressive as the surroundings and include 360 holiday homes spread across a huge area of some 10,000 square metres.
The newest and latest additions are called “Zetha”, or greenhouse, and are chalet-type properties. Modern, smartly furnished and sleeping up to 4, they come with every comfort for the whole family. In addition to a pleasant seating area, they all have a flat-screen TV, CD-DVD player, an electric fireplace, dishwasher and kitchen equipment.
There’s a terrace, car parking space, unlimited Wi-Fi and access to Aquapolis & KidsValley where, after working up an appetite with the kids you might want to sample the very pleasant food available at Molenheide’s unfussy but cosy café/restaurant which serves nice evening meals (and breakfast). Overseen by a Belgian chef (and, unusually, a Nepal-born deputy), the lovely menu features some great old Belgian classics like beef stew, steak and croquettes. A new low season (and Halloween) menu will be out soon and it’s also worth mentioning the staff who, like all employees here, are refreshingly polite and ultra-friendly.It’s open later on Fridays as that is the usual day of arrival for most guests, otherwise food is served until 7.30pm (Sunday) and 8pm.
An off-site alternative – and ideal if you visit Bokrijk and/or the adjacent Arboretum – is the excellent Bistro Koetshuis, located next to the museum. Again, it serves reliable, tasty food and all in a pleasant setting. And here’s an unusual feature: the newly renovated bistro is furnished with materials direct from Bokrijk, including craftwork and wooden tables made from trees felled next door. It serves bread baked in the museum’s wood ovens while the fresh tea blend is composed by herbalists at Bokrijk.
If you visit on a Sunday, there’s an all-you-can-eat brunch. The food, considering the quality, is very reasonably priced. Commendably, the bistro also tries to source as much as possible from local producers and suppliers.
Apart from the friendliness of the staff and its excellent facilities, arguably the best thing about Molenheide, though, is its efforts to be green-friendly.
Park Molenheide’s revolutionary green approach to business has been recognised nationally and internationally.
Organizations such as Tourism Flanders and Unizo National have cited Molenheide as an example for other similar enterprises with aspirations to develop environmental and energy-friendly policies.
Unizo Limburg even nominated Molenheide as the laureate of ‘KMO voor Kyoto’.
“We think it is a great honour that such organizations recognise our project,” says the chairman of the board of directors, Marc Vanherk, whose father George first launched Molenheide. “It strengthens our motivation to continue to play a pioneering role, both nationally and internationally.”
Managing Director Jean Scevenels agrees, saying, “We continue to look for new technologies, both for the bungalow park, where we work with super-insulated houses and in other areas, in order to further assume our social responsibility for the environment in the future.”
They say good news travels fast and word about the good things happening at this terrific Flemish holiday park have spread as far afield as Israel.
Most visitors are from Belgium and The Netherlands (the border is just a few kilometres away) but don’t be surprised if, among all the Dutch (and French) accents you also hear Hebrew being spoken.
The fact is that a growing number of people from Israel are also discovering Molenheide!
One Molenheide source said, “They are choosing Belgium because it’s relatively close, safe and easy to enter.”
This used to be one of the poorer regions of Belgium and has suffered enormously in the past with the demise of the coal mines. But Limburg is now one of the most dynamic and thriving parts of the country.
For those who are yet to discover it, do so – you won’t be disappointed. For those already familiar with Limburg, remember this: it’s always got something new to offer.
And those still thinking of a nice spot for a short, half term break, look no further than Molenheide – possibly the only place of its kind in the country that is 100 per cent CO2 neutral!
For further info you can write to [email protected]