A BELGIAN JOURNEY INTO THE PAST
THE FLEMISH OPEN AIR MUSEUM AT BOKRIJK
Europe has an ever increasing number of outdoor folk museums where the rural past is brought back to life, but perhaps none of them surpass Bokrijk in sheer entertainment value. Although it may have certain "cultural" overtones, for the foreign tourist a visit here is just plain fun.
Farm structures, village houses, churches, schools, country inns, wind and water mills, and even urban buildings have been brought here from all over the Flemish provinces of Belgium and reassembled into typical villages as well as a cozy corner of a city. Dating from the 12th through the late 19th centuries, many of the preserved buildings are furnished with authentic antiques to appear as they would have in times past. The old crafts and farming methods continue to be practiced as a way of keeping ancient traditions alive.
Located in the large Provincial Domain of Bokrijk (an estate once owned by an abbey and purchased by the province of Limburg in 1938 as a nature preserve), the Flemish Open Air Museum opened in 1958 as one of the largest outdoor folk museums in Europe. An English guide booklet with a map is available at the entrance so you can explore the entire area on your own, traveling by foot or riding one of the horse-drawn wagons. Authentic rural inns with outdoor tables, serving real country beer and home cooked meals, make for pleasant stops along the way. The suggested route described here takes you past all of the interesting highlights, which are numbered and described in great detail in the guide booklet.
Trains bound for Genk depart Brussels' three major stations at hourly intervals for the 90-minute ride to Bokrijk. Be sure to get on a car marked for Genk, as some trains split enroute. Bokrijk has no station, but the trains stop at a platform close to the museum entrance. Return service runs until mid-evening. Those without a railpass should purchase a "Train + Museum" combination ticket. CLICK HERE FOR SCHEDULES AND FARES.
By Car, leave Brussels on the A-3/E-40 and go east, almost to Leuven, then take the A-2/E-314 northwest to exit 30 and follow signs south to Park Midden Limburg, then to Domaine Bokrijk. The total distance is 83 km (52 miles).
The open air museum at Bokrijk operates daily between April and September, with more activities on Sundays and holidays. Good weather is essential for this trip. For further information T: 011-265-300, or CLICK HERE for their website, then on the English logo.
There are several places to eat and drink within the open air museum, as well as a good restaurant just outside the entrance. They are:
't Koetshuis (Bokrijklaan, outside the entrance) In a mock castle near the open air museum. French cuisine in an intimate, rustic atmosphere. T: 011-265-407. X: Tues. off season. €€
De Kleinaert (in the open air museum, #3 on the map). Flemish-Burgundian dishes and regional beers are served in this familial tavern in the Haspengouw style. T: 011-265-417. €€
't Gulle Zwijn (at the entrance to the open air museum, #2 on the map) Indoor/outdoor dining and drinking under the sign of the pig, in the former gatehouse. T: 011-265-414. € and €€
St. Gummarus Inn (#5 on the map) This former tavern from Lier, situated in the Campine Village of the museum, specializes in farmers' dishes, Flemish stew and buckwheat cakes. Indoor and outdoor tables. T: 011-265-415. €
In den Dolfijn (#6 on the map) A tavern from West Flanders, serving local specialties, indoors and out. T: 011-265-416. €
Bierkelder (#8 on the map) A typical old beer cellar from Antwerp. A huge variety of beers are available, but only snack food. T: 011-265-418. €
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
CLICK ON MAP FOR A LARGE PRINTABLE VIEW
Leave the Train Halt (1) and walk a short distance to the:
*FLEMISH OPEN AIR MUSEUM (Openluchtmuseum) (2), Het Domein Bokrijk, B-3600 Genk, T: 011-265-300. Open daily, April through September, 10-6. Admission on Sun. and holidays, and daily July-Aug. €€€; weekdays in April-June and Sept. €€. Audioguide rental €. Guide booklet €.
Begin your visit at the Welcome Pavilion, where a 7-minute video will orient you to the layout. From here follow the map to Haspengouw (3) a South Limburg village complete with a 17th-century farmstead, a 16th-century granary, a laborer's cottage, a 19th-century school, an 18th-century chapel, and a cozy tavern.
Continue on to a 17th-century brewery (4). Grouped around this is a 17th-century half-timbered house, an especially nice pigsty, a bakehouse with a latrine, and a small chapel. Head towards the octagonal windmill of the 18th century, the 12th-century Romanesque church, the archers' mast, and the cave hut.
Turn left at the next windmill and left again at another farmstead. You are now in a village typical of Antwerp Province. Opposite the pillory is the St. Gummarus Inn (5), an 18th-century structure restored to its condition of 1900. This is a great place for simple meals and especially for the tasty regional and local brews. A souvenir shop is nearby, as is the 18th-century vicarage. Also nearby are more pigstys and outhouses, and a 17th-century farmhouse.
The route now leads past an ancient abbey farmstead, a water mill, and more farms to the Dolphin Inn (In den Dolfijn) (6), a 17th-century meeting place from West Flanders. Restored to its early-20th-century condition, it now offers a good selection of regional dishes and brews, including the very strong black Abbey beer.
Continue on through a rural area typical of West Flanders (7) and an undeveloped part of the museum to the Urban Section (8). City buildings from Antwerp are being moved here brick by brick to save them from the wrecker's ball. Dating from as far back as the 15th century, the ones that are now finished house exhibitions as well as a delightful and very popular beer cellar that features a fabulous choice of brews. This is the perfect place to relax before heading back to the train halt.
Copyright © 2006 by Earl Steinbicker.
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Adapted from Daytrips Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg, with color photos and map added.
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