Mountain biking in South-Limburg

The Netherlands is internationally famed for its overwhelming flatness, but there is one part for which that is not true, right down in the south of the country, there is a relatively narrow 'finger' sandwiched between Belgium and Germany, called South Limburg (or Zuid-Limburg in Dutch). The hills are still not as large as the Ardennes in Belgium a little further south, but in a couple of hours cycling you can notch up 6-800 height meters, which is not bad. What is more, the landscape is a treat.

Near Valkenburg

Much of it is rolling pastures with twisting country roads (very different from the straight lines everywhere else in the country) and little villages nestling in the hills. The underlying rock (a novelty in itself, much of the country just has sand or peat under the soil) is chalk, which means that there is a diverse flora and so also a lot of insects and so on. On one cycle ride I saw at least eight different butterfly species.

Hollow roads

The landscape also has a more ancient feel to it than the more constructed landscapes further north. There are a lot of hollow roads, formed by a combination of natural features and centuries of use, with trees arching over the top to make a complete tunnel in some cases. The network of mountain bike trails makes good use of these tracks, many of which are rough and steep. There are eight official routes in the district, as well as a few close by just over the Belgium border. The Dutch routes can be found on http://mtbroutes.nl/ and the Belgium/Flemish routes here: https://www.sport.vlaanderen/waar-sporten/sporten-in-de-natuur/mountainbikeroutes/.

Here is an overview of the Limburg routes:

  Km HM

Rating on

mtbroutes.nl

Maastricht 30 302 3.5
Epen 26 629 4.5
Mechelen 25 359 3.5
Margraten 30 359 3.5
Meersen 30 490 3.5
Nuth-Voerendaal 35 308 2
Sint Geertrud 35 441 4.5
Valkenburg 30 439 4.5
Gulpen 25 536 4

It is well worth downloading the GPS routes from those sites as some of the signs are hard to see or missing due to fast growing vegetation (nettle-proof gloves are also useful!) and vandalism. Some have more tarmac than others (not a problem seeing it is mostly pleasant back roads and you can regard it as recovery between the tougher bits) and some have more hills than others. The hills are often steep (up to 20-25%) and difficult (depending a bit on the weather) with loose pebbles and rocks (though it must be said that the photo below was a 'short cut' on one of the Belgium routes).

rocky road

The general consensus on mtbroutes.nl seems to be that the Epen route is the best one. It is indeed a super ride, with lovely diverse woodlands (photo below), including the Vijlenerbos, famous for its wild cats), some difficult hills and little tarmac.  However, my favourite was definitely the Voeren route (blue+black), which you can start in the village of Mheer (in the Netherlands) but is otherwise virtually all in Belgium. That has a great combination of gorgeous scenery and challenging trails.