When people think of Belgium, they will invariably think of Brussels, Antwerp, or Bruges. This small country has other things to offer, though, including its numerous small towns that are very charming in their own right. One of them is the city of Herentals, just one hour from the capital.
Sweltering now in the heat and humidity of the Philippines, I couldn’t forget the first time I arrived in Belgium last February. I didn’t immediately stay with my friend K in Olen (long story); I found super nice Couchsurfing hosts Gerd and Pol in Herentals who gave me my first home in Europe.
I arrived on a weekday so they couldn’t take me around, but they did give a lot of recommendations on where I can go. One of them was the Tourist Tower as it had the best views; unfortunately, at that time, it was still closed. Besides, at -10 degrees Celsius, I had no plans of climbing up to expose myself more to the elements!
In fact, I didn’t feel like going around at all. I remember thinking at that time: is this how I’m going to spend my backpacking trip in Europe, huddled in front of the proverbial fireplace and looking out at the snow-covered and white-colored world outside?
It wasn’t until spring, when I went back to Belgium, that I got to go around Herentals, and of course, I made sure to go to the Tourist Tower (Toeristentoren).
Made of imported wood, this 24-meter tower is located in the midst of a pine forest one kilometer from the town center. My local friend Babs took me there, and after parking the car, we started walking. She pointed out the trails that runners and bikers use.
At that time, I could only feel regret that I wouldn’t be there in summer, as I would really love running under those trees!
Along the way, we saw several structures being used for Stations of the Cross during Easter, as well as a small and old church that looked unused. It was too bad; I think I would love to hear Mass in the middle of a forest.
After just a few minutes of walking, we reached the base of the tourist tower where a cafe was operating. Even at an early hour, there were already a few people drinking beer; of course in Belgium, people drink beer the whole day–except for breakfast; even K was aghast to see a German guy drink beer at 10am when he was in the Philippines.
The best view, of course, is when you reach the top. The 100+ steps is totally worth it when you enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. A small speck could be seen at a distance; Babs identified it as located in Olen, a small town adjacent to Herentals.
They say that on a really clear day you can also see Antwerp and even the Atomium in Brussels. Unfortunately, we didn’t see them.
There was also some sort of an orientation guide on the top floor, with the names of cities in Belgium and some corresponding numbers. Babs and I couldn’t identify what the numbers meant; it couldn’t have referred to distance, as Herentals was shown to have the number 2458 and Olen, which is very near, 5823. (If you know what’s it for, please say so in the comments!)
Up in the tower, the silence was almost deafening. You couldn’t even hear the wind. I think if there’s a moment I want to recapture in Belgium, it would be the one here, when everything seemed so small and inconsequential, and nothing and no one else mattered but the beauty in front of us.
Here’s a video of what you can see in Herentals (video by demike90 in YouTube). It’s in Dutch, but just looking at the pictures alone, you’ll see how beautiful the town is. Will write a post on it later!
For more information about Herentals, check out the city’s official site, Herentals.be. It’s in Dutch, but if you’re using Chrome, Google can automatically translate the pages for you.