Nine natural delights in Zeeland
By Walter Jonkers, project leader of the aspiring UNESCO Global GeoPark Schelde Delta
From the dudes of our dunes to our epic polders, Zeeland embraces endless contrasts of nature, and fine spots to behold. Spiced with cultural heritage, our hidden gems await your discovery. They’ll tempt you out into our expansive fresh air. Let me share nine of them with you – don’t miss a single one! You’ll see why we’re aiming for the quality label of UNESCO Geopark, explained here visually and in Dutch.
1. The Bokkegat-Noord-Beveland natural area
Some say that if Zeeland was a monarchy, the region of Noord-Beveland would be a jewel in our crown. The island’s legendary rustic charm is as ever, dappled with sweet wee villages. Our waters will invite you too: whether on the extensive Veerse Lake, the Oosterschelde estuary and the stunning North Sea coast. The former wetlands of the Wijtvliet tidal gulley, now the Bokkegat nature reserve, are well worth an admiring wander across the island.
2. The Zwaakse Weel
This charming ribbon of peace and quiet – a tableau of nature, ancient farmsteads and old hamlets – has seen her fair share of the ebbs and flows of water and history: a ‘weel’ is a tidal creek shaped by floods. Back in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Zwake was a key shipping link between Antwerp and the North Sea. By the 15th, frequent silting saw it being reclaimed – mainly for farming.
3. Zeeland-Flanders, land of creeks
Etched by tides and flood surges – and varied mean dike saboteurs in the Eighty Years’ War – the area’s typical creeks are now serenely connected by bike trails and languid lanes. They reach as far as the Meetjesland of deep Flanders itself. Discover!
4. The Oosterschelde National Park
This rich palette of peace, quiet and space is no doubt enhanced by the Oosterschelde estuary at low tide. So many birds to see in their countless species, breeding and feeding on the flats.
Widen your gaze to absorb the wide open lands, and to peer down history’s path scattered with deserted harbours and old ferry jetties. This is the largest national park of the Netherlands – see how many of your senses it will stroke.
5. The wacky Walcheren woods of de Manteling
From the open coastal dunes to the measured intimacy of lanes wending through estates, the ‘Manteling’ is well named for its role as a caring protector. Abutting the windy seas, this oak forest has been shaved and shaped for centuries by its briny breezes – sometimes in weird twists. One very special tree served to inspire, they say, Mondriaan’s perspectives.
6. Schouwen-Duiveland’s historical villages
Here’s a gilt-edged invitation to some of the nicest villages lining the old Gouwe tidal gulley – so named from the days when its peat layers lent a golden hue to the water . It once divided Schouwen-Duiveland into four isles: Schouwen, Duiveland, Dreischor and Bommenede, all communities worth getting to know better.
7. Staats-Spaanse Linies
The array of defence works of the Staats-Spaanse Linies dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. Old forts, rampart dikes and garrisons now await your visit in peace – by pedal or foot power.
8. The Zak garden of Zuid-Beveland
A bountiful bag of goodies, that’s our Zak van Zuid-Beveland – the name from the middle Dutch ‘bundle’ (American = bindle) for a hobo bag. Here, tranquillity blooms amid the flowery dikes decked with sloes and haws, edged with orchards. The villages and farmhouses come alive in springtime – with a second wind when the fruit and berries are harvested.
9. Sint Philipsland
Standing apart, but not alone, the sturdy little gem of Sint-Philipsland is not to be overlooked. Wall-to-wall Zeeland, the smallest (and former) island is home to many waters, creeks, arable land, old farmsteads, dikes, salt marshes and more. Oh, the windmill atop the village on the old Krabbenkreek (yes, crabs lived here). Scamper along now, or get on your bike!