In the mid-19th century, quartz sand, a precious glass-making mineral, was discovered on the outskirts of Lommel.
This sparked an industry that continues to this day, permanently changing the countryside around towns.
Abandoned quarries are now nature reserves and combined to form the huge Bosland, the largest woodland in Flanders.
Lommel’s contribution to glassmaking has been recognised by Het GlazenHuis, a museum and centre of excellence located under a 30m glass cone.
There is a Centre Parcs resort on the edge of town and there is a lot to do nearby.
You can stroll through the forest with its extraordinary sound sculpture, ride the ring bridge that crosses the forest canopy, or drink a few bottles at one of the few authentic Trappist breweries in the world.
The natural spaces around Lommel and the neighbouring municipalities of Peer, Overpelt and Hechtel-Eksel have merged to create the largest public woodland in Flanders.
Boslan covers more than 5,100 hectares and is divided into many smaller nature reserves.
We’ll discuss the Lommelse Sahara below, but in the Lommel there’s also the pastures of De Watering, the heathland of Heuvelse Heide, and the Kattenbos and Scotch pine woodlands of Pijnven.
The landscapes are accessible to walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Head to the tourist office in Lommel, where you can buy adventure packs for children’s scavenger hunts in several reserves.
2. Fietsen door de Bomen
One of several unforgettable experiences in Boslan is the feeling of riding a horse through the forest canopy, this incredible structure is located in Hechtel-Eksel in the south.
You can reach the Fietsen door de Bomen from Lommel via a network of bicycle routes, which you will find at junction 272 (knooppunt). You will ride a circular bike path 700 meters long, 100 meters wide and 10 meters high on a gentle 3-4% gradient.
Supported by steel columns, the structure is designed to blend in with the straight trunks of Scots pine in the Pijnven forest.
3. Lommel Sahara
From the centre of Lommel, you can walk a few minutes north and you will find yourself in a strange dune landscape surrounded by taiga and protected as a nature reserve.
If you had embarked on this journey 100 years ago, you would have found a very different scene.
It was a quartz sand quarry and around this time a zinc factory destroyed the land.
Those days are now long forgotten, and dense pine forests on its edges were planted to prevent the spread of these white sands, limiting Lommelse Sahara to less than 200 hectares.
In the center of the dunes is a sapphire lake that contrasts with the sparkling sand.
To the north is the Bocholt–Herentals Canal, which can be crossed on a suspension bridge to continue the hike.
4. Uitkijktoren Sahara
Since 2015, there has been a fascinating architectural statement by the waters of the Lommelse Sahara.
The jagged 30-meter watchtower has a curved profile on its frame, created by dangling ropes, reminiscent of the rolling sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.
In total, more than 3.5 kilometers of ropes are wrapped around the structure.
The Uitkijktoren Sahara Desert has 144 steps to the top, and on a clear day offers a panoramic view that stretches over 25 kilometers, including the whole of Persian.
The tower is a collaboration between MaMu Architecten and Ateliereen.
5. Het GlazenHuis
Quartz sand, a key raw material for glass manufacture, has been mined around Lommel since 1891. This has left its mark on the landscape, where former quarries have been turned into nature reserves, such as the Lommel Sahara.
Until the end of the 20th century, Lommel also had an important glass factory.
In 2007, the Flemish Centre for Contemporary Glass Art opened in Lommel as a recognition of its role in the industry. Not to be missed due to its soaring 30-meter glass spire, the building hosts exhibitions of internationally renowned glass artists twice a year.
Het GlazenHuis has an educational role, holding seminars and demonstrations in its own furnace heated to over 1100°C.
In the shop you can buy a unique piece of fine mouth-blown glass as a souvenir.
6. Fossmeren Park Centre
On the Dutch border, on the eastern edge of Lommelse Sahara is a branch of the resort chain Center Parcs.
Just three kilometers from the center of Lommel, you can purchase a day pass and take advantage of the abundance of facilities.
Hectares of woodland are available for walks, which include a spectacular indoor subtropical swimming pool, a pirate-themed cave-style indoor play area, two water sports lakes, a petting zoo, a group of restaurants and a spa and wellness centre.
You can also leave your name for a range of activities including rock climbing, archery, mini golf, paintball and laser tag.
7. Market Square
With a rough triangular plan and rows of linden trees, Lommel’s Market is where you’re sure to end up at some point.
As of this writing, in early 2020, this space, along with the Dorp to the east, has just been re-landscaped.
The town’s tourist information point is on the east side, with cafés, bistros and restaurants on the edge of the square.
Hidden among the leaves is the old neoclassical town hall, built in 1845 and now primarily a venue for weddings.
In the front is a small bandstand and water pump, both dating from 1905. The weekly market takes place here on Wednesday afternoons, and every Sunday from April to October you can visit the Teutenmarkt, a flea and antiques market.
8. St. Peter Bandenkirk
While most of the church is located in the center of Lommel and is neo-Gothic from the early 20th century, the tower is actually medieval, in the Kempen Gothic style, dating from 1388. There are also many works of art inside the church, the most important of which is the colorful engraving of Mary in the 16th century.
The 32 neo-Gothic stained glass windows are delightful, dating from 1906 to 1912 and painted by Gustave Ladon of Ghent.
Also noteworthy is the church organ, an early work by organ master Arnold Clerinx (1816-1898), who was only 27 years old.
There is a 63-bell carillon in the tower, and the carillon of Lommel, Liesbeth Janssens, gives a concert every Wednesday from 15:00 to 16:00. You can also visit the historic tower with its carillon for free on the first Wednesday of every month from 15:00 to 16:00.
9. Burgemeestershuis en Park
There is a beautiful public green space not far south of downtown Lommel.
The path surrounds lawns and mature trees in the old park of the mayor’s mansion.
Summer is here and the park has a lively schedule of live music and festivals based around the bandstand.
The mayor’s residence, built in eclectic style in 1898, is located on the east side of the Stationsstraat and until recently housed Lommel’s tourist information office.
Since the 2010s there has been a restaurant called “Het Burgemeesterhuis” with a terrace in the garden.
Originally built in 1797 in the village of Olmen, 15 km away, this fine column mill in the small village of Kattenbos has moved a lot since then.
Leyssensmolen was dismantled, moved and reassembled 3 times in 1808-09, 1964 and 2007. The most recent move was on the Zandstraat road in order to give the factory better wind.
In addition to dismantling its internal mechanism between 1955 and 1988, Leyssensmolen had been milling flour by painting the sky blue in an eye-catching shade and affixed to the grass mound.
You can visit and chat with the miller on the afternoons of the first Sunday and third Saturday of each month, while at the end of May there is an annual festival with market stalls and fun for children.
This one-of-a-kind museum in Pelt is set in a forest, where you will encounter a growing number of sound-sounding art installations.
Klankenbos now has up to 20 works by artists from all over Europe.
The pieces are playful, manually or subtly harnessing the natural power of the wind to chime, buzz, rustle or screech.
One of the installations, ‘Liglicht’, is a bench that makes different sounds depending on how people sit on it, while others record ambient sounds and play them when you get close.
The other is “Tacet”, a soundproof glass box from which the surrounding forest can be seen, but nothing can be heard.
12. Archers Cruise
Achel Abbey owns one of the few Trappist breweries in the world, just a short drive from Hamont-Achel.
From the 17th century until the invasion of the French Revolutionary Army in 1789, there was a hermit community here. Then, in 1846, Trappists from Westermare Abbey founded a monastery here, which would receive monastic status in 1871. In addition to cheese, Achel Abbey has been producing beer since the 1850s and today produces a variety of Bruin and Blond beers for general sale, according to their ABV (5, 7, 8 and 9.5) marks. There’s also a Bruin and Blond 5s, which can only be found in the monastery’s café.
Most monasteries and breweries are off-limits, but you can stop by the café, which has windows over the brewery, and a gift shop in the courtyard that sells beer, cheese and handicrafts made by the monastery.
13. LAGO Pelt Dommelslag
Also in Pelt there is a super indoor pool and recreation center, 15 minutes east of Lommel.
At LAGO Pelt you will find a wave pool, various children’s pools, slides, a lazy river and an outdoor pool with a temperature of over 20°C.
Combining all of this, there is also a 25-meter swimming pool with 6 lanes for those who are out and about for exercise.
For stressed parents and adults looking for relaxation, there is a large wellness area for those over 16. There are panoramic saunas, bio saunas, whirlpools, steam baths, warm lagoons and blissful wellness gardens, just to name a few facilities.
There is also free Wi-Fi throughout the centre and a restaurant serving healthy post-swim snacks.
14. Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Lommel
Lommel is home to the largest WWII German military cemetery outside of Germany.
The 39,102 burials of Kattenbos were relocated here in 1947 by the American Battle Monument Commission from various locations across Belgium, such as Henri Chapel in Liège and Tongeren in Limburg, Belgium.
Some 6,221 burials are unidentified, with another 542 from the First World War.
If you pass by, the cemetery is a place to be, thought-provoking.
The 16 hectares are spotlessly clean and the spring flowers bloom amazing.
At the entrance is a grand gatehouse containing an information room and vaulted basement, all topped with a cross carved from black lava.
15. Polish Military Cemetery
The largest Polish military cemetery in Belgium is also located in Lommel, just off the N71 (Ringlaan) southwest of Lommel.
It was established in 1946 for Polish personnel who died in the liberation of Belgium.
Bodies from all over the country were transferred to this cemetery, which contains 257 burials, two of which are marked with the Star of David.
Curiously, the town of Tilt refused to give up the tombs after the war, as these heroes had become “a relic of the city”. Below the large cross at the end is a stone inscribed with the Belgian location where these soldiers fell.
There is also a multilingual information panel at the entrance showing the course of the war through Belgium in 1944-45. Socialist realist sculpture by Marian Wnuk (1906-1967) depicting a woman wearing a laurel wreath to commemorate the sacrifice of the deceased.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Lommel, Belgium
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