Wednesday 27 October 2010

Brussels Avenue Louise and Bois de La Cambre Running Route

Length: 11 km (6.8 miles), terrain flat

Brussels Running Routes:
Avenue Louise/Bois de la Cambre  
Center Loop 

Old-Town Sights
EU Quarter/Woluwe Park
For more running routes, see Route List

Photos courtesy of the creative folks at Flickr Creative Common. Thanks!

NOTE: see the Destinations Tips page for tips about spending your free time in this great town!
I've probably spent a total of two years of my life in all the trips I've made to Brussels, and I love the place, but I still don't know how to put my finger on the character of the city. Brussels has a jumbled psyche of multiple personalities: it started as a Dutch-speaking town, and the old town looks like any other beautiful Dutch city. Over the years, though, the town was frenchified, and almost everyone speaks French nowadays, much to the resentment of the remaining Dutch-speaking community.

The monarchy also tried to make its stamp on the city: setting up huge palaces, grand parks and impressive monuments all over the place. The city is officially bilingual, disguising the cultural war going on. And on top of the local disputes, Brussels is home to the European Union, NATO and various international companies, giving the place a much more cosmopolitan feeling than its size would ever warrant. It punches above its weight-class with international buzz.
Hotel Solvay on Avenue Louise, photo by zemistor
Brussels is full of surprises. Tiny parks, the old harbor, palace gardens can be discovered in every corner of the city. The main square, Grand Place, is maybe the most beautiful square in the world, and its side streets, like Rue des Bouchers (Beenhouwersstraat in Dutch), lined with quaint old restaurants with open fireplaces blazing homily away have a character all their own. With all this packed into a maze of twisty streets, it's hard for me to explain how to get around.

So I'll take the easy way out, and describe the straight run out into the huge Bois de La Cambre (Kammerbos) forest at the south edge of the city. We'll follow Avenue Louise, a chic, very French-feeling tree-lined boulevard with elegant buildings and a lot of art nouveau mixed in. The route is long though. If you want to skip the run up and down Avenue Louise and just run in nature, take tram line 94 to the end of the avenue, where the woods begin.
Along Avenue Louise, photo by 黃毛
The Bois de La Cambre Route
The route starts at Place Louise on the Boulevard de Waterloo, where you have a view over the old town down the hill. Waterloo is full of lively shopping and restaurants, with a real French flair. Just start running down either side of Avenue Louise.
Tram on Avenue Louise, photo by 黃毛
After a couple of blocks, at Place Stephanie, the trees begin and it takes on a more pleasant feeling. After a while, you've probably had enough of running in a straight line.

So, when you reach the green square where the street takes a slight turn to the right, turn left, running downhill through the little Jardin du Roi park to the park-lined Etang d'Ixelles ponds along Avenue General de Gaulle, where we turn right. Note the many art nouveau homes along this elegant street.

Etang d'Ixelles, photo by Countries in Colors
Follow the park another block, and you'll see the entrance to the old monastery, the Abbaye de La Cambre. The abbey now houses an art school and other institutes. But the beautiful gardens around the backside are open to the public, and you can run through them, looping through to the entrance again. At the entrance, turn left, joining up with Avenue Louise again, just a block away.

Cambre Monastery, photo by Countries in Colors

Cambre Monastery grounds, photo by Countries in Colors
We turn left on Louise to continue running southeastwards, and you can see that the street ends in just a couple of blocks.

From now on, you will be surrounded by nothing but the green forests of the Bois de la Cambre. At first, it's like a park, but soon it is just rolling beech-woods with lots of great paths. There are a few cross-streets, but you'll just need to keep running southeastwards through the woods.

At the park entrance, keep right, then turn left on the Allee des Amazones. This will take you past a theater and a restaurant. The park if fairly long and narrow: if you hit the edge to the left or right, just head back towards the middle again. Eventually, you'll hit the pond, with the Robinson restaurant on the island in the middle. Visitors can only get there via the little ferry at the shore.

NOTE: This is Brussels' most popular running track: you'll find lots of runners who just run laps around the lake.
Bois de la Cambre lake, photo by blesga
I would just say to join the crowd and  run around the lake, and then head back home the same way you came. If you really want to burn kilometers, you'll need a good map or a gps smartphone to guide you through the many kilometers of forest that lies ahead. There's basically no limit on how far you can go. I've done many great marathon training runs out there.
Bois de la Cambre, photo by Vainsang

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