It would not be easy to talk about Brakel without using adjectives like ‘picturesque’ and ‘scenic’. Simply undoable. Depending on the corner, hill or bend from where you look you’d say you were in the Dordogne, in Tuscany or Umbria.
The undulating landscape, with colourful fields and woods, almost magically combined, is interspersed with villages that get smaller and smaller, where the calm of rural life is not disturbed by modern stress.
Brakel is one of those very few villages where you can still draw breath orequally well test your lungs.
Because,if you want to explore the region from village to village, on foot or by bike,you will definitely need to get a second wind,. No wonder cyclist Peter Van Petegem, inhabitant of Brakel, won the arduousTour of Flanders twice in his career.Of course a horseback ride is yet another option. In that case you must not forget to stop at Michelbeke, where Saint Sebastian, patron saint of horse riders, will guarantee you a save journey.Every year on the third Sunday of June a procession of horsemen is held in his honour.
Brakel (ca. 14,000 inhabitants) is a municipality of 8 smaller villages: Elst, Everbeek, Michelbeke, Nederbrakel, Opbrakel, Parike, Sint-Maria-Oudenhove en Zegelsem.
Actually, each of these villages is worth a visit. Charming in their own specific way, telling different stories, each surrounded by beautiful scenery, unmatched, with hills, pastures and fields, exceptionally rich in fauna and flora, as varied and rare as the quickly changing composition of thesoil.
The word ‘brakel’ is thought to originate from 2 Germanic words: ‘braco’ (=to sail) and ‘lauca’ (=small wood on high sandy soil). Indeed, no lack of woods around Brakel, large and small. Nature rules here.
That is perhaps why Brakel’s biggest asset is its peacefulness. Though what you see is not exactly what you get. Because Brakel is very much alive and kicking.
Brakel offers you the best of the Flemish Ardennes.
The history of Brakel dates back to Roman times. Two streets, the rectilinear Leinstraat and the RomeinseWeg, bear witness to the ancient Roman road Ghent-Bavai. The picturesque surroundings reveal a vivid historical, agrarian and religious past. Castles, manors, churches and small chapels show up everywhere.
Eye-catching are the protected Saint Martin’s church in Opbrakel, the neo Gothic Toep chapel – chapel of Peace – in Nederbrakel, SaintUrsmar’s church in Zegelsem with the beautiful old limes, and the church dedicated to Saint Apollonia, patron saint of toothache, in Elst.
The TerWolfskerke castle, with Victorian castle, and the TeWolfskerke manor, with icehouse, both located in Brakelare definitely worth a detour. Between Nederbrakel and Michelbeke you will find the Lilare castle. A broad lane of trees hides its monumental entrance gate characterized by two square spires.
No lack of wind and water either. The numerous mills are remnants of an industrious agrarian past. A tough era, though, when woods and fields were cultivated and the Brakel landscape got its present shape. Especially the Verrebeek windmill and the Perlinck watermill – the oldest in Flanders – stand out.