Yes, I know it may seem as a long shot on an outdoorsy blog, but here’s why a stroll through the village of Doel, next to Antwerp, is worth a visit if you’re into the green stuff:

1.      Doel has been a ghost town for about 20 years – it’s an opportunity to see how fast nature takes over without exposing yourself to radioactivity.

2.      Going exploring in peoples abandoned gardens, turned jungle, feels totally like an adventure into wilderness.

3.      Contrasted by nice (although crumbling) architecture, the jungle vibes and lack of people give an eerie sensation of post-war apocalypse. A feeling that is hard to come by otherwise in my perfectly protected life, but who knows – maybe it will come in handy the day the Yellowstone volcano erupts. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared for all possible outcomes…

4.      Signs hints of bike trips that might be nice for another day – this will be followed up in a later post.

The villain village

The heading doesn’t only hint to the questionable nature of a walk in Doel on a blog about taking a hike – oh no, no my dear, here comes the less than subtle double meaning: The village has resisted flattening all the way since the 1970s. The government finally managed to schedule it for demolition in 1999, wanting to expand the horrible harbour to meet our endless consumer needs. About 20 brave people still refuses to move however, although almost absolutely every neighbour has given in and left the premises.

While the majority of the population left just before 2000, when they were offered premiums to sell voluntarily, the last ones standing have taken legal action several times to remain put. EU’s environmental legislation paired with Doel hosting one of Europe’s largest swallow colonies, has come in handy.

Bohemian battleground

If you’re into baroque art, Doel has a connection to the famous painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). You know – the guy who painted those chubby baby-angles. Any bells? If not – don’t despair. You can learn everything about him if you’re interested and find yourself in the vicinity of Antwerp.

The corporation behind the expansion of the harbour promises to move and rebuild the house that was once owned by the Rubens family, but in retrospect I’m pretty sure this will not be the most disturbing part of art history when Doel eventually vanishes.

In perfect harmony with the few remaining rebellious villagers, street artists have painted almost every surface of every building. It’s a feast for several senses – in the beginning the idea was to make some sort of an open-air museum, although the works of famous artists now has been accompanied by the typical less memorable scribbling on the wall. Go find your own favourite!


Nothing lasts

Amongst the homes, the school, the playground and the church,  the adults in the family fell instantly in love with a very special construction that instantly sent us down nostalgia lane: The Fina station! It’s where they sold cheap Saturday night candy to my own 10-year-old self and where we hung out as teenagers in sleepy suburbia. What a personal reminder of mortality. 

Go before it’s too late

The general decay is ever more present in Doel. Windows and doors are now shut with plywood and steel – and by the state of the few places where it’s still possible to enter, this is probably a lifesaver. At the same time, the deterioration is working against the village’s survival, as it makes it easier to make the case that there’s nothing worth saving in Doel.

After looking into almost every greenery that once was a garden and snooping around the houses, we ended up on top of the dike along the Scheldt river. The boats were standing in sand, but the tidal water came flowing unbelievably fast. We followed the dike in the direction of the Nuclear Power Plant, standing in the horizon behind the old windmill, dating from 1611. The windmill turned out to be the oldest in Belgium, and the only one standing on a dike. Inside we found a cosy restaurant, full of happy Flemish people chatting, drinking and eating.

Go there now – don’t wait until they’ve put up a dock and a million containers. On the road there you travel through endless rows of them – no less dystopic than the colourful, lively town where the remains of humans meet nature. Make Doel Great Again!

Other practicalities

I think the days for bus number 31 are numbered - you'll see what I mean if you go there... 

I believe an Über or a rental car is a good option if you are looking for an outing from Antwerp - or you can bike there, but it’s probably not a very scenic ride unless you like container high rises and steel towers…

Questions? Wanting to share? Duke of Edinburgh or plain Jane? Feel free to contact me.


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