A weekend touring around the Zuiderwaterlinie

By: Naline Outdoor fanatic | Read time: 7 minutes

The Zuiderwaterlinie, or southern water line, is a historical defence line, a hydraulic masterpiece and a chain of heritage sites that connects some of the most beautiful places in North Brabant. During a two-day trip along the Zuiderwaterlinie, I wind my way by bike and car past five of the 11 Brabant fortified towns and cities and with plenty to see, do and taste along the way.

Day 1. Road trips

The Zuiderwaterlinie traverses the whole of North Brabant, from Grave in the east to Bergen op Zoom in the west. The line defended Brabant against the Spanish and later against the French and Belgians. Today, it forms a series of historical towns and cities filled with sights, connected by the vast countryside.

Een foto van Kiki Brouwers.

"A walking trail has also been marked out along the Zuiderwaterlinie. You can walk short sections of the Zuiderwaterlinie Walking Trail or the entire 290 kilometres that takes you to all the fortified towns and cities." 

Fortified town of 's-Hertogenbosch

Fortified town of 's-Hertogenbosch

My journey starts in 's-Hertogenbosch, the capital of North Brabant that is also a fortified city. The city walls still remind us of the turbulent history, including the iconic Bastion Oranje and Bastionder visitors’ centre. You can experience the history of the city to the full here. Sample the character of the historical 's-Hertogenbosch at Bolwerk Sint Jan, once one of the most important access gates and now a place to grab a table for a drink or tasty lunch by the water.

For a cultural and culinary day in the Brabant capital, take a look at: From master painters to master chefs in 's-Hertogenbosch.

Stel wandelt in Den Bosch of 's-Hertogenbosch met St. Jans Kathedraal op de achtergrond Varen over de Binnendieze in 's-Hertogenbosch

The allure of Heusden

From the city centre of s-Hertogenbosch, I drive 15 minutes to Heusden, one of the most beautiful fortified towns in the Netherlands. And that title is justified. I clamber over the town walls and the Vismarkt is a feast to the eyes. This centre of the fortress is now a bustling hospitality square full of pavement cafés. When here, don’t miss the peephole with a view of the city harbour and the mill! Even though Heusden is compact, you will also find lovely shopping streets and good restaurants alongside the many national monuments, which give the town its allure.

Vestingstad Heusden van bovenaf

Dinner tip in Heusden:

At the end of the day, I turn back to 's-Hertogenbosch, where I will be spending the night at Soete Moeder. It’s a unique monastery hotel where the atmosphere of the past can still be found in the small details.

Day 2: On a bike

Abroad in North Brabant

Abroad in North Brabant

After breakfast in the monastery garden, I resume my route along the Zuiderwaterlinie. I ride northeast, where I explore the fortified towns of Grave, Megen and Ravenstein by bike. It’s an area that formed a sort of foreign state in North Brabant when it belonged to the Duchy of Kleef, among others. I wander over the characteristic cobblestones, through the historic inner city of my starting point of Grave, the most besieged fortified city on the water line.

The first stop is the town hall that houses the Zuiderwaterlinie visitors’ centre. A surprise awaits on the outskirts of the centre, where I climb the Vestingpark de Kat (fortress park) via the impressive Hampoort, now the Graafs Museum. You look out over the fortress from the top of the 11-metre-high wall, originally built to stop bullets.

Small but sweet Megen

I continue cycling through farming landscapes where tasty products are sold to the left and right of me. Following the forest paths of the Herperduin nature area, part of the ‘primeval area’ De Maashorst, I finally end up on lovely Dutch polder roads. Megen is the smallest fortified town on the water line, but it’s lively and bustling at the historical gate tower, the Gevangenpoort. Built in 1386, this was an infamous prison. Nowadays, you can enjoy a delicious gastronomic meal in the eponymous restaurant.

Along the route:

What is perhaps the most beautiful part of the cycle route starts here. With the Maas always in view, I cycle through the vast countryside, adorned with churches and windmills here and there. Ravenstein soon becomes my favourite fortress because of its photogenic streets and unique spots. For example, the city garden with the tannery and Stadsbrouwerij Wilskracht, where brewers Wil and Wil brew beers using traditional methods in the highest tower mill in North Brabant.

On a strolling safari in the Keent

On the last few kilometres towards Grave, I arrive last minute at the Keent nature reserve. It is actually an island on the River Maas but is now connected to the mainland. I cross the area on my bike and stop after every bend as there is always something lovely to see, such as an impressive herd of grazing Taurus cattle. Scottish Highlander and Exmoor ponies also inhabit this area. That completes the journey on this exceptional route. In two days, five fortified towns and countless new discoveries along this historical and natural green route in North Brabant.

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