The largest and oldest of all the Belgian forests is only minutes away from the bustling centre of Brussels, which is easy to forget once you’re wandering these tranquil woodlands.
From the Iron Ages to the reign of Charlemagne the Sonian Forest was, foraged and harvested for food, shelter and timber for the construction of houses and ships.
Its current name is derived from the river Zenne which used to meander through the forest and dates back to the dark ages.
Today the Sonian Forest covers almost 5,000 hectares or 12,350 acres and is thought to be a remnant of the vast ancient Silva Carbonaria or Charcoal Forest which in Roman times stretched from the banks of the river Rhine to the shores of the North Sea.
Close to 80% of the woodlands are beech, many of them more than 200 years old. This monoculture is down to the forest’s productive past; as trees were taken out they were replaced with beech.
Although these old, majestic Beeches create an impressive cathedral effect, efforts to increase the biodiversity of the forest are now being made and future generations will enjoy a more naturally balanced beech-oak forest. Several species, like the brown bear, wolf, and badger have now disappeared but the Sonian Forest is still a rich wildlife habitat. In fact, the biodiversity is increasing: foxes and wild boar have come back after years of absence.
Parts of the Sonian Forest are certified with the international FSC-label awarded by the Forest Stewardship Council for durable forest management.
Another break in the Beech cover can be found in Arboretum of Groenendaal, established by King Leopold II in 1897.
Here you’ll find more than 400 different, mainly exotic, tree and shrub species which make a superb backdrop for a short nature walk. There is also a forest museum, plenty of hiking and cycling trails to enjoy and with the city so close, there are also enough car parks and bike rental stations around.