Haspengauw, or as spoken in Walloon or Belgium French, Hesbaye, is a very unique region that local people visit in the early spring when the many apple, pear and cherry orchards start to bloom in a pink and white spectacle that covers the land. At the center off all this is the old town of Borgloon. The inhabitants keep a watchful eye on when the first flowers start the open up and notify people from all over to come and experience the region at its peak. To the locals it is the first blossoms that mark the beginning of spring.
Apple, pear and cherry, along with plum, apricot, peach, nectarine and almond trees all belong to the rose family. They are somewhat a unique plant, as they need a cold temperate climate to thrive. The seeds require a certain amount of chilling time to grow into a new plant (although most stone fruit trees are commercially propagated through a process called grafting). When the early spring is too frosty, the blossoms die off leaving the tree fruitless until the next year.
There is a law in Belgium that protects fruit trees if the trunk is at least two meters high. Therefore many old impressive fruit trees still stand and are enjoyed by travelers. The young blossoms brighten up the landscape which can be dreary this time of year.
The plateau of Borgloon is unique with its wavy hills in an otherwise flat part of the country. Throughout history the plateau was a fertile agriculture center for ancient Roman colonist who had settled there. Many old artifacts and farm villas have been excavated here and travelers can still follow an old roman road that connects to an ancient infrastructure throughout Europe.
At the center lies the oldest town of Belgium, Tongeren, which is named after the Tungri tribe that used to live there. The Romans called these old Germanic and Celtic tribes the Belgea; their name would be lent to the country that would much later become Belgium in 1830. On the old market square of Tongeren stands the proud statue of Ambiorix; the Eberone tribe warrior who valiantly stood up against the mighty Julius Cesar himself. A legendary character, we only know about his existence through the writings of the Emperor himself. Overall, the Roman settlements have played a very important agricultural role that is still celebrated with pride. The town of Tongeren, which is still surrounded by the ruins of a three mile Roman stone wall, holds an impressive collection of Galo Roman artifacts in a museum dedicated to the relationship between the Gauls, Romans and other societies at that time.
The Haspengauw region has many beautiful old hamlets, single farmsteads, churches, castles with their domains and other sights to see. The steep hills have made the perfect place for growing grapes and the area presents a selection of vineyards where people purchase wine straight from the producer. Some parts of the area are mainly for pedestrians and hikers but cyclists can enjoy the many dedicated paths for great rides to celebrate the beginning of the spring solstice. Break out your old bike and go for a ride through the orchard fields of Haspengauw!
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