3 original museums
From recent historical heritage to a pig walk near one of the oldest buildings in the region, Meetjesland has much more in store than you might think. Four tips for unique experiences for young and old.
Steam trains and more (Maldegem)
The Steam Centre in the former Maldegem train station has the largest collection of running steam and diesel trains in Flanders. Learn all about how steam trains work, take a seat in the cinema carriage and be transported to that glorious era when the Orient Express crossed the continent. And of course, you can also admire the rare trains restored at the centre. Fred, for example, a shunting locomotive that was built in Bristol in 1923 and circulated on British lines for many years. Or Yvonne, at over 125 years old the country's oldest still-running steam locomotive.
Two locomotives even made it to the Vlaamse Topstukkenlijst [Flemish Masterpieces list]. Steam locomotive 41.195 is the world's only remaining example built in Tienen. And the Lilliput narrow gauge steam locomotive is one of the few remaining locomotives built for the Brussels World's Fair.
Can you imagine yourself roaring through the countryside in one of those authentic steam or diesel trains? It’s possible! From May to late September, steam trains and diesel railcars depart on Sundays and public holidays and also on Wednesdays during the holiday months. Just order a ticket (individual or group) and get onboard at the former Maldegem station. On the train, you can enjoy a drink while chugging along leisurely. There's something for children as well - there's a special little train on a separate track designed for the smallest drivers among us.
And here comes your train! On board, you can hear the pounding sound of the locomotive and the steam whistle blaring at the level crossings. Steam clouds envelop the landscape in dense shrouds. The historic trains take you to Eeklo station in half an hour, a ten-kilometre ride that takes you past the picturesque metal drawbridge over the Schipdonk Canal, pretty much the oldest canal in Europe between Ghent and the Zwin. In Eeklo, the train stops for five minutes before taking a right turn to Maldegem.
Will you take the steam train? Then you will be travelling on an authentic carriage of the Orient Express. Velvet sofas, curtains, lights, stylishly decorated compartments ... You will feel like Hercule Poirot. And if you dreamed of becoming a train driver as a child, you can join us in the cab. On board the steam locomotive, you can stand next to the driver and stoker and see how they work together: coal is thrown on the fire, water is tapped and when the driver pushes the throttle the train starts panting forward. In the wheelhouse of a diesel locomotive, you will discover the instrument panel that the driver has to operate to get the train running. You can witness the various shunting movements of a robust 600 hp diesel locomotive and ride along to Eeklo.
Now that you have booked your ticket: you can complete the experience with an exclusive Orient Dining Express programme. On board the steam train, you will be served a typical Meetjesland menu, served by renowned delicatessen and caterers.
WWII as you've never experienced it (Adegem)
Have you always been fascinated by World War II? Adegem is home to the Canada Poland War Museum, dedicated entirely to the heroes of the liberation. The mobilisation, occupation and victory over the Nazis are depicted with more than 300 dolls with full uniforms, weapons and broadcasting equipment: a unique private collection at European level. The Maple Leaf section displays battles of WWII in miniature, with thousands of soldiers, tanks, weapons, vehicles, cannons etc. It took 7 years to recreate everything exactly.
If you feel like visiting in person the locations where the war was fought, you can join the museum's Battle Tour - an exclusive tour of the Flemish and Zeeland battlefields. An expert guide will tell you fascinating stories and historical facts. The now-quiet environment will reveal all its secrets. And you will experience history like never before.
To call the museum impressive would be an understatement. Afterwards, you can chat and relax in the tearoom. The Canadian Room is a unique place, where you can enjoy a bite to eat and a drink in an impressive historical setting. Highly recommended!
The Pig Whisperers (Oosteeklo)
Oosteeklo residents are mockingly called pigs by neighbouring communities. And these days, they are proud of it. So much so that around the site of the castle and 13th-century abbey, you can take a Pig tour - individually or with a guide.
The signposted tour starts at the castle in Kloosterakkerstraat. There are 17 signs and all kinds of artwork by locals with a nod to the monastic past and the nickname of the people of Oosteeklo. You will learn the story of the pig in our language, through religion, the food chain and art.
You will also get a great view of the Cistercian Abbey, whose history dates back to the 12th century. In 1577, the abbey was destroyed during the iconoclasm but the guesthouse was miraculously spared. The current owner restored it with a passion for history and heritage, and the building has been an official monument since 1994. Like the castle, the monastery is usually closed to the public, but there are some exceptions. For example, there are regular guided tours by the Oosteeklo local history group Orde van de Smoutpot. Contact the local guide Godfried Stockman for group or family visits (firstname.lastname@example.org or +32 494 54 37 30).
Abbey of Oosteeklo, Kloosterakkerstraat (behind the big castle, do not enter the main gate of the big castle, this is private property! Go round to find the abbey), 9968 Oosteeklo. The bar is open every first sunday of the month from 14:00 til 18:00.