ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Visiting the Sonian Forest in the Brussels, Walloon and Flemish regions of Belgium: bilingual and supposedly haunted

Updated on September 10, 2014
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
The Sonian Forest
The Sonian Forest | Source
The Sonian Forest
The Sonian Forest | Source
The Sonian Forest
The Sonian Forest | Source
'The Soignes Forest', by Lodewijk de Vadder, early 17th century
'The Soignes Forest', by Lodewijk de Vadder, early 17th century | Source
John van Ruysbroeck
John van Ruysbroeck | Source

What's in a name? Plenty!

"The Sonian Forest? Can't say I'm familiar with it!"

This may be the reasonable reaction of some readers, but travellers to Belgium might already know of this 4421 hectare forest by another name. Or should I say, other names.

"So you mean there are many people who live in the Forest and who have different names for it?"

Well, it's not exactly this way. Relatively few people actually live in the Forest itself, although it adjoins a densely populated area. The fact is, in Belgium it's where a place is located — in which region — that really counts.

"So in which region is it?"

Well, this is the complication: the Sonian Forest is situated in all three of Belgium's regions: the Brussels-Capital Region (French: Région de Bruxelles-Capitale; Dutch: Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest), in Flemish Brabant (Dutch: Vlaams-Brabant) in the Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest) and in Walloon Brabant (French: Brabant wallon) in the Walloon region (French: Région wallonne).

So there are invisible jurisdictional lines which pass through this dense, forested area and what the Forest is called officially depends on which side of which lines that any particular square metre may be found. (Yes, every last square metre of Belgian soil is apportioned to particular linguistic groups or combinations thereof, irrespective of whether anyone actually lives there or not.)

Thus, in the part of the Sonian Forest that is located in the Flemish region, the Sonian Forest is known officially in Dutch as the Zoniënwoud. In the part of the Sonian Forest that is located in the Walloon region, it is known officially in French as the Forêt de Soignes. And in the part of the Sonian Forest that is located in the Brussels-Capital Region, it is known officially as the Forêt de Soignes AND as the Zoniënwoud — Brussels being officially and scrupulously bilingual.

So you can see why it's easier to call it by its English name: the Sonian Forest, even though the term is somewhat archaic and not so widely known as the name's other manifesations!

But wait a minute: in history — in fact, in Roman times — the Forest already existed in some shape or form; indeed, its area was far in excess of its area today. In those days, it had a Latin name also: the Silvia Carbonaria. (Don't worry; Belgian language activists will not expect you to remember the Latin name.) Amazingly, in Roman times, the Silvia Carbonaria stretched from what is now the Brussels area to the Rhine River.

But back to contemporary Belgium. I went walking in the Sonian Forest. And amidst the peace and quiet of the dense trees, which are mainly beech and oak, and through which kilometres of paths exist, I found a bench to sit on.

And I fell asleep.

How long I slept I do not know.

But I do know that when I suddenly woke up, I had a very strange and indefinable feeling. Where was I? Was I in the French-speaking part? or the Dutch-speaking part? (And leaving aside the fact that trees do not speak, I later realized that there is also a part of the Forest that is officially both French- and Dutch-speaking.)

Later also I learned that the Forest is supposed to be haunted. (Well, it would be, wouldn't it?)(1)

And later I learned that in Medieval times monks sought out the peace and quiet of the Sonian Forest for contemplation (2). And that some of the trees are reckoned to be centuries old.

Collecting my thoughts, I tried to figure whether I should say Dag! or Bonjour! to the next walker that I might see.

Visitors might ask: does it really matter whether one says hello to strangers in either French or Dutch? Well, to Belgians it does matter, depending on where you are. Even if you are in the middle of a forest! My eerie feeling gradually left me, but I do now wonder whether it was I or Belgian politicians that really needed to wake up?

September 12, 2013

Map of Brussels Capital Region municipalities
Map of Brussels Capital Region municipalities | Source
Map of Flemish Brabant municipalities
Map of Flemish Brabant municipalities | Source
Map of Walloon Brabant municipalities
Map of Walloon Brabant municipalities | Source

Notes

(1) There is a legend about children who died in tragic circumstances which is sometimes reckoned to be at the origin of the stories of ghosts in the Sonian Forest. While I disbelieve in such stories of hauntings, it is easy to see how in the darkness and mists of this historic Forest shadows and the power of illusion can give rise to such ideas. (For good measure, Belgian language activists would probably want to know if the ghosts were monolingual or bilingual.)

(2) One of these Medieval mystics was John of Ruysbroeck (1293/4-1381), who founded a monastery and also wrote contemplative literature in Dutch rather than the common Latin of the day.

Also worth seeing

A few of the visitor attractions in Brussels include: The Royal Palace (French: Palais royal ; Dutch: Koninklijk Paleis), and the nearby BELvue museum of the royal dynasty; the architecturally outstanding Grand' Place; the Erasmus House (French: Maison d'Erasme ; Dutch: Erasmushuis), Anderlecht, is a museum dedicated to Erasmus of Rotterdam.

...

How to get there: One of the many access points to the Sonian Forest, and one which I used, was close to Hoeilaart, in the Flemish region; I approached Hoeilaart on foot from the Walloon region, but a regular service by the Belgian railroad company NNBS / SNCB is maintained between Hoeilaart and Brussels. Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National), from where car rental is available. However, the Metro is a very convenient way of getting around Brussels. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

For your visit, these items may be of interest

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)