Not far from the smart beach villas of Knokke-Heist, you find a wild region of watery salt marshes and windswept dunes. It’s called Het Zwin. No one lives here except for the birds.
This was once the estuary of the River Zwin. In the 15th century, merchant ships sailed down this river to deliver English wool and Italian silk to Bruges. But the Zwin silted up in the 16th century, turning Bruges into a dead port.
The estuary slowly evolved into a desolate landscape enclosed by dunes and pine woods. More than 100 different species of birds gather in this habitat, including storks, Kentish plovers, crested larks and avocets.
There are marked trails that lead across this strange region of Belgium that feels a long way from the luxury of Knokke-Heist.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.