Three riverside towns, three tales from the Dender valley
How the Dender gave Aalst, Ninove and Dendermonde their unique character
You probably already know how towns have always flourished thanks to the presence of water and rivers. That was no different in Scheldeland. Take Aalst, Ninove and Dendermonde, for example. These three towns lie along the banks of the river Dender.
Thanks to the water, trade and transport developed fast. The river accelerated the growth of industry and was the economic driver of the entire valley. A little further along, in the Flemish Ardennes, you will find another sibling glittering on the banks: Gramont (or Geraardsbergen in Dutch) – which is also well worth a visit.
The same river, a unique history
Despite lying close to each other, the three Dender towns each developed their very own typical identity. The tales of these towns are truly authentic. Their past is packed with local traditions and anecdotes. For centuries, the folklore in these towns has been a source of pride for every good citizen of Aalst, Ninove or Dendermonde.
Jump on your bike and let the green environment lead the way. Off you go on an adventure and visit the Dender towns. Explore them, experience them and you are sure to appreciate them.
Cycle through the Dender valley
As you pedal, you will pass the magnificent nature areas along the river. Already familiar with the open marshland between Wieze and Denderbelle? No less than 3 nature reserves have been combined into one magnificent reserve. This area floods whenever the water level exceeds its critical level. This results in some unique fauna and flora.
These flood plains bring yet another nice attraction: the hand-operated locks – complete with friendly lock keepers. Seen a boat arrive at the lock? Then stick around and enjoy the show.
A million to one? Not at all!
Don't be surprised to see several traditional mills appear on the scene. Indeed, the Dender valley is famous for them and various towns are still remembered for their mill. In the past, the mills provided prosperity for the local population. Many water mills and windmills have been respectfully maintained and are now fascinating attractions.
Follow the blue wiggles
Cycle nodes are not the only things to help you find your way. Several times along the Dender path you will also notice blue lines with the hashtag #dendervallei. These represent connection, connection with water and peace.
Each straight blue line leads you to a resting place, where you can take a break and enjoy the Dender valley. Wiggly lines lead you to exciting places, off the Dender path.
Aalst and its quirky character: 'aalst moar plezant is'
There 's no way around it. Aalst is synonymous with a crazy carnival and fabulous 'vlaai' flan. It's where big personalities like Pieter Daens and Louis-Paul Boon were born. In this clay their characters were formed, to become cathedrals of their time. If you're keen to dive deeper ino the work of Daens, be sure to stop at the town's ’t Gasthuys Municipal Museum.
And since you are already nearby, feast your eyes on the impressive Grote Markt, surrounded by amazing buildings complete with intriguing details, like the Old Aldermen's house, whose belfry towers is featured in the UNESCO world heritage list. Just a little further away, there's St Martin's church, which is home to a genuine Rubens painting. Plus, Utopia should also not be missed: as the town's very latest creative hub.
Dendermonde: music to your ears
The Bayard Steed, the Giants of the Guilds… Yes, Dendermonde is widely known for its processions and parades. But hang on a minute, there's even more to this Dender town than that. The jazz tradition lives on here – so it's no coincidence that Jazz Centrum Vlaanderen set up its headquarters here, right beside the Honky Tonk Jazzclub.
History is alive and kicking too. And if you're interested you can see it with your own eyes in different locations. The Medieval Town Hall with the Belfry, the Sint-Alexius beguinage which features on the UNESCO World Heritage list… They've all been showpieces in the town for centuries and are certainly worth a visit.
Worked up an appetite? Good news, because you can try the typical Dendermonde head meat in good brasseries in the town centre. If that doesn't take your fancy, you'll find plenty of other goodies in the hospitable cafés in the area.
Ninove: the oldest, boldest, wisest town in the area
Wait a moment, just scrap this title. After all, the official honorary title is this: the oldest, boldest, wisest of cities. Well, that's that one sorted out!
Now you know, you can pop into the local establishments and find out if it's true. Or take our word for it and start your exciting tour through the town. Hop from the Hospital Chapel, close to the Dender, to the Old Town Hall, along Koepoort city gate and the impressive Church of Our Lady of the Ascension - or former abbey church - to Neigem forest. See the many mills as you wander along the footpaths. And when you walk back into the town, be sure to admire the magnificent facades that adorn the streets.
Off you go, no time to lose! Plan your trip and pedal through the magnificent Dender valley. Discover the delightful Dender towns and enjoy all the delicacies the region has to offer, from the source to the mouth.
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