A few years ago, I read in a tourist leaflet that Tilburg was called ‘the Rotterdam of the south’. And after twenty years living in Rotterdam and over a year in Tilburg, I can only agree. These aren’t cities with picturesque gabled houses, romantic streets and charming alleyways. But there’s always something going on and lots of opportunities.
There’s just one big difference: from the city of Rotterdam, it’s a good half an hour to an hour before you are really in the countryside. In Tilburg, it takes quarter of an hour to walk into the forest. And from the local university, you can be among the trees and the greenery in a minute.
Unique star-shaped forest
The Oude Warande on the outskirts of Tilburg is one of the few remaining star-shaped forests in the Netherlands. The forest was built over three hundred years ago in the style of the French landscape architect who also designed the gardens of Versailles. In the middle of the forest, there’s an open area (there used to be a big tree here, but now there’s a pavilion with a small cafe). From here, eight avenues radiate into the forest like a star, hence the Dutch name Sterrenbos which translates as Star Forest.
Although it’s a designed forest, with paths along geometric lines, it feels very natural. It’s a mixed forest, so with deciduous trees and conifers. This gives me the ultimate forest experience on a warm summer’s day: filtered light through the leaves of the beech trees, the scent of warm pine needles.
In spring and early summer, you’re almost deafened by the birds, so great for the birdwatchers among us. And there’s something for those who prefer something furrier too. There are two species of squirrel which are easy to spot here. To see the red squirrel with its beautiful bushy tail, you need to look up, have a bit of luck on your side and keep quiet. The other species, the Siberian chipmunk, can regularly be spotted next to the path clambering over branches and fallen trees, and is not shy at all.
The ideal environment for shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. I adore this Japanese form of ecotherapy which involves slowing down and really immersing yourself in the forest in terms of scent, sound and sensory perception (stroke a tree, rustle the leaves with your hands, lie down on the moss!).
Save on the costs of a course on mindfulness or meditation. Just sit down on a tree trunk, shut your eyes and that’s it. No towels required.
And if you have time at the end of your walk, wander over the campus of that other economic university. Tilburg and Rotterdam, same same but different.
Getting there and away
From Tilburg University station (from Rotterdam, change in Breda), cross Tilburg University car park and enter the forest.
Attractions & activities
Until 2 October, you can visit the annual sculpture exhibition Lustwarande in the forest. You can just walk into the forest and look for the artworks, or buy a ticket and get a booklet with a map and explanation of the artworks.
Food & drinks
At the centre of ‘the star’, there is a reflective pavilion, Grotto (a word that sounds like cave in Dutch, look inside and you’ll know why), where you can get a drink and simple snacks. With a terrace!
Dangers & annoyances
Because of the many oak trees, the forest is a popular breeding place for the oak processionary moth. The tiny hairs on the caterpillars of the moth can cause itchy skin rashes. Annoying, but not serious.
Flora & fauna
The Siberian chipmunk once escaped from a zoo and now even has its own Facebook page and sculpture group along the roadside.