Picture the scene of a child excitedly piecing together two jigsaw puzzles, and you should have a vague idea of the situation in Baarle-Nassau of the Netherlands and Baarle-Hertog of Belgium.
The borders that separate the two individual municipalities are neither straight nor curved. Instead, they zigzag across 30 grassy enclaves in the form of white crosses and metal studs, paying no heed to houses, gardens, shops and streets.
The result is a bizarre fusion of different social, economic and cultural customs, and a handful of homes that could conceivably belong to both countries. As a matter of convention, each household's preferred nationality is determined by the location of its front door, but residents also display either a Dutch or Belgian flag, just to be clear about which side they’re on. Even more bewilderingly, everything is doubled up. Each town has its own laws and therefore its own public services.
Such complex history – which can be traced back as far as the 12th century – manifests itself on almost every street corner, but there’s more to ‘the Baarles’ than these peculiar days of yore. After a morning of walking or cycling through the surrounding forests, you can make your way back into town to refuel with a sugary pancake at the popular De Pannekoekenbakker pancakery.
When to go?
The Baarles are best – and busiest – during summer (July-September), when visitors can take full advantage of the beautiful surroundings. Things are a bit quieter and cheaper from April to June and October through to November, when the vibrant changing colours of the leaves provide an alternative backdrop.
Where to stay?
Dopheide – Baarle-Nassau, The Netherlands
Set against a backdrop of verdant forest, this quiet and stylishly furnished chalet grants guests access to a 435-hectare nature reserve where rabbits, squirrels, and deer roam free. The large wooded garden features two terraces and a brick BBQ to enjoy in summer. Bikes are also provided so guests can explore their serene surroundings.
Puur Rust – Baarle-Nassau, The Netherlands
With enough room for a family of four, Puur Rust provides guests with modern facilities in an idyllic spot. A sleek interior is flooded by light during the day, while a swimming pool, tennis court, and mini-golf course occupy outdoor space. If the mini-golf doesn’t quite do it for you, the award-winning Landgoed Nieuwkerk Golf Course is just a short drive away.
De Hertog van Baerle
De Hertog van Baerle – Baarle-Nassau, The Netherlands
A stone’s throw from the Dutch-Belgian border, this homely guesthouse is the perfect retreat for exploring the surrounding countryside – either on foot or by bike. With everything from a sauna and hot tub to a garden-sized chess board, the property is suited to all seasons. Booking.com guests love the fresh breakfast and welcoming staff here.