Tour Honors the 100th Year Anniversary of the End of World War I
MANCHESTER, UK, Nov. 5, 2018– Moss-draped bunkers, extinct villages, undulations in a copse or meadow signifying artillery fire or soldiers’ trenches… These are vestiges of the War to End All Wars that devoured much of Western Europe a century ago.
And yes, “In Flanders fields the poppies (still) blow between the crosses row on row…” as portrayed in the 1915 poem. Annually on Nov. 11 poppies are distributed (to wear in lapels and buttonholes) to mark Armistice Day when World War I ended -- on Nov. 11, 1918, 100 years ago this month.
In summer 2019, the European leader in self-guided cycle tours, Freewheel Holidays, has arranged a brand-new vacation itinerary through a battleground in war time known as the Western Front. Western-Flanders to Bruges, the coast and ‘Flanders Fields’over eight days commemorates this history that becomes particularly poignant toward the end of the tour within the Bruges-Panne-Ypres triangle, rife with WWI battlefields, museums, cemeteries and memorials.
Freewheel Holidays is the UK-based company that takes care of all the start-to-finish vacation details so guests only have to show up, cycle, sightsee, dine and sleep. This company guides guests through the region on a route (signposted according to a cycling-by-numbers system) down country lanes and through forests, on tow and cycling paths, past meandering brooks and dead-straight canals, behind dunes and along the sea, through rolling meadows and endless crop fields.
Discovering Bruges is a highlight of this adventure. Preserved and renovated, this fairy tale setting complete with a swan lake recreates a medieval world atop its cobblestone streets. After the devastation of WWI, Bruges was restored to its former 13th-14th century glory as a one-time proud commercial center for quality woollen fabrics. However, neighbor Ypres boasts one of the largest buildings of the medieval (circa 1304) world, Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) where every evening at 20:00 hours buglers play in honour of soldiers who lost their lives in the trenches and whose graves are unnamed. From 1933 to 1967 the war-destroyed building was restored, today housing the Flanders Fields’ Museum.
Guests cycle on average 47km daily. This itinerary’s gateway town is Veurne (Fumes) whose market square is considered among the most beautiful in Belgium. The North Sea coast sheds light on a 1600 AD battle involving the Spanish and English that sets the stage for the war-torn history of 1914-1918. Enroute to Bruges is a nature reserve comprised of a low-lying, open wetland where wild flowers grow in the meadows and where black poplars are being reintroduced to provide shelter to bats and birds.
One route through the wooded Houtland region reveals castles and country estates, with a reforestation near Roeselaere that’s transforming farmland into woods. Poplar and willow were planted and paved the way for slow-growing oak, ash, cherry and beech. In the shoe town of Izegem is the Eperon d’Or museum showcasing everything to do with shoe production.
Passing through Menen (Menin) enroute to Ypres is a museum that presents the military history of this border town. Think 48,000 German soldiers buried in Menen War Cemetery. Then comes the Passchendaele 1917 Memorial Museum dedicated to the madness of the Battle of Passchendaele. From here, there is a 3km walk to Tyne Cot Cemetery, with nearly 112,000 Commonwealth graves and a wall with the names of another 35,000 soldiers with no known grave. Polygon Wood was the scene of fighting in the First, Second and the Third Battles of Ypres. The pinewoods harbour two British war cemeteries as well as memorials for soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. (A free app, 'Ypres Salient 1914-1918,' helps in exploring this region).
On the last full day, cyclists may visit Lijssenthoek where the Allied wounded in the Ypres Salient were taken. From 1915 this was the scene of four large British field hospitals with a total of 4,000 beds. Ninety-seven percent of the wounded were patched up and moved on. But 11,000 soldiers of 30 different nationalities are buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. Because most of them were alive upon arrival at the field hospital, their names were known and appear on the gravestones. Today the excellent visitors’ center is a work in progress as more and more photographs and stories are linked to a specific gravestone.
After Lijssenthoek, the route delivers riders to the fascinating region of Poperinge, home of Gothic-style churches and the Hop Museum where visitors can sample some of Belgium’s internationally renowned beers. The monks of the nearby St. Sixtus Abbey pray, read and do manual work in the brewery. This is one of six Belgian abbeys that brew Trappist beer.
This trip departs every Saturday in 2019 from June 4 to Sept 21. The per person double rate is from £789 inclusive of hotel overnights and breakfast, bike hire, route description and maps, luggage transfers and tourist tax. See: https://www.freewheelholidays.co.uk/cycling-holidays-belgium/bruges-flanders-fields-cycling-holiday.
About Freewheel Holidays
A division of Sports Tours International, Freewheel Holidays specializes in self-guided, expertly supported European cycling holidays that strike the perfect balance between leisure pedaling and immersive sightseeing. The company offers easy to moderate cycling programs designed with special appeal to European and North American travelers. Guests cycle on their own, with enroute assistance and distinctive accommodations expertly chosen and secured by the company. A portfolio of nearly 50 established European holidays offers riders of all levels a freedom of choice. The company features a range of 4- to 11-night itineraries to 18 European countries including the UK, Austria, France, Holland, Czech Republic, Italy, Malta, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Sweden and Portugal. The majority of tours are self-guided with the exception of a few fully-guided vacation packages in Croatia, France and Italy. The company also offers family-focused, bike & barge, coastal, wine lover and solo traveler holidays plus the option of adding E-Bikes.
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