By Alison Hill

YOU must be wondering why anyone should be shouting ‘Go Belgium’ when they beat us twice in the World Cup.

But I am going to shout and here is why. We have just returned from a cycling holiday in Belgium, which was in the middle of football fever and overrun by black, yellow and red flags in support of the Red Devils.

So why ‘Go Belgium!’? Everyone talks about the Netherlands as having the most fantastic cycle infrastructure in the world and ‘Go Dutch’ are the words widely used to emphasise the nature of developments that we are all wanting to see in our own localities and nationally. To ‘Go Dutch’ means having segregated cycle paths, traffic restrictions by creating no-through roads and one-way systems to allow safe cycling, and a culture of cycling being a mode of transport for all ages and all abilities.

And while there is no doubt that cycling in the Netherlands is a wonderful awe-inspiring experience if you want to travel on safe, separate cycle tracks, we were surprised at the quality of the cycle infrastructure in the routes we took in Belgium.

We cycled from west to east across Flanders. The country has more than its share of canals and each one we went along had long traffic-free routes alongside it. Country roads all had cycle paths separated from the road, often by a neatly trimmed hedge. None of these felt like a legacy from the past as we saw several new cycle paths being built. We never saw a “Cyclist Dismount” sign (or its equivalent in Dutch), instead we saw endless “Cycles Uitgezonderd” (“Cycles Excepted”) signs on one-way streets, and remarkably even on pedestrianised streets. (No one on a bike in the Netherlands, Belgium or Germany would ever expect to be told to dismount and push their bikes along a road equivalent to Queen Street). There were fewer overpasses and underpasses than you might see in the Netherlands, but all cycle paths were continuous and with detailed direction signs at every junction. Junctions had cycle traffic lights, and roundabouts were frequently like the Dutch roundabouts with cycle priority all the way round.

For me the crowning glory was when we were on a remote country road which at one point narrowed considerably to go under a railway bridge. The cycle path continued unchanged – at least two metres wide – and took over nearly half the space under the bridge. Motorised vehicles had to give way to oncoming traffic.

But the most remarkable and heart-warming of all was the culture of the vehicle drivers. They showed astonishing respect for cyclists (and pedestrians for that matter). If we were standing at the side of a road a driver would almost invariably stop to let us cross. They would drive slowly behind rather than hoot and do a close pass.

So if you are contemplating a cycling holiday where you can feel confident that you will be on safe roads and respected by fellow road users you can’t go wrong with Belgium.