Belgium's Blue Forest is One of the Most Beautiful Natural Areas on Earth

iStock.com/antonyspencer
iStock.com/antonyspencer

Imagine if the poppy fields in The Wizard of Oz were all blue—and real. That's how Belgium's Hallerbos forest looks for a short time each spring. For roughly 10 days in April or May, innumerable bluebells blossom, covering the forest's floor in a lovely violet.

Dutch for "Halle's forest," Hallerbos is located about 30 minutes outside of Brussels. But while the forest is currently part of the Belgian state, its ownership has varied, starting with its first known owner in the 7th century. Records list it as having been part of the expansive land of the Abbey of St. Waltrudis, in Mons (about an hour south of the forest). A few centuries later, it became part of the duchy of Arenberg before passing to the French Republic after their troops invaded in 1794, then to the Netherlands in 1815, and eventually returning to the Duke of Arenberg in 1831.

Unfortunately, when World War I hit Europe, the German army felled much of the forest for wood, diminishing its original size of 1125 hectares down to 569 hectares (or roughly 1400 acres). Belgium regained control of the Hallerbos forest in 1929 and spent the next 20 years actively reforesting the land. This extensive history is what, in part, makes the forest look the way it is today—because though the trees are relatively new, the bluebells are ancient.

In fact, an abundance of bluebells is an indicator of the age of a forest. Certain types of flowers, including the small, white wood anemones and pale yellow native primroses, are very often markers of ancient woodlands—this flora grows deep underground and doesn't spread through trafficked or harvested land, meaning that that larger groves of them tend to only be found in secluded areas. And for bluebells (also called wood hyacinth or wild hyacinth), their life cycle is dependent on brisk weather and sunshine, so they sprout and bloom before the trees above them have fully budded. Then, as quickly as they came, they turn to seed and continue growing their roots deeper to survive another year.

And thus, the extraordinary sight of a blanket of bluebells scattered through the forest is best observed during the early spring. Of course, this effect makes for some absolutely gorgeous photographs, so it's no wonder that visitors flock to the woods each year. Hallerbos provides directions to the forest by both car and public transportation, as well as two different maps for walks through the growth and a bloom tracker to plan for the prettiest possible visit.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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Meet Ian Brackenbury Channell—the Official City Wizard of Christchurch, New Zealand

In Christchurch, New Zealand, wizards ride buses, not brooms.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, wizards ride buses, not brooms.

Gandalf and Saruman aren't the only wizards New Zealand can claim. The city of Christchurch has employed its own official wizard for more than 20 years, and as CNN Travel reports, he's preparing to pass off his staff to a wizarding apprentice.

Ian Brackenbury Channell has been dressing up as a wizard for decades. Though originally from the UK, his career in academia brought him to the Universities of New South Wales and Melbourne in Australia. He assumed his magical role, simply titled "The Wizard," at both institutions. Responses to the character varied, but he finally found a permanent home for the act in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Brackenbury Channell had been living in Christchurch for 24 years when the city offered him an official wizarding contract in 1998. His new role would require him to "provide acts of wizardry and other wizard-like-services as part of promotional work for the city of Christchurch." Every year since, The Wizard has collected an annual salary of 16,000 New Zealand dollars, or $10,400 USD, from the government.

At age 87, Brackenbury Channell is spending less time in the spotlight and looking for an aspiring wizard to take over the job. Musician Ari Freeman, 39, threw his pointed hat in the ring several years ago when he introduced himself as a young wizard. He's been training as his apprentice ever since.

Freeman already sports a long beard that would make Merlin proud, but the role of official wizard goes beyond looking the part. Other duties include promoting local events, welcoming foreign dignitaries, and rambling in Cathedral Square. The Christchurch City Council for "wizardry," which manages the position, hasn't stated whether it plans to extend the contract to Freeman.

[h/t CNN Travel]