Baarle-Nassau

Village in Noord Brabant

Together Baarle Nassau (NL) and Baarle Hertog (B) form an extraordinary geopolitical quirk divided by the world's messiest border jigsaw: 22 miniature exclaves of Belgium lie within the Netherlands, and a further half-dozen Dutch pockets lie within these. Visit the tourist office for an exhibition explaining the background then stroll the (otherwise ordinary) streets, noticing studs and crosses marked on roadways and pavements denoting the eccentric frontier line.

The strange arrangement stems from 1198 when the village's homesteads were given to the Duke of Breda (later Nassau) while surrounding farmland remained in the hands of the Hertog (Duke) of Brabant who wanted to retain valuable agricultural tax revenues. Amazingly those medieval divisions still survive. And at times they have helped create thriving smuggler economies – curiously memorialised with a statue in town.

Today, most commerce is in the Dutch areas, but petrol stations and tobacconists are in Belgian parcels for tax reasons. Hotel Den Engel is in the Netherlands but so near the border that if you sit at the southernmost table of its cafe terrace you can drink a beer with one foot in either country.

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