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.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Noord Brabant attractions

1. Laermolen

7.21 MILES

In an idyllic rural location on the northeast edge of town, Laermolen is small but still functioning watermill dating from 1381.

2. Hoogstraten Begijnhof

7.73 MILES

With two leafy quadrangles of pretty whitewashed houses and a remarkably oversized baroque chapel, this peaceful spot is one of Flanders' least-known…

3. St-Katherinakerk

7.84 MILES

Hoogstraten's fabulous belfry is an enormous 105m-tall red-brick edifice picked out with dots of white-stone detail in a style known as speklagen. Dating…

4. Begijnhof Museum


In a 1688 convent-house, this excellent little museum introduces the life of a begijn starting with an eight-minute video (English available) and a…

5. Turnhout Begijnhof

8.05 MILES

Hidden behind big wooden gates, one of Belgium’s loveliest begijnhoven loops round a long, narrow garden set with a grotto, church and religious statues…

6. Taxandria

8.13 MILES

Guarded by a cannon, the spired, 16th-century Matten Thoren mansion hosts this lovable city history museum whose mishmash of art and artefacts range from…

7. Turnhout Castle

8.18 MILES

Turnhout was founded as an 11th-century hunting retreat for the Hertog (Duke) of Brabant. By the 13th century their lodge had developed into the moated…

8. Speelkaartmuseum

8.51 MILES

Celebrating Turnhout’s role as one of the world’s largest producers of playing cards (1.3 million packs per day), this extensive museum displays a range…