Roam around the Sahara … in the Limburg district of Lommel


The true Sahara naturally lies in North Africa. However, the miniature desert with the same name in Lommel-Werkplaatsen certainly deserves its title.

You can lose yourself in a massive expanse of sand, dotted with clear blue lakes, strips of heather and fragrant pine and deciduous forests. Oddly enough, this protected natural domain with all its birds did not start life in a particularly ecological manner.

In 1904, a zinc and sulphuric acid factory emitted all kinds of heavy metals, which destroyed pretty much all plant life in the area. The heathland at Maatheide was transformed into a desert; the area is still known locally as the Sahara. As from 1920, sand was also extracted, but things were finally changed for good some years ago. Pine trees were planted to prevent continued sanding. Negative associations with the polluted site have gradually disappeared since the removal of the factory and decontamination of its premises. In fact, good economic and ecological development is now a real bonus in the Lommel area. These 193 hectares are a tranquil haven and a delight for nature lovers, walkers, all kinds of water birds, and other plants and animals. Other benefits include an outdoor playground, recreational woods and a 30-metre-high lookout tower, inspired by the sloping lines in the sand dunes in the ‘real’ Sahara and integrating 3.5 km of rope in its construction. Fun fact: the area has been used to record a number of Flemish films and TV series.