At the heart of the polders, not far away from the North Sea, humans organised their economic activity.
Linen, a noble fabric throughout the centuries
In the Middle Ages, Hondschoote thrived thanks to the fabric industry. Hundreds of small weaving workshops operated around the flax fields. Invaded and pillaged many times, Hondschoote was under Spanish, French and then Dutch rule. The majority of fabric producers decided to leave the country. Today, in the middle of June, you may enjoy the sight of these flax fields in bloom. But these lovely blue flowers only open between 11am and 1pm. The blue rally is also organised every year. The circuit is different each time and lasts four months.
In 1793, during the French Revolution, the battle of Hondschoote contributed greatly to saving the French Republic from attacks by the English. It was also the first victory of the Gendarmerie française, which is celebrated each year around 8 September. Today, this lovely green landscape is peaceful once again.
Until the 17th century, much of the land around the city was a marshy area. In order to make it cultivable, large-scale drainage works were undertaken in the area, which was sometimes below sea level (-2m in the Moëres). The water left a large amount of salt, which explains why the landscape is bare of trees.
An interesting anecdote: the lack of visual landmarks forced people to use the church in Hondschoote – which was visible from far away thanks to the flatness of the land – as a starting point for marking out the border between France and Belgium, from the French municipality of the Moëres to the Belgian municipality of Furnes (Veurne).
This landscape offers many different trails in a bucolic setting, allowing you to discover the network of ditches and canals, referred to locally as the ‘wateringues’, which are indispensable in order to prevent the sea water from invading the land.
Its two wooden windmills
The windmills add charm to the surrounding landscape, and two of them appear to watch over the municipality of Hondschoote. The Noordmeulen, a wooden post mill, is known to be one of the oldest windmills in Europe. At the other side of the municipality, the Spinnewyn (also called the ‘Moulin de la Victoire’) is still active and produces flour, and was rebuilt in 1993 on the occasion of the bicentenary of the battle of Hondschoote. You may find out about visiting these windmills at the tourist information office.