VLAAMSE ARDENNEN... een open regio
The name ‘Flemish Ardennes’ does not have a geographic or administrative origin. It was coined in poetic reference to the ‘real’ Ardennes, which are situated in the South East of Belgium. Indeed, hilly slopes are typical of the south of the province of East Flanders too. The landscape is very varied for such a relatively small area and quite untouched: it boasts the so-called witness hills, the Upper Scheldt alluvial plain, the Zwalm river valley, the Lys Scheldt interfluvium, the Dender valley and the Land of Zottegem. This scenic diversity makes the area very appealing to both local inhabitants and visitors. The Flemish Ardennes are especially popular with hikers and cyclists. Besides the region’s unique hills, its open spaces, fauna and flora, picturesque villages and four main towns (Oudenaarde, Ronse, Geraardsbergen and Zottegem), the classic cycle race “Tour of Flanders” annually draws a large crowd of national and international visitors. Also the numerous museums, visitor centres, and recreation areas appeal to many day and overnight visitors. The area boasts an abundant supply of about 150 accommodations, ranging from hotels, guest rooms, rented holiday homes, camping sites to youth hostels, all of them providing quality stays in a pleasant setting.

The designated Flemish Ardennes LEADER area covers 575 km² and has 121,781 inhabitants. With an average population density of 212 inhabitants/km², the Flemish Ardennes is one of the most sparsely populated areas of East Flanders (with an average density of 465.7 inhabitants per km²) and even of Flanders (on average 449.4 inh/km²). Maarkedal and Wortegem-Petegem, having 140 inhabitants/km², are the second most sparsely populated municipalities in East Flanders (Source: NIS – the Belgian National Institute for Statistics, Federal Public Service Economy, 1 January 2003). Situated at rather a large distance from any major city, the countryside is often lacking in important economic, social and cultural provisions (for example a centre for mental health care, institutions for people with disabilities, a broad cultural programmer for youngsters). In comparison to other rural areas in East Flanders, the population of the Flemish Ardennes is relatively old. The Flemish Ardennes has a low unemployment rate, but the majority of the working population works outside the region, which implies quite heavy commute to Ghent and Brussels. Over 50% of the Flemish Ardennes area, taking into account all 18 amalgamated municipalities, is under agricultural use. The percentage would even be much higher if it were calculated over the actual delineation of the LEADER area formed by the formerly independent municipalities, because the urban cores of Oudenaarde, Zottegem, Ninove and Geraardsbergen and the entire town of Ronse are not included in the LEADER area.

Het Europees Landbouw- fonds voor Plattelands- ontwikkeling: Europa investeert in zijn platteland.