Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Written by Markus with some photos by Markus
There’s a weird place in the Netherlands called ”Baarle-Nassau”. It’s located in the Netherlands near the border between the Netherlands and Belgium. The Belgium name (for the same town) is Baarle Hertog.
Source: google maps
It’s a small town consisting mostly out of a small shopping street and approx. 7000 inhabitants.
The weird thing is that this town, though fully located in the Netherlands, holds small parts that actually belong to Belgium. These parts can be as small as a single building and are scattered throughout the town.
So this means you can drive through Baarle Nassau, while leaving and entering the Netherlands and Belgium several times. There are no customs checks and, aside of a change of type of shops and white lines on the floor indicating the border, you will not notice you are leaving and entering another country. Some houses might have the border run straight through their home. These people can chose to what country they want to belong to.
This situation has a few weird results. One of them being, petrol costs now 1.80 euro per liter in the Netherlands, while in Belgium it costs 1.40 euro per liter. The difference is solely due to tax. The Belgium parts in this town play into this by, even though the Belgium parts are small, being littered with petrol stations and cars with Dutch license plates that queue to fill their petrol tank as well as several jerry cans with petrol. It’s quite normal a customer pumps 120 or more liters per time.
Another difference is the sale of (heavy) fireworks. In the Netherlands, fireworks can only be sold just prior to New Year's eve and is heavily restricted on how heavy the fireworks are. These restrictions do not apply to Belgium. So littered between the petrol stations, you’ll find firework shops. You’ll see queues of youngsters coming from all over the Netherlands getting their fireworks.
Also cigarettes are priced differently, again mostly due to tax. In the Netherlands an average pack with 24 sticks may cost you 13 euro. This same pack costs around 8 euro’s in Belgium. So they are sold, not by pack, but by carton and even per box.
Same applies to liquor, but seen I only drink old ports, I know little about the advantages of buying this under Belgium legislation.
This results in a weird shopping street consisting out of petrol stations, liquor stores, firework- and tobacco shops. And this street is filled with cars from the Netherlands. And though this town is in the Netherlands, it holds Belgium parts where Dutch people drive in and out without any checks.
So why isn’t this a problem in Baarle Nassau?
The town has a history. You can read the full story at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baarle-Nassau but the core is that this arrangement has been in place for almost 200 years, and has avoided conflicts between the two countries. In some way, it is a town that has brought peace. And that this peace results in a situation that comes down to having over 20 spots in the Netherlands that actually belong to Belgium, is a price well paid seen the trouble it avoided in the past.
The town itself has of course a lot of benefit from this arrangement. It has a pull on the region, resulting not only that the shops are well visited, it also gives life to numerous cute small-town restaurants and supporting companies. And this in its turn pulls in even more people.
It works the other way as well. Corona restrictions were much more lenient that they were in Belgium. For example, where at one spot, you need to wear a face mask, one meter to the right, so at the other side of the border, you do not need to wear one. And it was also not allowed to travel between locked-down countries. Except in Baarle-Nassau. In a bar on Dutch ground, you can now sit outside, have a beer and not wear a face mask. So these bars are full of Belgium people.
That the Netherlands is losing some tax to the “few” Dutch people living close enough to this place to drive up and down, is part of this price and fully accepted for a long time. Driving around with a barrel of petrol in the back of your car and a few cartons of cigarettes under your seat feels weird, somewhat exciting and without the risk of getting into trouble.
I love this small rural type town, buzzing with people who all seem to be in a good mood seen they just saved a (few) hundred euro’s and all feel like a rebel. And I love being able to go to another country, while not leaving your own country. It’s a very convenient way to travel internationally, achievable by taking just one step.
If you ever visit the Europe by car, you’ll probably pass this town on your way from Paris to Amsterdam. I suggest to go take a look, visit the museum and enjoy a buzzing bar terrace.