Land van Antje
In 2014, it was not some corner of England, Japan, Ireland, Wales or South Korea, but Weert in the province of Limburg that had the honour of being named the World's Greenest Region. The title has been good to Weert and its neighbours in the border regions of North Brabant (Netherlands) and Belgium. From every direction, tourists and day-trippers come to the Land of Antje – the name used internationally to refer to this cross-border region – to enjoy the area's abundant natural beauty. The Tourist Information Center is a major force driving this tourism. ‘People aren't just interested in visiting a certain city, they often choose a region for their travel plans.’
Rian Schonkeren is project lead at the Tourist Information Center. Together with her team, she supplies tourists and recreation-seekers with information about the region and assists them in making reservations. The Tourist Information Center and its partners are additionally developing a number of concepts for fostering tourism in the Land of Antje. In this regard, the Tourist Information Center works to promote the entire Land of Antje region. The name refers to the cross-border region consisting of the Dutch municipalities of Weert, Nederweert, Leudal, Peel en Maas, Cranendonck and Maasgouw, and the Belgian municipalities of Hamont-Achel, Neerpelt, Bocholt, Bree, Kinrooi and Maaseik.
Antje from the station
The region's name refers to a well-known entrepreneur from Weert, Maria Hubertina Hendrix, popularly known as ‘Antje van de Statie’ (‘Antje from the station’). By 1897, Antje had secured her fame throughout the region as proprietress of a restaurant at the Weert train station, due in no small part to the fresh Weert custard pies she hawked to railway passengers every day. ‘If Antje were alive today, she would be what you'd call a high-powered woman,’ says Rian Schonkeren. ‘She was one of the first icons of Weert and really helped put this region on the map.’
Improving the region's appeal
The Tourist Information Center connects municipalities, businesses, services and institutions in the Land of Antje. ‘Together we share a single common goal,’ Rian Schonkeren explains. ‘We intend to cooperatively promote the Land of Antje by developing, propagating and publicising the unique, distinctive features and possibilities for living, working, shopping and enjoying recreation in the world's greenest region. Organisations can become affiliated with our concept for a small fee. After that, we handle the publicity via our website and promotion using social media, while also taking care of campaigns and arranging unique package deals.’
The Tourist Information Center is taking an emphatically cross-border approach to its activities. ‘Each and every day, for instance, we see how much we have in common with our Belgian neighbours. Dutch Limburgers and Belgian Limburgers are cut from the same cloth. And yet we know so little about one another. That's something else we are hoping to change in future. What's more, tourists aren't held back by borders at all. The fact that it's only a fifteen-minute stroll to the other side of the border, to another country with new possibilities for tourists, can only be viewed as an asset to our region. We intend to put that benefit to good use.’
Cross-border public transport
Among the spearheads of the Tourist Information Center is the re-establishment of the Weert-Hamont-Antwerp railway connection for passenger transport. ‘The rail line currently goes no farther than Hamont,’ Rian Schonkeren explains. ‘It's a terrible shame, of course, due to the obvious significance a cross-border connection would have. That is why we are endeavouring, together with our partners, to re-establish this connection: by facilitating lobbying efforts, for example, and organising light-hearted demonstrations to raise awareness.’ So far the efforts of the Tourist Information Center appear to be bearing fruit. It was recently announced that the Province of Limburg is willing to cover 50% of the costs of supplying electrical wiring to the railway.