Hulst is a historic fortified city in Zeeland, in the Southern Netherlands, near the border with Belgium. It is also the centre of the eponymous municipality, which makes up the entire eastern part of Zeelandic Flanders. With its entirely intact fortifications, Hulst is often seen as one of the finest and best-preserved examples of a fortified city in the Netherlands. The main church in the middle of town was voted as the most beautiful church in the Netherlands. Being very close to the Belgian border (just 3 km), the town has a lot of influence (and visitors) from Flanders. Hulst even promotes itself as the ‘most Flemish city’ in the Netherlands. The city’s location on the border, its cosy atmosphere and nearby beaches attract lots of day-trippers.
During the Middle Ages, Hulst was part of the County of Flanders, which itself was part of the Kingdom of France. During the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648 – essentially the Dutch War of Independence from Spain), Hulst was on the frontline between Spanish and republican Dutch forces. It was repeatedly conquered and reconquered by both sides, until it finally came under control of the Dutch Republic. All this explains why the city was turned into such an immense fortified military bulwark. The military frontline between Spanish and Dutch troops running immediately south of Hulst eventually solidified into the border between the Southern (Spanish) Netherlands and the independent Dutch Republic. After 1830, when the Southern Netherlands gained their independence as the new country Belgium, the old frontline became the Belgian-Dutch border.
Hulst is located in the eastern part of Zeelandic Flanders, which is essentially the northern fringe of the medieval County of Flanders which then became part of the Netherlands. Zeelandic Flanders is the southernmost region of the province of Zeeland, and separated from the rest of the province by the Westerschelde (Western Scheldt), which is an estuary of the Schelde (Scheldt) river. The Westerschelde is 5 (at some places even 8) km wide, thus forming a formidable geographic barrier. The only road connection to the rest of the Netherlands is the 6,6 km long Western Scheldt Tunnel (the longest highway tunnel in the whole Benelux). But this tunnel is located near Terneuzen, which is the wrong direction for traffic between Hulst and e.g. Amsterdam. And the ferry crossing the Westerschelde up north from Hulst (at Perkpolder) was discontinued after the opening of the tunnel. Therefore, Hulst actually lies in an isolated, remote corner of the Netherlands. The shortest and fastest connection to other major Dutch cities goes through Belgium.
At the same time, Hulst is located right next to the so-called Flemish Diamond, the densely populated area between the Belgian cities Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels and Leuven. Major Flemish cities like Antwerp and Ghent are very near. All this explains the rather ‘Flemish’ character of Hulst, offering an interesting mix of Dutch and Belgian atmosphere. The local dialect of Hulst is also much closer to the Flemish dialects than to the Dutch as spoken in Holland.
After the 2003 municipal reorganisation, the municipality of Hulst came to include all the surrouding polder villages, from the Belgian border all the way up to the Westerschelde. Since then, Hulst has its own access to the beach.