Did you know there are more castles (sometimes referred to as chateaus) per square mile in Belgium than in any other place in the world? For anyone who has ventured even a little out into the Belgian countryside, this is no surprise!
Some castles are now museums and public domains. Others have been converted into event venues and are only open to the general public during certain times of year. And some are still privately owned and inhabited, and may or may not offer tours.
Some castles have been rebuilt and recreated, such as Castle Gravensteen in Ghent, or Beersel Castle just off of the ring road around Brussels. Some have fallen into ruin, never to regain their former glory and a lucky few have found saviors working (and providing funding) to revive them.
And then there are those that have been maintained and cared for over a multitude of generations, decades and in some cases, centuries. No matter your preference, there is most likely a castle or château that catches your fancy and stirs your imagination.
Last year I was fortunate enough to visit quite a few around Belgium. I have merely scratched the surface in this area, but a very lovely surface it was!
In the fall, just before a majority of tourist destinations in Belgium go to sleep for the winter, I jumped at the chance to tour the Chateau d’Attre, located in the quaint little village I have driven through numerous times on my way to the commissary.
Castle Attre was built in 1752 on the foundation of a previous castle from the 15th century and is still privately owned and lived in. The castle and its grounds are only open to the public on Sundays from April to September, but they are willing to work with groups to provide tours on other days of the week when asked.
While the house and its interior is lovely and full of great details and curiosities, I fell in love with the grounds! My friend Sarah and I braved the drizzle to explore a bit and man are we so glad we did. She’s super patient with me as I spend lots of time photographing the fall foliage and on one such stop I happened to look behind us and noticed a cave opening. We looked at each other, asked “Do we dare?” and took off into the unknown (having seen a spot of light in the distance first!).
We emerged at the base of an amazing ruin! Having read absolutely nothing about the castle or the grounds, we weren’t sure what we had stumbled onto, but we knew it was cool. We spent the next hour (the rain had stopped – seriously people you gotta learn to soldier on. The rain is rarely constant here) climbing around this odd old building and having the time of our lives.
It turns out that the ruins were not ruins at all, but a feature that was built to look like old castle ruins in the 1800’s for the castles residents and their visitors. But, wait – that’s still pretty freaking old! Whatever its origins, it was still pretty cool and a setting for all kinds of fun and make-believe.
Next time on Arklahoma Muse I will take you to Gaasbeek Castle, located just off the ring road and close the Neuhaus Chocolate Factory!
So much blogging to catch up on! Here’s a little something to go on from our walk this afternoon.
There were tons of people out today soaking in the unexpected sunshine and Tervuren Park is a favorite outdoor destination for many living on this side of Brussels.
My friend Elizabeth buys the coolest books. And she likes to explore. This combination is very awesome for me.
Her latest find is “Secret Brussels.” So one day in October she invited me on a walk from our neighborhood to some hidden gems in the Sonian Forest and the commune of Auderghem.
The first part of the trek took us through the grounds of the Red Cloister, a place I know well and have been to many times. I have yet to really get great shots of this place. But my husband enjoys going there, so I will have more chances to succeed in the future.
We made our way from the Red Cloister, under the 411 highway towards our first “secret” destination – the Chateau/Prison de Trois Fontaines – or rather what is left of the estate. Today, only the lodge remains beyond the old gate (and modern fence). The more intrepid might have hopped the fence to check it out more closely, but I wasn’t feeling so brave that day! In its day the Chateau also served as a prison for those caught poaching in the forest or stealing firewood.
Our next destination was the far newer Chateau of Solitude. This chateau was built for the Princess Marie Ludmille Rose de Croy after becoming widowed, and was a place in the Sonian Forest near Auderghem that she could retreat to deal with her grief and commune with nature. Now it is home to an organization for sports.
A quick walk through the neighborhood, then ducking back under the 411 up the Chausee de Wavre brought more gems. A particularly interesting house we happened upon was the home of Belgian impressionist painter Auguste Oleffe. A dentist has set up shop in the house these days – the only indication that it was home to a painter a plaque upon the wall.
Further up the road, we mounted steps in search of two little streets that the book claimed to be picturesque. In earlier times the area was a rural village identified by the unflattering name of Loozenberg which translates to “Hill Lice.” Understandably the residents changed the village’s name to Bergoje – which basically refers to “houses on a hill.” The book’s author was correct and the streets (or at least the Rue de la Pente) did not disappoint. They are little more than alleyways, lined by old walls and quaint houses – some old, some newer.
On our way back towards home, we chose to continue our journey on the back roads. It’s amazing how much you can feel like you are miles from everything just a few streets in from the main thoroughfares here. We passed yet another chateau-turned-club before finding ourselves at the official entrance to the Val Duchess. I haven’t figured this place out yet, but you can see some amazing houses and buildings from the Boulevard de Souverain and I have been dying to get inside this fenced property and explore. That still hasn’t happened. Instead we continued on until we found a street that we were relatively sure took us in the direction of Elizabeth’s house. The road was a narrow alley (but car sized this time) and at the end I realized where we were and just how close to home we were.
The fact that the forest is just resplendent this autumn only added to a most enjoyable walk and treasure hunt.
Black and White or Color – Which is your favorite?
It’s almost that time of year again! It’s almost time for the wonder that is the Hallerbos (Bois de Halle or Halle Forest) in the spring, when the bluebells bloom and the forest floor is transformed into a carpet of gorgeous purple. But although at this time last year the flowers were all abloom, and a few purple flowers have braved the cooler temperatures of this spring, we are still a week or two away from the big show. My husband and I took a stroll through the forest today to check the status of the flowers and were delighted to witness a sort of pre-show.
In the week or two preceding the bluebells, the forest floor is first carpeted with the blooms of the wood anemones. While it doesn’t have quite the same effect, it is still very beautiful. The forest itself is peaceful (usually!) and makes for a great day in the outdoors no matter what time of year you visit it.
This week I showcased my work at the US Embassy in Brussels and I have really enjoyed talking to my peers about photography, travel and Belgium. Going through my portfolio so many times has brought something to my attention though. I MIGHT be a little obsessed with Ghent! It seems that every other picture is of some building, some church, some alley – IN GHENT.
So I decided that this summer I will make more of an effort to branch out a little more and spend more time in other parts of Belgium. There is so much to see that I should have no problem finding great subject matter. There are war memorials and monuments, beautiful parks and forests, beaches, more churches than my children ever want to see again in their lifetimes, festivals, monasteries (and beer tours!), universities, and more chateaus than you can shake a stick at (stay tuned on Observations of an Okie for pics of Denver shaking a stick at a château…). I look forward to getting out there and really exploring more of this awesome country and I promise that I will be careful if I happen on to some haunted, deteriorating building that just begs me to explore it – ahem. There is also that suburb of Antwerp, slowly being abandoned that is covered in graffiti/street art. The list is truly endless.
But dear Ghent, fear not! I am unable to abandon you completely. You are so close and I can pop up for a stroll through your beautiful streets, visit with your lovely citizens and do some great shopping any time I want (I might even bring you new visitors and take yet another picture of St. Nicolaus’ Church).
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