With temperatures rising and the flowers parading their bright petals – there’s no better time for a short trip into the Brussels countryside. The capital’s Green Belt is renowned for its beautiful parks, gardens, and castles; surprisingly, many of them remain undiscovered. That’s a pity since so many are easy to get to and offer the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. Let’s take a look at some highlights and hidden gems worth exploring this spring.
April is when all kinds of spring blossoms flourish. And on the Groot-Bijgaarden Castle grounds, that’s serious business. Over a million bulbs are planted by hand, including the nearly 400 varieties of tulips on display during the April Floralia Flower Show. The abundance of pink, white, purple, and blue hyacinths and sunny daffodils help turn this nature exhibition into a vibrant tapestry of colour. The festival’s backdrop – a stately 17th century moated castle – adds to the charm. The sense of enchantment is also enhanced by the 14th century donjon towering over the colourful flora. The grounds are only open to the public during Floralia. So, be sure to buy your ticket to this floral extravaganza.
And… while you’re in the neighbourhood, why not make it a day trip? Just next door – in the village of Sint-Anna-Pede – you can discover the works of famous Belgian painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the very landscape that inspired him. Find out why it was such a powerful muse on a walk, bike ride, or even by wagon! When you stop to catch your breath, try a refreshing geuze. It’s the region’s pride and joy, and the local Timmermans Brewery has been faithfully producing it for over 300 years!
Meise Botanic Garden is your stop for a sophisticated mix of floral splendour, rich culture, and history. Bouchout Castle, at the heart of this 92-hectare domain, dates back to the 12th century. However, around the French Revolution, it was thoroughly renovated. That’s when the lavish garden was embellished with additional ponds and a rich variety of exotic plants. The last resident of the castle was Princess Charlotte, King Leopold II’s youngest sibling. Bouchout still bears traces of her harrowing history as the Empress of Mexico and her years as a grieving widow.
Naturally, the castle isn’t the site’s main attraction. The garden and its Plant Palace are one of the largest of their kind in the world. While the park is worth a trip all year round, spring and summer are exceptionally breathtaking, with the outdoor flowers in bloom. To explore the exotic – i.e. plants that fail to thrive in Belgium’s climate – you can peruse the large vegetation zones in the greenhouse complex. Strolling from the desert into the rainforest and out into the savannah … losing your way isn’t hard to imagine here. Whatever you do, don’t forget to check out the giant waterlilies. Did you know that they’re actually strong enough to carry a baby? An hour is barely enough to immerse yourself in the different climates. Still, if your time is limited, definitely reserve another hour to explore the rest of the park. The culinary, medieval, and rose gardens and the flower theatre await!
Fortunately, Meise Botanic Garden is easy to reach by bus (250 and 251 from Brussels North) and car (Exit 3 off the A12), and there’s parking around the domain. Even better, its surrounded by walking and cycling nodes, making it the perfect start or finish to a countryside walk or ride. For a combination of town life, history, and culture, you could easily combine your Meise Botanic Garden visit with a trip to picturesque Grimbergen and Vilvoorde. This handy itinerary will help you on your way.
Can’t get enough? Flemish Brabant is teeming with options to combine spring’s natural bliss, castles, or a leisurely park stroll. Park Ter Rijst (Pepingen) is always fantastic for a peaceful walk through the lush, quiet countryside.
And Tervuren Park is the ideal setting for your first picnic of the year. Gaasbeek Castle’s European-Grant-Award winning Museum Garden opens its doors to visitors again in May. And in the summer? Drop by the Coloma Castle Rose Garden Festival (13-27 June) in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw. ICI Paris XL has got nothing on the heady fragrance of its near-endless varieties of roses. Many of these parks will join the Parks Parade in June with loads of luck-themed activities for you to enjoy.