Autumn is here, the trees are wearing their fall colours and footpaths are bedecked with drifts of leaves. Cosiness and comfort hold hands with poignant melancholy. There’s arguably no better place to enjoy autumn in Belgium than the formal gardens and forest trails of Tervuren Park.
The 205-hectare public space exists in its current incarnation partly thanks to modern Belgium’s rethinking of Leopold II’s legacy. Once intended by Leopold as a propagandistic Colonial Centre and exhibition ground, the park is now instead a place of joy, remembrance and cultural awareness.
Overlooking the sweeping staircases, statues, rosebeds and staggered ponds of the French style gardens, is the imposing neoclassical architecture of the Africa Museum, re-curated, renamed, and re-opened in 2018 to examine more honestly Belgian’s history in the Congo.
Beyond the museum’s stunning reflection in formal ponds, why not find a bench in the sunshine beneath a stand of russet plum trees? Further still, mature colonnades of trees in full colour draw the eye along Grand Canal style waterways where swans glide and gracefully take flight. Woodlands, riddled with magical sunken paths, are full of mushrooms and toadstools. Leaves crunch underfoot, while tawny owls and Egyptian geese add to nature’s soundscape.
You can bring a bike here and send bright leaves cartwheeling in the fall sunshine. Share a picnic or wander ancient sunken paths that interweave and crisscross so you can make your own walk. If you prefer an itinerary, Visit Tervuren has mapped over 10 walks to choose among, ranging from 3.5 to 7.5 km in length and taking you from the parkland to farmland to Tervuren marketplace, with themes such as history, architecture, harvest, Art and the Tervuren School, and the river Voer – from which Tervuren gets its name.
Make sure you get a chance to lay hands on the mysterious smooth rocks in the centre of the forest, where many paths converge. The stones were purchased from a local farmer by Leopold II and are rumoured to be meteorites. This woodland hub is called Zevenster and was where hunters would position themselves while beaters drove animals out of the forest.
Nearby another autumn must-see and great spot for a day out with children is the chapel St Hubertus. According to a local legend, he came to Tervuren, turning his life around and devoting it to God. The chapel is part of a 12th century castle and is located in the former hunting grounds that St Hubertus once terrorised. On the last Sunday in October, locals bring their pet animals to receive a blessing there.
When you get hungry, drop by the Dutch-gabled Spanish House (Het Spaans Huis), a 17th century redbrick mill, with a terrace set over a lake. Here you can sample the Best Burger in the Benelux, a blue cheese and black Angus beef masterpiece, created by streetfood concept SMOAK (veggie options are also available). Delicious woodsmoke from their plancha style barbecue will add to the sensory autumnal experience.
Tervuren and its glorious walks and parklands are reachable from central Brussels on tram 44, along boulevards lined with embassies and through the Sonian Forest – and said by many to be one of the greatest tram rides in the world.
And if Tervuren Park has whetted your appetite, nearby you can explore the town’s Geographical Arboretum – with over 700 species of tree from all over the world. The giant sequoias and sculptural tangles of South American monkey puzzle trees are my favourites.