The Walloon province closest to Brussels is Walloon Brabant. It is also the smallest province in the whole of Belgium! In spite of that, there are quite a few places to visit and things to do in the Walloon Brabant Province. Let’s explore the possibilities.
PLACES TO VISIT IN WALLOON BRABANT
CHATEAU DE LA HULPE
© ASBL Domaine régional Solvay
History of Chateau de la Hulpe: Château de la Hulpe was built in mid-19th C CE, by Marquis Maximilien who bought 341 ha of the Sonian Forest for this. It changed a couple of hands before Ernest Solvay took it over in 1893 CE. Under him, the interiors were redone by Victor Horta. His grandson Ernest-John did some major alternations as we see it today and then gifted the property to the state in order to protect it.
Visiting Chateau de la Hulpe: Surrounded by Sonian Forest, Chateau de la Hulpe is one of the most beautiful, picturesque, instagrammable castles very close to Brussels. I visited Chateau de Hulpe after a hike through the Sonian Forest. The transition from the absolutely wild Sonian Forest to the perfectly groomed Domaine Solvay as we walked on Chemin de la Longue Queue, was a pleasant surprise. The first stop was the horse barn which was a huge hit with my toddler. Further ahead was the beautiful Chateau de la Hulpe. Visiting inside the Chateau is not possible, but walking around it to see the perfectly manicured garden is a must. The French style garden has colorful flowers surrounded by green shrubs, laid out in a perfect pattern, with a couple of statues of cherubs & angels. The Chateau itself is covered with creepers at some places, making it all the more photogenic & instagrammable. There are multiple hiking trails and 3 waterbodies around. There is a huge grassland in front of Chateau de la Hulpe, perfect to sit and spend an entire evening. My toddler had so much fun running around all over this place and chasing the swallows which were surprisingly flying very close to the ground!
- Chateau de la Hulpe location : Chaussée de Bruxelles 111, 1310 La Hulpe
- How to reach Chateau de la Hulpe: Chateau de la Hulpe is located 20km to the south of Brussels via Bois de la Cambre & Groenendaal. By public transport, Domain Solvay can be reached by LeTEC Bus ligne 366 from Flagey or Groenendaal railway station.
Located very close to Chateau de la Hulpe, Folon Foundation is the museum dedicated to the life & works of Jean-Michel Folon, a Belgian artist. Born in Uccle in Brussels, he spent in childhood in Genval where the Folon Foundation stands today. His simple, contemporary and thought-provoking style in both painting and sculptures gave him accolades all over the world.
The fountain in front of the museum is an unmistakable icon of Folon – it depicts a man holding an umbrella, but the umbrella is made of waterworks!
FOLON FOUNDATION TOP TIP: If you’ve fallen in love with Folon’s works, don’t miss St.Etienne church in Waha near Marche-en-Famenne, a 10th C Romanesque church, with Folon’s stained glass windows! These windows were his last creation.
FOLON FOUNDATION IN 2021
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the birth of Folon Foundation and there are a couple of events planned out for this year.
The Folon Posters Exhibition: Called ‘Les Affiches de Folon’, this temporary exhibition is till January 9, 2022. It is a collection of the posters he designed since 1963 to 2005, for various brands and art shows. It also talks about how he went about the process of designing his posters from the initial sketching to the final design. Buy Les Affiches de Folon tickets here
- Fondation Folon location: Drève de la Ramée 6/A, 1310 La Hulpe (just beside Château de la Hulpe)
- How to reach Fondation Folon: Same as above! Just 5 mins walk from Chateau de la Hulpe!
- Buy your Fondation Folon tickets here
ABBAYE DE VILLERS
Abbaye de Villers History: Villers Abbey was set up by Cistercian monks in 1146 CE, but the current architecture belongs to 18th C when it was built in a neo-classicial style after it was attacked time & again for 2 centuries prior to that. By late 20th C CE, it was restored and opened to public.
Visiting Abbaye de Villers: I first saw Villers Abbey from the train’s window and the view was breathtaking and I immediately wanted to visit this rustic, instagrammable church ruins in Wallonia. After walking through the old rose bushes, herb garden etc, I reached the central courtyard of Villers Abbey which was originally the Cloister. This is so magnificent! The flying buttresses of the church can be seen from here and on a sunny day, the way they cast shadows is just so mesmerizing! From the cloister, is a series of stairs that lead atop. I got to stand just beside one of the high windows of the abbey and that’s an unusual experience. While you’re there, don’t miss the rosette window beside the tomb of Gobert d'Aspremont. Ahead from here is the Nave of the church, also looking majestic inspite of being in ruins.
Across the huge garden of Villers Abbey is a series of stairs complete with a vineyard and Chapel of Notre Dame de Montaigu atop. There are a lot of steps, but let me tell you, the climb is worth it – the view of the abbey, with the railway line on a viaduct in the foreground, is not a view that you’ll get to see often!
ABBAYE DE VILLERS TOP TIP: Various events happen at Villers Abbey. Also, brewery tour, vineyards tour and wine tasting sessions happen during seasons. Check their website for their upcoming events and plan your visit accordingly. Also, just behind the Abbey is the forest of Bois de l’Ermitage if you’re in a mood for a hike.
- Abbaye de Villers location: Rue de l'Abbaye 55, 1495 Villers-la-Ville
- How to reach Abbaye de Villers: Villers abbey is about 45km from Brussels via Ottignies. The nearest railway station to Villers Abbey is Villers-la-Ville which is located 2km away. Direct trains are available from Brussels to Ottignies and then another train takes you to Villers-la-Ville. Though LeTEC bus route 51 is available from the railway station to the abbey, its frequency is minimal on Saturdays and it doesn’t run on Sundays. The road is good to walk and is stroller-friendly as well.
- Buy your Abbaye de Villers tickets here
LOUVAIN LA NEUVE
Louvain-la-Neuve history: The history of this town is interesting. Literally, the term Louvain-la-Neuve translates to New Leuven. The entire township was formed in the late 20th C after a language unrest caused a new French branch of Leuven University to be formed. The entire town is completely new!
Things to do in Louvain-la-Neuve: Being a brand-new town, there aren’t any historic sites here, but Louvain-la-Neuve has quite a few things to do including museum visits & hikes!
The most important museum in Louvain-la-Neuve is the Hergé Museum. The first that shocked me was the architecture of the building. It is something I’ve never seen before with slanting walls & multicolors & a hexagonal floor plan! Dedicated to the life and works of Georges Remi, the creator of Tintin, this museum deals with everything from his early life, movies, photography, comics & more.
Another important museum in Louvain-la-Neuve is the L Museum which talks about everything from archaeology, palaeontology, historic art, modern art, folk art, natural sciences etc.
LOUVAIN-LA-NEUVE TOP TIP: Being a college town, a few art tours have happened here. There are so many murals & street arts, that you’ll come across many, as you walk around the town. There’s also a dedicated street art map available at the Tourism office.
Apart from these 2, check out the Bois de Lauzelle (Lauzelle Woods), esp., if you are interested in short hikes. This is a small wooded area with 2 small waterbodies. There are 3 way-marked trails here. Walk slowly – being a wet forest with those 2 waterbodies, you might spot a frog or two. That also tells you that you should wear some suitable shoes. Bois du Lauzelle is located very close to the centre of Ottignies-LLN, with its routes beginning just behind Ibis Styles hotel.
Another forest, a bit away, closer to Ottignies town is the Bois des Rêves (Reves woods). Inside this is the Open-air Museum of Water & Fountains (Musée de l'Eau et de la Fontaine). This is a good stop-over on your Brussels <-> Villers Abbey trip.
- How to reach Louvain-la-Neuve: Louvain-la-Neuve is about 35km from Brussels. Direct trains are available from Brussels to Louvain-la-Neuve on weekdays and a change of train at Ottignies is needed on weekends.
- Hergé Museum location: Rue du Labrador 26, 1348 Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve
- L Museum location: Place des Sciences 3, 1348 Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve
- Buy your Hergé Museum tickets here
- Buy your L Museum tickets here
WATERLOO MEMORIAL & LION’S MOUND
History of Waterloo Memorial & Lion’s Mound: Anyone with the slightest idea of European history would know who Napoleon Bonaparte was. But did you know that the last battle of Napoleon Bonaparte, before he was exiled till death, was here, very close to Brussels in the Walloon Brabant province? The history of Anglo-French wars begins as early as 1202 CE and the last war was between Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and the Anglo-Prussian Army. On 18th June 1815, in the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon lost and was sent to St.Helena island, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Visiting Lion’s Mound: There are 7 sites associated with the battle, to visit here – Lion’s Mound, Memorial 1815, Panorama, Hougoumont farm, Mont-Saint-Jean Farm, Wellington Museum and Last Headquarters of Napoleon. The first five are located close to each other and are covered by a single ticket and it is well connected by public transport as well.
We reached here by train and the view of the Lion’s Mound as we walked towards it was mesmerizing. The self-guided tour begins in the underground museum of Memorial 1815, which is located below the Lion’s Mound. The museum gives an insight into the life of Napoleon Bonaparte and the happening of the battle. There’s a 3D short-film at the end of the tour of the re-enactment of the battle day. After this is the Panorama. I thought this was the same as Lion’s Mound where you get a Panoramic view, but no! This is a re-created panoramic view of the battle scene with frescoes & art installations! It is really one of the unusual places to visit in Wallonia!
After this is the climb atop the Lion’s Mound. The view from atop is spectacular. It is entirely surrounded by grasslands and farmlands till far, far away. The wind is really fast here and the only way up is by climbing the 226 steps, so it may not be easy for people with difficulty in movement.
Very nearby is the Hougoumont Farm, one of the important posts during the battle. It was completely burnt & destroyed during the battle and today we get to see it in ruins. There’s an unusual, interesting presentation here – something that’s between an art installation & 3D movie – that talks about this very site. Very nearby is also the Mont-Saint-Jean Farm which was the make-shift, war-zone hospital during the battle. A bit away from here are the Last Headquarters of Napoleon and Wellington Museum.
- Mémorial 1815 location: Route du Lion 1815, 1420 Braine-l'Alleud
- How to reach Memorial 1815: Located about 25km from Brussels. The nearest railway station is Braine-l'Alleud / Eigenbrakel, located 2.5km away, which is connected directly from Brussels by train. LeTEC bus route 36 & W connect Braine-l'Alleud / Eigenbrakel with Waterloo memorial, but their frequency isn’t much, so check its schedule and then plan your trip.
- Buy your Memorial 1815 tickets here
- Buy your Wellington Museum tickets here
- Buy your Pass 1815 here - It is a combined ticket that includes entry to all 7 sites.
BELGIUM TOP TIP: Buy Museumpassmusées - It is an annual pass that gives free entrance to 200+ museums all over Belgium incl. Folon Foundation, Hergé Museum, L Museum, Wellington Museum mentioned here.
WALLOON BRABANT ITINERARIES
The biggest advantage of the Walloon Brabant province is that, since it is so close to Brussels, all these places are good & easy daytrips from Brussels. I visited them in 4 different day trips from Brussels, all by public transport! So here are the ideas for day-trips in the Walloon Brabant region.
- Day Trip Idea 1 - Villers Abbey, Hiking in Bois de l’Ermitage, Musee de l'Eau et la Fontaine
- Day Trip Idea 2 - Hiking in Sonian Forest/Domain Solvay, Chateau de la Hulpe, Fondation Folon
- Day Trip Idea 3 - Louvain-la-Neuve (Hergé Museum, L Museum, Street-art, Bois du Lauzelle and/or Bois de Reves)
- Day Trip Idea 4 - Lion’s Mound, Waterloo memorial, Wellington Museum (all 7 sites)
WHERE TO STAY IN WALLOON BRABANT
While the attractions in Walloon Brabant can be easily visited on multiple day trips from Brussels, it is also a great destination for a quick & easy, weekend city-break just in the outskirts of Brussels with its unusual accommodations & luxurious hotels.
- The most unusual is perhaps staying in Hougoumont farm holiday home, in the very place where Napoleon Bonaparte fought his last battle!
- Overlooking the Sonian Forest, complete with its own wellness area is Dolce la Hulpe for a relaxing stay.
- For an absolute luxury experience, there’s the Martin’s Chateau du Lac, overlooking Domain Solvay.
- Consider Le Manoir de Thorembais for a stay in a 19th C chateau experience.
- It is also possible to stay in an operational farm at Ferme de l’Hoste, surrounded by cows, sheep, goats and more.
WHAT TO TRY IN WALLOON BRABANT?
Walloon Brabant is known for its divine tarts. The most popular one is of Nivelles. It is a gourmet savory tart made of local cheese bètchèye, and chard with parsley and green onion lending it a beautiful green color. There are quite a few specialty tarts in small towns & villages of the region like Tarte au crastofé is a full-fat cream cheese tart in Ittre, mushrooms in Piétrain etc.
As mentioned above, when you’re in Walloon Brabant, don’t miss the beers & wines of Villers Abbey! Also, when you’re at Villers-la-Ville, try the local pork sausage - Bâton de Saint-Bernard, lightly smoked and flavoured with hazelnuts and local beer. Talking about sausages, there’s also the Vête Trëpe, a green-colored sausage made of pork meat & kale!
HOT AIR BALLOONING OVER WALLOON BRABANT:
As much as visiting Villers Abbey and Lion's Mound are interesting, an exceptional view would be to see these places from the sky! While Google Maps and Drone cameras lend a pretty decent view it can never be compared to the feeling of actually being there, floating in the air, and looking down at the picturesque ruins of Villers Abbey or the majestic Lion's Mound. But is that possible? Why not, if you can take a hot-air balloon and float above these very places!!!
Unlike skydiving or even a helicopter ride, Hot Air Ballooning is very calm, tranquil and peaceful. It is not even very windy atop because the balloon moves along with the wind! It is even possible for your children (taller than 1m) to accompany you in the hot-air balloon! It is not an adrenaline rush, but a relaxing experience while you get to see the beautiful landscapes rolling underneath you in the ethereal lighting of the rising/setting sun as you float along with the wind! The perfect finishing for this is a landing party with champagne!
If you have a car, it is probably the best idea to choose the Sunrise flight (6:30-7:00 AM) because it is easier to reach the take-off site with minimal traffic and it is also possible to spot some wildlife early in the morning. If you depend on public transport it is wiser to choose the Sunset flight.
About the Author: Bhushavali is an Indian travel blogger who blogs at https://travel.bhushavali.com/. She is currently living in Belgium. Her background in art-history gives her the interest and insight to explore the historic & heritage sites in Belgium. Her primary interest is UNESCO Sites and she has visited all 13 Belgian UNESCO World Heritage Sites & Global Geopark.