Beauvoorde Castle looks 17th century. But it was created in the 19th, through the romantic vision of one man
In 1875, at the tender age of 22, wealthy nobleman Arthur Merghelynck fell in love. The object of his desires was not a local beauty, but a ruined castle in the tiny village of Wulveringem, West Flanders. He was attracted by its picturesque setting, but also by its potential to fulfil his grand scheme.
Merghelynck was an incurable romantic. He resented the increasing industrialisation of Flanders. He wanted to cherish the atmosphere, style and romance of the past, and in particular the 17th century. In the remains of Beauvoorde Castle he saw the possibility to realise his dream.
Restoring a derelict castle
Over the next 27 years he methodically and lovingly rebuilt and restored Beauvoorde Castle, and filled its many rooms. Searching the length and breadth of Flanders, he purchased original Flemish furniture and art from collectors and auctions. What he was unable to find, he had reproduced. The result is a seventeenth century castle fully furnished in the style of that period.
During the process of restoration, when Merghelynck was in his 40s, he fell in love again; and this time it was with a local beauty. Yet his romantic streak again came to the fore. He was not interested in a financially advantageous or politically correct marriage. Instead, he fell in love with, and in 1895 married, Julienne Flyps, the waitress who served him his aperitif in his favourite cafÃ© in Ypres.
It was a union that divided his family. The result was that when Merghelynck died in 1908 — tragically only a few years after the castle was completed — he stipulated that Beauvoorde should remain his widow’s residence until she died, after which it and all its belongings were to be given to the Belgian state. His wishes have been totally respected, and this unique heritage site is open for the public to visit and enjoy.
Highlights to look out for
When I was there a few years ago I was impressed by these aspects:
- The coat of arms over the main door displays the name of the De Bryarde family. They lived in the castle from 1573, before moving to Ghent in 1662, after which the castle gradually decayed until Merghelynck appeared on the scene.
- It’s full of portraits. It’s logical to assume that they are of relatives of Merghelynck. They are not. The family feud which erupted after his marriage led to Merghelynck refusing to hang family portraits in his castle. Instead, he purchased paintings of unknown noblemen.
- Similarly, the family trees, heraldic emblems and coats of arms are largely of unknowns.
- From 1885 to his death, Merghelynck was Mayor of Wulveringem, and the town council met in the Knight’s Hall. With its gilded leather wallpaper, suits of armour and Spanish chairs, it must have been an imposing room to discuss the business of a small agricultural village.
- The castle has a large number of stoups — holy water fonts. Merghelynck was a keen collector of them. More are present in the chapel, which was built to house his religious artefacts. However, the chapel was never consecrated and the couple attended the village church.
After touring the castle, don’t forget to walk around the garden. The orchard contains a number of fruit trees, many of them local varieties. Most are apple trees, but also present are mulberry, pear, plum, walnut and cherry trees. The orchard is managed organically, and the apple harvest makes ChÃ¢teau de Beauvoorde apple juice.
- March 31 — November 4: Wednesdays 2.00 pm — 5.00 pm. Weekends and public holidays: 10.00 am — 5.00 pm.
- Summer school holidays: Wednesday to Sunday and public holidays: 10.00 am — 5.00 pm.
- Entrance costs 8 EUR.
- More information here.