Gaasbeek Castle is an outstanding place to visit, and holds special art exhibitions through the year
Situated on the eastern outskirts of Brussels, the beautifully furnished Gaasbeek Castle has had a torrid history, but now makes a perfect, peaceful day out.
It’s a gem of a place. Apart from the castle itself, which is interesting enough, it also boasts a park, woods, a lake, and an internationally renowned museum garden. Oh and it holds special events throughout the year; notably exhibitions of art.
13th century origins
The original castle was completed around 1240 by Godfried of Leuven. He probably wondered why he had bothered, considering how frequently it was attacked and damaged. In 1388 it was even destroyed by the people of Brussels.
In the 15th century it was rebuilt, only for the Spanish to wreck it in 1580.
Again it was rebuilt and this time it was the turn of the French to start playing vandals. They almost burnt it to cinders in 1695.
19th century renovations
A hundred years later the Arconati Visconti family inherited the castle – or what was left of it. For over a century it remained dilapidated. Eventually at the end of the 19th century the castle was completely renovated by the Marquise Marie Arconati Visconti and stocked with a vast collection of art and furniture. It’s the Marquise’s work that we are able to enjoy today. It’s an outstanding example of the Romantic view of architecture and interior design.
When the Marquise died in 1923 it was taken over by the Belgian State and was turned into a museum.
A quick tour
If you’re expecting stone walls, high ceilings and draughty corridors, you’re in for a surprise. The castle is intimate and cosy. Its numerous small rooms are warmly furnished. It’s full of paintings and colourful tapestries, some of which are huge and extend from floor to ceiling.
You will find intricately carved wood panels, a white sandstone fireplace, and an ivory Chinese pavilion. Discover the “lit de justice” — an armchair used by the French king — and a Spanish travelling trunk embellished with the scallop motif of Santiago de Compostela. I really liked the tapestries, one of which dates back to 1520. The Doornik tapestries were famous for their rich, bright colours. They’re rather faded now of course, but the details are impressive.
You can visit the Marquise’s apartment, consisting of a bedroom, a bathroom and a guest room. It contains a painting of her husband on a dromedary, and herself dressed as a page. The many mirrors in the bathroom clearly indicate that the Marquise did not have Victorian scruples about seeing the naked body.
Paintings include the Worship of the Kings by Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Bruegel’s teacher and eventual father-in-law. And The Tower of Babel by Maarten van Valckenborgh (1595).
Around the grounds
When you have finished your tour of the interior, the 50 hectare park awaits. It’s full of scenic walks through the woods and alongside the lake. It also contains the tea pavilion, the only building of its kind remaining in the Low Countries.
Garden lovers won’t be able to resist a visit to the castle’s 19th century museum garden (open from 1 May). It recalls the era when Belgium was a European leader at creating new varieties of fruit tree, many of which were exported to the UK and elsewhere. Its vegetable plots and flower gardens are also laid out in authentic 19th century style.
Here’s a review of the Gaasbeek Garden Museum by my blogging friend Stefan.
To renew your energy reserves at the end of your day, three eateries by the car park should meet your needs: Brasserie Graaf van Egmond (pictured), Oud Gaasbeek and Chalet@Gaasbeek. The latter two have play areas for children, including trampolines and play castles.
Finally, here’s an all-round view. I think Spielberg’s job is safe for now, don’t you?
When I was there, the art exhibition “Vanity Fair” was on display. It features work by two Belgian artists. I’ll be covering that in my next blog post, coming soon.