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10 Epic Places In Belgium Even Belgians May Not Know

Château Miranda | © foam/Flickr
Château Miranda | © foam/Flickr
Living rooms built entirely out of plastic, a residential street bursting with opulent architectural styles, a grand abandoned castle and even a northern ‘Sahara’ – while it’s true these places may not be at the top of tourists’ lists, they certainly offer an awe-inspiring glimpse of Belgium and an alternative experience of this tiny European country.

The Eclectic Cogels-Osylei in Antwerp

For all its architectural splendor, the Cogels-Osylei, a residential street boasting one jaw-dropping mansion after another, remains fairly unknown. Some passersby even stumble upon the elite avenue in the Berchem area on their way to drinks or dinner at the cozy Draakplaats square, inevitably arriving late because they’ve been captivated by the ornate façades in Art Nouveau, Neoclassical and other architectural revival styles.

Cogels-Osylei, Antwerp, Belgium

Cogels-Osylei | © David Van Laere/courtesy of Visit Antwerp

Cogels-Osylei | © David Van Laere/Courtesy of Visit Antwerp

The Cogels-Osylei | © Dave Van Laere/courtesy of Visit Antwerp

The Cogels-Osylei | © Dave Van Laere/courtesy of Visit Antwerp | © Dave Van Laere / Visit Antwerp

The Abandoned Château Miranda in Namur

An urban explorer’s paradise, the derelict Château Miranda – also known as the Castle of Noisy – sits in the forested Ardennes. First a Neo-Gothic summer retreat to the Leidekerke-Beaufort family, then an orphanage and holiday home for sickly children and eventually a magnificent ruin, the increasingly unstable structure is currently staring demolition in the face.

Château Miranda, 5561 Houyet, Belgium

Château Miranda | © Bert Kaufmann/Flickr

Château Miranda | © Bert Kaufmann/Flickr

Château Miranda | © foam/Flickr

Château Miranda | © Foam/Flickr

The Middelheim Open-Air Sculpture Park in Antwerp

A 30-hectare green space at the mercy of artists’ whims, the Middelheim Museum started off as a temporary open-air exhibit in 1950 but was met with such enthusiasm that it exists to this day. With well-known names such as Rodin part of its 300 piece-rich collection and visiting installations such as Paul McCarthy’s huge inflatable turds, there’s always something to be seen.

Middelheim Museum, Middelheimlaan 61, Antwerp, Belgium +32 03 288 33 60

Firmament iii by Antony Gormley at the Middelheim sculpture park | © Eric Huybrechts/Flickr

Firmament iii by Antony Gormley at the Middelheim sculpture park | © Eric Huybrechts/Flickr

Misconceivable by Erwin Murm at the Middelheim sculpture park | © Graham C99/Flickr

Misconceivable by Erwin Murm at the Middelheim sculpture park | © Graham C99/Flickr

The Prehistoric Flint Mines in Spiennes

Classified as a World Heritage listing by UNESCO, this remarkable archeological site just outside of Mons is the largest and most ancient collection of mines in all of Europe. Visits to the 100-hectare network of underground galleries serve to give visitors insight into humankind’s ways as far back as 4,000 BC.

Flint Mines, Rue du Point du Jour, Mons, Belgium +32 65 33 55 80

Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes | © Jean-Pol Grandmont/Wikimedia Commons

Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes | © Jean-Pol Grandmont/WikimediaCommons

The Sand-Pine Confusion of the Belgian Sahara

In an unlikely combo, fragrant pinewoods in Lommel’s nature reserve suddenly give way to desert-like plains. A clear blue lake adds to the wonder, although the stunning effect of the Lommel ‘Sahara’ didn’t come about naturally. The strange landscape actually owes its existence to the pollution of a former zinc plant that dried up the grounds. To prevent the expansion of the sandy plains, pine forests were planted here a long time ago. Though the reserve’s origin story may be a sad one, the view from the wooden lookout tower remains spectacular.

Lommel ‘Sahara’, 3920 Lommel, Belgium

The Lommel Sahara | © Campinia88/Wikimedia Commons

The Lommel Sahara | © Campinia88/Wikimedia Commons

Lookout tower Lommel Sahara |© Stines/Wikimedia Commons

Lookout tower Lommel Sahara |© Stines/Wikimedia Commons

The Grand and Small Beguinage of Leuven

Bruges isn’t the only city boasting a charming beguinage as a little village within its city. In fact, thirteen of these living communities for the Flemish Beguines – pious women who lived in service of God without being bound to a nun’s vows – have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the historic city of Leuven even has two. Its grand beguinage, in red brick and sandstone, feels much like a small town with its windings streets, small squares and gardens. The small beguinage is comprised of merely two small alleys, yet has no problem charming the pants off visitors with its miniature, white-painted houses and turquoise doors.

Leuven's grand beguinage © Jean & Nathalie/Flickr
Leuven's small beguinage © Jean & Nathalie/Flickr

An Extraordinary Art Deco Legacy at the Van Buuren Home Museum

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Van Buuren Museum
Van Buuren Museum | © Alberto Fernandez/WikiCommons
A piece of art in its entirety, the Art Deco home that patron couple Alice and David Van Buuren made for themselves in Brussels has been preserved to the very last detail. Now its doors stand open for the public to admire their treasure trove of custom furniture, stained-glass windows, exceptional collection of 20th-century paintings and beautifully sculpted gardens – all from the hands of their most talented contemporaries.
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The Bluebell-Carpeted Hallerbos Woods

A purple-blue sea blooms in the Hallerbos woods – nicknamed ‘the blue forest’ – for seven to ten days in spring. Nature fans who time their visit right find that the thousands of fragrant bluebells add an enchanting carpet to an already beautiful hiking area.

Hallerbos Woods, 1500 Halle, Belgium

Hallerbos | © Tomoako Inabi/Flickr

Hallerbos | © Tomoako Inabi/Flickr

A World of Plastic at the Plasticarium

A plastic cactus, an inflatable plastic design chair, a plastic typewriter, a plastic desk that once belonged to Georges Pompidou – all lie hidden within the Atomium‘s ADAM museum, essentially a universe built of plastic. With 2,000 pieces, Brussels’ Plasticarium boasts the world’s biggest collection of plastic objects. A focus on the 1960s and 1970s – when the material boomed in designer circles – provides an entertaining blast from the past.

ADAM Museum, Trade Mart Brussels, Belgiëplein 1, Brussels, Belgium +32 02 475 47 64

Plasticarium | © ADAM - Christophe Licoppe / Befocus

Plasticarium | © ADAM – Christophe Licoppe/Befocus

Plasticarium | © ADAM - Christophe Licoppe / Befocus

Plasticarium | © ADAM – Christophe Licoppe / Befocus

The Tranquil Japanese Garden of Hasselt

Its name already indicates romantic cherry blossoms and koi fish in babbling streams, but the Japanese Garden of Hasselt does more to create a haven of tranquility in a buzzing city. On Sundays tea demonstrations and lessons in Ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangements) bring a little piece of the Orient to Belgium.

Japanese Garden, Koning Boudewijnlaan, Hasselt, Belgium

Hasselt's Japanese Garden | © theaucitron/Flickr

Hasselt’s Japanese Garden | © theaucitron/Flickr

Blossoms at Hasselt's Japanese Garden | © theaucitron/Flickr

Blossoms at Hasselt’s Japanese Garden | © theaucitron/Flickr