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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.