Monday, June 15, 2015

Exploring The Gardens Of Wallonie: Parc du Chateau d'Attre

Chateau d'Attre 
We've covered a lot of ground since we moved to Belgium; we've visited the far north, south, east and west of Belgium as well as much of the surrounding countries. But as we are continually discovering, there is an amazing trove of places yet to be discovered right in our back yard. So that is what we're doing this summer: in between our larger planned trips, we're taking advantage of free weekends and checking out the sights close to home. First up was this past weekend when we visited Parc du Chateau d'Attre.

Belgium is seemingly covered in chateaux, or castles. Grand in scale and in various states of (dis)repair, many of them are open to the pubic and they make for the perfect place to spend a weekend afternoon. And in that respect, Chateau d'Attre is no different. The exterior of the present day Neo-Classical chateau was commissioned by Count Francois Philippe Draneay d'Hyon van Gomegnies. It was built upon the foundation of the mediaeval castle that had been in his family since 1520. What does make this chateau different, however, are the gardens. Rather than sweeping manicured lawns, the grassy space at Chateau d'Attre is limited to a small back garden and a rather non-descript expanse stretching from the front of the house to the passing roads. But that doesn't mean that there aren't outdoor spaces here. Tucked away behind the house are out buildings, farm land and acres of woods complete with grottos, streams and hidden caves just waiting to be explored. And that is what we did.

Inside the grotto, looking
Visitors are invited to explore the grounds and see such sights as the ruins of the Vignou tower, the 15th century dovecote (bird house), a Swiss chalet, the bathing pavilion, grottos and an artificial cave that inspires visions of mysteries. (The gardens are oh-so Nancy Drew and readers know how much I love this young detective). A well marked path takes you through the woods where you can not only see but explore the afore mentioned ruins. The Vignou tower looks as foreboding as the legend that surrounds it.  Lore says that the tower was once the den of the highwayman Vignou who lured passers-by to his house after which they were never seen again. He later confessed to assassinating 14 people and burning their bodies in his stove. (Locally the name Vignou is still used to refer to someone who is a scoundrel). You can also clamber over a 33 meter stone grotto that was used as a viewing point for annual rabbit hunts.  A Swiss style chalet, long abandoned yet still mostly intact, overlooks a small pond and provides a view of the surrounding grounds. And one must not forget the caves; where a series of small inter-connected caverns invites exploration and imagines to run wild. (I again return to the Nancy Drew reference). A larger pond sits in the center of the gardens and is linked to the crystal clear stream that runs along the parc's boundary. All of these sites are linked together through a series of well laid out paths that are lined with strategically placed benches for resting and contemplating.  It is all so peaceful.

The view from the Swiss chalet
And because we are in rural Belgium, the gardens and grounds are surrounded by farm land filled with grazing cattle and goats. You can catch glimpses of the fields from various points in the garden and you can see them from the passing road where nothing differentiates them from the other fields and farms in the area. You will definitely take brief pause when you pass by the chateau but from the road you would never know the mysteries and gardens hidden behind the main building. It is well worth stopping and taking time to explore. Now that we've visited we know we'll be back. After all, the gardens are right down the road from us and really beg for further exploration.

A peaceful path through the woods

If you do:
Parc du Chateau d'Attre
Avenue du Chateau 8
Attre, Belgium B-7941
 +32 (0)68 45 44 60

Open Sundays and holidays from April to October, 14.00-18.00
July and August open Saturday and Sunday, 13.00-18.00

Adults: 4.50 Euro
Children 6-12, 3.50 Euro

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