Sometimes everything just comes together. A beautiful evening, a playful and relaxed family and a gorgeous location. Groenendaal is quickly becoming one of my favorite locations for photo sessions. We visit every season, whether to spot mushrooms and wildflowers, to throw sticks in the ponds or to marvel at bubbles trapped in ice.
The wild open space is perfect for a photo session with its ancient beech forests, long lakes and wide meadows. Great at any time of day but best at the golden hour, of course!
I looooove history. The feeling of walking in a place where so many have walked before. Touching stone, cold now but one warmed by fires, conversation, conflict and an unknowable life. Impossibly remote and yet just at hand. Belgium is brimming with historical treasures from the well known to the nearly forgotten. Luckily the ruins at Villers la ville are enjoying a second lease on life due to a recent investment and creation of a world class visitor center.
Tipped off by an article, I was amazed to find that the gorgeous ruins of this 12th century abbey are just 40 minutes outside of Brussels, just past Waterloo. Without delay, I bundled up my little man, grabbed my camera and away we went. After an easy drive, we turned the corner and my jaw dropped. This place is huge! It covers a sprawling 36 hectares with many buildings including the cathedral, abbot’s palace, a dungeon (!) and the many buildings and rooms in which the monks went about their daily life, largely in silent reflection.
The old mill building has been converted to a modern and beautiful visitor center which gives information about the abbey and monks who lived there. There is even a room sized model of the grounds so you can see what it once looked like. The visitor center is connected to the abbey via a bridge and once you step onto the grounds, the adventure begins.
Left to decay after the French revolution and subsequent capture of Belgian territory, it is hard to imagine that such a busy and epic place was left to the elements but so it was. Walls and fixtures but no roofs. Crumpling brick and stone. Complete and yet broken. It is a hair raising experience to walk through. And the cathedral will take your breath away and bring a tear to your eye. It is magical.
We have definitely added this to our official visitors tour. And you KNOW this is the site of a future Bear & Dragon Adventure. Go check out it!
Where: Rue de l’Abbaye, 55, 1495 Villers-la-Ville
When: 1st November – 31st March: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (open everyday)
1st April – 31st October: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm (open everyday)
Annual closing: December 24, December 25, December 31 and January 1
Adults: € 8
Children (aged 6 to 12): € 3
Children (<6 years), disabled persons**, teachers, friends of the Abbey: Free
Ages and ages ago, I took a walk with a friend and our new babies in Kessel-Lo. Taking in the monumental climbing areas and wood structures, I looked at my little bababoo and tried to imagine her big enough to take on some of these amazing adventures. Well today we set out to try our chops on the king of all local playsets.
Kessel-lo is situated in Leuven and about a 25 minute drive from Brussels. It is also possible to get there by bus. At Kessel-lo you really can have it your way. On the grounds you will find beautiful walking paths, lined with flowers, trees and ponds. If you care to venture out on the pond, there are some sweet little paddle boats on offer. Also a small animal park sporting donkeys, goats, and chickens. Yes, there is even a pool! But truly the highlight for us are the gorgeous and abundant play structures which cater to around ages 2 and up.
The play structures are mostly made out of wood and blend in with the forested surroundings. That makes it all the more fun as you get tired on one and then notice a castle or massive slide peaking out from behind the trees around the corner. There is so much to discover! It is a real paradise for the adventurous little one.
Though the pool was closed today, it looked really fun with a big slide and plenty of space for kids to play. We would return just for this as well, should the weather gods turn it up past 25 one of these days. 🙂
Not the adventure sort? There is plenty of space for a nice stroll and a picnic with lots of flowery fields, picnic tables and neat designed wooden seating.
So one of these warm early summer days, definitely check this place out! Though there are a number of parking areas, I recommend P1 which you can find by putting 203 Eénmeilaan, Leuven. Happy whatever you like. 🙂
On a recent February morning we decided to embrace the Swedish concept of “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes”, and headed out to Mechelen to check out the zoo at Planckendael. We love animals and as Babatwo is finally able to differentiate between gorillas and giraffes, it felt right to introduce them in person.
To call Planckendael a zoo is really not doing it justice. With restaurants, play areas, and interactive exhibits, it really is a full day of fun, including lots of time and contact with the many varieties of animals. A bit of a maze, as you might expect but one thing you are really struck by is how much effort has been put in to masking or minimizing the barriers between you and your furry or feathered friend. This alone makes the experience special. As you wind your way around the map of the world, you come across many different play areas which give a very nice break from what can become a monotonous checklist of going from one animal to the next. Inside you find the excitement stays high as you bounce from activity to viewing and back.
Without a doubt the monkeys stole the show for my little ones though the elephants held their own. The passage to Africa was closed when we visited as the giraffes are expecting a little one soon. Hey, we are all due for a little privacy when so pregnant you want to just lay down and hibernate until your 100 kg and almost two meter tall baby makes its arrival. Lord have mercy.
The park provides cute wagons you can pull the littles along in which I highly recommend!
It is easy to get stuck in your Brussels bubble but come on, Mechelen is only 25 minutes away. Take advantage of the discounted offers meant to bring you out for a winter viewing. See animals, have fun. 🙂
Where: Leuvensesteenweg 582, 2812 Mechelen
When: Check their calendar for times. Open 7 days a week!
How much: Not cheap but for me worth it when you see that the animals are actually happy and well cared for. 🙂