1- Het Stads Park (The city park)
The Sint-Donatus Park, also known as the Gildenhof (in the Leuven dialect the Gillenhof) is much more than a green oasis in the middle of the city.
In the 15th century, the shooting guilds practised with bow and arrow in this garden, and the park was constructed in the late 19th century. Today this place still exudes the bourgeois flavor of the past.
All the ingredients are in place: the leafy avenue with benches, the
In an epoque that loved stories from the Middle Ages, with brave knights and swooning damsels, the remains of the first city wall were the ideal backdrop for a Sunday walk. The tower in the middle of the park was even converted into a small castle.
The bronze bust of the French-speaking symbolist writer Albert Giraud, pseudonym of the Leuven resident Albert Kayenbergh (1860-1929), is a work by Victor Rousseau. Giraud made his name with his collection Pierrot Lunaire (1884), from which Arnold Schönberg used 21 poems (translated into German) in 1912 for his atonal composition for Sprechgesang (speaking voice) and some instruments. The result was a scandalous success, but also eternal international fame.
2. The Park Abbey
The ideal place to get some fresh air, it is close to the city centre. Around the Premonstratensian abbey, which acquired its current appearance around 1700, there is an extensive nature reserve with four large ponds, walking paths and streams.
The Braxatorium Parcensis brewery is also housed on the site. High-class beer is brewed here on a small scale using local raw materials. All their products are top-notch, but the Libertus 900 (9%) hits everything.
At a listening position on the edge of the courtyard near the ponds, the five small speakers of the sound artwork Silentii emit a fragment of polyphony every five minutes. It is a realization of the Alamire Foundation.
The cemetery contains the graves of famous names from Catholic families, such as the politician Gaston Geens, canon J.B. David, architect-professor-politician Joris Helleputte (see p. 126), rectors Ladeuze and De Somer and several entire university faculties, in addition to cabaret singer Zjef Vanuytsel.
The Baroque interiors of the abbey buildings are the crowning glory - note the dining room, the abbot's apartments and especially the library with impressive stucco ceilings by Jan Christian Hansche (ca. 1675).
You can gain access to this parallel world, where a handful of clergymen still live, through the Parcum museum.
3. The Arenberg Park
The former domain of the Dukes of Arenberg on the edge of the city was transformed during the interwar period into a campus for applied sciences with a park where you can enjoy walking or jogging.
Engineer-architects are trained in the 16th-century castle. Behind the towers, the skyline is defined by the unwieldy silhouette of the IMEC headquarters, where world-class research is conducted in microelectronics and nanotechnology.
Long before artificial intelligence was introduced, Duke Engelbert of Arenberg (who was blinded in a hunting accident ) was already financing experiments with hot air balloons, light gas and steam engines around 1780.
Between the shrubs stands the Romanesque St. Lambertus Chapel, restored in 1965 by the same professor Lemaire who also gave the Great Beguinage a facelift.
4. The ponds of Bellefroid
A well-kept secret is the green zone of 20 hectares that is hidden between the Vaart and the Sportschuur in Wilsele. There, in 2019, the city purchased the two shallow ponds where the Bellefroid family had been raising carp since the 1940s; the fish were mainly intended for the Jewish community in Antwerp. Three rows of Canadian poplars provided wood for the match industry.
When these activities stopped, nature took over the site again. Walking paths provide access to the site, part of which is reserved for fauna and flora. The rest of the domain is freely accessible.
5. The Heverleebos and the Meerdaalwoud
Green trump card number 1 of Leuven is the proximity of one of the most beautiful forest areas in Flanders, in the south of the city. The Heverlee. forest and the Meerdaalwoud together form a paradise of more than 20 square kilometres of exuberant nature that is the result of the special soil structure and the large height differences.
Just like the Sonian Forest, these forests are remnants of the Coal Forest, which Julius Caesar already mentioned in his war diary De Bello Gallico. The name of the forest refers to the charcoal that was mined there to melt ferruginous sandstone.
The history is still alive here; a deep trench conceals a Roman highway, and on the Tomberg was spoken of as forest law in the 16th century. The majestic avenues were built by the noble family Lie de Croy and later by the Dukes of Arenberg. The 'blasting pits' came from the army's mine clearance service ammunition from both world wars until the 1970s explosion.
Walking and cycling routes make it easy to explore the area, but you can still get lost.
Author Yves Petry also has a passion for the Meerdaalwoud , which appears in several novels under the name 'Mirandel'. Anyone who enters the forest feels just like the main character in his most recent book There is a Human Everywhere: 'liberated from the global grip of the ubiquitous human being'. ...
Source: MIN, Eric, LEUVEN ,( Een gids voor thuisblijvers en passanten), Luster, 2023. Photos by Aslı Tezcan