The following itinerary describes a range of gardens which we plan to visit. Several are accessible to the public, but many require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & dinners indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Antwerp - 4 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 28 May, Arrive Antwerp
- Tour commences at 1.30 pm in the foyer of the Hotel ‘t Sandt
- Welcome Meeting
- Plantin-Moretus Museum
- Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady)
- Short Orientation Tour
- Welcome Dinner at the Sir Anthony Van Dijck Restaurant
Meeting Point: Tour commences at 1.30pm in the foyer of the www.hotel-sandt.be located in the historic centre of Antwerp.
After a short welcome meeting we visit the renovated Plantin-Moretus Museum, a stately town house with period rooms that chronicles 300 years of the process of printing. French printer Christopher Plantin established his famous printing and publishing house in Antwerp in 1555. His successors, the Moretus family, maintained the Officina Plantiniana until the 19th century. The museum displays typographic material, a library, paintings including a Rubens and an impressive graphic collection. It also owns the world’s oldest extant printing press (c.1600). The Print Room holds prints and drawings by Antwerp masters from the 16th century to the present including botanical and medicinal works. We spend time in the museum’s enclosed garden, an oasis planted according to the 16th-century style. It is the only museum in the world to be UNESCO World Heritage listed.
We take a short walk to the Grote Markt (main city square) and visit the Cathedral of Our Lady. Four of Rubens’ most important paintings, including the Raising of the Cross and his Descent from the Cross, embellish this vast seven-nave UNESCO-listed Gothic cathedral.
Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner at the Sir Anthony Van Dijck Restaurant located in the medieval quarter of Antwerp. (Overnight Antwerp) D
Day 2: Wednesday 29 May, Antwerp – Berlaar-Gestel – Lier – Haacht – Antwerp
- ‘Morishof’: private garden of Marc Moris, Berlaar-Gestel
- ‘t-Kranske’: City garden renovated by Marc Moris, Lier
- Arboretum Wespelaar, Haacht
- The Potager, private garden of Sybille de Spoelberch, Haacht
Flanders was once the leading horticultural nation in Europe. Sixteenth century Antwerp was a centre of the study of botany. In the 18th and 19th centuries dozens of fruit varieties were created and the rarest plants grown and improved. In recent years a remarkable revival of gardening has created beautiful new gardens.
Today we encounter two of Belgium’s leading landscape designers, Marc Moris and Jacques Wirtz. Marc Moris designs simple, mature, ‘timeless’ gardens. His nursery cultivates naturally developing trees and large shrubs which are up to 100 years old. This morning we visit ‘Morishof’, Moris’s private 3 hectares garden which includes a vegetable garden, a meadow, natural swimming pool and a flower garden.
We next visit ‘t-Kranske, a monastic complex restored by Marc Moris. As part of his renovation, Marc cleared its courtyard to develop a 6000 metre2 city garden. The original convent’s chapel was also restored. We shall tour the gardens and visit the flower shop of resident artist Raf Verwimp.
This afternoon we visit the Arboretum Wespelaar, in Haacht. Philippe de Spoelberch’s house is surrounded by 9 hectares of botanic gardens. An extension to the garden has become the Arboretum Wespelaar, with 2,000 different species and cultivated varieties in the 20-hectare grounds. The main focus is on trees and shrubs, with many varieties of oaks, maples, magnolias and rhododendrons.
Adjacent to the Arboretum is The Potager, previous kitchen garden of Château de Wespelaar. By special invitation, we visit this 10 hectares private garden of Sybille de Spoelberch. In 1983, the old kitchen garden was partly re-designed by the famous Belgian landscape architect Jacques Wirtz. Hedges of Carpinus, Taxus and Buxus provide structure. Lemon trees in pots decorate both sides of a path and walls are covered with Ceanothus, roses and other climbing plants. The site has an Italianate water garden, a Japanese garden and contemporary garden of blue stone rocks. The garden has many perennials, a collection of old roses and choice shrubs, with antique garden ornaments and Baroque decorations. A new woodland garden under the canopy of oak trees holds a collection of remarkable trees and shrubs. (Overnight Antwerp) B
Day 3: Thursday 30 May, Antwerp – Schoten – Antwerp
- Private garden of Jacques Wirtz, Schoten – featured in Monty Don’s Around the World in 80 Gardens
- Private garden designed by Jacques Wirtz (to be confirmed)
- Museum aan de Stroom (exterior only) and Antwerp’s historic port
This morning we visit the private garden of the late Jacques Wirtz, the world-renowned Belgian landscape architect who, in his innovative gardens, enhanced his sculptural treatment of boxwood and yew hedges by drawing on his deep knowledge of plants and flowers. Jacques’ son, Martin, who is now CEO of Wirtz International, has kindly agreed to show us the family’s private garden. Nearby we visit another private garden designed by his father.
After a light lunch we return to Antwerp where we view the impressive exterior of Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) an extraordinary ultramodern tower, composed of great blocks separated by undulating glass walls. It was designed by the acclaimed Rotterdam firm Neutelings-Riedijk Architecten. Across from the MAS is Antwerp’s new Port House designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, and the Red Star Line Museum designed by New York architects Beyer Blinder Belle. A short visit to the rooftop of the MAS provides panoramic views of the city and its historic port. (Overnight Antwerp) BL
Day 4: Friday 31 May, Antwerp
- The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA)
- Arboretum Kalmthout
This morning we visit the recently reopened KMSKA, whose collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings includes work by Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Frans Hals, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens, and Anthony van Dyck.
After lunch at leisure we depart for Kalmthout. The history of Arboretum Kalmthout goes back as far as 1856, when the Antwerp dendrologist Charles Van Geert started a nursery in Kalmthout. In 1952, the brothers Georges and Robert De Belder bought the site to create their private botanical garden. Under the inspiring leadership of Robert and his wife Jelena De Belder, and with contribution by internationally renowned garden designer Russell Page, Arboretum Kalmthout grew into one of the world’s most prestigious botanic collections. Instead of the severe formality of traditional botanic gardens with their collections laid out in straight lines, the De Belders favoured a natural-looking garden with perennials, creepers, shrubs and trees. They collected seeds in the wild and also selected a great number of new varieties, in particular Prunus, Malus, Pieris, Hamamelis and Hydrangea. (Overnight Antwerp) B
Bruges - 6 nights
Day 5: Saturday 1 June, Antwerp – Temse – Ghent – Bruges
- De Uil (The Owl), Temse (to be confirmed)
- Orientation walk, Ghent
- Cathedral of St Bavo, Ghent
Daniël Ost is arguably the world’s leading floral artist. His design team is highly sought after for projects, from roof terraces in Tokyo to public and private gardens all over Europe. This morning we head for Temse where we visit De Uil, the garden of interior designer Marc Massa. This garden originally designed by Daniël Ost is noted for its beautiful wild shadow garden and a stylised south garden.
Then we travel to Ghent. The Medieval and Renaissance trading city of Ghent was the stronghold of the counts of Flanders. This city was established among numerous islands between the Lieve, Leie and Scheldt rivers and is therefore traversed by picturesque canals. We take a short orientation walk through the cobbled streets of Ghent. After lunchtime at leisure, we view the huge 24-panel altarpiece, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in Ghent’s Cathedral of St Bavo. Begun by Hubert van Eyck (c.1390-1426) and completed after his death by Jan van Eyck in 1432, it is the greatest painting of the Northern Renaissance. St Bavo’s other treasures include Rubens’s Conversion of St Bavo (1623).
We continue to UNESCO World Heritage listed Bruges, one of a few canal-based northern cities. (Overnight Bruges) B
Day 6: Sunday 2 June, Antwerp – Damme – Bruges
- Kasteel van Oostkerke, Damme
- Walking tour: Beguinage and Bruges’ secret gardens
- Canal Cruise of Bruges
Until around 1600, Bruges was an important Hanseatic League port city linked to the sea by the Zwijn canal. Canals were dug to facilitate the passage of goods to this canal and thence to its commercial outpost, the harbour at Damme. Today we drive to Damme and visit Oostkerke Castle. Allison Campbell-Roebling and her husband Baron Joseph Van Der Elst restored ruined Oostkerke Castle, aided by the great Dutch landscape architect Mien Ruys. The result is an idyllic combination of intimate spaces and grandiose avenues. Separate gardens include a private courtyard, a Maria garden and a rose garden. Footpaths run along the foundations of the old ramparts, and the ancient moats have been excavated and planted.
We return to Bruges where we take a walking tour of Bruges and its famous Beguinage. A beguinage or begijnhof was a medieval housing complex for women who devoted themselves to prayer and charitable works, but did not care for the constraints of a convent. A wall usually surrounded a group of houses in which the women lived. These houses could be disposed around courtyards and the precinct would include a chapel and infirmary. Most Belgian cities have these precincts, and they are all UNESCO heritage listed. Bruges’ Beguinage was founded around 1245. Most of its extant houses, grouped around a pretty garden, are from the 17th and 18th centuries. We explore the atmospheric Beguinage and some of the city’s secret private gardens. We conclude the afternoon with a short canal cruise. (Overnight Bruges) B
Day 7: Monday 3 June, Bruges – Meulebeke – Damme – Bruges
In the morning we visit a private garden designed by internationally acclaimed landscape architect Piet Blanckaert. His recent projects include the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden, London.
After our visit, we transfer to Damme where there will be time for lunch and to explore the picturesque medieval town of Damme, its magnificent Gothic Town Hall, impressive Church of Our Lady, and canals lined with poplars.
Then we visit Bonemhoeve. The history of the farm Bonem goes back to the 13th century. Bonemhoeve is located on a mound completely surrounded by water. In 2005 the restoration of the farm, the garden and the surrounding landscape (16 ha) started. Landscape designer Erik Dhont implemented an innovative contemporary vision with respect for the intimacy and history of the farm and the surrounding polder. Since 2012, renovation works have been overseen by the head gardener Gijsbert Smid with whom we visit the farm. Pools and a pond have been constructed, there is an orchard, a vegetable garden, hay meadows with grassy paths and old roses. (Overnight Bruges) B
Day 8: Tuesday 4 June, Bruges
- Groeninge Museum, Bruges
- Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of our Lady), Bruges
- Saint John’s Hospital & the Hans Memling Museum, Bruges
- Afternoon at leisure
The small canal city of Bruges reached its apogee between the 12th and 15th centuries when it was an economic powerhouse to equal Florence and Venice. The city’s fair was established in 1200 and it burgeoned as a centre of textile manufacture. The great Burgundian Duke Philip the Good (1419-67), one of the wealthiest men of his time, established his court here. In the later Middle Ages cities’ economies and cultural production were determined by the conspicuous consumption by the rich and Bruges benefited from the presence of the Burgundian court, nurturing artists like Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.
This morning we visit the famous Groeninge Museum with its excellent collection of Flemish masters. A highlight of this museum is Jan Van Eyck’s stunning Madonna with Canon van der Paele (1436), one of the most important works of the Northern Renaissance.
Then we visit the Church of Our Lady, a treasure house of art such as the gilt-bronze tombs of Charles the Bold, last Valois Duke of Burgundy, and his daughter, Mary. The most celebrated treasure of the church is, however, Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna (1504).
We next visit the St John’s Hospital Complex, which includes the small Hans Memling Museum. The German Hans Memling (1430-1494) worked in Bruges from 1465. His late masterpiece, The Shrine of St Ursula, is a carved and gilded wooden reliquary containing panel inserts painted by the master. Lunch and the remain of the day are at leisure. (Overnight Bruges) B
Day 9: Wednesday 5 June, Bruges – Zedelgem – Oedelem – Beernem – Bruges
- Private garden designed by Wim Van Wassenhove, Zedelgem
- Private garden of landscape designer, Chris Ghyselen, Oedelem
- ‘Boereweg’ in Beernem: Chris Ghyselen’s first garden design
This morning we visit a private garden designed by Wim Van Wassenhove, the son of well-known landscape architect the late André Van Wassenhoven.
In the rural municipality of Beernem Chris Ghyselen will show us his own private garden with playful hedges, water features, and a double border of high and small perennials. There is also a swimming pond and a flower meadow. In the afternoon we visit ‘Boereweg’, Chris’s first design project. Chris developed an original farmyard and garden using low hedges to preserve the open character of the farmland. The house has two terraces: one with a pond, the other with a view of a perennial ‘room’. Other garden ‘rooms’ contain an orchard, a nut garden with vegetables and cut flowers, and a meadow with pollarded willows. (Overnight Bruges) BL
Day 10: Thursday 6 June, Bruges – Deinze – Oudenburg – Bruges
- Private garden designed by landscape architect Piet Blanckaert, Hooglede
- Nursery Lens Roses, Oudenburg
- Restaurant: Le Chef et moi
This morning we are travelling to Hooglede to visit another garden designed by Piet Blanckaert.
Then we travel to the village of Oudenburg where we enjoy a light lunch. Founded in 1870, the ‘Louis Lens Tree Nursery’ was first a general tree nursery, but rose cultivation soon took over. There are more than 800 different species on display; from elegant old shrub roses to climbing roses, liana roses, ground-covering roses, musk hybrid roses, English (Austin) roses, botanical roses, hybrid teas, cluster roses, and standard tree roses.
This evening we dine together at a local restaurant in Bruges. (Overnight Bruges) BLD
Brussels - 4 nights
Day 11: Friday 7 June, Bruges – Deinze – Ename – Brussels
- Ooidonk Castle, Deinze
- Huis Beaucarne and garden, Ename, with Julien Fornari and Lena Vastesaeger
Today we travel to Ooidonk Castle which stands on a bend of the River Leie, near Ghent. We make a private visit to this medieval fortress, rebuilt in 1595. One of Belgium’s finest castles, it is a unique example of Hispano-Flemish Renaissance architecture. Its salons are filled with original paintings, engravings and antiques. The castle is surrounded by gardens landscaped in the French style. Roses adorn its garden beds, supplemented by orange trees. Red beech and age-old oaks are planted together in groups of five. A bridge leads to a formal English park, laid out around a 19th-century pavilion.
Then we travel to the village of Ename. Huis Beaucarne has been inhabited by the same family for more than 250 years. A few years ago, Julien Fornari and his partner Lena Vastesaeger, took on the task to restore the family home and its historical gardens. The first garden was designed in the 18th century and took its inspiration from the local tradition of 17th-century French geometric gardens. Later-on, in the 19th century, under influence of English Romanticism, winding paths and mixed borders were added. In the 19th century, the garden was considered as one of the most extraordinary gardens in Flanders. The Beaucarne family were passionate plant collectors. Some of the old plantings brought back from long distant journeys to Asia and the Americas still remain in the gardens today. A genus of flowering plants native to Mexico and Central America, Beaucarnea, was named after the Beaucarne family. In the second half of the 20th century, a flower-garden was added to the domain, designed by the renowned Belgian landscape architects Brigitte de Villenfagne and her son Michaël de Villegas.
At the end of the visit we travel to Brussels. We spend four nights based in a charming boutique hotel in the historic centre of Brussels. (Overnight Brussels) BL
Day 12: Saturday 8 June, Brussels – Lasne – Brussels
- Musée David et Alice van Buuren: House and garden
- Private garden designed by Erik Dhont, Lasne (To be confirmed in 2024)
- Brussels: Orientation Walk
We start the day with a visit to the extraordinary house of the banker and art patron David van Buuren. Its interior decoration presents a feast of Art Deco by Belgian, French and Dutch designers. He and his wife Alice Piette collected rare furniture, carpets, stained-glass windows, sculptures and masterpieces of painting from the 15th to the 19th century. The collection includes two Brueghels and works by Fantin-Latour, Ensor, van Gogh, Signac and Max Ernst. Its gardens were initially designed by Jules Buyssens, proponent of the Belgian Picturesque Garden movement. His geometrical ‘Picturesque Garden’ reflected the Art Deco style of the house. It includes a wild garden, water and bog gardens, a rock garden, a walled garden, a fernery and herbaceous border. In 1969 the Brussels designer, René Pechère, added the ‘Garden of the Heart’ and the ‘Labyrinth’.
Erik Dhont is an internationally renowned landscape architect known for his historic garden design. His prolific work includes private and public gardens, urban developments, farms and restoration work. He has created a number of spectacular private gardens throughout Belgium and Europe. His numerous large-scale projects including the gardens designed for the Musée Picasso in Paris (2014) and a 55-acre park for fashion designer Dries Van Noten. Erik Dhont accompanies us today to a very large private property south of Brussels. Among its many features are a rose promenade, camellia promenade, Japanese garden, vegetable garden and aster garden.
Late afternoon there will be an optional short orientation walk to Brussels’ Grand Place. (Overnight Brussels) B
Day 13: Sunday 9 June, Brussels
- Musée Victor Horta
- Hôtel Hannon
- The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium: Musée Magritte
- Time at leisure
Brussels was the cradle of Art Nouveau. Victor Horta, who developed the style, inspired architects like Hector Guimard, France’s most important Art Nouveau architect, who applied Horta’s whiplash design in his work for the Paris Métro.
Today, we first visit the Musée Victor Horta, located in Horta’s private house and studio (1898 – 1901). Both have utterly exquisite, finely detailed interior decoration that has largely been retained, with the mosaics, stained glass, and wall decorations forming a harmonious and elegant whole.
Then we visit the Art Nouveau masterpiece Hôtel Hannon, the private home of Marie Debard and Édouard Hannon, commissioned to the architect Jules Brunfaut, in 1903. The interior conceived as an enclosed, dreamlike and symbolic universe features an impressive central staircase and stained-glass windows. We also tour the temporary exhibition “Belgian Art Nouveau”, which presents Art Nouveau in all its diversity through works by Paul Hankar, Henry van de Velde and Gustave Serrurier-Bovy.
This afternoon we explore the museum dedicated to Brussels’ most famous modern artist, the Surrealist painter René Magritte. The Musée René Magritte, displaying some 200 original paintings, drawing and sculptures, is the world’s largest collection of his work.
The remainder of the day is at leisure. You may wish to continue exploring Brussels’ Royal art collections. Artists represented include Northern Renaissance artists Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Hieronymus Bosch, Lucas Cranach, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder, whose Fall of the Rebel Angels and The Census at Bethlehem are highlights. Later artists include Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt, Claude and Tiepolo. (Overnight Brussels) B
Day 14: Monday 10 June, Brussels
We begin this morning with a visit to the Arboretum Kreftenbroek. Etienne and Rose-Marie Van Campenhout transformed an old farm and adjacent land into a magnificent series of gardens. The ‘natural garden’ focuses on a small pond. The classical garden behind the house features a canopied alley of apple trees linking two large Louis XVI urns. Intimate green ‘rooms’, an alternating serpentine pond and an elegant staircase then lead to the ‘Valley Garden’ designed by Jacques Wirtz.
We eat lunch at the 2-star Michelin restaurant, Chalet de la Forêt, located at the edge of the Sonian Forest of European beeches and oaks. With Erik Dhont, we take an aperitif in the structured vegetable garden that he designed for chef Pascal Devalkeneer. It features local varieties such as Mirabelle plum and apple trees. The remain of the day is at leisure. (Overnight Brussels) BL
Marche-en-Famenne - 2 nights
Day 15: Tuesday 11 June, Brussels – Heers – Durbuy – Marche-en-Famenne
- Kasteel van Heks (Hex Castle) and lunch, Heers
- Durbuy, at leisure
This morning we visit Hex Castle to view its world-famous rose collection. The 18th-century castle was originally a hunting pavilion surrounded by formal gardens including a rose garden, a Chinese garden, and an exceptional vegetable garden. A landscape park inspired by Capability Brown was added later. The original formal Renaissance garden includes a nut garden and a walled vegetable garden. Its celebrated rose garden contains a unique assortment of about 250 varieties. We enjoy lunch in the castle, guests of the Count and Countess d’Ursel.
Then we travel south-east into the province of Luxembourg, the southernmost province of Wallonia. About 80% of this sparsely populated province is covered by the densely wooded Forest of Ardennes. We stop to visit the small town of Durbuy, on the banks of the Ourthe River, one of Wallonia’s most charming medieval towns. There will be time at leisure to explore its tiny cobbled streets, timber-frame houses and a castle. In the late afternoon drive to Marche-en-Famenne where we are based for the following two nights. (Overnight Marche-en-Famenne) BL
Day 16: Wednesday 12 June, Marche-en-Famenne – Wéris – Marche-en-Famenne
- Walk to view the Wéris megaliths (4.5kms, 2.5hrs)
- The Maison des Mégalithes, Wéris
- Short nature walk (details to be confirmed)
- Marche-en-Famenne, afternoon at leisure
Marche-en-Famenne provides an excellent base from which to explore the Ardennes, a mountainous region of extensive forests, rich in fauna and flora, with steep-sided valleys, swift-flowing rivers, and picturesque villages and castles.
We enjoy a guided four-kilometre walk to the village of Wéris, well known for its half-timbered houses of limestone or sandstone, and its megaliths, including dolmens (chambered tombs) and menhirs (standing stones) which date from 3,000 BC. We visit the Maison des Mégalithes which traces the history of the region’s megalithic sites. After lunch, we enjoy another short nature walk before we return to Marche-en-Famenne. (Overnight Marche-en-Famenne) B
Brussels - 1 night
Day 17: Thursday 13 June, Marche-en-Famenne – Wépion – Brussels
We spend the day in the Meuse Valley visiting the garden of a beautiful château and a private garden. Our first visit is to the Jardins d’Annevoie in the Haute-Meuse, a region of forests and rivers. Annevoie’s gardens combine the splendour and majesty of the French formal style with English romantic whimsy and Italian refinement. These 250-year-old water gardens comprise cascades and fountains, majestic hundred year old trees, trimmed hornbeam lanes and false grottoes.
Outside Wépion we visit Le Sous-Bois, a private garden designed by owners Philippe Taminiaux and Karine Fonsny. It includes an English garden and over 100 varieties of climbing roses and affords sweeping views of the Meuse Valley. It includes expanses of shade-loving plantings and long, lushly planted mixed borders that lead the visitor deep into the garden. These borders mingle perennials with shrub roses and a huge variety of other colourful shrubs.
We return to Brussels where we enjoy our farewell dinner. (Overnight Brussels) BLD
Day 18: Tuesday 14 June, Brussels
- Tour concludes in the morning
- At leisure/Check out
Our tour ends in Brussels after breakfast. In the morning you will be required to check out of the hotel. Please contact ASA if you require assistance with a transfer to Brussels Airport. B