Hélécine, Bokrijk, and Blaarmeersen
If you’re new to Belgium like us, the term “Provincial Domain” might be met with a “huh?” face emoji. We kept seeing people share their favorite “domains” to visit, and the more I learned, the more it piqued my curiosity. I knew Belgium is short on mountains and hiking trails, but what they lack in elevation, they make up for in CASTLES. I have learned that a Provincial Domain is basically land that often has a castle (kasteel or chateau) as its centerpiece. The land surrounding it is considered the “domain,” and in modern times it has been fixed up to be used by the public, usually for free. The land often has beautiful walking or biking trails, ponds or lakes (sometimes there’s fishing), farm animals to feed or pet, and it always has great playgrounds! Some domains let you visit the castle for a fee, others have unique features like ropes courses, “troll hunting,” where you can follow maps to find giant wooden troll sculptures, and in the summer, some allow swimming. These are great places for families to visit to let the kids run free, have a picnic, and enjoy outside time together. I admit I was a little bit confused at how these public park spaces work, especially (as you’ll see below), they have some of the best playgrounds in Belgium! I guess in a country that has the most castles per square kilometer, they’ve decided to make them useful and accessible to the public for our enjoyment. Public, strange, provincial domains. I’ll toast to that! Here are three we have visited so far. More to come!
Provincial Domain Hélécine
This domain is located in Hélécine, Belgium. It is located in the Walloon province and is crowned by an 18th century estate. Apparently people still live there! There are goats to feed and pet, swans and geese in the ponds (I think I saw people fishing…), loads of paths to wander on, great facilities and snacks available, and a terrific playground. They JUST added a brand new obstacle course and it looks incredible – we will have to go back to check it out! There is tons of free parking, but this is a popular domain, so go on a weekday or early on a weekend to avoid crowds.
This awesome domain is located just outside of Ghent, and I would consider it more a “recreation area” as there is no corresponding chateau. It is awesome, with two big ponds for swimming in the summer, lots of walking, biking, or rollerblading trails, basketball and tennis courts, an enormous skate park, mazes, climbing walls, obstacle courses through the woods, and beautiful playgrounds! This place could keep kids occupied all day. The only thing is, the facilities and snacks are only open seasonally (they were closed when we were there, but they looked nice!) so plan accordingly! We ended up using the restrooms in the main buildings here.
This is one of the most impressive domains we have seen, and from what we hear, it’s one of the best in Belgium! Located in Genk (all of these names crack me up!), it consists of a gorgeous movie-worthy castle with gardens and tons of walking trails. There’s a museum, ponds, a great place to go cycling “through the water” (more info here in my friend Jo’s blog), great cafe and bathroom facilities, and an outstanding, sprawling playground! We could’ve spent all day here. Photos don’t do it justice. My favorite part was the giant Sequoia trees situated near the castle and in a circle in the middle of the playground!
Plans for next month: Dinant, Villers Abbey, and TULIPS TULIPS TULIPS!