In the Middle Ages, the black swan was one of the myriads of monsters that populated the mind of men, among unicorns, mermaids, dragons, etc. Although it was an impossible creature, its legendary existence lived on for centuries. It took humanity a thousand years, and the discovery of Australia by Captain Cook, to confirm that the product of their imagination had a physical existence.
Some 80 km south of Brussels, the gardens of Annevoie, are also, in their way, an impossible Belgium. Set on a hill among the valleys between Namur and Dinant, the gardens are the result of the passion of a Belgian aristocrat, Charles-Alexis de Montpellier, who travelled extensively throughout Europe at the end of the eighteenth century until he settled down in the property of his ancestors to design his own piece of earthly heaven.
The gardens follow the rules of the French garden style of his time, all order and symmetry, with Italian and English elements. The protagonist here is, nevertheless, the water that flows down naturally -without any engines- from the reservoir on the top of the hill to the main ponds around the château through countless fountains, channels, and cascades. The water whispers along until it reaches the calm of the main bodies of water. It mirrors the château, the ochre of the autumn leaves, the impossible blue of the Belgian sky,…It runs through the veins of the garden to reinvigorate it with its freshness and life.
Like every interesting garden, Annevoie is full of corners and rooms where to hide or to have a rest. You can relax by the orchard, with its seasonal vegetables, or you can sit down on a bench by the church and the tomb of Charles-Alexis, where a plaque commemorates him and how short life is. You can promenade like an aristocrat on the French alleys where cast iron statutes remind you how Charles-Alexis made his fortune in the iron industry. At the end of the visit, a restaurant with a wonderful panorama of the gardens offers you traditional recipes and the local Maredsous beer on draught.
The gardens of Annevoie are closed in winter. They will open again on March 28th.
image credits © Ruskin in Brussels