Chances are you know the Châteaux de la Loire or Châteaux of the Loire Valley. A portmanteau term for the royal and other castles in the Loire Valley in France. Flanders has now launched the Castles of the Scheldt. Seven of them are highlighted.
“From the Gravensteen in Ghent to Het Steen in Antwerp, a network of castles is emerging as a new tourist highlight in the Scheldt Valley: the Castles of the Scheldt. Tourists from Flanders and abroad will find their way even more to the Scheldt, its idyllic villages, special heritage and its unique mudflats, salt marshes and flood plains”, a press release by Tourisme Vlaanderen states.
The Castles of the Scheldt was festively opened in the Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde Castle in Bornem by Flemish Minister for Tourism Zuhal Demir (N-VA).
“With the Castles of the Scheldt network, the beautiful historic sites in the Scheldt valley are developing into strong tourist products that lift the entire region to a higher level”, the minister says.
“Together with Flanders, we invested 4.4 million euros in the project with full conviction. This amount was also increased by another 3 million euros by other partners. Managing such a large project in the right direction is not self-evident. The constructive cooperation between the many partners resulted in an impressive result. And this collaboration will have a firmly anchored follow-up in the Castles of the Scheldt network”, minister says Zuhal Demir.
The past few months are already promising for the future, the press release says. “Many visitors found their way to the sites already opened Castle d’Ursel, the Cloth Hall in Dendermonde (Termonde) and Laarne Castle, also thanks to the extra experience in the form of movie guides, escape games, renewed exhibitions…”
“But the unbridled ambition of the castles is also apparent from the many initiatives they take: special exhibitions, cozy summer bars, unique concerts, new guided tours…”
The minister hopes that this ambition will be inspiring for the newly opened Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde site in Bornem. and in front of the Wissekerke Castle – Museum Vilain XIIII, where the refurbishment is currently being finalized.
Ambitious project as part of National Park candidacy
The embedding of the castles in the Scheldt valley also offers opportunities for a special future. Their location on the Scheldt is of course no coincidence. This strategically and economically important river has been a major attraction since time immemorial.
Numerous castles and fortresses were built on the banks to defend the prosperous region.
And when they lost their military function, they were converted into courts of plaisanterie: comfortable summer residences with large gardens and parks for the wealthy. The nobility and wealthy citizens came to walk, hunt and party in the exceptional nature around the Scheldt.
Province of Antwerp deputy Jan De Haes (N-VA): “We have to be honest, 40 years ago the Scheldt was a stream without life. Nature was under great pressure. Fortunately, we have been able to turn this tide over the past 40 years. The quality of nature experienced a revival, partly under the impulse of the Sigma Plan. The area of nature reserve has been greatly expanded, the robustness of the areas has increased and more connections have been created. The pleasant result is more cyclists, walkers, bird watchers, nature photographers, athletes… Tourism in the Scheldt valley is gaining in importance. By opening up valuable heritage such as castles, we not only strengthen this touristic potential, but also the carrying capacity of this wonderful region. We want to continue on this track and that is why we have the ambition to create a National Park Scheldt Valley.”
This candidacy is a logical extension of the area-oriented project Rivierpark Scheldevallei and developed within the framework of Regionaal Landshap Schelde-Durme. This landscape association coordinates many projects related to nature, landscape, tourism and heritage. The castle project was also successfully worked out by them.
“A regional landscape builds a sustainable landscape every day that is ready for the challenges of tomorrow. Slow roads, small landscape elements, the Hingene quiet area with its silent walks, the nature experience trails, the Plan Otter, bat project… but also the Castles of the Scheldt, they are all puzzle pieces of a larger whole. Based on an integral and area-oriented vision, we are building a qualitative interdependence between nature, landscape, heritage and recreation for both our residents and visitors. We see the castles in this story as unique gateways to the surrounding beautiful nature. We will therefore continue to focus on strong embedding in the nearby and wider environment”, says Riet Gillis (Groen), East deputy for the Province of East Flanders and chairperson of Regionaal Landschap Schelde-Durme.
Opening network in castle Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde
The official opening of the Castles of the Scheldt network took place in Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde castle, where numerous realizations also took place.
The exhibition about the de Marnix family was given a new look. Extra space was created for the impressive collection of Breughel engravings. Above the stables with the beautiful carriage museum, a beautiful reception and experience center has been built after thorough renovations. The castle avenue is being completely renovated at the right time.
Mayor of Bornem Greet De bruyn (CD&V) is therefore rightly proud: “Bornem is a bustling center where history, culture and nature recreation enter into a dialogue. We are right in the heart of the hopefully future National Park. In addition to wonderful nature, we have two unique castles and a wonderful abbey. As people of Bornem we can certainly be proud of this. From the municipality we have taken on the renovation of the abbey. We made the link with the castle by setting up a reception point. Visitors can park here and visit both heritage sites within a 15-minute walk of each other. This puts our beautiful municipality even more on the map.”
The seven castles
- Gravensteen or Count’s Castle in Ghent.
- Laarne Castle.
- Dendermonde Cloth Hall.
- Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde Castle in Bornem.
- Castle d’Ursel in Hingene (Bornem).
- Wissekerke Castle in Bazel, Kruibeke.
- Het Steen, Antwerp.
Let try and visit those seven in the coming months. I already visited Het Steen, so I have a head start.