Domaine Solvay and Solvay Castle should be included as a must-visit on all Brussels tour guides. After exploring the city with all its buzz and noise, Domaine Solvay in La Hulpe is a great place to unwind and enjoy a long walk. In the middle of the park stands a beautiful pearl of architecture, a castle built in French style, flanked by four towers covered with ivy. Apart from the castle, the entire estate is open to the public. It is very popular with joggers, hikers and families with children, all looking for a peaceful place to spend time outside.
Suggested hiking trail
If you're visiting and you want to cover the highlights of Domaine Solvay, you could use one of the maps suggested on the official website of Château de la Hulpe. They're each around 5 kilometers in length and take about an hour and half to complete.
We've done the Promenade des Zones Humides. Entering from the north-east entrance, we walked straight towards a long-stretched pond, the 'étang de la longue queue'. On its east side is a monumental staircase that leads up to the hill and the arboretum.
Having walked around the entire pond, we went through a stretch of beech forest where we were met by a small red squirrel. Unlike the squirrels from Central Park in New York, this shy little guy refused to pose for the photo and disappeared as soon as he caught sight of us.
The Solvay Castle
Finally, we reached the highlight I was looking forward to: the beautiful Solvay castle! An extra surprise awaited me right next to it. Unaware of its existence, I discovered the lovely little French garden with a little fountain, several small statues and nicely trimmed hedges.
It is not possible to visit the castle on the inside, unless you book it for a special event (in which case: feel free to send me an invite!) It would make an amazing setting for a wedding party, but be ready to couch up some dough. Most of us will have to settle for admiring its architecture from the outside, which might just be its most beautiful feature. I especially like the four ivy-covered towers that flank the building.
The Neo-Renaissance castle was finished in 1842 and acquired in the late 19th century by Ernest Solvay. Since then, the estate and castle were commonly known as Domaine Solvay. Today, the property is classified as an 'Exceptional Heritage Site in Wallonia'.
From there, the walk went on to another (nameless) lake. After walking entirely around it, we faced the former farmgrounds of the Solvay Castle. Today, those buildings have been repurposed as an exposition area for the works of Jean-Michel Folon, a popular illustrator and poster designer of the late 20th century. In front of the Folon Foundation is the Taverne de l'Homme bleu, a nice little restaurant. We installed on the outdoor terrace and ordered a beer.
The final stretch of the walk was more offroad. Based on the state of the trail, it doesn't look like many people come here. On the map it seemed as if we would walk along three connected lakes, but actually we kept on following a small stream and couldn't see the lakes, as they hid behind the trees on the other side of the stream.
Just before exiting the domain, we returned to the grassland in front of the Solvay Castle to take in the view one last time. A picnic and a siesta later, it was time to return to Brussels.