Every year around April/ May, Brussels residents start planning their annual visit to the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken. I must admit that despite living here for decades (seriously!), I somehow never joined the craze. That is, until last year.
Last year we booked our royal weekend and went to Laeken. I know, it sounds like a trip but it kind of is from where we live. The Royal Palace of Laeken is located in the north of Brussels in Laeken, one of the 19 communes of Brussels, and counts as the official residence of the King of the Belgians (yes, this is his official title). As the official residence, the Palace and the grounds are off limits to the public, however the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken open every year for a limited visiting period. Not a known fact and even less so on the tourist radar … but worth a visit.
The greenhouses were commissioned in 1870’s and if you think there is a slight Art Nouveau feel to them, then you are not far off. The architect, Alphonse Balat, stepped away from the classic architecture of the years and built the greenhouses using iron and glass and taking inspiration from the botanical world. This new approach to architecture was then further perfected by Victor Horta, who was Balat’s apprentice. And so the student becomes the master …
I am not the biggest botanical buff (although you would disagree if you follow us on Instagram, as botanical gardens seem to be currently very much on our outings list …) but I must admit, the combination of architecture and exotic plants was an interesting mix.
The greenhouses are wonderfully esthetic. I spent a lot of the time searching out the details and admiring the iron work. The overall humidity also creates an interesting oxidation colour which gives the glass panels a very photogenic hue.
The variety of flowers is impressive and the walk through different ‘gardens’ with changing temperature gave us the same sweat-all-over-out-of-breath feeling we had trekking through the Brazilian forests. Water, lots of water!
We went on a weekend, so the crowds were a bit overwhelming. Be prepared to cue and indeed have a slow walk through the greenhouses as everyone admires, photographs, stops. You wonder how I managed some of the photos people free? Cropping, lots of it…
Ideally I would suggest visiting the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken during the week. Irrespective though, a visit to Laeken will not only open the door to a bit of royal living, but also take you back in time at the start of Art Nouveau architecture. All accompanied by some very nice flowers and plants.
The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken are open in 2017 from 14 April through to 5 May.