Horst Castle BelgiumCastles & Museums

Horst Castle

Located to the east of Leuven, Horst Castle has remained largely untouched since the middle of the 17th century

To get the most out of a visit to Horst Castle, you should know what not to expect. There are no great works of art hanging from the walls; no ancient tapestries or lush rugs in the bedrooms. The living rooms are empty of tables and chairs; the kitchen is largely devoid of pots and pans. In fact, Horst Castle is empty and unlived in, and has been for over three hundred years. And that’s precisely why it’s worth visiting.

Horst Castle

Wonderfully authentic

Horst Castle is special because it’s authentic. Most of the castles in Flanders were renovated or rebuilt in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but at Horst nothing happened; everything stood still after 1658.

The castle was built in the mid 14th century by Amelric Boote, described in local records as a wealthy money-changer. By 1482 it had come into the hands of Lodewijk Pynnock, Bailiff of Leuven.

Being bailiff has always been an unpopular profession, and residents of Leuven expressed their displeasure at Pynnock by burning down part of the castle. However, he rebuilt it and re-started his feasts and tournaments. That was until his money ran out in 1500 when he was forced to sell the castle.

Enter the Lady of the Manor

In 1650 a remarkable woman came on the scene, when widow Maria-Anna van den Tympel inherited the estate. She fell in love with Horst, and carried out major work on the property. A deeply religious woman, she built a new chapel. Three living rooms were decorated with superb stuccos. A servants’ wing was added. Outside the main gate, a coach house was constructed. This was a particularly forward-thinking decision as the horse-drawn carriage had not yet become a common mode of transport. However, the coach house never realised its full potential; the lady of the castle died in 1658 and Horst has been uninhabited ever since.

What to expect?

Entering the courtyard across the wooden bridge you can see the original medieval perimeter wall and the slot where the portcullis would have been.

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From the courtyard you get a good view of the traditional Brabantine brick and sandstone wall with stepped gables and cruciform windows. Note the difference between the plain servants’ windows and the ornate windows of the floors above.

Horst Castle (13)

The biggest room is the Ovid Hall, where feasts were held and dances organised, with its haut-relief stucco work on the ceiling, including six scenes from the Metamorphoses by Ovid, the impressive work of Jan-Christian Hansche.

Horst Castle

Upstairs Downstairs

The walls of the 600-year-old keep certainly have some stories to tell. The first floor is the reception area where visitors were received. The entrance door dates back to 1422. Today’s visitors can examine the cramped privy and tiny washbasin. The faded pictures and emblems on the walls can still be seen – red, blue and gold, reflecting the wealth of the owners.

I squeezed up the narrow stairs that took me up to the living quarters and the bedroom. Occupants would have slept sitting on the wide window ledges (lying down was for the dead). Higher up would have been the barracks and finally the battlements with their crenellations and throwing holes. From here I got a good view of the lake in which the castle stands. Maria-Anna van den Tympel would have had a different view. The lake was dug in the early 20th century and stocked with fish, although the castle always had a moat.

Outside

Outside the castle gate is the coach house built by Maria-Anna van den Tympel in 1657; wall anchors form her initials. Part of the coach house is now the visitor centre and heritage shop. The former displays a wide range of history books, while the latter sells a selection of local produce such as wine from the Boschberg winery in Scherpenheuvel-Zichem and Jack-Op beer.

After a visit to the castle, you don’t have to go far to enjoy some refreshments. Part of the coach house has been converted into a restaurant, unsurprisingly called Het Wagenhuis Horst. Whether you are in need of a quick pancake and cup of coffee, or something more substantial, it should meet your needs. On the menu are some interesting local specialties, such as Hageland herby fish soup, and Holsbeek ham with mustard sauce and chips.

Please note: the castle has been temporarily closed recently (June 2018) due to urgent repairs being necessary. Before visiting, you might be advised to give them a quick call to check it’s open (tel: 016 62 33 45).

And if you want to spend a day in the area, I have also written a post describing four walks starting from Horst Castle.

29 replies »

    • Yes Pat, I can’t imagine living in a country with no built history beyond around 300 years ago.

      • Jamestown was founded in 1607, so at least the English history part is 400 years old. Ponce de Leon allegedly discovered the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, FL in 1565 so it is suppose to be the oldest European established city in what is now the U.S.

  1. I’ve often been there; it is home to Belgian comic strip hero De Rode Ridder (the Red Knight); but I’ve never actually visited the insides of the castle. Don’t forget the beautiful countryside in which it is situated, ideal for walking and cycling.

    • Aah yes, Guido I noticed mentions of the Rode Ridder. I haven’t forgotten the area. I went a local walk which I will be covering in a future post.

  2. That toilet is almost nicer than the one I had in my quarters when I was an au pair girl in Paris many years ago. That one was a Turkish toilet. Not fun, especially when I had to share it with the whole floor! I guess at least the Turkish toilet had plumping. No pans to empty thank goodness. 😄

  3. Horst Castle is very impressive, a beautiful building with an interesting history. The stucco sculptures are truly beautiful and I love the serenity of the water around the castle. It seems that the stairs are not only narrow but very steeply built. That would get you plenty of exercise every day.

    • Yes Sharon, even I (I am tall and thin) found the stairs a bit of a tight fit in places. I am presuming middle aged folk were a lot thinner than we are today.

  4. You know all the best places Denzil. It is so nice to visit these historic buildings with you. I cannot imagine sleeping sitting up though! I would order that lovely fish soup. 😊

    • I agree Brigid; sleeping sitting up seems strange, and uncomfortable. But if I thought I might die if I lay down, I think I’d get used to it quickly!

    • I guess not Carol. It was certainly quite rare for a woman to be in charge of such a property in those times.

  5. This looks like a fantastic and picturesque destination. I really like that they kept the castle in its original form; more intriguing to me than places that are renovated and decorated. I had no idea that in the 1600’s, people slept sitting up, because lying down was for the dead. Mighty interesting!

    Too bad this is another attraction that will be closed this month, and maybe even all summer. Now, I have to make a list of places to go for the not-so-near future!

    • The only grumble I have with the place Liesbet is the lack of picnic benches outside it (unless you sit outside the cafe and buy something). Many cyclists and hikers bring their own packed lunches and like a nice bench or picnic table to sit at. (Hint hint if anyone with any influence is reading this!)

  6. Working my way backwards on your walk Denzil, what a wonderful old Castle, I am always impressed at the artwork which is often found in stonework in these places.. And seeing the steep stairwell and for its day its modern indoor convenience commode .. 🙂

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