Flemish Brabant Hiking in Belgium

A walk around Leefdaal

Leefdaal Castle

An 8-km walk that includes a castle, a watermill, a lake, and a strange sport!

Leefdaal is a small village located 15 km east of Brussels and 8 km west of Leuven. Unless you live there, you have probably not heard of it. But it’s worth exploring, and here I describe an 8-km walk that is ideal for a morning or afternoon.

Leefdaal is accessible by public transport. Take De Lijn bus 315 from Kraainem metro station or 410 from Brussels North railway station. If you’re coming by car, you can park opposite the church, which is the starting point.

I followed this 8 km route:

Leefdaal map final

A. Saint Lambertus Church

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Sint-Lambertus church, Dorpstraat, 3061 Leefdaal

There’s no certainty about the origin of the name Leefdaal. “Daal” means valley, but “Leef” is less clear. One possibility is that in the language of the Celts, who used to inhabit this area, the River Voer was called the Lovanna, which was later shortened to Leef.

Sint-Lambertus church dates back to the late 12th century. It has been renovated many times since then, and little of the original building exists. The Gothic chancel and nave date from the 16th century, after a fire had ravaged the building. The tower was rebuilt in the 17th century and the side aisles extended in the 18th century. It’s named after Lambertus, Bishop of Maastricht, who was an active missionary in this area. He was brutally murdered in Liège around 700 while conducting a mass.

Leave the graveyard via the steps at the rear of the church and you will find yourself in Kerkring. A magnificent lime tree overshadows two houses which date from the 18th century; no. 1 used to be the chaplain’s house. Follow the path through the Kasteeldreef, a beautiful drive lined with lime and beech trees.

B. Kasteeldreef

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C. Two tall poles

You may be wondering what on earth the two tall poles are in the field on your left? They are for the Belgian type of archery called “wipschieten”. The “wip” is the target (a block of wood with feathers stuck in it) at the top of the pole.

Archers stand underneath the pole and shoot arrows upwards to try and hit the “wip”.

wipschieten

Thankfully the arrowheads are corked to prevent injuries when the arrows come back down!

D. Watermill

The building on the right-hand side of the Slagberg is an old watermill.

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E. Leefdaal Castle

On your left is the imposing Leefdaal Castle. The original castle was probably built in the 11th or 12th century by the Lords of Leefdaal to provide some degree of protection to commercial travellers passing along this section of the important Bruges-Rhineland trade route. The only remnant of that castle is a cellar under what is now the garden. The castle was restored in the 17th and 19th centuries.

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F. Leefdaal Lake

Opposite the castle is a small lake, built by Graaf Honoré de Liedekerke, a former owner of Leefdaal Castle. When I was there it was incredibly noisy, with the croaking of hundreds of frogs. I could also see the nests of great crested grebes – large floating mounds of vegetation – and hear the loud and strange trills of the little grebe.

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Copy of Leefdaal_Kasteel en oude watermolen_M.Michiels jan1986_1280x930
Illustration of Leefdaal Castle and watermill by Marcel Michiels (1919-1993)

G. The River Voer

The pretty little footpath winds alongside the River Voer.

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On your right is a large building that used to be a big exporter of “witloof” (Belgian endive or chicory). Belgian endive was only “discovered” in 1850. Depending on the source material you read, either a gardener at the Brussels Botanical Gardens or a farmer threw some wild chicory plants into a dark shed. Three weeks later, he was surprised to find a strange-looking white-leaved plant growing. It was the start of what the Belgians call “white gold.”

H. Saint Verona’s Chapel

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Illustration by Marcel Michiels (1919-1993)

Saint Verona lived in the 9th century and was the daughter of the German emperor Lodewijk. According to legend, while looking for the grave of her twin brother Veroon, Verona took a rest at a roadside chapel in Leefdaal. Here, the voice of God apparently revealed two secrets to Verona: she could find her brother’s grave in Lembeek; and she would be buried underneath the chapel in which she was resting. She went on her way and found her brother’s grave – in Lembeek – before returning to her native Rhineland, where she established a number of convents before dieing in the year 870. Her body was then brought by oxen to Leefdaal.

I. The Leafy Glade

Poelstraat is actually a wonderful leafy glade. I’ve been down here on a sunny spring day and it’s full of butterflies. Unfortunately today it was 10°C and any sensible butterfly was keeping its head down.

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J. Up on the Farmland

Then it’s up on the rich farmland that stretches from Leuven way behind you until Overijse far in front of you. Along this path you have some marvellous views over the villages of Vossem, Leefdaal and Bertem, with the Meerbeek radar station in the distance.

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I had mixed feelings about the farmland. Some of the larger fields were pretty deserted and silent. Occasionally I heard a skylark or saw a yellow wagtail, but that was generally all, although I did spot four hares in the distance.

However, where hedges or copses had been left standing, the birds were singing. I even heard an icterine warbler, which is quite unusual.

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After that the path meanders back down into Leefdaal village. So if you want a couple of hours exercise and fresh air in a varied landscape, I can recommend this walk. As you can see from the map, you can make various shortcuts if you have less time available.

About Denzil

Discovering Belgium is my personal blog describing places to visit in Belgium. It mainly focuses on walking and cycling in nature, but also covers cities and events.

24 comments on “A walk around Leefdaal

  1. Denzil – another wonderful post. That archery thing is the wildest thing I have heard about in a while. I have had to take a break from reading blogs to move… and your blog is the one I missed the most. So glad I have the time and to dream about my next visit to Belgium. Thank you!

    • You are so kind Amy! I hope the move went well. Yes it is a strange way to shoot arrows. I think it was developed where there is not the space to shoot them horizontally.

  2. Exploring the neighbourhood, one should do it more often 🙂

    • Yes Guido, you’re right. Also, I only wanted a short walk so I could watch the royal wedding on TV! (For some strange reason I wasn’t invited!)

  3. What a very pleasant post. Looks like a lovely corner of the world and a great walk – – as long as the archers keep the corks on their arrows! I’m always fascinated by European rooftops, spires, cupolas, etc. and really like this onion-dome one on the castle.
    What’s all this about a wedding? ( 🙂 ) I’m about as far removed from a fashionisto as is possible, but have to admit, it’s fun to see the crazy hats and fancy uniforms! My gosh, we find out the USA is stuffed with closet Royalists!
    Cheers, Your Revolutionary Cousin.

    • I will arrange that you are personally invited to the next one Robert, so start rummaging around the fancy dress shops in Seneca!

  4. What a beautiful walk. You take gorgeous pics! You’ve got a great eye!

  5. Beautiful countryside.

  6. Those lime trees make a lovely drive, Denzil. 🙂 🙂 But what a funny old sport that is!

    • Yes Jo, I could imagine the real sport is dodging the descending arrows!

  7. I love wandering on all your walks, Denzil, as you’re both observant and informative. This is an especially beautiful place, in my opinion, rich with the sights I enjoy – gorgeous old buildings loaded with history, exquisite natural wonders that must fill your senses as you walk. Then those delicate 150 fifty-year-old ink sketches enhance the experience. How long did you actually walk? Were I there, not sure you could get me to leave.

    • I walked 8 km and about two and a half hours Sharon. You’d never believe this area is right in between the cities of Brussels and Leuven, it’s so quiet. It’s not even on the flight path of planes approaching Brussels airport, which is quite unusual as it’s not that far away from Leefdaal.

  8. We would enjoy this beautiful walk Denzil, especially the leafy glade. I suspect it would take us all day though, because we’d be stopping all the time to admire the scenery and take photos.

    • Unfortunately it was cold (ten degrees) and cloudy, but I am learning not to be dissuaded from walking due to the weather, which is so unreliable here.

  9. Oh to wander through those green woods. I felt so peaceful just looking at those pictures. What a beautiful little adventure!

  10. Sounds like a very lovely, varied walk. Loved the illustrations.

  11. A very interesting and informative post and great photos Denzil 🙂 The things on top of the tall pole look to me like either garden rakes or tv aerials 🙂 I like croaking froggies – could do with some round here. There used to be a reservoir near here with lots of frogs and our gardens never had a slug problem, then the reservoir was drained and a housing estate built. The frogs all disappeared and since then we’ve been inundated with horrible slugs 🙁

    • Every garden should come equipped with a dozen or so frogs and a family of hedgehogs to get rid of slugs! Oh dear, I’ve just realized the hedgehogs will eat the frogs! Thanks for stopping by Eunice.

  12. Pingback: Some traditional Belgian leisure activities | Discovering Belgium

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