Once a year, for only one month, the domain of the Groot-Bijgaarden castle and gardens in Belgium opens to the public. The occasion? Floralia, officially “Floralia Brussels” as Groot-Bijgaarden, or Grand-Bigard in French, is located just a 10-minute drive from the capital Brussels.
During Floralia, visitors can see over 500 varieties of spring flowers, among which more than 400 varieties of tulips. In total, more than 1 million flowers. All of these bulbs have been planted by hand in the 14 hectares-big castle gardens. Can you imagine how much work that was? Of course, it’s not as massive as Keukenhof in the Netherlands, but still.
The flowers are arranged in flower beds, sometimes forming figures like a 3-meter high peacock and once even forming a labyrinth. The global design comes from flower bulb expert Maarten Bakker who spends all year looking for the perfect bulbs to then show at Floralia Groot-Bijgaarden. The labyrinth, however, is based on a design dating all the way back to 1748. It was created for a countess, but never executed… until now.
Besides the flowers in the gardens, there’s also a 1000 m² greenhouse where you can see new flower arrangements each week. If you want to see how flower artist Hans Danko creates arrangements with no less than 10,000 flowers, drop by on a Friday for a demonstration. The greenhouse is also a safe spot in case it starts to rain, which occasionally happens here in Belgium.
The castle itself isn’t open to visitors. There’s a small flower exhibition in the castle’s chapel, but the rest of the 12th-century castle is only accessible if you host or attend an event there. That’s a bit of a pity, but it still forms a beautiful backdrop for Floralia and willingly lets itself be photographed.
The dungeon tower does open to the public and the rooms on all four floors are decorated according to different themes. The climb up to the rooftop terrace is worth it for the view over Brussels and the Flemish countryside.
The Venetian Parade
Every year, there’s also a Venetian Parade at Floralia. Taking place on a weekend, the parade is not as much a parade as a group of people dressed up in beautiful Venetian costumes who roam around the gardens, seperately or in duos.
The pose willingly and patiently so that visitors can photograph them. I was surprised at how bossy some photographers got in their hunt for the perfect photo!
It goes without saying that it can get pretty crowded the weekend of the Venetian Parade but I still would recommend going then as it’s quite special.
The Groot-Bijgaarden castle and gardens
The original Groot-Bijgaarden castle dates back to the 12th century, but it was changed throughout the centuries and most of what we see now, dates back to the 14th and the 17th century, making the castle a mixture of medieval and renaissance style. It’s located in a natural setting, surrounded by a moat and its beautiful gardens. The current landscaping of those gardens comes from the architect Louis Fuchs (19th century) who’s designed several parks around Belgium, including the Parc du Waux-Hall in Mons.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Groot-Bijgaarden castle and gardens had suffered severe decay and it was in this terrible condition that the ownership went on to Raymond Pelgrims de Bigard in 1902. He dedicated 30 years to restoring the castle and making it one of the best-maintained castles in the country.
Isidoor van Beverenstraat 51
Floralia is open from April 7 until May 7, 2016, daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Tickets can be bought until 5.30 pm and cost €12 for adults. Check the website for available discounts. It’s also possible to book a guided tour and those who’re motivated to start a little Floralia of their own can purchase flowers and bulbs at the entrance.
There’s a small cafe and a playground for kids inside the castle gardens. Those who want to get active can plan their visit to Floralia on one of the days that there’s a special event or a workshop.
In 2017, the Venetian Parade takes place April 16-17.