The region of Haspengouw is situated in the south of Limburg and is mainly known for its orchards. This fruity region attracts many visitors every year. It all starts around April when the fruit trees transform into a vast blossom sea, making the region perfect for beautiful bike rides and walks. Besides the orchards, the region also offers a lot of interesting cultural highlights. Back in May we spend an entire weekend discovering the beautiful landscapes and rich history of Haspengouw, so why don’t I (finally) share with you guys the highlights of this trip.
Stroll around Tongeren’s main sights
As you know by now, I’m a total history buff, so the destination I was most looking forward to during our Haspengouw adventure, was Tongeren. It’s Belgium’s oldest city and because of that there are a lot of historical landmarks to discover. I have been wanting to visit Tongeren, ever since I learned about it in school, but somehow never made it there before. I guess there was always a more attractive city abroad that caught my attention… I’m glad that finally changed, because I absolutely loved my time there. After dropping off my bags at the hotel, I was eager to explore the city. By then, It was already noon, so I wanted to make the most of my time in Tongeren and scratch of as much off my to-do list as possible. I went straight to the Grote Markt and the Statue of Ambiorix. Tongerens’ most famous inhabitant occupies the most prominent place in the city. The imposing bronze statue of Ambiorix, King of the Eburones, dating from 1866 is a tribute to his memorable victory over the Romans in 54 BCE. It prompted Julius Caesar to call the Belgians the bravest of all the Gauls.
Ambiorix is proudly facing the Basilica of Our Lady, one of the most beautiful Gothic religious buildings in Belgium. And for sure, well worth a visit. During a visit to the Teseum, you can see the treasure chamber located in the historical setting of the Roman towers, chapter buildings, the cloister and garden. You can also go underground to visit the unique archaeological site, which displays 2,000 years of soil archives. I found the Tesuem very impressive! My favorite part of the visit was the gorgeous cloister garden.
No trip to Tongeren is complete without a visit to the Gallo Roman Museum. During my weekend in the city, there were two exhibitions going on; the permanent one ‘From Neanderthal to Gallo-Roman’ and the temporary one ‘Face to face with the Romans’. I really wanted to see the second one, but unfortunately there were no more tickets available. I had never been to the museum before, so I decided to check out the permanent collection. And I’m super happy I did, because it was very interesting. ‘From Neanderthal to Gallo-Roman’ tells the story of people in the Limburg region: from prehistory to the late Roman period through highlighted objects, lifelike figures, animations, models and educational films.
Finally I decided to check out the Sint-Catharina Beguinage. At its peak in the 18th century the beguinage consisted of 300 beguines. After the French Revolution this all changed and the beguinage was expropriated and several houses and walls were integrated into the city. At the Museum Beghina you can learn more about the daily life of the beguines that lived there. Back in the days there was also an infirmerie (clinic) and a Chapel. Today, the infirmerie is a restaurant and the chapel is used as an events venue.
Stay at Hotel Eburon
Explore the countryside…
The second day we wanted to do some of the walking trails the region is so famous for, but as they were predicting some heavy rains, we decided to drive towards the art installations along the trails instead (or at least get as close as possible). The first stop we made was the popular art installation/chapel ‘Reading between the Lines’. Luckily during our time there, we still got some good lighting and rays of sunshine to get that Instagram shot I always wanted there. The chapel is consists of 100 steel sheets stacked on top of each other in the shape of a church. This special way of construction makes the landscape always visible throughout the church, from both far away and up-close. The chapel is very unique and definitely worth a visit when you’re in the area.
We just made it back by the car, when it started raining cats and dogs, so we decided to drive around the villages a little bit, to get a sense of the area. It was such a shame, that we could not enjoy the orchards during a lovely walk or bike ride. I will definitely go back to do so, because I honestly feel that we missed out on that now. One of the towns, that really stood out to us, was Helshoven. This not only because of the lovely Chapel of Helshoven, but also for the many Blossom Bars there. As it was the first day that bars and restaurants in Belgium were allowed to open the terraces (after months of closing) we decided to have a drink at the covered terrace of ‘t Huis Zonder Naam. Needless to say that we had an amazing time right?! After that we had a little peak at the Helshoven Chapel. The chapel was built in the 13th century by the Order of Saint John. The chapel also had a guest house to welcome pilgrims during their adventures.
At the highest point in Helshoven, you can now enjoy a breathtaking view of the Haspengouw landscape. Artist Frits Jeuris designed Helsh(ea)ven, a unique creation made of dozens of felled fruit trees from the area. It is embedded in ‘Helsh(ea)ven’, a work of art made of 90 cherry trees of fifty years old. At the end of 2016, they fell prey to the Little Cherry Virus, an infectious plant disease that causes too small fruit in cherries. This way the felled trees got a second life. The work symbolizes the dynamic landscape of Haspengouw. Such a cool work of art!
Shopping in St-Truiden
The last stop of the day was Sint-Truiden. The weather kept getting worse, so at that point we were so tired of it, that we decided to do some shopping. Retail therapy always does the trick for me you know! 😉 Sint-Truiden turned out to be quite a fun city for shopping enthusiasts. Most boutiques are located upon walking distance from the Grote Markt, so that was very convenient. The Grote Markt is also where you can find the Belfry, the Church of Our Lady & Treasury and plenty of cozy restaurants and bars. Before going to the hotel, we took a glimpse inside of the Church of Our Lady. The church has a richly decorated interior with plenty of murals and beautiful glass windows.
Stay at Hotel Stayen
Back in October 2020 I won Hotel Stayen’s Instagram Giveaway, so we decided to finally make use of that voucher while in the area. Hotel Stayen is located at the soccer stadium of STVV. We stayed in one of the Comfort Rooms. The room was very spacious and offered a view upon the football pitch. Pretty cool right? Even if you are not a big soccer fan, it’s quite a unique experience. Other than the view, I really liked the bright tones of the room and oh-so comfortable beds. As we found it to chilly to eat outside on the terrace, we ordered dinner and ate in our room. I had the Belgian stew with fries and it was really good. I was super hungry then, so I forgot to take a picture. Oops…
In the morning breakfast was served in the garden of ‘Hof van Stayen’, a second building of the hotel across the street. We were each brought our own platter with a Croissant, bread, different kinds of cold cuts, salmon, yoghurt, fresh fruits. Honestly everything our heart desired. Such a feast!
Visit the Grand Commandery of Alden Biesen
The weather in the morning was pretty nice, so we decided to check out the Grand Commandery of Alden Biesen before heading back home again. The gorgeous castle was founded in 1220 by the Teutonic knights. Since 1971 Alden Biesen has been in the hands of the Flemish Government. Nowadays it’s used as a congress venue and cultural hub. The English and French gardens, the church and the grounds are free to visit. The castle itself can only be visited with a guide between June 1 and August 31 during the weekend. Reservations can only be made on site and a visit takes about 1 hour. Alden Biesen was for sure one my favorite spots during this trip. I guess I’ll always be a soccer for pretty castles and gardens…
Practical Information: Where to park?
- Tongeren: Q-Park Julianus – Maximum € 11/day
- Reading between the Lines: can only be reached on foot or by bike. If you are by car, park the car at (Pb) on Sint-Truidersteenweg between Grootloonstraat and Neremstraat and continue on foot (10 minutes) – free
- Helfshoven: Parking next to the Chapel of Helfshoven – free
- Helsheaven: there is a parking strip where you can park your car. The chapel is located at the intersection of the road that connects Hoepertingen (Borgloon) with Groot-Gelmen and the Heirbaan Tongeren-Bonen. Follow the road to the floating chapel via Google Maps – free
- Sint-Truiden: Parking Indigo Sint-Truiden Centrum – Maximum € 9/day
- Alden-Biesen: the visitor car park is opposite the moated castle, at the intersection of Roelants du Vivierlaan and Kasteelstraat – free