Brussels - Uccle District
Brussels is divided up into 19 communes, and Uccle is the largest in terms of area (23 km2), but with around 76,000 people it also has the lowest population density owing to the areas of parkland and larger houses.
We stayed as a family for a fortnight during July 2007 in the north of Uccle, on the Rue Marie Depage, and made several excursions around Uccle rather than venturing into the city centre (which we did on one occasion - having been there previously).
Across Uccle to St Job, and back via Bois de La Cambre
This was a long Sunday walk, taking all day (about 7 hours) including lunch and sunbathing stops!
We followed the Avenue Edith Cavell south, across the Av Winston Churchill past the medieval-looking Hotel les Tourelles then continuing through a residential area. There were a few shops, a school, a playground and a very unusual house with a pink-painted bicycle in the front garden!
At the bottom of a hill the street cross the Av de Fre and became the Av Houzeau, rising straight up, lined with trees, to reach the Avenue Circulaire around the Royal Observatory. This, apparently, is where all the weather reports for Belgium come from. Being surrounded by trees it's less susceptible to the interference of light pollution when surveying the heavens at night.
It had turned into a warm sunny day, so we too were grateful for the shade from the trees. Along the quiet streets around the observatory were large detached houses where, doubtless, well-salaried Brussels professionals lived.
We continued down the Rue de L'Equateur on the other side of the observatory, to join the Av Laterale running east alongside the railway line. On the other side was the suburban centre of St Job. We went there by bus a week later, on a Monday, for the busy local market - it had the appearance of a country town in its own right.
This time we were heading for the forest - the northern edge of the Forêt de Soignes, returning through the Bois de la Cambre. But it was about 12.30, and we realised we didn't have anything to eat or drink with us. Not very good planning for a day out walking, but relatively easy to deal with when you're in a suburb of Brussels. We thought we ought to find a shop selling drinks and sandwiches, and walked south up the Chaussee de Waterloo which extends for miles from the city through to the countryside.
There was a filling station with a shop that looked promising - but then we saw a restaurant just beyond it that looked better still! This was the Cafe Marjs, and whilst the interior looked comfortable enough we were delighted to find a terrace with seating at the rear. It was hot in the sun, but a pleasure to sit and relax over lunch as the locals came to do likewise. Most of them were dressed up for the occasion. At another table, a couple tucked into a platter of shellfish piled high on a mountain of ice whilst their young baby sat patiently next to them.
Of course we all paid visits to the toilets, and these provided a surprising contrast to the traditional surroundings - with striking modern design and lights that changed colour!
Before we snoozed off we decided we ought to make a move - we paid up, I nipped over to the filling station to get some bottled drinks, and we walked a little further up the Chausee de Waterloo before turning left along the Av du Marechal. There were more distinctive houses among the trees along here. And then we approached the edge of the forest - marked by a wooden barrier.
The Drève du Marechal was cobbled and went uphill initially, which wasn't ideal for the pushair. We crossed over a roadway, the Drève de Lorraine, and another drive which was clearly for horses, then turned left up the next drive (the Chemin du Reservoir). This too was cobbled, so we bumped along it through the thick forest.
It took us to another road, the Chaussee de la Hulpe, which we crossed and then we were entering the Bois de la Cambre. We had just walked through the north-west corner of the Foret de Soignes, which stretches for miles to the south and eastwards as far as Tervuren. Nor had we managed to see the best of the forest - the great stands of mature beech trees that cover much of the area.
The Bois de la Cambre is a green extension of the forest reaching up towards the built-up areas of Brussels, on the east side of the Chaussée de Waterloo. It's parkland rather than forest, but with plenty of woodland around the edges. A lake lies in the southern half, whilst the northern half is criss-crossed by roads which are busy at rush-hour. However on Sundays some of them are closed to traffic and used only by people out cycling, walking and jogging.
We were all drowsy after our lunch (and a few drinks) and spent some time lazing in the sunshine on the broad grassy area which sloped down towards the lake. Then it got a bit hot and we moved into the shade of trees, before going down to the lakeside to take advantage of the Italian ice cream van.
From there we had a lazy walk along the western bank of the lake - there were plenty of other paths to choose from, and at the northern end of the lake we deviated too far to the right (the east) and had to cross back again along one of the roads. We worked out where we were, went down into a steep-sided little valley and up the other side, then reached the vicinity of the Theatre de Poche. We passed another cafe, beside a play area, but by then we were all tired and keen to get back to the apartment so we walked on.
Funnily enough, after recent walks in Scotland all had building works underway on the footpaths, there was a similar project going on here as well! Some paths were half built and blocked off at one end, and we had to squeeze past a barrier to get back through to the Chaussée de Waterloo on our return to the apartment.
That was the longest walk, maybe more than we had intended - the others were shorter and easier!
Winston Churchill, Parc Brugmann and a swimming pool
One of our walks took us past the hunched black figure of Winston Churchill at the roundabout on the avenue which bears his name. From here, trams run in to the Gare du Midi, and in the other direction all the way to the tourist attractions in the Heysel district (a 50-minute ride). We crossed and walked along a narrow lane on the east side of the Parc Brugmann to get to the public swimming pool at the southern end. The first time we tried this we were forced to shelter by a torrential downpour (luckily there was the covered doorway of a bank available) and never made it. This time we got there successfully after a half-hour walk, and managed to work out the system for armbands, clothes and changing arrangements - bathing caps were obligatory for everyone, and swimming trunks for men.
The Parc Brugmann is one of the less impressive parks in the district - it has been reduced in size by development of big new appartment blocks on the west side, and it's largely restricted now to a dark wooded section of valley with tracks that can get pretty muddy in rain. All the same, there's a children's play area at the southern end and a fitness trail beside the path on the east side with various sets of equipment to climb on, hang off and jump over! On another visit in the autumn it proved to be a fruitful place to collect chestnuts for roasting.
Four parks and two restaurants
I had made a reconnaissance run to a couple of the parks in Uccle - the Parc de Wolvendael, just west of the Observatory, and the Fond'Roy, just south of St Job. It was a bit far for us to walk there and back (after the long walk the previous Sunday), but we were able to get a bus from close to the apartment which took us to the southern gate of Parc de Wolvendael.
This was perfect for Frances and baby Ailsa, who were delighted to find a splendid playground to enjoy not far inside the park.
I'd come in from the northern (lower) end of the park, passing the unusual sight of a Russian Orthodox Church on the way there along the Av de Fre. Apparently it was modelled on a church at Novgorod. Just beyond the Church, after passing a restaurant in what appeared to be a very old building, there was a gate into the park with a more stately old building on the far side of an ornamental pond. Various drives and paths led around the park and up past the house, through the trees. And all of them were named after - believe it or not - Famous Belgians! For all those who are stuck when asked to name a famous Belgian, this is the place to come. Each sign has the dates of the individual, and says what he or she was known for. From Jacques Brel, the musician, to Herge, creator of Tintin, and quite a few other cartoonists besides.
For our family visit, we walked back out of the northern gate of the park and west along the Dieweg, then turning left, around the perimeter of a cemetery. We were aiming for La Guignol restaurant which I'd spotted on my run, at the bottom of the Rue du Repos, but unfortunately we found it was closed. Fortunately there was a reserve option. We walked along the winding little Rue des Pecheurs which was almost like a country lane, climbing to join the Rue Basse. Turning right down here past houses and shops we passed a couple of other restaurants then reached the one I was looking for - the wonderfully named "Au Coin du Monde". Of course, it stands on a street corner, and it has a garden at the back with a few tables, so we were able to enjoy another excellent meal out in the fresh air. Catriona and I both decided to sample a traditional Belgian dish - something like "stoemp", which is basically potato and vegetables mashed up with meat and gravy. We went the whole hog (literally) and had both the pork chop and the sausage. Delicious!
After lunch we had another 15 minutes' walk, under the railway bridge near the restaurant, turning right along the Av Dolez then continuing on the Vieille Rue du Moulin past attractive modern villas. Then the road bent to the left and we reached the entrance on the right to the Fond'Roy, with a long cobbled drive leading up into it. This park occupies the grounds of a psychiatric hospital and farm, now converted for public use. It's unusual in having livestock grazing (sheep, a horse, and a couple of donkeys), and is used for educational visits. Whilst we were there a large group of people were being given a guided tour of the circular path running down from the farm, past a spring. A sign indicated that there are XX types of bats to be found in Belgium - presumably quite a few could be seen at dusk flying between the trees at the bottom of the field.
Beyond the farm and the plot of vegetables, and to the left of the hospital grounds, is an orchard. This has now become a rather different kind of parkland, with benches for people to sit and relax, looking down through old apple trees towards the roofs of neighbouring houses peaking out among the greenery. It made the perfect spot for another post-lunch snooze in the sun!
Afterwards, we completed our walk around the park, then went back down to the gate (after noticing the walnut trees on either side of the drive). Turning right on the street at the bottom, we started to climb the fancifully named Montagne de St Job. It's really just a narrow street over a hill, through attractive (and probably expensive) terraces of houses. There were quite a few fancy cars being driven up it anyway.
Towards the top, a little lane was signposted off to the left, the Chemin Avijl. I went back there on another run a couple of days later, along this lane, and found a footpath leading up to the left through smallholdings and then past fields, back down to the Rue du Moulin. Apparently this area is threatened with new housing development, which would be a pity.
On the family walk, however, we walked on past this junction, and down towards St Job. The dome of the church looked very imposing ahead of us, and we descended past the houses and a back yard where a barbecue was taking place. At the bottom of the "Montagne" there was a pub with a sign showing the Matterhorn! Then we were in the large square of St Job. A large plastic cow was parked outside an organic food shop, where we bought a few things before walking on to get a tram back to the apartment from outside the church.
It had all worked out very well - a gentle walk made possible by the excellent bus and tram services.
We went back the next day, this time getting the no 60 bus to the Chaussee de St Job and walking past the Lycee Francais J Monnet, over the railway bridge, and turning left into the Parc de la Sauvagère. It had a long tree-lined drive which led up to the weird sight of a little artificial lake, overlooked by rocks surmounted by the columns of a ruined Greek temple! Frances clambered up the rocks to explore the temple whilst the rest of us walked up the path to the right. It sloped up through the trees to a much more reassuring view of a well-equipped play area, next to a fenced pen with domesticated animals inside.
We spent a while there, the young girls playing on the climbing frame and slide in the sunshine whilst we sat on benches at the side. Then we explored down to the left of the mansion house which overlooked the play area and found more animals pens, this time with larger occupants - a couple of llamas and a donkey or two.
Then it was time to leave and look for somewhere to eat - we went through the gate just beyond the play area leading onto Avenue de la Chenaie. We turned left and it was like walking down a quiet country lane. The open countryside to the right was the Kauwberg.
After 10 or 15 minutes' walk we were back into the residential suburbs of St Job and the Guignol Restaurant was straight in front of us, at the foot of Rue du Repos. This time it was open, and quite busy! The sun was blazing down, so we decided against sitting outside without any shade and instead found a table in a bright and airy back room. The interior decor was dominated by puppets in a variety of costumes, hanging from the ceilings and walls, together with other toys and playthings. It meant that Ailsa had plenty to look at whilst we were waiting for our meal. The food and service were excellent - highly recommended!
We had one more park to visit. Not officially a park, more a disputed area of countryside, the Kauwberg which we had walked past on our way to the restaurant. We found an entrance just along the Chaussee de Saint-Job, opposite the Coin du Monde restaurant. A path led in under the railway line, past the gardens of various houses, then into woodland. There were small hills and depressions - it must have been an area of quarrying at one time. Apparently there have been plans to develop it for housing but locals mounted a vigorous campaign against these, and they were eventually successful with the plans being thrown out. However, that may not be the end of the story.
For now, at least, it's still a large area of woodland and pasture with a few cattle grazing, quite a contrast to the carefully tended city parks and the extensive Forest of Soignes. It wasn't ideal for the pushchair, which we had to lift over a couple of fences and push with difficulty along the uneven path through the trees. We found a good patch of grass at the edge of the pasture to have an afternoon snooze. Then the sky was becoming hazy and it was getting cooler, so we set off again, down through the pasture, trying not to upset the cattle. We didn't find the way out to the road that we were hoping for and had to turn back up to rejoin the path which we'd used to enter the woods. And then we soon found another bus to take us back to Vanderkindere.
And so we had visited most of the parks and open countryside of Uccle, as well as seeing a wide variety of suburban architecture. It really left a good impression with me, and for anyone spending some time in Brussels who wants to get out walking away from the busy city centre, this has plenty to offer.
Story completed November 2008
Contributed by Andrew Llanwarne< Back to Belgium page for links to other stories