Among the most popular events where we live are the twice yearly open days at the former Abbey of Aywiers at Couture St Germain, just a couple of kilometres down the valley from Lasne. Today the former abbey buildings are split up into several homes so it is private most of the year. However there are public paths running close by and across a much wider area there are signs of its former scale with extensive former fishing ponds, surrounding walls visible along the valley of the River Lasne and imposing gates marking the entrances to the main abbey complex. I always enjoy cycling up, down and around the numerous paths and minor roads that pass through the area.
The Autumn garden festival is a particularly pleasant day out and a great photo opportunity because the grounds and many of the exhibitors deliver a beautiful array of colours in front of the restored Abbey buildings. With 2015’s incredible autumn weather this year was particularly colourful.
It is also mushroom season and I can thoroughly recommend the gourmet mushroom stall for their hot food, a cut above anything served at your normal Belgian public event.
Both spring and autumn festivals also offer both the local community and visitors a chance to visit an interesting site and seem to attract people from a long distance over the three days of the long weekend.
While some of Belgium’s medieval sites and ruins are more impressive than Aywiers this location also has a spiritual importance – with a Belgian twist. Its most famous inhabitant was Saint Lutgardis, an important mystic of the 13th Century, patron saint of the blind and physically disabled. She is known as Saint Lutgarde in French, perhaps a redundant name because despite choosing to live among the French speaking Cistercian nuns she apparently never learned to speak French. For this reason from the 19th Century she was adopted as the patron saint of the Flemish Movement and of Flanders!
When the French Revolutionary Army invaded Belgium in the 1790s all the abbeys were shut down and like many others Aywiers was sold off for building materials so that by the 19th century most of the major religious buildings had been demolished. The complex today contains the former abbey house rebuilt as a chateau and traces of the former glory in the gardens and gates of the grounds.
The annual garden festivals are in the calendar every year for the first weekend of May and the first weekend of October. For those who want to escape from Brussels for a taste of country living and a bit of history Aywiers is only 25 km south of the city centre and can be reached from the stations at Rixensart or Braine l’Alleud by bus or bike as well as by car. Have a look on the Aywiers web site for the details and come and join us next year!