Belgium // Hainaut and Wallonian Brabant //

Northwest of Mons: Beloeil

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Roughly halfway between Mons and Tournai, the château of BELOEIL (t069 68 94 26) broods over the village that bears its name, its long brick and stone facades redolent of the enormous wealth and power of the Ligne family, regional bigwigs since the fourteenth century. This aristocratic clan began by strengthening the medieval fortress built here by their predecessors, subsequently turning it into a commodious moated castle that was later remodelled and refined on several occasions. The wings of the present structure date from the late seventeenth century, while the main body, though broadly compatible, was in fact rebuilt after a fire in 1900. Without question a stately building, it has a gloomy, rather despondent air – and the interior, though lavish enough, oozing with tapestries, paintings and furniture, is simply the collected indulgences – and endless portraits – of various generations of Lignes. Despite all this grandeur, only one member of the family cuts much historical ice. This is Charles Joseph (1735–1814), a diplomat, author and field marshal in the Austrian army, whose pithy comments were much admired by his fellow aristocrats: most famously, he suggested that the Congress of Vienna of 1814 “danse mais ne marche pas”. Several of Beloeil’s rooms contain paintings of Charles’ life and times and there’s also a small selection of his personal effects, including the malachite clock given to him by the Tsar of Russia. Otherwise, the best parts are the library, which contains twenty thousand volumes, many ancient and beautifully bound, and the eighteenth-century formal gardens, the largest in the country, whose lakes and flower beds stretch away from the house to a symmetrical design by Parisian architect and decorator Jean-Michel Chevotet.