08 February, 2016
Louvain, regarded as the Flemish Salamanca for its large student population during the academic year, is the ideal destination to head for on a getaway to Brussels as it is less than half an hour’s train ride away.
Louvain and its University
The university is a major feature of Louvain (Leuven, in Flemish). Not only is it a historic institution – it was founded in 1425 – but an international student magnet as it attracts large numbers of foreign Erasmus scholarship holders each year. Many of these will be unaware that Erasmus of Rotterdam, after whom the exchange programme of almost thirty years’ standing is named, actually used to lecture at Louvain University.
No wonder, then, that the population of this Flemish city increases by around 20,000 youngsters at the start of each academic year. They study during the day and hit the town by night, turning Louvain into one of the most fun spots in Europe. Come heat or cold, many of these students congregate in the Oude Markt, a square packed with cafés, pubs and restaurants, compounding what is considered to be Europe’s longest bar counter.
In the morning, many of these students make up for the previous night’s debauchery in the library, located in the Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein square. The library building, formerly sited on the Naamsestraat, was destroyed in World War I and rebuilt with Belgian and American funding. The square is embellished by a striking landmark – a beetle pierced by a huge, three-meter-high needle. It was unveiled in 2005 to mark the 575th anniversary of the University.
Louvain’s Historic City Centre
Some of the most emblematic buildings in Louvain, the capital of Flemish-Brabant province, are located in the Grote Markt or Main Square. The most remarkable landmark is the City Hall, an example of the mid-15th-century Brabantine Gothic, with over 230 small sculptures adorning the facade. Noteworthy, too, is St Peter’s Church with its unfinished, low belltower and the Neoclassical building known as the Round Table (Tafelrond), currently the site of the National Bank. Starting from the Grote Markt, if you head along Bondgenotenlaan street, you come to Martelarenplein (Martyrs’ Square) with its marked Spanish air, redesigned as it was by the architect, Manuel de Solà-Morales, between 1998 and 2004.
Like the city of Mechelen, Louvain has a magnificent, 12th-century Grand Béguinage. This secluded precinct is just a fifteen minute walk from the centre and once housed the Beguines, a female religious community that led an austere life. Covering an area of six hectares, the Grand Béguinage is now the residence of many exchange professors and Erasmus students. Bear in mind that Flemish beguinages are listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Other places of interest include St Gertrude’s Abbey, the Church of St Michael – a masterpiece of the Flemish Baroque – and the statue of Fons Sapientiae (Source of Wisdom), by the Belgian artist, Jef Claerhout, which is decked out in different costumes at various times of the year.
Gastronomy and Beer in Louvain
Beer is a must in Louvain, and several beer routes have been set up, including a tour of the Domus brewery and that of Stella Artois, the best known brand in the city. Several restaurants in town offer menus paired with local beer, notably Zarza and EssenCiel, the latter situated on the crowded Muntstraat.
Now that you know how to find your way around Louvain, get your Vueling to Brussels and enjoy the university city!
Text by María Jesús Torné from tusdestinos.net
08 February, 2016