Oud-Rekem, near Lanaken in Limburg won the 2009 Prettiest Village in Flanders accolade. A good starting point for your visit is the church of Sint Pieter’s. It dates from 1722 and also serves as a village museum, concert hall, and tourist office. It sells a very useful guidebook that describes a 2.5km walk through the village.
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Once the Principality of the Holy Roman Empire
Situated in the far east of Limburg, near the Dutch border, Oud-Rekem dates back to 1597 when the d’Aspremont-Lynden family built their magnificent moated castle here. In 1623, the village received the awe-inspiring title of Principality of the Holy Roman Empire. The autonomy that came with it gave Oud-Rekem its own small army, laws and currency; something comparable to Liechtenstein or Andorra today, although on a much smaller scale.
The nobility was overthrown during the French Revolution and the castle damaged by incoming troops. In 1904, the Belgian state bought the castle and for many years housed a psychiatric institution. In 1993, it was purchased by real estate company Domein Reckheim and a thorough restoration process started.
Try a local gin in historical surrounds
Restoration has indeed been the key activity in the village in recent years, and two buildings in particular highlight the exceptional renovation work that has been done. From 1890 until after the Second World War, the Senden gin distillery in Sint-Pieterstraat was a thriving business. It eventually closed down in 1958.
The complete installation has been lovingly renovated, even extending to the rows of bottles containing essences and extracts that create an intoxicating aroma. Authenticity is also provided by the original administrative documents and publicity material. Guided tours are possible (reservation in advance is necessary), during which local gins can be sampled such as Broeder Bertus and ’t Voske.
Stepping back in time
It’s entirely fitting that the oldest apothecary in Belgium should be in the prettiest village in Flanders. The Dr. Humblé apothecary in Herenstraat 1 is an intriguing place. This 17th-century building is like stepping back in time. Everything is neatly arranged just as it was. You almost expect the aging physician to walk through the door and start preparing a tincture of plantain or an infusion of comfrey. It also contains fascinating displays of old pill boxes and medical accessories.
Eating and sleeping in Oud-Rekem
During or after your exploration of the village, there are plenty of places to eat. Top of the range is Restaurant Poortgebouw, Groenplaats 1. The authentic café In de Oude God alongside the Ucoverpoort village gate is a cosy place, with its quaint terrace overlooking the village stream; its popularity means that you may wait for your lunch. But that gives you plenty of time to admire the antique furniture and accessories inside the building, which is one of the village’s oldest, dating back to 1630. For a quicker turnaround of equally excellent food, Restaurant Onder de Linden is a great choice.
To extend your stay in Oud-Rekem, one option is the bed and breakfast Boven de Galerie, located in Herenstraat 21, which offers breakfast on the terrace with eggs from the chickens in their garden.
There’s plenty to do and see in east Limburg to make the most of your time in Oud-Rekem:
- Kayak on the River Maas – Smeermaas to Meeswijk, with return by bus.
- Walk through a heathland nature reserve – Ziepdeek Valley, Rekem.
- Take the reins of a horse-drawn cart along forest tracks – see Lanaken tourist office
- Explore a children’s farm, with a children’s playground and a walk for children at Pietersheim Castle Park, Lanaken.
- Hire a bike, buy the Limburg cycling map and take off for the day, or longer – see Lanaken tourist office
- Visit other pretty villages along the River Maas – Dilsen-Stokkem and Leut, and their castles Ommerstein, Carolinaberg, Ter Motte and Vilain XIIII.
- Sample the local liqueur Waolbertineke, a liquor based on bilberries.