Oud-Rekem, the most beautiful village in Flanders

The village of Oud-Rekem, a sub-municipality of Lanaken, has been able to call itself the most beautiful village in Flanders since 2008. Located between Lanaken and Maasmechelen, a stone’s throw from the Dutch border, the town on the Maas has one of the most authentic village centers in Belgium. In the village, the d’Aspremont-Lynden castle and St. Peter’s Church, together with the Ucover Gate in a preserved part of the city walls, point to a rich history.

Most beautiful village in Flanders

In 2007, ‘Toerisme Vlaanderen’ organized a competition to find the most beautiful village in Flanders. The idea behind it was to promote tourism in rural areas. Ten villages were nominated per province. The public television broadcaster VRT and the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad managed the election. Viewers and readers could choose through a number of voting rounds who they thought was the most beautiful village in Flanders. On May 29, 2008, Oud-Rekem was crowned the most beautiful village in Flanders. In the final, 91,031 people cast their votes and more than a third of them chose Oud-Rekem from Limburg.

Criteria for the selection

When selecting the candidates for the most beautiful village in Flanders, a number of characteristics were taken into account. It was important that the village had a picturesque character. An authentic village square and coherent architecture played a role in this, as did the historical background. The rural location and beautiful green surroundings were essential as the competition wanted to stimulate tourism in the countryside. The Flemish Burgundian character of a village was taken into account. This can include sufficient catering and festivities. Finally, a candidate’s tourist assets were examined, such as museums and walking and cycling routes.

Rekem, a brief history

Because of its favorable location on the Maas and along the Roman highway Tongeren-Nijmegen, the area was inhabited at an early age. The place name Rekem first appeared in 1140 as Radekeim. In the Middle Ages, Rekem was a free lordship to which Uikhoven and Boorsem were added in 1300. In the eighteenth century, until the abolition of the Ancien Regime, the town was a dwarf state with its own army and currency. From 1795, Rekem was a cantonal capital of six municipalities under French rule. In the nineteenth century it had to leave that function to Mechelen-aan-de-Maas and became an agricultural village. With the construction of the Zuid-Willemsvaart and later the installation of the N78 regional road, Rekem was split into three parts: Oud-Rekem and the hamlets of Boven- and Daalwezet. Since 1977 it has been under the administration of the municipality of Lanaken.

Castle d’Aspremont-Lynden

Built in 1597 on the ruins of old castles, d’Aspremont-Lynden Castle was the place from which the eponymous noble family ruled Rekem until the end of the eighteenth century. In 1792 the castle was confiscated by the French and converted into a military hospital. This is the beginning of the castle as a care center. Between 1809 and 1891 it served as a beggars’ asylum for the homeless. From 1981 to 1904, the buildings were used as a re-educational institution for boys. After renovation works, the castle was put into use in 1921 as a psychiatric center or the state insane asylum, as it was called at that time. In 1974, the care institution left Castle d’Aspremont-Lynden permanently and settled in Daalbroekstraat in Rekem, where it still exists in 2018 under the name OPZC Rekem, Public Psychiatric Care Center Rekem. In the 1990s there were plans to build a cinema room in the basement of the castle. These were put away again due to a change of ownership. In 2018, the buildings have no permanent residents. It houses a small museum and is used for exhibitions.

Ucoverpoort

Source: Kleon3, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0) The city walls of Rekem, which dates from 1630, contained five entrance gates. The Ucover Gate, decorated with bluestone and bearing a coat of arms of the d’Aspremont-Lynden family, is the only one that has stood the test of time. The name says it all, the Ucoverpoort was the gateway to Rekem from Uikhoven. This location used to be a crossing of the old Maas arm. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, this city gate was known as the Maaspoort. Later, when the Maas flowed between Uikhoven and Geulle, the gate was popularly renamed Ucoverpoort. Next to the city gate is the gatekeeper’s residence or the Drossaerdhuis, which is now furnished as a cafe. The gate was closed at 9 p.m. during the rule of the d’Aspremont-Lynden family. Now the most beautiful village in Flanders is of course always accessible via the Ucoverpoort.

Museum Church on the Groenplaats

Source: Romaine, Wikimedia Commons (CC0) The baroque St. Peter’s Church is the most prominent building on the Groenplaats in Oud-Rekem with its own story. Count Ferdinand d’Aspremont-Lynden concluded an agreement with the bishop of Liège in 1704 in which he stipulated that the parish church within the castle walls could be demolished. The condition was that a new church was built elsewhere. That is why a number of farms on Groenplaats were expropriated and the foundation stone of St. Peter’s Church was laid that same year.

No prosperity for St. Peter’s Church

However, after the choir and part of the nave had been completed, the count had the work stopped. Officially it was called a lack of money, an old feud between the clerical authorities and the family was a more plausible explanation. It was in 1722 when Countess Antonia, a sister of Ferdinand, intervened financially and work could be resumed. The financial tug-of-war was not the only disaster that struck St. Peter’s Church. In 1755, a fire broke out in Rekem and part of the church, together with 21 houses, was reduced to ashes. It was only put back into use in 1774. As the number of parishioners steadily increased, it was decided in 1956 to build a new church. St. Peter’s Church was taken over by the municipal council. It now belongs to the heritage of Oud-Rekem and serves as a museum church.

Groenplaats and Onder de Linden

The Groenplaats with a pillory is the former market square of Oud-Rekem. This square is located west of d’Aspremont-Lynden Castle. The neo-Gothic buildings of the castle on the east side of the Groenplaats used to belong to the psychiatric institution. St. Peter’s Church is located on the south side of the square. The adjacent street, Onder de Linden, is separated from the castle by a brick wall that is flanked by lime trees along its entire length. Across the street is the old court, which is now a restaurant. Several old buildings in Oud-Rekem have been redeveloped as catering facilities. This asset will certainly have done the most beautiful village in Flanders no harm in the election.

Cultural heritage in Oud-Rekem

Cultural heritage in Oud-Rekem is not only reserved for old churches, buildings and castles. The town is home to several small-scale museums.

Senden Distillery

Wines, liqueurs, syrups and gins were prepared at Distillerie Senden from about 1900 onwards. Production was stopped during the Second World War. After the war years, work was resumed until it finally stopped in 1958. All machines and materials have been carefully preserved since then. Original bottles, labels, posters, sugars or spices, as they were honored and are on display for the visitor.

Museum pharmacy of the Humblé family

A museum pharmacy is located in a building dating from 1820 on the corner of Groenplaats. Doctor Gerard Humblé had a doctor’s practice and a pharmacy here from 1891. Later, until 1970, the business was continued by his son, Frans Humblé. In 1985, the medical practice was transferred by widow Humblé to the non-profit organization Renovatie Rekem. The doctor’s practice and pharmacy are designed as a museum. In Gerard Humblé’s time, a doctor was a gynecologist, dentist and coroner at the same time. It is therefore not surprising that in addition to the authentic racks and pots and a counter from the nineteenth century, there is also an original birthing chair and coroner’s equipment to admire.

Nature in the Meuse Valley

There is more to see in Oud-Rekem than just cultural heritage. The most beautiful village in Flanders is located in a rural area. Oud-Rekem is an ideal base for discovering nature along the Maas. Rekem can be visited by cycling enthusiasts using the cycling junction system. Hikers can explore the area by following a signposted route. The walks depart from the Colmonterveld car park in Rekem. A colored geometric figure shows the way, distances vary from 3 to 15.5 kilometers.

Useful tourist information

Lanaken Tourism Department has an information desk in Oud-Rekem. Interested parties can go here for all information regarding opening hours of the sights, entrance fees and possible guides. Opening hours and contact details of the information point can be found on their website.