Winter Gardens of Ursuline Nuns (Flanders - Belgium)

It was 2°C when I ventured to Mechelen, but the 'it feels like' said -6°C! Wind was moderate and I hated the weather. But then, if its called a Winter Garden, you gotta visit it in Winter! I layered Atyudarini with 2 layers of clothing and wore her in babywearing and then covered atop with another quilt and still she did begin to shriek atop her voice. But then, the weather inside the Winter Gardens was warm enough that she slept off! Its there in summer too, but when everything else is dry and cold in winter, to see the Winter Garden maintain its green, that's the specialty!

First things first. when I heard of the name I though the whole place is a conservatory and I expected something like Barbican Conservatory. However only the first room here is the conservatory or winter garden and the rest of the building is a still functioning school and the rest of the rooms are still functioning class rooms, dining rooms, exam rooms are more. Infact the guides who take us around the place was also a teacher in the school!

By end of 19th C, Belgium was one of the top countries when it came to education. However education of women was still in the fledgling state. Women weren't allowed to study Latin and moreover a co-educational institution was kind of unheard of! So here in Mechelen, a boarding school for girls was proposed set up by the then diocese, and various other institutes were asked if they could run it. The Ursuline Nuns took it upon them to run it. It was the era when every building in Belgium was being built in Art Deco style. However in a very modern & unique feature, this was built in Art Nouveau style!!!

The building is not really 'in' Mechelen. It is, but its in the outskirts which requires a 20min bus ride. The huge building with its unique architecture is a giveaway and its easy to spot it! The place can be seen only via a guided tour which happens in English, Dutch & French. The tour begins in the Winter Gardens and continues through the rest of the school.

The stained glass details here are stunning, beginning from sunrise and stork on one side, moves through the day through the entire ceiling and ends with sunset and owl on the other side. Everything here, from the floor tile patterns to door frames to the chair cushion designs, its all Art Nouveau at its best! Originally the orientation of this building was 90° different from what it is now. During the WWII, its orientation was changed to protect in the midst of the surrounding buildings. Since the whole room was made of iron & glass (like the typical art nouveau style, remember similar iron base structure in Musical Instruments Museum, Brussels?), it was relatively east to pick it and turn it to 90°.


Girl children from all over the world came here for quality education, all the way from America, Russia etc. Children spent almost a decade of their preteens to teens here. Parents visit them once a year or so. The chatting place for parents with children is this winter garden. Just beside the winter gardens, all the walls are painted with representing the cities around incl., Luxembourg, Tournai, Antwerp etc.This is to give an idea for the parents to know what's around.


Then the hour long tour takes you through various rooms including Piano room, dining hall etc. There is an exquisite church inside the school. Since its inside an educational institution, it doesn't have a Father or Priest. Instead of a usual Chapel, here is a huge Cathedral sized Church!

There were pathways from the dwelling area to the Church, to prevent anyone blaming the weather for not going to church! Bathing was a luxury and was allowed only occasionally!

To Get There:
To Mechelen: 33km by road (30 mins by train, frequent IC service is available regularly)
Mechelen to Wintertuin: 8km (15 mins by bus, available from Mechelen Nekkerspoel every 30 mins)

Entry Ticket & Timings:
€10.00 - Reservation via info@visitwintertuin.be is necessary
Every Sunday 2:30pm from Mar-Nov; Every 3rd Sunday 2:30pm from Dec-Feb

P.S: I was invited by Mechelen Tourism to experience the city for review purposes, however the opinions are my own and this post does not to advertise the product/service.

Bhushavali N

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

13 comments:

  1. What a great place to explore. I love Belgium but had not even heard about this place. The stained glassworks really look very stunning. I am sure they would be looking even better at sunset or sunrise when the rays hit them.

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  2. Ive never been in Belgium and ive never heard about this place but it looks really nice! It must be so alive there when parents meet their kids ( but wow only once a year? ) Your photos are great! You've showed everything whats the best about that place! Thanks for sharing !

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  3. How beautiful! Belgium really has this unique sense of antique beauty to it, no matter where you turn the interiors (and exteriors!) are so beautiful. I loved how you connected the students lives with the building features, I loved looking at the pictures and seeing how they would have been used during their newly built glory.

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  4. This sounds like a lovely place to stumble upon. I love the history that the place has as well. I hope that the students love and appreciate the history behind the place too.

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  5. This looks like such an interesting place to visit. I was surprised to read that it is still an active school. What a strange, beautiful and privileged place to go to school. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. I had never heard of this place before, and quite likely would never have, if I had not come across this post. Thank you for highlighting the less known, but no less beautiful places in Europe.

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  7. I was captivated with the intricate design of the building. I also love how you made this post so detailed that I was like I'm ambling around with you. I love the fact that there are also rooms that are being used as a classroom, dining room, and function room, which makes it more interesting. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

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  8. Frankly, it's only now that I've learned the place. The architecture is impressive as well as the decors, furniture and the gardens. Hopefully I do get the chance to visit Belgium again.

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  9. Interesting. I like the locations for it. There is a classical interior and green gardens. Definitely a good spot to visit.

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  10. I cannot believe the detail in all of your photos. The architecture was breathtaking. This makes me very inclined to visit Belgium one day.

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  11. Those are beautiful pictures, so glad to know about this place and knowing that rest of the building is a still functioning school , I only wish to go back to school lol.

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  12. Belgium is high up on my bucket list but I have actually never heard of the Winter Gardens. The magnificent architecture, the amazing interior and the beautiful gardens all make for an amazing excursion.

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  13. Maintaining plants in the garden with such cold temperature outside is commendable. The architecture of the building of the winter gardens is marvellous especially the painted glasses and tall towers. Learning about trees and plantations become so easy for children when the have such a great garden besides the school. Great initiative.

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