Located in the north of the province of Walloon Brabant, about ten kilometers from Wavre, the commune of Rixensart is home to a treasure of nature and architecture: the park of Genval.
By Florence Pirard
Genval is today a highly urbanized agglomeration, offering a hilly relief punctuated by two rivers, the Lasne and the Argentina. From an etymological point of view, Genval, divided into two parts, comes from the contraction of “jusenne” into “gen” (meaning low) and “val”: it is therefore the “valley from below”. The territory of Genval has been occupied since the Neolithic period, but the first church is not mentioned until the 13th century. Mainly agricultural until the end of the 19th century, the village will become residential following the creation of a station and a 60-hectare building stock. In 1898, the exploitation of mineral water was accompanied by the creation of hotels and villas which changed the appearance of the village.
Water has played a major role in the development of this commune in Walloon Brabant, located just 25 kilometers from the center of Brussels. At the beginning of the last century, people already came for treatment on the shores of Lake Genval and it is thanks to the Lasne, the watercourse that literally crosses the town, that the famous Genval paper mills were able to develop. for creating the balatum.
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The creation of the lake
Lake Genval extends along the edge of the Forêt de Soignes, south-east of Brussels, on the boundaries of the territories of the municipalities of Rixensart, in the province of Walloon Brabant, and Overijse, in the province of Flemish Brabant. . At the end of the 19th century, the lawyer and businessman Gustave Smets-Mondez (1861-1938) worked out the project to create an artificial lake on land he had just acquired in the valley of the Argentine river. He wants to transform the place into a spa resort for wealthy Brussels families. The development of the 18-hectare lake and the accompanying park has been entrusted to the landscape architect Adrien Hubaut. The lake was filled in 1903-1904 with water from Argentina, the course of which would then bypass the body of water.
The site around the lake, which is private property closed by barriers, is managed by the limited company Genval-les-Eaux, which undertakes to subdivide it. In a wooded setting, new winding arteries are traced, along which opulent dwellings, hotels and restaurants in the most diverse styles, competing in fantasy are built.
Lake Genval is an eclectic building complex, designed in the 19th century but including recent buildings. A popular holiday resort since the Belle Epoque, the park retains around its perimeter the residences built since these prolific years by wealthy vacationers. Art Nouveau buildings stand side by side with Norman villas, English cottages or a Swiss chalet inspired by that of Rütli, the Villa Guillaume Tell, a copy of the chapel of the same name which dominates Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. A private villa is reminiscent of the farm in the Trianon hamlet where Marie-Antoinette received her friends. The whole coexists with modern buildings in a hilly and green setting bearing the names of Saint-Anne, Au Verger, Les Rossignols, Les Œillets …
If the real estate park mainly covers the hill, it is in order to leave the lake of Genval free to dispose of the valley to spread its waters. Oasis of beauty, the outdoors and tranquility at the gates of the capital, its success has never wavered. A stroll on its banks allows you to savor its bucolic charm and discover the gastronomic variety of the restaurants that border it.
Some remarkable villas
Fernand Symons signs in 1903 the plans for the villa Les Sorbiers, twin sister of another villa in the Bosquet district. It is located at the corner of Place Adrien Hubaut and Avenue des Merisiers. If the turret has lost its cap, it retains an undeniable charm by its proportions, its balcony, the balance and the variety of window openings on its facades, topped with a croupette roof.
Villa Béatrix, now known as the Fée du Lac, is located on avenue des Cormiers. It was built between 1903 and 1906 with a slight overhang of the lake. It is a white house with blue frames topped by a pretty square turret. The house was completely burned down after the war by residents, in retaliation against the owner who had welcomed German officers there, whom she was taking around the lake in a small team.
Place Adrien Hubaut, behind a beautiful grid with straight lines, the imposing villa Les Hirondelles dates from the beginning of the 20th century. It stands out for its eclectic style, tinged with Art Nouveau in certain details, notably the ironwork.
A prestigious hotel
Among these buildings, the Château du Lac surprises and seduces with its somewhat particular architecture, which evokes as much a fairy-tale castle as a monastic construction. Formerly the site of the capture and bottling of Genval mineral water, it now houses a five-star hotel frequented by an international clientele. Its position on the shores of the lake ensures a privileged environment.
The Château du Lac was, with the Bonne Fontaine spring that it houses, the true symbol of Genval-les-Eaux. The Etablissement des Eaux, its original denomination, was built between 1905 and 1907 by the architect Julien Wendrickx, future production manager of the International Mineral Water Company, to house the collection of sources and the bottling of Genval mineral water.
Below, accessible by a double staircase, was the refreshment bar, where the two sources flowed into basins, one from the wall and the other from the ground. Gushing out of the ground, the Bonne Fontaine source served, like the castle, as an advertising image for the mineral waters of Genval. Fans could hold out a goblet to collect the precious liquid.
After the First World War and the reorganization of the companies managing the Genval site, the castle became the property of an English company before becoming part of the heritage of the princes of Merode, who rented its facilities to Schweppes Belgium. The Belgian branch was then managed by John Martin, an English brewer based in Antwerp, who since 1909 has been importing beers from Great Britain and Ireland to the continent, including the famous Guinness. He obtained the exclusivity of the production of the Schweppes range which he transferred in 1952 to Genval following the deterioration of the quality of drinking water in Antwerp, now pumped into the Albert canal. Relieved of Schweppes in 1988, the John Martin group has continued to diversify its offer in the field of special beers (Timmermans, Gordon…), lemonades (Orangina) and fruit juices (Looza). Renovated after the transfer of the Schweppes factory to rue du Cerf, the castle, which now belongs to the Martin family, has been converted into a five-star hotel with 121 rooms, the Château du Lac.
The Genval-les-Eaux station was built by the architect G. De Lulle in 1910, as attested by the inscription “Anno 1910” engraved in two stone cartridges above the entrance. It would replace a small stopover commissioned in the 1880s. At the beginning of the 20th century, the station was the obligatory point of passage for vacationers or day tourists. It offers all the characteristics of a water town or seaside resort. Elegant and colorful, it alone decorates the square that gives access to it and is remarkable for its polychromy and the diversity of the materials used. It still welcomes travelers under the name “Genval”.
Organize your visit
The Genval Yacht Club offers many activities for an outing on the lake with family or friends: rental of pedal boats, boats, kayaks, sailing courses …
Many walks will allow you to stroll in Rixensart and around Lake Genval.
All information is available at Rixensart tourist office.