by Scott Mehl
The Belgian royal residences fall into two categories – those owned by the State and those owned by The Royal Trust. The State owns The Palace of Brussels and the Castle of Laeken, and makes them available to the Sovereign.
King Leopold II established the Royal Trust in the early 1900s by transferring ownership of his properties, with instructions that the properties would never be sold, they would retain their function and appearance, and they would remain at the disposal of the Royal family.
Wikipedia: Royal Trust (Belgium)
The Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace is the home of the Belgian Monarchy. It is used for official and State functions, however it is not currently in use as a royal residence.
Click HERE for our in-depth article about The Royal Palace of Brussels!
Castle of Laeken
The Royal Palace of Laeken was built in the late 1780s as a summer residence for Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria and her husband Albert of Saxony, then the Governors of the Habsburg Netherlands. Since the beginning of the Belgian monarchy in 1831, it has been the primary residence of the Belgian sovereign, with the exception of King Albert II, who chose to remain at Chateau Belvédère upon his accession. It is situated in a large park, known as the Royal Domain, which includes the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, Chateau Belvédère, Chateau Stuyvenberg (the home of Queen Fabiola) and Villa Schonenberg (the home of Princess Astrid), the Chinese Pavilion and the Japanese Tower.
After King Albert II’s accession, the Royal Palace remained the home of the widowed Queen Fabiola until 1998. She moved to Chateau Stuyvenberg and the new Duke and Duchess of Brabant (Philippe and Mathilde) moved into the palace. With Philippe’s accession to the Belgian throne in July 2013, the palace returns to its traditional role as primary residence of the Belgian sovereign.
Click HERE for our in-depth article about The Royal Palace of Laeken!
Château du Belvédère
Located within the royal domain in Laeken, the Chateau Belvédère is the primary residence of King Albert II and Queen Paola. It is owned by The Royal Trust.
Originally built in the late 1780s, the Chateau Belvédère was purchased by King Leopold II in 1867. It was intended for his sister, the Empress Carlotta of Mexico, but she chose instead to live in Tervuren, leaving Belvédère empty for some time. In 1890, a fire ravaged the Palace of Laeken, forcing King Leopold II and Queen Marie-Henriette to move to Belvédère while repairs took place.
Following repairs, the King and Queen returned to the Royal Palace of Laeken, and Belvédère became the residence of his youngest daughter, Princess Clementine. After the King’s death, Clementine married and left Belvédère, which was then used for housing members of the royal court.
In 1958, the Chateau Belvédère was used for exhibitions as part of the Wold Expo held in Belgium. The following year, Belvédère became the home of the newly married Prince and Princess of Liege (Albert and Paola). The property was expanded to about 12 acres, having acquired some of the surrounding public park. All three of their children were born and raised there.
Breaking with tradition, Albert and Paola chose to remain at Belvédère after his accession, and not move to the Palace of Laeken which had always been the residence of the monarch.
Chateau Stuyvenberg, located in the Royal Domain at Laeken, is owned by the Royal Trust. It was purchased by the Belgian government in 1840. In 1851, King Leopold I took possession of the property as a residence for his mistress Arcadia Meyer (née Claret). It was at Stuyvenberg that she gave birth to their second son Arthur. After Leopold’s death, Madame Meyer left Belgium, and the property was abandoned. In 1889, King Leopold II purchased the property from the government, only to later cede it back as part of the Royal Trust.
In 1929, it became the home of the future King Leopold III and Queen Astrid, and the birthplace of their two youngest children, Kings Baudouin and Albert II. After Queen Astrid’s death, the family left Stuyvenberg and moved to the Palace of Laeken. The chateau remained empty until 1951, becoming the home of the widowed Queen Elisabeth. She remained at Stuyvenberg until her death in 1965. At that point, Stuyvenberg became a residence for visiting heads of state and government officials. In 1998, it returned to royal use as the home of Queen Fabiola, widow of King Baudouin, and it was at Stuyvenberg Castle that she passed away on December 5, 2014.
Villa Clémentine, in Tervuren, is the home of Prince Laurent and his family. It was built specifically for Prince Laurent in 1993, and is owned by The Royal Trust.
Villa Schonenberg is the home of Princess Astrid and her family, located within the grounds of the Palace of Laeken, just steps from Stuyvenberg Castle. It was built in 1998 and is owned by the Royal Trust. Previously, Princess Astrid and her family had lived in a villa right behind the Royal Palace of Brussels, just outside the palace gates.
Ciergnon, Namur, Wallonia
Ciergnon Castle is used as a summer residence of the Belgian monarchy. The land was originally purchased in 1840 by King Leopold I for his wife, Queen Marie Louise. A hunting lodge was built, and later torn down by King Leopold II who had the current castle built. At the beginning of World War II, Ciergnon was a frequent residence of Princes Baudouin and Albert before the family was removed from Belgium in 1944. The Castle was expanded in 1948 by Prince Regent Charles and has become a favorite getaway for several generations of the royal family. It was at Ciergnon that the future Queen Fabiola was presented to the press upon her engagement to King Baudouin in 1960, and all of Philippe and Mathilde’s children were baptised in the small chapel. Ciergnon Castle is owned by the Royal Trust and is currently used by King Albert II and Queen Paola.
Wikipedia: Ciergnon Castle
Ciergnon, Namur, Wallonia
Just south of Ciergnon Castle is Fenffe Castle. Fenffe was purchased by King Leopold II in 1891, and ownership transferred to The Royal Trust. The original castle was built in the late 1500s, however very few elements remain of that building. Several expansions and restorations have taken place, including a major rebuilding after a fire destroyed a large part of the castle in 1966. Albert and Paola, then the Prince and Princess of Liege, took over the property in 1967 and began a major restoration. The couple, and their family, used Fenffe as a weekend getaway until their accession in 1993, at which point they took over Ciergnon Castle. Since that time, Fenffe has been the weekend home of Philippe and Mathilde and their family.
Villa Astrida is the private holiday home of Queen Fabiola, located in Motril, Spain. It was originally purchased in 1972 by King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola, and it was here that the King passed away suddenly in 1993.
Royal Domain of Opgrimbie
Villa Fridhem, situated on the royal domain of Opgrimbie, is a privately owned residence of Queen Fabiola. It was initially a residence of King Baudouin, named for a summer residence of his Swedish grandparents. It is located on about 160 hectares of woodlands, with a lake, and several other buildings. Largely removed from prying eyes, King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola often spent weekends here during his reign. His nephew Philippe was also a frequent visitor, and continues to spend time there to this day.
In his will, King Baudouin designated about 25 hectares as a bequest to a religious order, with the condition that a convent be built. Permits were issued but quickly cancelled, as the property is within a ‘Green zone’, meaning that no buildings can be erected. Later, in 2001, a permit was issued based on provisions put in place years earlier to allow an expansion of Villa Fridhem for Prince Philippe. Of course, this is not the case, and legal proceedings continue to this day, with some involved stating they felt pressured by the palace to honor the wishes of the late King, regardless of the laws governing the green zones.
Châteauneuf de Grasse, Alpes-Martimes, France
Les Romarins is a private estate owned by King Albert II and Queen Paola. The couple purchased the villa in 1991, and after becoming King in 1993, the property was expanded with the purchase of two neighboring villas to accommodate staff and guests as well as the increased security personnel required. The family often stay here over the Christmas and Easter holidays.