Horst Castle, Home of the red knight
Just over ten kilometers from Leuven, we find the legendary Host Castle in the heart of the Hageland. Want to know more about the castle, its haunted legend, or how to find this monument? Read on!
About Horst Castle
Just over ten kilometers from Leuven, we find Host Castle (“Kasteel van Horst”) in the heart of the Hageland. It’s a castle which is submerged in mystery and legends but is nowadays popular with the locals because of all the different activities that are being organized.
For starters, nothing is known about the construction and foundation of the castle; it is mentioned for the first time in literature from the 11th century when people spoke of a ‘castellum Rode.’ It was only in the 13th century – when Jan and Arnold van Horst came to live there – that the building was given was renamed ‘Horst Castle.’
In the middle of the 14th century, the building was sold to Amelric Boote, and in the following years, the fortified farm was converted into a real moated castle, including its dungeons and canals. These additions to the castle were much needed, as Host Castle was located in a very strategic position in Winge Valley, and it served to help protect the city of Leuven – one of the most important in the region at the time.
The castle was eventually sold several times and even partly burned down when it was owned by Lodewijk Pynnock, the Bailiff of Leuven. The Bailiff rebuilt the castle and reintroduced feasts and tournaments to the region. Unfortunately, he ran out of money, so he was forced to sell the castle again.
Over the years, the castle changed owners regularly until it came into the possession of Maria-Anna van den Tympel in 1650. Under her reign, the castle got a new chapel, a servants’ wing was added, and they built a coach house (Which now accommodates the visitor’s center and Brasserie Wagenhuys). She died in 1658, after which the castle remained uninhabited until today.
In the following centuries, the ownership of the castle changed several times, but solely through inheritance. The new owners were never interested in the castle, as it had gotten out of fashion. This while most other castles in Flanders were renovated and rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries, making Horst Castle one of the most authentic castles in Flanders.
In October 2007, the castle was finally sold again, this time by Countess de Hemricourt de Grunne. She did not have the money to extend the lease and was therefore forced to sell the castle domain and the surrounding 113 hectares of land to the Flemish Region.
Since then, the Flemish government has decided to invest 3 million euros in restoration works, which started in 2020 and had to be completed by 2025. The foundations of the castle and the spire will be renewed, and various consolidation and stability works will be carried out. The interior will also be restored with a Renaissance finish.
Key facts about Horst Castle
Since 1971, the castle has been marked as a protected monument and – together with its magnificent grounds – protected as a cultural-historical landscape. In 2022, the castle was also registered as architectural heritage.
|Names||Horst Castle, Kasteel van Horst, Château de Horst|
|Price||Currently closed for renovations|
|Address||Horst Castle, Holsbeek, Horststraat 28, 3220 Holsbeek|
|GPS coordinates||50° 56′ NB, 4° 50′ OL|
Horst Castle and The Red Knight comics
The castle is home to ‘De Rode Ridder’ (The Red Knight), Belgian Flemish comic book series set in medieval Europe created by Willy Vandersteen. It stars the title character Johan, the Red Knight, easily recognizable by his red tunic.
While generally acting as a lonely knight, Johan stayed at the Horst Castle for a while, which served as his ‘birthplace’ and changed the meaning of “Rode” completely, as Johan turned out to be a member of the family of the Lords of Rode, which gave his name a dual meaning, the Red Knight and the Knight from Rode.
Legends around Horst Castle
Legends have it that Horst Castle is haunted by an empty ghost carriage that is being pulled by six wild horses and appears daily around midnight.
While the legend has various versions, they all start with the same 15th-century lord. Some say that the local priest had started the mass before the arrival of the lord, after which the lord – angered by the disrespect – killed the priest on the spot.
Others say that the priest had an affair with the wife of the lord, which the lord found out while road tripping in the carriage. As a result, he killed the priest out of revenge.
According to both legends, the Lord of Rode will never find rest since he killed a priest and thus now haunts the grounds of his castle for eternity.
How to reach Horst Castle
Host castle is located in the village of St-Pieters-Rode, which can be found between Aarschot and Leuven.
|By Car||Drive up to the N2 (Brussels-Hasselt) and exit for St-Joris-Winge, or the E314 (Leuven-Aachen) and take exit 22 and turn on the right to the N223 towards St-Pieters-Rode.|
|Using public transport||Get to Aarschot by train (40 to 65 min from Brussels, 11 min from Leuven), then take bus 10 to Sint-Pieters-Rode.|
When to visit Horst Castle
Host castle will be undergoing renovation in 2020, in which they will construct a dam around the castle. These works started on the 15th of June and will take up to 2024/2025 to be finished.
During the renovations, Brasserie Wagenhuys and the visitor center remain open during the works. The annual castle parties (“kasteelfeesten”) and children’s activities will also continue during the renovations.
Please keep in mind that dogs are permitted on the castle grounds but not inside the castle. The castle also has limited access to wheelchairs and buggies.
What to do at Horst Castle
The region around Horst Castle is known for its beautiful forest and lake, which is surrounded by hiking and mountain bike trails. There aren’t many side activities, so turning your visit into a full-day activity might be challenging.
- Castle parties are held yearly during summer (August), where knight games are staged.
- Bike. This bike route passes both Horst Castle and the abbey of Vlierbeek.
- Kid activities. You can tour the beautiful castle grounds on a treasure hunt during July and August, which is created to entertain kids aged 6 -11. This tour is Dutch only and allows them to solve puzzles, discover the castle’s history, and explore nature.
Other attractions near Horst Castle
Although Horst Castle is close to Aarschot and Leuven, there are only a few tourist attractions nearby. Our recommendations are:
- Abbey of Vlierbeek. A former Benedictine abbey to the north-east of Leuven in Belgium, in the sub-district Kessel-Lo.
- Swimming area ‘de Plas’ Rotselaar. Swimming zone ‘de Plas’ is part of the Ter Heide recreation area. The lake is the ideal place to relax.
- The historic city center of Leuven. The student city Leuven is packed with historical monuments and houses some of the most remarkable Medieval buildings in the world.
Photographing Horst Castle
To photograph Horst Castle, you’ll want to take the weather and its seasonal conditions into account: A colorful forest or a frozen lake is so much more helpful in creating a unique photograph than when the leaves have already fallen.
Droning around the castle is allowed if you follow the new 2021 EU Regulations.
Since 31st December 2020, new European Drone Regulations have been in effect. Read our summary of these EU drone regulations to understand how it impacts you and your drone.
As an experienced and published photographer, my camera bag grew throughout the years. It currently contains various cameras and lenses, each with its function and use – I’ve listed them below.
|Sony A7III DSLR Camera (review)||The Sony A7III DSLR Camera is a couple of years old now and is still one of the best options for travel photography.|
|Tamron 28-75mm Lens||My default Sony camera lens. I have a standard 67mm HOYA polarizing filter screwed on it, which captures the sky more beautifully.|
|Macbook M1 Pro (review)||We edit our pictures on the new Macbook M1 Pro, mainly because it has a longer battery life and is more powerful in editing.|
|DJI Mavic Mini Drone||Whenever we’re allowed to fly, we send our drone into the sky. Our Mavic Mini is perfect for trips like these because it’s lightweight and still has an amazing camera.|