A Short Guide to Lo

While I don't profess to be the world's greatest cartographer, the plan below should help you find some of the many good things this delightful town has to offer. 
Print out this page and take it with you when you are holidaying in West Flanders.

1 - Markey Molen (windmill)
2 - Westpoort – medieval gateway
3 - Cemetery
4 - Town Hall

5 - De OUDE ABDIJ Hotel

6 - Duiventoren (dove tower)
7 - St. Pieterskerk (former abbey church)
8 - Supermarket
9 - Post Office
10 - Stadhuis Hotel/Restaurant

11 - De Vate (bar, snacks, lunches)
12 - Meat & cheese shop
13 - Bakery & cakeshop
14 -
 Lauka – Tourist Office
15 - Fruit, cheese, beer shop

16 - Bakery & cakeshop
17 - Destrooper biscuit shop
18 -  Klooster (convent)
19 - Pond
20 - KCB Bank

The name Lo is said to come from the Old-Germanic word 'Lauka' meaning a bush on high sandy soil.  (You will still meet the word Lauka today, in the name of the Tourist office and their website, and as the name of a local beer - produced by Deca in nearby Woesten.)   A Roman road crosses the site along the lines of the modern main road and is still called Romanestraat at its western end.  (But we can't blame the Romans for the modern concrete slabs which test your car's suspension!)  The origins of the settlement here are obscure.  Some authorities suggest that Lo is an abbey town, stemming from the Augustinian foundation recorded as being here in 1093.  The monks would have set up their first settlement on this dry sandy eminence in the Ijser flood plain, protected by the surrounding marshy area.  As they reclaimed and cultivated more land a village developed around them. 

An alternative view says that the settlement itself appears to have grown up round a fortified residence built by Filips van Lo (who died in 1104).  He, and later his illegitimate son Willem van Lo, lived in the fortress which was near Rozestraat, though nothing remains to be seen. Willem made many grants of land to the canons attached to his chapel and these monks gradually acquired an estate of around 500 hectares.  Willem, also known as Willem van Ieper, could afford to be philanthropic - he had a successful career in England as a mercenary, becoming a significant figure and the right-hand man of King Stephen, with a reputation for cruelty and efficiency.  In his old age he was forced to leave England and in 1154 he withdrew to his residence in Lo, where he died in 1164. In 1770 his remains were dug up and reburied in the south choir of St Pieter's, the parish church whose tower casts a shadow over the site of his old castle.
In 1167 Count Filips van den Elzas (Alsace)  granted town status to Lo, and, in order to protect the town during the conflicts between the Flemish and the French, it was surrounded by a moat and an earth bank pierced by four gates was built in 1214.  You can still see the west gate (number 2 on the map), and you can get more information about the fortifications of medieval Lo at www.fortifications.org  where you will also find a suggested town walk.

During the Middle Ages Lo became known for textiles.  Around 1540 the textile trade was dying out and was replaced by cheese making.  (We suggest you go into one of the shops or restaurants to try the excellent local cheese - you'll be getting a taste of history!)  The town suffered in the wars of religion in 1578, with the protestant armies destroying many of the monastic buildings in Lo, and the abbey church was completely destroyed by fire in 1580.  The buildings were reconstructed starting in 1608 and the second phase of the work was completed in 1782, only to suffer again in 1797 during the French Revolution, when the monks were driven out and monastic buildings either demolished or turned to secular use.

The town suffered badly again in the First World War, but recovered, so that in 1985 it officially received town status. Today it is a picturesque and peaceful place, easy to reach from the  Southern England, which makes an excellent base for touring West Flanders and investigating Belgian beers.  In the 19th century Lo had about 1500 inhabitants - and four breweries!  Although there is no active brewery in the town today it is still possible to trace Lo's brewing heritage - see the sections titled in red.

1 - As you enter Lo from the west you cross the bridge (Lo Brug) over the canal (Lovaart) and you will see a restored windmill on your left.  This is the Markey Molen, named after a former miller.  Built in 1797, it was restored in 1991-2. 

The canal was built in the 12th century to link Lo and Veurne with the harbour of Nieuwpoort.  On the town side of the canal roads run north to Alveringem and south to Fintele, and can be a pleasant country walk or drive.

2 -In medieval times the town was much smaller, only about 400m in diameter, and surrounded by an earth bank and a moat. There were four gateways, but only the Westpoort (West gate) survives, having been restored in 1852 and again in 1991.  As you drive in to the town from the west you pass to the right of this gate and your teeth start to rattle as the car moves on to the cobbled surface.
Left of the gate you can see Caesarsboom (Caesar's tree), supposedly where he hitched his horse while on his way to sort out the Brits!

Damberd Brewery - The house next to the famous Caesar's tree is called Het Damberd and is described in records from 1499, as being the site of a brewery - the oldest of the four breweries which used to exist in Lo.  Parts of the present building date from the 17th century and 'Brouwerij Damberd' is etched in the glass above the front door.  It belonged to the Croigny-Decroix family and was known as the Damberd brewery, although from 1905 to 1914 it was listed as Croigny-Van Eecke. ( It will be interesting to see if further research produces any links to the present-day Van Eecke brewery in Watou.)  From 1915 to 1932, when it closed, it was run by Emile Croigny.  So far we have not come across any record of the beers they produced.

St. Joseph Brewery -  Just the other side of the Westpoort, at Weststraat 2, is a house which belonged to the Rouzée family.  They owned the St. Joseph brewery, which was probably nearby.  The brewery closed in 1955 and is recorded as producing the following beers: 3 Klas Bier, Blond, Gerstebier, Gersthop, Gersthop Tripel, Guld'n,  Kl. (2) II, Kriek, Primablond, Speciaal, and Stout.

-If you are heading for the Oude Abdij Hotel, having passed the Westpoort you turn left into Oude Eier Markt (Old Egg Market), where you see this small cemetery in the shadow of the parish church.


4 – You turn immediately right after the cemetery and find yoursel
f in front of the Town Hall, where the word ‘Loo’ is embedded in the roadway.  (To avoid any misunderstanding by English speaking visitors we should point out that this is the old spelling of the town’s name!)  This building is said to be the guest house of the former abbey, and the presbytery, on the north side of the cemetery, contains parts of the abbot's residence.

5 - Just beyond the Town Hall you find the drive leading to De Oude Abdij HotelAs well as being our favourite Belgian hide-away it has the distinction of having been part of the original St Pieters abbey and later in its history housed the St Louis Brewery, owned by the Verlende family.  You'll find more details about the present-day hotel here and the story of the St Louis Brewery is recounted in the Secret History of De Oude Abdij.


6 - Perhaps one of the most famous landmarks of Lo, the Duiventoren or dove tower (to translate its name as 'dovecote' would greatly understate its size!) can be found in the gardens of De Oude Abdij.  Built into a wall which formed the boundary of the former abbey it contains nesting boxes for some 1132 doves.  It was built by the monks in 1710 as a present for the abbot.  In those days such buildings were not only a status symbol but an important source of food.  If you want to go inside, you need to go through the gateway in the car park to get into the lane beyond the wall.  The tower now contains an information centre about the former abbey.

 7 - St Pieterskerk is the parish church of Lo, seen here from the market square.  A church was recorded on this spot in 1119 and was part of the Augustinian abbey which occupied the northern part of the town (called Noordover) from 1093 to 1797.  Part of the church was used by the monks and part served as the parish church. 
The monks were driven out during the French Revolution and when the parishes were subsequently restored the whole building was used as the parish church. The church was all but destroyed in the First World War but the church furnishings had been put into storage and were replaced when the church was rebuilt between 1919-1924.
The church is open on Thursday mornings throughout the year, and daily from 2.30pm to 5.00pm in July and August.
A path leads from the Oude Abdij driveway (above) to the gardens behind the church and emerges at the right hand side of the church, forming a pleasant short cut from the hotel to the square.

10 - Stadhuis This building, in the cobbled market square across the road from the church, was the town hall of Lo but is now a hotel and restaurant.   It was built in 1565-66  by Joos Staesin of Ieper to replace a former building which had fallen into disrepair.  The tower housed the town clock and a carillon, although today it is only the church clock which you will hear striking the hours. 

The unusual projection flanked by two pillars and covered by an arch forms the area called the 'pretecke' from which official announcements were read.

Shopping in Lo

8 - Supermarket
Going east along Oostraat you'll find a small supermarket on the left which manages to pack a lot into a small space.  They often have presentation packs of beers & glasses, as well as selling the local cheeses etc.
9 - Lo Post Office across the square from the Stadhuis, is flanked by a very good optician and a gift shop.
12 - Meat & cheese and 13 - Bakery & cakeshop are next to De Vate (11) - behind the horses in the photograph.  Useful for a take-away snack or treat, also worth window-shopping to see the attractive things on offer - the Belgians appreciate good food!
15 - Fruit cheese beer This little shop on the north side of the main street opposite the square is definitely worth a look, especially if you want some local gifts to take home.  Local 'Lauka' beer, wines and liqueurs in fancy bottles, unusual beers (like St Sebastiaan in stone jars or Rader beer made with jenever), as well as a fine selection of local cheeses, fruit, rolls and everything for a picnic lunch.
16 - Bakery & cakeshop Close to the Westpoort, this is another place to find excellent bread and cakes to help you forget your diet.
17 - Destrooper biscuit shop Jules Destrooper, whose factory is based in Lo just behind the Klooster (18), makes the best-known Belgian biscuits. You're sure to find the standard boxes in your local Sainsbury, Tesco etc.  However, if you come to their factory outlet you'll find a wider range of styles and flavours, a superb variety of gift boxes, and if you explain it's for a present, the staff will wrap your purchases like a work of art for no extra charge.  But if you're there because you want some biscuits as a treat for yourself, ask what 'seconds' they have on offer.  These boxes, marked with a blue cross, are where the biscuits aren't quite the right shape, or the chocolate decoration is wobbly - but they cost considerably less and taste just as good!
20 - KCB Bank is close to the corner of Oude Eier Markt, where you turn towards De Oude Abdij Hotel.  Useful if you need to change some more sterling into Euros but check the opening times.

11- De Vate      If you want a drink, tea or coffee, snack or more substantial lunch, this is our favourite spot. 

It is the tall, red-roofed building in the photograph and stands in the square at Markt 3, a couple of doors down from the Stadhuis. 

As well as Boterhammen (open sandwiches) they do a 'Loose Schotel' (Lo Plate) featuring meat and cheese specialities of the area and also offer a tempting range of pancakes. For a lighter lunch go for a bowl of home made soup - 'verse soep'

If you're here in the winter months try their 'Warme wijn' - mulled wine - or if you prefer a beer go for the '
Tongerlo Christmas' seasonal brew.

De Vate is closed on Tuesdays, and you're only likely to see the horse-drawn carts if you're here in the summer, or make special arrangements through the tourist office (14)

De Vate takes its name from the Vatevijver, the town pond (19), which is just opposite. This ancient pond, first recorded in 1404, was used to store fish but also served as a water supply in case of fire.  Today it provides a haven for a family of swans.

18 - Klooster (convent)
The building to the left of the Tourist Office, behind the green, is the Convent of the Grauwe Zusters (Grey Sisters or Poor Clares) of Nieuwpoort, and dates from 1497, but was enlarged in 1654-55.  The nuns first came to Lo in 1492 to take care of plague victims and poor persons who were ill.  The convent is not open to visitors.

14  - Lauka Tourist Office can be found in the building just behind the pond (above), which once housed the Pillaert Brewery Owned by the Pillaert-LaHaye family, it is known to have operated  between 1915 and 1932 when it closed, but we have no record of the beers produced there. 

The tourist office can provide lots of local information leaflets and maps, and is open 9.30-12.00 and 13.00-17.00 (16.00 Fridays), closed Sundays (except July-August).  In the basement you'll find 'Retro Destrooper' and exhibition showing the history of the famous biscuit factory (see 17 for their products). 

Lauka's own
website is at www.lauka.be - it's in Flemish, but just click all the links and you'll see lots of illustrations.
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