This city in Belgian Limburg grew up around a Benedictine abbey founded by the devout 7th-century Frankish nobleman Saint Trudo.
That abbey was a major pilgrimage site in Medieval times, making the city rich and becoming one of the most powerful monasteries in the low countries.
Sint-Truiden Abbey was suppressed and mostly demolished at the end of the 18th century.
One structure left standing was the abbey church’s massive Romanesque tower, which forms a trio of historic towers around Sint-Truiden’s market square, along with a UNESCO-listed belfry.
The city is in the heart of Limburg’s Haspengouw, a picture-perfect region of low rolling hills famed for its orchards.
1. Grote Markt
Sint-Truiden’s spacious market square has often been touted as the second-largest in Belgium after Sint-Niklaas.
After a bit of research by the long-running TV show Vlaanderen Vakantieland (Flanders Holiday Country) it was discovered that this is actually the fifth largest in Belgium.
No matter, because Grote Markt is enormous by any measure and made even more monumental by those three striking towers on the north-east end.
As with a lot of Flemish squares in the 2010s, Sint-Truiden’s Grote Markt has been re-laid with smooth paving, designed to make the square better for pedestrians, pushchairs, people wheelchairs and cyclists.
And like the best Belgian squares, there are brasseries, cafes and bars aplenty with terraces all along the south-east and north-west sides.
One of Grote Markt’s trio of towers rises from the city hall and belongs to a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising 56 belfries across Belgium and Northern France.
The tower, with Baroque modifications, is actually part of the 13th-century cloth hall later annexed by the city hall.
The lower portion goes right back to the 13th century, while the upper sections date to 1608. Behind an elegant late-Baroque facade from the 18th century, the halls on the ground floor are actually 14th-century, while the chambers on the first floor boast magnificent 18th-century stuccowork and allegorical paintings.
The council chamber/wedding room stands out , with oil paintings by Southern Netherlandish artist Jean-Baptiste Coclers (1696-1772). You can book a guided tour of the city hall and belfry with the Sint-Truiden tourist office.
The Gothic and neo-Gothic church opposite the Stadhuis Grote Markt has been around since the 1300s but is actually the third church to have stood at this spot.
The entire western facade and the tower that crowns it is recent, erected in the middle of the 19th century after the previous tower collapsed in 1668. Within there’s a lot of superb polychrome sculpture, from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, as well as fine Rococo furniture like the confessionals and pulpit from the 18th century.
But most exciting is the treasury, which awaits you in the crypt, accessed through the sacristy.
This holds lots of important pieces from the destroyed Sint-Truiden Abbey, like the reliquaries of Saint Trudo and Saint Eucherius (d. 743), gilded relic-holding busts, a dozen silver apostle images and all liturgical pieces from silver-gilt monstrances to paraments.
This preserved former community for beguines, lay religious women, is part of a region-wide UNESCO World Heritage Site protecting historic Flemish beguinages.
The Sint-Agnesbegijnhof is within walking distance north-east of the city centre on land donated to Sint-Truiden’s dispersed beguines in the mid-13th century by Abbot Willem van Rijkel.
During the beguinage’s heyday it was home to 200 beguines, with pastors appointed by the Abbots of Sint-Truiden, while the last beguine passed away in 1860. In typical style, the Sint-Agnesbegijnhof has terraces of houses around a courtyard, in this case dating mostly from the 17th and 18th century and centred on a church.
This church was built in phases between the 13th and the 16th century, and is an obligatory visit for the richness of its interiors.
Along with the Baroque organ (1644-46), pulpit (1672) and various altars (18th century), make sure to see the 38 well-preserved murals painted between the early-1300s and 1600. These portray the apostles, episodes from saints’ lives and Bible scenes.
5. Abbey Tower (Abdijtoren)
By the 11th century the abbey founded by Saint Trudo was attracting so many pilgrims and was such a lucrative source of wealth for the town that a magnificent new Romanesque church was built.
Raised in the second half of the 11th century, this had proportions that were almost unimaginable at the time, at 100 metres long and 26 metres wide.
It was demolished in 1798 not long after the abbey was suppressed, but the western tower remained and tells you all you need to know about the size of the church.
This has been fitted with modern, metallic steps and platforms for a panorama of Sint-Truiden and the Haspengouw countryside.
There are 196 steps in all and five platforms for a breather on the way to the top.
6. Abbey Crypt (Ondergronde Crypte)
Behind the tower, on the grassy expanse where the church’s nave and choir used to be you can descend to the subterranean chapel also built in the 11th century.
While preserving the stonework, the space has been updated recently with a film investigating the origins of the city and the abbey, as well as fresh discoveries of architectural elements like column capitals.
At the back there’s an 18th-century vaulted corridor with grave openings.
And back on the surface you’ll see the 13th-century effigy for one Renier van Rijkel, older brother of Abbot Willem van Rijkel who we mentioned earlier.
7. Academiezaal (de Bogaard)
In the middle of the 19th century the esteemed architect Louis Roelandt was commissioned to design a seminary on the site of abbey.
The Neoclassical seminary church was lost in a fire in 1975, but a few buildings from the complex survived, like this unique auditorium.
With tiered wooden stalls, the Academiezaal is on an octagonal plan, under a dome and replete with delicate stucco mouldings.
The acoustics are exemplary, and the Academiezaal continues to be a stage for classical concerts and talks.
From the start of April to the end of October you can take a peek inside on Sunday afternoons.
An older holdover from the abbey is the 18th-century Keizerzaal (Emperor’s Hall), the abbot’s reception room.
This has a highly theatrical ceiling fresco by Italian master G.A. Caldelli, commemorating the Abbot Joseph van Herck (1751-80). The Keizerzaal is open on weekend afternoons in summer.
The Franciscan order first settled in Sint-Truiden around 1226, and the Early Gothic church they built in the 13th century was replaced with a Baroque edifice in the 1730s.
The attached monastery was dissolved in 1797, but the order was able to buy a lot of the inventory that was sold off and the monastery was later revived, continuing until as recently as 2018. Constructed from brick, with intricate white stone dressings, the church facade makes a big impression, rising 74 metres.
Some of the works of art to admire inside include a Pietà from 1600, a polychrome statue of St Anthony from 1699 and a polychrome image of Mary dated to 1480. Among the elaborate Baroque fittings are the oak pulpit and six confessionals, all with superlative workmanship from the 1700s.
Head outside to soak up the peace of the monastery garden.
In one of the monastery’s wings is the Museum de Mindere (Franciscan Museum), explaining the long history of the Franciscan order and presenting a trove of painting, sculpture, vestments and liturgical ornaments.
9. Brouwerij Kerkom
The village of Kerkom-bij-Sint-Truiden in the south of the city has a brewery in business since 1878 on a quaint farmyard.
Brouwerij Kerkom produces the Bink beer brand, which has a big range, counting a dubbel, two tripels, a blond, bruin, an amber, an IPA and two dark winter beers, to name a few.
Out in the countryside, a short ride from the city centre, Brouwerij Kerkom is a recommended stop for any beer connoisseurs travelling by bike, even easier now there’s a car-free cycle path next to the N80. You can sip a beer out on the courtyard in summer or warm up by the fireside in winter.
Brewery tours take place every Saturday at 15:00 from March to October.
Sint-Truiden boasts almost 250 monuments, so if you want to do the city justice you may need to buy a leaflet from the tourist office.
If you want to pack in all of Sint-Truiden’s essentials into one tour, the Trudomonumentenwandeling is the way to go.
It comes with a map/leaflet, available for a small fee.
And you’ll find it no trouble to orient yourself thanks to the circular metal rivets embedded in the pavement at the main sights.
If you’ve still got an appetite for religious heritage in Sint-Truiden there’s much to enjoy in the city centre and outskirts.
A good starting point would be the Romanesque Sint-Pieterskerk, constructed 1180-1190 outside the city walls in the southern district of Sint-Pieter.
In those days this would have been couched in the Abbey of Sint-Truiden’s vineyards, at what according to tradition would have been Saint Trudo’s childhood home.
Something striking about the exterior, especially on the little gallery over the apse, is the contrast between the pale tuff and the dark ironstone, a characteristic of Rhenish Romanesque churches.
That theme continues on the nave’s piers and arches which have alternating bands of the two stones.
A must-see inside is the baptismal font from the 1200s, as well as a polychrome image of Virgin and Child with Saint Anne carved in the 15th century, and an assortment of Medieval marble and limestone ledger stones.
The oldest church in Sint-Truiden was established between 1055 and 1082, under the orders of Abbot Adelardus II.
In Medieval times Sint-Truiden’s abbots would appoint the parsons of this church.
The choir and apse are from the 12th century, while the transepts and side aisles were altered in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, but the nave and its round arches go all the way back to the 11th century.
Some fittings to admire inside are a polychrome triumphal cross, an oak crucifix and a carving of Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, all Gothic and from the 15th and 16th centuries.
Among the important, later Baroque details include a 17th-century confessional, an 18th-century side altar and a series of images of saints from the same period, including Trudo, Gangulphus and several more.
The last church to keep on your radar is still riveting by any measure.
You’ll find the Sint-Genovevakerk in Zepperen, ten minutes east of Sint-Truiden’s city centre.
It’s thrilling to think that as long ago as 650 there was a place of worship at this very place.
The bulk of the present church is brick-built, in the Demer Gothic style from the 15th and 16th centuries, but you’ll notice that the Romanesque stone tower is much older, and goes back to the 1100s.
There’s a lot of art to pore over inside, but most significant is the set of Late Gothic murals showing the life of St Genoveva, the Last Judgment and a depiction of St Christopher.
These were painted around 1509 but were soon plastered over, only to be uncovered in 1898. Also check out the high altar, the side panels which were painted at the turn of the 16th century, and the polychrome pietà, from around the same time.
14. Huis Nagels
This opulent Eclectic townhouse was built in 1892 for Sint-Truiden notary L. Nagels and his wife Maria De Bruyn.
Huisnagels was built on Stationsstraat, which as the name might tell you is 19th-century artery linking the old city to the new railway station.
What makes Huis Nagels so important is the high quality of the materials employed in its construction, as well as the superlative craftsmanship in details like the imposing staircase with hand-forged handrail.
Huis Nagels now houses the interior design company, Emporium Interieur which has carried out a faithful restoration using period-appropriate paint, wallpaper, carpets and decorative arts.
In 2015 the property was used to shoot the TV drama Chaussée d’Amour, and you can take a look around on a guided tour.
15. Toerisme Sint-Truiden
Almost an attraction in its own right, the city’s tourist information centre moved into the city hall’s historic vaults in 2011. It’s a good place to sit down and take a break as you plot your next move, studying leaflets and maps for attractions, walks and cycle routes.
There are also touch-screen terminals giving you access to the city’s website and trip planner.
But as with many tourist information centres, this is a place to pick up specialty foods, in this case from the Haspengouw region.
These might be beer from several nearby breweries, wine, fruit liqueur and fruitstroop, a sort of jelly/spread made from apples or pears.