The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Sofie Couwenbergh

Sofie Couwenbergh

Travel blogger, Wonderful Wanderings (1987)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m a freelance travel blogger based in Heverlee, just outside of the centre of Leuven. My daily routine highly depends on whether I’m working on a campaign for a client, or working from home. When traveling for work, my days consist of exploring and capturing my experiences in photos, which I then share on social media or keep aside, to be incorporated into blog-posts at a later date. When working from home, I’m glued to my laptop from 7 A.M. right until my boyfriend comes home from work in the evening. We’ll then go for a walk through Heverleebos forest, just a few minutes from where we live.

The city’s vibe is relaxed, and I find that it gently welcomes in those who make the effort to explore it, rather than loudly broadcasting what it has to offer.

How do you perceive Leuven?

I feel like Leuven has only recently started to transform from a university city into an actual all-round urban spot. Hip coffee and food spots have started to pop up, new squares and parks have been created to invite the locals to get out a bit more, and there’s a lot more happening in summer, even after masses of students leave town. Leuven is a very down-to-earth city. People go about their business without too much fluff or fuss, even when their business is something new and genuinely exciting. The city’s vibe is relaxed, and I find that it gently welcomes in those who make the effort to explore it, rather than loudly broadcasting what it has to offer.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

This might sound contradictory, but I feel like its lack of edginess is exactly that which makes Leuven attractive and allows people to create their own edge. There’s no need to keep up with things, and you have all the time in the world to learn, create, try and test at your own pace. Don’t expect anyone to blow your trumpet just because you came up with something cool – although there’s no need to fear being pushed aside when something goes wrong, either. I think Leuven’s main appeal is that it has this perfect balance between activity and peacefulness, between offering new experiences and taking it easy.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

I think Leuven played its biggest role when I quit my full-time, “regular” job and became a freelancer. It’s the perfect environment to stay focused on my work, with an inviting terrace, a distracting walk through its shopping streets or a fun event waiting for me just around the corner whenever I need it. Leuven is a bit like a good, loving parent, now that I think of it: it lets you explore on your own, but is also always there for you when you need it. It will let you go when you need a break, and later welcome you back as if you’ve never been gone.

Leuven also keeps me in balance. I love traveling and exploring new things; the thrill of big cities and the abundance of input to be found there. But I can’t take in that rush for too long. I need a place to come back to, offering me things to see and do, like coffee spots or parks to hang out in when I feel the need – but which also doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out when I stay in for the day. Basically, living in Leuven allows me to get stuff done without becoming a total bore!

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I feel like the city could become a bit bolder: sure there’s a lot going on, but having said that most events return annually, and there’s rarely anything that really shakes things up. Aside from being a university city, Leuven is also very family-focused – and you can tell from all the events taking place.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

Oude Markt, for sure! Yes, it’s where the students go out all week long, but it’s also where locals flock to as soon as the sun comes out. With nice weather, the terraces are always packed and you’re sure to come across at least one person you know.

The best way to spend a weekend in Leuven would be to simply roam its streets and pop into every shop or bar that hits your fancy. Leuven is such a walkable city that you don’t need to worry about getting lost or not being able to get somewhere by foot. Some typical must-sees, for me, are Laudeuzeplein square with the University Library, both Grote and Oude Markt squares, and the Botanical Garden.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

It’s a warm summer night and I agree to meet a friend for drinks. As soon as we step onto Oude Markt, we hear someone call our names. It’s a group of friends having drinks on one of the many terraces. We grab some chairs and join them. Not long after, one of us gets a text message: there’s a party in the Rumba, are we game? We sure are! When we get to this Leuven-famous party spot, more acquaintances are standing outside. Just a quick break from the heat before they jump back into the dancing crowd, they say. This is Leuven: going for a drink with one person and ending up at some crazy party with a group of friends, acquaintances and new faces you’ll get to know soon enough.