The Best of the Belgian Ardennes
The Ardennes refers to a hilly, forested corner of Wallonia and encompasses the cities of Namur and Dinant as well as many picturesque towns and villages. Largely undiscovered by foreign tourists, it’s a local getaway for sports activities, relaxing, and enjoying nature. The drive along the Meuse River is studded with castles, scenic lookouts, and wonderful restaurants.
Rue de la Haie Himbe 1, 6940 Durbuy, Belgium
Durbuy, Belgium, claims the title of the “World’s Smallest Town,” (or sometimes city, depending which translation you use from the French). This dubious honor dates from 1331, when the town was elevated to the rank of city by John I, Count of Luxemburg, and King of Bohemia. Even though the population dropped to a few hundred residents, Durbuy kept its designation. However, the moniker doesn’t exactly hold true anymore. In 1977, Durbuy amalgamated with 40 surrounding villages. Either way, it’s a lovely place to visit in Wallonia, and a great way to pass an hour is by taking a stroll through the topiary garden. There are more than 250 topiaries in the garden, some of which are over 120 years old. And, being Belgium, the topiaries go beyond the typical animals and geometric shapes to include a dash of quirkiness. You can admire a green Manneken Pis (Belgium’s famous peeing boy), kayakers, and even an homage to Pamela Anderson at the beach. For more information on Durbuy: http://cheeseweb.eu/2013/06/7-reasons-great-visit-durbuy-belgium/
Chaussée de Dinant 1037, 5100 Namur, Belgium
Strawberry season in Belgium is a big deal, particularly in the town of Wépion, near Dinant in the Wallonia region. Wépion’s berries are known throughout the country, as the best strawberry, and their arrival on store shelves is eagerly anticipated. In fact, the town loves its red berries so much, they have their own museum, the Musée de la Fraise, or Strawberry Museum. This tiny museum tells the history of strawberry growing and production in this region and explains its importance to the economy and culture of Wépion. The museum also boasts a small shop of strawberry products (pictured here) including: jams, candies, liqueur and, of course, strawberry beer (It is Belgium after all). In the summer, there are also guided tours of the 35 acre “Jardin des Petits Fruits,” a garden of local and exotic fruits. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a taste. Don’t forget to stop at one of the town’s many strawberry stands to taste these local legends for yourself.
5332 Crupet, Belgium
Crupet is a member of the organization Les Plus Beaux Villages de Wallonie (The Most Beautiful Villages in Wallonia). It is a very small village with gorgeous stone houses decorated with many different types of flowers. Most of the houses date from the 17th, 18th and 19th century. The highlights of the village are the Crupet Chateau—a medieval farm-chateau situated below the village center, dating from the 13th century, and the Grotto of St Anthony of Padua. The grotto was designed by the local curate and inaugurated on the 12th July 1903. It features 22 religious-themed statues. Many of them depict scenes from the life of St. Anthony of Padua. The Ardennes region is an undiscovered Belgian treasure. There are many more charming little villages like this one. They look like time did not pass over them. When you enter a bakery people treat you like one of their own. Go and discover this wonderful part of Belgium. For full size photos see www.facebook.com/adisphotopage and www.lifeinasuitcase.com
Maison Collard’s claim to fame is a cookie so hard they have to print a warning on it. Legend has it, during the great siege of 1466, the people of Dinant were starving and had only two things at their disposal: flour and honey. They made these into dough and baked it. Later, they began to stamp patterns into the hard dough, with brassware found in their kitchens. In reality, there is little historical evidence to support the existence of the couque before the 18th century. Throughout the period, couques were decorated with depictions of important historic events. Although the tough dough is no longer kneaded by hand, the cookies are still pressed into hand-carved pear wood moulds. Popular shapes include animals, fruits, and scenes of Dinant. Nowadays, sugar and spices are also frequently added to the mix. Couques sold these days must be labeled with a warning advising people not to bite into the hard cookie. Instead, you are advised to dunk it in a beverage, to soften it, or break off a small piece and suck it. In fact, couques are traditionally given to babies to suck on while they are teething. More Information: http://cheeseweb.eu/2013/08/flamiche-couques-de-dinant-foodie-favourites-wallonia-belgium/
Freyr 12, 5540 Hastière, Belgium
With hundreds of castles and chateaux in Belgium, open to the public, it’s hard to know which ones to visit. The castle of Freÿr, in Wallonia, is a great place to start. This grand building has remained in the same family for 20 generations and one wing is still home to the current owners. Exploring the interior of the castle is a must, as you’ll be visiting some of the same rooms as Louis XIV and the Archduchess Maria-Christina. The best place to take in the scope of the castle and its grand formal gardens, however, is across the river. You’ll need a good GPS or map to find the 2 unmarked lookout points. You’ll be rewarded for your diligence by this spectacular view.
Rue de la Sablonnière 2, 5503 Dinant, Belgium
While fields of sheep, cattle and horses are common sights in rural Belgium, you may do a double-take while passing by L’Autrucherie du Pont d’Amour, near Dinant. Yes those giant birds are ostriches (and a few emus, rheas and cassowaries). The ostrich farm has been in operation since 1995 and sells many different products in its farm shop. You an purchase ostrich meat, which is extremely low in cholesterol, ostrich eggs, which can feed up to 8 people, feathers and even ostrich leather. The farm also sells home-made sausages and pates. The farm has open days and you can arrange a tour of the facilities. Even if you don’t stop by the shop, it’s worth driving by the farm just to see these majestic birds in such an unlikely place.
Chemin du Meunier 26, 6941 Ozo, Belgium
I love cheese. I also love goats. So when I learned of a dairy goat farm just outside of Durbuy, Belgium, open to the public, I had to visit. The Ozo Goat Farm consists of around 200 happy Alpine goats. They produce delicious cheeses available to purchase in the on-site cheese shop. The farm produces about 20 types of cheeses, both fresh and aged. The varieties of the soft cheeses include: cracked peppercorn, rose, chives, nuts and dried fruit. Seeing these goats relaxed and happy, not to mention friendly and eager for head scratches, was the icing on the cake. This is Belgian local produce at its best! More information at: http://cheeseweb.eu/2013/07/chvrerie-dozo-goat-farm-durbuy-belgium/
18 Place aux Foires
Belgium is a foodie paradise, but it can be difficult to find the best local artisanal products - unless you happen to visit the small town of Durbuy. There, nestled in the warren of cobbled pedestrian streets, you’ll find the shop of the Confituerie Saint Amour, a local jam and preserve producer. But the shop goes way beyond jams and jellies (although those are wonderful too) and includes the best local products the south of Belgium has to offer. You’ll find local tea, honey, spices, sweets, condiments, alcohols and, of course, Belgian beer. Many of these products aren’t available anywhere else, other than direct from the producer. You’re sure to find a unique gift to take home, even if you do decide to keep it for yourself. For more info on Durbuy: http://cheeseweb.eu/2013/06/7-reasons-great-visit-durbuy-belgium/
Rue du Parc 2, 4577 Modave, Belgium
The Château de Modave sits, perched on a rock, 60 metres (200 feet) above the Hoyoux river in the province of Liège, Belgium. While it is open to the public all summer long, my favourite time to visit this pretty castle is during the Christmas season. For the holidays, the chateau invites local florists and decorators to style its period rooms. While some of the concoctions are rather outlandish (think more gold and feathers than you can shake a wand at) some are traditional and festive. You can still explore the castle during the summer months and it’s well worth a visit for the view alone. You can also explore the extensive grounds and gardens.
Heidberg 4, 4700 Eupen, Belgium
The small city of Eupen is the capital of Belgium’s tiny German-speaking community, located in the country’s Eastern Cantons. This unique part of Belgium is far off the tourist map but is well worth a visit for its great food and proximity to the Hautes Fagnes Nature Reserve. But even if Eupen didn’t have these highlights, it would be worth visiting, simply to stay at the stunning B&B Julevi. This beautifully decorated B&B is run by the warm and welcoming Mattens family. The rooms are spacious, particularly the ground floor room, which has its own private sitting room. The dining room and common living room are accented by a stunning spiral staircase, which leads to several upstairs bedrooms. In the summer, guests have access to a small terrace and formal garden, off the kitchen. Breakfasts are fresh and ample and the hosts are quick with suggestions for great places to eat, shop and visit in the area. With rooms ranging in price from 75-95 euro, the B&B Julevi is a steal and a welcome escape from Belgium’s larger cities.
In such a densely populated and developed little country, it seems impossible to escape civilization. But there is one beautiful corner of Belgium where you can be truly alone—the Hautes Fagnes Natural Reserve, in Belgium’s Eastern Cantons. The Hautes Fagnes (or Hohes Venn in Dutch) is Belgium’s largest nature reserve and part of the 700km2 Hohes Venn-Eifel park, which spans the Belgian-German border. The park includes 10,000-year-old alpine sphagnum bogs, waterfalls, and hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails. While some of the trails are paved and easily accessible, others see you clambering over tree roots, climbing slopes, and wading through streams. You can feel a million miles from the nearest human being, all within easy reach of civilization.