An October 2003 trip
to Namur by Irene
Quote: Once was not enough. We returned to Belgium to ramble through the lush wooded hills of the Ardennes in search of wonderful cuisine, countless local brews, and legendary abbeys and chateaus.
Although St. Hubert seems to be the only village in the Ardennes without a castle, the gothic Basilique St. Hubert’s grand façade was impressive. Later, spiraling along N89, we broke out of the dense, wild forest abruptly, starting at the lofty Chateau La Roche-en-Ardennes. It dominates a tangle of tourist shops and restaurants lining the Barrage River and made for a nice day trip.
We donned rain gear to hike the misty La Lesse River and work up an appetite for the luscious cuisine of the Auberge La Lesse in the hills outside Dinant.
Crossing the border east into Luxembourg, it rained even harder, so we stayed inside to investigate the Musee Patton in Ettlebruck, and while in Diekirch, we dined at the outstanding Le Bonzia Asian Restaurant with local friends from Brandenbourg.
In Luxembourg in the late fall along the German border, make reservations. After the wine festivals, hotels are not prepared for walk-in guests. During the day, hotels will not check in until 4pm. As family businesses, there are no night clerks, but they always serve a wonderful breakfast.
It is a good idea not to travel on Friday coming or going from the US, because the traffic is busting at the seams. An airliner with no empty seats is a traveler’s nightmare. Belgium in early October can be wet and cold. Go prepared.
If you cannot get there any other way, then hiking and biking are the alternatives, and Belgium provides a zillion well-marked trails along rivers, through villages, and to the top of mountains. Tourist offices have many easy-to-read hiking and mountain-biking maps.
Hotel | "New Hotel de Lives"
Cold, tired, hungry, and jetlagged, we approached the tall wooden door and knocked. It was noon and we only wanted to freshen up after 13 hours on a jet. A jaunty lady thrust her head from a semi-closed door and briskly quipped, "We are closed to 16:00." "Please!" we begged, "we just want to check in." She shook her head and we sagged back to the car.
At 3pm, fed and money exchanged, but still dragging, we begged once more to check in with Sylvia, the student maid. She returned with a key to room #2. At the top of the narrow dark stairs lurked room #2 with a high tiny gloomy window in a minute room with a saggy double bed. A minibar sat under the sink and a cupboard hid in a corner. Next was room 4 after a phone call to Mr. Elst. Two single beds floated in a huge room, but we had reserved a double on line for 60 euros. A suite on the third floor was beautiful, but costly. Shortly, a bristling Mr. Elst spun into the office and announced he had no other rooms at our price. I calmly breathed at him that I would take a newer room at a higher price and his smile beamed. We scampered to the annex where Mr. Elst rapidly showed us the rooms available for an adjustment of 27 euros.
Room #27 with a king-size bed was perfect, but was unmade. Mr. Elst insisted on #26 with twin beds. Again I said no, and firmly remarked I would take #27 and we would wait in the bar-lounge while the room was made up.
#27 was worth the wait. Colors of umber, orange and yellow warmed the walls and striped the bed cover. By the huge sliding glass door sat a lovely wrought iron table and two chairs. A color TV hung from a high corner and a giant tub beckoned. Beneath the shelves of the cupboard squatted the minibar and a phone rested on my bedside table. From the windows and sliding door hung brick red pull down folding shades to keep out the morning sun. Breakfast topped it off with a giant array of choices, coffee, tea, chocolate, milk, juice, cheese, eggs, cereal, rolls, croissants, butter, jam all on the buffet in the lovely open bright sunroom. Mr. Elst takes reservations on line and accepts all your credit cards. Website.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 2, 2004
Best Western New Hotel de Lives Namur
CHAUSSEE DE LIEGE 1178
Namur, Belgium 5101
32 (0) 81 58 05 13
The gray muddy skies of October twilight hugged the hills above the quiet Restaurant Commanderie as we wearily searched for food, any kind of food. Warm light from a wall of windows spilled on to the empty winter terrace and invited us inside. Tucked in a corner .5km from The New Hotel de Lives, this family Italian bistro is inviting, accommodating and bursting with wonderful pasta, salads, pizzas, and antipasto (8-15 euros).
Immediately inside the swinging glass doors a massive sunroom spanned the entire restaurant. Laid with green indoor/outdoor carpet and sprinkled with cozy tables adorned with the last of the fall flowers, the interior was as welcoming as the warm smells. The Commander, as we called him, breezed forward and briskly led us to a small round table with a scant view of the River Muse. A small well stocked bar rested in a far corner next to a huge wine rack where the commander’s petite wife with a child on her hip managed the bar.
An advantage of dining at 6pm, early by Belgium standards, is there is no waiting. Our dinner arrived promptly and steaming, at least Robert’s did. I had ordered a salade Nicoise and what a salad! Enormous china plates arrived overflowing with our entrees. On a bed of crisp endive and spinach rested a palette of tuna, green beans, anchovies, julienne beets and carrots, boiled eggs, shredded cheese, and tomatoes doused in a light vinaigrette. I could hardly munch my way though. Meanwhile Robert twirled his pasta and shucked his langostinos, scallops, and shrimp in a spirited red sauce. He hummed little mmms of pleasure and I accompanied him. We finished with a little red wine and had no room for dessert.
The price was as surprising as the servings were generous. Spaghetti fruit de mer (fruits from the sea = seafood) cost 9.20 euros, as did my salad. Water was 2.80 euros and a draft beer was 1.50 euros. The Commander takes all credit and debit cards and even had a take out pizza window hidden past the bar. Out doors, the parking lot was small and busy as a self-service petrol station sat next door. Inside to the right down a hall was a game room for the children or the children in all of us.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 23, 2004
74A Rue de Gawdy
Caprice was definitely not fancy, but clean, convenient and quick. Locals seem to prefer lunch as the main meal of the day after a coffee-and-roll breakfast. We like a small lunch and a larger dinner, which might explain my ever-tightening jeans. Le Caprice Snack Taverne looked like a Belgium version of fast food.
Tacked to the wall at the rear of Le Caprice, beside the ordering bar, were photos of all the luncheon plates. We could have given the lady a number, but pointed instead, as our French was a bit rusty. After ordering the local brew (1.45Euros), we picked out a table next to the cluttered windows overlooking the sluggish Muse. A dainty little waitress skipped over in less than 10 minutes with our steaming mushroom-and-cheese omelet smothered in a mountain of French fries (4.90Euros). Choices of sauces for the fries littered the ceramic table. Mushrooms tumbled from forkfuls of soft mellow cheese and fluffy egg. I tried my fries with mayo, like the locals, but fell back on the old standby, catsup.
A tattered menu squished between the sugar and salt and pepper listed everything from cutlets to ice cream, sodas to wine, coffee, hot chocolate, and open-face sandwiches. A little of everything was on the menu and also on the walls. Detailed hiking and auto maps sprinkled all the walls, with listings for day trips from Dinant. Colorful posters advertised abbeys, gardens, castles, caves and tours on the River Muse. We had found the next best thing to the Tourist Office. Everyone was friendly, polite and managed to serve a smile with decent fast food. Le Caprice does not take credit or debit cards.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 14, 2004
Place Albert 3/5
As we skipped across the road from the car park we noticed fiery clusters of fall leaves hung around an open terrace dotted with bright red and white Maredsous umbrellas. A sprinkle of customers and locals lounged on the warm terrace in the long awaited sun. This was a perfect place to leisurely sample the local brew. We planted ourselves in the comfy wicker chairs and on second thought a nosh sounded good, as a pleasant waitress delivered a two-sided menu along with our beer. She lingered and unhurriedly answered all our nosy questions about the Family Verbon, owners of the Hotel Restaurant. Impressively she spoke French, Dutch, German, and English.
Our gaze wandered as she pointed out the amenities of the hotel. To the right of the terrace a huge beer garden stretched to the river where the camps grounds began. To the left a new French fry wagon had opened it doors. Across the bustling road, bikes stood ready for hire. Our family-run hotel-restaurant had seven rooms for rent at 46 euro, including breakfast. At the intersection hiking signs displayed the numerous choices of hiking and biking trails with kilometer and hour designations. At each corner of the crossroads stood a hotel, restaurant, along with a gift shop. Not far down the road were two castles to explore.
Our nosh arrived hot and toasty along with a tasty brew. Asparagus soup arrived steaming in a clay pot to hold the heat. Creamy and thick with pulp the soup was invigorating on this chilly day. The scarce sun had only broken the heavy clouds to brighten this lazy stop. A crisp toasted ham and cheese sandwich was served on the side and I munched away while Robert peppered our waitress with questions. After lunch, Ms. Verbon gave a quick tour of the hotel, which reminded us of a hunting lodge. Knotty paneling covered the lobby, hung with animal head trophies. Warm coverlets were spread across massive couches and chairs. Flowers sprang from every table. Rustic charming and a little basic would describe the rooms, but all facilities were there.
Other diners had chosen the full three-course menu and were still enjoying their lunch when we left. We notice the same wonderful soup, along with a crisp roast served with potatoes and carrots and a fluffily desert being served with coffee. We had all this for 25 euro per person. Our little nosh topped out at around 12 euro. Remember most of the time this includes tipping. On the menu were all manner of sandwiches, soups, full course dinners, ice cream, beer, wine, and some very friendly and helpful owners. They will accept all credit cards and have a website.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 3, 2004
Hotel Restaurant Cobut
Rue de Sosoye 6
Off we went. Dark green trees turning colors hugged the curvy narrow road as we searched the wooded hills for signs of a church. A sparkling spring bubbled beside the road as we spun around curve after curve, loving the wonderful quiet scenery, but we found no monastery. Resigning ourselves to enjoying the scenery we popped out of the forest into a brilliant green valley and finally the tiny twin spires of a church hung on a hilltop. Still I was disappointed. It had to be more obvious. After a few more turns and tunnels the road ended at a small, unoccupied guardhouse. We entered the compound. Before us spread a three-acre tree studded parking lot, surrounded by the majestic stonewalls of the cathedral, meditation gardens and cloister. On acres and acres were a Guest House, College Saint Benoit de Maredsous, a library, St Joseph Visitor Center, a cheese dairy, a brewery, a bakery, a playground, and in the hills the cabins and camping area. Maredsous is its own city. As we admired crimson vines crawling the lofty tower of the enclosed Cloister, we were inspired and impressed.
After a quick gawk at the cathedral (see companion entry Maredsous Cathedral) we strolled the flower-lined pathway right to the St Joseph Visitor Center. In the shape of a U, the center housed a giant beer garden in the U in front of the entrance. Rows of tables hid beneath a sheltering arbor. In view of the garden a playground sported merry go-rounds and teeter-totters on a lush lawn. Too bad it was a little cool for a picnic. Inside the left wing was a cafeteria designed to serve hundreds. At the entrance an inviting little café displayed the various hearty beers all paired up with collector glasses and a quick barman dispensed a dark frothy brew. Freshly baked bread clung to a baker’s rack next to the cooler with bricks of fine mellow cheese. The right wing included a shop of religious goods, ceramics, and books. An audiovisual film in Dutch or French was shown for the asking. Shelves displayed colorful heavy ceramic bowls, pitchers, and platters in swirling grays and blues.
Maredsous is open every day March to October 9am-6pm, Nov-Feb 10am-6pm, Sunday 9am-7pm. Admission is free. All credit cards are accepted. Website
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 16, 2004
Abbaye de Maredsous
Rue de Maredsous,11
Choosing the road less traveled; we had climbed out of the La Lesse Valley onto a plateau with a great view of cow spotted hills. Twisting and turning through bucolic hillsides along Highway 95, we found Beauraing. Becoming as it was, we were in search of Castle St. Anne. With a little help and after a few excursions into places non-gratis, we spotted the turrets. How lovely! We were only a kilometer from the main E41, clearly visible from the autobahn.
Berating ourselves, we pulled into an ample parking lot and explored the exterior of St. Anne with its sluggish moat. Sneaking up on St. Anne was not an option, as she was not perched on a lofty crag, but was nuzzled in a corner of an expansive tree less plain. Crossing the drawbridge, which does not draw, we entered the archway. To the left was the lavish Restaurant St. Anne and to the right the gift shop, ticket counter and entrance to the garden. 2 Euros.
Through a squeaky slated door we stepped onto a pebbled walkway with the gardens to the left and a massive main tower to our right across another tributary of the moat. Another bridge crossed the moat to the entrance to the Nature and Falconry Museum.
Behind the main tower we inspected the tidy crafted garden. Surrounded by three sides of a brick farmhouse, the symmetrical garden was rectangular plots surround by evergreen shrubs with colorful fall flowers and vegetables. We noticed an anchoring pruned bush in each plot with daisies and mums along side the broccoli and cabbage. Small apple and pear trees provided an aisle down the center. Weathered doors lead inside the farmhouse where historical farm tools decorated the dark walls.
Past the largest turreted tower we discovered three other towers anchoring the corners of the museum, not quite so powerful. Originally Castle St. Anne (1450) was an enclosed courtyard and renovated to expose one side of the courtyard to the moat. We were pleasantly surprised to see an expansive plaza with graceful column. Past the towers in a green pasture rambled tiny tiny deer, part of the animal park. Over the hill were signs of a fortified farm, testimony to the dedication of Castle St. Anne to the rural life of the last century.
Inside the gift shop we asked touristy questions of the attentive attendants, who spoke excellent English. Robert inquired, after seeing scads of small ponies in the fields leading to the Castle, why Belgium had such small deer and horses. Our informative hostess quirked her head to the side and with a delightful little twinkle replied, "Belgium is a small country."
Castle St. Anne is open every day except for Jan. 1 from 9-6, July and August 9-7. Admission is 5.50 Euros, Children 3.80 Euros. Website www.chateau-lavaux.com
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 22, 2004
Le Chateau de Lavaux-Sainte-Anne
8 rue du Chateau
After a leisurely tour of St. Joseph Visitor Center and spacious grounds, we returned to admire the mammoth structure, Benedictine Abbaye Maredsous. From the car park left the sober gray walls of the cloister lead to the twin grand towers guarding the entrance. High above the double wooden doors a row of saints and angels stood vigil. Inside, we could not help but feel the presence of the Almighty in such grandeur. I felt small, dwarfed by the height and sobriety. Austerity overwhelmed us. Huge arches and columns held up somber gray and white stone, while above the altar columns of stain glass sparkled. In 1955-58 all neo-gothic ornamentation was removed except the stain glass and this only brought more emphasis to the stark expansive sanctuary. I only wished I had a chance to see the unaltered Cathedral. Small chapels opened on each side of the long nave and the right lead to the enclosed cloister. Peace reigned here and I felt I needed to know who inhabited this wondrous place.
Who are these people who pray and live here? "A community of Benedictine Monks brought together around the gospel, The Rule of St. Benedict and the people who want to make this place live to make it attractive for everybody: hosts, pilgrims, pupils, passersby and surfers", says Father Benard Lorent, Abbot of Maredsous on the Abbey’s website. St Benedict offered a program of life, including prayer, work and community for anyone searching for God.
Surrounding the Abbey and Cloister are a College specializing in languages and a Guesthouse. Not a hotel, but a guesthouse for groups or individuals that are looking for a retreat. Accommodations are basic, with facilities on each floor and forget the TV, telephone, and room service. Scattered about the hills are cabins and chalets, available for youth groups, church retreats, or reflective guests. Guests can also take their meals with the monks in silence, except for the reading of the day. Talking meals are available in the giant cafeteria in the Visitor Center.
Need time for reflection? A restful garden with fountain inhabits the enclosed cloister and nature walks meander through out the lush grounds. Monks even offer guided walks. All are welcome to join the Monks for daily prayers beginning in the early morning, through out the day and the end of the day. All guests are welcome as Christ. All this and they make beer too, as well as bread, cheese, and ceramics. Maredsous Cheese, semi-hard, mellow and slightly fruity has 7 styles including double cream and Light. Nothing is better with Maredsous Cheese than fresh baked bread and they make it every day, behind the Abbey next to the dairy.
Cathedral Maredsous is open every day and late on Sunday. March-October 9-6, Nov.-Feb.10-6, Sunday 9-7. Access is free and as is the parking. Brochures, and pamphlets in French and Dutch, are available in the foyer of the Cathedral alongside an impressive display of photos of the construction and later the removal of the ornamentation. English information will be furnished on request. website www.maredsous.com