I explored the Ardennes Terroir in the Depths of winter with Ardenne Plaisir
There’s no particular best season or weather to set off for a taste of the Ardennes. Richard Mignolet certainly proved this to us during a January day when it snowed constantly. From a great dining table to the Monon brewery, with some purnalet to keep us warm, the region around Saint-Hubert is as beautiful in its food and drink as in its forests.
A 5-MIN Escape
Knock! Knock! In the middle of breakfast at the B&B, Richard Mignolet appears with his booming voice bidding us a warm welcome. This sets the tone for our day exploring the countryside around Hatrival and its local food and drink. I should introduce you to Richard: he’s a perfect Ardennes ambassador and nature guide, who has created a range of themed day-trips around his beloved Saint-Hubert region. You can go on a witch hunt, a walk with a picnic, hear stags belling or explore the area in many other ways. Richard Mignolet doesn’t simply lead you on a walk, he brings them to life with great good humour!
We had watched the snow falling through the bay window the previous evening. The light centimetres of white snow had formed a covering and had noticeable recoloured the landscape. Richard told us what lay ahead of us in our day-trip: a winter walk through the Saint-Hubert forest, a ride in a horse-drawn cart, a set lunch and a tour of the Monon brewery. I finished eating the matoufè*, which would keep me going for the day ahead, and we went to put on our warm outdoor clothes as the weather gradually developed into a blizzard!
Matoufè (local bacon omelette), an ideal way to keep out the cold:
- 200g bacon, diced (ideally from Chez Magerotte or L’Assaisonnière!)
- 1 tablespoon plain flour
- 2 teacups milk
- 1 teacup water
- 8 eggs
Fry the bacon dice until the fat has melted and they have browned slightly.
In a bowl, beat together the water, flour, water and eggs, then pour onto the bacon in the pan and stir well until thickened and browned underneath. Serve immediately.
The history of the Ardennes was shaped by its geology
We slowly made our way out of the village of Hatrival into the surrounding countryside and forests. Richard took the opportunity to explain the local geology and history of this region that he loves so much.
The underlying rock in the Ardennes is mostly schist and sandstone, making the soil acidic and poor. In prehistoric times, there were not many reasons for people to explore or settle in the region. Its enormous deciduous forest extended from the banks of the Vesdre near Verviers in the North to those of the Moselle in the South. At the end of the seventh century, Benedictine monks founded a community here, which, in 825 AD, became the abbey of Saint Hubert of the Ardennes, without doubt the largest Benedictine monastery in Europe. From 1775 onwards, this powerful institution was a pioneer in the development of the steel-making industry in the Ardennes. Unfortunately, the French revolution twenty years later brought an abrupt end to the abbey which had ordered many trees in the forest to be chopped down to make charcoal. The following century saw many significant changes, such as soil enrichment, which led to green pastures with cattle and horses; the replanting of some deciduous trees, but many more conifers, which are more fast-growing. The most significant change, however, was the arrival of railways, which completely changed the landscape to what we see today…
A fairytale surprise
As we walked for kilometres through the forest, I was amused by the crackling of my footsteps in the snow. The landscape seemed to have been suddenly frozen. Even the tree trunks were covered in snow and the path had completely disappeared. We followed Richard’s lead and continued to learn more about local legends and the plants and animals around us. Suddenly the daylight broke through as we emerged from the Saint-Hubert forest, and we heard the far-off clip-clop of horseshoes…
The Isles Stables
It’s a magical setting, where, like a mirage in this snow, a horse-drawn carriage arrives driven by Lisby from the Isles Stables. As we’re starting to feel the cold a little, Richard gives us a shot of his magic potion, purnalet, the local sloe liqueur, before we climb into the carriage. Suffice it to say that it warmed us up delightfully and I’d happily experience the pleasure again! We all get into the carriage and, pulled by three horses, we re-enter the forest at top speed. The snow posed absolutely no problem for the horses, who seemed to be enjoying their winter outing. We laughed a lot, going over bumps or being hit by snow falling from the trees as we passed. Rushing past the trees on either side was exhilarating. In my head, I imagined I was far away in the Arctic or Canada. Finally, we arrived back where we had started, in Hatrival, where the owners of our B&B were waiting for us by the fireside. Now it was time for an aperitif, an Orval beer of course, and then lunch prepared for us by the couple.
We took a moment to discuss Richard’s evident passion for the Saint-Hubert area that he knows like the back of his hand. Like a skilled orchestral conductor, he knows how to bring together food and drink producers, restauranteurs, accommodation providers and others to create a tourist offer that can be tailor-made to each group. He’s always happy to show anyone the incredible heritage and landscape of the Ardennes, plus, above all, its people. Ardenne Plaisir was born of this desire. His overall priority is to shine the spotlight of the people who make the Ardennes what it is, who epitomise it every day. You should never hesitate to use Richard Mignolet as your guide.
As we drink our Orvals, Michel busies himself in the kitchen and Françoise tells us about her “energising” menu. Our mouths start to water in anticipation!
It is a delicious menu: Crème brûlée with foie gras, Thai soup with scampi, pork fillet and chocolate and Tonka bean mousse.
The B&B and its food are exceptionally good.
From the warm welcome to this magnificent home, to the comfortable bedrooms and delicious food and the lovely smiling hosts, we had a marvellous stay. I was impressed by the kindness and simple lifestyle (in the best sense of the word) of the owners! The magnificent spread really felt like a family meal, but now it was time to collect our luggage and to join Richard for the final activity of the day, a visit to the Monon brewery.
A few kilometres from Hatrival, we stop at the Ambly farmhouse brewery, so typical of the Ardennes. Pierre, the master brewer is waiting for us to explain how he brews his beers and the story of Monon, the monk after whom he named his brewery. Then we proceed to the beer tasting. We sample a delightful collection of characterful beers, accompanied by a platter of local cooked meats and cheeses, what could be better way of ending our stay?
Have this experience
+32 (0)498 57 37 08
The Isles Stables (L’écurie des îles)
+32 (0) 496 26 25 56
Rue de Namoisy 40
+32 (0)84 21 46 32
Rue Principale 45
There’s no particular best season or weather to set off for a taste of the Ardennes. Richard Mignolet certainly proved this to us during a January day when it snowed constantly.