Claire The Green Geekette
Member for 1 year 11 months
Yogi and slow tourism devotee
A gourmET VISIT TO Rocroi
4 minutes OF gastronomy
Rocroi, located near the border between France and Belgium, is a small town that is typical of the Ardennes. A unique town that – seen from above- resembles a stone star framed by greenery. Discovering this inimitable town while tasting a selection of local delicacies, the mere thought had me licking my lips in anticipation!
A rather confusing name
One thing that is unsettling when you arrive here, is not knowing if the town is called Rocroi or Rocroy. While the official spelling uses the final “I” after a vote by the state council, the fact remains that the town council had unanimously voted in favour of changing the name of the town from Rocroi to Rocroy.
In order to fully understand the roots of this conflict, we need to jump back in time and take a closer look at the town’s history. It dates back to 1198 when Lord Nicolas IV of Rumigny had a cross erected in the name of his vassal Raul du Châtelet, this led the place to be thereafter known as “Croy de Raul” (Croy is old French for cross, which gives us: Raul’s Cross), which in turn became "Raulcroy". As time went by, linguistic evolution followed its course leading to its current form, maintaining the final “y” .
Now that we’ve taken a closer look at these linguistic intricacies that are extremely important to the Rocroyens (as the inhabitants of Rocroy are called), we head for the Tourist Information Centre for a 3-hour long guided visit discovering the town, a visit that will be spiced up with a tasting of local delicacies. On this particular Wednesday afternoon, around a dozen of gourmets are tempted by the idea, and we are all impatient to start our gourmet, with walking shoes on our feet and our mouths watering!
The town dates back to 1198 when a cross in honour of Raul du Châtelet was erected. The "Croy de Raul " was later known as Raulcroy
Rocroy, a star-shaped fortified town
We are greeted with a delicious glass of local apple juice, after which the tour starts from the adjacent place d’Armes (the Weapons Square, the only square in town) and plunge into Rocroy’s eventful history. We learn that – contrary to popular belief – Vauban did not design the fortifications, but that the Star Fort was in fact built in 1555 during the reign of Henry II.
After visiting the Rue de Bourgogne and its Mariembourg gate, the rue de France and the rue de Montmorency we start to make out the structure of this place that - up until 1888 - used to be a garrison town. Our guide has a knack for sharing even the tiniest historical detail, for example the fact that the oldest house dates back to 1676.
A real powder keg !
Although the distinctive Rocroy church managed to capture my attention because of is two confessionals (one for the priest and one for the curate), I was particularly impressed by the town’s gunpowder store. At the time it was necessary to protect the gunpowder reserves, and this required buildings that were both solidly built (in order to resist any potential attacks and cannon balls), as well as discreet (so the enemy would not know which building to target). I really found it interesting that nowadays these buildings have been given a new lease of life!
For example, the first one we visited, which boasts wall that are a whopping 2 meters thick, has now been converted to a storage area and meeting room for the town’s theatre company. As for the larger gunpowder store, which has walls that are 4 meters thick, it now serves as the town library, which I thought was pretty cool.
Again, I really appreciated being told all the little details that are indispensable to understanding a place, such as the ventilation system with a double bend that made it impossible for enemies to break in and blow the place up, or the fact that the flooring was laid without a single nail, to avoid sparking when the soldiers entered with their boots containing (that had iron in them).
A well-deserved tasting
After visiting different parts of town, for example the fortifications’ bastions and the Museum of the Battle of Rocroy and the Thirty Years War, our visit finishes at the Dauphin’s Bastion. Here we will enjoy a well-deserved break while sampling a tasty selection of local delicacies, comfortably seated at a table laid out for the occasion.
As an appetizer we enjoy pizzas from the Devouge Bakery, and I especially enjoyed the “gramoudoux”, a breadlike delicacy stuffed with gruyere cheese, bacon and Maroilles (an iconic northern French cheese, nicknamed “old stinker”, this should give a general idea of its aroma). Then we enjoy traditional pâtés and charcuteries from the Caron Butcher’s , served on Viking bread (a wheat and barley bread), accompanied by a glass of beer from Rocroy or apple juice from “Huet boissons”, before ending on a high note with a yummy cake selection.
I especially enjoyed the “gramoudoux”, a breadlike delicacy stuffed with gruyere cheese, bacon and Maroilles
Meeting with a keen horse breeder and horse enthusiast
Contrary to what the tour title led us to believe, our visit doesn’t stop there…On every visit, the Tourist Information Centre tries to organize an encounter with a passionate and fascinating local enthusiast.
This week, it’s the Rocroy carriage-horse stable’s turn to welcome visitors and this is how we meet Valérie, a keen horse breeder.
We discover everything about her trade, which ranges from riding lessons to carriage driving lessons for all ages, but what really strikes us is her unconditional love of horses. We had a rather touching encounter with the last-born foal, and were impressed by the huge herd leader (2 meters high at the withers) who was not in the least frightened by our umbrella.
Enjoy this experience
Office de Tourisme Vallées et Plateau d'Ardenne (Tourist Information Centre)
1 ter rue du Pavillon, 08230 Rocroi (France)
Tel.: +33 3 24 54 20 06
Rates & timetable
Adults: € 14
Children under 12: € 7
Children under 3 : free
In July & August, Wednesdays at 15:00. Duration : 3 hours.