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An adventurer in the Ardennes
"The Tchar Scaille"
a trip between worlds
6 mins of escape
I didn't expect to travel so far on my excursion among the glades of Monthermé. A spritual, shamanic and culinary journey, a trip between worlds.
It all begins on a path, just out of the forest, when my walking companions and I stumble on a strange monument. A pile of enormous rocks that seem to dominate us from the top of the hill. We try to figure out what it is. "It's a megalithic dolmen!" suggests Renaud. "It looks like a tomb" adds Cynthia. As for me, I head for the metal barrels that are curiously placed around this mysterious construction. Some large sticks invite us to use them as drums. I try to beat a rhythm but the rain that's been falling for most of the day plays a better melody as it bounces off the barrel.
The work of a man
This musical interlude is interrupted by a man. Hopefully he can answer our questions. His name is Philippe and his appearance fits perfectly with the site: plaited beard and long grey hair. He explains that he piled these rocks up himself, to create the "Tchar Scaille", which means "schist cart" in Walloon. It represents a carriage drawn by two horses. "And if you come here at solstice, the sun rises precisely between the two rocks," our host tells us. It doesn't take me long to figure out that Philippe leaves nothing to chance.
A living site
Contrary to the apparent immobility of such a structure, Philippe wants this site to remain dynamic and is open to any suggestion: assegai-throwing, bowhunting, music festivals... The "Tchar Scaille" is a living site with a clear objective, to defend the practice of a culture. "There's an undeniable sentiment of a strong identity in Wallonia and the Ardennes region," Philippe explains. But what identity? "In Wallonia and the Ardennes, the Celtic and German peoples have always coexisted, resulting in a strong cultural heritage. Hence, the Ardennes inhabitants of Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Germany may have a subconscious sense of belonging to the same geocultural region, but they still see one another as foreigners. Yet they're united by a whole host of strong cultural traits in the form of legends, music, traditions and various Christian versions of a pagan ritual."
a spiritual, shamanic and culinary journey
The feeling isn't real unless the action is real
Here, I don't feel as if I'm in a museum. I feel as if I'm talking with and learning from an enthusiast who actually lives his passion. "The feeling isn't real unless the action is real," he argues. Walking slowly away from the stone cart, we head downhill towards a chalet. From the outside, it looks just like all the other houses we've seen in the Ardennes. But, after pulling on the deer antlers that are the handles of the glass door, we enter a completely different world. Inside, strange skeletons of creatures - half-man, half-beast - appear to be embedded in the walls. Philippe deliberately refrains from explaining what they are, leaving our imagination to go to work. I imagine these skeletons held by the earth in their ritual, mystical dance, a little like the people of Pompeii who were turned into statues.
Philippe tells us this chalet is a restaurant where a single set menu is served every weekend. He invites us to sit at one of the big wooden tables.
I'm impressed by the decoration of this establishment. Philippe isn't only a history fanatic, he's also a real artist. Among all the restaurants I've tested, I've never seen one quite like this. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into it, and each detail has been carefully considered and fitted to provide a balance that's so perfect you can't define the style. Modern or rustic? You decide. After choosing our place at the table, we go back to the schist counter for an aperitif, a round of hippocras, a medieval beverage made from wine, honey and spices. We pursue our discussion with Philippe and learn a whole host of historical facts about the region. A real journey through time!
Time for a tasting session
I discover that the food is just as indescribable as the venue. The starter is a succession of small, tapas-style dishes served with bread: a harmonious array of red cabbage, grapes cooked in hippocras and cinnamon, spaghetti squash with plums and bacon bits, and chickpeas with ginger, and it all goes together beautifully. For the main dish, a traditional roast ham is served with green wheat risotto, sweet potato with celery and green bean croquettes. Dessert brings more surprises: basil sorbet, polenta with chicory and caramel sauce, and almond nougat with chocolate. As you've gathered, the cuisine, here in the heart of the Ardennes forest, is based on ingredients from all over the world. The "Tchar Scaille" is a complete journey of which Philippe alone knows the secret and which can be summed up in one sentence: "I travel between worlds." And we're happy to be travelling with him.
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Les Six Chenons, 08800 Thilay, France
+33 6 77 82 27 48