Marion - Chroniques d'une ardennaise
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100% Ardennes, between Belgium and France
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A FAmous novelist
The Ardennes has produced its fair share of writers and when you stay in the pretty bed & breakfast called Chez Tante Alice, located in the heart of the Aisne valley, you can walk in the footsteps of the area’s famous authors. It’s a fabulous way to link the realm of the imaginary to nature and the very real lands of the Belgian Ardennes.
2 DAYS in the realms of imagination
On the road in Aisne-sous-Heyd
Our next stop is Aisne-sous-Heyd, a small village typical of the area only a few kilometres from Durbuy where we will be meeting Auntie Alice or rather Marie-France and Didier, our hosts and Alice’s nephews. Along the way, we admire a variety of landscapes that gradually change from vast grasslands to rolling hills and dense forests. We instantly fall under the spell of this pretty village surrounded by lush forests with a river meandering through it. We are looking forward to spending two days in this picturesque location connecting to nature. We arrive at the bed and breakfast and is time for us to explore the typical stone building and - more importantly - discover the room decorated in the theme of a local writer in which we are going to spend the night. We will be following in the footsteps of Armel Job, a Belgian novelist born in Heyd and who grew up in the area. Before putting on our walking shoes and head off carrying our novel, we decide to take in our surroundings. The room is spacious and decorated with a charming bric-a-brac of objects cherry-picked in flea markets by our hosts, and paintings that allude to the literary oeuvre of Armel Job. There is also a bookcase with his novels so we can familiarise ourselves with the author’s universe. On the ground floor, two very welcoming common rooms with books lying around everywhere are at our disposal. Now that we are acquainted with our surroundings and our hosts, it’s time to go off for our adventure accompanied by “Baigneuse nue sur un rocher” (the title of Armel Job’s novel “Naked bather on a rock) and learn how to read between the lines.
A storytelling walk somewhere between fiction and reality
The bridge that spans the river, the old house on the street corner or even the path that leads to the heart of the forest, along our walk we discover the places that inspired Armel Job when he was writing his novel “Baigneuse nue sur un rocher”. It’s quite fascinating to see to which extent fiction and reality intertwine…Armel Job even found inspiration among the locals, using their personality traits to create the characters in his novel. We stop quite a few times along the way to read passages from the novel and observe our surroundings: a vast grassland where a factory appears as if by magic in the book, or a gorge filled with river water where the protagonists learn to swim... everything is a pretext to use our imagination as we find ourselves projected into the heart of the intrigue. Along the way we discover legendary spots such as the “Roche à Frêne”, a heap of rocks that is several meters high and is said to be the work of the Devil himself!
"A long time ago, Guillaume de la Marck, who was pursued by the soldiers of the prince-bishop of Liège, called upon the evil one to help him. Night was falling as Guillaume concluded a pact with the devil:s in exchange for his soul Satan promised to build a huge dam on the Aisne river so the soldiers would drown. Furthermore, he promised he would get it done before the first rooster crowed at dawn. Without further ado, the Devils and his evil minions got to work, piling up huge boulders in the river gorge.
But, a mere stone’s throw away stood the humble abode of poor old woman whose only earthly possessions were a rooster and a few chickens. Woken by the noise, the old woman got out of bed, lit a candle and went to check on her chicken coop. When she arrived, the rooster - misled by the candle light - crowed a strident cock-a-doodle-doo which echoed throughout the whole valley. Believing this announced daybreak, the devil and his minions abandoned their work and hastily fled the valley.
Under the pressure of the swollen river, the unfinished dam collapsed, letting forth a formidable rush of water that crashed over the prince-bishop’s soldiers and drowned them. As for Guillaume de la Marck, who had found refuge on the neighbouring lands of the Duke of Burgundy, he was - and justifiably so -quite pleased with himself as he had managed to escape his pursuers and fool the Lord Satan to boot!"
Interesting sights as far as the eye can see!
After our walk, we go back to our bed and breakfast to have a cup of tea before setting off on for a new adventure; a bicycle trip to the megalithic site in Wéris.
A bike ramble discovering Belgium's most important megalithic site
Off we go on our electric bikes that are ideally suited for climbing the hilly countryside of the Asine Valley, to discover the megalithic site of Wéris. It’s the most important megalithic site in Belgium, with lines of megaliths that stretch out over more than 7 kilometres. With our map in hand we go in search of dolmens and menhirs that are over 4,800 years old! Bang in the middle of a field, we discover impressive formations comprised of several massive stones as well as smaller stones tucked away in the forest such as the “Lit du Diable” (Devil’s Bed). And while we’re at it, we roam the charming village of Wéris which is listed as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Wallonia”. We decide to grab a bite to eat in restaurant called “Tiesse di Bwès” (which means ‘wooden head’, a colloquial Walloon expression for ‘stubborn person'), which has a lovely warm atmosphere and where the chef prepares local, seasonal foods sourced from neighbouring markets. The portions are generous, the food is refined and both our taste buds and hungry bellies are content! I especially liked the cuberdon ice cream. This local specialty is a cone-shaped candy, traditionally it is pink in colour and raspberry flavoured, a real treat for sweet tooths!
Now that are bellies are full, it’s time for us to relax in the comfort of our room and read a book before falling asleep.
Discovering yummy local foods and the gorgeous town of Durbuy
The next morning, feeling totally refreshed and ready to start a new day, we head for the conservatory where a plentiful breakfast is waiting for us. While we enjoy our breakfast, we get to know the other guests, a Dutch couple who give us a rave review of the town of Durbuy they'd discovered yesterday. As it is only a couple of kilometres away we decide to visit the smallest town in the world before heading home. But, first things first; time to enjoy some tasty local specialties before setting off. The table is groaning under the weight of a breakfast buffet with Danish pastries, different kinds of bread and homemade jams but also local specialties: charcuteries, cheese and even the famous Sirop de Liège (a thick jelly-like spread made out of evaporated apple or pear juice) which is sheer heaven spread on some fresh bread or paired with (smelly) cheese!
Local foods get top billing
Once we have sated our appetite, we head for Durbuy where we discover a charming town full of character. The town is crossed by the river Ourthe where many tourists and locals alike come to enjoy a spot of canoeing or kayaking. We meander through the warren of narrow, cobbled streets and discover tiny shops and lovely boutiques showing original and quirky wares
Everywhere we look, works of art and curiosities adorn the picturesque facades, and we feast our eyes on the many striking details that give this gorgeous little town such character! The historic centre abounds with anecdotes, and we hear all about them during the themed walk organised by the Tourist Information Office.
Durbuy holds no more secrets for us but we are planning to come back, and next time we will be taking a trip along the river!