An Ardennes 
A to Z

An Ardennes a to z

3 min facts of the Ardennes

A         Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) was born in Charleville-Mézières and led a dissolute, nomadic life, which included the poetry collection “Illuminations” and a scandalous love affair with fellow-poet Paul Verlaine.

B         Bayard was the giant horse who carried the Four Aymon Boys on his back through the Ardennes Forest as they escaped from Charlemagne’s soldiers according to the legend sung by minstrels. There are statues of Bayard in  Namur and Bogny-sur-Meuse, and Bayard’s Rock is just outside Dinant.

        Santiago Calatrava (b. 1951) is one of the most famous architects in the world, known for designing buildings with soaring glass roofs. His design for Liège-Guillemins railway station, completed in 2009, became an instant tourist attraction and landmark.   

D         Pierre and Luc Dardenne (b. 1951 and 1954) are Liège-born film-makers who have written, produced and directed feature films that have won many awards at the Cannes Film Festival since the 1980s.

        The Euro Space Center at Transinne near Redu in the Belgian Ardennes is a science museum and educational tourist attraction, where visitors can experience space-flight and micro-gravity simulators and see a full-scale model of a Space Shuttle.

F          César Franck (1822-1890) was a composer, pianist and organist. Born in Liege, he spent most of his life in Paris. His best-known choral work is his setting of “Panis angelicus”, which is sung at state ceremonies in Belgium.

        Godfrey of Bouillon (1060-1100) was one of the leaders of the First Crusade (1096-1099) and briefly Ruler of Jerusalem. His life is explained at the Ducal Museum in Bouillon Castle.

        Hercule Poirot, the fictional, dapper Belgian detective born in Spa, was the creation of Agatha Christie and appeared in 33 novels, 50 short stories and one play, as well as their adaptations for radio, television and film.

          Jacky Ickx (b. 1945) is a retired Belgian motor-racing driver. He won the Spa 24 Hours endurance race in 1966 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans race six times. As a Formula 1 driver for the Ferrari team, he won eight Grand Prix races between 1968 and 1976.

         Grand-Duke Jean of Luxembourg (1921-2019) was head of state from 1964-2000. He was educated at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire and Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Irish Guards in 1943. He took part in the D-Day landings and later becoming Colonel of the regiment. In 2000, he abdicated and retired to Fischbach Castle on the edge of the Luxembourg Ardennes.

K         Sandra Kim (b. 1972) was born at Montegnée near Liège. In 1986, aged 13, she won the Eurovision Song Contest for Belgium singing “J’aime la vie” (“I love life”). She continues her singing career today and remains the youngest ever Eurovision winner.

         King Léopold II of the Belgians (1835-1909) spent his summers at Ciergnon Castle in the Ardennes, in the Province of Namur. Every morning, a copy of The Times from London was delivered to him by train.

       Brigadier-General Anthony McAuliffe (1898-1975) was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army at the siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. When offered the chance to surrender by the Germans, he sent the famous, defiant one-word reply “Nuts!”

N         Emperor Napoleon III of France (1808-1873) spent the first months of his exile in the Ardennes, following his defeat and abdication at the Battle of Sedan in 1871. He was moved by his German captors from Sedan to Bouillon, Libramont, Liège and Verviers, then to Kassel, before settling with Empress Eugénie in Chislehurst in England.    

O         Oiseau sans tête appears on many menus in the Ardennes and can confuse visitors as it literally means “headless bird”. In fact, it is an escalope of beef, pork or veal, rolled around a flavoursome herb, onion and minced-meat stuffing, tied with string and then braised in a rich gravy. It’s an ideal way to chase away the winter chill!

P          Peyo (real name Paul Culliford 1928-1992) was the cartoonist who created the Smurfs, the cheerful, little blue people who live in a mushroom-filled forest, in 1958, drawing on the legend of the nutons, goblins who lived in the Ardennes Forest.

Q         Queen Marie-Henriette (1836-1902), wife of Léopold II, had her own summer residence in the Ardennes at Spa, where she died in 1902.

R         Roland Garros (1888-1918) was a pioneer aviator and fighter ace in the First World War, who died when his plane was shot down at Vouziers in the Ardennes on 5 October 1918. Today, the tennis stadium where the French Open is played and the airport on the island of La Réunion are named after him.

S          Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was born in Liège and became a prolific writer, with over 500 books to his name. His most famous creation is Inspector Maigret, who features in 75 novels and 28 short stories, many of which have been dramatised for television and film. Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) was born in Dinant and worked in his family’s musical instrument business, inventing and patenting the Saxhorn family in 1845 and the Saxophone family in 1846.

T          Tourte gaumaise or Pâté gaumais is the Ardennes version of a pork pie, a baked pastry case containing marinated minced pork. It takes its name from the Gaume, the part of southern Belgium that borders France in the Ardennes.

U         Alberto Uderzo (b.1927) was the illustrator who worked with writer René Goscinny (1926-1977) on the famous Asterix the Gaul series of strip cartoons. In Asterix in Belgium, Asterix and Obelix go to the Ardennes Forest to meet the Belgian chiefs Beefix and Brawnix.

V         Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) was born in Metz and led an eventful life, including periods as a Communard soldier in Paris and then a political exile. He left his wife and child to pursue a scandalous affair with fellow-poet Arthur Rimbaud. He was imprisoned in Mons for shooting Rimbaud in the wrist in Brussels in 1873 and became a Roman Catholic mystic during his imprisonment. He then went to England, where he worked for several years as a teacher before returning to Paris where he died of alcoholism.

W        Woodruff (Galium oderatum) is a strongly scented, white-flowered herb that grows wild in the Ardennes Forest. It is steeped in white wine to produce Maitrank or May Wine, an apéritif often served with strawberries.

        Xavier Bettel (b. 1973) was born in Luxembourg City and served as a city councillor and then Mayor there before being elected an MP and leader of the Liberal Party. In 2013, he became Luxembourg’s first openly gay Prime Minister and was re-elected in 2018. In September 2019, he hosted the “Lecterngate” press conference in Luxembourg alone, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson left early to avoid a hostile crowd of demonstrators.

        Yannick Noah (b.1960) was born in Sedan and competed on the international mens’ tennis circuit, winning the French Open Mens’ Singles title in 1983.

Z         Zwarte Pol (“Black Pol”) is a type of stout brewed at the Inter-Pol microbrewery near Houffalize in the Belgian Ardennes, containing 6.5% alcohol by volume.