Belgian cheese, Belgium, chateau, Chateau de Freÿr, Chateau Veves, Citadel of Dinant, Dinant, driving in Belgium, family travel, Family travel Belgium, Flavion, Freyr, gardens, Germany Travel, grocery shopping Belgium, Maresouds, Meuse River, Meuse Valley, Moulin de Flavion, shopping in Belgium, Travel, travel in Europe
This past holiday weekend we traveled to the southeastern portion of Belgium near the town of Dinant. It was a mere three and a half hour drive from home, but vastly different in many ways. The biggest surprise was that literally all of the buildings were made of stone or brick. In our area of Germany and neighboring France the buildings tend to be more of a stucco or even wood but the grey stone buildings were quite striking for us once we arrived in the Meuse Valley.
The Meuse River has many beautiful areas but we stayed near the city of Dinant which offered beautiful scenery and we felt gave us a good feel for what the river valley has to offer. Dinant itself is a busy town with striking scenery. It is one of those towns that almost looks better in pictures than in person because with the bustle of the city and noise around you, the buildings almost blend into their surroundings.
Our second day in Dinant, we drove to the top of the “hill” overlooking the town where the Citadel is located. There is a nice parking lot but the Citadel itself was rather underwhelming. We had read some rather unfavourable reviews so were not surprised by this but, for the 8 Euros per person, unless you really like a good view (like we do) you can save your money. The one benefit however is the funicular, that is actually supposedly the steepest in the world, which gives you a quick ride down into town. This is a good option for parking at the top and taking this down as it leaves you right in the middle of downtown near the bridge to the other side.
From Dinant we drove up and down the Meuse in both directions and found it to be very nice, but lacking some of the views that one finds when travelling the fairly nearby Mosel River in Germany. From Dinant we then went inland to Maresouds which is the home of the famous Monks that make cheese! There was a festival the day we were there with locals selling everything from fruit spread and mustard (delicious!) to modern patio furniture. The monastery itself was beautiful and also had a lovely gift shop to purchase the items the monks make as well as local pottery.
The other tourist attractions we found in the area centred around the numerous chateaus. Belgium has more castles (or chateaus) per square mile than any other country in the world and we found this to be absolutely true. On the way to our hotel we saw one that clearly at one time had been beautiful, and huge, and it had the gate locked and had fallen into disrepair. Anyone of these chateaus would be a huge tourist attraction in the United States but here, it’s just another several hundred year old building.
We first went to Chateau de Freÿr which was absolutely gorgeous. We spoke with the caretaker who was selling the entrance tickets and who lives on property with her husband. At this particular château the caretakers as well as the owners (family who have owned it and passed it down through generations) both live in wings of the castle while the center area is open and furnished with period pieces. I liked the tours as they are self guided with written English guides – this works much better with a 16 month old than a tour guide.
We also went to what is locally known as “Sleeping Beauty’s Castle” – Chateau Vêves. It was also lovely and had a self guided tour as well. The current owner, the Duke, however does not still live there. In both instances were only saw one or two other couples or families touring the castles and really had them to ourselves. It was wonderful letting our 16 month old run around in the gardens and we were able to take quite a few pictures. One of the most interesting items to me was the family pictures that were prevalent at both houses, really a reminder that these are the family homes of the aristocracy that came from this area which was primarily a vacation area for those coming from northern France.
Our stay in the area was made even more pleasant by the beautiful property we stayed at – the Moulin de Flavion. Like the chateaus open in the area it was beautifully kept with immaculate lawns and gardens and even a stream running through the property with a waterfall! All this with an apartment with modern amenities including a rainfall shower head for 65 Euros a night. I don’t typically tout hotel prices as they change often and everyone has different preferences in hotels, but this really was a steal and just highlights the affordability of a vacation in Europe that doesn’t always involve the highly touristy areas but yet offers unique and memorable experiences that can not be found in the United States.
Finally, as I mention it in my title – the food in the area was amazing as was expected. We had some wonderful meals, but did find the lack of one item. Highchairs with belts or trays. We were literally given a child sized chair that was high off the ground. Now, Indi is fairly well-behaved I like to think and we tend to eat at times when places are quiet so as to not bother others, but to think she would just sit in this chair 3 feet off the ground… um, not quite yet. Luckily we travel with a belt from Jeff’s Columbia brand pants (a nylon one that is totally adjustable – I highly recommend finding one if traveling in Europe). We just strapped her in and had a ready made safe highchair. She’s working on her sitting skills for our next trip she tells me.
The phenomenon of Belgian Waffles does not escape this area and we found them to be delightful and purchased a kilo of them to bring home in individually wrapped packages. One of my favorite items however was the street side bread machines. In following with many other European countries, bakeries and stores are often closed. Sundays, Mondays, between 12:30pm and 2:30pm, etc. So how does one get fresh bread at these times? Well, you go to a bread machine. We didn’t try one but if returning, I believe I will!
Finally, the cows. They are everywhere! I literally have never seen so many in my life… and I’m from Indiana and live in rural Germany. Seriously. This also meant some of the most wonderful cheese I have had from the local grocery. So in farewell for now – Moo!