Wallonia Travelogue - Tonbridge U3A-Travel

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Wallonia Travelogue

Previous Trips > HOLIDAYS > WALLONIA 11-18/6/2023
Wallonia? Where is that?  Now we know. Not many people do.  I imagined the area south of Brussels to be similar to Holland but was pleasantly surprised to find much of it full of deciduous woodlands and gentle, winding hills and roads.
Summer arrived a few days before we left, so back into the cupboard went the dull woollies and out came the colourful summer cottons.  The coach and Dave, our trusty driver, were waiting for us at the meeting place and off we went in good time to pick up Lance, our guide for the week.  We then negotiated passport control, Le Shuttle and the roads of Wallonia, which involved some tight manoeuvres at times.  Dave was faultless the whole week, apart from circumnavigating the odd roundabout a few times.
After a short comfort stop at an obscure gas station/shop we arrived at our hotel just outside Namur in good time and were allocated our rooms.  Once settled in we regrouped at the restaurant and so began the game of ‘what did I order?’  - the menus having been circulated 2 weeks before.  Of course our organisers were on the ball as usual and they had copies of our choices.
Our first visit was to the lovely Water Gardens of Annevoie, near Dinant, where peaceful rivers fed naturally from the River Meuse flow through the gardens which were designed in the 1700s in the grounds of the original chateau built in 1620’s.    In the afternoon we were met by an extremely knowledgeable guide who took us round the beautiful neo Gothic Benedictine Abbey of Maredsous, which is still used as a retreat and brews its own beer.
After a restful night’s sleep back at the hotel we were up and raring to go to Dinant, again on the River Meuse, and the Citadel, an impressive fortress overlooking the town, accessed either by steps or cable car – we used the latter.  The citadel was built in the 1800’s during the Dutch occupation and later in its history was used as a shelter, lookout and defence against the Germans in August 1914.  Many artifacts have been left there such as cannonballs and guns. There are also the sleeping quarters, bakery/kitchen and a vivid noisy depiction of what it was like during an attack.
The weather was extremely hot throughout the week, and it was a relief to cool off in the Caves of Han which have been occupied by man for 10,000 years. We walked along 1.5kilometres of well laid out paths looking at  the extraordinary stalagmites and ‘tites in the beautiful chambers and galleries.
Day 4 arrived and after the usual delicious breakfast taken indoors or on the veranda, we made our way to the coach on which many of us were seem to be catching up with some sleep before arriving at Durbuy, not far from the Luxembourg border.  Here we visited the pretty Topiary Gardens, a pleasant peaceful little area to wander around with some extraordinary sculptures, including a ‘baby elephant’ and what looked like jockeys riding dogs over some jumps.  Later we experienced a guided tour of the little town, which likes to call itself a ‘city’, and tasted some much appreciated local beers.  In the afternoon we visited La Roche en Ardenne on the River Ourthe, a lovely town which suffered in The Battle of the Bulge in WW2. Here we were left to our own devices and found a pleasant restaurant by the River for lunch.  
It was a quieter Day 5 with a visit to Waterloo and Wellington Museum –I eventually found my way out of the maze of a building that is the ‘Citadel’, and sat in the shade watching people climbing the Lion’s Mound.  Eventually I could resist it no longer and puffed my way up the 226 steps, to be rewarded by a panoramic view of the countryside where the Battle was fought.   The afternoon visit was a guided tour of the Nivelle Collegiate Church of St Gertrude, who we discovered was the Patron Saint of Cats.  The original church built C1040 was completely destroyed during WW2 enabling the discovery under the rubble of the ancient crypt – which we were taken around. A somewhat dusty and spooky experience!
To Liege the following day, where some of us did the walking tour and/or the Flea Market, while others rested in a cool quiet church before discovering the C&A Store and enjoying some retail therapy.  It was a pleasant, if noisy lunch which followed – due to the massive amount of road works in the town.  Then a visit to the Chateau Jehay which, again, was unfortunately under renovation.  However the gardens were lovely and relaxing.  We were told by one of our organisers, that the large circular art works in the moat were for training the fish to jump – but we didn’t believe her!
Our last full day included the Strepy-Thieu Boatlift on the Canal du Centre - an amazing feat of engineering and quite fascinating to visit.  We enjoyed a very pleasant hour or so cruising on the canal and then drove to Mons to visit the museum – a sad reminder of how awful WW1 was.
We had fun on our last night at the Ibis Styles Hotel and the following morning made good time to Lille, with a visit to the Palais des Beaux-Arts.  What a wonderful gallery it is, and such a treat to see paintings by Brugel, Van Dyke, Monet and others.  In complete contrast we walked back to the coach via a park where hundreds of athletes were competing in the 2023 Beach Volley Ball World Championships.
Dave drove us back to Tonbridge safely, only circumnavigating one roundabout on route, and we all agreed it had been a terrific holiday and extremely well organised.  Many thanks to all involved, and here’s to the next one!
L Mitchell 7/23
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