Oh no, I turned 40 in June. For years I escaped Belgium for my birthday. I even managed to do so last year, in between COVID-19 related leisure travel lockdowns, visiting my sister Florence in Switzerland. This year leaving the Realm proved to be very impractical. But Danny, his boyfriend Sam, Oriol and myself booked a getaway weekend to Florenville and visited Orval Abbey and Bouillon with its medieval castle.
Bouillon is a city in the Gaume, the Ardennes, Belgian Lorraine, the province of Luxembourg and Wallonia. The municipality, which covers 149.09 km², had 5,477 inhabitants, giving a population density of 36.7 inhabitants per km².
Bouillon has a few schools, a collège and a lycée, banks and a town square. Bouillon Castle still sits above the town centre, and is a popular tourist attraction.
In the Middle Ages Bouillon was a lordship within the Duchy of Lower Lorraine and the principal seat of the Ardennes-Bouillon dynasty in the 10th and 11th century. In the 11th century they dominated the area, and held the ducal title along with many other titles in the region.
The most famous of the Lords of Bouillon was Godfrey of Bouillon, a leader of the First Crusade and the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He sold Bouillon Castle to the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.
The prince-bishops started to call themselves dukes of Bouillon, and the town emerged as the capital of a sovereign duchy by 1678, when it was captured from the prince-bishopric by the French army and given to the La Tour d’Auvergne family.
The duchy was prized for its strategic location as ‘the key to the Ardennes’, as Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban called it, and hence to France itself. It remained a quasi-independent protectorate, like Orange and Monaco, until 1795, when the Republican Army annexed it to France.
Bouillon lies in the middle of a meander of the Semois river, not unlike Bern and the Aar or Aare. You have a great view from the Belvédère d’Auclin or Belvédère de Bouillon. It’s not easy to reach. There’s a traitorous path but there’s also an easier detour. So check your gps or sat nav.
The Semois offers the possibility to hire a pedalo. On both river banks there are plenty of places to eat and drink.
More than the castle
You probably started Bouillon by visiting the castle. In your ticket the Ducal Museum of Bouillon and the Archéoscope are included. Both are interesting enough to actually visit. The museum is quite small and a bit complicated.
The Archéoscope starts with a tacky sound and image effects presentation, but becomes interesting later. There was a cute Playmobil exhibition. That’s there until 14 November 2021.
Bouillon is worth a day excursion. Its enclosed vibe, its railway tunnel and its castle on a rock give it a Bern and ‘Monaco in the Ardennes’ vibe.