BOUILLON, BELGIUM: Bouillon is the city of Godfrey, a legendary knight of the first crusade from 11th century (remember him from the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”?). This is the “Jewel of the Semois Valley” and a paradise for gourmets, nature lovers, and history enthusiasts.
TIME of TRAVEL: As we are preparing ourselves to leave Belgium in just a few weeks, we are making good use of every weekend and holiday. Last week, on the 3rd Saturday of June 2014, we took a day-trip to Bouillon. It’s about 1 ½ hours of drive from Tervuren, Belgium, may be same time if you are driving from Brussels too.
EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch at Pizza Hut in a service-inn on our way to Bouillon. We had some home-made gourmet ice-cream after we visited the castle and came down to the valley. And for dinner we sat down in a small restaurant on a small alley parallel to River Semois. Since we are big fans of FIFA World Cup, the restaurant “La Grignotte” were showing Argentina vs Iran match, so we decided to take a table there. It looked like the place is very well-known for their burgers and different kinds of sauces to eat with your burgers and fries. But they also had salad, pasta, sandwich, waffle, crepe, and omelets. But if you want to have your meal by the river-side, Bouillon has plenty of options for that too. There were countless big and small eateries by the river and they were all overcrowded with relaxers and chillers. Pick a place from there and enjoy a lazy meal or a drink by the water.
As for souvenirs or shopping, we didn’t see many shops along the riverside. May be the shopping streets were hiding in the more inner part of the city. However, we did see a tobacco shop where they were selling post-cards, shot-glasses, and other small things.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We reached Bouillon right after lunch, around 2pm. Since these summer days are longer, we were able to spend a good few hours here.
1) CHATEAU de GODEFRIOD de BOUILLON: This is the main attraction of Bouillon. Godfrey of Bouillon was one of the heroic knights of the very first crusade from the 11th century and His castle (from the 11th century too) in Bouillon is a major asset and a historic landmark in whole Belgium. The castle is also probably one of the best places to get some thrilling views of Semois Valley, the river, and town below.
We went thru two old tunnels “Pont a Bascule” and “Pont Levis” to come to the main front yard of the château where “Falcone Show” takes place few times a day. This was very exciting for our girls. The show was for half an hour and displayed all sorts of birds of prey. Two hosts were speaking mainly in French and Dutch, so we couldn’t really get the jokes, but really enjoyed the birds’ performance. Godfrey’s Chateau has a huge complex of medieval defense with old walls and stone buildings. All the accessible spots are marked with numbers. There are many underground tunnels that you can explore here with countless stairs going up or down.
Visiting this castle was the most enriching travel through time of crusades in Bouillon. This is one of the oldest and most interesting feudal castles from that era. Visitors follow the footsteps of the crusaders in this castle…a bewitching place of walks and discoveries. There were some small exhibitions all around the castle. You can even see a medieval torture chamber and an underground prison.
Most of the information inside the castle complex is written either in French or Dutch, so I would highly recommend getting an audio-tour. We brought our car to the small hill the castle is on and drove back to the city center after we were done with the castle. There are many parking spots both near the castle and down in the valley. Ticket is 6.50 euros per adult and 4.50 euros for kids. Audio tour is available at extra fee.
2) WALK by RIVER SEMOIS: After we came down to the valley and near the river, we parked the car, and began walking by River Semois. We started from one side, crossed a small bridge, and reached another longer bridge on the other side. We had river on left side and lots and lots of restaurants on our right side. It was simply relaxing looking at the small paddling boats on the river, expressive buildings, and people the cafes having good time.
3) PADDLE BOAT on RIVER SEMOIS: Looking at other people paddling on River Semois, my elder daughter wanted to give it a go. We rode on camels in Giza, rode on donkeys in Petra, did plenty of horse-wagon rides, boat tours, cruising, and stuff…but never tried a paddle boat. So why not? It was a lazy late afternoon and we really had nothing else planned out to see or do. We crossed the small bridge to the other side of the river and rented a small shaded boat to explore pleasant River Semois.
Boat is 3 euros per person for 30 minutes ride and 5 euros for an hour ride. It closes at 7pm in summer. We took a 30 minutes ride and it was enough to go around the river on one side by the old buildings, restaurants, and hotels.
4) UNKNOWN CHURCH: One of the famous churches of Bouillon is Basilique de St. Hubert. We didn’t visit that one, but we found another one that’s steeple was raising high, dominating the old town of Bouillon, very close to River Semois. We couldn’t find the name of this church; tried searching its name in the web…but no luck. But it was a beautiful church outside and inside. There was a service going on when we arrive, so really couldn’t walk around to its dazzling altar that I saw from the entrance.