While COVID-19 saw us have a very lowkey Christmas, spent at home in our new apartment in our pjs with gingerbread and Christmas movies, we decided to get away for a few days just before the end of the year. Nico's birthday is on December 27th, so we combined that with an end-of-year getaway to explore a bit more of Belgium.
As the travel restrictions mean we are limited to exploring within Belgium's borders, we booked an AirBnB (with our own kitchen so we could cook our own food) near Dinant and planned a jam-packed four days exploring the fairytale castles and towns of Wallonia, Belgium's southern region.
If you're after the ultimate roadtrip route through Wallonia, visiting all the magical castles, quaint towns, expansive parks, mystical abbeys, plenty of ruins and even the highest point in Belgium - this is the blog post for you!
Day 1: Brussels to Dinant
Stop 1: Domaine Régional Solvay
Just twenty minutes south of Brussels lie the expansive Domaine Régional Solvay is a wonderful spot for a crisp winter's walk. In the heart of the park sits the 19th century Château de La Hulpe which, during non-COVID times, is open for exploring and venue-booking.
Stop 2: Villers Abbey
The ruins of Villers Abbey are stunning - you can wander freely through much of the grounds and envision what it may have looked like in its heyday. We felt the information provided was very limited. The grounds are sprawling, and many old buildings are all around for exploring. We stepped inside the old cathedral (we think), as well as the jail and the Abbot's Palace. The rest, while exquisite, was not identified.
Day 2: Bouillon
Stop 1: Château fort de Bouillon
Sitting prominently near the border of France and the Ardennes, the Château fort de Bouillon is an impressive structure standing on an ideal geographic location, encircled on three sides by the River Semois and with stronghold hills all around.
Our visit to the Château fort de Bouillon was one of our favourite stops, even though it torrentially rained on us the entire visit, providing for very wet and dripping ceilings!
The Château fort de Bouillon was first mentioned in 988 but there has been a castle on the site for much longer. Most notably, in 1082, the castle was owned by Godefroy de Bouillon, one of the most famous crusaders. He sold the castle to finance his First Crusade. The castle was later updated to include artillery for Louis XIV. At its peak, there were once 200 soldiers living and working here.
The nearby Musée Ducal is included in the cost of entry to the castle (currently at €11 per adult), which has a small exhibit on some of the historical artefacts from the castle.
Stop 2: Fondry des Chiens
Following the French border to the west brought us to Fondry des Chiens. This natural regional park has lots of hiking trails for the ever-popular Nordic Walking, but the best part of all was the fantastic rock canyon that simply disappears into the ground. A unique natural attraction to Belgium, that's for certain!
Day 3: Dinant, Châteaus and High Fens
Stop 1: Château fort de Crèvecœur
The ruins of this impressive castle have stumped historians as it seems the layout and purpose has changed many times over the years. Now, free to explore, the ruins offer a panoramic view over Dinant and the River Meuse. In fact, we skipped paying for the famous Dinant Citadel and opted for just the views from here, instead.
Stop 2: Dinant
The idyllic town of Dinant is often labelled as Belgium's most picturesque. We wandered along the river, popped in at the majestic cathedral and stared in wonder up at the famous Citadel on the cliff.
Stop 3: Château de Walzin
Although you can't visit this castle as it is private property, you can walk along the river to the viewpoint. Here you can take in the views of one of the most impressive castles in the region built in the 13th century, perched high on the edge of a straight face of cliff.
We didn't quite make it to the viewpoint as it was flooded over from the rains, but the bridge view was great as well!
Stop 4: Château de Vêves
Closed for COVID-19, we only got to see this elegant castle from the outside. The current castle was built in the 15th century after being burned down, but with history and foundations dating back to 670, the castle sits proudly on the popular route from Dinant to Rochefort.
Stop 5: Durbuy
Considered the "smallest city in the world", this has to be one of the cutest places in Belgium we've seen. Quaint, cobblestoned streets and idyllic little storefronts entice visitors on even the rainiest of days to snap photos and warm up with steaming mugs of cocoa.
Stop 6: Signal de Botrange, High Fens
In the heart of the High Fens Natural Park lies the highest point in Belgium, at the top of a small mound at Signal de Botrange. While it's not quite a mountain summit, this high point is a fun spot to check off your Belgium bucket list.
We were exceptionally lucky to be here in late December, covered in a blanket of snow. Being the highest point in Belgium, High Fens was exquisite in white, while the rest of Belgium received just rain!
Day 4: A Final Château
Stop 1: Château de Corroy-le-Château
This was, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful castles we saw in all Wallonia. Unfortunately, it is private property so you cannot enter the castle unless you pre-book a private tour, but the views from the bridge are exceptional and invoke all sorts of fairytale-like images.