I'd never heard of the Villers Abbey or the “Abbaye de Villers-la-Ville” until I started researching things to do all over Belgium. When I looked up some photos online, I couldn't believe I hadn't. This place looked amazing!
But we all know what illusions great photographers can create and so I drove to the abbey in Villers-la-Ville on a sunny afternoon to check it out for myself.
Villers Abbey: a bit of history
The history of the Abbey of Villers-la-Ville dates back to the 12th century when Cistercian monks from the Abbey of Clairvaux were sent out to start a second Abbey in the name of St. Bernard. Not an easy task, as they had to move twice before finally settling on a location in the 13th century. That location in Villes-la-Ville is where we can still visit the ruins of the Abbey today.
Abbaye de Villers took over 100 years to build, and during the period, the monks there lived very comfortably on land extending 10,000 hectares all the way to Antwerp.
The Villers Abbey flourished as a cultural and agricultural center until the end of the Middle Ages. After that, religious and political troubles caused unrest until the 18th century when the Abbaye Viller-la-Ville experienced a second Golden Age under the rule of Joseph II and later also under Leopold II. However, the French Revolution was near and the Abbey of Villers-la-Ville was dissolved and sold off to a merchant in building material.
This merchant broke down large parts of Villers Abbey to sell the materials. In 1820, Charles-Lambert Houart bought the domain, but this didn't turn out to be an improvement as he allowed for a railroad running right through the domain to be built, earning a decent cent from that.
It wasn't until 1893 that the Belgian State stepped in, purchased the domain, and started renovation works. A railway was built, which made it easier for people to visit from Brussels. The Abbaye de Villers has welcomed many notable guests since then, including Victor Hugo, who depicted the abbey's prison in his novel Les Misérables. At the moment, a second restoration is being performed.
Visiting the Abbey of Villers-la-Ville
To say the amazing photos I'd seen of the Villers Abbey weren't illusions would be an understatement. When I made that left turn to where my GPS said the Abbey would be, I suddenly drove through an old gate and immediately on my left was this huge structure. It was part of the Villers Abbey and the road to reach it actually runs through the domain, with the Abbey on the left and a secondary building, now used as a bistro, on the right.
I left my car in the parking lot, took out my camera and paid the entrance fee. For the same price, I also got a map with detailed information about what I'd see on the domain and a brochure about the Abbey's medicinal herb garden.
The next two hours I spent wandering around. Trying out every little pathway I could find, trying to imagine what this place had looked like in its glory days.
The Abbaye de Villers is especially interesting because it lets you imagine what abbey life was like over the centuries. From the transept to the cloisters and the infirmary to the dormitory, many aspects and sections are still visible.
There were a few other visitors, but not as many as the Abbaye de Villers deserves. This really is a magnificent structure and an interesting place not only for adults but for kids as well.
I hope the following photos will convince you all to go there, and when you do, please tell me afterward if you liked it just as much as I did.
Currently, the Villers Abbey, which represents 900 years of history, hosts a wide variety of activities including open-air concerts, exhibitions, activity days and family discovery walks. After your visit, you can stop by the vineyard or the microbrewery on site.
Rue de l'Abbaye 55, Villers-la-Ville
Check the website for up to date opening days and times.
How to get there
By train: Take line no. 140 Ottignies-Charleroi; Station: Villers-la-Ville (2 m from the Abbey)
By car: E411 highway (exit 9), N25 direction Nivells (Villers-la-ville exit); E19 highway (exit 19), Nivelles ring road R24 direction Wavre, N25 (Villers-la-Ville exit); E42 highway (exit 16b), N5 direction Waterloo, after Baisy-Thy, direction Villers-la-Ville
By bus: Unfortunately, there are no public buses going to the Villers Abbey. You can only arrive by car or train.
There is limited access for people with disabilities. If you're in a wheelchair, contact the Abbaye de Villers first.
There's a self-guided tour with a map and audioguide lasting 60 to 90 minutes.
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