The Ardennes are known for their historical sites and peaceful nature but did you know they actually stretch across three countries – France, Luxembourg, and Belgium – and have some amazing gastronomy to offer as well?
Visit Ardenne invited me to spend four days in the Belgian and Luxembourgish Ardennes with them to discover the culinary side of this region. Below, you can find our exact program. Spoiler alert: I came back a bit heavier than I was at the start of this trip :-)
- A gastronomic 4 days in the Ardennes – Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Day 4
- How to get to the Ardennes
- How to get around in the Ardennes
A gastronomic 4 days in the Ardennes – Day 1
1. Visit The Owl distillery
Being someone who doesn't drink, I wasn't particularly excited about visiting The Owl Distillery but what a discovery this place was! I don't want to give too much away, but we spent a whole afternoon with our guide Isabelle who told us all about the history of The Owl Distillery, its different whiskys (not “whiskey”, as its not made in the UK or the US), and its collaboration with local farmers.
We got to see visit the distillery itself where we learned about the production process and went for a walk along the fields to see where the grains come from and how they're cultivated through controlled agriculture.
And of course, we got to taste some whisky. Now again, I usually don't drink alcohol. I might have a glass of something super sweet and half a gin tonic every six months or so and then that'll be it, but after all that Isabelle had told us about Belgian Owl, I just had to try to take some sips.
Flavor explosion. That's the word that came to mind while tasting.
Although the alcoholiness of the whiskys was still a bit too strong for me, the release of the different aromas was quite the experience and it's something I would have missed entirely without – again – the explanation of Isabelle.
She told me that people who don't like alcohol have the tendency to swallow it down quickly, which prevents you from being able to taste the whole pallet of flavors the drink has to offer. Instead, it's better to swirl the whisky around the front of your mouth to release those flavors.
Did you know there's even a way to “taste” whisky without actually putting it in your mouth? I'm not going to tell you how. You'll have to visit The Owl Distillery to find out, but it's super cool and even kids can do it!
Hameau de Goreux 7
Tel: 0032 4 223 07 17
2. Go for dinner at La Cucinella
La Cucinella serves refined Italian cuisine right in the heart of Liège. The living room-like setting with bar makes you feel at home straight away, which I really appreciated.
I'm a big foodie but I've never liked restaurants that make you feel like you need to sit there with a stick up your *ss to enjoy their food. At La Cucinella, you feel perfectly at ease while enjoying the beautiful dishes Julien Marzano prepares in his kitchen.
Julien took over the restaurant from his father Gianni and popped into the dining area to say hello when the evening came to its end. His friendly appearance fit perfectly with the vibe of the restaurant and made us appreciate the food even more.
So what did I have?
First, we enjoyed a little treat by the chef, followed by the veal carpaccio I chose as the starter.
For the main course, I had the linguine with mussels, garlic, cherry tomatoes, and anchovies crumbs.
This was all so good and filling that I decided to skip dessert but I'm pretty sure that would've been great too.
Rue de la Casquette 26
Tel: 0032 4 222 36 52
3. Try Belgian beers at BeerLovers
After dinner, the plan was to go to BeerLovers, a cafe, and shop where they serve no less than 250 different kinds of beer and sell more than 750. It's also possible to do different kinds of workshops here, like a beer and chocolate tasting or initiation into zythology.
As I'd gotten up at 5.30 a.m. that morning to fly from Lisbon back to Belgium to go on this trip and don't drink beer, I decided to skip this activity and go to bed after dinner so I can't share my personal experience of BeerLovers. However, I can tell you that my group didn't return to their hotels until 4 in the morning so I'm guessing they had a good time there.
Rue de la Violette 9
Tel: 004 221 39 77
4. Spend the night in Liège
Where I stayed: B&B The Street Lodge
Before going to dinner that night, I'd checked into The Street Lodge, a modern B&B with three rooms, a breakfast area, and a patio. I got the Chocolate Room where a box of delicious Galler chocolates awaited me as a welcome gift.
Needless to say, my stay started off right.
My room was spacious and equipped with a double bed, a lounge chair, a desk, a television, a water kettle, and a closet. The bathroom was spacious too, with ample room to let my toiletry bag explore, and a big walk-in rain shower.
Breakfast here is served from 7 in the morning on weekdays and from 8.30 a.m. on the weekends – though it's possible to get it a bit earlier too.
I didn't really know what to expect from breakfast but I couldn't have hoped for all the treats that were being served. Rice pie, croissants, different kinds of bread, cake, meat, cheese, yogurt, muesli… There was plenty to choose from and if that still wasn't enough, you can have an egg prepared just the way you like it.
Add to that a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee or tea and you get a great start of the day.
Want to stay at B&B The Street Lodge too? Click here to check availability and prices.
1. Visit chocolatier Darcis in Verviers
After a good night's sleep, our second day in the Ardennes started with a trip to chocolatier Darcis in Verviers. I'd actually spotted Darcis when I visited the Province of Liège a few months ago and was pumped I got to go there now.
What beer seemed to be to the other people in my group, chocolate is to me. Just the idea of tasting chocolate and trying it in different combinations makes me happy. I might even be drooling a bit as I write this.
Okay, back to the visit!
Darcis has stores in Liège, Namur, Brussels, Hasselt, and even in the Spanish Marbella but it's in Verviers that you can also visit their chocolate museum, take part in a chocolate workshop or do a chocolate tasting. There's also a fabulous (not exaggerated) store selling their chocolate and other sweets, as well as an on-site cafe.
Fun fact: you can buy a Belgian Owl Darcis chocolate which has – indeed – Belgian Owl whisky in it.
We got a quick tour through the museum as we were a bit limited on time but if you visit it independently, the visit is supposed to take 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on whether you read all of the information panels and listen to everything on the audio guide.
Both the information panels and the audio guide are available in English, French, Dutch, and German while the audio guide is also available in Chinese.
At the museum, you'll learn about the history of chocolate in general and Belgian chocolate in particular and you'll also get a glimpse behind the scenes of the production process. At the time of writing, the entry fee is €8/adult and €6/child of 6-12 years. Kids younger than 6 get in for free and groups of more than 10 people pay just €6/person as well.
The Darcis Academy is where you can follow workshops twice a week, in a group of minimum eight people, given by Jean-Philippe Darcis himself or by a chef from his team. The Academy also regularly invites guest teachers and for kids between 8 and 12 years old, there are the duo workshops where kids and their parents work together to create treats.
We learned how to make pralines and got the chance to taste them too. Yum!
Esplanade de la grâce 1
Tel: 0032 87 71 72 73
2. Have lunch at Au Vieux Bourg
Au Vieux Bourg is a traditional bistro in the center of Verviers serving large portions of typical and seasonal dishes in an unpretentious way. Service is friendly here and a special feature is the restaurant's wood fire on which various meats are grilled.
I ordered a chicken salad and got this:
It was absolutely delicious. The chicken was grilled and yet still juicy. The salad consisted of plenty of veggies and even some grapes and raisins. All I left were some leafs of green. I highly recommend this place if you're hungry and simply want a good meal.
Au Vieux Bourg
Place Verte 43
Tel: 0032 87 33 23 11
3. Visit the Val-Dieu Abbey and brewery
Val-Dieu is one of Belgium's famous abbey beers and you can visit the grounds of the Val-Dieu abbey both independently and with a guide. If you go by yourself, you can wander the grounds of the abbey and have a drink or a bite at the on-site cafe.
If you want to learn more about the history of the abbey and/or its beer-brewing activities, sign up for a guided tour. That's what we did.
Our guide Martine took us around the abbey and backstage where she explained how the Val-Dieu beers are made. The tour ended in the tasting room where we could the beers she'd been talking about with a cheese nibble on the side.
Tours in French take place every Saturday at 1.30 p.m. at the time of writing and don't require an advance booking. Tours in English need to be booked beforehand. You can find more information about the tours on the Val-Dieu website.
Val-Dieu Abbey, Val Dieu 227, 4880 Aubel, Belgium
Tel: 0032 87 69 28 28
4. Head to Luxembourg for a dinner at Yves Radelet
In Aubel, a small town near Clervaux in Luxembourg, Yves Radelet has a restaurant located in a renovated shed, with a beautiful high pointy ceiling and a kitchen right in the dining area.
You can choose to eat à la carte – the offer changes every three months – or to have the 5-course menu. Of our group, a few people chose the menu while I, together with someone else, opted to eat à la carte.
What I had?
We all started with a little treat from the chef, after which I had scallop carpaccio with a shallot vinaigrette and truffle.
For the main course, I chose the shrimp ravioli with ginger pak choy and a light cream of shellfish and sesame oil.
For dessert, I chose the chocolate moelleux with vanilla ice cream and a salty caramel sauce.
It was all delicious.
This is a place where you really come to enjoy the night as enough time is left between each course. As some of us had the five-course menu and I had chosen three courses à la carte, I had a bit more time in between dishes and that was actually fine for me. I left satisfied but not completely stuffed.
My companions told me the wine paired with the menu was great. I had sparkling water all-night-long so I can't comment any further on that.
The only thing I'd say could be improved upon, is the tea. I'm always amazed at how many high-quality restaurants bring you a bag of Lipton tea when you order tea – as was the case at Yves Radelt. There are so many great brands of loose tea and as a tea fan, I'd appreciate that much more than a bag of standard supermarket tea.
Other than that, this place has my stamp of approval :-)
Tel: 00352 26 90 36 57
5. Spend the night in Clervaux
Where I stayed: Hotel International
It was midnight when we checked in at the Hotel International in Clervaux, right in the center of the city, so I didn't get to see much of the hotel. What I can tell you is that the rooms here are large, with equally spacious bathrooms, and that the breakfast buffet has plenty of both warm and cold, sweet and salty options.
When you have a bit more time than we did, you can enjoy the hotel's wellness center, indoor swimming pool, and fitness area. The hotel has its own bar and it's possible to reserve a private parking spot.
1. Visit the National Brewery Museum for a brewing workshop
The Musée National d'Art Brassicole or National Brewery Museum of Luxembourg is located in what used to be the stables of the castle of Wiltz. It showcases all kinds of objects related to the history and process of beer brewing.
Aside from the typical museum part, there's also the tavern Jhang Primus. The tavern is put together with furniture and other objects from taverns that have seized to exist. At the moment, it only has a museum function but in the past, the tavern would open once in a while as an actual tavern where you could drop by for a drink.
And then there's also the Tannery Museum. It's an exposition inside the museum dedicated to the tanning history of Wiltz.
Brewing your own beer
We spent most of our time in the actual brewery part of the museum. This is where you can come for a full day of beer brewing. Not only do you learn about the brewing process, but you also get a say every step along the way.
We first tried all kinds of malts before we chose which one we'd be using. We also decided how strong and (non-)sugary we wanted our beer to be and got to pick the yeast that would help turn our mix into beer. Lastly, we decided to add a pinch of coriander.
The workshop was great in that Fabien, our brewer, continued to engage us. We didn't just stand there watching how he did everything but were actively brewing ourselves – weighing, pouring, tasting, testing, and taking notes.
Because of our program, we only spent half the day brewing here but if you book the workshop, you get a full day. For €400 per group of 10 and €40 extra per person after that, you get the complete workshop, including a visit of the museum and a tasting of locally brewed beer.
And you know what else is included? Your own beer! Whatever you decide to brew that day, you can come back for four to six weeks later. Block about three hours for that on your calendar as you'll help the brewer bottle your beer that you then get to take home.
How cool is that?
It's perfect as a teambuilding activity or as something to do with a group of friends. Just make sure to make a reservation well in time if you want to do this on a Saturday, as that day is quickly booked.
Musée National de l'Art Brassicole
Château de Wiltz
Tel: 00352 95 74 44
2. Make your own pizza at Robbesscheier
Leaving our beer in the trusted hands of Fabien, we drove on to Living Museum Robbesscheier in Munshausen. Here you learn about traditional production processes, how to use old tools and utensils, and the Ardennes draft horses.
Fruits, vegetables, and honey are produced on-site and Robbesscheier also has its own small zoo and park.
There are plenty of activities here to choose from. We opted to make our own pizza in a traditional oven for lunch, before testing our taste and scent in a food-guessing quiz.
As the dough was already prepared, we immediately got to work with it. When we had a pizza-like shape, we added the tomato sauce which had already been prepared for us as well. I didn't mind this at all as I was quite hungry already.
We then got to choose from a bunch of indredients to add to our pizza: salami, ham, peppers, onions, olives… There was plenty of choice. Once that was done, the pizza only needed to go into the oven for a few minutes and tadaaaa:
When our pizza had settled a bit, it was time for the food quiz. We were blindfolded and first had to taste different foods and vegetables. Guessing what they were was easy, but then came the hard part: guessing ingredients based on their smell. It was a fun game but I'd say the tasting part is more for kids as it was so easy.
Tourist Center Robbesscheier (in French and German)
Tel: 00352 92 17 45 1
3. Visit an old water mill
The Rackésmillen, an old water mill, lies outside of Robbesscheier but can be visited as part of your experience there. It dates back to 1824 and is still functional, though it's nowadays only turned on during guided visits and the annual Mill Day.
The building the mill is located in has been a holiday home lodging up to 18 people since 2003.
Tel: 00352 92 17 45 1
4. Head to Belgian Luxembourg for dinner at Wagon Leo
My highlight of the day was definitely our dinner at Wagon Leo. Now an impressive restaurant with different rooms, this family-run business once started as a fries shack inside an old train wagon.
While the restaurant expanded throughout the decennia, the train theme has always been maintained. You'll find small references everywhere and I'm pretty sure it's impossible to spot them all on your first visit.
Stepping into this bistro felt like stepping into a Poirot episode, going back to a time of lost class cozy glamour.
I say cozy glamour because while the interior at Wagon Leo is impressive, the ambiance is warm and welcoming. The waiting staff is dressed in black and white but ready to help however they can with a smile and a joke in between courses.
And the food? So. Good.
I chose to eat à la carte but Wagon Leo also has three menu options you can choose from. As my starter, I had the fish soup, followed by grilled seabass with risotto Carnaroli with cockles and mussels, scum of shellfish juice, and parsley pesto. It was delicious.
We also ordered some packets of fries. Packets of fries? Yup, because Wagon Leo stays true to its roots. You can still get a cute little packet of homemade fries here. They're delicious!
For dessert, I chose a classic Dame Blanche. You can never go wrong with a Dame Blanche and especially not at Wagon Leo. Just look at it!
Good to know: Wagon Leo is also a hotel, so there's no need to go anywhere anymore after dinner. Have a nightcap at the table or take it up to your room and don't worry about still having to drive or order a taxi.
5. Spend the night nearby
Where I stayed: Gaussignac
After dinner, we headed back to Gaussignac, the Bed and Breakfast we'd checked into earlier that day, run by the lovely couple Françoise and Michel.
Françoise and Michel are the kind of people that immediately make you feel at home, welcoming you with a drink in the spacious living room. The long dining table there is the scene for breakfast and for guests who book a dinner here.
As our program didn't allow for dinner, Françoise and Michel were so kind as to move their dining experience to lunch for us so that we could try it and let you know what it's like. We started with a drink and a delicious cup of soup in the lounge area by the fireplace. This is also where you need to be if you want to curl up with a book or warm up with a drink after a walk outside.
After having made sure there was nothing left of our crème brûlé foie gras, we moved to the table for a starter, main course, dessert, and coffee.
This reminds me I need to send Michel an email to ask for his recipes because yum, the food was so good!
Our starter was some kind of gentle and shrimp curry followed by mushroom risotto with tender pork meat as the main course. Dessert was the best chocolate mousse I've ever had – and that means something! Maybe it was the tonka beans added to it?
And the rooms? They breathe calmness through earthy tones and have spacious bathrooms with walk-in showers. I wish I had a better photo but it was already getting dark when we got there.
Rue de l'Eglise 37
Tel: 0032 61 41 29 57
GSM: 0032 475 77 02 38
1. Go for a walk and horse carriage ride
We spent our last day in the Ardennes with Richard Mignolet, the driving force behind Ardenne Plaisir, an initiative that wants to introduce travelers to local activities and producers. He's the kind of man you'd call a character. Tall, with a visible appetite for life both literally and figuratively speaking, Richard knows how to entertain a crowd.
He took us on a walk through the snow, into the nearby forest, while telling us all about the plants and trees we came across as well as how they relate to the history of the region. Luck was on our side because the greyness of the previous days had made way for a carpet of white and the rain had turned into snowflakes.
Yup, if you're want to find a snowy landscape in Belgium, the Ardennes are the place to go!
At the end of our walk, the people from Écuries des Îles were awaiting us with one of their horse carriages. Offering equestrian activities in the area, they'd be riding us back to Chez Gaussignac through the forest. We laughed like kids when sweeping along the snow-covered branches that in their turn dropped their blanket of white upon us.
Insider tip: make sure you can change clothes after if you also book a carriage ride through the snow :-)
Ardenne Plaisier – Richard Mignolet
Tel: 0032 498 57 37 08
Écuries des Îles
Tel: 00 32 496 26 25 56
2. Visit brewery Saint-Monon
We ended our trip the same way we started it: with drinks! In the small town of Ambly, you can find the microbrewery Saint-Monon. Founded in 1996 by Pierre Jacob, this young brewery is located in the wing of a farm and already has an offer of six different beers.
It's first and foremost a production facility but you can also call ahead to book a guided tour which includes a tasting of three different beers at Saint-Monon's tavern/shop. The tavern and shop are only open for walk-ins on Saturdays but if you just want to buy some beer, you can also do that another day if you make an appointment first.
Rue Principale 45
Tel: 0032 84 21 46 32
How to get to the Ardennes
If you're flying into France, Belgium or Luxembourg to visit the Ardennes, you have various options. In France, the Charles de Gaulle airport is the most logical choice. For Belgium, you can fly to Brussels International Airport, Belgium's biggest airport welcoming most international flights. Charleroi/Brussels South Airport or Liège Airport are two other options. In Luxembourg, there's the Luxembourg International Airport.
It's possible to reach most cities and larger towns in the Ardennes by train but it'll be hard to visit local producers, accommodations and activity providers this way.
If you're looking for a budget way to get to the Ardennes, Flixbus is a good choice. This long-distance bus company has routes to Charleroi, Namur, Verviers, Bastogne, and Arlon in the Belgian Ardennes, and to Charleville-Mézières and Sedan in the French Ardennes.
They don't have routes to the Luxembourgish Ardennes but you can take Flixbus to Luxembourg city and then travel onward from there.
The easiest way to travel around the Ardennes is by car, so if you're able to drive your own car there, I highly suggest you do so. If not, you can fly to one of the nearby airports and then get a rental car.
How to get around in the Ardennes
As mentioned above, the easiest way to get around the Ardennes is by car as a car allows you to visit every village, local producer, and sight with ease. If traveling by car isn't an option for you, check here for train routes in the whole of the Ardennes.
I haven't found any solid info on local, small-scale bus transportation in the French Ardennes so if anybody knows more about this, feel free to let me know in the comments!
PIN FOR LATER
I was invited on this culinary trip to the Ardennes by Visit Ardenne, Province de Liège Tourisme, the Tourist Federation of Belgian Luxembourg and ORTAL/Éislek. As always, I only wrote what I wanted to write, how I wanted to write it.