The scenery on the Meuse pleases one more, on a whole, than that of the Rhine, though the river itself is much inferior in grandeur.William Wordsworth (1820)
Mentioned in Beautiful Europe: Belgium by Joseph E. Morris (1915)
Starting off a blog post with a quote from Wordsworth probably means the rest of this post is headed downhill from there. But anytime anyone, whether they are a world renowned poet or not, who would comparatively prefer scenery in Belgium to some other part of Europe, it deserves mention. Those are mighty big words and worthy of exploration.
The Meuse is one of the great rivers of Belgium, although it originates in France, not far from the Alsace Region, in a town called Le Châtelet-sur-Meuse and runs north through such historical French cities as Verdun and Sedan before reaching Belgium. Morris in 1915 noted that it was likely that the scenery of the Meuse had changed a lot since Wordworth’s time.
The valley of the Meuse is graced everywhere at intervals with fantastic piles of limestone cliff, and certainly, in a proper light, is pretty; but there is far too much quarrying and industrialism between Liege and Namur, and far too many residential villas along the banks between Namur and Dinant, altogether to satisfy those who have high ideals of scenery.Beautiful Europe: Belgium by Joseph E. Morris (1915)
Morris seems to assume that visitors don’t want to see pretty buildings along a river. But this dichotomy that Morris describes makes a good starting point for a comparison between the Meuse and the Rhine. When one thinks of the Rhine, despite the fact that it runs from Switzerland to the North Sea thru the Netherlands, it is usually the historic segment in Germany from Cologne to Mainz that comes to mind. Similar to Morris’ description of the Meuse, this part of the Rhine also has two distinct characters. There is the Romantic Rhine noted for its quaint riverside villages and beautiful castles, and there is the industrial “unromantic” part between the cities of Cologne and Bonn.
Scottish historian and travel writer, George William Thomson Omond, adds further fun to this comparison.
The romantic valley of the Meuse stretches on for miles, past… peaceful Waulsort, in former times a Benedictine settlement, but now a favorite summer resort, and the picturesque château of Freyr, with its well-ordered gardens. On either side are steep slopes clothed with trees, and broken here and there by bold, outstanding pinnacles of rock.Belgium by G.W.T. Omond (1908)
Of course, it is Omond’s choice of the word romantic that fits this discussion. Incidentally, I personally love reading how these classic travel writers describe scenery for readers who would have very little concept of how these places actually look, except thru the occasional watercolor, pencil sketch, or etching. Words in the early 1900’s needed to be in high definition.
One of the best classic travel authors who also did his own watercolor prints for his travel books was the American, George Wharton Edwards. He also throws in his two cents about the Meuse.
This Belgian portion of the Meuse is exceedingly beautiful and picturesque, the vine clad banks rising in lofty and broken walls of limestone…, while the lofty summits are clothed in dark luxuriant foliage hiding the ruins of many an ancient castle.Belgium Old & New by George Wharton Edwards (1920)
As I said high definition.
While these excerpts just scream out for a couple of road trips to explore the sites along the river Meuse and drop the gloves once and for all against the mighty Rhine, this post will focus on a small section mentioned above in the quote from Omond… the stretch between the village of Waulsort and the Château Freyr. A day after my Val-Dieu hike, another Beer & Hike beckoned which brought me to the small farming village of Falmignoul.
Falmignoul is the type of peaceful unassuming place that from the moment you arrive makes you wonder if there really is a virus out there rampaging the Earth. That is until you get to the front door of the only place in town, the Brasserie Caracole, and discover that even in out of the way places like Falmignoul, restrictions are restrictions. Fortunately I brought along my own bottle of Brasserie Caracole’s Nostradamus beer which I had purchased back home.
Brasserie Caracole operates in a place which has housed a brewery for all but about 21 years since 1766. The current operation has been in business since 1992. The name refers to the Spanish word for snail and is a nickname given to the citizens of Namur. Brasserie Caracole has four regular beers in production:
- Troublette (5.5%) – Witbier (White beer)
- Saxo (7.5%) – Belgian blond
- Caracole (7.5%) – Amber beer
- Nostradamus (9.1%) – Belgian strong dark beer
The brewery’s claim to fame is that it still uses the traditional method of heating the copper brew kettles with firewood, and they are the only brewery in Europe still doing this.
Unfortunately, my visit to Brasserie Caracole was limited to a quick photo and ceremonial peek into the windows. Which was ok, it’s December and the days are short. Time to get on with the real point of the visit. The hike.
|Starting Point||Parking lot in front of the school (Can’t miss it)|
|Total/Moving Time||4h41m / 3h26m|
|Eating Place||During COVID: Bring your own food. There is also a bakery.|
Post COVID: Believe it or not, Falmignoul has a restaurant.
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
Besides Brasserie Caracole, perhaps Falmignoul’s real achievement is that it somehow managed to get mentioned in Baedeker’s guidebooks, which were the most famous of all travel guides, long before Rick Steves and Lonely Planet came along. In the 1909 edition, there it is in black and white.
A picturesque road leads to the S.W. from the station (Anseremme) to the village of Falmignoul, whence the highroad (nice views), running high above the rocky valley of the Meuse, with the château of Freyr on the left, descends to Anseremme…Baedeker’s Belgium and Holland (1909)
This highroad would make up a small part of the hike giving wonderful views overlooking the Château Freyr and the village of Waulsort with it’s Château de Waulsort, formerly a Benedictine Abbey. This hike has an amazing variety of scenery, from proud majestic farmland, to the dark luxuriant foliage mentioned by Edwards, to a promenade along the Meuse giving glimpses at bygone hotels and vast lush green valleys, and to the famous craggy limestone cliffs from many perspectives.
In December, mud is plentiful and some parts are quite steep, but neither of these prevented this from becoming one of my favorite hikes in Belgium. So without further ado.
Was Wordsworth correct? He wrote those words during a Grand Tour of Europe that he made in 1820 after tourism reopened following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. In a way it is interesting that 200 years later, here we are waiting for a vaccine to defeat our own despotic tyrant of sorts so that we can all travel again. Imagine that euphoric feeling that Wordsworth would have had with the restored freedom of movement, and translate that to ourselves. The Meuse valley would have been one of the first places Wordsworth visited on his way to Germany and beyond. Naturally, the temptation to exaggerate or simply project his heightened sense of joy might have impacted such a bold statement. Eh, more or less like anything said after two beers. But I am still impressed by it, nonetheless, and feel that it is something worthy to follow up on. From Liege all the way to the border of France, there are countless places I have yet to visit along the Meuse and barring any invasion from Covid Napoleon XIX, following in the footsteps of Wordsworth just got bumped up on my list.