Meandering from the village of Trois-Ponts thru Rochelinval to the villages of Vielsalm, Salmchateau and a little bit further beyond, the Salm River, a tributary of the more well-known Ambleve River, leads its humble existence. This is an area of quiet reverence. The forests are lush, the farmland proud, the villages unpretentious. Cities like Antwerp, Brussels, and Liege couldn’t feel more far away. The primary village in the Salm River valley is Vielsalm, which also huddles around a modest lake. Once per year, this understated resident of the nation called Belgium, throws off its quiet, passive persona and reminds the country of its folklore-ish past with its renowned witch celebration Macrâlles Sabbath. This is followed immediately by a blueberry festival. However, as I write, those are still a few months away (July).
Beer & The Bulge: Trois-Ponts-Cheneux
Hiking where Kampfgruppe Peiper’s fate was changed at Trois-Ponts. Continue reading Beer & The Bulge: Trois-Ponts-Cheneux
The word Salm comes from exactly where you would imagine. The German word for Salmon. The coat of arms that you see all over Vielsalm is the shield with the double salmon. This coat of arms originally belonged to the local Counts of Salm who ruled over the region from the 11th century until the French Revolution. In the grand scheme of history, the Counts of Salm are a rather insignificant player. They enjoyed the typical privilege of intermarrying with other royal families, especially in Luxembourg and Germany. Of most interest for beer trivia is Christine of Salm (1575-1627) who was the great-great-grandmother of Charles Alexander of Lorraine, the dude on the equestrian statue above the Brouwershuis on the Grand Place in Brussels. All set for trivia night.
Beer & The Bulge: Rochelinval-Wanne
Eastern Belgium is a beautiful place to hike and reflect on the Battle of the Bulge. Continue reading Beer & The Bulge: Rochelinval-Wanne
But for a few weeks in December 1944, the Salm River was perhaps one of the most critical boundaries in all of Europe. It was in this area that the Americans were trying to halt the German advance of the 5th and 6th Panzer Divisions during the Battle of the Bulge.
…if the Germans got a hold of Vielsalm they would block the major road that vital reinforcements were using to reach St. Vith. The 106th Division’s headquarters in St. Vith ordered American troops near Recht and Poteau to halt the SS battering ram at all costs.Unknown Dead: Civilians in the Battle of the Bulge by Peter Schrijvers (2005)
This hike dabbles in both the days of the Counts of Salm and the impact of the Battle of the Bulge on the local population. Ready to listen for the ghosts of the past, I headed out from Vielsalm on a cold misty day at the end of April. Waiting for me at the end were some delicious local beers in the Vielsalm city center.
|Starting/Ending Point||Carrefour Parking lot next to the Vielsalm war memorial|
|My Moving Time||4h 56m|
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
Vielsalm War Memorial
Here we see the names of the local dead in both World Wars beneath a fallen soldier reaching up to our first encounter with the double salmon coat of arms. Almost every town in Belgium has some variation of a war memorial.
Monument to the 3rd and 6th Regiments of the Chasseurs Ardennais
These were units of the Belgian Army whose mascot is the wild boar.
General Bruce C. Clarke Square
General Clarke was the commanding officer during the defense of this area as the 5th Panzer Division was trying to capture St. Vith. Three months earlier in September 1944, it was Clarke who made the decision to cross the Mosel River at Dieulouard, France over a pontoon bridge under heavy fire from the Germans because he “can’t fight the Germans from this side of the river.”1
After a stroll thru the village’s war monuments, I came to the lake. The misty morning was atmospheric but foreboding for a hike of more than 20km.
Monument to the 3rd Chasseurs Ardennais
Before leaving Vielsalm, one more war monument where we again see the salmon coat of arms and wild boar imagery.
Heading into the woods, there is this provocative blocked entrance. There was no information plaque or sign and nothing on Google Maps either. Bunker? Mine? Either way, it is the kind of place where creepy music starts playing in the back of your mind as you approach it.
Chateau of the Counts of Salm
All that is left are these towers built in the 14th century. Still privately owned.
Below the ruins of the chateau is the village aptly named Salmchateau.
Quickly passing thru this quaint village, the route climbs upwards towards a plateau. Looking back, you get a view of the chateau towers and the private home of the owners.
The route leads to a clearing of farmland. The forest on my right had some of the best forest views of the day.
After passing thru this section of forest, there is some scenic farmland.
Bulge Relics Museum (Joubieval)
I should have been suspicious when I couldn’t find opening hours online. This remote museum only opens on the weekends during the months of September and December.
Sart War Memorial
After the museum, the next village is Sart with its own war memorial and St. Walburg’s Church looking all the more solemn as the Church of St. Peter & Paul in Provedroux the day before.
Monument to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division
Climbing back up to another lonely windswept plateau shared only with the local livestock is the stone monument situated in the middle of a star.
After this monument, it was a long muddy trek along the upper edge of farmland, with the occasional nice view.
The path eventually comes down into the valley towards Goronne.
From Goronne it is a walk thru the forest towards a major highlight of the day.
Chateau de Farnieres
This rather young chateau (finished in 1929) belongs to the order of the Salesian Fathers of Don Bosco and was used as a school of horticulture2. The chateau had a rough childhood when in 1944 it became the designated sanctuary for civilians of this region during the Battle of the Bulge. Both the Americans and Germans tried to encourage civilians to go there, even the more sympathetic Volksgrenadiers of the German Army delivering a truck load of children from nearby Chateau Petit-Spay which was being occupied by the more ruthless SS. The number of refugees reached upwards of 800 people3. Today the chateau is still used by the Salesian Fathers and a beer is brewed in its honor by the Brasserie de L’Abbaye du Val-Dieu.
After the chateau, it is back into the woods and back to Vielsalm.
Sherman Tank US 7th Armored Division
Back in Vielsalm.
For beer lovers, there are essentially only two places probably worth seeking out. The obvious one is the Contes de Salme (or Counts of Salm) which is the main restaurant of the city. The other is O’s Arcades a small bistro with their own microbrewery. Otherwise, I didn’t notice anything else of note around town.
Contes de Salme
This is the place to try the local beers of the region and probably is one of the few (if not only) places to order the La Farnieres beer.
Notice the double salmon coat of arms on this beer by Brasserie Detrembleur which is just up the road in Rochelinval.
This small bistro has a small selection of home-brewed beers. The owner is proud to tell you that you can only buy this beer in the restaurant.
As the paratroopers swept the Germans from the Salm’s left bank and began penetrating east of the river, civilians poured from the chateau to try and reach their homes and farms. They were shocked to find their liberators were far from happy to see them there. A group of refugees… found their village filled to the rafters with American troops and were obliged to retrace their steps to Farnieres that same day.Unknown Dead by Peter Schrijvers (2005)
The nature alone is enough to enjoy a hike like this but to put your footsteps in the perspective of history makes these kinds of journeys much more enriching. There are blood and tears in these woods and on these trails.
Still, no matter how forlorn and uprooted, the villagers passing through the refuge of Farnieres were infinitely more fortunate than those forced to flee the valley to the area south of the highway from Salmchateau…Unknown Dead by Peter Schrijvers (2005)
There are so many human stories that resound in these forests. These are the ghosts that will fade the most as the years go by, while all the troop movements and battle details and decisions of Generals will be rehashed and revisited and perhaps even reshaped based on modern perspectives. Those that lived it grow fewer and fewer. Who knows if any of the children delivered by the Volksgrenadiers to the safety of Farnieres are still around. Or perhaps one of the children who looked on bewildered and terrified in the following scene.
Panicked by explosions, desperate with fear, the refugees from Vielsalm clawed their way into a small stone building that looked like a chapel. A middle-aged Volksgrenadier, his rifle pointed northward through a slit, stared at the horrified parents, their three trembling children, and wailing baby. Then the German soldier embraced the father and started crying.Unknown Dead by Peter Schrijvers (2005)
These are the ghosts I hope we can prevent from being forgotten.
- Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose (1997)
- Unknown Dead: Civilians in the Battle of the Bulge by Peter Schrijvers (2005)