This year, and like many of you I think, we are taking the time to discover sites close to home, but which we have postponed visiting for years. The period of deconfinement therefore allowed us to visit one of the major sites of Walloon Brabant, the ruins of the Villers Abbey in Villers-la-Ville, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, and to take a nice hike in the surroundings. .
THE VILLERS ABBEY, A PIECE OF HISTORY
The Abbey of Villers (often called the Abbey of Villers-la-Ville, wrongly apparently!), Founded in the 12th century by Bernard de Clairvaux, was one of the largest Cistercian abbeys in Europe. The abbey knew two golden ages, in the 13th then in the 18th century, before its monks were driven out by the French Revolution. The abbey is then ransacked, and falls into ruins … Its romantic ruins have attracted tourists from the 19th century: even Victor Hugo will visit Villers on several occasions (there is even said to have left a graffiti of which we can discover the location during the visit – it is well hidden, tell me if you can find it too!). Today, with its 50,000 m2 of preserved walls and 5,000 m2 of Romanesque and Gothic vaults,
The explanatory panels along the route allow you to learn a little more about the history of each ancient building you pass through, even if the walk-in these mystical places is enough in itself …
THE ABBEY GARDENS
In addition to the ruins, which is also worth the visit (especially in May-June when the flowers and especially the roses are at their peak), it is the beautiful gardens of the abbey, 5 in number, and which have different styles. :
- the Jardin des Simples: a medicinal garden of medieval inspiration
- the Jardin des Moines: a garden of current medicinal plants (nearly 300 species)
- the Jardin de la Pharmacie: a garden with other medicinal plants of today
- the Garden of the Abbot: a classic ornamental garden, the French trimmed with roses and hydrangeas
- the Jardin des Senteurs: a meditative path around fragrant plants leads to the old Saint-Bernard Chapel in the heights of the abbey: few visitors venture there because it is a little out of the way, but it is really nice and you have a beautiful view of the site once you get to the top.
In addition to these 5 gardens, I also loved the timeline (normally at the entrance to the site – currently we go out that way) which draws a parallel between the history of the abbey, the history of the world and … the story of roses! Roses have been planted facing the time corresponding to their creation: this really original and interesting old rose timeline as a way of presenting history!
VILLERS-LA-VIGNE, THE VINEYARD OF THE ABBEY OF VILLERS
At its peak, the Abbey of Villers had its own vineyard. It has been resuscitated since the 90s by a group of enthusiasts, who founded the Confrérie du Vignoble de l’Abbaye de Villers-en Brabant (ASBL). You can have a beautiful view of the vines by climbing to the top of the terraces which are located in the extension of the Jardin de l’Abbé. The vineyard itself is spread over 5 levels. Unfortunately, the wine produced is not currently marketed: it is reserved for the consumption of members of the Brotherhood. The only way to taste it is to participate in one of the guided vineyard tours, which usually takes place from April to September, the first Saturday of the month at 2:30 p.m. On the other hand, Marc de Villers-la-Vigne, made from grape must in the vineyard, is on sale at the Abbey shop.
THE BEERS OF THE ABBEY OF VILLERS
But of course, who says abbey also says beer! If the monks of the Abbey of Villers also produced their own beer, the few hop plants that remain on the site today are purely educational.
However, beer has been reproduced on the abbey site for a few years! Since 2016, the Abbey of Villers has had a micro-brewery that brews two organic artisanal beers in situ. These can be bought at the abbey shop. On one side we find the V, a reconstruction of the beer drunk by monks in the 18th century (recipe based on the abbey archives), a relatively light abbey beer, and on the other the IX, a tasting beer (a triple) at 9 degrees. I liked both very much and recommend that you get at least one of each at the end of your visit if you like beer!
The Confrérie des Hostieux Moines de l’Abbaye de Villers also brews two other beers, La Ténébreuse (a brown at 8 degrees) and La Lumineuse (a blonde at 6.5 degrees).
9.5 KM HIKE BETWEEN FORESTS AND FIELDS AROUND VILLERS ABBEY
After spending nearly two hours inside the abbey, we continued our discovery of the region with a beautiful 9.5km hike that allows you to explore the forests and fields around the Abbey. This hike, accessible to all, goes through the Bois de l’Ermitage, the Bois de Sainte-Catherine and the Bois d’Hez, and through the small villages of La Roche and Tangissart. Markings are present on the whole hike, just follow the yellow rectangle (just a little tricky at village level, so you should better have the map on you just in case).
There are other walks to do in the region, but the map of this one was also in the free brochure “Walks in Wallonia” which can be obtained at the abbey shop,
VISIT VILLERS-LA-VILLE IN PRACTICE
Covid-19 requires it is currently mandatory to book your visit to the abbey. All the information can be found on their site. It is also important to note that for the moment, the reception center is closed, the visit is done in the opposite direction (the reception is done directly at the level of the ruins, follow the signs). The visit ends however with the store which will allow you to stock up on beers and local products!
The restaurants are also still closed, we did not eat there, but there are normally two small restaurants to eat right next to the abbey. Otherwise, the towns of Nivelles and Louvain-la-Neuve are also very close.
In terms of accommodation, there is not a lot of choice in the direct surroundings, but I did note some cool options for a staycation:
- Bubblewood, a transparent bubble to sleep while watching the stars – I really want it, I loved the experience in France
- Indrani Lodge in Loupoigne, an upscale B&B with a pop-restaurant that I heard very well
- the Relais de l’Empereur , a comfortable hotel in Genappe
The Abbey of Villers also hosts events, shows, and concerts throughout the year, including the famous Nuit des Chœurs. Once again, consult the abbey’s website to discover the current program