Belgium is home to a surprisingly large number of picturesque castles, but few can lay claim to such a dramatic location as Château de Walzin. Sitting on top of a sheer cliff face high above the River Lesse, and surrounded by rolling countryside and forested hills, it’s often referred to as the Belgian Schloss Neuschwanstein. It’s not an unfair comparison: a fairytale castle surrounded by glorious nature that wouldn’t be out of place in a Disney film.
Although it’s not open to the public, the majestic building towering over the surrounding valley is well worth the walk from Dinant. The first building on this site dates to the 11th century but the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times and what you see today is an amalgamation of different periods. It was a hot day and the River Lesse that flows below the cliffs was full of canoeists – a very popular Ardennes pastime.
I’d set off from Dinant early in the morning and walked the pleasant pedestrian path alongside the River Meuse. A couple of kilometres south of the town is one of Dinant’s most iconic sights, Rocher Bayard. This 40 metre tall pinnacle of rock is dramatically divided from the cliff face and today has a road running between the two. It comes with its very own mythology that dates back to Charlemagne.
It’s said that the four sons of Duke Aymon, Renaud, Richard, Alard and Guiscard, had to flee from the court of Charlemagne after Renaud had murdered a relative of the king. Pursued by soldiers, the four brothers were fortunate to be in possession of Baynard, a magic horse. It was a blow from the mighty hoof of Baynard that is said to have cleaved Rocher Bayard from the cliff as the horse and four riders lept the Meuse below.
The reality is a little more prosaic. It was the armies of Louis XIV of France that created the gap between the rock formations to have a better road on which to attack Dinant. Another kilometre or so south brought me to the junction of the Rivers Lesse and Meuse. Here I climbed away from the river towards Château de Walzin. This included a lovely section through dense woodland before emerging into the valley below.
After spending time admiring the castle, and marvelling at the many canoes navigating a river that was very low on water thanks to soaring temperatures, I walked a loop that brought me back to the Meuse. In Dinant, I found a nice cafe next to the river that had a stock of the locally brewed beer, La Croisette de Dinant. I figured I had earned it after my walk.
I did a bit more exploring of Dinant, visiting the lovely Church of Notre-Dame de Dinant, and wandering around the nearby streets. It was getting late and I had a train back to Brussels to catch. I had to make the difficult choice between going to the citadel that sits high above Dinant, or to the Maison Leffe, where a museum to the famous beer is housed in the former Bethléem convent.
Luckily, you get quite good views of the citadel from the Maison Leffe. More importantly, after finishing the self guided tour of the small museum where you learn about how the monks started brewing Leffe in 1240 to avoid waterborne diseases, you can retire to the gardens for a tasting of their handiwork. The gardens are very pleasant, and high on the west bank of the Meuse they provide beautiful views along the river.
Leffe must be one of the more famous Belgian beers outside of Belgium, brewed these days by the same people who make Stella Artois. I was pleasantly surprised to discover they make several beers that I’d never seen or tasted before. It seemed churlish not to try at least a couple of them in their hometown. Dinant is a small, pleasant place, that is the perfect jumping off point for adventures into the Wallonian countryside. I’ll be back.
4 thoughts on “An Ardennes amble to Château de Walzin”
If only I’d known about the Maison Leffe when we visited Dinant! Big miss.
Having a beer in the gardens was very nice on a hot summer day.
One of my favorite places to visit and hike. Really enjoyed your post! Cheers!
It’s a lovely area, will definitely be back when spring arrives. I’ve picked up some great ideas on your site for hiking in Belgium, not to mention beers to look out for. Thanks.