I planned a large winter break for the blog, but then I realized winter doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors. A really great trip to make at this time of year, and actually all seasons, is to the ruins of Villers Abbey. These marvelous gothic ruins are situated in a woody valley near the little village Villers-la-Ville. The forests around the abbey grounds are ideal to do some hiking, but let’s have a closer look to abbey.
The start of the abbey goes back to the 12th century, when some monks left the Cistercian abbey of Clairvaux and started a new one higher up in the valley of villers-la ville. This Romanesque abbey was situated a bit more uphill and not much remains of it these days. In the 13th century the abbey really became successful and it took about a century to build the majestic gothic church and buildings. In this period 400 monks lived and worked here and it had about 10.000 hectares of land. At the end of the middleages the community began to struggle and the number of people went down. Until the end of the 17th century several invasions forced the monks to flee the abbey 9 times, but they managed to survive.
The 18th century turned out to be the golden age of the abbey and many of the gothic buildings got a neoclassical make-over. But then the French revolution came and this was the end of the abbey. The Abbey got pillaged and then sold to reuse the stone. Luckily the place was enormous and the ruins left were impressive enough to be admired in the romantic period in the 19th century. This year a new chapter started for the abbey ruins as a new visitor center was built in the old water mill and a new accses bridge was added.
What is there still to see ? Quite a lot actually. The ruins are still very impressive, settled in the green surroundings. The monk’s refectory, the big guest house and of course the huge church ruin are the main remains of the Gothic period, you can still see the walls of the Abbot’s palace in neoclassical style, or crawl into the abbey’s prison. They also restored 4 gardens on the abbey grounds, but I will get more into detail on them in a future blog post. In the visitor center you can learn more about the history of the place, or enjoy a temporary exhibition. In summer concerts are organized within the church’s walls. Keep an eye on their agenda, that way you can choose to be entertained or to visit in a calm and quite period.
I have visited this place already 4 times and every time I enjoy the magic of this place. The pictures in the snow were taken in the winter of 2013, which added a lot to the charm. Oh I almost forgot…on site there is also a microbrewery, where they brew two real organic abbey beers. One is the “Authentique”, where they used information from the old accounting archives of the original monks brewery. So a lot of reasons to pay a visit to this romantic place full of history.
Villers Abbey : 55 Rue de l’Abbaye ,1495 Villers-la-Ville, Belgium
Opening Hours : 1st November – 31st March: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (open everyday)
1st April – 31st October: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm (open everyday)
Annual closing: December 24, December 25, December 31 and January 1.
Entrance Fee : 8 euro