europe quick trips
Visitors to Belgium’s Bouillion can cruise Semois River in a paddleboat and tour a medieval castle
By GREGORY BROOME | Stars and Stripes | Published: August 15, 2019
One of the first things you’re likely to notice about Bouillon is the boats. They bob bucolically on the edge of the Semois River, the lazy waterway that embraces the small village in southern Belgium, and offer a decisive answer to an obvious question: Now that we’ve arrived, what do we do?
The boats, a flock of which can be found on the dock just below the tourist information center, are a great place to start. Three euros rents a person a half-hour on one such whimsical watercraft, colorfully adorned with swans or other aquatic-themed animals. That’s plenty of time for a leisurely float down the river and back, observing the scenic town from a water bird’s-eye view and perhaps tossing bread to the opportunistic ducks that tend to congregate around the ubiquitous boats.
Back on land, Bouillon offers all the infrastructure of the kind of classically charming European small town that tends to attract travelers. There’s an easily located information center, a smattering of shops and eateries lining the riverway, and ample free parking to funnel visitors to those businesses. The town also has a signature attraction to serve as the centerpiece of its touristic aspirations — Chateau de Bouillon, a massive castle situated on a hill overlooking the town.
The castle dates back to at least the 10th century and has a fascinating history, which can be explored in detail on a tour through the sprawling estate. Visitors who choose not to part with the 11-euro entrance fee can still get a taste of the medieval by embarking on the short and not particularly strenuous trek up through the town to the castle, enjoying the panoramic views from its walls and venturing across the first of three drawbridges connecting its various sections.
As attractive as it is to look at, the town of Bouillon is rather light on activities beyond the castle and the paddleboats. The town center holds a handful of museums and galleries and an attractive if not very distinctive cathedral.
The green space around the town offers an animal park and an uphill hike to an observation tower for another vantage point of Bouillon and the countryside.
Depending on how deeply you choose to immerse yourself in the castle’s expansive footprint and history, a visit to Bouillon can occupy anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day’s itinerary.
Either way, the town is worth a visit.
DIRECTIONS: Bouillon is located about two hours south of Brussels on Belgium’s border with France and easily accessible via major highways through France and Luxembourg. Navigate to Boulevard Heynen for ample parking spaces a short walk from the main attractions.
TIMES: Many shops in Bouillon close for a couple of hours in the afternoon and/or early at night, so consider checking in advance.
COSTS: The castle costs 11 euros ($12.31) for adults to enter, while the animal park charges 13 euros. Other attractions charge a nominal entry fee.
FOOD: There are plenty of reasonably-priced eateries all over the small town, many focused on local specialties like fries, mussels, chocolate and beer, along with a few more extravagant options.
INFORMATION: The website bouillon-tourisme.be/en offers English-language guidance for a visit to the town. English is only sporadically spoken.