Visiting Herbeumont, Belgium: a locality with all sorts of visitors, where people are dwarfed by trees and waters

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
The Semois at Herbeumont
The Semois at Herbeumont | Source
The Semois at Herbeumont
The Semois at Herbeumont | Source
The Semois at Herbeumont
The Semois at Herbeumont | Source
The Semois at Herbeumont
The Semois at Herbeumont | Source
Map location of Herbeumont in the Luxembourg province of Belgium
Map location of Herbeumont in the Luxembourg province of Belgium | Source

Linguistic nuances and Belgian administrative complexities

Herbeumont is a village and a municipality in the province of Luxembourg (1), in Belgium's Walloon region (French: Région wallonne).

The municipality has a small population, barely 1500. Interestingly, the inhabitants of local origin traditionally speak Walloon as well as French. The village's Walloon name — 'Arbûmont' — even begins with a different letter from its usual French form, making it sometimes more complicated to look up alphabetically.

Its population is dwarfed by surrounding woodland, the village and district being in the heart of the Ardennes. When speaking French and since you are not very far from the French border, however, you have to be careful which words you use in relation to all these trees. In English it's fairly simple: you just say the 'Ardennes'. But in French (at least, in Belgium) the word is used in the singular to denote the whole region where these trees are found: 'Ardenne'. But then, again, over the border in France, where the trees continue in abundance, the plural term 'les Ardennes' is used, but, significantly, the plural term in France refers to the French department of that name.

Oh, well. (Just so the trees don't confuse you, I suppose.)

Around Herbeumont are many woodland trails. There are opportunities for camping, horseriding, kayaking on the Semois river. (NB: Again, this river flows into nearby France, so make sure you spell it correctly: in Belgium it is the Semois, while in France it is the Semoy.)

As you might imagine, such are Herbeumont's vacation and recreational potentials that the small local population is also dwarfed by visitors, especially during the summer months.

Most visitors heading for Herbeumont's trees and waters are heartily welcome.

However, a highly publicized visitor in 1998 was not. He was the notorious criminal Marc Dutroux, who at various stages was convicted of multiple murders, child kidnapping, drug trafficking and other offences. Over several years, the Belgian media gave long, drawn out accounts of police and administrative mismanagement and mistakes in relation to the Doutroux case, that his name became a byword for those in Belgium who called for root and branch reform of the country's judicial system, amidst widespread public disillusion with Belgian institutions.

In 1998, while awaiting one of his trials, Dutroux overpowered a guard, stole his gun and headed for Herbeumont. (One can understand the perverse reasoning of such a notorious person, in that, if anywhere in Belgium could possibly hide him, Herbeumont, with its forests and kilometres of wooded trails, might be deemed to be able to do so.)

However, this was to reckon without the resourcefulness of a ranger in Herbeumont. While several police forces across Europe were gearing into vigilance, a ranger in Herbeumont came across Doutroux and detained him until he could be tranferred back to his prison cell. On the one hand, the heroism of the ranger in question was a heartening event locally; on the other hand, a dubious association - however tenuous - with such a notorious criminal, was not. (The resulting — further — voluminous publicity, caused by the notorious Dutroux's consequently notorious escape and heroic recapture at Herbeumont, ended the careers of the Belgian ministers of justice and of the interior.) Dutroux was eventually put away with a long prison sentence, with up to 450 people witnessing to his crimes, some of them heinous. There were also many repercussions: the country's judicial system was shaken to its core, public rage and disillusion reached incandescent levels, and King Albert II of the Belgians, with a Belgian government minister sitting uneasily by, chaired a highly charged and emotional, televised seminar among relatives of the criminal's victims.

At Herbeumont, then: from the sublime peace and quiet of the Ardennes and the waters of the Semois, to the grotesque.

Anyway, when I visited this lovely locality, with the possible exception of Dinant, its sheer scenic qualities impressed me more greatly than anywhere else in Belgium.

May 7, 2013

Note

(1) Luxembourg is the name both of a Belgian province and of the adjacent, independent Grand Duchy.

Also worth seeing

In Herbeumont itself, a ruined Medieval château, a solid, imposing town hall, and a massive viaduct over the Semois river are among noted structures.

Bouillon (distance: 24 kilometres); town on the Semois River overlooked by the Medieval château of Crusader Godefroid de Bouillon.

Sedan, France (distance: 38 kilometres) historic town with a massive château, the scene of significant military and historic events.

...

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available; distance from Brussels Airport to Herbeumont: 159 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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