Bastogne, Centre of remembrance tourism

 

Bastogne is famous worldwide as having been the epicentre of the Battle of the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge) in 1944-45. The battle is commemorated at the iconic Mardasson War Memorial and in several museums, including the Bastogne War Museum. The Trier Gate and St Peter’s church, with its Romanesque defensive tower, are remains of the mediaeval era. The Piconrue museum invites visitors to explore the culture of the Ardennes through its rich and astonishing material and religious heritage. The town is also famous for its shops, including many pork butchers’ and cake shops, open on Sundays. Bastogne is the start point of the RAVeL long-distance footpath that ends in Wiltz in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, via Houffalize and Gouvy. It is a town that is not only at the junction of main roads, but also at the crossroads of history, between tourism and remembrance…

Town of remembrance
Bastogne’s international fame rests on the Battle of the Ardennes, a tragic episode towards the end of the Second World War. Bastogne was encircled and besieged by the Germans between 20 and 26 December 1944. In the middle of a freezing winter, US 101st Airborne Division paratroopers led by General McAuliffe resisted heavy German assaults. On 26 December, Patton’s armoured vehicles arrived from three directions to relieve them. The suffering of the civilian population which came under fire during the fighting seemed to last for an eternity. Today, a circuit with explanatory panels has been set up around the key locations in the battle. Many museums and memorials evoke the stages of the fighting with varied, yet complementary displays, including Bastogne Barracks, Bastogne War Museum, the 101st Airborne museum and the 1st Field Artillery Regiment museum. A circuit links the museums, the Liberty milestones and 8 war memorials, including the impressive Mardasson memorial.

 

Bastogne, commercial centre
Bastogne has been a trading and commercial centre for centuries. Many Neolithic and Gallo-Roman remains bear witness to this. In the 9th century, coins were minted at Bastogne, where a weekly market was already being held. Then a covered market was built and grain and animal fairs were held… In 1729, the main road from Namur to Luxembourg City ran through Bastogne. When present-day Belgium was part of the Netherlands, in 1823, William of Orange ordered a new main road to be built, the N4. In 1869, commerce in the town was further boosted by the opening of a railway from Bastogne to Libramont. In the nineteenth century, the area known as “le quarré” became the main area of commercial activity for the townspeople.

Town of tradition
Ardennes smoked ham has been famous for centuries and today it has its own protected designation of origin which is defended by the Brotherhood of Ardennes Herders. The ham is produced using meat from pigs that have been bred to thrive in the wet, cold climate of the Ardennes. The special smoking process is done using beech or oak wood fires, onto which juniper branches are thrown, to give the finished ham its unique flavour.

Museums for all ages
In an additional space, called the “Legends House”, visitors can walk through a strange forest, inhabited by legendary creatures such as werewolves, imps, fairies, the wild hunter, Maugis and the four sons of Duke Aymon, and the devil in all his manifestations. The museum also stages temporary exhibitions to extend visitors’ journey through the myths and legends that make up the soul of the Ardennes. The Piconrue museum also offers cultural outreach and educational activities. As they are guided through new discoveries, visitors of all ages are invited to view the Ardennes and the world in a different light.

 

A world-famous cycle race
Bastogne is also known around the world for the world’s oldest cycle race, the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, nicknamed “The Old Lady”, which was first held in 1892.
The Ardennes Motor-Racing Circuit was the forerunner of the Spa-Francorchamps Formula One motor-racing track. Starting and finishing in Bastogne, races were held over five laps of a circuit of around 100km, via Longlier, Neufchâteau, Offaing, Léglise, Anlier, Habay-la-Neuve and Martelange. Bastogne revives this link with its past every 3 years, when a race is held in July.