The Gaume is the most southerly part of Belgium and is famous for its sunshine and the three ridges that cross it from east to west, known as the “cuestas”. In the summer, it can feel like Provence, even more so in Torgny, one of the most beautiful villages of Wallonia, with its two vineyards, its cicadas and its houses built of yellow stone with roofs covered in sunset-orange tiles. This climate gives the local people their sunny disposition and their pronounced taste for good food and drink and having a good time. A short visit to Virton, Gérouville, Chantemelle or Chassepierre will convince any who doubt this. Further east is Arlon, a town with a Roman past, now the administrative centre for the surrounding, German-speaking district of the “Areler Land”, which is full of pretty hamlets such as Nobressart, Attert, Thiaumont and Guirsch. And this South is not short of excellent local specialities: Orval Trappist beer, Gaume pork pies, Plate de Florenville potatoes, Maitrank (an apéritif flavoured with woodruff) and Touffaye (a dish of potatoes cooked with ham and smoked sausages) to name but a few. And there are so many other things to see, do and taste…
A southern accent
It is quite disorientating, this corner of Belgium with an air of the South. The climate is milder here than anywhere else in Wallonia, which is to be expected because it is a stone’s throw from the French border. There are cicadas and even praying mantises here, as well as species of plants which are normally only found much further south. There are also grape vines, which produce wines that are improving over the years.
Geographically, the area is called Belgian Lorraine, but linguistically it is divided in two.
Charming villages and nature reserves
To the East is the “Areler Land”, the district around Arlon, where German is spoken in pretty villages with their simple traditional buildings that are movingly unpretentious. To the North is the Anlier Forest nature reserve where visitors can explore an unexpected world of wild plants and animals. The Attert Valley Nature Reserve is the smallest of the Walloon nature reserves, but doubtless one of the richest in terms of natural heritage.
To the West is the Gaume, a French-speaking district whose inhabitants are inclined to a sunny disposition and a pronounced taste for good food and drink and having a good time. D’Jean d’Mâdy, a legendary Gaume character brings together all these local character traits. You can find out more about him at the Gaume Museum at Virton, a repository of local folklore and popular beliefs and traditions, as well as art and archaeology.
Like the other districts of Wallonia, Belgian Lorraine created its own traditional habitat. The stone extracted from local quarries is a type of sandstone called Grandcourt stone or Fontenoille stone. Belgian Lorraine, is also typified by its villages built along roads, such as Gérouville, Chantemelle, Torgny or Chassepierre, famous for its Street Arts Festival, Chiny with its Story-telling Festival and Rossignol with its Music Festival, specialised in jazz and songs.
Local traditional food and drink
Gaume is also famous for its pork pies, its Plate de Florenville potatoes, its salamis, Touffaye (a dish of potatoes cooked with ham and smoked sausages), its beef from meadow-grazed cattle, its cheesemakers, who compete to be the most imaginative, and its brewers, whose skill is beyond dispute, led by the Trappist monks at Orval Abbey whose beer has fans around the world. Gaume also has many restauranteurs who know the secrets of how to prepare the best of their local produce and also many food producers, who gather at the farmers’ markets at Han, Chassepierre, Florenville, etc.
To paraphrase the old advertisement, you don’t return to Gaume by chance…