Explore its Medieval Mysteries
In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Brussels is the quiet and serene ruins of Villers-la-Ville, a Cistercian abbey located 30 kilometers south of Brussels.
We never tire of wandering through this thousand-year-old medieval monastic site, exploring ancient nooks and crannies, discovering secret hiding places, and imagining life in the middle ages full of hardships against a backdrop of some of the most beautiful structures ever built in Belgium.
What is the Villers-la-Ville Abbey?
The abbey's origins date back to 1146 A.D. when the first monastic order settled in the wooded hamlet with just one abbot and 12 monks. This small tribe of a faithful few were joined by others until the order grew to include some 100 monks and 300 laymen overseeing thousands of acres. Managing the land well gave the order the funds to construct an extensive monastic complex, most of which was built in the 13th century.
The order thrived for several hundred years - even building more structures some 400 years after the first were built. However, French revolutionaries pillaged the monastery in 1794 A.D. and over the subseqent years, the Abbey lost its appeal as a monastic sanctuary.
Today, the Abbey resembles something akin to a scene out of a 'King Arthur' movie...tall stone buildings stand abandoned to their former glory with modern-day pilgrims walking through the grounds in Oxfords and tennis shoes. No other place in Belgium allows us to feel as though we've stepped back in time to a place where allegiances were made and broken with a sword, life was cheap and short, and commitment to church and God were enduringly simple.
What is there to do at the Abbey?
Depending on what time of the year you visit, you can enjoy taking walks on the grounds by yourself or in small groups, to taking a theme-based guided visit. You can also participate in activity days, attend open-air concerts and theatre, and enjoy exhibitions.
Our favorite activity is to put on pair of walking shoes and simply wander around the 36-hectare grounds (89 acres), exploring the structures, taking hundreds of photographs (the place makes wonderful backgrounds for photographs), peeking into underground holes (said to be prisons and cellars), and examining architectural mysteries such as the stone statue of a dead man lying in front of a circular wheel spoke.
Catch the place on a sunny day in mid-morning or mid-afternoon and all kinds of evocative shadows fall to the ground from the ruined stone structures. One day I was spending an afternoon alone at the Abbey and walked to the back of a buiding on the back of a property only to find a secret garden stop the building!
Another favorite thing about the Abbey: it's one of Belgium's best-kept secrets and because it's 30 kilometers from the Grand Place, quite often it's empty and hauntingly quiet.
1. E411 highway (exit 9), N25 direction Nivelles (Villers-la-Ville exit)
2. E19 highway (exit 19), Nivelles ring road R24 direction Wavre, N25 (Villers-la-Ville exit)
3. E42 highway (exit 16b), N5 direction Waterloo, after Baisy-Thy, direction Villers-la-Ville.
Free parking for cars and tour buses,
Site accessible to buses with a max. height of 3.50 m. Buses higher than 3.50m have access via the village of Marbais.
If you are coming by train, it can be very complicated. In fact, our son and a friend went by train once, got lost and made it to the Abbey by hitchhiking...a four-hour venture that should have taken one hour! The Villers-la-Ville website offers these train instructions:
Line no. 140 Ottignies-Charleroi.
Station: Villers-la-Ville (2 km from the Abbey)
Best we can tell you is to go to Brussels Central or Brussels Midi and ask how to take the train to Villers-la-Ville. We can tell you that once the train lets you off, it's about a 15-20 minutes walk to the ruins, direction north from the center of the Villes-la-Ville town.
Days and hours open
1 April-31 October, from 10:00 till 18:00, every day.
1 November-31 March, from 10:00 till 17:00, except Tuesdays.
Closed: December 24, December 25, December 31 and January 1
Students, senior citizens, group* adults: 4€
Group* senior citizens: 3€
Group* children : 1,50€
Children (aged 6 to 12):2€
Children (<6 years), disabled persons, teachers, friends of the Abbey: Free
Return from Villers-la-Ville
to Brussels-Belgium-Travel-Guide.com Homepage