The Villers region of Belgium lies nestled in Walloon Brabant and is host to several quaint little villages snuggled alongside pristine farm lands, wide open fields, nature reserves and barren hidden forest trails. The highlight of this region is undoubtedly the cultural crown jewel of the Cistercian Abbaye de Villers ruins.
In 1146 Saint Bernard of Clairvaux sent 12 Monks, 5 lay-Brothers, and 1 Abbot from Clairvaux to Villers with the instruction to build an Abbey. The earliest buildings no longer exist, since the site was re-located a few times and then completely rebuilt during the 13th Century. At its peak, there were roughly 100 Monks and 300 lay-Brothers, many of which are now honored as Saints in the Catholic Church.
With the Middle Age came a mid-life crisis of sorts and the Abbey experienced a wave of volatility and havoc throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries.
In 1796 the Abbey – with all of its history – was left abandoned to the French Revolution. One hundred years later, the Belgian Government purchased the ruins in an attempt to preserve and restore them.
Today, the ruins and their adjacent medicinal herb garden (which is home to over 70 medicinal plants and their uses) can be visited and enjoyed. To say that they are “ruins” somewhat undermines what is actually left of the superb display of Cistercian architecture and its notable hydraulic network.
A variety of events, scavenger hunts, exhibitions, guided walks, and concerts take place on the grounds throughout the year. Most impressive is the annual Nuit Des Choeurs – an impressive and unique choral event (ending with fireworks).
Guided tours must be booked in advance but are a great way to learn about the rich history and distinctive features of the Abbey.
Pack a picnic lunch, step back in time, and enjoy the nooks and crannies of this extensive property. Adult admission is 6 euro
After your visit to the Abbey, take some time to explore the rest of the region:
By Foot: great for long or short walks with over 150km of various trails, most of which are marked.
By Bike: the paths are mostly flat, well sign posted and maps are available at the tourist office or at the Abbey itself
By Car: Road-trip surprises! For such a small region, there is a host of historic mills, castles, and road-side curiosities such as the Cross of St. Gery in Chastre (whose origin and meaning has been much debated and largely kept secretive) or the turning stone in Court-Saint-Étienne (legend has it, that the stone turns at midnight to the sound of church bells ringing nearby)
Rue de l’Abbaye, 55
B-1495 Villers-la-Ville – Belgium
Tel.: +32 (0)71 88 09 80
By train: Line no. 140 Ottignies-Charleroi. Station: Villers-la-Ville. The trail (about 2km or 20 minutes walk) is well sign posted.
01/04 – 31/10 : 10 am – 6 pm
01/11 – 31/03 : 10 am – 5 pm (closed on Tuesdays)
(closed on Christmas and New Years Day)