Like many Belgian abbeys, this one dates back to the early 10th Century when a small group of monks established an abbey in the secluded village of Villers and its ensuing history is also similar to other abbeys. It expanded in size and population, endured wars, internal crises and reign changes. By the 13th Century the estate covered over twenty-five thousand acres and was indeed one of the largest ones around. (The power once held by the abbey is still evident in wandering the grounds; in addition to the typical spaces and buildings one would expect, the abbey had their own prison). The abbey was "modernized" over time with mediaeval buildings getting transformed into a more classical style. During the French Revolution the abbey was closed and the surrounding property sold. During the following years the abbey fell into ruins with a small amount of restoration work finally beginning in 1893. It wasn't until close to a century later in 1984, however, that large scale restoration work began.
|The remains of the guest house turned brewery|
|The great room of the guest house|
|Inside the chapel|
|Giant dill--it was taller than I am|
But by far, my favorite part of the abbey was its two remaining gardens. Gardens played a central role in the functioning of any community and as such were a vital part of abbey life. There was typically a cloister garden, a vegetable garden, a fruit orchard which doubled as the monk's graveyard, and a medicinal plant garden. Today, what is called the square garden and the wild garden remain. The square garden is manicured and filled with neat plants, gurgling fountains, benches for resting and wide pathways making it feel slightly regal and formal. It sits in juxtaposition to a backdrop of decaying ruins giving it a rather medieval and haunted feeling. The adjacent wild garden, however, is just that. The gardens are filed with (purposefully?) overgrown flowers with grasses hiding much of the more narrow paths and benches. And this garden is fragrant with herbs. Scents of lavender, mint and dill fill the air and grape vines, heavy with tart green fruit, hang over the trellises. Although this garden is only separated from the passing road by a brick wall, it feels untouched by modern society as though it is a world away from today. It is a truly tranquil place and I could have sat there forever.
The abbey grounds are the perfect place to spend a few hours walking, picnicking and simply enjoying the day. Paths are well marked, dogs are welcome on much of the grounds and there are plenty of benches and picnic tables for sitting and relaxing. And unlike many ruins we have visited, you can actually explore just about every nook and cranny of the old abbey. And if the winding stone stairs, shady paths and mysterious nooks aren't enough to entertain you, on the day of our visit there were even children's lawn games set up for visitors to partake in. Have you ever wanted to play "throw the ring around the monk"? If so, this is the place for you.
|Looking down into the square garden|
|Looking through the square garden towards the chapel|
If you go:
Abbaye de Villers-la-Ville
Rue de l'Abbaye, 55
1495 Villers-la-Ville BELGIUM
+32 (0)71 88 09 80
Open daily from 10.00-18.00 (April through October) and 10.00-17.00 (November-March)
Closed Tuesdays, Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, New Years Eve & New Years Day
Adults- 6 Euro, children under 6 Free