Bastogne Cruise Port
Port of Bastogne: An Overview
Bastogne, a small town of 15,000 near the Luxembourg border, is a popular daytrip excursion for river cruise ships docking in nearby Namur. Built on one of the rolling hills at the edge of the Ardennes forests, this village has international name recognition because it was the site of the Siege of Bastogne, a part of the larger Battle of the Bulge that paved the way to Allied victory in Europe. This history is the focus of most of the town's most popular sights, including the Bastogne War Museum, the Mardasson Memorial and the 101st Airborne Museum Le Mess.
Visitors might want to review their WWII history, specifically surrounding the Battle of the Bulge, before visiting to best appreciate the town. Some of the environmental factors that made that six-week battle so difficult and deadly are part of the area's natural beauty, like the fog that drifts through the woods and over the river.
Place McAuliffe: The town's center square is named for U.S. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, and his bust sits in one corner. In another stands a Sherman tank that saw combat during World War II. The main tourist office is also located here.
McAuliffe was the acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division. His troops were defending Bastogne in December 1944 when a German military convoy brought him a note from a German Commander, advising surrender.
McAuliffe read the telegram, crumbled it and tossed it into a trash can, muttering "Aw, nuts." The officers who supported McAuliffe picked up on his response so the official typed reply read: "To the German Commander: NUTS! The American Commander." The response confused the Germans, who asked the soldier who delivered the message to translate. He said, "In plain English? Go to Hell."
McAuliffe and his troops held off the German assault until the Third U.S. Army under the command of General George S. Patton arrived and pushed the Allies to victory.
The shops that circle Place McAuliffe sell postcards referring to Bastogne as "Nuts City" and a multiple "Nuts!" liqueurs. The cafes here -- including one named Le Nut's -- offer a Nuts cake, which is similar to a hazelnut tart. (More on Le Nut's later.) Visitors might want to finish their tour at Place McAuliffe for food, drink and reflection.
Bastogne War Museum: This comprehensive and interactive museum details the events leading up to the Battle of the Bulge, the conflict itself, and the aftermath. Unveiled in 2014, the museum is laid out in chronological order and guests walk through wearing headsets. Two screening rooms have 15-minute movies. The museum also moves through more recent history, including the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. (Colline du Mardasson 5, 6600, Bastogne; 32 61 21 02 20)
Mardasson Memorial: This outdoor monument honors the 78,690 American soldiers injured, missing or killed during the Battle of the Bulge and celebrates the long friendship between America and Belgium. The towering structure was built in the shape of a five-pointed star like the one on the American flag. Badges from the main battalions that fought here adorn the outer walls. A spiral staircase allows access to the walkway at the summit, which offers visitors a panoramic view of the area that was once under siege. The wooded area called the Bois Jacques, made familiar in the 2001 TV miniseries "Band of Brothers," is also visible. A walk through this area reveals remnants of the foxholes the American soldiers dug to help survive the barrage of German artillery.
Woods of Peace (Bois de la Paix): To mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in 1994, locals planted 4,000 trees -- birches, oaks and beech trees -- to honor the soldiers and civilians present during that awful siege. Each of the trees has a small marker bearing the name of an American soldier.
101 Airborne Museum Le Mess: It is called "Le Mess" because this building, built in 1936, once served as a mess hall for the Belgium Army. Unassuming on the outside, the inside dioramas are often praised for their realism. Many of the items here come from personal collections. In the basement, visitors can experience what it felt like to be hunkered down in a bomb shelter during an attack. (Some guests find this too realistic, and it might not be suitable for the faint-hearted.) (Avenue de la Gare, 11, Bastogne; 32 61 50 12 00)
Bastogne Ardennes 44 Museum: The focus here is on the vehicles, artillery and other equipment worn and used during World War II. Like the 101 Airborne Museum Le Mess, this museum uses dioramas to tell its stories. (Bastogne Ardennes 44 Museum, Bras 635, Bastogne; 32 61 217 895)
Au Pays d'Ardenne Original Museum: While one section is dedicated to military and civil life during the Battle of the Bulge, this museum also explores other aspects of the area's history, including ancient tools and regional zoology. (Au Pays d'Ardenne Original Museum, Rue de Neufchateau 20, Bastogne; 32 61 21 49 11)
Memorial to General Patton: This landmark to the man considered by many to be the liberator of Bastogne is near the city center in Merceny Square. The simple monument is a slab with an engraving of Patton.
Pionrue Museum: Housed in a former abbey, this unique museum looks at the ethnographic heritage, legends and religious art of the Ardennes. One section, for example, tackles characters of folklore like werewolves and hobgoblins. (Place en Piconrue, 2, Bastogne)
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro is the coin of choice. It's probably best to change money in larger Namur, but if you find yourself in need in Bastogne, try the BKCP Bastogne, Rue de Sablon 79 or the Hotel Melba, a part of the Best Western chain, Avenue Mathieu 49.
French is the language most commonly spoken here. But English speakers need not worry as many locals feel comfortable in both tongues. Because of the United States' role in the Battle of the Bulge, there is a lot of pro-American sentiment here and even locals not fluent in English seemed to enjoy trying out their language skills.