TORGNY AND THE GAUME (Belgian Sweet Lorraine)
- Get there: by car
- Distance: Walk is a 7.6 km round trip starting in Torgny
- Bail-out option: one can try hitchhiking back from Lamorteau
- Gastronomy: La Grappe d’Or (Michelin*), L’Empreinte du Temps Hotel: La Grappe d’Or (www.lagrappedor.be), La Romanette (www.romanette.be – also has rooms),
- Lodging:Sens du Sud (www.sensdusud.be), L’Escofiette +32 18.104.22.168
- General info in French: www.torgny.be
- Notes: it helps to speak French
A recent Boots and Bowtie research outing took us to the Gaume region of Belgium, an area of warmer temperatures and more French-looking culture and cuisine. Somewhat lower in altitude that the Ardennes, Torgny, Belgium’s southernmost town, shares the dialect of the bordering French region of Lorraine. Many houses in Torgny and neighbouring Lamorteau are of buttery local limestone with terra cotta roof tiles, and resemble the buildings of Provence, rather than those of the slate-roofed Ardennes. The Rouvray wine cooperative Poirier du Loup even produces a Pinot Noir – Coteaux de Torgny – one of Europe’s most northerly red wine. Torgny also boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, La Grappe d’Or, and its less expensive, yet still fabulous sister, L’Empreinte du Temps.
A three-course arrangement at L’Empreinte is only €24. Mrs Boots and I were invited to take an aperitif outside on the patio and disport ourselves freely with a buffet of local appetisers. A thick Gaumais sausage – herbed and salted rather than smoked, a ham, butterflied sardines, sweet cherry tomatoes, refreshing cucumber in vinaigrette and salt, colossal capers were all à volonté.
We both started with a broccoli bisque with roasted shrimp, a very rich shellfish stock with cream, a little mound of mousse of broccoli in the middle, and some steamed broccoli on top – a few tasty pieces of shrimp floating idly by.
As her main course, Mrs. Boots had trout, a bit bony, but also buttery, with artichoke hearts in a barigoule (a spicy tomato sauce with vinegar).
Mr. Bowtie chose the Nage of pike-perch and salmon. Desserts were:
Bowtie: sabayon of strawberries with a Chantilly infused with lavender
Boots: tartelette de rhubarbe with sorbet d’airelles (cranberries). Even with wine (an organic but sadly not so inspiring Sauvignon de Touraine 2007), very generous aperitif and tip, we spent only €86.
Torgny’s other dining-out option, apart from La Grappe and L’Empreinte, is the café-restaurant cum chambres d’hôtes ‘La Romanette’, where a hearty and unfussy meal can be taken outside on their terrace. Wednesday is barbeque night, on which the regular kitchen is closed. On offer are fish in parchment – in fact aluminium foil, or a selection of meats. Guests, who must reserve for this weekly fête, then help themselves to limitless salads and side dishes: potatoes, couscous and the like.
Since Torgny has no bakery or retail food shops whatsoever, we bought picnic provisions in Virton, the capitol of the Gaume, about 10 kilometres away. Like many largish Belgian towns, Virton has a FODH (a fuck-off Del Haize supermarket), a paradise of food for the likes of us, where we have to keep reminding ourselves to choose what it is we want – as difficult as that is – then get out and get walking. Otherwise we’d be there yet. They must have seen us coming, because FODH has an immense range of half-bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Côtes de Rhone. Perfect for a picnic!
The walk: A slightly shaming fact is that we have often lost our way on ostensibly well-marked trails. This was true on one of our Torgny walks, although in our defence I feel I should point out that markings on the walk in question completely disappeared at a certain point, after which we were reduced to some reasonable sounding but in fact very wild and embarrassingly wrong guessing, ending up nearly in France after doggedly pursuing our notions of where we probably were far longer than fully sane people would do. Our rationalisation is that we are now able to warn our readers not to place any faith whatsoever in the green arrows of ‘La Guévilloise’ walk, a 9.8k circuit through the Bois de Guéville – hence the name – which should, in an ideal world, take one from Torgny to Harnoncourt and Lamorteau and back. If you feel compelled to try this, take your passport. Once we worked out where we’d gone wrong and started back, we ran into a Belgian couple who’d also been searching in vain for the route, and were as lost as we were, in spite of their relying on a GPS gadget rather than a map. The Torgny tourist centre sells a good local map, but is only open afternoons from 2 p.m to 6 (Oct through March from 1-5), and closed Mondays.
We can recommend the rather more modest but consistently well-marked red route, ‘La Torgnolaise’, a loop of 7.6k, which brings one from Torgny to Lamorteau and back via the friendly plateau of the Bois Géline.
Stroll up the Rue de l’Ermitage, pausing to take in the menu, and heavens, the prices! at La Grappe d’Or. Proceeding steeply up and out of Torgny proper, one comes to the chapel of Notre Dame de Luxembourg and Belgium’s first nature reserve, Raymond Mayne. A quick stroll through the reserve, and it will be quick, because it’s also one of Europe’s smallest nature areas, may give you a glimpse of some of the plant and insect species which are usually found much farther south, but which thrive in Gaume’s warmer, drier microclimate. We wish you luck; we missed the advertised cicadas and praying mantises.
Continue along the Rue de l’Ermitage as far as the roadside cross, the Croix des Aisements. Just to the left you will observe a gap in the maize. This is the red route. Turn left here and proceed to the edge of the wood. Our experience is that from there the signage is perfectly adequate to get you to Lamorteau and back, even without a map, and half-drunk.