Speaking of extremes, I’ve been to a few “extreme” places in Europe: Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point on mainland Europe, and Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands (debated by Maastricht). For this post: the world’s smallest town – Durbuy, Belgium.
HOLD ON. I think Hum, Croatia would kindly like to disagree. Perhaps ex-Buford in Wyoming, USA would disagree as well. There really isn’t much factual evidence that Durbuy, Belgium is indeed the smallest town in the world, although that is the small Belgian town’s claim to fame. Maybe it USED to be the smallest town in the world, once upon a time, but not anymore? Who knows?
Just how small is the “smallest” town in the world? A car ride into the hidden little place (thanks to Yi-Shiang & co.) would show us what it’s all about!
Durbuy is literally hidden in the forests. I think we were driving for some 20 minutes between rows of trees surrounded by tiny creeks and rivers, as if we were venturing into an unknown existence deep into the innermost parts of the woods. And suddenly, out of nowhere at all, the town emerged from behind the trees. I felt like we found the entrance to Narnia or something. First impression of Durbuy: it reminded me of another small town that I’ve visited, but I can’t remember which one… >_<
I’ve heard about Durbuy from my ex-colleague Deepak at UCL, when he told me about his kayaking trip during the summer. Since then I had wanted to visit this mysterious “smallest town”, yet without a car, the place is certainly not so easy to access (though I suppose there are buses). I was very grateful that Yi-Shiang, Janet, and Luca were willing to accompany me to see Durbuy even though they’ve already gone there several times.
Truthfully, whether Durbuy is the smallest town in the world or not, it is a very pretty little one. As soon as I stepped off the car, the town gave me a very comfortable feeling (even though it was VERY cold that day). A stroll along the few – two or three – streets in the town was surprisingly relaxing and pleasant, even though we managed to navigate around the entire town in about 20 minutes.
A fountain in a corner of Durbuy. Perhaps it’s been hidden from the hustle of the world for too long, but Durbuy is authentic and humble, yet cute and mesmerizing at the same time.
For lunch, I tried deer meat for the first time. I saw the word “biche” on the menu, and not knowing what that meant in French, I asked Janet to look it up. When she told me that “biche” meant “deer”, I thought…why the heck not? I’ve always wondered what deer meat tastes like, and apparently it is quite common in the Ardennes forests regions (close to Durbuy). So I went for it, deer accompanied by endives, mushrooms, and a baked fruit of some sort. If I didn’t know this was deer meat, I would have described it as “beef with a strange taste”. The closest meat in terms of taste and texture is, indeed, beef, but deer is slightly harder and drier. Yeah…I think I’ll stick to beef next time.
Of course you can’t miss out on the regional beer, the Durboyse. I was quite surprised that Durbuy had its own beer, actually. Also, I think the Durboyse has the best beer label I’ve seen so far 😛
Back for more exploration around the town, I saw this interesting building which kind of reminds me of a large fish with very prominent scales…doesn’t it? 😉
I think “embajada” means “embassy” in English, so this must be…the Venezuelan embassy in Durbuy?! Huh, quite amusing.
In case you want to know a little bit about this history of Durbuy, this sign provides a quick overview of the town.
There were some pretty impressive rock formations scattered around Durbuy, mostly around the outer perimeter of the town. Geologists would probably be quite interested in taking a look at these structures to see the historical implications behind the formations, but for me, I will just wow at the power of nature and its magnificent works of grandeur 😉
The Ourthe river flows through Durbuy, and I could imagine it to be a perfect place for kayaking during the summer. I love kayaking and would have certainly appreciated the experience, but being here in the late autumn, that was out of the question. The kayak rentals are closed for the season, not to mention we would probably all freeze in this weather…
It’s funny that Durbuy has a corner called “Rue de la Gare” (gare means train station in French), yet it doesn’t even have a train station 😉
So, Durbuy was a nice, quick day (or half-day) trip from Liège (which I will write about next time). And yes, Durbuy is really small. I don’t know if it really is the smallest town in the world, but if it wants to call itself that, hey, I have no problem with it. It is small but unique, and I liked it genuinely. As the town disappeared behind us while we drove out of the forest, there seemed to be no remaining traces of this hidden place, as if the forest has suddenly devoured it again. Then we were back in the real world, from our Narnia.