Mid June and it’s the eve of the annual re-enactment of Wellington’s famous victory over Napoleon in 1815. I am looking out at the battlefield atop the Lion Mound, some 140 feet up offering up an impressive 360 degree view.
To many, the Lion Mound, built just 5 years after the battle by the Dutch King William 1st to honour his son the Prince of Orange on the spot where he was wounded, is seen as something of a travesty.
He had the temerity to take some of the very earth of the historic battlefield to build it, changing the topography of that part of the field for ever, particularly the famous ridge where Wellington hid his army. Having said that, you do get an extraordinary view considering everything else has remained virtually unchanged for nearly 200 years. The site has much to offer; there’s an impressive visitors centre with plenty of information and a movie on the battle , a glorious antique Panorama building next door whose vast circular canvass of the battle, replete with battle audio, is the Victorian equivalent of IMAX and a few restaurants serving up regional specialties.
The re-enactment is a serious business with nearly a thousand actors taking part. Wellington’s troops are based at Hougoumont’s Farm, scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the battle, whilst Napoleon’s army are ensconced at his original headquarters a mile or so from the battlefield. Both sides live under canvas, cook on open fires, dress in uniform and live as authentic a life as they can. Each actor knows the history of his regiment and his part to play in the battle. In short, this is no stage play, it is by all accounts the real deal.
I get an exclusive audience with Napoleon on the eve of the battle. His tents are set up in the garden of his original headquarters, his generals all looking resplendent in their finery, gathered around him in a protective circle. Even Josephine is here, sitting in her own tent sipping on a china tea cup and nibbling cake.The Emperor regards me with obvious suspicion. Let’s face it, I am an Englishman after all, and one of the enemy in the very midst of his camp! Having said that, he bids me enter and we talk briefly, I take a picture and bid him farewell. I’m almost inclined to wish him luck for tomorrow, but sense this may be a little shallow on my part.
Waterloo is a must see for anyone visiting Brussels for a few days. It is just a few miles away from the city centre in Wallonia, one of the wealthiest areas in Belgium. The town itself contains Wellington’s original headquarters, now a fascinating museum with all kinds of battle artifacts, the centre piece his bedroom table on which he masterminded the entire battle.
Exploring the surrounding countryside is equally rewarding. More than a few upscale restaurants offering exceptional regional cuisine such as La Pépinière for example, offering mainly seafood and the Royal Waterloo Golf Club running almost alongside the battlefield, is a tough test in anyone’s book.
Hôtel Côté Vert. Right in the centre of town and the restaurant is not too bad either.
Restaurant La Pépinière
You can get to Brussels by Eurostar in around 2 hours. Return tickets are from £60