The elderly receptionist questioned the newly arrived young couple, "You have booked two nights at the Vieux Durbuy. Did you know that Durbuy consists of only a few streets, a promenade, and a town square? How in the world will you spend your time?"
The newcomers soon discover that Madame seems to have no clue about the interesting things in her town. The Belgian town of Durbuy in the province of Luxembourg, with 500 inhabitants, was the smallest “town” in the world for many years (before it was amalgamated with surrounding communities). True, one could quickly walk through if it were not for the cobblestone pavement that compels the visitor to stroll the streets at a more leisurely pace. Or, you can hire a horse-drawn carriage, a fitting mode of transportation for this medieval cityscape.
Most noticeable are the many restaurants, one abutting another, making Durbuy into a gastronomic Mecca. Those who have been there agree: a four-course meal of excellent quality sets one back €30 (Euros) or less. Meals usually include pommes frit (French fries) as the Belgians are famous for preparing the tastiest French fries. "Fries" kiosks are all over the country, not just in Durbuy. The town also has a hamburger shop, a pizza parlor, and reasonably priced wine. A town specialty is the Marckloff-beer from the Ferme au Chene microbrewery, with a hearty malt taste. You can sample it on a terrace overlooking the river. Twenty-five hotels book one million overnight stays per year in this tiny town.
Abundant numbers of kayakers can be seen from the riverbank of the fast-moving Ourthe River. During nice weather, the wooded Ardennes landscape beckons for a kayak tour. The slower moving segments of the river might entice less adventurous folks to rent a canoe, raft, or float tube.
Riding on the small tourist train is a must. It brings visitors to the Belvedere Tower, where you get a once-in-a-lifetime view of the medieval surroundings and the town, which was officially founded in 1331. The privately owned Ursel Castle, off limits to visitors, is an imposing feature. Although the castle itself is not open to the public, the concierge residence abutting the castle, housing the Le Fou du Roi restaurant is.
The renowned sculpture park across the river is reached via a bridge. People who are familiar with plant sculptures from royal gardens and renaissance parks, made by shaping and trimming plants, shrubs, and trees, will see this art brought to an apex by Monsieur Albert Navez. His more than 250 creations include animals, such as peacocks, squirrels, cats, crocodiles, swans, turtles, and stags (including their antlers), as well as a coffee pot and cup, a cornucopia, a flower basket, and even the pope's miter. Most of the original creations were made approximately 40 years ago. The seated elephant, at three meters high, and towering over the other sculptures, is 80 years old. The garden features an infamous "Manneke Pis" similar to the one in Brussels. Other plant creations include kayaks and their paddlers, a man waving from a wooden chair, a couple on a sofa, someone in a bathtub, and a buxom beauty who could easily be mistaken for Pamela Andersen. Looking at the mother duck and her ducklings and the teddy bear family make people smile.
After completing the tour, visitors might be in the mood to buy a teddy bear called "Mr. Buddy Green." Metal wire was used to create the basic shape. The boxwood under the wire armature must still be growing and lovingly shaped into the desired form by the gardener's hands. Any foliage growing through the wire and out of bounds was trimmed until it is thick enough to allow the "teddy" to stand on its own after the wire is removed.
Another green haven is the Mais Le Labyrinthe (cornmaze) at Barveaux, close to Durbuy, which is open daily from July 5 through August 31, and only on weekends in September. Every year it has a new theme. The 2008 maze has visitors fighting through a pirate’s ship. Wooden observation towers afford one a good view of the corn maze arrangement and where to find the exit.
One last item of interest in Durbuy's Royal Baudouin Park is a bronze fountain sculpture of a 1.75 meter tall man, holding ten water-spewing fish in his arms. The fountain's creator is one of the most important contemporary Belgian sculptors, Jean-Michel Folon. His creation furthers the appetite to see more works on display including: tapestries, ceramics, and more sculptures. Additional art works are on display until September 28, 2008.