ST-HUBERT, about 20km southeast of Rochefort, is another popular Ardennes resort, albeit one with an entirely different feel from its neighbours, largely on account of its solitary location, up on a plateau and surrounded by forest. A small town with just six thousand inhabitants, it’s well worth a visit, though after you’ve explored its star turn, the basilica, and maybe hiked out into the surrounding woods, there’s not much to detain you: the town centre is too dishevelled to be particularly endearing and the lack of quality accommodation may make you think twice about staying.
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The Basilique St-Hubert is easily the grandest religious edifice in the Ardennes and has been an important place of pilgrimage since the relics of the eponymous saint were moved here in the ninth century. A well-respected though shadowy figure, St Hubert (c.656–727 AD) was, according to legend, formerly Count Hubert, a Frankish noble whose love of hunting culminated in a vision of Christ between the antlers of a stag, after which he gave his money away and dedicated his life to the church, and was later canonized as the patron saint of hunters and trappers. The first abbey here predated the cult of St Hubert, but after the saint’s relics arrived, the abbey – as well as the village that grew up in its shadow – was named in his honour. In medieval times, the abbey was one of the region’s richest and a major landowner; it was suppressed by the French in the 1790s, but the abbey church – now the basilica – plus several of the old buildings survived, and flank the grand rectangular piazza that leads to the basilica’s main entrance.
From the outside, the basilica’s outstanding feature is the Baroque west facade of 1702, made of limestone and equipped with twin pepper-pot towers, a clock and a carving on the pediment depicting the miracle of St Hubert. Inside, the clear lines of the Gothic nave and aisles have taken an aesthetic hammering from both an extensive Baroque refurbishment and a heavy-handed neo-Gothic makeover in the 1840s. It’s impressive more for its size rather than for any particular features, but do take a look at the choir stalls, typically Baroque and retelling the legend of St Hubert (on the right-hand side) and St Benedict (on the left), as well as the elaborate tomb of St Hubert, on the left at the beginning of the ambulatory, carved in the 1840s (King Léopold I, a keen huntsman, picked up the bill). Above the tomb is the only stained-glass window to have survived from the sixteenth century, a richly coloured, wonderfully executed work of art.