One weekend in August, we spotted not one but two medieval fairs on the schedule in Wallonia. After careful consideration (of how much we hate driving long distances for day trips), we decided to hit the closer one. We took several driving tours through the lovely, quaint town of Rebecq and one final tour around the nearby quarry before finally finding our way into the medieval camp’s allotted parking. As we headed toward the fair entrance, we worried that we’d be seriously underdressed. Ladies in corsets and men in shining armor trudged by, getting into character as they moved farther from their cars and closer to the encampment. If we’d been truly uncomfortable, thankfully there was an area of shopping booths at the entrance to serve all our refreshment and medieval-clothing needs, but as it was hot and all that leather & wool looked heavy we passed. Well, not entirely: we armed our girl with a bow and quiver and our boy with a sword and shield—carefully chosen for minimal actual sparring between them.
As we strolled through the camp, the delicious aromas of stew simmering over open fires wafted past. Costumed reenactors lounged nonchalantly in the shade and napped in their tents. Ancient games involving tossing things at other things were available for us to try. Craftspeople practiced their skills and explained to interested visitors. We received a demonstration of the making of beeswax candles; they were an odorless, smokeless luxury only the rich could afford—poor people were stuck with smoky, stinky animal byproducts. We examined miniatures of war machines such as trebuchets and catapults, then later saw 1/3-size models of the same. We watched blacksmiths pounding red-hot metal into blades, heard a harpist rehearsing, and dealt with beggar children expecting actual change (clever, clever!).
We passed a pig roasting over an open fire, horses in medieval dress, an archery practice range, a campsite where they would dress you in a kilt, and of course many suits of armor and weapons displays. But the highlight of the day as far as the kids were concerned was the sparring. Following the deafening crack and gunpowder-smoke of the primitive gun demonstration, we found ourselves at an arena in the center of the camp. After that finished up, two men engaged in some very convincing and enthralling sword fighting. The kids grabbed front-row seats and actually had to duck a couple of times as the fight covered every inch available and a few that weren’t. (I worried about the repercussions of my kids possibly trying to imitate this skilled display, but I think even they were intimidated.)
We chatted with an American who was manning the trebuchet, and he informed us that they always ask American expats to help with the artillery, because guns! Explosions! USA! It was an amusing tidbit to walk away with. He also told us that most of the fairs he knows of are in Wallonia, not Flanders or the Netherlands. Perhaps Francophones enjoy more fanciful pastimes than Dutch-speakers. It was a good day to reinforce all stereotypes.
Medieval fairs happen often in the warmer months, and a quick search for “fête médiévale Belgique” will give you many options. Load up your little warriors and go forth in a quest for adventure!
Website: http://www.deferetdefeu.be/ (For our kids, we were able to easily avoid that terrifying Inquisition display in shown in the trailer.) The dates for this camp for 2016 have not been published yet.
Tickets: Single passes were 7 euro per adult and 4 per child under 12. Day passes were 10 per adult and 6 per child.
Location: Drive to Rebecq and follow the “De Fer et de Feu” signs, if you dare. Or go to the “Plan” page from the above website. Using that satellite photo was the only way we found it.