Located just an hour and a half from Brussels, close to the Luxembourg border, Bastogne is the perfect day-trip destination for war history buffs. The small town of Bastogne is perhaps best known as the site where thousands of soldiers died in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge, and topped the to-do list of family friends who recently came to visit us in Belgium. With our sights set on the Bastogne War Museum and the Mardasson Memorial, we made the scenic drive through the Belgian countryside and arrived in this beautiful old town that was almost destroyed in the second World War.
Bastogne War Museum
The Bastogne War Museum is located just outside of the town centre, on top of a hill that overlooks the surrounding countryside. Housed in a modern building, the Museum is devoted to World War II in Belgium, which is presented in a modern and innovative way, featuring interactive displays. Even the completely automated audio guide technology was impressive – as you stand in front of each display, sensors inside the display automatically trigger the corresponding audio. No searching for audio guide numbers and fumbling with buttons!
The Museum is well laid out, presenting chronologically the events from the origins of WW2 to the Allied Victory following the Battle of the Bulge. The museum is divided into seven sections each providing focus on key stages – including the atmosphere of pre-war Europe, the Belgian context, the Occupation and the Resistance, and the Battle of Bastogne and the Ardennes.
Each section is jammed full of images, videos and historical items including guns, uniforms, letters, motorbikes and a few large tanks, which were sourced from the infantry, as well as from soldiers, nurses and pilots. The highlight for me were the ‘flashbacks’ at the end of each section, which provided viewings of life-like multi-sensory three-dimensional scenes that really bring the visitor into the action. We sat in a forest reconstruction surrounded by debris, watched aircraft and parachute troops fall from the sky, and experienced bombardments from a Bastogne café. These interactive elements really elevate this museum visit to another level.
Capping off the experience was a visit to the Mardasson Memorial, located a stone’s throw from the Museum. The Memorial honours the memory of the American soldiers killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of the Bulge, the story of which is engraved in gold lettering along the monument walls. The memorial is shaped as a five-pointed American star which the visitor can climb to the top of via a spiral staircase. The view from the summit is amazing, providing a panoramic view that stretches for kilometres and takes in the defensive positions held when the town was under siege.
The War Museum and Memorial are absolute must-sees. Even if you’re not a history buff, a visit to Bastogne is a truly special experience. A big thank you to Jim and Larraine for sharing the experience with me!
Bastogne War Museum & Mardasson Memorial
Colline du Mardasson 5, 6600 Bastogne