Maaseik and Thorn

Two charming border towns on the meandering river Meuse.

By Margaret du Maine

We had very changeable weather for our visit to these towns – both small but with a fascinating history.

The morning in Maaseik was spent in a visit to the “oldest private apothecary in Belgium” (there is an older one in Brugge, but that was connected to the Hospital of St John). This was a most attractive small shop, with rows of jars and bottles on shelves all around. A board on the wall lists all the apothecaries in charge from 1704 until 1959, when the shop finally stopped trading. There were surprisingly few for such a long period – only nine I seem to remember, but am prepared to stand corrected.


The rest of the morning was to be spent with a walk round the town, although this was curtailed due to sporadic hailstorms. We did however gain an impression of a relatively wealthy community, which was explained by our (excellent) guide as being due to Maaseik’s strategic position and cunning leaders. The town chose not to impose the usual toll on transport along the river Maas, but insisted instead that all passing boats had to spend 3 days in the town, resulting in increased trade for the shopkeepers and innkeepers.

We also heard about the “Bokkenrijders”, who made the region unsafe for a large part of the 18th century. They have been romanticised since, but history indicates that they were fairly indiscriminate in their choice of victims.

Thorn, the “white town” is very beautiful and peaceful. It is most unusual in that it was ruled by the Princess-Abbess of Thorn Abbey, together with her chapter of 20 noble monastic ladies. This lasted for nearly 800 years, which is longer than most male-dominated regimes, without becoming involved in any of the wars of that long period! The abbey buildings and contents were demolished or sold off under Napoleon, but the beautiful abbey church was miraculously unscathed and is very impressive. The gallery where the young ladies/girls could attend mass without being seen (and therefore could probably ignore most of the service!) is a lovely room – more like a drawing room than a church.


Again, our planned town walk was cut short by the weather, but we were treated to a most informative film about the history and people of Thorn through the centuries.

The guides we had (the same ones morning and afternoon) were absolutely splendid. I can only speak of the English-language guide, who had an inexhaustible fund of patience and humour and kept us informed and entertained throughout. I heard that the Dutch-language tour was equally stimulating.

I did not personally take any photographs, but I know several people did, so hope that they will consider providing them for the website.

Many thanks to Emile and Peter for organising this day – it was a great pity that Emile could not be with us, but he can be satisfied that it all went well.

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