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200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

The upcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is inevitably catching the world´s attention.

The spectator stands are being erected, a swish new visitor centre has opened and the finishing touches being put to years of painstaking planning.

But, with this month´s bicentenary fast approaching (18 to 21 June), it is also worth remembering that the battlefield site which will be packed with tens of thousands of visitors soon has also undergone something of a re-invention itself in recent months.

One obvious example is the “Mont Saint Jean” site, situated close to the famous Lion´s Mound, right in the middle of the battlefield.

In the best Belgian traditions, it has been transformed to become a real temple for beer lovers.

At the time of Wellington´s famous victory over Napoleon, the site was a field hospital, treating thousands of wounded soldiers.

For years, the quadrangular farm comprised a dwelling, barns, cowsheds, piggery and kiln.

Since 2014, though, it has belonged to the John Martin brewing group, a family owned business founded in Belgium in 1909 by the celebrated British master brewer John Martin. The group, headed up by Anthony Martin, the founder´s grandson, faced the major challenge from saving the badly rundown site falling into total dereliction.

The good news is that it has succeeded, turning what was an ambitious project into a first class centre of attraction for tourists.

With particularly good timing (the bicentenary is on 18 June) the site has now finally opened, boasting (among other things) a micro brewery where the “Waterloo beer” is brewed.

The story of the Waterloo beer and that of the battle are, in fact, closely linked. It was this smooth and full bodied beer that gave the soldiers strength, courage and vigour.

Produced from hard wheat supplied by the soil of the nearby Brabant, this iconic beer and microbrewery are the centrepiece of the site. A gift shop on the site also offers the chance to track down the traditional  and well known Waterloo chalice, a real work of art with each piece requiring 7 days to complete.

There is also, on site, a new brasserie, the Imperial Orangery serving – what else? – cuisine on the theme of beer.

All in all, the new “Mont Saint Jean” is just the place to recharge the batteries after climbing the famous Lion´s mound.

By Martin Banks