The countryside around these two little villages in the Ardennes (closest town is Manhay) makes for a lovely weekend trip. And the small, cosy hotel Les Sources is an ideal base, or somewhere to enjoy a mid-walk snack or evening meal. But more of that later. First, the walks. The two walks in this area are numbered 26 and 27 on the excellent Erezee-Manhay walking map, available from local tourist offices and shops for 7 EUR.
What I like about the little village of Erezée is that it’s not one of the main tourism honeypots of the Ardennes, so walking in the beautiful hills in the region really gives you an opportunity “to get away from it all”. For example, Liz and I walked the 8.5 km “Estinale” route recently. Despite it being a warm, dry Saturday in the middle of August, we didn’t encounter a single fellow hiker during the whole route!
Before you consider going on a winter walk in the Ardennes, I feel obliged to give you three small pieces of advice. First, there is a high chance that you will become addicted, because the Ardennes is a wonderful region for walking. It’s easily accessible by car, train or bus; there are hundreds of well-marked walking routes of various lengths; the scenery is breathtaking; the nature is fascinating; and yet you are never too far from a café, hotel or village shop. In other words, once you have walked in the Ardennes, your free weekends may never be the same again.
Deep into the Ardennes, between Martelange and Habay-la-Neuve in the province of Luxemburg, is the huge 7000-hectare Anlier Forest, one of the biggest forests in Belgium. Its northern slopes reach an altitude of 517 metres and are drained by the tributary streams of the River Sûre, which flows into Germany as the Sauer and eventually into the Moselle. The forest is so vast that parts of it are virtually unexplored. Living in its deeper recesses are deer, wild boar, badgers, foxes and wildcats. Visit the area in the summer and look for rare breeding birds such as great grey shrikes, red-backed shrikes, and the specialty of the region: black storks. I have enjoyed many hours walking along the banks of the rivers Sûre and Géronne hoping to catch a glimpse of an otter, which is making a comeback in this region. Unfortunately so far I have been unsuccessful. Beavers have also been re-introduced into these river systems. Continue reading
I am particularly fond of this area as it was my first encounter with the Ardennes. It offers a splendid mixture of landscapes: impenetrable, silent, coniferous forests; deserted moorland stretching to the horizon; and picturesque babbling brooks. It can be reached by taking the N67 south-east from Eupen. Actually I recommend a stop-off in Eupen, an interesting and bustling little town. In the tourist office (Markplatz 7) you can pick up a map of the area. Continue reading
A day in the Molignée Valley, south of Namur, could incorporate a country walk, a visit to the historic ruins of Montaigle Castle, a tour of the Abbey of Maredsous, a visit to a snail farm, and a trip on a rail-bike.
To reach the Molignée Valley, take the E411 until junction 19, and then the N937 through Purnode to Yvoir. Here you can stop at the tourist office and pick up the relevant maps and information.
There are numerous walks through the Molignée Valley. One of my favourites starts from the car park just past the Relais de Montaigle (ideal for an early snack) by the 7 km sign on the N971. The car park is marked Montaigle Castle. It takes you through forests, meadows, along the River Flavion and to the impressive ruins of Montaigle Castle, which you can visit for a small fee (4 EUR). Continue reading
Choosing where to walk in the Ardennes is not easy; there are so many wonderful areas to explore. But if you have never been to the Ardennes before, I would recommend La Roche-en-Ardenne. It’s an excellent place to start getting acquainted with this marvellous area of Belgium.
One advantage of this location is that if you set off from Brussels in gorgeous weather and arrive in La Roche to find it pelting down with rain (which in the Ardennes is quite possible), then you can simply change your plan and visit one or more of the town’s museums: the Milling Museum, the Second World War Museum, the Pottery Museum, or even the Ardennes Ham Museum. The town also has a castle with a ghost, which conveniently appears every evening through the summer (although apparently not if it’s raining). Continue reading
Le Tournaisis is a region located between Brussels and Tournai, incorporating the towns of Ath, Lessines and Enghien. Access is easy via the E429 motorway or the Brussels-Tournai rail connection.
The whole area is a delight, with two natural parks, quaint villages, rural museums, chateaux, and a comprehensive network of country walks. The region also has an excellent website for hikers, cyclists and riders, where you will be able to find a leisure activity to match your specific interests. Continue reading
The sleepy village of Erezée is an ideal starting point for a day’s walking in the Ardennes. It also has a large number of rural cottages of various sizes available for weekend use, so is also perfect for a longer stay.
You will be lost without a decent map of the area. One is available from the tourist offices in Erezée or Hotton. It costs 7 EUR and displays no fewer than 28 excellently signposted walks between four and 13 kilometres in length.
My wife and I chose the 8.5-kilometre “Estinale” walk, which starts in the centre of the village and heads north to Fanzel. Here, invigorated by a cup of coffee in the village café, we extended our route by following the 6.5-kilometre “Al Pire” walk which climbs to the Col du Rideux. Here we sat on a bench, got our breath back and enjoyed marvellous views over the valley of the River Aisne. The complete circular walk kept us occupied for the whole day and took us through a variety of landscapes from open hills, river valleys, thick coniferous forests and rolling farmland. It was a great escape from the daily routine.
It’s hard to believe that in the 15th and 16th centuries, Erezée was the centre of a thriving metal-working industry. As many as 35 working forges were established along the River Aisne to supply Liège with iron. Lumberjacks, miners, smiths and foundry workers found employment here, and the forge owners were often sued for destroying the forest.
For the nature-lover there is plenty to observe: grey wagtails and dippers along the river valleys; roe deer and black woodpeckers in the woods; red deer and buzzards in the hills.
Other than walking, the region offers much to see and visit. The chocolate-maker Defroidmont in Briscol gives guided tours around his premises every afternoon except Sunday and Monday. Another possibility is the Fantome brewery in Soy. For a rainy afternoon, Hotton’s caves are ideal. And if you are in the area for a longer time, I would recommend a day in Durbuy, the smallest town in the world (population 400).
Erezée is 90 minutes drive from Brussels via the E411, N4 and N807. By train, take the Brussels-Arlon-Luxemburg train, get off at Marloie and take the local train to Hotton and then bus no.11 to Erezee.
Especially for the kids – In the oak woods around Erezée, collect some acorns. At home, put them in a bucket of water and discard the ones that float. Plant the rest in normal potting compost in yogurt pots, making sure there are drainage holes in the bottom. Leave them outside and don’t let them dry out. Next spring you should see tiny oak seedlings. Keep them watered and the following year you should be able to plant them in your garden or give to friends. Oak trees are excellent for wildlife, so planting acorns is a great way to help the environment.
(First published in The Bulletin, December 2007)
The picturesque village of Nassogne in the Ardennes is located 15 kilometres directly south of the larger and better known town of Marche-en-Famenne. The tourist office in Marche will sell you the Nassogne walking map for 7 EUR, which displays over a dozen walks between four and 14 kilometres. I chose the 12 kilometre Promenade des Combes.
After a false start, which involved me setting off in completely the wrong direction (yes, even seasoned walkers can make silly mistakes), I came across what must surely be the best decorated water tower in Belgium, having been painted with various delightful water scenes. It was alongside an old fashioned village pond too, complete with ducks. Surprisingly, there was only one duckling on it. Or maybe not surprisingly; a fat cat was sunning itself on the bank.
The walk takes you through deciduous and coniferous forests, with plenty to spot along the way. Wood ant hills (actually small mountains) teem with busyness and life. Jays silently sweep over the path and then ruin their secrecy with loud screeches. Roe deer leap over obstacles like ballerinas. Wrens become distressed as I approach too close to their nest; their alarm calls sounding like marbles clinking together. In a clearing I come across a handful of nest boxes on trees – but without entrance holes! Instead, each has a thin slit underneath; just big enough for bats.
Then, on muddy ground, I make an interesting discovery; scores of unusual footprints. They are a bit like deer tracks, but at the base of each hoof are extra indentations. They have been made by wild boar; the extra indentations being their dew claws. I follow the tracks into the forest, and come across signs of their activity; rooting. This is when the wild boar thrust their snouts into the ground to search for bulbs and grubs. If you’re thinking this is destructive, it’s not. Rooted ground leads to fresh colonisations of wild flowers, and bluebells have been found to grow more abundantly in ground that has been turned over by wild boar. Local gardeners and golf greenkeepers might not feel so positively, of course!
Exactly halfway round, it’s time to eat my lunch – there are plenty of picnic benches on the route – and as I gaze down a forest ride, a fox appears from the forest and sits in the middle of the track, staring at me. I have a wonderful view of its bright russet coat and white-tipped tail. It sniffs the air, and disappears. I guess cheese and peanut butter sandwiches are not quite to its taste.
Especially for the kids – Should you be lucky enough to see deer on this walk, they will probably be far in the distance. If you are interested in getting up close to deer, you will enjoy a trip to the Inzofalle red deer farm in Nassogne. Here you will be able to feed stags, hinds and fawns, and see other animals such as tiny Dahomey cattle and the strikingly horned Heidschnucke sheep from Germany, as well as peacocks and turkeys.
(First published in The Bulletin, March 2007)
The Condroz is the plateau in the lower Ardennes that is located between the valleys of the Meuse and the Ourthe. Describing it merely as a plateau fails to do it justice however. It’s a succession of beautiful, verdant valleys and wooded hills. What’s more, its villages are remarkable for the opulence of their houses, farms, castles and churches. It’s also a wonderful place to go hiking.
You can start from Ciney, the capital of the Condroz, or the neighbouring towns of Hamois, Havelange or Somme-Leuze. Each has well-stocked tourist offices with plenty of walking guidebooks and maps. I was particularly impressed by the full-colour booklet entitled Balades et vous, which briefly describes 12 walks in the central Condroz region known as the Vallées des Saveurs – the Valley of Tastes – so called due to its rich variety of delicious regional products.
Although the book stretches to 36 pages, you don’t have to take the complete publication with you. Each walk is on a single-page map which can be easily removed. The maps are so good and the routes so well signposted that once you have decided on which one to follow, it’s just a case of finding the start and off you go.
I chose the 8.3 km Le berceau du Bocq, which starts from the village of Scy and follows a circular path to Mohiville and back. It’s a lovely walk, and even has an excellently located picnic table exactly halfway along the route, next to the Maya fountain in Mohiville. The route also takes you alongside the imposing Chateau de Ry, which dates back to 1598 and harks back to the former agricultural riches of the region. These days it hosts weddings and receptions.
The 12 walks in Balades et vous will certainly keep you busy in the central part of the Condroz for quite a while, but don’t forget that the northern Condroz is equally interesting. Spending some time in and around Modave, for example, is definitely worth it. You could explore the village itself or stroll along the picturesque River Hoyoux, which flows into the Meuse in Hoy. You could take a tour of the 17th century Modave castle, which is perched on a rock 60 metres above the river. You could even make a weekend of it and explore the surrounding region, as there are many fascinating places to visit nearby, including an abbey, an early water filtration tower and two Roman ruins.
An excellent little walk of 7.5 km starts from Modave Castle. After skirting the grounds of the castle, the route takes you into the wide valley of the River Hoyoux, through the darkest of coniferous forests, up onto open farmland, and through the tiny hamlet of Survillers.
As a nature-lover I was greatly impressed by the flora and fauna of the Hoyoux river valley. Reed warblers and whitethroats were singing their hearts out; swallows and swifts were swooping over the meadows; and red kites and buzzards were soaring on the thermals. On the ground, lime-loving plants were abundant: crosswort, white campion, salad burnet, tower mustard, the strangely named Nottingham catchfly and the poisonous swallow-wort.
Further along the route, literally in the middle of nowhere, is a reminder of tragedy: a simple stone memorial bearing the names of five members of the RAF’s 77 Squadron, who were shot down here in the Second World War.
Back at your starting point at Modave Castle you can eat in the cellar restaurant, which should rejuvenate you for a tour of the castle itself and its 20 richly furnished rooms. You can also see a model of a hydraulic water wheel invented by a local carpenter in 1667. If you still have energy, you can stroll around the gardens, or walk into the village where you can enjoy an evening drink outside the Hôtel des Touristes.
(First published in The Bulletin, July 2006)