Before you consider going on a winter walk in the Ardennes, I feel obliged to give you three warnings. First, there is a high chance that you will become addicted, because the Ardennes is a wonderful region for walking. It’s accessible by car or train (in certain areas); 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.
Second, be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. I have set off in glorious sunshine to find myself in a hail storm just an hour later. In addition, the higher you ascend, the colder will be that chill wind. So dress for the worst eventuality. For a winter walk, this means warm clothing, sensible footwear, a waterproof coat, gloves and a hat. Take sufficient water and snacks; personally I like to take a thermos flask of hot soup.
Third, take a detailed walking map, either on your phone or GPS device or a printed one. The latter are readily available from most bookshops and tourist offices. Plan in advance to know where you intend to walk, and the length and duration of your route. This will help avoid unpleasant surprises, especially if you are taking children with you.
So, armed with these hopefully helpful warnings, it’s time to pack up your backpack and go. But where? Here are five personal favourites.
Hertogenwald Forest, Eupen
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.
Halfway to Monschau is the Ternell Nature Centre. This old forester’s house was built in 1770 and transformed two hundred years later into a museum and information centre. I recommend the route heading north-east from the nature centre into the forest. Next to the nature centre is a cosy tavern serving excellent snacks. When ordering, don’t forget that you are in German-speaking Belgium!
Here are more details of a 8 km walk from the Ternell Nature Centre and a longer 19 km hike. The first time I walked these routes I had to cross the River Getzbach by taking off my boots and socks and wading across. When I returned a few years later, I was quite disappointed to find a bridge had been installed. But my feet were drier!
River Ourthe, La Roche-en-Ardenne
If you want to make a weekend of your trip to the Ardennes, La Roche-en-Ardenne is an excellent base from which to explore the River Ourthe, as it offers numerous hostels, gites, B&Bs, hotels and restaurants.
Most people walking in this area will be drawn to the well-known sights of the Nadrin Belvedere, the Nisramont Dam, Saint Margeurite’s Cross and the confluence of the two Ourthes (Orientale and Occidentale). All of these are well worth visiting, but if like me you prefer to steer away from the crowds, then I would recommend trying one of the less popular but equally outstanding walks from the villages of Maboge, Grande Mormont or Bonnerue.
A personal recommendation is the 8 km Champs Thomas walk from Maboge. Below is a scan of the route, which you can also download and print.
It starts from the car park by the bridge over the River Ourthe and then goes south, following the yellow diamonds. Halfway, make a small diversion to the Croix du Pied Monti for some great views. On the last quarter of the walk, take care as some of the descents down from the hills to the river are a bit steep and can be slippy in wet weather.
Even deeper 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 the country. 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.
The Anlier Forest tourist agency suggests seven circular walks in different areas of the forest. I have not personally tried them but they all look interesting and are of varied lengths:
- Beautiful valley: Heinstert – 8 km
- Between forest and grassland: Fauvillers – 12 km
- Peace and serenity: Heinstert – 14 km
- Deep in the forest: Hablay-la-neuve – 15 km
- The treasures of the Misbour: Fauvillers – 16 km
- The forest of Neufchâteau: Marbehan – 17 km
- In the Kingdom of the Black Stork: Martelange – 21 km
Note: the GPX route downloads on their website are not always working. If you want a GPX file of any of the above routes, contact me and I will send them to you.
Alternatively you can pick up a walking map from their office at Parc naturel Haute-Sûre Forêt d’Anlier, Chemin du Moulin 2, 6630 Martelange.
Hoyoux Valley, Modave
If you would like a gentle introduction to walking in the Ardennes, maybe because you have young children, then the area around Modave may be more suitable.
The 7.5 km Petit Modave walk is marked with red diamonds and starts from Modave castle (photo above). It takes you along the River Hoyoux, which apparently is the fastest flowing river in Belgium. It’s a very varied route: delightful oak and birch woodlands give way to a calciferous river valley, before taking you through coniferous forests and up to the plateau above the village of Survillers. Listen out for the shrieking calls of black woodpeckers in the forests.
After your walk you may have time to enjoy an audio tour of the thirteenth century Modave castle, or stroll north along the River Hoyoux and find a café in Pont de Bonne.
The Hoëgne River Valley
I have enjoyed walking along many river valleys in the Belgian Ardennes, but I have to admit that the Valley of the Hoëgne is the prettiest I have found so far.
It has to be seen to be believed; any photo doesn’t do it justice. I’ve written about it in more detail here. In that post I describe a 10 km walk that takes in the surrounding countryside. Highly recommended.